Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Successful Test of Superconducting Plasma Rocket Engine

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 5 years ago | from the to-superconductivity-and-beyond dept.

Space 168

xp65 writes to mention that Ad Astra has successfully tested their VX-200 plasma engine at full power in superconducting conditions, the first time such an engine has been tested at those power levels. "The VX-200 engine is the first flight-like prototype of the VASIMR® propulsion system, a new high-power plasma-based rocket, initially studied by NASA and now being developed privately by Ad Astra. VASIMR® engines could enable space operations far more efficiently than today's chemical rockets and ultimately they could also greatly speed up robotic and human transit times for missions to Mars and beyond."

cancel ×

168 comments

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

What terrible timing. (5, Funny)

grub (11606) | more than 5 years ago | (#28596785)


Damn, this is terrible timing. On the weekend my lady and I were thinking that a new pet name for my penis was due. The current "Superfluidic Particle Accelerating Colossus" was getting a bit stale.

The better half suggested "Superconducting Plasma Rocket Engine". But now that that name is taken we'll have to use our second favourite choice: "Hank".

.

Re:What terrible timing. (-1, Offtopic)

Xaedalus (1192463) | more than 5 years ago | (#28596935)

Oh come on, mod this up. This is FUNNY!

Re:What terrible timing. (1)

Penguin Follower (576525) | more than 5 years ago | (#28596971)

Tasteless yet hilarious. Two thumbs up! :D

Re:What terrible timing. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28597081)

you into dicks, brah?

Re:What terrible timing. (1)

ground.zero.612 (1563557) | more than 5 years ago | (#28598687)

Do you like fishsticks in your mouth?

Re:What terrible timing. (3, Funny)

CubicleView (910143) | more than 5 years ago | (#28597243)

You should call it a WMD.

Since your lady probably has trouble finding it....

Re:What terrible timing. (0)

WillDraven (760005) | more than 5 years ago | (#28597831)

My girl calls mine WAD - Weapon of Ass Destruction

Re:What terrible timing. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28597605)

She told me its real name is "hanky-dinky."

Re:What terrible timing. (3, Funny)

dbcad7 (771464) | more than 5 years ago | (#28597615)

Too much to remember .. why not just use your slashdot user name ?

Re:What terrible timing. (1, Funny)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 5 years ago | (#28598389)

You could name it after your game console, perhaps calling it the Wii Wii.

Re:What terrible timing. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28599709)

Honey, crank Hank or yank Hank or spank Hank or a little Hanky panky?

High Thrust, High Specific Impulse (Isp) (5, Interesting)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 5 years ago | (#28596873)

For those of you who are unclear on why the VASMIR system is so cool, allow me to give you a brief bit of background. Practically every propulsion method developed to date falls into one of two categories:

1. High thrust, low efficiency
2. Low thrust, high efficiency

Generally how it works is that the more power you get out of engines, the less energy you extract from the fuel. This is the case of chemical fuels like Liquid Hydrogen/Oxygen or Kerosine. These fuels provide the massive amounts of thrust necessary to get off the ground, but they burn through their fuel very quickly. Interestingly, LHOx is more efficient than Kerosine, but it's also harder to get as much raw thrust out of it. That's one of the reasons why Kerosine was the heavy lifter during the space race with the LHOx engines reserved for in-space stages.

On the other side of the coin, you have engines like Ion propulsion. These engines are able to inject incredible amounts of energy into tiny amounts of fuel, thus making them extremely fuel efficient. The only problem is that the amount of thrust is very low. Most of the ion engines that have operated to date produce thrust that matches the weight of a sheet of paper. Definitely not enough for liftoff, but perfect for extended missions in space where constant low thrust provides more velocity over time than the chemical engines which fire once, then coast the rest of the way.

The problem with both types of engines is that neither one gets spacecraft to their destination all that fast. Chemical rockets have the thrust to do it, but you couldn't feasibly build a chemical rocket with enough fuel to get you to another planet in a reasonable amount of time. A nuclear pulse propulsion craft could feasibly get fairly close, but it would just have more power in the intial thrust rather than providing a constant, high power thrust. (Obviously these have been discounted over the difficulties of building a large enough craft without using a nuclear ground launch. Nuclear ground launches are a no-no under current test-ban treaties.)

This is where VASMIR comes in. These engines are incredibly efficient. The specific impulse (measurement of efficiency) is between 3,000-30,000 seconds depending on the configuration and current thrust levels of the engine. This compares favorably with the ~450 seconds of shuttle engines and 3,000-10,000 seconds of Ion thrusters. Meanwhile, the thrust of Ion engines ranges from 90-3,000 mN while the thrust of VASMIR is expected to be ~5000 mN of thrust when tested at 200 kW of power.

What this means is that we may be able to build spacecraft where a trip from LEO to the moon is a daily affair and a trip from LEO to Mars takes only a few months (or less!) vs. the current flight time of nearly a year. The better these engines get (and the more we can put on a craft), the faster those flight times will get!

Re:High Thrust, High Specific Impulse (Isp) (5, Insightful)

Xaedalus (1192463) | more than 5 years ago | (#28596963)

THIS is why we need to go to the Moon and Mars and beyond... it is only through pushing through the boundaries to the unknown that we advance as a species. Otherwise, all we do is sit in self-induced stagnation endlessly trying to perfect ourselves.

Re:High Thrust, High Specific Impulse (Isp) (5, Insightful)

MickyTheIdiot (1032226) | more than 5 years ago | (#28597349)

THIS is why we need to go to the Moon and Mars and beyond... it is only through pushing through the boundaries to the unknown that we advance as a species. Otherwise, all we do is sit in self-induced stagnation endlessly trying to perfect ourselves.

