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Dr. Robert Bussard, 1928-2007

Discussion in 'Energy, Environment, and Policy' started by tonybelding, Oct 11, 2007.

  1. tonybelding

    tonybelding Active Member

    Aug 17, 2006
    Hamilton, Texas
    As some of you will recall, I've been following Dr. Bussard's research closely. He's been developing a nuclear fusion reactor for the US Navy. I am saddened to report that Dr. Bussard passed away on October 6.

    Dr. Bussard's long career marked him as a giant in the field of nuclear energy research. In the 1950s he developed a nuclear-thermal rocket for NASA's Project Rover. In the 1970s he co-founded (with Robert Hirsch) the US nuclear fusion research program.

    Dr. Bussard came to the attention of science fiction fans with his proposal for a "Bussard Ramjet". This type of starship would scoop up interstellar hydrogen as it travelled through space, to fuel its fusion reactor. In theory it would have unlimited range. A Bussard Ramjet became the central device of Poul Anderson's classic SF novel, Tau Zero. It was also used in novels by Larry Niven, and elements of it were borrowed by Gene Roddenberry for use in Star Trek.

    Beginning around 1984, Dr. Bussard experimented with inertial electrostatic confinement (IEC) fusion reactors. He developed a variant of the IEC reactor which he dubbed a Polywell. A breakthrough came late in 2005, when his WB-6 test reactor achieved a rate of fusion reactions 100,000 times greater than previous IEC devices. This rate of fusion, Dr. Bussard calculated, should be high enough to make commercial, power-generating reactors viable.

    Convinced that his Polywell could provide inexpensive, plentiful, clean and safe energy to save the world, Dr. Bussard continued working without regard for his advanced age or failing health. The team of physicists he assembled will continue work on the WB-7 test reactor, which is expected to begin providing data in the spring of 2008.

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