29 March 2010

VASIMR Plasma Rocket Quickest Trip to Mars

Long before fusion powered space propulsion becomes a reality, VASIMR plasma rockets should be carrying explorers to the orbit of Mars and beyond. The VASIMR holds the promise of shortening the Earth orbit to Mars orbit trip from 6 months down to 40 days.
A company founded by former NASA astronaut Franklin Chang-Diaz has been developing a new rocket engine that draws upon electric power and magnetic fields to channel superheated plasma out the back. That stream of plasma generates steady, efficient thrust that uses low amounts of propellant and builds up speed over time.

"People have known for a long time, even back in the '50s, that electric propulsion would be needed for serious exploration of Mars," said Tim Glover, director of development at the Ad Astra Rocket Company.

The rocket technology could drastically cut down the amount of time a spacecraft needs to send astronauts on Mars missions. Instead of half a year, a spacecraft could make the trip in just over a month using the engine and a large enough power source, according to an Ad Astra mission study. _Space_via_ColonyWorlds_via_NextBigFuture


Long trips between planets require a lot of supplies -- just to get there -- and expose space travelers to potentially deadly space radiation. That is why better and faster methods for traveling between planets are needed. Here's the catch: in order to take advantage of the VASIMR's potential to shorten space trips, a very powerful energy source will be needed. As in 200 MW of power -- the power output of a small nuclear fission reactor.

Of course, once small fusion reactors are perfected, they are likely to replace the fission reactors onboard spacecraft. On planetary outposts themselves, fission reactors are likely to find many uses, given the rapid development in small fission reactors by many different companies around the world.

Finding fuel for fission and fusion reactors in space is likely to be one of dozens of extremely lucrative occupations for mineral prospectors and refiners. Finding abundant water supplies will no doubt be another. The first human trillionaires may well be space prospectors. Or perhaps space prostitutes -- whoever can get there and set up the proper scale of enterprise the soonest. Once adventurous space-going humans break free of Earth's gravity well and Earth's political ball and chain, extreme prosperity is quite likely to pop up with increasing frequency.

H/T Brian Wang

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