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Fusion Steps Forward: U.S. National Ignition Facility Unveils ‘Super Laser’ May 31, 2009

Posted by Nick Azer in Fusion Power, Helium-3.


The National Ignition Facility in Livermore, CA made big headlines today by unveiling their ‘super laser’, a major step towards developing fusion power.

Fusion power is essentially the main reason there’s a ‘base race’ back to the Moon at all. Its fuel is helium-3— a resource rare on Earth, but abundant on the Moon—and its potential as a nearly-limitless energy source is astronomical. (Check out the excellent article by Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison “Jack” Schmitt for the full skinny, as well as his 2006 book on the subject).

Governor Schwarzenegger embraced the project with bear-hug enthusiasm (a pretty big development in and of itself):

“‘This laser system is an incredible success not just for California, but for our country and our world,’ Schwarzenegger said. ‘NIF has the potential to revolutionize our energy system, teaching us a new way to harness the energy of the sun to power our cars and homes.’ “- “US lab debuts super laser“, AFB via Brietbart.com

This laser represents the first time there has been a fusion laser capable of producing positive energy gain—that is, producing more energy than it took to ignite it. Clearly, an important step towards having fusion power as a viable everyday energy source.

Every development in fusion power solidifies the value of being involved in helium-3, and therefore, further encourages lunar efforts (both public and private). The pace and scale of lunar development are—and will remain—deeply intertwined with the status of fusion power as a technology.

For all the neat details of the laser itself, check out this 10-minute PBS feature from last year on it (as well as the National Ignition Facility’s own surprisingly-spiffy website):



1. AronSora - May 31, 2009

Playing devil’s advocate here, I support this idea but I want to get more thoughts out of you…

I remember reading this article on how this concept could spark WW3. Also, the article expressed concerns over the strip mining of the moon.


What do you think? Is this worth the possibility of war? Is this worth the possibility of losing the beauty of the moon?

Nick Azer - May 31, 2009

That’s a great article—brand new, too :)

As far as I understand it, helium-3 doesn’t actually involve ‘strip mining’—not only is it completely abundant, it’s very easy to reach: it’s in the soil. Because it comes from the solar wind, it’s simply been collecting on the surface for billions of years—so the environmental concerns in the case of helium-3 are fairly minimal, as you just collect soil and sort out the helium-3. Here’s a graphic from Newsweek that explains the mining beautifully:

That said, conservation of the moon is a fascinating subject to me, and one I plan to push a lot of discourse on as the base race develops :)

I think the mutual vulnerability of lunar operations/programs, as well as the pure expense as it is of going to the Moon and mining, will be a deterrent against conflict. While every major resource in human history has led to wars (and few have been in as important need as helium-3 will be), it doesn’t necessarily do anyone any good to attack a terrestrial interest to combat a lunar operation, and mutual destruction on the Moon would increase the costs more than I think anyone would consider to be worth the effort.

The bulk of helium-3 mining could end up—especially depending on international treaties on the form of government for the Moon—falling to private operations. Probably be easier for everyone, and better for their economies, to push their nation’s private efforts and get ‘hometown discounts’ from them :) (much like companies like Astrobotic are going to do with data… minus those discounts perhaps).

Environmentally, I’m more concerned over the waste and junk that could pile up as miners look to save costs with their outposts, dead machinery, etc., than the mining operations themselves. But again, the international agreements that develop over governance of the Moon will dictate everything, including how reckless the pace of lunar development could become. (This is something I think should be started on now, -before- companies and nations get to the Moon. Realistically though, I could see the International Lunar Network project as a potential spur and example for int’l development rules).

AronSora - June 3, 2009

Ok, in the worst case, the moon was completely striped mined and turned into a junkyard, would the moon look different down here.

Thanks for the PDF, it clears a lot up

2. A - July 4, 2009

We do far worse things to the surface of the earth everyday. I say go for it! Without a new clean source of energy, humans are in for some trouble.

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