I agree, but this is going to be the tough sell over the next 30 years. I know where I work I am drowning a deluge of people who never crack a book, have no curiosity beyond what will happen on the next American Idol, and have no deep thoughts about anything.

Vonnegut (and many others) seem to be right and we seem to be devolving. Endeavours in space and science is how we move forward, but there are less and less people that are interested in anything beyond where they are going to eat tonight. Fighting shallow mindedness is the REAL struggle.

Re:High Thrust, High Specific Impulse (Isp) (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28597939)

I so agree with you, one thing to add, right now it's more important to "sound" like you know what your talking about than actually knowing. I also wonder if it isn't because of affluence that most of society in G8 countries tend to be complacent or afraid to loose what they have.

Re:High Thrust, High Specific Impulse (Isp) (3, Insightful)

theIsovist (1348209) | more than 5 years ago | (#28598453)

I so agree with you, one thing to add, right now it's more important to "sound" like you know what your talking about than actually knowing.

[citation needed]...

Re:High Thrust, High Specific Impulse (Isp) (4, Funny)

Bat Country (829565) | more than 5 years ago | (#28597961)

I know where I work I am drowning a deluge of people who never crack a book...

I commend you for your efforts in stamping out illiteracy.

Re:High Thrust, High Specific Impulse (Isp) (1)

roc97007 (608802) | more than 5 years ago | (#28598433)

Let's hope he doesn't get caught.

Re:High Thrust, High Specific Impulse (Isp) (5, Insightful)

ardor (673957) | more than 5 years ago | (#28597987)

This fight has always been happening. Just imagine how hard it was for intellectuals in the Middle Ages to even get a book, let alone exchange information. I don't think we are *devolving*. Instead, I think three things are happening:
  1. Thanks to telecommunication, we get a LOT more information. In the past, you didn't really notice the masses of ignorant people, now you do. (This also applies to things like "so many more catastrophes/crimes/etc. nowadays" - they have always been around, we just did not know about them)
  2. The amount of ignorant people increases faster than the amount of people interested in science - but the ratio between the two is constant. Today, you have zillions of reality shows, nonsensical talkshows and "news", religious nutcases and politicians spewing their garbage in the networks etc. But on the other hand we have *many* more universities, scientists, labs, research facilities, libraries, advancements than in the past.
  3. Today's research focuses - has to focus - on incremental improvements. Huge, mindblowing breakthroughs are becoming increasingly rare. However, this does not mean research as a whole is stagnating, its just our perception that cannot really grasp the overall impact of all these myriads of small improvements.

Don't get me wrong, fighting shallow mindedness is TOTALLY necessary, but it has always been. There has been no "golden age" where everybody was open-minded and well-educated.

Re:High Thrust, High Specific Impulse (Isp) (0)

Nutria (679911) | more than 5 years ago | (#28599597)

Today, you have zillions of reality shows, nonsensical talkshows and "news", religious nutcases and politicians spewing their garbage in the networks etc. But on the other hand we have *many* more universities, scientists, labs, research facilities, libraries, advancements than in the past.

There are hundreds (if not infinitely) of times as many reality shows now than there were 30 years ago. There are not hundreds of times as many, universities, scientists, etc as there were 30 years ago.

Western society is collapsing, and "liberals" were/are the impetus. (Right-wing fundamentalism only got popular traction as a reaction to the 1960s. Before that, it was restricted to the rural South.)

Re:High Thrust, High Specific Impulse (Isp) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28599817)

Lol, you're saying we was ignorant of the ignorant? Is that what passes for wisdom these days, meta-ignorance?

Re:High Thrust, High Specific Impulse (Isp) (1)

Yvanhoe (564877) | more than 5 years ago | (#28598119)

Then leave it to your good friends India and China.

Re:High Thrust, High Specific Impulse (Isp) (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 5 years ago | (#28598589)

I know where I work I am drowning a deluge of people who never crack a book, have no curiosity beyond what will happen on the next American Idol, and have no deep thoughts about anything.

It's always been like that, at least in my 57 year long life. Actually, most of the women I know are readers, but sadly all they read are romance novels.

At least being a nerd isn't the social stigma it was when I was a teenager, now we're cool. We'd have never gone to the moon in the forst place if it weren't for the Soviets.

Re:High Thrust, High Specific Impulse (Isp) (1)

ground.zero.612 (1563557) | more than 5 years ago | (#28598881)

I disagree and say that this could easily happen in less than 10 years.

However, my opinion is that highly focused people tend to view less focused people as stupid, uncreative, uneducated mounds of flesh. I find life presents me with enough variation to know that just because I myself am able to focus my attention like a laser to accomplish great things, that by default I am not superior to one that may lack this particular skill.

Re:High Thrust, High Specific Impulse (Isp) (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 5 years ago | (#28598965)

Well, if you think about it, humans are made to be efficient: Only do what is really needed.

So nowadays, where there are enough people for it to be very unlikely that the *whole* humanity could become extinct, and where everything is taken care of, people just instinctively wonder, why they should do anything at all... beyond reproducing etc.

So, as I always say: The intelligence on this planet is constant. Only the number of humans grows.

Only when the planet will become overcrowded, and life will become harder again (and it *will* become harder, until newborns and deaths balance each other out), will humans start to think again.
So at our current rate, give us one, maybe two decades, and you will see races to other planets, extreme efficiency improvements, etc. Oh, and wars! Lots of wars! And diseases! And nature getting it trouble. You know, to keep the death rate high enough.)

