Project Bussard

Project Bussard

Project Lead: Kelvin F. Long
Division: Engineering & Physical Sciences
Group: Propulsion

Description: This is a project to research the history, physics and engineering issues associated with the Bussard interstellar ramjet. The main objective is to review the technical problems to its realisation and to identify possible pathway solutions. In 1960 the physicist Robert Bussard published a paper describing this novel form of propulsion. This didn’t require the carrying of any on-board propellant but instead utilized a large magnetic funnel to scoop up interstellar hydrogen throughout space, and then use it to fuse together in a fusion reaction. The initial excitement for this idea was soon dampened however when it was pointed out that there were several key issues associated with this scheme, including (1) the generation of drag (2) the small cross section of hydrogen making the fusion very difficult. This project aims to review the many technical physics and engineering issues associated with the interstellar ramjet and come up with potential solutions which can be explored upon further research. The project does not propose to solve all those problems itself, only to identify potential solutions which can be researched further and hopefully lead to solutions. A final strawman design concept will be developed based on some of the solutions envisaged, although only to a top level definition.

This is mainly a research project rather than a design project. Some of the key references that will be reviewed during the study include:

• R.W.Bussard, “Galactic Matter and Interstellar Spaceflight”, Astronautica Acta, 6, pp.170-194, 1960

• A.R.Martin, “Magnetic Intake Limitations on Interstellar Ramjets”, Astronautica Acta, 18, pp.1-10, 1973

• T.A.Heppenheimer, “On the Infeasibility of Interstellar Ramjets”, JBIS, 31, pp.222-224, 1978.

• A.Bond, “An Analysis of the Potential Performance of the Ram Augmented Interstellar Rocket”, JBIS, 27, pp.674-685, 1974.

• D.G.Andrews and R.M.Zubrin, “Magnetic Sails and Interstellar Travel”, JBIS, 1990

• D.Whitmore, “Relativistic Spaceflight and the Catalytic Nuclear  Ramjet”, Acta Astronautica, 2, pp.497-509, 1975

• B.N.Cassenti, “Design Concepts for the Interstellar Ramjet”, AIAA 91-2537, 27th AIAA/ASME Joint Propulsion Conference, Sacremento, CA, June 24-26, 1991.

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