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Fri Feb 22, 2013, 07:05 PM

Lockheed's Skunk Works promises fusion power in four years

Evan Ackerman
Friday, February 22, 2013 - 3:22pm

Until someone figures out a way to manufacture antimatter, fusion is by far the cleanest and most abundant source of power we can hope to harvest. We've known this for a long time, but fusion is hard, and it's expensive to build the giant lasers or toroidal plasma containment systems that are needed to get it to work. By most estimates, we're something like 40 years away from an operational fusion power plant.

"Most estimates" do not, apparently, include research being done at Lockheed Martin's secretive advanced development center, Skunk Works. At Google's Solve For X, Charles Chase describes what his team has been working on: a trailer-sized fusion power plant that turns cheap and plentiful hydrogen (deuterium and tritium) into helium plus enough energy to power a small city. It's safe, it's clean, and Lockheed is promising an operational unit by 2017 with assembly line production to follow, enabling everything from unlimited fresh water to engines that take spacecraft to Mars in one month instead of six.

Lockheed's fusion power plant uses radio energy to heat deuterium gas inside tightly controlled magnetic fields, creating a very high temperature plasma that's much more stable and well confined than you'd find in something like a tokamak.

Chase didn't give a whole lot more technical detail, but he seemed confident in predicting a 100mW prototype by 2017, with commercial 100mW systems available by 2022, implying that all global energy demands will be able to be met by fusion power by about 2045. No more oil, no more coal, no more nuclear, and not even any solar or wind or hydro will be necessary (unless you're into that sort of thing): fusion has the potential to produce as much affordable clean power as we'll ever need, for the entire world. That's wild, and we may see it happen in less than a decade. That is, if Lockheed Martin's plans come to fruition, which we certainly hope they do.


http://www.dvice.com/2013-2-22/lockheeds-skunk-works-promises-fusion-power-four-years

60 replies, 5856 views

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Arrow 60 replies Author Time Post
Reply Lockheed's Skunk Works promises fusion power in four years (Original post)
n2doc Feb 2013 OP
slackmaster Feb 2013 #1
Peter cotton Feb 2013 #8
MAD Dave Feb 2013 #29
Cooley Hurd Feb 2013 #2
Lurks Often Feb 2013 #3
Rosco T. Feb 2013 #17
donco Feb 2013 #4
jeff47 Feb 2013 #6
donco Feb 2013 #7
A HERETIC I AM Feb 2013 #20
donco Feb 2013 #45
A HERETIC I AM Feb 2013 #47
greytdemocrat Feb 2013 #5
Bosonic Feb 2013 #9
slackmaster Feb 2013 #10
XRubicon Feb 2013 #11
backscatter712 Feb 2013 #30
JVS Feb 2013 #12
Owl Feb 2013 #46
Bosonic Feb 2013 #13
Motown_Johnny Feb 2013 #14
n2doc Feb 2013 #50
Motown_Johnny Feb 2013 #51
Baclava Feb 2013 #15
Lionel Mandrake Feb 2013 #16
Rosco T. Feb 2013 #19
Lionel Mandrake Feb 2013 #21
Rosco T. Feb 2013 #25
Lionel Mandrake Feb 2013 #27
Motown_Johnny Feb 2013 #38
cherokeeprogressive Feb 2013 #18
hunter Feb 2013 #22
Occulus Feb 2013 #56
Esse Quam Videri Feb 2013 #23
Robb Feb 2013 #24
Rosco T. Feb 2013 #26
jsr Feb 2013 #28
NBachers Feb 2013 #33
Berlum Feb 2013 #43
backscatter712 Feb 2013 #31
Motown_Johnny Feb 2013 #37
Progressive dog Feb 2013 #32
Paulie Feb 2013 #34
Motown_Johnny Feb 2013 #36
Paulie Feb 2013 #39
Motown_Johnny Feb 2013 #40
Paulie Feb 2013 #41
Motown_Johnny Feb 2013 #42
Paulie Feb 2013 #44
Motown_Johnny Feb 2013 #48
oldhippie Feb 2013 #52
Motown_Johnny Feb 2013 #53
Demo_Chris Feb 2013 #35
SomethingFishy Feb 2013 #49
hunter Feb 2013 #54
MineralMan Feb 2013 #55
Occulus Feb 2013 #58
sibelian Feb 2013 #57
Occulus Feb 2013 #59
sibelian Feb 2013 #60

Response to n2doc (Original post)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 07:09 PM

1. If I could choose ONE engineering breakthrough to see in my lifetime, it would be practical fusion

 

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Response to slackmaster (Reply #1)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 08:47 PM

8. Complete agreement, with a wish for fusion-powered spacecraft

 

as a side benefit.

