PPPL partners with local company on developing superconducting magnets for space applications

Written by
Jeanne Jackson DeVoe
Oct. 4, 2018

PPPL has received more than $200,000 to develop superconducting magnet technology that could be used for space propulsion as part of a NASA grant to a company that has licensed technology developed by PPPL physicist Sam Cohen

Princeton Satellite Systems (PSS)  recently received a $750,000 NASA contract to develop technology with applications for space travel, with $238,000 coming to the Lab through a Strategic Partnership Project agreement. The contract  will focus on developing superconducting coils with applications to fusion-powered systems such as Cohen’s Princeton Field-Reversed Configuration device. It was one of 20 Phase II STTR proposals selected nationwide. 

Researchers will use the funding to explore superconducting magnet technology for space applications with research conducted at PPPL. The Lab’s funding comes through a Strategic Partnership Project agreement approved by the U.S. Department of Energy.

The plan is to build a testbed at PPPL consisting of a split-pair, low-temperature superconducting coil (magnet) made up of two coil windings with a gap between them. The low-temperature superconducting magnet can produce a high magnetic field using a conduction cooling system. This could make low-temperature magnets cost- and power-effective for space vessels, said PSS vice-president Stephanie Thomas.   

Testbed for superconducting magnet

The testbed would include a pulsed magnet test coil that would be inserted into the super-conducting magnet to be used to simulate the conditions of plasma start-up and shut-down.  PPPL and PSS will continue working on evaluating high-temperature superconducting nozzle magnets, which would be located at the ends of the device.  “It will give us a lot of insight into what will be needed to build and operate a whole array of magnets for the next version of the machine,” Thomas said. 

The researchers say that the coils have direct applications to additional advanced propulsion concepts for space travel, as well as for radiation shielding, as well as civilian applications such as high-power Earth satellites or generators for wind turbines, or mobile disaster relief. 

PPPL, on Princeton University's Forrestal Campus in Plainsboro, N.J., is devoted to creating new knowledge about the physics of plasmas — ultra-hot, charged gases — and to developing practical solutions for the creation of fusion energy. The Laboratory is managed by the University for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the largest single supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.

PPPL is mastering the art of using plasma — the fourth state of matter — to solve some of the world's toughest science and technology challenges. Nestled on Princeton University’s Forrestal Campus in Plainsboro, New Jersey, our research ignites innovation in a range of applications including fusion energy, nanoscale fabrication, quantum materials and devices, and sustainability science. The University manages the Laboratory for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the nation’s single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences. Feel the heat at https://energy.gov/science and https://www.pppl.gov.