UK Science Minister and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Science, Research & Innovation Amanda Solloway on 17 June visited First Light Fusion in Oxford and officially fired the first 'shot' in First Light's maiden fusion campaign using its newly completed 'Big Gun'.
First Light finalised construction of the GBP1.1 million ($1.5m) device in May 2021 and has since completed the testing and commissioning. The Big Gun, at 22 metres long and weighing 25,000kg, is the largest of its kind in the UK. Such devices are typically used by astrophysicists to simulate meteorite impacts.
When fired, the gun will launch a projectile into a vacuum chamber at speeds of over 6.5 km/s, or 20 times the speed of sound. The projectile will impact a fusion target – the centrepiece of First Light's unique approach to fusion. With the benefit of First Light's unique amplification technology, the collapsing velocity of the fusion fuel will reach in excess of 70 km/s, or 250,000 kms/hour (over 200 times the speed of sound) producing pressure 30 times the centre of the Earth. The aim is to create the conditions required for fusion.
The 'Big Gun' complements First Light's electromagnetic launch device 'Machine 3', allowing the team to explore a different parameter space by launching larger but "slower" projectiles. The new gun is housed in a specifically constructed 10mm steel clad facility called 'The Citadel'.
This maiden fusion campaign using the Big Gun will comprise 21 separate shots and is expected to conclude in late July. This campaign is an integral part of First Light's effort to demonstrate fusion using their unique approach to inertial confinement fusion, which aims to create the extreme temperatures and pressures required for fusion by compressing the fuel inside a target using a projectile travelling at massive speed.
First Light says its approach to fusion is safe, clean, and virtually limitless, with the potential to transform the world's energy system. Unlike existing nuclear, there is no long-lived waste, no meltdown risk, and raw materials are readily available. Unlike many other fusion approaches, First Light's power plant can be realised with existing technology and materials.
"This is a significant scientific milestone for First Light Fusion, as we begin our maiden fusion campaign using our new Big Gun,” said First Light CEO Dr Nick Hawker. “Our target design, which is the core element of our IP, has advanced significantly over the last 12 months. We are now able to amplify impact speeds by over 11 times in the space of just a few millimetres, breaking our previous records. This is key to creating the extraordinary pressure and temperature necessary for fusion."