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Ex-Astronaut Developing Plasma Rocket To Revitalize NASA

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 4 years ago | from the buy-two-at-twice-the-price dept.

NASA 277

TechReviewAl writes "Former astronaut Franklin Chang Diaz believes that the private sector can revitalize NASA, and his company is developing a plasma rocket to back up that claim. Chang Diaz argues that private industry can be used to develop much of the basic technology needed for space exploration, allowing NASA to focus on more sophisticated and critical components. His company, Ad Astra, is developing a variable specific impulse magnetoplasma rocket (VASIMR) that will be used to reposition the International Space Station. Last week, the rocket passed an important milestone in testing — reaching 200 kilowatts (enough to move the ISS). A video of the rocket can be seen on Ad Astra's site."

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grammar (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29647287)

His company, Ad Astra's is developed a variable specific impulse magnetoplasma rocket (VASIMR) that will be used to reposition the International Space Station.

huh

Re:grammar (0, Offtopic)

BumbaCLot (472046) | more than 4 years ago | (#29647371)

It was written and submitted by AI. What do you expect? Proper editing?

Here, let me rephrse it for you.... (2, Funny)

NoYob (1630681) | more than 4 years ago | (#29647413)

His company, Ad Astra's has developing a variable specific impulse magnetoplasma rocket (VASIMR) that has be using to reposition the International Space Station.

There, I hope that making more sense.

Awesome. (3, Funny)

nametaken (610866) | more than 4 years ago | (#29647293)

Bonus points for the space invaders noises it apparently makes.

Re:Awesome. (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29647419)

and it's powered by an all Rush mix tape and 2 liters of orange soda.

Re:Awesome. (1)

ByOhTek (1181381) | more than 4 years ago | (#29647827)

What kind of orange soda? Jones? Sunkist? Crush?

Re:Awesome. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29647883)

Jones makes 2-liters? I must be in the wrong market!

Re:Awesome. (1)

ByOhTek (1181381) | more than 4 years ago | (#29647917)

no, but if you get enough bottles, you'll have two liters of the stuff.

And a lot less money.

That noise is the sound of suckage (1)

RingDev (879105) | more than 4 years ago | (#29647915)

Literally, this thing blows... in a vacuum...

-Rick

Summary is incorrect (3, Informative)

Tekfactory (937086) | more than 4 years ago | (#29647415)

Since the ISS only has 120-130 Kilowatts of Solar Panels, running a 200 Kilowatt motor would be difficult.

Also Kilowatts though stated in the article aren't really a measure of thrust.

The engine can operate at different levels UP TO 200 kW, but would probably have to use about half that because of the stations limitations. Though if the Motor can use waste hydrogen from the Fuel Cells/Ox Generators they are estimating it would save NASA bringing up fuel for reboosts. (From the Proposal/white paper on VASIMR)

Re:Summary is incorrect (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29647451)

You must excuse the Slashdot editors. They got confused. 200kW is the amount of power it takes to get Cowboy Neil's ass out of his chair. The mixup has be corrected. The people who were supposed to sack the original mistake makes have been sacked.

Re:Summary is incorrect (5, Informative)

Tekfactory (937086) | more than 4 years ago | (#29647509)

Re:Summary is incorrect (1)

chuckymonkey (1059244) | more than 4 years ago | (#29647557)

Batteries to give it the electricity it needs maybe?

Re:Summary is incorrect (2, Informative)

Robotbeat (461248) | more than 4 years ago | (#29647869)

Thrust can be calculated by the power and the ISP:
I think it's something like this:
Thrust=Power*2/(effective velocity)
or
Thrust=Power*2/(ISP*9.81m/s^2)

So, if the power is 200kW and ISP= ~3000s (assuming 100% efficiency, where efficiency is probably more like 65%):
400,000W/(30,000 m/s)=13 Newtons

So, a thrust of 13 Newtons is possible at the low end of ISP. And, actually, thrust decreases with ISP, so ten times higher ISP (30,000s) would be about 1 Newton of thrust at 200kW.

acronym (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29647931)

"Thrust can be calculated by the power and the ISP:"

I have Charter cable - does that give me more thrust than Qwest DSL ?

