Most Powerful Plasma Rocket in the World Could Fly to Mars in 39 Days

October 6, 2009

(ChattahBox)—Former NASA astronaut, Franklin Chang-Diaz has been working on the concept of a plasma space rocket on and off for 30 years, before he finally formed the company, Ad Astra in 2005, to fully develop the project and build a prototype. Last week his dreams were realized when the powerful plasma rocket was successfully tested at full power.

Chang-Diaz is used to dreaming big and someday hopes to see his plasma engine carry astronauts on high-speed missions to Mars.

The powerful plasma engine is named Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket or VASIMR.

A small-scale prototype of the plasma engine dubbed, VASIMR VX-200 ran at 201 kilowatts in a vacuum chamber, passing the 200-kilowatt mark, reaching full power for the first time.

“It’s the most powerful plasma rocket in the world right now,” says Chang-Diaz. The innovative rocket runs by using magnetic fields to force the charged plasma out the back of the engine, producing thrust in the opposite direction.

The plasma technology uses radio waves to heat gases, such as hydrogen, argon, and neon, which creates burning hot plasma that’s forced out of the back of the engine.

Besides being very fast, the VASIMR would also save money on fuel costs. The plasma runs at high velocity, which uses less fuel than conventional engines.

The Ad Astra Rocket Company just signed an agreement with NASA to test a 200-kilowatt VASIMR engine on the International Space Station in 2013, which would eventually be used to boost the Space Station back to its proper altitude.

Currently, conventional thrusters are used to provide boosts to the Space Station when it droops due to atmospheric drag, using about 7.5 tonnes of fuel per year. Chang-Diaz belies his VASIMR rocket could cut down the fuel needed to about to 0.3 tonnes, saving millions of dollars per year.

First the International Space Station, next Mars.

The former astronaut believes someday, a 10 to 20-megawatt VASIMR engine could enable human missions to Mars in just 39 days. Conventional rockets would take six months or more and run the risk of exposing astronauts to high levels of space radiation, the longer they are in space.

The VASIMR plasma rocket would be faster and significantly lower the risk of exposure to space radiation, making a manned journey to Mars possible.


Photo Source: Ad Astra Rocket Company


One Response to “Most Powerful Plasma Rocket in the World Could Fly to Mars in 39 Days”

  1. Most Powerful Plasma Rocket in the World Could Fly to Mars in 39 … | planets on October 6th, 2009 9:00 pm

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