Courtesy of Space Industry News:
Plasma rocket technology was first introduced to the scientific community in 1977 by Franklin Chang Díaz, a Costa Rican scientist and astronaut. The idea has been developed since then and is now at the stage where it can be implemented into future projects. The technology allows for considerably faster space travel than what the technologies currently employed by organizations such as NASA can do.
What is the VASIMR Plasma Rocket?
VASIMR stands for Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket, which makes use of argon gas (one of the most stable gasses known to man) and a renewable source of energy found in space, radio waves in the form of light. The main difference with this type of rocket is being able to use mostly renewable energy in the propulsion system, which gives the rocket a greater lifespan than similar, modern-day rocket technologies. The plasma technology has multiple applications such as the cleaning and coating of surfaces in a plasma coating system at nano-level. The uses of plasma, the 4th state of substances, are just being touched on now with recent advances in science.
The new plasma rocket is able to heat the argon gas, creating the plasma which is then focused out electromagnetically to give the rocket its propulsion. A shield protects the machinery from what is known as electrode erosion, which is a major cause of general wear and tear on a plasma rocket.
VASIMR’s Impact on Space Travel
Over the last 36 years, the various shortcomings of the propulsion system have been ironed out. Problems such as wear and tear as well as the total velocity it can achieve have been improved dramatically. This new form of thrust is said to cut space mission times by up to six times. With the use of the plasma rocket, it will be possible to make quick surveys to other planets or even asteroids that may be on a collision course with Earth.
The thing that excites most scientists about the applications of the new rocket is a mission to Mars. The main problems in previous missions to Mars were that it would take too much fuel to allow the spaceship to reach the red planet and make a return journey. Deep space is another area that opens up to space explorers with the abilities of the plasma rocket. Travels to the areas of space that have remained inaccessible are back in the realm of possibility for scientists. Space debris removal as well as in-space resource recovery are also said to be possible with the new plasma rocket technology. Additionally, the magnetic field created by the rocket is thought to create a protective shell for the spaceship, which would help protect it against the radiation in space.
The 39-Day Mission to Mars
The rocket will allow for a mission to Mars with a travel period of just 39 days, which is almost 6 times faster than current methods. With speeds estimated at 35 miles a second, the rocket system will make quick work of the distance between Earth and Mars. NASA rates a new system on a scale of one to ten based on its readiness to be deployed. The VASIMR system is at a six currently, which means that it is ready to be tested in space. It would seem that it won’t be much longer before the new rocket system is employed in all space missions.