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James (Jim) Bickford, Friday, 2-24-12 February 25, 2012

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James (Jim) Bickford, Friday, 2-24-12


Guest:  James (Jim) Bickford. Topics:  Antimatter for space propulsion.  You are invited to comment, ask questions, and discuss the Space Show program/guest(s) on the Space Show blog, https://thespaceshow.wordpress.com.  Comments, questions, and any discussion must be relevant and applicable to Space Show programming. Transcripts of Space Show programs are not permitted without prior written consent from The Space Show (even if for personal use) & are a violation of the Space Show copyright.  We welcomed Jim Bickford to the program to discuss antimatter for space propulsion.  In our first segment, Mr. Bickford started our discussion with an introduction to antimatter basics.  While we referenced Star Trek in the discussion, Mr. Bickford was quick to point out that reality was quite different from the sci fi classic though he was a fan of Star Trek. Along with the Apollo program, both played a role in his having his interest in antimatter. In this introduction, I asked Mr. Bickford about antimatter as a weapon but he said it would not be practical.  One of the points stressed by Jim during the entire program was just how little antimatter material there is and how long term the R&D program would be..  He said there is very little in nature and the quantities made worldwide were extremely small, measuring in nanograms produced a year.  Our guest compared antimatter to chemical propulsion and nuclear thermal rockets (NTR).  While the NTR is substantially better than chemical propulsion, antimatter propulsion would be orders of magnitude better than the NTR.  We then talked about supplies of antimatter off Earth and he said the most promosing place was in the rings of Saturn.  He also mentioned solar flares from the sun in the positrons and back on Earth he talked about cosmic rays as well as some material in thunderstorms & ligtening.  Mr. Bickford also discussed what an antimatter spaceship would probably be like.  He discussed fuel tank requirements, containment, even plasma fileds around the spaceship using an electromagnetic field extending out around the spaceship as the containment device.  We talked about the research needed, the steps involved, and the funding.  Our guest repeated many times that antimatter research is high risk in the sense of obtaining success.  As the segment was ending, we talked about antimatter research in the medical field against cancer tumors. 

In our second segment, we talked more about tax payer funded antimatter research and Jim took us through a value stream analysis which was most interesting.  We talked about student interest in antimatter and both the direct and indirect benefits from technology research and development. We then talked about the specifics of antimatter for space development starting with defining the requirements and eventually being able to do a demo. A caller asked if the research had a billion dollars for many years would there be a breakthrough in the 20-30 year time period.  You might be surprised by his answer.  We also talked about a paper and a Power Point poster that he has used regarding his antimatter research.  Both the poster and the paper will be uploaded to The Space Show blog with Mr. Bickford’s permission.  We talked about antimatter and Jupiter based on the poster .  Another question came in about antimatter propulsion being useful for launch from Earth.  This prompted our guest to talk about the antimatter theoretical limit for both ISP and faster than light speed.  As we were talking about the antimatter development process, I asked about the role of luck or serendipity in discovering breakthroughs.  You might be surprised by this answer as well.  In ending our discussion, Jim repeated that antimatter was only at the fundamental research stage and very long term, perhaps even further out than a century but very promosing nonetheless.

Please post your comments/questions on The Space Show blog URL.

The two papers discussed on the show can be found below:

1.  Bickford_NIAC_Phase2Year1Report_Aug07_final2

2. COSPAR2008poster




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