the ionosphere established the existence of the space plasma that surrounds the Earth. A new era in plasma physics began with the international development of efforts to achieve controlled thermonuclear fusion in the 1950s and with the space program, which began with the launching of Sputnik in 1957. For the past 30 years, space, fusion, and the development of advanced weapons systems have been the main drivers for plasma science.

Early in the space and fusion programs, a rich variety of fundamental configurations and phenomena were investigated, but as a rule, nonlinear processes—although fascinating scientifically—proved to be a detriment to the achievement of fusion plasma conditions in the laboratory. As a consequence, fusion research evolved to focus on systems with the least complexity consistent with programmatic goals. Inertial fusion research evolved in directions that either minimized nonlinear laser-plasma interactions or optimized particle-beam drivers. Magnetic fusion research concentrated on the tokamak approach, the most stable axisymmetric confinement configuration. The principal difficulty encountered in fusion and in defense applications has been the inability to predict the nonlinear behavior of plasmas to an accuracy required by engineering considerations. A successful example of such a prediction is illustrated in Figure 9.1.

In the exploration of space plasmas, it was not possible to reduce the natural complexity of the magnetic field geometry through engineering design. Spacecraft data have identified many key nonlinear phenomena: collisionless shocks, bursty and steady magnetic reconnection, double layers, current sheets, dynamo generation of magnetic fields, and the overall structure of magnetospheric plasmas, which are high-mirror-ratio magnetic confinement configurations. Up until now, because spacecraft obtain local data, only the rudimentary aspects of these processes have been measured.

While the discoveries of plasma phenomena in the space environment are remarkably varied, their abstractions into basic plasma processes subject to investigation by computational simulation, laboratory experiments, and analytical theory have lagged because support, especially for laboratory experimentation, has ''practically vanished" in the words of the Brinkman report, Physics Through the 1990s.1 Notable exceptions exist, of course, and these are presented later in this chapter.

The next decade could promise a fundamental reversal of this paradigm, provided the resources for basic plasma experimentation described in Chapter 8 become available. One can anticipate that plasma phenomena discovered through spacecraft and astronomical observations, as well as fusion research, will play an important role in motivating laboratory experimentation. Moreover, the theo-

1  

National Research Council, Plasmas and Fluids, in the series Physics Through the 1990s, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1986.



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