Txchnologist, an online magazine sponsored by General Electric, talked to team member and aerospace engineering PH.D. candidate Ross Cortez, he said "The fusion fuel we're focusing on is deuterium [a stable isotope of hydrogen] and Li6 [a stable isotope of the metal lithium] in a crystal structure."
"That's basically dilithium crystals we're using," he said.
Trekkies everywhere shudder in delight.
The researchers say that this type of engine is what NASA needs to propel human beings outside low-Earth orbit, out to places like Mars and even beyond.
Not so fast though, the military will probably get first dibs.
The whole projects is only possible from repurposing military nuclear testing equipment, essentially stuff America used to test nuclear weapons.
From UHA Public Affairs:
[The team is] busy putting together a strange looking machine they’re calling the “Charger-1 Pulsed Power Generator. The huge apparatus, known as the Decade Module Two (DM2) in its earlier life, was used on a contract with the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) for research into the effects of nuclear weapons explosions.
The unit may cut down travel time from Earth to Mars, but it will also cut down travel time of a military payload to any particular spot on the planet.
There's still a few kinks to work out though, as CNET points out:
Plenty of obstacles will need to be overcome during the development process. The issue of harnessing fusion is prominent, but there is also the question of turning the power generated by fusion into thrust for an engine. The craft using the impulse drive would also need to be assembled in space, much like the International Space Station.
“This has been the Holy Grail of energy propulsion technology. The massive payoff is that energy gain, where we get more energy out of the reaction than we put in. This is what everyone has pursued since the time we first started thinking about this,” said Cortez.
He noted, however, that they are far from achieving a "break even" energy propulsion system.