In the early hours of March 10, 2009, NIF made laser physics history by firing all 192 laser beams into the heart of the Target Chamber, delivering 1.098 megajoules (MJ) of ultraviolet (UV) energy in a pulse lasting a few billionths of a second. The event marked the first time any laser facility surpassed the megajoule barrier, and it started NIF on a continuing journey to set more power and energy records.
Nine years later, the NIF laser system fired 2.15 MJ of UV energy to the Target Chamber, a 15 percent improvement over the facility’s 1.8-MJ design specification. And on Dec. 5, 2022, NIF achieved its decades-long quest for fusion ignition by producing more than 3 MJ of energy, 50 percent more than the energy delivered to the target (see Achieving Fusion Ignition).
“NIF’s users are always asking to use more energy in their experiments, because higher energies enhance the science NIF can deliver in support of the Stockpile Stewardship Program.”
—NIF Director Mark Herrmann
Each milestone along the way gave scientists the ability to demonstrate the highest energy NIF can safely deliver with its optics and laser configurations, thus expanding the boundaries of the science NIF can explore. The journey required painstaking research to get the most out of amplifiers and thousands of precision optical components.
Optics are an essential element of the NIF laser system. Continuous research and development efforts have put NIF’s optics at the cutting edge of material science and technology and play a crucial role in raising the laser’s energy and power thresholds. These breakthroughs have reduced the level of damage initiation and growth in the optics and led to a reduced cost to mitigate existing damage spots.
Based on the successful 2.15-MJ demonstration, NIF is working with LLNL’s ignition program to further enhance its energy and power output through technology development and laser research.
NIF’s Energy Milestones:
“Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Achieves Fusion Ignition,” LLNL News Release, December 14, 2022
“High-Laser-Energy Shot Puts NIF Back on Track Toward Ignition,” NIF & Photon Science News, November 7, 2022
“National Ignition Facility Experiment Puts Researchers on Threshold of Fusion Ignition,” NIF & Photon Science News, August 18, 2021
“NIF Sets New Laser Energy Record,” NIF & Photon Science News, July, 2018
“NIF Experiments Double Record Fusion Energy Yield,” NIF & Photon Science News, June, 2018
“Nature Article Reports on Fuel Gain Achieved in NIF High-Foot Experiments,” Photons & Fusion Newsletter, February, 2014
“NIF experiments show initial gain in fusion fuel,” LLNL News Release, February 19, 2014
“Laser fusion experiment yields record energy at LLNL’s National Ignition Facility,” LLNL News Release, August 26, 2013
“National Ignition Facility makes history with record 500 terawatt shot,” LLNL News Release, July 12, 2012
“Lawrence Livermore’s National Ignition Facility achieves record laser energy in pursuit of fusion ignition,” LLNL News Release, March 21, 2012
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