Scientists Begin Quest To Recreate Sun’s Energy On Earth

A picture shows a general view of the assembly hall during the launch of the assembly stage of nuclear fusion machine "Tokamak" of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) in Saint-Paul-les-Durance, southeastern France, on July 28, 2020. CLEMENT MAHOUDEAU / AFP
A picture shows a general view of the assembly hall during the launch of the assembly stage of nuclear fusion machine “Tokamak” of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) in Saint-Paul-les-Durance, southeastern France, on July 28, 2020. CLEMENT MAHOUDEAU / AFP

 

Fourteen years after receiving the official go-ahead, scientists on Tuesday began assembling a giant machine in southern France designed to demonstrate that nuclear fusion, the process which powers the sun, can be a safe and viable energy source on Earth.

The groundbreaking multinational experiment, known as ITER, has seen components arrive in the tiny commune of Saint-Paul-les-Durance from production sites worldwide in recent months.

They will now be painstakingly put together to complete what is described by ITER as the “world’s largest puzzle.”

The experimental plant’s goal is to demonstrate that fusion power can be generated sustainably, and safely, on a commercial scale, with initial experiments set to begin in December 2025.

Fusion powers the sun and other stars when light atomic nuclei fuse together to form heavier ones, releasing huge amounts of energy in doing so.

Director-General of the ITER organisation Bernard Bigot speaks in front of the lower cyclinder of the cryostat, which provides the high vacuum, ultra-cool environment for the vacuum vessel and the superconducting magnets during the launch of the assembly stage of nuclear fusion machine "Tokamak" of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) in Saint-Paul-les-Durance, southeastern France, on July 28, 2020. Director-General of the ITER organisation Bernard Bigot speaks in front of the CLEMENT MAHOUDEAU / AFP
Director-General of the ITER organisation Bernard Bigot speaks in front of the lower cyclinder of the cryostat, which provides the high vacuum, ultra-cool environment for the vacuum vessel and the superconducting magnets during the launch of the assembly stage of nuclear fusion machine “Tokamak” of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) in Saint-Paul-les-Durance, southeastern France, on July 28, 2020.  CLEMENT MAHOUDEAU / AFP

 

The challenge is to build a machine which can harness this energy which is meant to be held in place in the reactor vessel and controlled by an immensely strong magnetic field.

“With fusion, nuclear holds promise for the future,” French President Emmanuel Macron said in a message broadcast to an event Tuesday to mark the official start of assembly.

As a technology, it promises “clean, no-carbon, safe and practically waste-free energy,” added the president, who has long advocated nuclear power in the global fight against climate change driven by the greenhouse gases produced from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas.

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in, for his part, hailed “the biggest international science project in human history,” which he said offered hope of a clean, safe energy source as soon as 2050.

Low-risk

The ITER project was launched in 2006 by 35 countries including the United States, Russia, China, Britain, Switzerland, India, Japan, South Korea, and the 27 members of the European Union.

“Fusion is safe, with minute amounts of fuel and no physical possibility of a run-away accident with meltdown” as with traditional nuclear power stations, the partners said in a statement.

Scientific attache of the South Korean Embassy Lee Eun-ju sits with other representatives of the ITER member states during the launch of the assembly stage of nuclear fusion machine "Tokamak" of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) in Saint-Paul-les-Durance, southeastern France, on July 28, 2020. CLEMENT MAHOUDEAU / AFP
Scientific attache of the South Korean Embassy Lee Eun-ju sits with other representatives of the ITER member states during the launch of the assembly stage of nuclear fusion machine “Tokamak” of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) in Saint-Paul-les-Durance, southeastern France, on July 28, 2020. CLEMENT MAHOUDEAU / AFP

 

A further advantage: the fuel for fusion and lithium to help manage the reaction is found in seawater and is abundant enough to supply humanity for millions of years.

“A pineapple-sized amount of this fuel is the equivalent of 10,000 tonnes of coal,” the partners said.

ITER, the world’s largest experimental fusion facility, is meant to produce about 500 megawatts of thermal power, equivalent to some 200 megawatts of electric energy if operated continuously, enough to supply some 200,000 homes.

Its “Tokamak” nuclear fusion reactor will comprise about a million components in all, some like its hugely powerful superconducting magnets standing as high as a four-floor building and weighing 360 tonnes each.

“Three-dimensional puzzle”

Some 2,300 people are at work on-site to put the massive machine together.

“Constructing the machine piece by piece will be like assembling a three-dimensional puzzle on an intricate timeline,” said ITER’s director general Bernard Bigot.

“Every aspect of project management, systems engineering, risk management and logistics of the machine assembly must perform together with the precision of a Swiss watch,” he said, adding: “We have a complicated script to follow over the next few years.”