Re:High Thrust, High Specific Impulse (Isp) (1)

JynXed (711029) | more than 5 years ago | (#28599653)

I'll bite on that... I'd say that the type of people you speak of have ALWAYS been around by the droves. Throughout every stage of history there's always been "the masses" and then those who rose above them. People have always been this way en-masse. Spectators, that at their very best will criticize others but fail to do anything about it themselves. The peasants of old are now the middle-class society with their televisions and ideas, but with the exactly same *lack* of traction for themselves or their own ideals.

Re:High Thrust, High Specific Impulse (Isp) (2, Informative)

jeff4747 (256583) | more than 5 years ago | (#28599757)

As always, XKCD has a comic on the subject: http://xkcd.com/603/ [xkcd.com]

Re:High Thrust, High Specific Impulse (Isp) (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28597395)

Ok, "self-induced stagnation" I can understand. But "endlessly trying to perfect ourselves"??? You never been to MySpace in your life, haven't you?

Re:High Thrust, High Specific Impulse (Isp) (4, Interesting)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 5 years ago | (#28598011)

THIS is why we need to go to the Moon and Mars and beyond... it is only through pushing through the boundaries to the unknown that we advance as a species.

A good way to explain it to the technophobes is this with the Turner Thesis [wikipedia.org] , which stated that what made America exceptional was its frontier. And in a lot ways, Turner was right. Continental expansionism (the so-called Manifest Destiny [wikipedia.org] ) was the impetus for much technological innovation in North America, including the telegraph, the steam locomotive, etc.

Re:High Thrust, High Specific Impulse (Isp) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28598427)

Continental expansionism (the so-called Manifest Destiny [wikipedia.org] ) was the impetus for much technological innovation in North America, including the telegraph, the steam locomotive, etc.

Wow America invented the steam locomotive? Thanks for your informative post!

Re:High Thrust, High Specific Impulse (Isp) (1)

mac1235 (962716) | more than 5 years ago | (#28599357)

I assure you my germ-line genetic experiments in hibernation and G-force tolerance will be very useful in space! They are NOT stagnation! Not perfection either, but getting there.

200 kW (1)

slashkitty (21637) | more than 5 years ago | (#28597117)

That's like the power of my car.. 268 hp.

Re:200 kW (2, Insightful)

confused one (671304) | more than 5 years ago | (#28597559)

Yes, but it should scale nicely to 100's of MW.

Re:High Thrust, High Specific Impulse (Isp) (1)

Hubbell (850646) | more than 5 years ago | (#28597325)

Nuclear Thermal Rockets [wikipedia.org] have already been tested and shown to be incredibly powerful/efficient with designs from the 60s and 70s, so what is the breakthrough here?

Re:High Thrust, High Specific Impulse (Isp) (1)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 5 years ago | (#28597481)

Try looking at the specific impulse on those. ~800-1000 seconds. Now compare to 3,000-30,000 seconds. Which one is more efficient with its fuel?

NTRs are very, very cool. But they're very wasteful with the energy produced by the reactor. Potentially great for liftoff (if anyone ever building a modern variant without the graphite flaking problems), but nowhere near as useful for interplanetary travel as the VASMIR engines are promising.

Re:High Thrust, High Specific Impulse (Isp) (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 5 years ago | (#28597527)

if there's a malfunction during liftoff, having a fission reactor coming down isn't such a great thing

Re:High Thrust, High Specific Impulse (Isp) (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 5 years ago | (#28597773)

if there's a malfunction during liftoff, having a fission reactor coming down isn't such a great thing

Don't worry about liftoff... an unused reactor core pretty much by definition has none of the highly dangerous waste byproducts in it... because... it's unused. A new reactor core is fundamentally mostly harmless, not really worth worrying about.

On the other hand, when landing, its still super hot, still streaming out delayed neutrons, full of extremely nasty waste isotopes, if the burnup ratio is high enough its physically weak and "crumbly", probably neutron-activated otherwise non-radioactive components nearby the reactor... Just bad news all around.

It would be unwise to land a fission powered vehicle on the earth.. Best used between planets.

Re:High Thrust, High Specific Impulse (Isp) (1)

Hubbell (850646) | more than 5 years ago | (#28597579)

"In this case the fuel does not touch the reactor wall at all, so temperatures could reach several tens of thousands of degrees, which would allow specific impulses of 3000 to 5000 seconds (30 to 50 kNs/kg)." 800-900 was for the solid core, and these numbers are from the 60s.

Re:High Thrust, High Specific Impulse (Isp) (2, Interesting)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 5 years ago | (#28597745)

Gas Core Nuclear Thermal Rockets are still science fiction. No one has yet built the necessary components, and there is a great deal of argument over whether or not "nuclear light bulbs" are even possible.

I'd love to see a 3,000 - 5,000 second NTR engine as well, but it would still be better suited for liftoff. For interplanetary travel, you simply can't beat the efficiency numbers of VASMIR. They start at the theoretical limits of NTRs!

these numbers are from the 60s

I don't have the reference in front of me, but I seem to recall that solid core NTRs were brought as high as 1200 seconds. On paper, anyway. No one has built them since the 80's timberwind project.

Re:High Thrust, High Specific Impulse (Isp) (1)

cbhacking (979169) | more than 5 years ago | (#28599453)

You'd still have to haul around a LOT of fuel; they can't sustain thrust for anywhere near the time that a VASIMR could. This is not to say they aren't fantastic, and they CAN produce enough thrust for takeoff from earth (something no rocket using an ionized reaction mass - like a VASIMR - is ever likely to accomplish). Once you're in space, though, a VASIMR is more efficient, lasts longer, and (in the long run) allows much faster travel.