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Response to Peter cotton (Reply #8)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 11:09 PM

29. Me too!

Fusion power would be excellent!

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 07:23 PM

2. Kelly Johnson smiles from above...

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 08:15 PM

3. If anybody can do it, it is the brilliant maniacs at the Skunk Works n/t

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Response to Lurks Often (Reply #3)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 09:26 PM

17. +1000

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 08:32 PM

4. Lets hope they

succeed.by the way, anyone know how the came up with the handle "skunk works "?

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Response to donco (Reply #4)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 08:42 PM

6. It's from the smell of the original plant.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skunk_Works

The term "Skunk Works" came from Al Capp's satirical, hillbilly comic strip Li’l Abner, which was immensely popular in the 1940s and '50s. The “Skonk Works" was a dilapidated factory located on the remote outskirts of Dogpatch, in the backwoods of Kentucky. According to the strip, scores of locals were done in yearly by the toxic fumes of the concentrated "skonk oil", which was brewed and barreled daily by "Big Barnsmell" (known as the lonely "inside man" at the Skonk Works), by grinding dead skunks and worn shoes into a smoldering still, for some mysterious, never specified purpose.

The original Lockheed facility, during the development of the P-80 Shooting Star, was located adjacent to a malodorous plastics factory. According to Ben Rich’s memoir, an engineer showed up to work one day wearing a Civil Defense gas mask as a gag. To comment on the smell and the secrecy the project entailed, another engineer, Irving Culver, referred to the facility as "Skonk Works". As the development was very secret, the employees were told to be careful even with how they answered phone calls. One day, when the Department of the Navy was trying to reach the Lockheed management for the P-80 project, the call was accidentally transferred to Culver’s desk. Culver answered the phone in his trademark fashion of the time, by picking up the phone and stating "Skonk Works, inside man Culver". "What?" replied the voice at the other end. "Skonk Works", Culver repeated. The name stuck. Culver later said at an interview conducted in 1993 that "when Kelly Johnson heard about the incident, he promptly fired me. It didn’t really matter, since he was firing me about twice a day anyways."

At the request of the comic strip copyright holders, Lockheed changed the name of the advanced development company to "Skunk Works" in the 1960s. The name "Skunk Works" and the skunk design are now registered trademarks of the Lockheed Martin Corporation. The company also holds several registrations of it with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. They have filed several challenges against registrants of domain names containing variations on the term under anti-cybersquatting policies, and have lost a case under the .uk domain name dispute resolution service against a company selling cannabis seeds and paraphernalia, which used the word "skunkworks" in its domain name (referring to "Skunk", a variety of the cannabis plant). Lockheed Martin claimed the company registered the domain in order to disrupt its business and that consumer confusion might result. The respondent company argued that Lockheed "used its size, resources and financial position to employ 'bullyboy' tactics against . . . a very small company."

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Response to jeff47 (Reply #6)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 08:44 PM

7. Thanks for the reply. nt

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Response to donco (Reply #7)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 09:36 PM

20. Here's a pic of their main hangar at the Plant 42 complex in Palmdale, CA;



Note the skunk at the upper right.

That hangar is large enough to drive a C5 Galaxy inside, close the doors, open it up, load whatever they want and drive the plane out the other side.

One of the two main runways at the plant 42 complex, runway 4 (40 degrees on the compass) points almost directly at Edwards AFB, about 30 miles across the desert, meaning they can taxi an aircraft out there at night, take it off and fly to Edwards without being seen.

Some VERY interesting aircraft have been developed there.

I lived about 4 miles from that facility from late 2001 through 2004.

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Response to A HERETIC I AM (Reply #20)

Sat Feb 23, 2013, 09:25 AM

45. The wife's cousin

used to live in Palmdale before he retired from Lockheed and moved to Fla.He has a pretty good pension and don't say much about his job.kinda makes you wonder.

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Response to donco (Reply #45)

Sat Feb 23, 2013, 11:08 AM

47. Security clearance oaths have consequences. n/t

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 08:33 PM

5. This would just be amazing...

But of course...



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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 08:47 PM

9. Twofer

Fusion energy and extra Helium (there's a shortage don't you know).

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Response to Bosonic (Reply #9)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 08:49 PM

10. The list of global problems it could potentially solve is HUGE!

 

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Response to XRubicon (Reply #11)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 11:13 PM

30. That's certainly more convenient than plutonium.

Maybe in thirty years, plutonium will be at every corner drug store, but today, it's a little hard to come by...

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 08:49 PM

12. It would be cool, but the cynic in me says that this is the MIC trying to gain support...

in the grim face of sequestration.

