Scientists and constructors are hard at work at the Assembly of the Plasma Liner Experiment, which is located at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. More than half of the 36 plasma guns are already operational, and they will play an important role in a new project which seeks to explore controlled nuclear fusion.
The functional plasma guns are mounted on a spherical chamber and can release jets of ionized gas towards a central gas target, which plays the role of fusion fuel. Experiments performed with the current version of the plasma guns offered essential data that can be employed in the creation of advanced simulations.
The simulations are also important since they can allow researchers to observe how plasma jets could collide and what steps can be taken to develop and improve controlled fusion.
Many fusion experiments will use magnetic confinement, which involves the use of powerful magnetic fields which can contain fusion plasma, or inertial confinement, which employs heat and powerful compression to establish the best conditions for fusion.
The two methods are combined in the case of the PLX machine, which retains aspects from confinement fusion schemes and inertial confinement machines. It is an interesting middle-ground approach, which may not be as mature as the methods which inspire it. Fuel plasma is magnetized to reduce the loss of particles and thermal energy, while a powerful imploding shell will compress and heat the fuel until it achieves fusion conditions.
Since the fusion fuel and liner are injected as gas and the plasma guns are placed at a relatively long distance from the imploding fuel jets can be fired without the risk of damaging the components or to replace the targets.
A small-scale experiment will take place this year after a total of 18 plasma guns will be functional. It is estimated that the entire array will be finished by 2020.