This is an invention that might change civilization as we know it: A compact fusion reactor developed by Skunk Works, the stealth experimental technology division of Lockheed Martin. It’s the size of a jet engine and it can power airplanes, spaceships, and cities. Skunk Works claims it will be operative in 10 years.
Aviation Week had exclusive access to their secret laboratories and talked to Dr. Thomas McGuire, the leader of Skunk Work’s Revolutionary Technology division. And revolutionary it is, indeed: Instead of using the same design that everyone else is using—the Soviet-derived tokamak, a torus in which magnetic fields confine the fusion reaction with a huge energy cost and thus little energy production capabilities—Skunk Works’ Compact Fusion Reactor has a radically different approach to anything people have tried before.
The key to the Skunk Works system is their tube-like design, which allows them to bypass one of the limitations of classic fusion reactor designs, which are very limited in the amount of plasma they can hold, which makes them huge in size—like the gigantic International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor. According to McGuire:
[The traditional tokamak designes] can only hold so much plasma, and we call that the beta limit. [Their plasma ratio is] 5% or so of the confining pressure. […] We should be able to go to 100% or beyond.