Re:acronym (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29648389)

I here comcast is big into thrusting their consumers... ;) ;)

get it? like thrusting them in the asshole? lolololol

Re:Summary is incorrect (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29648209)

so what would that do in say... a car analogy?

Batteries (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29648171)

If only we could invent some device that could store energy for a limited amount of time so that we could output more energy than we take in, if only periodically.

They've been working on this for a while now (3, Insightful)

TheKidWho (705796) | more than 4 years ago | (#29647421)

AFAIK they have been working on VASIMR for over a decade now... This isn't exactly "news"

Re:They've been working on this for a while now (5, Insightful)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 4 years ago | (#29647799)

A non-chemical rocket that can produce that level of thrust is absolutely news, it has the potential to open up the solar system. Personally, I'd rather see research and developement into ground to orbit launch technologies, but this is a big part of moving things quickly from one part of the system to another.

To be fair, the title is what is wrong, it should be "VASIMR Tested at Full Power" not "VASIMR under developement".

Re:They've been working on this for a while now (3, Funny)

CarpetShark (865376) | more than 4 years ago | (#29647851)

AFAIK they have been working on VASIMR for over a decade now... This isn't exactly "news"

No, no, no. These VASIMR experiments are entirely new. You must be thinking of the old VALKILMER experiments.

Re:They've been working on this for a while now (1)

Nyeerrmm (940927) | more than 4 years ago | (#29647889)

I think my thought was more specifically "Oh God, not another VASIMR story."

I'll get excited when I see flight hardware, otherwise its just another slightly vaporish technology. The vapor is made particularly thin by its dependence on other development, specifically the very high power requirements that are likely to require advancements such as space-based nuclear reactors. From what I know, without this kind of power, it will be little more than an incremental improvement on current flight-proven EP methods.

Re:They've been working on this for a while now (4, Informative)

Sebilrazen (870600) | more than 4 years ago | (#29647949)

AFAIK they have been working on VASIMR for over a decade now... This isn't exactly "news"

I think you're mistaken, "news" and "new" aren't the same thing. If you're pining for something "new" in this "news" it's the fact that they passed a significant milestone last week.

Note: If English isn't your first language and you're mistaking "news" as the plural of "new" (which usually doesn't have a plural as it's not generally used as a noun) disregard.

Check out Mapou's comment at TR's page (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29647961)

What's news is the comment on the TR page by Mapou. If Mapou is right, both magnetoplasma and chemical rockets are history.

Re:Check out Mapou's comment at TR's page (1)

Rycross (836649) | more than 4 years ago | (#29648205)

Louis, you might want to try being a little less transparent when pimping your own posts. At any rate, your ideas concerning motion aren't really that insightful. They're little more than wishful-thinking, without empirical evidence, experimentation, and subsequent math to back them up.

Re:Check out Mapou's comment at TR's page (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29648315)

Louis, you might want to try being a little less transparent when pimping your own posts.

Why? I've got nothing to lose. It's not easy getting around the politically correct /. crowd. Not to mention the demonic /. admins. LOL. Too bad they can't stop me from posting at TR, right?

At any rate, your ideas concerning motion aren't really that insightful. They're little more than wishful-thinking, without empirical evidence, experimentation, and subsequent math to back them up.

Causality does not lie and does not make wishes. Causality kick ass and takes names. But causality can also be your friend. Keep your ears and eyes open. This isn't going away.

Re:Check out Mapou's comment at TR's page (1)

Rycross (836649) | more than 4 years ago | (#29648361)

This isn't going away.

How long do you anticipate this revolution to take anyway? 5 years?

Re:Check out Mapou's comment at TR's page (1)

TheKidWho (705796) | more than 4 years ago | (#29648635)

You're a retard...

Where's your evidence or proof?

What does causality have anything to do with free energy?

Another crack pot, *sigh*.