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Response to JVS (Reply #12)

Sat Feb 23, 2013, 09:36 AM

46. My thoughts exactly.

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 08:56 PM

13. Video of presentation

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 09:04 PM

14. I must be a born skeptic

For one thing, we have been producing anti-matter for some time now

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antimatter#Artificial_production
^snip^
In 1995, CERN announced that it had successfully brought into existence nine antihydrogen atoms by implementing the SLAC/Fermilab concept during the PS210 experiment



More importantly, we have been hearing about estimates for fusion for decades. The predictions are always wrong. Maybe this is different because it is Lockheed and they are discussing a specific technology they have been working on.

I always have problems with phrases like " cheap and plentiful hydrogen" unless I get specifics on just exactly how cheap and plentiful the source material is.




I sincerely hope this works out. It really is a game changer if it is real.

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Response to Motown_Johnny (Reply #14)

Sat Feb 23, 2013, 01:12 PM

50. Problem is, it takes vast amounts of energy to produce that AM

It isn't a net positive energy source. To use AM as an energy source it would take some sort of matter-antimatter conversion (alchemy) which is impossible, at the present time.

Fusion, if it doesn't produce too much in the way of radioactive waste (the containment metals will be heavily irradiated) would be just fine as an energy source for anything short of Death Star sized spacecraft.

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Response to n2doc (Reply #50)

Sat Feb 23, 2013, 01:17 PM

51. I understand that. I am just saying that the article was incorrect.

It says that we can't make anti-matter. We can. It should have phrased that differently.

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 09:06 PM

15. Ho-hum, predictions are worthless - they've been saying that for 50 years

"It's hard not to look at the potential of fusion and scream: "We need this right now!" But Cowley says we still face a 30-year wait for the magic day when we flick a switch and electricity generated from fusion flows from the socket. "

"After ITER, we will then have to build a demonstration plant. We hope to have that built by 2040. We still need fission because it is a bridging technology until fusion becomes commercial. By 2100, fusion could be producing 20-25% of all our energy."

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 09:20 PM

16. It sounds too good to be true.

Physicists at universities, national laboratories, and other places have been working on magnetic fusion for decades. Acres of trees have been chopped down to make the paper on which their journal articles, conference reports, and other literature are printed. Huge machines have been and are being built to test out their concepts. The consensus remains that commercial fusion power generation won't happen for decades, if ever.

Now along come some aerospace engineers who are unknown to the plasma physics community. Their experience is in the design and manufacture of highly secret airplanes for the military and intelligence agencies. How likely is it that they can accomplish a miracle in a field so far removed from their past experience?

This reminds me of the cold-fusion fiasco, except that Pons and Fleischmann started by publishing their (flawed) research in a respectable journal. These aerospace guys are starting with publicity aimed at the general public. That is always a bad sign.

I'm not saying it's impossible - just very unlikely that their gadget will work as advertised.

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Response to Lionel Mandrake (Reply #16)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 09:31 PM

19. "just very unlikely that their gadget will work as advertised"

and till the truth came out, anyone who saw one of these 'in the wild' was though to be looney or it was an alien craft because "that can't fly!?"



never bet against the people in the Skunk Works... they ain't normal .. and I mean that in a good way

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Response to Rosco T. (Reply #19)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 09:46 PM

21. When it comes to bending tin, these guys are the best.

I'll grant you that.

IMO they should stick to what they know.

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Response to Lionel Mandrake (Reply #21)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 10:34 PM

25. they bend physics...

.. and that's what they know. Hell they have probably had it working for the last 10 years and it's finally stable enough to talk about.

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Response to Rosco T. (Reply #25)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 10:55 PM

27. We'll see. nt

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Response to Rosco T. (Reply #19)

Sat Feb 23, 2013, 08:41 AM

38. you can make a brick fly if you give it enough thrust

the idea that a revolutionary design for an airplane is anything like cold fusion is ridiculious


Not that I am betting against skunk works. I am still skeptical though.

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 09:27 PM

18. Believe it when I see it. n/t

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 09:53 PM

22. If it's true it we'll be like a meth addict winning the lottery...

...and it won't end well.

Imagine giant fusion powered machines like this eating the last rain forest:


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bagger_288

In a few thousand years we've got ourselves a Borg planet...



If we can't control our fossil fueled destruction of earth's environment today, then we certainly won't be able to control destructive economic growth fueled by cheap, "clean," fusion energy.





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Response to hunter (Reply #22)

Sat Feb 23, 2013, 01:45 PM

56. You're assuming we stay here.

Fusion will eventually make space travel at a significant percentage of c possible.

