Imagine a plane that could stay aloft with unlimited range and endurance without refueling. That’s exactly what Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works division claims it could develop within ten years.
The makers of some of the most famous military aircraft—the SR-71 Blackbird, U-2 spy plane, and F-117 Nighthawk—are developing a reactor to harness nuclear fusion, the process that powers the sun.
Nuclear technology for power is not a new concept; we’ve been doing it for decades through fission. Fission occurs when an atom is split into smaller fragments, creating small explosions resulting in the release of heat energy. Fusion, on the other hand, is the process by which gas is heated up and separated into its ions and electrons. When the ions get hot enough, they can overcome their mutual repulsion and collide, fusing together, hence its name — fusion. When this happens, the energy released is three to four times more than that of a fission reaction, according to Lockheed Martin.
Lockheed Martin aims to mimic the fusion process within a small magnetic container designed to release its hundreds of millions of degrees of heat in a controlled fashion. These devices will be small enough to be used on planes and other vehicles.
Its compact size is the reason for which the engineers and scientists at Lockheed Martin believe they can achieve this technology so quickly. A small device size allows them to test and fail quickly under budget.
In this video Tom McGuire, a research engineer and scientist at Lockheed Martin explains how they plan to bottle the power of the sun within a decade: