A rocket technology that could drastically cut the amount of time it takes people to reach Mars is now being tested, which would significantly lower the chance of mechanical problems and other lethal space threats for future astronauts traveling to Mars.
Ad Astra Rocket Company, located in Costa Rica and the United States, said over the summer that their Vasimr VX-200SS plasma rocket had successfully completed a record-breaking 88-hour high-power endurance test at 80 kW.
The test, which was completed at the company's Texas testing facility close to Houston, set a new high-power endurance record for electric propulsion.
'Years of trial-and-error testing' for Vasimr rocket
"The test is a major success, the culmination of years of trial-and-error testing and painstaking attention to detail and a handsome reward for the team's tenacity and dedication," said Franklin R. Chang Díaz, Ad Astra's chairman and CEO, who flew on seven separate missions as a NASA astronaut, logging 1,601 hours in space.
The Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (Vasimr) was created to fly with an engine that heats plasma to two million degrees using nuclear reactors. The engine may potentially travel at speeds of up to 123,000 mph (197,950 km/h) by channeling hot gas out of the rear using magnetic fields.
Despite the fact that Vasimr rockets will send nuclear reactors flying into space at extraordinary speeds, the purpose of Ad Astra is to make far quicker and safer spaceflight conceivable. Vasimr launch vehicles will still need chemical rockets to go into orbit, but once there, the plasma engine (explained in the video below) will be activated, significantly enhancing crew safety, the company claims.
Four times faster than existing chemical rockets
Any sorts of catastrophic mishaps may occur in the seven months that NASA believes it will take to carry people to Mars. That's why Díaz said in a 2010 interview with Popular Science that "chemical rockets are not going to get us to Mars. It’s just too long a trip."
A typical rocket must launch using all of its fuel in a single controlled explosion and then travel towards Mars. There is no abort mechanism, the ship cannot alter course, and in the event of a malfunction, there would be a 10-minute communications lag, leaving mission control with no choice except to watch in helpless horror as the crew steadily deteriorates.
Vasimr, a plasma rocket from Ad Astra, will maintain propulsion during the flight to Mars. By the third day, it will steadily pick up speed until it achieves a maximum speed of 34 miles per second (54 kilometers per second), making it four times faster than any chemical rocket now in existence.
That expected seven-month voyage would take around six months less time as a result. Less time spent in space implies less exposure to solar radiation, less danger of mechanical problems, and less health risk from the effects of zero-gravity on muscle atrophy.
According to new research, Mars missions shouldn't last more than four years for crew safety. The spacecraft could alter direction if necessary since its plasma engine could always supply propulsion.
Ad Astra revealed its future ambitions after its successful plasma rocket endurance test in July. "With a new set of engine modifications already in the manufacturing stage, we'll now move to demonstrate thermal steady state at 100 kW in the second half of 2021," Díaz said in Ad Astra's press release.
Other companies, including DARPA, are also working on nuclear-powered rockets; last year, the Pentagon organisation revealed its goal of demonstrating a nuclear thermal propulsion system above low Earth orbit.
The future of space travel seems to be headed in the direction of nuclear propulsion, which would significantly increase humanity's ability to reach previously uncharted reaches of the cosmos.