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starship-design: RE: Bussard design

Lee writes:

>All fusion research money in the US is currently being focused on toroidial
>designs that originate from the Russian Tokamak design. Even though there are
>SEVERAL other designs that promise better LONG TERM returns, the lure of the
>near term success of Tokamak designs created by a 20 year head start results
>in an institutional resistance on the part of the federal government to fund
>any other research.

You mean all Magnetic fusion research.  And even for tokamaks the money is 
getting cut back too far to make any real headway.  With very few exceptions, 
no new magnetic fusion experiments are being funded, including tokamaks.  Even 
the $10 billion "ignition"-scale ITER is only being "supported" by the DOE, 
meaning they might pay 5% but don't want it in the country.  They're 
supposedly "looking at alternative options" right now, which sounds promising, 
but it's basically code for "short on cash".

However, there IS money in Inertial Confinement Fusion.  And lots of it.  The 
entire fusion energy program gets only about $250 million/year, but more than 
that will go to the National Ignition Facility (NIF) next year alone -- 192 
lasers to make ICF work.  The reason: it's relevant to H-bombs, so the money 
doesn't come out of the paltry alternative energy research budget, but rather 
the $4 billion "stockpile stewardship" war chest.  They'll spend $2 billion 
over the next 10 years on NIF alone, and lots more on other ICF work elsewhere 
to make sure it will ignite as planned.  They're also starting to build a 
laser system (code name: Mercury) that can fire high-energy beams ten times a 
second; important if laser-driven ICF will ever work as a power plant (or 
starship engine).  NIF will fire 2-3 times a day.

Still, the most optimistic forecasts have the first laser-driven ICF power 
plant operational sometime around 2040.  Cutting it a little close for this 
group's 2050 target date...