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Cosmic rays and fusion reactors in space

This idea follows on from the idea of creating a magnetic shield around a spacecraft to deflect (most of the) cosmic radiation that may be incident on the spacecraft. For a small spacecraft, the magnetic fields around the craft would serve to disperse cosmic rays that might otherwise impact the spacecraft. For a large space station, hundreds of electromagnet satellites could be used to deflect cosmic rays into paths that would no longer hit that space station.

There is another approach that could be used when large volumes of space are systematically being cleared of cosmic radiation, or at least the cosmic radiation with energies that can be suitably deflected. Instead of using satellites to disperse cosmic rays, you could instead try to use the fleets of electromagnet satellites around a space station to direct or funnel some of the cosmic rays into particular channels. (These electromagnet satellites would be like giant nets of fine wire – at least a few square km in area – that are placed hundreds of thousands km from the target fusion reactor. They could be thought of as lenses for cosmic rays that fall with in a chosen energy band.) The channels of cosmic rays could be differentiated to contain protons or alpha particles with energies that fall within certain limited bands. It might even be possible to remove energy from some high energy cosmic ray channels, much like a moderator does in a fission nuclear reactor. The satellites that would focus cosmic rays of specific energies for the generation of energy would be spread out over a very large distance, possibly thousands, 10k’s or 100k’s kilometers apart, and they would probably focus cosmic rays originating from a very narrow area.

With a steady stream of high energy protons from one of these cosmic ray channels, it may be possible to build a fusion reactor where those protons are converted into alpha particles (helium nuclei), in a similar process as what happens in the sun. It might be feasible to build fusion power stations in space that could use modified and controlled cosmic radiation as the basic fuel. These fusion power stations could also be located very close to where their energy output would be needed, like, for example, in a large space station that the fleet of electromagnet satellites are shielding.

Cosmic rays could be made to collide in a fusion reactor and the energies used in a fusion reactor could be calculated for the particular reaction. You might also be able to manufacture specific elements by having cosmic rays of specific energies hitting large target atoms, as long as the reaction doesn’t also create other dangerous radiation. For electromagnetic radiation in space, such as gamma rays, some other form of shielding would be required.

A fleet of electromagnet satellites that could deflect and manipulate cosmic rays in space could then serve a double purpose. They could protect the people in space from (some forms of) harmful radiation in space and they could help secure a stable source of fusion energy in places that may be quite a long distance from the sun. Ninety percent of cosmic rays consist of a hydrogen nuclei moving at high energy. Using filtered and moderated cosmic rays as a fuel source for a fusion reactor might be feasible and safe in space. This kind of technology might take some time to design and build, but it is definitely a feasible idea.

If cosmic rays of an appropriate energy could be focused in a fusion reactor in space, and if the satellites that supply those cosmic rays could have their relative positions maintained over time, you might be able to maintain a constant and reliable supply of energy from the fusion reactor. The fusion reaction from colliding high energy protons in a specially designed reactor is of the same kind as the fusion reaction that powers the sun. A space station that could source its power from cosmic rays would have something like a micro version of the sun as its local power source.

In some ways you could think of an arrangement of a large number of electromagnet satellites as a lens for cosmic rays (designed to focus a narrow range with specific energies).  The electromagnets that make up a ‘clock’ around a spacecraft would be similar to negative lenses and the electromagnet satellites for a fusion reactor in space would be similar to positive lens as a system. Cosmic rays are not EM waves, but you might still be able to see if there are some circumstances where their behaviour and manipulation could be described as being similar to what could be done with optics for EM waves.

The electromagnetic fields around the earth protects life on earth from most cosmic radiation. Having a strong electromagnetic field around a spacecraft has been proposed as a way to deflect most of the cosmic radiation that might have hit a spacecraft. There would need to be some systematic research into the possibilities for manipulating cosmic rays and the possible uses for cosmic rays in space, if any.

This idea could be a game changer…

How awesome would it be to propose a completely new kind of fuel that could realistically power our civilisation in the new few centuries. Perhaps some science fiction writers have proposed it before, or perhaps it has been formally considered in the last few decades as one of many options for generating  energy in space. I haven’t heard about it before though. But there’s nothing new under the sun, as the saying goes…

If we could channel Cosmic Rays and use them as a fuel for a space-based fusion reactor then the name ‘Cosmic Rays’ could be considered to be utterly appropriate.

If such fusion reactors could be built in space and powered, in part, by cosmic rays you could possibly also design an accelerator that could add energy to initially stationary protons and then use this as fuel in the reactor as well. You might only need a small percentage of the fuel for a space station city to come from cosmic rays. Once such an energy system is set up and in operation, it would generate excess energy that could be used to power the particle accelerator. It would be self sustaining as an energy system – as long as it is properly managed. The excess energy with an accelerator could be used to fuse atoms into elements with higher atomic masses.

And of course, the space station city would have enough energy storage capacity to fire up an accelerator for the fusion reactor if the usual channeled Cosmic Ray fuel supply is temporarily unavailable…

This is energy derived from the conversion of mass into energy in a space-based fusion reactor. It is a feasible idea…

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Perhaps one topic of research is the flux of cosmic rays through space (that we can detect) and places in space from where we might be able to notice significant dips in that flux. This might be an indication of civilisations in other solar systems, if cosmic rays could be channeled into a fuel source for fusion reactors.

Posted in Renewable energy, Space.

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