Re:They've been working on this for a while now (2, Insightful)

GameMaster (148118) | more than 4 years ago | (#29648497)

Yes, they've been working on VASIMIR, and many other technologies, for decades. What makes this story newsworthy is the fact that they've passed another major milestone and are one step away from real-world implementation in the space station. Unfortunately, public opinion often weighs heavily, whether we like it or not, on which technologies get the funding to continue development. This is true in government projects, like what NASA does, and doubly true in privately funded companies like the one developing this rocket. So, you may not like to see incremental updates on new technology that takes decades to develop but it servers an important purpose in bringing the money men into the process and getting them to fund advancement. Besides, if you don't like seeing updates on the bleeding edge of advanced technology research and development, what are you doing on Slashdot? This is "news for nerds", not "news for grumpy whiners that like to complain about any story they don't, personally, find fascinating".

Re:They've been working on this for a while now (1)

TheKidWho (705796) | more than 4 years ago | (#29648539)

Don't get me wrong, I've been following VASIMR for a very long time, well over a decade now and I am very excited to see where it's headed. However, the title for the article is very misleading.

Another ex-NASA type trying to cash in (0, Flamebait)

Dr_Ken (1163339) | more than 4 years ago | (#29647443)

A cynical view I know. But the US Gov pays through the nose to train these guys who then just retire and try to cash in on the Washington gravy train. Just like the rest of the high level military, political and bureaucratic employees that leave gov employment in order to cash in. Typical and sad.

Re:Another ex-NASA type trying to cash in (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29647541)

Just goes to show you, the people who work in the business of government are just as self-interested as the people who don't.

(I never could quite grasp the prevailing theory that government works for reason of "altruism", while business works for reasons of self-interest. The reality is that BOTH work out of self-interest, and the evidence is just about everywhere you look.)

Re:Another ex-NASA type trying to cash in (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29647679)

They should get less money => more altruistic guys in command.

Ban bribery (or lobbying if you will).

Re:Another ex-NASA type trying to cash in (5, Insightful)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 4 years ago | (#29647607)

A cynical view I know. But the US Gov pays through the nose to train these guys who then just retire and try to cash in on the Washington gravy train. Just like the rest of the high level military, political and bureaucratic employees that leave gov employment in order to cash in. Typical and sad.

Why is that "sad"? Would you keep working for the Government if you had a skillset that was going to enable you to make a lot more money in the private sector? Does it also bother you when someone gets an entry level IT job and then leaves for greener pastures once they acquire sufficient work experience?

Re:Another ex-NASA type trying to cash in (5, Insightful)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 4 years ago | (#29647617)

Or maybe, just maybe, the guy got a doctorate in plasma physics, and flew 7 Space Shuttle missions (which isn't exactly safe), directed the NASA Advanced Space Propulsion Laboratory, and is investing in plasma rocket research after his NASA tenure because he's interested in plasma physics, rocket science, and the possibilities of space flight.

Re:Another ex-NASA type trying to cash in (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29647907)

I managed to read that last part as "prostitution in space flight". I think I need more sleep.

Re:Another ex-NASA type trying to cash in (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 4 years ago | (#29648333)

No, you got it just about right.

Re:Another ex-NASA type trying to cash in (0, Troll)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 4 years ago | (#29647981)

So we've got a _really smart_ guy we've paid to educate, paid for many years to perform exactly 7 times, paid to direct a "cool" program, and now that we've shelled out all that money, he's investing some of it in hopes of selling us some product we spent years paying him to learn about.

By the way...how do you amass enough cash to personally invest significantly in this kind of endeavor, considering otherwise "normal" governmental salaries in the 70-130k/year range? Or is he primarily a front man - a very smart one - who is helping to get money from others (perhaps old colleagues with strings to government funds?) to pursue this research.

I'm not saying he's not doing interesting, and possibly valuable, research, but I'm not about to give him a free pass just because he's got a doctorate and a handful of mission patches. Now, if he's made a bunch of money doing other things (dot com bubble investor?), and is pursuing this as a purely speculative path, then good for him.

Re:Another ex-NASA type trying to cash in (5, Insightful)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 4 years ago | (#29648289)

So we've got a _really smart_ guy we've paid to educate, paid for many years to perform exactly 7 times... I'm not about to give him a free pass just because he's got a doctorate and a handful of mission patches.

Given your flippant tone, I'm sure you'll be surprised to hear that 7 space shuttle flights is as many as anyone has ever done. Only one other astronaut has as many missions under their belt. This is because space flight is a Big Deal. Astronauts often train for years for a single specific mission.

By the way...how do you amass enough cash to personally invest significantly in this kind of endeavor, considering otherwise "normal" governmental salaries in the 70-130k/year range?Or is he primarily a front man - a very smart one - who is helping to get money from others (perhaps old colleagues with strings to government funds?) to pursue this research.

Front-man... inventor of the technology the company makes... Yeah, same thing.

I'm not saying he's not doing interesting, and possibly valuable, research, but I'm not about to give him a free pass just because he's got a doctorate and a handful of mission patches.

What does that even mean? A "pass" from what? What horrible sin has he allegedly committed? Leaving NASA after a mere twenty five years and a record number of shuttle missions? Turning his research into plasma propulsion into a real invention? Throw me a bone here!

Now, if he's made a bunch of money doing other things (dot com bubble investor?), and is pursuing this as a purely speculative path, then good for him.

Oh I see. So if he'd managed to fund this venture without having done anything productive rather than inventing a new propulsion system, then you'd be cool with it.

WTF is with these comments?

Re:Another ex-NASA type trying to cash in (5, Interesting)

suomynonAyletamitlU (1618513) | more than 4 years ago | (#29648489)

I'm not sure you understand the potential that any particular astronaut has to ruin hundreds of billions of dollars of government investment. If an astronaut meant to, or just screwed up at something that may have seemed inconsequential at the time, the deaths of the people onboard would be, while publicly tear-jerking, relatively inconsequential compared to the gross loss of capital for the agency. (Less now that they're intending to stop using the shuttles altogether, but to some degree still.)

The fact that he made it through training and became an astronaut means that he was worthy of being trusted with a hundred-billion-plus dollar space ship. That's what the training is for. That's why we pay their training, and why we pay them. Not only could they die in a spectacular fireball if they make the wrong mistake--or if someone else does--but it's possible they could completely ruin NASA's chances of ever being useful again by swaying public opinion. A single person could--or could have--singlehandedly set back mankind's exploration of space by decades or longer.

And you've really got the balls to say that spending the money that he got as part of that trust to keep advancing something he loves and believes in is less respectable than if he had taken his money, gambled with it on the stock market, and taken whatever gains he had and spent them on this as an outsider?

Disclosure: I am related to a former high-ranking NASA employee, and while that doesn't make me an expert, I do have at least SOME sense of scale about the damned thing.

Re:Another ex-NASA type trying to cash in (5, Insightful)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 4 years ago | (#29647677)

But the US Gov pays through the nose to train these guys who then just retire and try to cash in on the Washington gravy train.

Yeah he retired after "just" twenty five years [wikipedia.org] . He really screwed NASA on that one!

And what, after he retires, he's not supposed to do the most obvious things related to his education and experience? He was working on plasma rockets before he made it to NASA. So is it worse that he's planning to work on plasma rockets to sell to NASA after working for them for a quarter century, rather than going into private industry straight out of college? Why? Because it vaguely fits a stereotype of ex-government employees leaving to work for contractors?

A cynical view I know.

Yeah... What's the word where cynicism is used as a replacement for understanding? Kinda like "blind optimism", but the opposite? Blind cynicism doesn't sound right. As a cynic, I've always liked the expression "cynicism is realism plus experience". But you're not being realistic. So... what is it that you're doing?

Yo, MORON! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29647893)

OOh, lookie lookie! You used the "quarter century" colloquialism. Man, a whole QUARTER of a century! I have been reading Slashdot for a whole EIGHTH of a century and have been collecting hentai for a SIXTEENTH of a century.
 
