So many of you sent articles regarding the Lockheed Martin fusion reactor story, that I am compelled to offer my usual high octane speculations, with my thanks to all of you who have been following this story so closely. One individual who emailed me, echoed my own intuitions, by stating that she thought the Lockheed announcement was dubious and suspicious, and with that I concur, which is the subject of today's blog, and today's high octane speculation. After all, it's Sunday, and what better day to talk about fusion?
To get started, here is the story of Lockheed-Martin's fusion reactor claims, as reported by MIT's Technology Review:
Now, you'll note that the subtitle of this article captures the essence of the problem: we have a claim, but as yet, no backup data or any real technical details, for the subtitle points out that "Lockheed Martin says it will have a small fusion reactor prototype in five years but offers no data." Indeed, the second paragraph points out the difficulty, and subtly suggests - at least to my mind - what the target of Lockheed's unusual announcement, and its timing, may really be:
"Nuclear fusion could produce far more energy, far more cleanly, than the fission reactions at the heart of today’s nuclear power plants. But there are huge obstacles and no hard evidence that Lockheed has overcome them. The so-far-insurmountable challenge is to confine hydrogen plasma at conditions under which the hydrogen nuclei fuse together at levels that release a useful amount of energy. In decades of research, nobody has yet produced more energy from fusion reaction experiments than was required to conduct the experiments in the first place."
Nobody has produced fusion reactions that is, in hot fusion containment method experiments, unless, of course, you want to recall and believe the 1960's claims of Philo Fransworth for his "Plasmator" and "Fusor" devices. Recall also the more recent claims - about which we blogged a few days ago - of Sweden's University of Uppsala and Italy's University of Bologna study of Italian physicist and inventor, Dr. Andrea Rossi, and his E-Cat cold fusion reactor, a study which minced no words: there are nuclear reactions and processes occurring in Rossi's device, which appear to be producing excess heat, at thermal energies far below those involved in the hot fusion process. And for Farnsworth fans, recall that his claims were to have produced sustained fusion reactions for small periods of time at hot fusion energies, in devices a little bigger than a common softball. Farnsworth made his announcement in the 1960s, and then his patents were quietly shuffled out of the limelight by their owner, IT&T, and they, and Farnsworth, were seldom heard from again.
This, in my opinion, constitutes the possible real reason for the Lockheed announcement, for the University of Bologna and University of Uppsala studies of Dr. Rossi's device were released a short time before Lockheed upstaged their announcement. It was, in other words, a bit of clever distraction to get people to focus attention solely on the "big money hot fusion" approach, an approach which power elites can easily monitor, and away from the always controversial subject of Lattice Assisted Nuclear Reactions, or "cold fusion." There is, however, a suggestive statement in the Lockheed announcement, and I hope you caught it(Farnsworth fans will have done so immediately):
"Tom McGuire, project lead of the Lockheed effort, said in an interview that the company has come up with a compact design, called a high beta fusion reactor, based on principles of so-called “magnetic mirror confinement.” This approach tries to contain plasma by reflecting particles from high-density magnetic fields to low-density ones.
"Lockheed said the test reactor is only two meters long by one meter wide, far smaller than existing research reactors. “In a smaller reactor you can iterate generations quicker, incorporate new knowledge, develop faster, and make riskier design choices. That is a much more powerful development paradigm and much less capital intensive,” McGuire said. If successful, the program could produce a reactor that might fit in a tractor-trailer and produce 100 megawatts of power, he said. “There are no guarantees that we can get there, but that possibility is there.”
"The small team developing the reactor at the company’s skunkworks in Palmdale, California, has done 200 firings with plasma, McGuire said, but has not shown any data on the results. However, he said of the plasma, “it looks like it’s doing what it’s supposed to do.” He added that with research partners Lockheed could develop a competed prototype within five years and a commercial application within a decade. The company is even talking about how fusion reactors could one day power ships and planes."(Emphasis added)
Smaller reactors? Magnetic mirror confinement? If this sounds similar to the principles employed by Farnsworth, that's because, in its basic outline, it is, and Farnsworth of course did it (or at least claimed to have done it), in much smaller devices than the big fusion projects. And for those who have followed the origins of such notions about fusion, it also recalls the processes suggested by Dr. Ronald Richter, even earlier, in Argentina. Richter of course, suffered public derision and denunciation, all the while the USAF was secretly interviewing him (suspiciously, after America's Ivy and Castle series of hydrogen bomb tests), and Farnsworth was shuffled off the stage while a wall of silence descended over him and Richter ever afterward, until Pons and Fleischmann broke the story of their claims. So in other words, viewed a certain way, perhaps Lockheed is really admitting that their ideas merely went deeply black.
What is interesting to contemplate in all this is the wider context, for consider, we've seen now over the past few years the release of a bewildering array of technologies and stories, from 3-D printing, which I have argued is one of the first steps on the technology tree to a kind of "Star Trek replicator", to the use of that technology already to examine things on one planet(Mars), and 3-D print them on another (Earth). We've seen the stated goal of DARPA to make the USA "Warp capable" in 100 years, and more recently, stories about the successful tests of "tractor beams." Add fusion power and... well, you get the picture: it appears that the power elite, while busily slow-burning the old financial system (to borrow the analytical hypothesis of former HUD Assistant Secretary Catherine Austin Fitts), are also slowly and deliberately releasing stories of new technologies. In this case, however, the release appears to have been timed to draw attention away from the pesky subject of cold fusion, which is a shame, for it might be that when Rossi's approach, and that of Lockheed (if it would bother to share some hard data), might show common areas, and perhaps fruitful new avenues for experimentation.
See you on the flip side....