Design Engineering

Move over Death Star: NIF achieves record-setting laser blast

Lawrence Livermore Laboratory fires 192 beams to deliver 500 terawatts of power.

July 18, 2012   by Design Engineering Staff

In its bid to create a net gain fusion reaction, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s National Ignition Facility (NIF) team recently achieved a historic record-breaking laser shot. Comprised of 192 individual beams, the NIF laser system delivered more than 500 trillion watts (terawatts) of peak power and 1.85 megajoules (MJ) of ultraviolet laser light to its target.

To put those numbers in perspective, 500 TW is 1,000 times more power than the entire U.S. uses at any instant in time, and 1.85 megajoules of energy is about 100 times what any other laser regularly produces today.

Since the late 1990s, NIF scientists have been striving to combine extreme levels of energy and peak power on a target to ignite hydrogen fusion fuel in the laboratory and produce more energy than that supplied to the target.

In the latest test, performed on July 5, NIF’s 192 lasers fired within a few trillionths of a second of each other onto a 2-millimeter-diameter target to within 1 percent of the desired energy output and in terms of beam-to-beam uniformity, making NIF not only the highest energy laser of its kind but the most precise.

“NIF is becoming everything scientists planned when it was conceived over two decades ago,” NIF Director Edward Moses said. “It is fully operational, and scientists are taking important steps toward achieving ignition and providing experimental access to user communities for national security, basic science and the quest for clean fusion energy.”

Located at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, NIF is funded by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the application of nuclear science to the nation’s national security enterprise.

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