(Image from CERN (modified): Here)
Hello again folks,
I’ve been writing a lot lately, and a fair bit of that has been on some pretty serious topics. As such I want to take a step back for a moment, and write what I will consider a “just for fun.” post.
It should come as no surprise to anyone here that I am big time sci-fi buff, as well as a science fiction writer. Shameless plug; have you had the chance to check out my books? They are available on Amazon for Kindle as well as print for $2.99 – $11.99. You can also get them for $10 (includes shipping) from my Etsy Shop, and have them SIGNED!
Now that the plug is out of the way, today I want talk about some of the technology that inspired a lot of the ideas I use in my books.
As my books take place in the the 24th century, the primary source of power for most cities, colonies, and starships is fusion power. For those that are unfamilar, fusion is a kind of nuclear reaction that fuses together smaller atoms into larger ones; and releases a crap-load of energy in the process. As the Wikipedia article on fusion power points out, it is the process that fuels stars;
“The fusion reaction normally takes place in a plasma of deuterium and tritium (hydrogen isotopes) heated to millions of degrees. In stars, gravity contains these fuels. Outside of a star, the most researched way to confine the plasma at these temperatures is to use magnetic fields. The major challenge in realising fusion power is to engineer a system that can confine the plasma long enough at high enough temperature and density.”
There is a few important points I want to highlight here, because they will be important as we go forward. The first is the fact that nuclear fusion takes place in a plasma, which is the fourth state of matter. Plasma is basically a highly ionized gas, and is found in nature as things like lightning, and stars. Neon lights are also plasma-based.
The other important part here is that, aside from gravity, plasmas can be shaped and contained by electromagnetic fields. This is the property that has allowed countless numbers of fusion experiments to take place on Earth.
Because some of these fusions reactors look really awesome, I wanted to just post a few of them here as examples;
(Image from Wikipedia)
Wendelstein7 Reactor, under construction;
(Image from Wikipedia)
I hope you can why some of these experiments inspired me. They look like something straight out of a science fiction movie! When I imagined the power reactors on my ships and planets, I pictured things like the NSTX reactor.
But you might be wondering to yourself, why fusion? Not only is it a staple of science fiction, it gives a rather efficient means of creating energy on a starship. All of my ships and cities require electrical power, and fusion represents one of the best way to do that.
Can you imagine the power of small star to power a city or a ship? I can, and that’s why I went with fusion. Plus, many of my ships I also imagined would have supplementary solar panels and others means to create power as well. Let’s talk about that for a moment.
Power Plant Design
Alright, so we established that fusion reactors are at the heart of my ships and colonies. These systems create all the power and energy my ships and cities need to thrive. But let’s take a closer look at how they do that.
Like our own Sun, a fusion reactor would create two very important resources; light and heat. The heat is probably the most notable of the two. But how do we turn a sustainable fusion reaction into electrical power? The answer is in steam turbines, just like nuclear (fission) power plants use on Earth.
(Image from Here)
I want you to look at the image above, and imagine that this is a fusion reactor instead of the fission one pictured. The reactor core would be pretty similar in function, and still create quite a bit of heat. The rest of the cooling and electrical system would work pretty much the same way. The heat would be ran through a coolant, which would create steam, which would turn the turbine in order to make electrical power.
But instead of the electricity going into a city, it would be fed back into the ship. That electricity would be distributed via an inner ship electrical network, and probably also stored in some kind of battery system.
Another important aspect of the function would be the cooling system, which could also be hooked into the water circulation systems. That way, you could have things like on board plumbing, and hot water too. I imagined these systems would be a lot like what we see on modern ocean cargo ships.
(A system for liquid natural gas.)
Alright, with power systems out of the way, I want to talk a bit about what inspired my designs for propulsion in my books. The short answer is the technology behind both the Hall Thruster, and the technology used at the Large Hadron Collider at Cern. We will start with the Hall Thruster.
(Image from NASA)
So, you saw the picture of the thruster above, but you might be wondering how exactly a Hall Thruster works? For that we turn to Wikipedia;
“In spacecraft propulsion, a Hall-effect thruster (HET) is a type of ion thruster in which the propellant is accelerated by an electric field. Hall-effect thrusters trap electrons in a magnetic field and then use the electrons to ionize propellant, efficiently accelerate the ions to produce thrust… “
In short, Hall Thrusters function by accelerating an ionized propellant as exhaust to create thrust. Most of these ionized propellants are in the forms of plasmas, often from noble gases such as Xenon. You see, I said that fusion plasma thing would be important.
In addition to creating power for ships in my books, the fusion reactor is also the source for ready-made plasma. This plasma, being heavily ionized, is then accelerated through a futuristic version of a Hall Thruster in order to create thrust.
However, it must be said that current Hall Thrusters are relatively weak in thrust department. There has been a lot of improvements over the years. For example, the recent work into the X3 thruster has produced the highest thrust level to date.
All that said. I had to imagine something more advanced (about 3 centuries), and a little bit bigger. That is where the inspiration from the Large Hadron Collider comes in.
(Image from CERN, found here)
The Large Hadron Collider is the largest particle accelerator in the world, and is found at the European research complex at CERN. The accelerator itself is huge, at 27 kilometers in length. It is “big science” in every sense of the word, and has cost billions of dollars from sources across the globe.
The purpose of the LHC is to accelerator particles to nearly the speed of light, and smash them together. It’s designed to probe the deepest mysterious of our universe, and is a sheer monster of scientific discovery and engineering. It should come as no surprise that it inspired the propulsion systems in my universe. Hey, if you want to power everything from small fighters to huge interstellar battleships; you have to go big.
While their function is not exactly the same, both the Hall Thruster and the LHC use electromagnetic fields to accelerate either ionized plasma, or elementary particles. As such, assuming three centuries worth of innovation and plenty of writer liberties; the LHC and the Hall Thruster provide the inspiration for my propulsion systems.
In addition to requiring a lot of electrical power (courtesy of the fusion reactor), those systems would also be funneling extremely heated plasmas. That means all my engine systems have extensive coolant and heat dissipation methods. These are on full display in my fifth book; Of Origins and Endings.
Do you want to know what other technologies inspire my fiction? Feel free to ask!
Thanks for reading!