A Jingle from the Lockheed Skunk Works

There's no confusion!
We aim to implement fusion!
It's a tougher catch than lightning in a bottle.

But we can do it!
We made the Blackbird and flew it,
And we circumnavigated at full throttle.

Yes, some are skeptical
That our receptacle,
For holy fire might be a mayonnaise jar.

So we'll assure 'em,
Our R&D is kosher for Purim,
And this'll be our best result by far!

Hedge funds: don't short us!
Federal watchdogs: don't report us!
It'll take a while, so journalists: rake some muck!

Still, we're not kidding.
We're doing DARPA's bidding,
And soon we'll ship reactors on a truck!

(WaPo on Lockheed)

Last 5 posts by David Byron


  1. Alex says

    I sense some confusion;
    It's not "fission," it's "fusion!"
    (Though that's really quite a poor rhyme)

    Now your wording's been corrected,
    But my rhyming's too affected.
    I'll stop ere committing further word crime.


    You've beaten me to it!
    In waiting, I blew it.
    My pedantic verse simply took too much time.

  2. says

    In matters atomic,
    The difference is comic,
    So let's not put on airs.

    In typing hastily,
    Or cut-and-pastily,
    An improviser sometimes errs.

    So, in conclusion,
    It's pointless to split hairs!

  3. says

    When it comes to rhyming "fissile"
    All you need's a curt dismissal!
    Then the cost is limited to parts, no labor.

    But there's "free" and then there's "libertine"!
    I'm august (but not quite Tiburtine!)
    And averse to loosely limning friend or neighbor.

  4. Carl says

    A blogger misspoke his conclusion,
    Writing "fission" in error for "fusion"
    For material fissile,
    The main use is a missile,
    So lets avert nuclear profusion!

  5. anne mouse says

    Dave, it's "Free as in Freedom",
    Not "Free as in Beer",
    You would think that at Popehat
    (Which holds freedom dear)
    There'd be more support for versical liberty
    Or at the least, some space for diversity.

    Oh no! The D word!
    Now here comes the drama
    Somebody soon
    Will be blaming Obama
    And warning us all that free verse is a plot
    To hook us on welfare and to cause moral rot.

    While entertaining, that's all just charged plasma,
    Like Lockheed's announcement: an empty fantasma.

  6. Stephen says

    Oh no! The D word!
    Now here comes the drama
    Somebody soon
    Will be blaming Obama
    And warning us all that free verse is a plot
    To hook us on welfare and to cause moral rot.

    Free verse, I confess, raises the hackles
    And my pen recoils from e'er spelling it.
    Though in the right hands, like Yeats or Eliot
    A small flame of niceness oft crackles.
    Yet not in the hand of most modern jackals
    Who use verse for naught else but selling it
    To upturned noses, or for yelling it
    In poetry slams, like shrill small grackles.
    For me, though, the heart stirs, the blood pumps strong
    When someone can ape Petrarch with skill
    And give to their doggerel some symmetry
    Or semblance of meter, be it short or long
    Be it anapest, dactyl, or yet when they spill
    To the orderly dancing of trochee.

  7. Jeremy says

    My understanding of the current state of fusion research is that fusion is currently possible in large experimental setups, but not worth doing because currently they can't figure out how to get more energy back than is put in to create the reaction. Skunkworks has a great reputation, but this announcement reads like an intelligence operation designed to scare Putin about the end of crude/gas use in the world. The problem with fusion has never been the size of the reactor, the current problem as I understand it is getting positive-balance-sheet useful amounts of energy out.

  8. anne mouse says

    The size of the reactor is a problem because it costs millions of dollars just to build a structure strong enough to hold the magnets. That means that at any given time, only a few government-supported (even multi-government) projects can afford to do physical (as opposed to in sillico) experiments with fusion. Lockheed's theory is that if they can get containment in a smaller vessel, they can afford to try lots more prototypes, so they'll make more progress. Nothing incorrect about that the theory, but there's a mighty big "if" at the beginning, and they're nowhere near demonstrating that they can solve it.

    If you were running a psyop, the last thing you'd want to do is throw Putin into a panic that his biggest (and only functioning) national resource is going to become worthless in the very near future. His rational reaction would be to exercise maximum geopolitical leverage right away, before his money runs out.

