Plasma Rockets? Maybe, if NASA and DARPA allow it

The Register:

NASA spinoff firm the Ad Astra Rocket Company has announced a key milestone in ground testing of its prototype plasma drive technology, Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR).

The VASIMR first stage jet fires up, 22 Oct 2008The electric rocket turns on.

The VASIMR “helicon first stage” – which generates the plasma for acceleration by the rest of the drive – has achieved its full rated power of 30 kilowatts using Argon propellant, according to the company. This paves the way for further trials in which in which the ion-cyclotron second stage will get to strut its stuff, boosting the helicon plasma stream to the target power of 200 kW.

The successful first-stage fire-up was a collaborative effort between Ad Astra and Nautel of Canada.

“We are elated with this achievement and exceptionally proud of the Ad Astra-Nautel team whose diligence and dedication made it possible, in spite of the disruption caused by the [recent] hurricane,” said Franklin Chang Díaz, Ad Astra’s chairman and CEO.

The idea of the plasma drives is to use electric power to blast reaction mass (in this case Argon) from its rocket nozzles at a much higher speed than regular chemical rockets can achieve. This means that the carrying spacecraft gets a lot more poke from a given amount of fuel, and so can make interplanetary journeys in much shorter times. Another potential application seen for VASIMR is maintaining the orbit of the international space station (ISS) without the need to burn large amounts of chemical rocket fuel.

A 10MW nuclear VASIMR ship conceptA concept VASIMR ship able to carry astronauts
to Callisto, ice moon of Jupiter

VASIMR is the brainchild of Mr Chang-Díaz, MIT plasma physicist and former NASA astronaut with seven Shuttle flights and 1600 hours in space. Chang-Díaz nowadays develops VASIMR at the Ad Astra Rocket Company. He believes that VASIMR – or some kind of more fuel-efficient propulsion, anyway – must be developed, or travel beyond Earth orbit will never become a serious activity.

For now, Ad Astra is in negotiations to put a VASIMR test unit aboard the ISS, to help in maintaining station orbit and simultaneously prove the plasma drive tech in space. NASA seems unwilling to find room for VASIMR on any of the remaining planned Shuttle flights to the ISS, but there have been hints that it might travel on a commercial-off-the-shelf lift (for instance aboard a Falcon rocket from Elon Musk’s SpaceX venture) – if any of these actually come into service soon.

__________________________________________________________________

“NASA seems unwilling to find room for VASIMR on any of the remaining planned Shuttle flights to the ISS..”

No surprise there, NASA has been nothing but a front for the Pentagon for fifty years.

But on the plus side, NASA and the military ( GE, Boeing, Lockhead-Martin, etc.) doesn’t seem interested in blocking anything Branson, Musk, Beson and the others are attempting to do.

I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing.

Plasma rocket space drive in key test milestone: Nuke tech could carry astronauts beyond Mars

____________________________________________

Advertisements

4 responses

  1. Well, the shuttle is slated to be put in cold storage in 2010 so NASA wouldn’t want to spend the time and money just to get 6 months to a year of use out of the plasma rockets. The way the Ares project seems to be going, they might end up using a VASIMR design to go to the Moon and Mars instead of completing their rocket…

  2. The way the Ares project seems to be going, they might end up using a VASIMR design to go to the Moon and Mars instead of completing their rocket…

    According to this article here; http://www.universetoday.com/2008/10/28/more-ares-i-development-problems-is-it-really-that-bad/ , you are most definitely right.

    The ARES Project was a joke from the start; trying to ‘update’ 60 year old tech to make it ‘new and improved’, pork projects farmed out to various congress-criminals’ states that support this debacle and the inevitable ‘cost overruns’ that suck more billions into a deep, dark hole.

    Then we hear crap like “rocket technology isn’t easy” and “blah-blah-blah-blah, etc., ad nauseum.”

    I call bullshit on this ARES farce.

    We’ll probably never find out the real tech the Pentagon and other space black projects it has, except inadvertently via “UFO” sightings.

    But hopefully the Bransons and the Musks can develop tech like VASIMR to go out into the Solar System to take advantage of the resources.

    Our very existence could depend on it.

  3. You know, NASA already had an Ares in 1967. It was called Saturn V. What seems to be happening at NASA today is a lack of leadership and a lack of control over engineers who want to re-invent the wheel. The agency just keeps spinning its wheels and doing the same projects over and over again. Instead of giant leaps, they’ve taken to baby steps. That’s all fine and good if you’re doing something radically new and don’t have the hardware for it, but the plasma rockets and ion drives have been around since the late 1960s. Plans for antimatter engines have been out there since the early 1990s.

    As for getting their hands on black project technology, I doubt it will happen. The government keeps civilian hardware and military hardware very far apart for reasons of national security.

  4. The government keeps civilian hardware and military hardware very far apart for reasons of national security…

    No doubt. There’s a measurable spread of tech between the two of decades, not just years.

    How much black tech does a single nation need though?

    And who or what are we protecting against?

    It seems to me that if we only have ‘earthly enemies’, we already have sufficient overkill with just the nukes.

    If all of this was just ‘pork’ to give people high-paying jobs in certain states, I’d say it was a waste of money.

    Like you say, a person sufficiently trained to use a sharp stick to kill might be able to kill someone with a gun.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: