Charles Chase and his team at Lockheed have developed a high beta configuration, which allows a compact reactor design and speedier development timeline.
The high beta fusion reactor (also known as the 4th generation prototype T4) is a project being developed by a team led by Charles Chase of Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works. The "high beta" configuration allows a compact fusion reactor design and speedier development timeline. It was presented at the Google Solve for X forum on February 7, 2013.
In October 2014 Lockheed Martin announced that they will attempt to develop a highly efficient, compact reactor which will fit "on the back of a truck" and produce a 100 MW output - enough to power a town of 80,000 people. A small size, if viable, could potentially enable a much faster development cycle since each reactor design iteration could be produced with much greater speed and lower cost than large-scale projects such as the Joint European Torus or ITER.
Physics professor and director of the UK's national Fusion laboratorySteven Cowley has called for more hard data, pointing out that the current thinking in fusion research is that "bigger is better". Other fusion reactors achieve 8 times improvement in heat confinement when machine size is doubled.
Nevertheless, Lockheed Martin's plan is to "build and test a compact fusion reactor in less than a year with a prototype to follow within five years."
The chief designer and technical team lead for the Lockheed Martin CFR is Thomas McGuire, who did his PhD thesis on fusors at MIT. McGuire studied fusion as a source of space propulsion in graduate school in response to a NASA desire to improve travel times to Mars.