Daily Archives: November 9th, 2007

Harvesting Antimatter

From Centauri Dreams :

Forward saw the antimatter problem as a matter of scaling and cost (and he often talked about ’small problems of engineering’). As we’ve seen in the last few days, James Bickford (Draper Laboratory) is more than aware of both these issues, but unlike Forward, he’s keen on mining naturally occurring sources of antimatter right here in the Solar System. Forward’s huge factories may some day be built, but for now, let’s talk about how to get our early antimatter missions into the realm of possibility by learning how to cull the needed antimatter, if only in the minute quantities that would kick a payload up to 100 kilometers per second. Along the way, we establish the expertise to go further.

I have posted a few threads about antimatter being the absolute energy source needed for Outer Solar System, Kuiper Belt, Oort Cloud and eventually interstellar exploration. Nanogram for nanogram, you get the most bang for your buck using antimatter. Nothing else even comes close.

That said, antimatter is extremely difficult to manufacture and store. Using present technology, antimatter currently is produced in particle accelerators and can only be stored in non-material electromagnetic storage containers called “Penning Traps”. The amount produced is abysmally small, not even nanogram amounts.

Enter Dr. James Bickford. His proposal is to collect naturally occurring antimatter using a plasma magnet to form an electromagnetic scoop to guide the particles into a Penning Trap storage container. Apparently, antimatter particles form “…in the planet’s radiation belt as they, obeying the Lorentz force, bounce back and forth between their mirror points in the Northern and Southern hemispheres. The antiproton belt our spacecraft is tapping is analogous to the protons in the Van Allen radiation belt, and provides a close to home source of antimatter before we look out into the Solar System, where we find further stores especially around Saturn…”.

You learn something new every day. I didn’t know antimatter naturally forms in the environment! This is very fortuitous indeed.

All Dr. Bickford needs now is the money and political will to do this. Interesting that this discovery is happening now that a new, stealthy Space Race is coming to the fore.

Maybe that’s a good thing.

Centauri Dreams: Part I http://www.centauri-dreams.org/?p=1567

Centauri Dreams: Part II http://www.centauri-dreams.org/?p=1569