    On the other hand, Putin is unlikely to be fooled, while this kind of "news" probably serves to keep Americans from panicking about Russia (also Iraq, Nigeria, …).

    Now, how to put all that into verse?

  9. albert says

    Ah, the magic of 'Fusion Power'! 50 years and beelions of $$ and it's 'just around the corner' :)
    Just like Artificial Intelligence, a cure for cancer, world peace, nuclear disarmament, end of hunger, world over population….don't hold your breath, folks.
    Re: Putin. He's no dummy. He didn't take the bait in Ukraine, but doesn't want to discourage his EU neighbors either. There will always be plenty of customers for Russian gas and oil. Ask yourself why the US (and its lapdogs, the EU) keep poking the Bear? Why do they want nuclear missiles on Russian borders? Why does the US continue to upgrade its ICBM fleet?
    I'll tell you who's worried. It's the US military. They run on oil, and they consume tons of it (ironic, since all that military activity is totally unnecessary) They use nuclear when possible, but it's very expensive, and can't power humvees and airplanes. Fusion power would be only slightly less expensive, but the mil/ind complex has reams of blank checks. What it doesn't have is an unlimited oil supply.
    I gotta go…

  10. Carl says

    I largely agree with you about the military (especially the "unnecessary" part), but have to quibble about a couple of details. The US has plenty of oil/gas these days, especially now that we've decided we're not going to worry about silly little things like water supplies or minor earthquakes. What never changes, though, is that the supply line is vulnerable and expensive.

    One of the things that the mil gets out of this is that gasification — basically, turning trash and landfills into oil/gas — becomes possible. The army already has truck-mounted gasification units in the field (Special Forces like them because it dramatically reduces the trash footprint they leave behind, which can be Intelligence to an enemy), they just aren't cost effective… unless you have really cheap energy.

    Another liquid that's a logistical pain is drinking water — and with cheap, portable fusion energy, it's a lot easier to do water purification or desalination.

    In fact, there's a metric buttload of things that this reactor could do that would really help the world's poor with really basic needs like heating and clean water… that will probably never happen for "security reasons".

    Now, if they could just use this thing to bring down the price of printer ink…

  11. albert says

    To be clear, I'm not criticising the military per se, but rather the cretins controlling US foreign policy. The US military are experts in their field. Listen to the generals speak on Charlie Rose; they are intelligent, educated people who have analyzed and understand the principles (and the dangers) of warfare.
    Really cheap energy is a solution to a lot of problems, but politics is really to blame for just about all the major issues we face today.

  12. Carl says

    @Albert I assure you we are in near-complete agreement. The military are extremely good at doing what they are asked to do; the problem is the people doing the asking. In my more naive moments I fantasize that freed from the shackles of kowtowing to oil-rich middle east countries we can have a more sane foreign policy. And then I wake up.

  13. Carl says

    @Albert as an aside, can you imagine the "peace dividend" we could get if those intelligent, educated, disciplined, and analytical senior officers were working in the private sector?

  14. Matt says

    Actually the potential military applications are a lot bigger. Depending on just how "small" we are talking, it can be used to power planes. Try round the world with a fusion powered turbfan jet at Mach 3 without having to slow down or refuel (well, maybe every few months).

    It's pretty safe too. Depending on the fuel, Deuterium isn't radioactive and tritium is only very weakly radioactive. Probably more radiation in the dust from firing DU rounds.

    Then aerospace applications. Makes a lot more sense to power a space plane utilizing fusion powered turbofan jets for the inital stage and then possibly just a fusion powered resistojet/plasma rocket for an upper stage, or at least manuevering in space.

    I am a skeptical kiddo here with Lockheed. I suspect the best they've got is "a really good theory" on how they might be able to shrink a Tokomak based on some equations and a bit of computer modeling. Now if they'd BUILT a working fusion core, even just a prototype, I'd be extremely excited.

    It might be 50 years away still, just like the cure for cancer, etc, etc, but that also doesn't mean that people shouldn't keep trying. Fusion might not solve all of the worlds problems, but cheap and plentiful electricity could certainly go a long way towards solving a bunch of them.

  15. says

    @Blah blah: This isn't cold fusion. It's just small fusion. I can imagine some future technology that could eventually sustain a fusion reaction in a smaller form factor.

