Could a nuclear fusion rocket take us to Mars or even ‘Planet Nine’?

18 Sep 2020

Image: © elen31/

This week in future tech, the head of a small aerospace company revealed how its nuclear fusion rocket concept could travel to a planet that might not exist.

For years, astronomers have theorised about the existence of a massive planet up to 10 times the mass of Earth – dubbed ‘Planet Nine’ – that could exist in the outer edges of our solar system. Despite never being seen, it has helped offer a potential answer to the unusual patterns in the orbits of trans-Neptunian objects in that part of space.

While recent research has suggested it could, in fact, be a black hole, the president of a small aerospace company funded by NASA called Princeton Satellite Systems has proposed a rather science-fiction-like way of reaching the theoretical planet.

In a blog post, Michael Paluszek proposed the company’s Direct Fusion Drive as the answer. The nuclear-fusion-powered rocket engine could generate both propulsion and electricity to power its payload and travel through space significantly faster than other forms of propulsion.

Explained in greater detail during a recent conference, Paluszek said a 26,000kg spacecraft with a 12MW Direct Fusion Drive engine and a payload of 2,000kg could reach the point where Planet Nine is theorised to be located in just 11 years. He also proposed that the engine could be used to reach Mars in just 100 days, or could be used as a portable power plant for performing missions on the red planet.

However, just like Planet Nine, the Direct Fusion Drive is only theoretical so far.

Chinese start-up proposes new satellite launch system

Guangzhou-based company Guoyao Tech has announced plans to complete a prototype launch of a rocket powered by electromagnetic propulsion by 2023. The company was founded in 2017 and in October last year it secured $1.5m in funding after completing its prototype electromagnetic launcher.

Unlike traditional chemical rocket launches, Guoyao said that a launch can be done without the need for staged propulsion, and can throw a satellite directly into near-Earth orbit. The company’s aim is to cut the launch cost of payload to $600 per kilogram.

CTO Dr Yadong Zhang said that as well as rocket launches, the tech can be used in civil rescue and field exploration situations.

“In early 2020, our team has successfully produced the world’s first electromagnetic thrower for commercial use. The rescue equipment product has been granted 20 innovation patents in China. And by August, the production capacity can reach up to 150,000 units a year.”

Connected sextech devices set for surge in 2020

Juniper Research has estimated that the number of connected sextech devices will be more than 36m by the end of 2020, up from 19m last year. The report’s author cited the onset of Covid-19 restrictions keeping people at home, growth in online retail and more free time overall as helping push this massive growth.

The report predicted that long-term growth in demand for sextech devices, such as connected vibrators and kegel exercisers, will be driven by their increasing inclusion in the concept of sexual wellness. By 2025, the sextech market could be worth more than $9bn, versus $3.8bn this year.

“Interest in sextech devices has been driven by the use of connected vibrators in adult cam shows and pornography,” said research author Scarlett Woodford. “This will be most profoundly felt in North America, which has a high viewership of both content formats.”

Google reveals Series One remote meeting kit

Google has released its latest hardware offering to a world that is increasingly working remotely. The Series One remote meeting kit is designed by Lenovo and works only with Google Meet.

In its description, Google said the technology includes multi-channel noise cancellation and voice amplification tools to ensure every voice is heard. The ‘Smart Audio Bar’ uses eight beam-forming microphones and the largest kit configuration can process up to 44 channels simultaneously.

This means distracting sounds, like snacking or typing on a keyboard, are filtered out completely, but voices will be made clear. The kit also includes a 4K camera that promises automatic participant framing without any loss of image quality.

According to The Verge, companies interested in buying the kits – which will soon be available for pre-order – will have to pay a minimum of $2,699 for its ‘small room’ option.

Want stories like this and more direct to your inbox? Sign up for Tech Trends, Silicon Republic’s weekly digest of need-to-know tech news.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic