Friday, August 08, 2008

Plasma rocket to be tested

Rather than heating chemicals and directing the resulting gases through high-temperature metal nozzles, VASIMR uses radio waves to create and speed up free-flying, electrically charged particles known as plasma. The concoction is then herded through nozzles made of magnetic fields, not metals like traditional rocket engines.
It uses solar cells to draw energy from the sun to produce electricity, which in turn generates radio waves to heat argon into plasma. A magnetic field, made by running an electrical current through superconducting magnets, directs the plasma as it is pushed out of the engine, creating thrust.

"The first application we see a market for is hauling things from low-Earth orbit to low-lunar orbit," said Tim Glover, Ad Astra director of development.

The journey would take about six months, but the rocket would be able to haul about 2,000 pounds, roughly twice the load of similarly-sized chemical engines. VASIMR engines also are reusable, so depending on how long the solar cells lasted, each spaceship could make six or more round-trip journeys, Glover said.
Attaching the VASIMR engine likely would require the services of spacewalking astronauts, but after installation it would be run from inside the outpost or remotely from ground control stations. It could actually be used to position the station, though the timing would be tricky, Glover added.

Article here.

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