Video: Inside the Record-Breaking Fusion Reactor

At 150 million degrees Celsius it is hotter than the sun, and scientists from across the world visit the UK to work on the fusion reactor that holds the world record for creating the most power from fusion.

When the latest series of experiments start, in the middle of June, the scientists hope it will be start of a path to set a new world record for the amount of energy produced.

The fusion reactor, JET (Joint European Torus), and the UK’s own compact version, MAST, are both housed at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in Oxfordshire, UK.

Factor visited the site and spoke to fusion scientist Dr Maximos Tsalas about the work being done at the centre.

At present the JET reactor at the centre in England holds the world record for the amount of fusion energy created, and has done since 1997.

When it was set the machine managed to create 60% of the power which was put into it. However the scientists at the centre are looking to beat this in coming years.

They want to be able to break even, which will be a significant hurdle to achieve in the longer road to commercialisation.

Maximos said: “For the moment we have a key set of experiments that is going to happen in the next five years. With these we are going to do a campaign where we are going to aim to try and break the fusion record again.

“This is a very important set of experiments which will tell us a lot about the future and the next generation of reactors, which is basically ITER. We hope to solve some of the key problems in this campaign.

“After this it is a bit more difficult to see where the future of JET is as we still have yet to define the timescale on which these experiments will happen.”

The centre of JET’s reactor, known as the tokamak.

When operational Maximos says JET, which has been a joint European project for 25 years, can have up to 500 people working on it at once – but it can be run by 20 people at very minimum.

To enter the room where JET is located it involves several levels of security and also entry through an airlock.

While it is running there is no access JET and each experiment is ran from the control centre.

To enter in periods where it is not operational humans can entre but only wearing a pressurised suit.

However robotic arms controlled by engineers are able to make repairs and improvements to centre of the reactor – which is called the tokamak.

When running it creates around 15gb of data every 30 seconds – however when fusion reaches a commercial scale it will be a simpler machine due to the removal of the monitoring equipment that is in place for the scientists.


“JET is a very complicated machine, In order for it to start operating first we need to start a very strong magnetic field then we put in some gas inside and then we make what is called the plasma,” said Maximos.

“We use various methods to heat it up to very high temperatures – typically temperatures reaching 150m degrees Celsius.

“If you were to go inside the tokamak what you could see is a donut shaped vacuum vessel which has a very high vacuum.

“We create a very high vacuum and after that we inject some gas and we try to heat it up again. What you would see if you went inside there, you wouldn’t see that much as everything is covered by a lot of machinery.

“You will see magnets a lot of diagnostics which measure various things, you could see vacuum vessels, you will see a lot of pumps and so on.

“But the important thing is at the heart of the machine is a very large donut shaped vessel where all the action happens.”

 See our piece tomorrow on the future of fusion power and what it could mean for the world.

Images courtesy of the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy.

DJI’s First Drone Arena in Tokyo to Open This Saturday

Consumer drone giant DJI will open its first Japanese drone arena in the city of Tokyo this Saturday, providing a space for both hardened professionals and curious newcomers to hone their flying skills.

The arena, which covers an area of 535 square metres, will not only include a large flying area complete with obstacles, but also offer a store where visitors can purchase the latest DJI drones and a technical support area where drone owners can get help with quadcopter issues.

The hope is that the arena will allow those who are curious about the technology but currently lack the space to try it out to get involved.

“As interest around our aerial technology continues to grow, the DJI Arena concept is a new way for us to engage not just hobbyists but also those considering this technology for their work or just for the thrill of flying,” said Moon Tae-Hyun, DJI’s director of brand management and operations.

“Having the opportunity to get behind the remote controller and trying out the technology first hand can enrich the customer experience. When people understand how it works or how easy it is to fly, they will discover what this technology can do for them and see a whole new world of possibilities.”

Images courtesy of DJI

In addition to its general sessions, which will allow members of the public to drop by and try their hand at flying drones, the arena will also offer private hire, including corporate events. For some companies, then, drone flying could become the new golf.

There will also be regular events, allowing pros to compete against one another, and drone training, in the form of DJI’s New Pilot Experience Program, for newcomers.

The arena has been launched in partnership with Japan Circuit, a developer of connected technologies, including drones.

“We are extremely excited to partner with DJI to launch the first DJI Arena in Japan,” said Tetsuhiro Sakai, CEO of Japan Circuit.

“Whether you are a skilled drone pilot or someone looking for their first drone, we welcome everyone to come and learn, experience it for themselves, and have fun. The new DJI Arena will not only serve as a gathering place for drone enthusiasts but also help us reach new customers and anyone interested in learning about this incredible technology.”

The arena is the second of its kind to be launched by DJI, with the first located in Yongin, South Korea, and detailed in the video above. .

Having opened in 2016, the area has attracted visitors from around the world, demonstrating serious demand for this type of entertainment space.

If the Tokyo launch goes well, it’s likely DJI will look at rolling out its arena concept to other cities, perhaps even bringing the model to the US and Europe.

For now, however, those who are interested can book time at the Tokyo arena here.

Commercial Human Spaceflight Advances Prompt Calls for Space Safety Institute

Commercial human spaceflight has been a long-held dream, but now it is finally poised to become a reality. Companies including Virgin Galactic and SpaceX are inching ever closer to taking private citizens into space, and there are serious plans for spaceports in several parts of the world, including Hawaii, the US, and Scotland, the UK.

But while the industry is advancing, the legal side of this fledgling commercial space industry remains underdeveloped, leading to calls for the development of an organisation to establish a framework for the safe operation of spaceports for human commercial spaceflights.

Writing in the journal New Space, Mclee Kerolle, from the United States International Institute of Space Law in Paris, France, has proposed the establishment of a Space Safety Institute recognised by the US congress and the United Nations.

This institute would “develop, enforce and adopt standards of excellence”, allowing the industry to develop while protecting it from liability and insurance risks.

“Currently, no international regulatory body exists to regulate the operation of spaceports,” he wrote. “This is unfortunate because while the advent of commercial human spaceflight industry is imminent, a majority of the focus from the legal community will be on regulating spaceflights and space access vehicles.

“However, the regulation of spaceports should be viewed in the same light as the rest of the commercial human spaceflight industry.”

The article focuses particularly on the establishment of a spaceport at the Kona International Airport in Keahole, Hawaii. At present, the spaceport’s development is subject to regulation by the Federal Aviation Authority, however there are aspects to spaceport development that do not apply to conventional aviation operations.

A spacesuit design for commercial flights developed by SpaceX. Featured image: SpaceX’s proposed spaceport for its conceptual interplanetary transport system. All images courtesy of SpaceX

The institute would be designed to first and foremost ensure safety within the industry, so it would be important, according to Kerolle, to ensure it was made up of individuals with expertise in the field, rather than bureaucrats.

“To make sure that this flexibility is inherent in a Space Safety Institute, the organization should be composed of individuals within the industry as opposed to government officials who are not familiar with the commercial human spaceflight industry,” he wrote.

“As a result, this should protect the commercial human spaceflight industry to some liability exposure, as well as promote growth in the industry to ensure the industry’s survival.”