Think about that, and all it implies.

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 09:55 PM

23. Thanks so much for posting

This would be incredible. How long before the oil companies somehow try to kill the research?

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 10:04 PM

24. Which means they've already done it.

If they're talking about it "coming soon" at SW, they've already got it running.

That big black airplane upthread? Remember it was designed in 1958. First one off the line four years later.

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Response to Robb (Reply #24)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 10:34 PM

26. If they're talking about it "coming soon" at SW, they've already got it running.

DING! DING! DING!

WE HAVE A WINNER!

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 10:59 PM

28. They're late

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Response to jsr (Reply #28)

Sat Feb 23, 2013, 03:10 AM

33. You made me laugh so hard I got dizzy and short of breath at 12:09 AM. What do the neighbors think?

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Response to jsr (Reply #28)

Sat Feb 23, 2013, 08:50 AM

43. Gettin jiggy with the fusion

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 11:16 PM

31. I've been seeing a couple of these sorts of stories.

Here's another one.

http://news.newenergytimes.net/2013/02/22/lenr-nasa-widom-larsen-nuclear-reactor-in-your-basement/

This one talks about Low Energy Nuclear Reactors (aka "Cold Fusion").

I'll file this one and the OP in the "That would be amazingly cool, but I'll believe it when I see it" folder.

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Response to backscatter712 (Reply #31)

Sat Feb 23, 2013, 08:36 AM

37. LENR is not cold fusion and is little more than theory at this point


http://www.forbes.com/sites/markgibbs/2012/01/16/cold-fusion-nasa-says-nothing-useful/


^snip^

Cold Fusion: NASA Says Nothing Useful



On NASA’s Glenn Research Center’s Research page the following summary was published last last year:

Tests conducted at NASA Glenn Research Center in 1989 and elsewhere consistently show evidence of anomalous heat during gaseous loading and unloading of deuterium into and out of bulk palladium. At one time called “cold fusion,” now called “low-energy nuclear reactions” (LENR), such effects are now published in peer-reviewed journals and are gaining attention and mainstream respectability. The instrumentation expertise of NASA GRC is applied to improve the diagnostics for investigating the anomalous heat in LENR.

I find it interesting and rather puzzling that the summary states that LENR is the new name for cold fusion (thereby implying that the two terms describe the same process) when many other people and organizations argue that these are quite different phenomena. I’d love to read a simple explanation of the difference between LENR and cold fusion that doesn’t use explanations that themselves require further, and equally complex, explanations.

Anyway, it appears that the NASA recently published something much more interesting about Low Energy Nuclear Reaction or LENR. Last Wednesday, with a minimum of fuss, NASA’s Glenn Research Center released a video on their Web site that discussed the organization’s LENR research.

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Fri Feb 22, 2013, 11:52 PM

32. So airplane designers are fusion experts too

Really amazing what our tax money pays for.

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Sat Feb 23, 2013, 03:48 AM

34. 100mW? Oh good it can power a cell phone

If it's the size of a truck it will be a bit inefficient to carry around.

Wait and see.

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Response to Paulie (Reply #34)

Sat Feb 23, 2013, 08:22 AM

36. Your cell phone needs a hundred million watts?

Damn, E.T. could phone home on that thing.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watt

Megawatt

The megawatt is equal to one million (106) watts. Many events or machines produce or sustain the conversion of energy on this scale, including lightning strikes; large electric motors; large warships such as aircraft carriers, cruisers, and submarines; large server farms or data centers; and some scientific research equipment, such as supercolliders, and also in the output pulses of very large lasers. A large residential or commercial building may consume several megawatts in electric power and heat. On railways, modern high-powered electric locomotives typically have a peak power output of 5 or 6 MW, although some produce much more. The Eurostar, for example, consumes more than 12 MW, while heavy diesel-electric locomotives typically produce/consume 3 to 5 MW. U.S. nuclear power plants have net summer capacities between about 500 and 1300 MW.

The earliest citing of the megawatt in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is a reference in the 1900 Webster's International Dictionary of English Language. The OED also states that megawatt appeared in a 28 November 1947 article in the journal Science (506:2).

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Response to Motown_Johnny (Reply #36)

Sat Feb 23, 2013, 08:41 AM

39. No it needs milliwatt = mW. MW is something else.

Article can't even get the terms correctly sized why believe any of it?

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Response to Paulie (Reply #39)

Sat Feb 23, 2013, 08:44 AM

40. simple typo, and not much of one

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Response to Motown_Johnny (Reply #40)

Sat Feb 23, 2013, 08:47 AM

41. Twice repeated.

I was just making a commentary. Until this actually shows up and is put to scientific scrutiny it is no different at this point to zero point energy do it yourself kits and perpetual motion machines.

