Yesterday I blogged about the necessity of developing practical technologies to make the proposals of mining asteroids economical and practical. Over the course of following this story the past few years, I (and many readers here) have pointed out that with current technologies, such a venture seems not to be practical nor capable of sustaining sufficient economies of scale to make the venture pratical. Chief among these technological limitations, I have concentrated on the inadequacy of chemical rockets. Yesterday, however, I also focussed on the need for practical large scale technologies to actually reduce and if possible refine minerals to be mined on asteroids.
In that context, consider this development and the potential implicaions, in this article shared by Mr. G.K.:
This is not a new technology, as the article points out. But what is intriguing here, especially in terms of an implied ability of "crushing things"(albeit here, of a very small nature), is the making of such technology smaller, and of its possibility for adjustment to potential practical uses:
A new Sandia National Laboratories accelerator called Thor is expected to be 40 times more efficient than Sandia's Z machine, the world's largest and most powerful pulsed-power accelerator, in generating pressures to study materials under extreme conditions. "Thor's magnetic field will reach about one million atmospheres, about the pressures at Earth's core," said David Reisman, lead theoretical physicist of the project.
Though unable to match Z's 5 million atmospheres, the completed Thor will be smaller - 2,000 rather than 10,000 square feet - and will be considerably more efficient due to design improvements that use hundreds of small capacitors instead of Z's few large ones.
Tailored pulse shapes are needed to avoid shocks that would force materials being investigated to change state. "We want the material to stay in its solid state as we pass it through increasing pressures," he said. "If we shock the material, it becomes a hot liquid and doesn't give us information."
Sandia manager Bill Stygar said more powerful LTD versions of Z ultimately could bring about thermonuclear ignition and even high-yield fusion. Ignition would be achieved when the fusion target driven by the machine releases more energy in fusion than the electrical energy delivered by the machine to the target. High yield would be achieved when the fusion energy released exceeds the energy initially stored by the machine's capacitors.
Now here's my extremely wild, high octane spectulation, for you'll note that this machine is really a very sophisticated form of pulsed magnetic accelator whose real purpose is to investigate materials in solid state under immense pressure, which could conceivably also impact or even be a machine component for the control of nuclear fusion. But it does raise an intriging possibility of the development of a whole new kind of technology of a more "practical" nature, if one throws all caution to the winds, and is willing to speculate wildly about the more mundane possibilities, for what such a technology might signal is the very first rudimentary steps toward the development of a kind of electro-magnetic pulsed mining technology, a technology able to pulverize or liquify raw minerals as the first stage in mining by the inducement of extremely high pressure by electromagnetic means. Of course, in the current state of things, this is a dream (for one thing, it would require enormous amounts of energy on any standard model).
But if you'll indulge me a bit more in this wild, high octane speculation and brain-storming, this "thinking aloud on paper" so to speak, such a technology, in a certain sense, would be the type of "unified" technology that would make space commercialization feasible, for with but a few modifications, it could function as the form of propulsion, of mining itself, and - please note - if one is talking about the pulverization of minerals by electromagnetic means as a mining technology, the same sort of technology could conceivably function as a weapon for asteroid busting in planetary defense. Effectively, this "electromagnetic pulverization" is what Thor and the Z machine are all about, albeit, on a very small quantum scale.
While these are - to be sure - wild and high octane speculations, one does indeed wonder if in fact there is more behind the development of this accelerator than merely the quest to examine a few particles under extreme pressure by means of a relatively smaller device than Sandia's Z Machine. One indeed wonders if there is a more pratical - and unstated - reason behind this development than merely an expensive plaything for the investigation of aspects of particle physics and theory. Indeed, one wonders if in fact there is a hidden space purpose behind the development of such technologies. It is indeed a completely wild speculation, but it's the type of out of the box thinking about future technologies that will have to be done if space commercialization is to be genuinely viable, profitable, and sustainable.
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