Re:High Thrust, High Specific Impulse (Isp) (3, Interesting)

goffster (1104287) | more than 5 years ago | (#28597817)

" ... but you couldn't feasibly build a chemical rocket with enough fuel ... "

In fact, you can't do it all. There is a theoretical maximum amount of chemical energy/mass
you can achieve. Even when you are able to use this energy at 100% efficiency, the amount of energy required
to move the fuel itself reaches a point at which its payload can go no faster.

Re:High Thrust, High Specific Impulse (Isp) (2, Informative)

ljw1004 (764174) | more than 5 years ago | (#28597935)

Your post says that VASIMR combines high-thrust with high-specific-impulse.

But the wikipedia article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VASIMR_Engine [wikipedia.org] says instead that VASIMR operates in either high-thrust low-specific impulse mode, or in low-thrust high-specific-impulse mode.

Have I understood this correctly? Which is right?

Re:High Thrust, High Specific Impulse (Isp) (1)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 5 years ago | (#28599327)

Your post says that VASIMR combines high-thrust with high-specific-impulse.

But the wikipedia article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VASIMR_Engine [wikipedia.org] [wikipedia.org] says instead that VASIMR operates in either high-thrust low-specific impulse mode, or in low-thrust high-specific-impulse mode.

Have I understood this correctly? Which is right?

It's adjustable. That makes it good. :-P

Cheers

Re:High Thrust, High Specific Impulse (Isp) (4, Interesting)

cbhacking (979169) | more than 5 years ago | (#28599351)

Both are, to some extent. You (and Wikipedia) are correct in that VASIMR engines can change between high-power and high-efficiency (think of it like changing gears in your car; you're much more fuel-efficient cruising in top gear, but can accelerate much harder in low gear). Indeed, that's a fundamental characteristic of the engine, and explains the first two letters of the acronym (VAriable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket). However, the OP is also correct in that VASIMIR engines are extremely efficient in general. Part of this is due to their variability - as with a car, the efficient way to use a rocket is to increase its specific impulse (gear ratio/fuel efficiency) as its speed increases (currently no other rocket engine that I know of can do this). On the other hand, look at the high-end of that specific impulse - it's several times what our best Ion drives produce, while also putting out substantially more thrust. Theoretically, VASIMR engines are strictly superior (in terms of thrust and SIP, at least) to ion engines.

Of course, even at maximum thrust, current VASIMR drive designs produce *maybe* enough thrust to lift about .5 kilos (call it 1 lb) into space from the surface. Since the engine itself masses far more than that, you'll still need something with really high thrust to get it into space in the first place. Based on that, chemical engines will probably be around for a while, unless we can whip up a space elevator while we're at it. Theoretically you could run more power through a VASIMR and get more thrust, but I suspect the practical limit on doing so is far less than would be required for liftoff (if you could even get it to operate in an atmosphere). Even without that, though, it would be an incredible boon to intrasystem travel, or for station-keeping engines on satellites.

Re:High Thrust, High Specific Impulse (Isp) (4, Funny)

JumperCables233 (916271) | more than 5 years ago | (#28598065)

I have to say that I reject your theory that ion engines are low-thrust, since I happen to know for a fact that a single-man spacecraft with a Twin Ion Engine is capable of 1,200 km/hr and an acceleration of 4,100 G. Please refer to: http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/TIE/ln_starfighter [wikia.com] Thank you for your time. Let's keep things grounded in reality, people!

Re:High Thrust, High Specific Impulse (Isp) (1)

Paracelcus (151056) | more than 5 years ago | (#28598187)

The real breakthrough will be takeoff to spaceflight in one stage with a sustained 1G of acceleration (I seem to remember that 1G X 355 days = 92% C) if we do that our future may be brighter than it looks now.

Re:High Thrust, High Specific Impulse (Isp) (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 5 years ago | (#28599943)

Meanwhile, the thrust of Ion engines ranges from 90-3,000 mN while the thrust of VASMIR is expected to be ~5000 mN of thrust when tested at 200 kW of power.

~5000 mN sounds nice, but it doesn't sound so significant when we use proper SI - 5 Newtons thrust, rather than 5000 milli-Newtons.

In order to get to the moon in a day at 5N, we'd need a vehicle that massed about 25 kg. Or, perhaps, a 200 MW power plant that massed considerably less than 5 tons - good luck with that.

Realisitcally, VASIMR won't substitute for much of anything but an ion drive. And the only real advantage it has there is that it scales better.

Total power (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28596893)

The second stage is designed to inject up to 170 kW of additional power into the plasma for a total of 200 kW, the engineâ(TM)s total rated power.

I don't really know anything about wattage or electricity or science, but that doesn't sound like much power to me.

Re:Total power (5, Informative)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 5 years ago | (#28597087)

For comparison, your car needs about 20 kW of power to maintain cruising speed on the interstate. 200 kW of power would be akin to running a 300 horsepower engine at its peak power output. With the way cars are designed, that doesn't happen much with the possible exception of expensive sports cars and pickups hauling a heavy load.

If we take the case of the sports car, we find that it's enough energy to slam you against your seat and hold you there while you do 0-60 in 3 seconds. (Hey look, ma! Artificial gravity!) In the case of a pickup pulling a heavy load, it's enough to accelerate reasonably while dragging a trailer full of spools of heavy steel cabling.

The difference between your car and the spaceship is that the spaceship will be powered by some sort of long-term fuel supply. e.g. A nuclear reactor. Which means that the spaceship will be able to continue accelerating for millions of miles while your car would have run out of gas after the first few hundred miles.