A picture shows the fully-assembled 10-metre-large poloidal field coil number 6 (PF6), assembled by China, in the winding facility for the construction of poloidal field coils which will be part of the magnetic system that will contribute to confine and model plasma during the launch of the assembly stage of nuclear fusion machine "Tokamak" of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) in Saint-Paul-les-Durance, southeastern France, on July 28, 2020. CLEMENT MAHOUDEAU / AFP
A picture shows the fully-assembled 10-metre-large poloidal field coil number 6 (PF6), assembled by China, in the winding facility for the construction of poloidal field coils which will be part of the magnetic system that will contribute to confine and model plasma during the launch of the assembly stage of nuclear fusion machine “Tokamak” of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) in Saint-Paul-les-Durance, southeastern France, on July 28, 2020. CLEMENT MAHOUDEAU / AFP

 

Once finished, the reactor should be able to recreate the fusion processes that occur at the heart of stars at a temperature of some 150 million degrees Celsius, 10 times hotter than the sun

It could reach full power by 2035, but as an experimental project, it is not designed to produce electricity.

If the technology proves feasible, future fusion reactors would be capable of powering two million homes each at an operational cost comparable to those of conventional nuclear reactors, Bigot said.

Such “artificial suns,” however, are criticised by environmentalists as a cripplingly expensive scientific mirage.

The ITER project is running five years behind schedule and has seen its initial budget triple to some 20 billion euros ($23.4 billon).

 

 

AFP

US, Europe Launch Probe To Study Sun

This file handout illustration image provided by NASA and obtained February 3, 2020 shows the Solar Orbiter. Handout / NASA / AFP
This file handout illustration image provided by NASA and obtained February 3, 2020 shows the Solar Orbiter. Handout / NASA / AFP

 

The US-European Solar Orbiter probe launched Sunday night from Florida on a voyage to deepen our understanding of the Sun and how it shapes the space weather that impacts technology back on Earth.

The mission, a collaboration between ESA (the European Space Agency) and NASA, successfully blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral at 11:03pm (0403 GMT Monday) and could last up to nine years or more.

At 12:24am Monday (0524 GMT) the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, received a signal from the spacecraft indicating that its solar panels had successfully deployed.

Space Orbiter is expected to provide unprecedented insights into the Sun’s atmosphere, its winds and its magnetic fields, including how it shapes the heliosphere, the vast swath of space that encompasses our system.

By journeying out of the ecliptic plane — the belt of space roughly aligned with the Sun’s equator, through which the planets orbit — it will acquire the first-ever images of our star’s uncharted polar regions.

Drawing on gravity assists from Earth and Venus, Solar Orbiter will slingshot itself into a bird’s eye view of the Sun’s poles, reaching its primary science orbit in two years’ time.

“I think it was picture perfect, suddenly you really feel like you’re connected to the entire solar system,” said Daniel Muller, ESA project scientist, shortly after the launch.

“You’re here on Earth and you’re launching something that will go close to the Sun.”

“We have one common goal and that is to get the good science out of this mission. I think we’re going to succeed,” added Holly Gilbert, director of NASA’s heliophysics science division.

Space weather

Ten state-of-the-art instruments on board will record myriad observations to help scientists unlock clues about what drives solar winds and flares.

These emit billions of highly charged particles that impact the Earth, producing the spectacular Northern Lights. But they can also disrupt radar systems, radio networks and even, though rarely, render satellites useless.

The largest solar storm on record hit North America in September 1859, knocking out much of the continent’s telegraph network and bathing the skies in an aurora viewable as far away as the Caribbean.

“Imagine if just half of our satellites were destroyed,” said Matthieu Berthomier, a researcher at the Paris-based Plasma Physics Laboratory. “It would be a disaster for mankind.”

Titanium heat shield

At its closest approach, Solar Orbiter will be nearer to the Sun than Mercury, a mere 42 million kilometers (26 million miles) away.

With a custom-designed titanium heat shield, it is built to withstand temperatures as high as 500 Celsius (930 Fahrenheit). Its heat-resistant structure is coated in a thin, black layer of calcium phosphate, a charcoal-like powder that is similar to pigments used in prehistoric cave paintings.

The shield will protect the instruments from extreme particle radiation emitted from solar explosions.

All but one of the spacecraft’s telescopes will peep out through holes in the heat shield that open and close in a carefully orchestrated dance, while other instruments will work behind the shadow of the shield.

Just like Earth, the Sun’s poles are extreme regions quite different from the rest of the body. It is covered in coronal holes, cooler stretches where fast-gushing solar wind originates.

Scientists believe this region could be key to understanding what drives its magnetic activity.

Every 11 years, the Sun’s poles flip: north becoming south and vice versa. Just before this event, solar activity increases, sending powerful bursts of solar material into space.

Solar Orbiter will observe the surface as it explodes and record measurements as the material goes by the spacecraft.

The only spacecraft to previously fly over the Sun’s poles was another joint ESA/NASA venture, the Ulysses, launched in 1990. But it got no closer to the Sun than the Earth is.

“You can’t really get much closer than Solar Orbiter is going and still look at the Sun,” ESA’s Muller said.