    I cannot, however, imagine a future technology where cold fusion is somehow not a violation of basic physics.

    Having said that, I am very skeptical about Lockheed's claims. Possible doesn't mean likely.

  16. Dan Mills says

    Now here is the elepant in the room:

    Even if they pull this off (Unlikely), deuterium-tritium fusion is neutrionic (It emits fast neutrons), so if these things get scattered all over the place then you actually have one heck of a proliferation issue.

    Consider, IS (Or whoever is theat dejour at the time) gets its hands on a smal fusion plant, now iraq is a place where you can pretty much pick up depleted uranium by walking the desert with a counter (Thank you gulf war one).
    Now take that DU, wrap the reactor core in a water blanket (to moderate the neutrons) and wrap that in a pile of DU inside the biological shield, run the thing flat out for 6 months (So you get the correct PU isotope without too much poisoning of the material).
    Take the DU (Now containing some PU239 and chemically extract the plutonium….).

    This announcement actually reminds me strongly of the 'Hydrogen Economy' gibberish of 15 years or so back, the engineers were to a man shaking their heads (I know I got paid to work on fuel cell cars), but the subtext was putting the wind up the arabs.

    Regards, Dan.

  17. Christoph says

    Now take that DU, wrap the reactor core in a water blanket (to moderate the neutrons) and wrap that in a pile of DU inside the biological shield, run the thing flat out for 6 months (So you get the correct PU isotope without too much poisoning of the material).

    The issue is that in order to get the tritium necessary for running the reactor, each fusion reaction must also breed another tritium nucleus. If you take neutrons out of the process for anything else, you'll end up running out of tritium.

    Also, if you just want to use D-T fusion as a neutron source and don't care about producing energy, you can build or buy such fusion devices. There's even one on Mars right now, as a neutron source for the dynamic albedo of neutrons experiment of Curiosity.

  18. Dan Mills says

    But to produce neutrons in sufficient quantity to make conversion of fertile material into fissile you need some sort of reactor that is running at somewhere within an order of magnitude or so of break even, none of the classic off the shelf neutron generating colliders come close to Q>0.01.

    Assuming the tritium is being produced by bombardment of lithium, there is actually a twist, lithium 6 is the obvious candidate in a power reactor as the reaction is exothermic and you gain a couple of Mev in the going, but if you were to use lithium 7 instead you would get your tritium AND a spare lowish energy neutron (This reaction is endothermic), this low energy neutron can drive a lithium 6 fission to get more tritium.

    In fact the likely cycle would probably involve a carefully selected ratio of the two so as to account for neutrons lost to structural bombardment and tritium lost to atmosphere (It is a tiny molecule, it WILL leak).

    Who knows, maybe Lockheed have something even more out of left field then that stuff Bussard was working on, p-Boron or something, but if this is not just politiking (Unlikley), my bet is D-T.

    Regards, Dan.

  19. says

    @blah blah:

    No idea, did you get the NSA guys who own my network to log it? The link shows purple in my browser, so you might want to ask for your money back.

    The gist of the book from the summary and reviews is that it is a parody piece mocking cold fusion. I didn't actually order and read the book solely based on your comment, as that would be a lot to ask of some anonymous person.

    My point was that there's a big difference between Lockheed's "small fusion" and the cold fusion announcements in the past.

    Cold fusion is not impossible because of our technological limitations. It's impossible because it violates a shitload of basic physics as we understand it. It's as impossible as creating a fire that makes things cold or magnets that interact only with tomatoes. In order for cold fusion to work, the rules themselves have to change. That can happen, but it's pretty damn rare.

    Lockheed's announcement, on the other hand, might be possible someday with enough of the technological limitations solved in terms of managing the power and containment. Maybe we can't do it today, maybe not in 50 years, but it's a lot more possible than cold fusion.

  20. Cthippo says

    A blogger misspoke his conclusion,
    Writing "fission" in error for "fusion"
    For material fissile,
    The main use is a missile,
    So lets avert nuclear profusion!

    From high in my ivory tower
    I try hard not to glower
    You say that material fissile
    is mostly for use in a missile
    When really most is used to make power

    If all postings had to be rhyming in would do a lot to improve the quality of discourse on the internet.