Technical Competition 2020/21


Our 2020/21 technical competition is seeking ideas on: The storage and handling of antihydrogen.

The sponsors of the competition, Mirror Quark Ltd, led by Alan Bond, have come to the BIS seeking ideas from the space community.

The competition runs for six months from this announcement.

Proposals are invited – rooted in mainstream physics – and will be judged by a panel of experts.
The entry form for this competition is below – if you are ready to enter, please scroll down.

The winner will be announced in October 2021.


Alan Bond formed Mirror Quark in 2017, after retiring from Reaction Engines, which he founded after leaving the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s fusion research laboratory.  Mirror Quark acts as a consultancy, developing theoretical concepts for advanced space vehicle propulsion.


Introduction by the President

Since its beginning the British Interplanetary Society has looked towards the manned exploration of the solar system and therefore it is no surprise that, currently, its Technical Committee has on-going studies of advanced propulsion and space colonies. Many problems stand in the way of these and the other achievements necessary for the permanent human habitation of space.

As the members of the BIS know, and an increasing proportion of the rest of the human race are beginning to realise, a colony off-earth would provide some assurance of survival in the advent of one of the many possible catastrophes that threaten our extinction. As I write this during the Covid-19 pandemic crisis, I am acutely aware that infection is  at least one of these threats.

In recent years there have been many studies of the various dooms we face, whether cosmic, natural or anthropomorphic. One of the popular summaries of these is ‘Our Final Century’ by Martin Rees of the Royal Astronomical Society. Since a race of humans inhabiting parts of the solar system could avoid nearly all of these dooms, it is therefore of the highest importance that the problems blocking progress to this end are removed.

While some of these problems blocking our way are simple to identify and understand, such as the threat of radiations of all kinds or the excessively long travel times that are currently necessary between the main components of the solar system, others, such as the absence of a terrestrial gravity field, are not. It is clear that for the BIS membership to be sure that the goal of human expansion into the solar system can be achieved at all it must, first, aid the identification of the diverse problems which inhibit this goal, and, second, stimulate suggestions and discussion as to how these problems may be addressed and possible solutions for them evolved. By doing this, the BIS will fulfil its role of an inspirational lead, pointing the way, as it was set up to do by our founders.

I will begin a discussion of the problems in a short item in a following Spaceflight which I hope will stimulate a series of articles on each one identified. There will be a further discussion in what is planned to become an annual seminar on the 12th April (Cosmonautics Day) each year. The seminar will be titled ‘Beyond the Moon’ and would normally be followed by a ‘Yuri’s Night’ party (12th April 2021 is the 60th anniversary of Yuri’s flight). In view of the prevailing circumstances, the first ‘Beyond the Moon’ Seminar will be virtual and we are, at present, not holding a ‘Yuri’s Night’ until we can all get together again, unless something special can be done virtually (watch this space, as they say).

Identifying  problems is one thing, solving them is another and a major role of the BIS in the future will be, as I have said, to stimulate their solution. I therefore am pleased to announce what I hope will be the first in a continuing series of prizes aimed at producing suggested solutions to the problems barring human cosmic development. This first prize is looking for ideas that can point the way to highly energetic propulsion systems, thus reducing the transit times between solar-system objects.

About the competition:

Ideas on storage and handling of antihydrogen – by Alan Bond, Founder, Mirror Quark Ltd

Space exploration and exploitation requires a nuclear power supply having very high specific power (electrical power output per unit mass).  Current systems are unlikely to achieve values greater than the kW/kg range while orders of magnitude above this are desirable.

Current technology generally involves production of heat in a nuclear source and thermodynamic conversion of this to electrical power.  This results in heavy and inefficient systems and therefore direct conversion of nuclear to electrical energy is being examined to bypass the thermodynamic cycle with its power conversion equipment and waste heat rejection limitations.

To this a number of ‘On the horizon’ nuclear power generating technologies are being studied at Mirror Quark Ltd.  Reactions involving antiprotons are amongst those which have been considered.  However, no practical way of handling antihydrogen has been found without it interacting with the normal matter containment and transfer lines.

The challenge therefore is to:

  • Manufacture and store antiprotons
  • Convert antiprotons to suitable antihydrogen state for practical use
  • Transfer antihydrogen to a power supply storage container
  • Transfer the antihydrogen from the container to the reactor

The antiprotons can be converted to antihydrogen by addition of a positron.  The properties of antihydrogen are assumed to be identical to those of hydrogen with exactly similar thermodynamic states as a function of temperature and pressure and with identical electrical and magnetic properties such as dielectric constant and electrical and magnetic susceptibility.

The forces available to manipulate antihydrogen are electrical and magnetic in both static and dynamic configurations.  In addition, inertia may be invoked to play a roll through hydrodynamic motion such as vortices.

The antihydrogen may be considered in any of the normal states of matter, solid, liquid, gaseous, or as partially or fully ionised plasma.  It must be remembered however that the objective is a low mass system.  The flow rate of antihydrogen needs to be in the microgram/s to milligram/s range and storage in the gram to kg range.  These values are astronomical compared to current achievement at CERN which are millionths of a microgram.  Do not be deterred however!

In considering this challenge, engineering issues such as containment system failure, the achievement of perfect vacuum and the out-gassing of material walls should not be allowed to constrain innovative thinking, but any solution must be consistent with mainstream physics and must be supported by at least a rudimentary quantitative analysis.  The contestant does not have to propose solutions to every item i to iv above, but is encouraged to try.

Recommended reading is the Antiproton Annihilation Propulsion report prepared in 1985 for the Air Force Rocket Propulsion Laboratory in California, which can be downloaded from the Defense Technical Information Center website.

The process and the prize

The competition will be judged by Dr Ruth Bamford, Research Scientist at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory; Professor Bob Bingham, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory who has led experiments at CERN; Alan Bond, Founder of Mirror Quark and formerly Reaction Engines; and in conjunction with the BIS Technical Committee, which is chaired by Gerry Webb, BIS President.

The closing date for the competition will be 11th June 2021, with the winning submissions announced during October 2021 to align with the International Astronautical Congress.  The submissions will be the subject of an article within SpaceFlight, and those winning prizes may be published in full within JBIS.

The first prize will be a cash sum of £3,000 and a second prize of £1,500.  Additionally, a further prize of £300 will be available to the best submission by a member of the Student Technical Working Group (STWG) if they have not won a senior prize, and a £200 prize to the runner up by a member of the STWG.  If you are a student, and wish to be eligible for these smaller prizes, you must be a member of the Student Technical STWG – and any student under the age of 25 may apply to join.

In order to enter the competition, you must put together a written submission with numerical analysis, which is consistent with mainstream physics.  There is no minimum or maximum length for the entry, but concise entries are encouraged which focus on the problems outlined above.

Before entering, please read the Terms and Conditions.