Fusion research ­company installs UK’s biggest gas gun

18 May 2021

First Light Fusion, a prominent company in the research field of energy generation via inertial fusion, has completed construction of a 22-metre-long two-stage gas gun as part of its experimental efforts to develop a simpler, faster, and cheaper route to commercial fusion energy. 

Weighing 25 000 kg, the new 38 mm gun is the largest of its kind in the UK. It fires a 100 g projectile, which can reach a velocity of 6.5 km/s, or 14 500 using up to 3 kg of gunpowder propellant. First Light has successfully fired first test shots, with fusion experimental shots on the new device starting in June. 

A two-stage ‘light’ gas gun works by converting the energy released from an ignited propellant into the compression of a light gas, usually hydrogen. This produces gas pressures of approximately 10 000 bar which then launches the projectile. The gun will launch a projectile into a vacuum chamber to impact a fusion target. The energy of the impact is intended to create the conditions required for fusion.

These ‘hyper velocity’ devices are typically used to simulate meteorite impacts, and a similar gun was used to test the panels on the International Space Station. The new gun will be housed in a specifically constructed 10mm steel clad facility within First Light’s headquarters in Oxford. 

Dr Nick Hawker, CEO of First Light Fusion, said: “This new gun … will help us accelerate our development timeline. It will complement the work we are doing with our unique electromagnetic launch pulsed power machine, Machine 3.” 

The investment follows a recent $25 million fund raise backed by global institutions including IP Group PLC & OSI. The two-stage gas gun project ha taken only 10 months so far from concept design to delivering a fully operational test facility.

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