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Response to Paulie (Reply #41)

Sat Feb 23, 2013, 08:49 AM

42. post *14 states my viewpoint pretty clearly

but there is a solid theoretical basis for this while perpetual motion machines violate the second law of thermodynamics and zero point energy is pure theory


this is different

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Response to Motown_Johnny (Reply #42)

Sat Feb 23, 2013, 08:55 AM

44. That's fine but this is a story. And without evidence

It reads as SciFi.

Skunk Works!!! http://online.santarosa.edu/presentation/page/?36870

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Response to Paulie (Reply #44)

Sat Feb 23, 2013, 01:01 PM

48. Because of all the other false claims from Skunk Works over the years?

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Response to Motown_Johnny (Reply #40)

Sat Feb 23, 2013, 01:18 PM

52. Simple typo, only changes the meaning by ...

.... nine orders of magnitude.

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Response to oldhippie (Reply #52)

Sat Feb 23, 2013, 01:20 PM

53. True, but it should be obvious what the meaning was and

it is just a matter of capitalization.

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Sat Feb 23, 2013, 04:21 AM

35. If this is correct it will change the world n/t

 

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Sat Feb 23, 2013, 01:06 PM

49. My question would be.. what weapon are they making with it?

This is Lockheed Martin. They don't give a shit about clean energy. At best clean energy is probably a lucky side effect.

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Response to SomethingFishy (Reply #49)

Sat Feb 23, 2013, 01:23 PM

54. A space cruiser...

We're falling behind Japan in this important military technology.





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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Sat Feb 23, 2013, 01:38 PM

55. The minute that Lockheed issues a press release about this project,

I will begin to get excited. Until then, it's just smoke and mirrors. I'm sure Lockheed Martin would love a boost in their stock price, and such a press release about a demonstration that this erstwhile technology exists and works would certainly provide a big boost to investors' confidence. So, no official press release - no excitement from this reader.

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Response to MineralMan (Reply #55)

Sat Feb 23, 2013, 02:16 PM

58. The people over at talk-polywell.org seem to think this sounds a lot like the polywell design

An article at the Examiner mentions a D-T fuel heated by RF and contained by magnetic field lines, which is essentially the same idea as Bussard's polywell design (though Bussard wanted to use boron-111, I think). One of the posters there mentioned that, in the video, a slide was shown that mentioned direct energy conversion instead of thermal heating, and the thing is described as being very small, physically (fits on a trailer), but could power a small city, which have always been two of the polywell's main features.

If that is in fact what Lockheed is talking about (and I have good reason to suspect it may well be) then I'm going to say here they could be that close. The physical description and the timeframe to production all fit with those of the polywell design and its researchers' previously stated goals, and the Navy's been funding that line of research for a few years now.

Time will tell, of course, but I've been following this particular candidate project for a while now. After seeing Bussard's Google presentation a few years back, I became convinced that his method, or one very like it, would be the way power-generating fusion was finally accomplished. The forum link in my subject line is the discussion group dedicated to any and all news related to the project, including links to any technical data released by the researchers. They (the forum's participants) seem to feel that the Lockheed project bears several striking (and fundamental) similarities to the one they're familiar with.

I think they're a lot closer than we would believe, to be honest. Lockheed's gizmo is ringing some very large and loud bells for me.

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Sat Feb 23, 2013, 01:53 PM

57. Ummmm.... I don't want to burst your bubble, but...

"Chase didn't give a whole lot more technical detail, but he seemed confident in predicting a 100mW prototype by 2017, with commercial 100mW systems available by 2022, implying that all global energy demands will be able to be met by fusion power by about 2045. No more oil, no more coal, no more nuclear, and not even any solar or wind or hydro will be necessary (unless you're into that sort of thing): fusion has the potential to produce as much affordable clean power as we'll ever need, for the entire world. That's wild, and we may see it happen in less than a decade. That is, if Lockheed Martin's plans come to fruition, which we certainly hope they do."

Yeah.

I really hope this turns out to be a good bet, but... you know. Journalism. You'll see that they've been very careful to leave lots of little get-outs there.

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Response to sibelian (Reply #57)

Sat Feb 23, 2013, 06:21 PM

59. I'm fairly sure I know what it's about

And if I'm right, they may well be as close to actual breakeven as they claim. See my response to MineralMan, above, for more details.

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Response to Occulus (Reply #59)

Sun Feb 24, 2013, 05:52 AM

60. thanks Occulus!


you are reassuringly cautious...

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