Since acceleration is cumulative, being able to continuously accelerate like that means that distances between planets become a lot smaller on one "tank of gas" as it were. Add more engines for greater thrust and redundancy, and you have a souped-up hot-rod of a ship that can take you interplanetary distances in record time.

Hmm... I'm sure someone is about to chide me for some horribly sloppy analogies, but look on the bright side. It's got cars in it! And hopefully it will make the energy budget a bit more understandable. ;-)

Re:Total power (1)

Spy Handler (822350) | more than 5 years ago | (#28597147)

So it seems like this will be a great way to power a spacecraft that's already in orbit, headed to say Mars, but not something that will get us into orbit in the first place?

Re:Total power (4, Insightful)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 5 years ago | (#28597307)

So it seems like this will be a great way to power a spacecraft that's already in orbit

Correct. While it's theoretically possible to use engines like this as part of a liftoff stack (assuming enough engines, low enough weight per engine, and a high enough power budget), it's not really practical to consider such a concept at this time. For the short term at least, LEO access will remain the purview of chemical rockets.

Re:Total power (1)

Loomismeister (1589505) | more than 5 years ago | (#28597363)

The problem with speeding up is that you eventually have to slow down, and slowing down takes plenty of energy and time too. Also, when building up to this insanely fast speed, what are they planning to do if some random debris gets in their path?

Re:Total power (1)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 5 years ago | (#28598013)

The problem with speeding up is that you eventually have to slow down, and slowing down takes plenty of energy and time too.

When you have constant thrust, this is an easy to solve problem. You speed up until you reach the halfway point. Then you turn the ship around and begin thrusting the opposite direction for the second half of the journey. Assuming sufficient constant thrust, you'll still get to your destination faster than the yahoos attempting a low-energy transfer.

As a bonus, thrusting forward and thrusting backwards are exactly the same from a relativity perspective. Which means that you'll get artificial gravity for the entire journey.

Also, when building up to this insanely fast speed, what are they planning to do if some random debris gets in their path?

At such a small fraction of c, there's no difference between a fast ship or a slow ship. Meteorites could be moving toward you at high speeds no matter what your speed is relative to Mars and Earth. The velocity imparted on the spacecraft only becomes a concern when the speed imparted on the craft is enough to move interstellar distances. At those speeds (relative to stars), the various materials floating around are going to be much slower than the craft because they're aligned to the gravitational forces of the surrounding stars and galaxies while you're moving against that flow like a bat outta hell. ;-)

Re:Total power (1)

R3d M3rcury (871886) | more than 5 years ago | (#28598015)

Well, slowing down is pretty much the same issue as speeding up. When you get about halfway there, you turn around and fire the engines in the opposite direction.

The debris issue? Well, first, you have this thing called radar, which can detect fairly big chunks from a distance. You could use chemical engines to maneuver so you avoid hitting these rocks. Remember that, assuming you're on a collision course, it wouldn't take a whole lot of propellant to change your course a fraction of a degree so that it misses you, and to change it back to what it was when it has passed.

Little tiny chunks are something else and could be a problem. You're never going to have a shield that could withstand a hit from one of these. Of course, to borrow a phrase, "Space is big." The chances of hitting/being hit by a micro-meteor in such a way that the rocket is destroyed are probably less likely than an airplane crashing. Do you not fly on an airplane?

Re:Total power (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 5 years ago | (#28598359)

Of course, to borrow a phrase, "Space is big." The chances of hitting/being hit by a micro-meteor in such a way that the rocket is destroyed are probably less likely than an airplane crashing.

[Citation needed]

Any place one would want to go will include great quantities of small particles. These things are the dust left over from planet building.

If you can not detect them on radar, speculation of their density in what we presume to be empty space seems premature.

Re:Total power (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28598663)

if you are near enough to get space debris from the planet and not slowed down to orbit velocities you have more problems than micrometeors.

Re:Total power (1)

jeff4747 (256583) | more than 5 years ago | (#28599871)

You do realize that when talking about traveling to the moon or Mars, we've already been there, right?

We know the density of microparticles isn't high because we've already passed through and our craft weren't sandblasted into oblivion.

Re:Total power (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 5 years ago | (#28599949)

And how fast were we going?

The craft were hit multiple times by slow moving particles. Just try that at the speeds being discussed.

Think before you post.

Re:Total power (1)

Razalhague (1497249) | more than 5 years ago | (#28598273)

Also, when building up to this insanely fast speed, what are they planning to do if some random debris gets in their path?

The spaceships will naturally come with pre-installed cowcatchers [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Total power (1)

Bertie (87778) | more than 5 years ago | (#28598003)

20KW? Wow. That's just made me think. 20KW to pull a car along at (I'm guessing) 65MPH. Meanwhile, 250W or so from my two legs will propel me at a steady 25MPH on my pushbike.

Aren't bikes clever?

Only if you're looking for exercise. (2, Informative)

jeffb (2.718) (1189693) | more than 5 years ago | (#28598659)

Biking for an hour at 25MPH costs 1181 kcal, according to this calendar [geocities.com] (others suggest it costs even more calories), which translates to 1373 watt-hours. (Your body isn't that efficient at converting fuel to energy.) So let's assume your 250W figure is correct, and your body is about 18% efficient in converting calories to power.

Biking for an hour at 65MPH (if you could) would burn 18669 calories -- remember, wind resistance goes up as the cube of speed. That works out to -- let's see -- 21712 watt-hours. Assuming the same 18% efficiency (and some active cooling for your legs, not to mention the rest of your body), you'd be putting out 3.95KW to sustain that speed.

