Alright, for a while now, Steve and I have been trying to find a single project to devote our selves to throughout our 4 years at UConn. We couldn’t find one for the first year, so we resolved to make a final choice this summer. At the moment, the general area has been decided to have to be something to do with space, most likely some form of propulsion to help open up the true space age.
There are a number of concepts out there for drives at the moment, but the problem is that they all require high levels of electricity, to a point where it becomes impractical. One of the most promising drives that is an example of this is the Magnetoplasmadynamic (MPD) thruster. It works using the same effect used in the Rail Gun, but in order to provide 50 pounds of thrust, it needs to be supplied with 3 megawatts of power (in comparison, a typical nuclear power plant produces in the range of 870 megawatts, so 3 megawatts is nothing to scoff at).
In order to produce the needed amount of energy in a practical size with a practical amount / type of fuel, technology is going to need major power boosts. My idea is that modern nuclear power plants work by converting energy from nuclear decay (in the form of heat) into physical work (in the form of steam rotated turbines) and then back into energy again (in the form of electricity). If we can skip the physical work step, we should be able to do this more efficiently. Promising technologies in this area work by converting the heat directly to electricity using a Radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG), which utilizes the Seebeck Effect. However, this type of gate is, as of yet, quite inefficient (10 – 20% efficiency tops), so more work needs to be done.
Keep returning for more updates as research continues!