When it first announced the project, the company said it could have a working prototype of the revolutionary power source as early as 2019.
By Tyler Rogoway
Lockheed Martin has quietly obtained a patent associated with its design for a potentially revolutionary compact fusion reactor, or CFR. If this project has been progressing on schedule, the company could debut a prototype system that size of shipping container, but capable of powering a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier or 80,000 homes, sometime in the next year or so.
The patent, for a portion of the confinement system, or embodiment, is dated Feb. 15, 2018. The Maryland-headquartered defense contractor had filed a provisional claim on April 3, 2013 and a formal application nearly a year later. Our good friend Stephen Trimble, chief of Flightglobal's Americas Bureau, subsequently spotted it and Tweeted out its basic details.
In 2014, the company also made a splash by announcing they were working on the device at all and that it was the responsibility of its Skunk Works advanced projects office in Palmdale, California. At the time, Dr. Thomas McGuire, head of the Skunk Works’ Compact Fusion Project, said the goal was to have a working reactor in five years and production worthy design within 10.
“I studied this in graduate school [at MIT] where, under a NASA study, I was charged with how we could get to Mars quickly,” McGuire said back in 2014 in an interview with Aviation Week. “I started looking at all the ideas that had been published. I basically took those ideas and melded them into something new by taking the problems in one and trying to replace them with the benefits of others.”
Since the 1920s, scientists have been working on fusion reactor concepts, but unfortunately most the functional examples have been inefficient and large – typically the size of small building – as well as exceptionally expensive. For example, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, which an international consortium is building in France and expects to have ready in 2021, has an estimated total cost of $50 billion and has a design that will weight approximately 23,000 tons.
Below is a video presentation that Lockheed Martin released in 2014 in which Dr. McGuire explains the basics of nuclear fusion and his reactor design.