Pulsar Fusion, a UK aerospace company, is currently constructing the largest practical nuclear fusion rocket engine ever built. The 8-meter fusion chamber is being assembled in Bletchley, England and is expected to be fired in 2027. When fired, it will become the hottest place in the solar system, generating exhaust speeds of over 500,000 miles per hour.
The researchers at Pulsar Fusion have set a goal to reach temperatures several hundred million degrees when the final plasma shot is fired in the chamber. This would create temperatures hotter than the Sun. However, the challenge lies in learning how to hold and confine the super-hot plasma within an electromagnetic field.
Dr. James Lambert, CFO of Pulsar Fusion, explains that the plasma behaves unpredictably, similar to a weather system, making it difficult to control. Scientists have not been able to control the turbulent plasma as it is heated to hundreds of millions of degrees, causing the reaction to stop. This unpredictability is attributed to the science of Magneto-Hydro Dynamics (MHD) and Gyrokinetics, as the state of the plasma is constantly changing.
To address this challenge, Pulsar Fusion has partnered with Princeton Satellite Systems. They will use data from the PFRC-2 reactor, which currently holds the world record, and feed it into supercomputer simulations. This will help predict how super-hot plasma behaves under electromagnetic confinement and guide the design of the rocket engine prototype.
Pulsar’s CEO Richard Dinan believes that if the fusion rocket test can achieve fusion temperatures during its demonstration in 2027, it has the potential to revolutionize space travel. It could halve mission times to Mars, reduce flight time to Saturn from 8 years to 2, and eventually enable humanity to explore beyond our solar system.
Pulsar Fusion plans to keep its partners updated throughout the process and will conduct early firings in 2025 to ensure they are on the right track. If successful, they will then conduct a test firing in orbit. The fusion community believes that AI has the potential to allow the development of engines capable of interstellar space travel.