When you look at it that way, spending five times the energy to move a car, with probably five or ten times the frontal surface area and more than ten times the passenger and cargo capacity, starts to sound like not such a bad deal.

Re:Only if you're looking for exercise. (1)

Bertie (87778) | more than 5 years ago | (#28599657)

Yeah. I mean, 65MPH on the flat would be no trouble, but I'm afraid passengers and luggage is right out of the question...

Re:Total power (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 5 years ago | (#28598631)

I'm sure someone is about to chide me for some horribly sloppy analogies

At least you dodn't talk about light bulbs or libraries of congress.

Power to Power the VASMIR? (1)

h.ross.perot (1050420) | more than 5 years ago | (#28596953)

What is required to power the VASMIR engine? Simple fuel Cell or we talkin nukes here?

Re:Power to Power the VASMIR? (2, Informative)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 5 years ago | (#28597113)

For 200 kW per engine, we're thinking nukes.

Re:Power to Power the VASMIR? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28597407)

Or a rack of iPhone batteries.

(yes, yes, I know it was cheap iPhone cases leaving dye on the white iPhones when they (the cases) got hot...)

Re:Power to Power the VASMIR? (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | more than 5 years ago | (#28597797)

Fuel cell as in H2+O2->H2O ? I guess that would be even less efficient than plain a plain old chemical rocket engine. Think nuclear. Perhaps solar power could be of some use provided that the craft were not to venture past Mars or the asteroid belt, although this would require either a much smaller variant of the engine of some duty cycle would have to be employed, or both. (The older and smaller versions of this engine are less energy-efficient, though, and it may be actually challenging to maintain high efficiency even for a newly-constructed smaller version, these things happen in engineering all the time - bigger machine, less losses.)

Any idea what the thrust level is? (1)

Thagg (9904) | more than 5 years ago | (#28596993)

Is it a newton? More?

Apparently the power level was only sustained for a second or so...it's going to have to run for a month or so to be useful, but this is probably a good start.

Re:Any idea what the thrust level is? (1)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 5 years ago | (#28597137)

The expected thrust is 5 newtons for 200 kW of power. However, they have only tested 30 kW of power.

Re:Any idea what the thrust level is? (1)

ninkendo84 (577928) | more than 5 years ago | (#28597849)

They *had* tested with only 30kW of power, because they were waiting for their superconductor to ship. Once it was delivered (in late June, according to TFA) they were able to get to higher outputs. I closed the tab and now it's slashdotted, so I forget the amount, but it was above 100kW and they're waiting until the 14th to do their full-scale test, expected to reach 200kW.

Re:Any idea what the thrust level is? (1)

ninkendo84 (577928) | more than 5 years ago | (#28597869)

Wait, nevermind. The site came up, and you're right, the second stage adds an extra 170kW and is expected to commence testing on July 14.

170 kW? (1)

Spy Handler (822350) | more than 5 years ago | (#28597015)

how many pounds of thrust is that? And how much does the thing weigh?

TFA is light on details, it reads like a press release.

Re:170 kW? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28597257)

how many pounds of thrust is that? And how much does the thing weigh?

TFA is light on details, it reads like a press release.

another post [slashdot.org] stated this:

the thrust of VASMIR is expected to be ~5000 mN of thrust when tested at 200 kW of power.

but yea, i have no idea, i just read that on the internets so it must be true

Re:170 kW? (1)

ShadowXOmega (808299) | more than 5 years ago | (#28597375)

The trust is 5mN = 5 N = 1.1 Pounds-force
Here are some references:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VASIMR_Engine [wikipedia.org]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pound-force [wikipedia.org]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newton [wikipedia.org]

The weight (weight? may be you refer to inertial mass...)...doesnt matter...
because the thing is going to be used in space...so, the aceleration that it gains thru time wll be cumulative.

Superconducting Plasma Rocket Engine? (3, Funny)

MBGMorden (803437) | more than 5 years ago | (#28597023)

Superconducting Plasma Rocket Engine?

Sounds like it oughta be able to make at least Warp 3.

Re:Superconducting Plasma Rocket Engine? (2, Funny)

Spy Handler (822350) | more than 5 years ago | (#28597285)

Nah, more like impulse engine... warp speed would have to involve some kind of space-time bending.

"Full impulse power."

"No sir! You have Genesis! You can have whatever..."

"Full impulse power! Damn you!"

Re:Superconducting Plasma Rocket Engine? (1)

beckett (27524) | more than 5 years ago | (#28599521)

high Impulse speeds (0.90g+) subject the starship to relativistic speeds. Federation protocols recommend avoiding high impulse travel except in distress or emergency situations. the computers' chronometer should be resynchronised to federation subspace timing beacons when possible.

Checklist (3, Funny)

Bakkster (1529253) | more than 5 years ago | (#28597379)

Superconducting: check
Plasma: check
Rocket: check
Linux:

Three for four isn't bad.

Re:Checklist (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28598047)

Mod parent down, obvious karma-grab. You can't just "LINUX lol LINUX" every article regardless of application or context. Use your fucking brain instead of being another one of the mindless circle-jerk sheep.

What we need (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28597497)

Are human pod-biospheres for the ungrateful comatose & paralyzed individuals that do nothing but lay there all day. Pod 'em and ship 'em to space. Use brain-interface devices to control machines to do common tasks, such as drilling for water on mars, or plantings trees near the equator.

