The First Shots
[NOTE; First shots taken on Oct. 15]. Once the DPF machine is fully assembled, it will be ready to take it’s “first shots”.
The first shots are all about seeing if the machine works properly as designed. When they turn it on, they want to make sure nothing goes “bang”. Electricity shouldn’t short through anywhere. But there’s more. Let’s break it down:
What is a “shot”?
A “shot” takes around 10 to 15 minutes and basically involves:
- Pumping the chamber to a vacuum state. There must be no gases in the chamber other than the gases to be tested.
- Pumping in a measured amount of gas (the first series of shots will be taken with Deuterium to calibrate the machine. The tests with boron and hydrogen come later.)
- Charge the capacitors – e.g., press a button, it will take ~1 minute to charge the capacitors up to 25kV (first shots at 25kV. The machine will be worked up to 45 kV later). When it reaches 25kV…
- “Fire” – this is where Igor pulls the switch. Actually, Eric or Murali will press the red button.
- Look at readouts from the oscilloscopes and a few other diagnostic instruments attached to the machine.
- Pump down to a vacuum (and repeat for next shot).
What is the team looking for in the first shot?
- No shorting through the mylar. This could happen if dust or other impurities are on the high voltage plate. Such elements can redirect the electricity to penetrate the mylar insulation sheet.
- No breakage of the pyrex insulators. (Called “hat insulators” because of the hat shape). These insulators are made of pyrex and fitted to the anode. The fit must not be too tight or too loose as the anode expands and contracts with each charge. otherwise the pyrex could break. [IMAGE to be posted next Monday after it is unpacked.]
- The amount of current close to what is predicted.
- Possibly…evidence of a “pinch” – although this shouldn’t happen until after ~ 20 shots.
- Ideal outcome: The peak current will be somewhere around 1.2 to 1.3 MA (million amperes)
The capacitors store a fixed amount of energy. When the researchers “fire” (close the switch), the energy from the capacitor is released around the circuit. The faster that energy is released, the better. This is measured by time it takes for the current to reach its peak, called the “Rise time”. Rise time will be measured immediately by the oscilloscopes. The researchers are hoping for the most rapid rise time (quicker is better).
After ~20 shots, we may start to see the formation of a plasmoid. This will be detected by a rapid change in current.
[Images - to come:
Non pinch pulse curve
Pinch pulse curve – has a precipitous drop where most of the energy is transferred to the plasmoid from the current.]
Diagnostic Instruments Used in first shots
- A main Rogowski coil goes around the whole set of electrodes and measures the total current in the system.
- Each of the 12 capacitors has its own little Rogowski coil which will be used to test each capacitor switch – these are important initially, but won’t be used much after they’ve established that all the capacitors are working properly.
- 2 additional Rogowski coils are placed along the drift tube. These will only reveal a signal in the first shot if the plasmoid pinches. One coil is at the top of the tube, and one close to the bottom. The difference in current measured between the two coils shows the current and energy of the ion beam that the plasmoid produces.
- Oscilloscopes – these devices “read” the current and show it on the screen.
Eric doesn’t expect a plasmoid pinch in the first shot. After 20 or so shots, we may see a pinch. This is called “conditioning”. A fresh insulator (the pyrex “hat insulators”) seems to inhibit the current sheath. “Conditioning” means that after a few shots, the inhibition goes away and pinching begins. Once it starts pinching, it should pinch on every pulse, but may miss an occasional pulse.
The pinch will appear as a signature plunging curve on the oscilloscope readouts. (Image coming soon)
When the red button is pushed, a signal will go to the trigger generator, which is mounted on the machine. The trigger generator generates 12 pulses of electricity at the same time, which go over cables to the 12 switches connected to the capacitors. They pulse into spark plugs enclosed in a chamber filled with sulfur hexafluoride SF6. The sparks fire and trigger the energy to flow out of the capacitor and across to the high voltage plate. The switch is wrapped in a Rogowski coil, so it measures the charge moving across it. The energy from all twelve capacitors goes via metal plates to the central area and is measured by the Rogowski coil there.
Stay tuned for further installments that will break down what happens to the current after this point and what the subsequent shot series will be testing for - this is where the heart of the experiment is.
Looking forward to the day when “the shot heard around the world” has a positive, fusion-based meaning.