Solar Orbiter will use three gravity assists to draw its orbit closer to the Sun: two past Venus in December 2020 and August 2021, and one past Earth in November 2021, leading up to its first close pass by the Sun in 2022.

It will work in concert with NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, which launched in 2018 and will fly much closer to the Sun, passing through the star’s inner atmosphere to see how energy flows through its corona.

 

AFP

NASA Postpones Launch Of Spacecraft To ‘Touch Sun’

The sun sets behind smoke from the Holy Fire in Cleveland National Forest on August 8, 2018, in Corona, California. The fire has burned at least 6,200 acres and destroyed twelve structures. Mario Tama/Getty Images/AFP

 

NASA has postponed until Sunday the launch of its $1.5 billion unmanned Parker Solar Probe, to allow engineers more time to investigate a red flag that was raised in the last moment before liftoff.

The problem had to do with the gaseous helium pressure alarm on the spacecraft, officials said early Saturday. The next launch window opens at 3:31 (0731 GMT) on Sunday.

NASA Counts Down To Launch Of First Spacecraft To ‘Touch Sun’

The sun sets behind smoke from the Holy Fire in Cleveland National Forest on August 8, 2018 in Corona, California. Mario Tama/Getty Images/AFP

 

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Friday began counting down to the launch of a $1.5 billion spacecraft that aims to plunge into the Sun’s sizzling atmosphere and become humanity’s first mission to explore a star.

The car-sized Parker Solar Probe is scheduled to blast off on a Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida early Saturday.

The 65-minute launch window opens at 3:33 am (0733 GMT), and the weather forecast is 70 percent favorable for takeoff, NASA said.

By coming closer to the Sun than any spacecraft in history, the probe’s main goal is to unveil the secrets of the corona, the unusual atmosphere around Sun.

Not only is the corona about 300 times hotter than the Sun’s surface, it also hurls powerful plasma and energetic particles that can unleash geomagnetic space storms, wreaking havoc on Earth by disrupting the power grid.

But these solar outbursts are poorly understood.

“The Parker Solar Probe will help us do a much better job of predicting when a disturbance in the solar wind could hit Earth,” said Justin Kasper, one of the project scientists and a professor at the University of Michigan.

Full Of Mysteries

The probe is protected by an ultra-powerful heat shield that is just 4.5 inches thick (11.43 centimeters).

The shield should enable the spacecraft to survive its close shave with the center of our solar system, coming within 3.83 million miles (6.16 million kilometers) of the Sun’s surface.

The heat shield is built to withstand radiation equivalent up to about 500 times the Sun’s radiation here on Earth.

Even in a region where temperatures can reach more than a million degrees Fahrenheit, the sunlight is expected to heat the shield to just around 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,371 degrees Celsius).

Scorching, yes? But if all works as planned, the inside of the spacecraft should stay at just 85 F (29 C).

The goal for the Parker Solar Probe is to make 24 passes through the corona during its seven-year mission.

“The sun is full of mysteries,” said Nicky Fox, project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab.

“We are ready. We have the perfect payload. We know the questions we want to answer.”

91-Year-Old Namesake

The tools on board will measure the expanding corona and continually flowing atmosphere known as the solar wind, which solar physicist Eugene Parker first described back in 1958.

Parker, now 91, recalled that at first, some people did not believe in his theory.

But then, the launch of NASA’s Mariner 2 spacecraft in 1962 — becoming the first robotic spacecraft to make a successful planetary encounter — proved them wrong.

“It was just a matter of sitting out the deniers for four years until the Venus Mariner 2 spacecraft showed that, by golly, there was a solar wind,” Parker said earlier this week.

He added that he is “impressed” by the Parker Solar Probe, calling it “a very complex machine.”

Scientists have wanted to build a spacecraft like this for more than 60 years, but only in recent years did the heat shield technology advance enough to be capable of protecting sensitive instruments, according to Fox.

Tools on board will measure high energy particles associated with flares and coronal mass ejections, as well as the changing magnetic field around the Sun.

“We will also be listening for plasma waves that we know flow around when particles move,” Fox added.

“And last but not least, we have a white light imager that is taking images of the atmosphere right in front of the Sun.”

When it nears the Sun, the probe will travel rapidly enough to go from New York to Tokyo in one minute – some 430,000 miles (700,000 kilometers) per hour, making it the fastest human-made object.

Nigeria To Experience Lunar Eclipse

lunar-eclipseA lunar eclipse is expected to be visible in Nigeria on Monday September 28, 2015 for five hours and eleven minutes.

According to a statement signed by the Deputy Director in charge of Media and Communications at the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA), Dr. Felix Ale, the natural occurrence will start by 1:11am and end by 6:22 am.

The lunar eclipse is an astronomical event that occurs when the earth comes in-between the Sun and the Moon, and the Earth casts its shadow on the Moon, so that the Moon appears reddish.

The agency said the event will be visible in Abuja and in locations with the absence of cloud cover.

Other regions of the world that will experience the event include Europe, the Americas and South East Asia.

The agency advised Nigerians not to panic, and to go about their normal activities.