What? Once they get strong enough they'll be herding us like sheep, from planet to planet, sometimes maliciously and sometimes to a planet not quite terraformed... but you get my drift. We can have all the rocket technology in the Universe, but until we shed this soft skin for the glimmering metals and plastics of machinery -- even if we have to 'nuclefy' our entire human body -- we're not getting anywhere off this planet in enough droves to save our collected humanity.

Shake-n-bake (1)

oldhack (1037484) | more than 5 years ago | (#28597509)

Now that's a proper name: shake-n-bake.

Dude 1: What's this?
Dude 2: VX-200.
Dude 1: Ok, what actually is it?
Dude 2: Superconducting plasma rocket engine.
Dude 1: Yeah, fuck you, too.

Let's not get out of hand about Mars (5, Interesting)

mathimus1863 (1120437) | more than 5 years ago | (#28597523)

Just a comment before people get out of hand talking about how quickly we can go to Mars with better thrusters... anyone who's taken a class on Orbital mechanics should know that you can't just decide to go to Mars whenever you like. Part of the problem with trips to Mars is the distance, but also the timing. It would be extremely difficult to do an orbital transfer from Earth to Mars while they are on opposite sides of the sun. It would add months, if not years, to your trip, and the fuel requirements certainly wouldn't be aided by it. Unfortunately, because the an Earth-year and Mars-year are so close (like 1 mars-year is 1.8 earth years...?) it takes a while for the orbits to sync up again once they get out of sync (isn't this known as beat frequency in the audio world?).

Now don't quote me on this b/c it's been a while since I took orbital mechanics... but I seem to remember the "optimal" window for an Earth-to-Mars transfer opening up once every 2.5 years, it would take 8 months to travel there, 90-98% of your ship's mass would have to be fuel, and then you'd have to wait 1.5 more years for the "optimal" Mars-to-Earth orbital transfer window. In other words, doing a round-trip flight to Mars is no trivial matter.

Even with a more efficient fuel, perhaps you can stretch those windows, but you're not going to find an astronaut who is willing to leave now for a 1.5-year-commute to Mars, instead of waiting a year and doing an 8-month-commute. Even if those times are shrunk by a factor of 2 with a more efficient fuel, it's always going to be a huge operation.

Re:Let's not get out of hand about Mars (2, Informative)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 5 years ago | (#28597667)

You're partially correct. But only partially. While you generally need to wait for proper alignment to make your journey, the length of the journey is still dependent on how fast you go. Chemical rockets are so slow that we need to begin the orbital transfer ~260 days before the expected orbital intersection with Mars. With more acceleration, the ship could leave later and still make the rendezvous.

Ok, that's horribly simplified. But I simply don't have the time to look up and explain the myriad of orbital transfers [wikipedia.org] available. Suffice it to say, a little bit of extra speed won't help much at all. A lot of extra speed will open up many more options.

Or in other words, how fast you get somewhere depends on how much energy you want to waste to accomplish that goal.

Re:Let's not get out of hand about Mars (5, Informative)

vlm (69642) | more than 5 years ago | (#28597965)

You're mixing about a zillion different orbits into one recollection.

If you've got enough fuel, just turn and burn man... simple. Of course that takes a heck of a lot of fuel, like your idea of 98% mass fraction of fuel.

A Hohmann TO is the simplest imaginable transfer to design and is pretty quick too. Draw an ellipse that touches both orbits...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hohmann_transfer_orbit [wikipedia.org]

A Bi-elliptic is way slow, but if you're making a major/huge change to your orbital parameters it takes less fuel. Enter a giant orbit way the heck out there, then on the return pass enter your new orbit. Handy for inclination changes too.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bi-elliptic_transfer [wikipedia.org]

And if you literally have decades of spare time there is the famous "ITN" which takes practically no fuel and takes practically forever, which works by wandering around the various eddies of the Lagrange points or something very vaguely like that.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interplanetary_Transport_Network [wikipedia.org]

As for your claim of 98% mass fraction, check out the math on

http://www.iki.rssi.ru/mirrors/stern/stargaze/Smars2.htm [iki.rssi.ru]

"showing we need add just 2.966 km/s, a shade short of 3 km/s or 10% of the orbital velocity."

and then when you get there you need another 2.5 km/s to match mars orbit, although you can play various gravitational slingshot games to help that out...

Re:Let's not get out of hand about Mars (1)

olderphart (787517) | more than 5 years ago | (#28598351)

You're thinking about an unaccelerated Hohmann transfer orbit.

Continuous acceleration greatly mitigates the cost of out-of-phase travel to Mars. And, since you're carting along a honkin' heavy nuclear reactor and you're starting in orbit, there's no reason NOT to use it continuously.

--
phunctor

Re:Let's not get out of hand about Mars (2, Informative)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 5 years ago | (#28598681)

It's been a couple decades for me, too, though my masters class in space vehicle guidance and nav had the final as a mars shot (NASA Admin Griffin was the professor; yes he has always been hyped on mars!)

Anyway, while the sibling posts are correct, there are orders of magnitude between this technology and the reality of meaningfully shifting the duration of a Mars shot. There are certain "safe" transfer orbits which get the crew back to earth automatically (you can intercept mars, and if you miss injection your orbit will return you to earth orbit, tangent to earth's orbit, and at the same time that earth is in that location).

Even if you go with a non-safe orbit (non-tangential initial delta V) which doesn't intercept Mars at perihelion (Hohmann transfer of you leave earth tangential to the orbit), you've got to have some significant acceleration.

