Pulsed power

Pulsed power is the science and technology of accumulating energy over a relatively long period of time and releasing it very quickly, thus increasing the instantaneous power.

Steady accumulation of energy followed by its rapid release can result in the delivery of a larger amount of instantaneous power over a shorter period of time (although the total energy is the same). Energy is typically stored within electrostatic fields (capacitors), magnetic fields (inductor), as mechanical energy (using large flywheels connected to special purpose high current alternators), or as chemical energy (high-current lead-acid batteries, or explosives). By releasing the stored energy over a very short interval (a process that is called energy compression), a huge amount of peak power can be delivered to a load. For example, if one joule of energy is stored within a capacitor and then evenly released to a load over one second, the peak power delivered to the load would only be 1 watt. However, if all of the stored energy were released within one microsecond, the peak power would be one megawatt, a million times greater. Examples where pulsed power technology is commonly used include radar, particle accelerators, ultrastrong magnetic fields, fusion research, electromagnetic pulses, and high power pulsed lasers.

Pulsed Power was first developed during World War II for use in Radar. Radar requires short high power pulses. After the war development continued in other applications leading to the super pulsed power machines at Sandia National Laboratories (above).

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New accelerator called “Thor” will crush materials at a pressure rate of 1 million atmospheres - Electronic Products
New accelerator called “Thor” will crush materials at a pressure rate of 1 million atmospheres - Electronic Produtcs

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“20: Magnetic strength, in mega gauss, of the Z machine—20 million times greater than Earth’s magnetic field.” 

For 80 years, researchers theorized that hydrogen could transform into a metal. This year, scientists at Sandia National Laboratories finally proved it. Read how they did it at Image credit: Randy Montoya; Courtesy Sandia National Laboratories

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Scientists sometimes say that the inside of a star is one of the most mysterious places in the universe, but perhaps the nearest star isn’t as mysterious as it was just last week. Learn more:

(Pictured: Sandia’s Z Machine, Image by Randy Montoya)
Sandia National Laboratories Has Completed Design for Nuclear Powered Drone

External image

Nukulahr AEROPLaneess! Weeeh. Ok, got that out of my system. Ahem… I would love to see one of these built as a technology test bed, but not deployed to the front lines quite yet.

First off, we’re not 100% certain that they use a nuclear power plant on board the plane to accomplish these month long loiter times, but I’d say that is highly likely, considering the article points out that the leader of the project is a nuclear physicist. Assuming they do use a nuclear reactor on board….

Among the objections to this I’ve been reading in the comment threads, I can probably write off of few of them pretty quickly, and some of them I suppose would have to be answered by Sandia.


1) The terrorists will hack into the drone, steal it, and use the reactor to build nuclear weapons.

I think this one can be safely answered… If they don’t use weapons grade material in the reactor, there is no issue. Also certain types of reactors can’t be used to build weapons. If they have a choice, I’m sure they are going with the non-weaponizable reactor.

2) In the event it crashes, it will create a nuclear explosion.

Ok, there could be local radiation at the crash site, but that’s about it. There wouldn’t be a nuclear explosion along the lines of Hiroshima. Additionally there are types of small reactors being discussed that in theory would have little to no radiation, like Thorium reactors. Maybe that is what they put in the design? In any case, the worst case is local radiation.

3) Terrorists could steal the crashed/stolen drone and explode it in New York as a dirty bomb.

Possibly, but there would be a ton of hurdles involved with this. Assuming they could smuggle the intact reactor away from the crash site without dying, they’d have to transport it across an ocean where anyone who comes within a certain distance of it would be exposed to radiation. If it the type of reactor that produces large amounts of radiation then there is nothing to move and explode in New York.

The other objections had to do with “how we do trust America?”, or “Obama is a war monger (seriously?)!!!”, and I’m just not going to bother with those.

Overall, nuclear propulsion could be a very exciting prospect assuming they get some of the problems they’ve had (since the 50s) resolved, and that is why I hope they build at least one of these so they can start checking how well their theories fit with reality.