Sending humans to Mars has remained the primary goal of space agencies like NASA, CNSA, and many others. However, these space agencies need to consider other options for reaching the red planet much faster than traditional chemical rockets. Ad Astra, a Costa Rica and U.S.-based company recently announced that it has completed a record 88-hour high-power endurance test of its Vasimr VX-200SS plasma rocket at 80 Kw.
Engineers working at Ad Astra conducted the test at the company’s Texas laboratory located near Hoston. After testing this futuristic rocket, they accomplished a new high-power world endurance record in electric propulsion.
How Ad Astra is Working towards Building a powerful nuclear rocket for Manned Missions to Mars
Relying on a chemically powered rocket to reach Mars will actually make the crewed members spend more time navigating the weightless environment of space. Since the mission can take between eight to nine months before the arrival on Mars, the astronauts may be exposed to radiation, and suffer other health issues.
However, Ad Astra is focusing on reducing the mission timeline to reaching Mars from nine months to only one using its sophisticated nuclear rocket. The company has spent years of trial and error to get the testing of its Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (Vasimr) rocket right. However, the company seems to be moving closer to achieving success in recent times.
“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 different missions as a NASA astronaut, and has logged 1,601 hours in space.
The company is confident in recording tremendous success with its new rocket. Vasimr was primarily designed to fly using an engine that deploys nuclear reactors in heating plasma up to two million degrees. The hot gas is passed afterward through magnetic fields to the back of the engine to propel the rocket at the speed of about 123,000 mph (197,950 km/h).
Ad Astra focuses on making the rocket propel much faster and safer during its trip to Mars. Even though the Vasimr rocket would be powerful enough to send nuclear reactors hurtling across space at tremendous speeds, the crew aboard the space vehicle will still feel safe during the trip.
How Ad Astra Rocket Will Fly to Mars
Ad Astra revealed that its Vasimr rocket will still need chemical rockets to reach orbit. This implies that the company will still be taking advantage of chemical propulsion systems to get started with the mission. But once it arrives in orbit, the plasma engine will be activated to increase the speed of the trip while protecting the crew from dangers.
The company reveals that the speed of acceleration of its Vasimr is four times faster than existing chemical rockets used in exploring space today. This implies that astronauts will arrive on Mars in only a fraction of the time it will require to get to the red planet using chemical propulsion.
Many scientists are suggesting that chemical rockets will not send humans to mars because of the catastrophic dangers associated with the mission. However, with the improvement of conventional rocket technologies, humans can reach Mars in only a few weeks. Ad Astra announced that once its space vehicle commences on the journey to the red planet, it should be able to sustain its propulsion throughout the mission.
The spacecraft will continue to accelerate slowly until it attains a maximum speed of 34 miles (54 km) per second on the twenty-third day of flying. At this time, the Vasimr rocket is expected to continue accelerating at a speed four times faster than any known chemical rocket. When the rocket flies at this great speed, the company expects the vehicle to get to Mars in one month or more.
However, it will be powerful enough to reduce the seven-month journey to Mars and make it safer for the crew. A study revealed that less time required in reaching Mars could mean less exposure to solar radiation, less health risk, and less risk of mechanical failures. Since the vehicle’s plasma engine can render propulsion at any time during the journey, it should be powerful enough to change course if the need arises. The company hopes to commence advanced testing of this sophisticated plasma engine anytime soon.
The future of exploring space using nuclear propulsion is becoming more realistic as days go by. NASA is currently partnering with DARPA to launch a nuclear-powered rocket by 2027. However, with the improvement in Ad Astra’s Vasimr engine, we could see a bright future of humans reaching Mars aboard nuclear-powered ships at only a fraction of the time it will take a chemical rocket. What are your thoughts on using nuclear-powered ships to send humans to the red planet?