Now, this thing is going to need 200kW per engine to apply 5N worth of thrust. To get this into perspective, do you remember those old Estes engines you played with as a kid? The small ones produce about 5N of thrust. Now, strap one of those to a 200kW generator. The Topaz generator, flown by the Soviets produced 5kW of power and weighed over a ton. Now, that's the only thing I could find on google in 2 seconds, so we'll assume you can get an order of magnitude better performance today - strap that Estes C6 engine to a 5,000lb nuclear reactor. You're not exactly going to be racing the new Veyron in terms of acceleration. (okay, the Veyron won't do well in space...point taken).

If you do the math, I'm thinking you'll be getting 0.0001m/s/s acceleration if you count the generator/engine combo as 50% of the spaceship mass. In 9 months, you'll be traveling at 2.3km/s faster than when you left earth orbit, which was probably in the 6-7km/s range. At that point you can turn around and start decelerating to you reach Mars at a desirable rate.

None of which really matters (since the orbital durations may be highly suspect), except to say that you're not going to be getting any massive delta-V out of this thing on a short term basis.

Re:Let's not get out of hand about Mars (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28599047)

You're not thinking it through. Yes, there's an optimal travel window when Earth and Mars pass each other in orbit once every couple of years. But if you have "better thrusters", you can cut the travel time within that window. A constant-thrust plasma rocket could give you a two-month travel time once every two years, rather than the seven-month travel time every two years that we have now. Or a six-month round trip centered on the conjunction instead of a three year round trip because you have to wait for the next one. This would certainly make a manned expedition more feasible.

another example why government is not the answer (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28597703)

are you sure you want them to take over health care. NASA is an example of how slow things progress when uncle sam is in charge. good old broke uncle sam has been unable to repeat their success from the 1960 (remember they had help from captured German scientists back then to help...) this story shows how private industry is always the best answer!

Re:another example why government is not the answe (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 5 years ago | (#28598733)

Yeah, and it took FEMA five days to get water to the Superdome and turned away truckloads of supplies. But that's what kind of government you get when you elect people who think government is always the problem into government.

The problem isn't "government", it's bureaucracy, and the larger any organization is, the more bureaucratic it becomes. Anyone who dealt with AT&T before the government broke up their monopoly knows this. The phone company was far more bureaucratic then the DMV.

Springfield, IL's power plant, CWLP, is owned and operated by the city. It recieves no funding except from its customers in the form of bills, yet we have the cheapest and most reliable power in the entire state. Our government run CWLP wins against the corporate Amerin hands down.

The problem isn't government, it's lack of good leadership.

Summary Wrong (2, Informative)

confused one (671304) | more than 5 years ago | (#28597711)

This was a full power test of the superconducting magnet and first stage only. The first stage is a 30kW ionization stage. The 170kW RF second stage has not yet been tested. Testing of the combined first and second stage will commence July 14th. From the manufacturer's site: http://www.adastrarocket.com/Release%20020709.pdf [adastrarocket.com]

Referring Back (1, Offtopic)

DynaSoar (714234) | more than 5 years ago | (#28597949)

Referring back to http://ask.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=09/06/27/0152216 [slashdot.org] , where someone asked about a freer country to move to, I suggested Costa Rica.

Besides the humanitarian lean of their universities, they're quite up on technology. They don't have a lot, but they like it. TFA is an example -- Ad Astra is based there in part. It's founder is a native of C.R. and ex-NASA astronaut, Dr. Franklin Chang-Diaz.

There's also been a few folks go down there to check it out for a possible launch site for commercial and private launches. It's around 10 degrees north latitude, close enough to the equator to go the same rotational boost as they get down there. Nothing announced yet, but the visits were very positive. After all, the VASMIR motor will never get off the ground on its own.

Re:Referring Back (1)

sumdumass (711423) | more than 5 years ago | (#28598585)

Isn't Costa Rica a US territory? or it that Puerto Rico I'm thinking of?

Re:Referring Back (1)

dltaylor (7510) | more than 5 years ago | (#28598901)

Given your handle, I've got my sarcasm filter set to "high", but for the unenlightened, technically, it's Puerto Rico.

There are entities that consider all of Central (if not South, as well) America as "US Territory".

Yiddish (3, Interesting)

rssrss (686344) | more than 5 years ago | (#28598191)

In Yiddish (the Jewish-German creole of Eastern Europe), VASIMR means "woe is me".

I know, probably o/t.

Re:Yiddish (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28598317)

Well it's better than "Zune", in that respect!

Re:Yiddish (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28598671)

Yiddish isn't a creole. A creole is a language that has been created starting from a simple pidgin, then gradually become complex enough to use as a complete language on its own. Yiddish, in contrast, evolved from a language that was already complete. Yiddish has lots of loanwords from Hebrew and the Slavic languages. But in most respects it's Germanic and not a creole.

Still, I enjoyed your post.

Rockets? (1)

dandart (1274360) | more than 5 years ago | (#28598793)

What? We're still using rockets???

This is great for America (0, Troll)

superflit (1193931) | more than 5 years ago | (#28598945)

This is a great feat, and sorry for the rest of world. BUT congrats to the USA.

Not being blind and total supporter, but USA still is a great place of science, for research and smart people.

While in the "rest" of the world......

They are still thinking if human rights or democracy is good. USA still can keep its advantage even not beating or killing its own people...
(we know whom I am talking about)

Go america!

Bleeh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28599011)

Call me when we can see a video of it working in all glory.

Weaponization (1)

captainqtp (1589379) | more than 5 years ago | (#28599651)

I keep thinking of Plasma rifles in X-COM. Does this experiment mean we'll be seeing some sort of plasma weapon any time soon? Are there already plasma weapons out there?
Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>