Dude. Lighten up. This whole "quarter century" and "${FRACTION} century" thing is pretty gay. It's why we have phrases for smart people like you to use.......like "two and a half DECADES." There, said it. Amen.

Re:Another ex-NASA type trying to cash in (0, Flamebait)

Dr_Ken (1163339) | more than 4 years ago | (#29648125)

So if Mr. Astronaut became a lobbyist instead that'd be okay too? Or a Medal of Honor winner who pimps his heroism out to lobby for munitions makers seeking gov contracts? Guns and bombs is what he knows right? For a self described cynic (as in always asking "who benefits?") you sure do have a idealistic outlook which goes against the weight of the evidence about who lobbys and for what.

Re:Another ex-NASA type trying to cash in (4, Insightful)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 4 years ago | (#29648469)

So if Mr. Astronaut became a lobbyist instead that'd be okay too? Or a Medal of Honor winner who pimps his heroism out to lobby for munitions makers seeking gov contracts? Guns and bombs is what he knows right?

But that's not what he's doing, now is it? He's starting a private company, with private investment, and creating what he hopes are practical solutions for other private industries and NASA.

This is exactly what I'm talking about -- "cynicism" is not saying "this will end badly" without concern for the specifics of what "this" is. You have to look at the actual reality and distinguish based on that. "So if he [did something else] that'd be okay too?", implying no distinction based on the actual activity or its outcome, is the opposite of realism.

For a self described cynic (as in always asking "who benefits?") you sure do have a idealistic outlook which goes against the weight of the evidence about who lobbys and for what.

He is going to benefit, obviously so, because he's the CEO of the company. What's the problem again? He's going to get a nice NASA contract, become Yet Another Defense Contractor, and lobby congress to give NASA more funds? Oh noes!

You don't sound like a cynic to me. You sound like a betrayed idealist, with a rosy-eyed view of how things "should" be, and constantly finding that not to be the case. So you say things will end badly in some vague way, without regard to what's actually happening because it doesn't matter.

Personally, seeing someone trying to use the 'best of both worlds' of private enterprise and government contracts to drag NASA kicking and screaming out of the 60s warms my cynical heart.

Re:Another ex-NASA type trying to cash in (4, Funny)

Absolut187 (816431) | more than 4 years ago | (#29648281)

Yeah... What's the word where cynicism is used as a replacement for understanding? Kinda like "blind optimism", but the opposite? Blind cynicism doesn't sound right. As a cynic, I've always liked the expression "cynicism is realism plus experience". But you're not being realistic. So... what is it that you're doing?

I believe the word you're looking for is "hating".

As in:
"Hey, stop hating on Franklin Chang-Diaz just because he's smarter than you and makes way more money."

That's nothing (5, Funny)

Jawn98685 (687784) | more than 4 years ago | (#29647447)

I've been building this big ol' rocket in my barn, here in Texas. If I could just get the feds off my back long enough to fuel the thing, I'd be happy to help out.

Re:That's nothing (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29647741)

Slashdot moderators are weird.

Re:That's nothing (1)

eabrek (880144) | more than 4 years ago | (#29648261)

Apparently they also don't like being called names!

MOD PARENT DOWN (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29648023)

Jawn is trolling for karma. I know his game.

Perspective (5, Informative)

LaminatorX (410794) | more than 4 years ago | (#29647463)

If you measure distance in terms of transit times, the sustainable thrust potential of this technology would make the Solar System the same size to travelers as the Earth was during the Age of Sail.

Re:Perspective (2, Interesting)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 4 years ago | (#29647575)

And maybe with the same level of risk (equipment failure / no hope of rescue, medical emergencies, solar storms, meteor strikes etc.). Although with our modern day aversion to risk, I can't see it getting a very enthusiastic welcome from todays "sailors". Not unless the rewards were very good indeed. Is there that much good stuff to be had to incentivise people to go?

Re:Perspective (0, Offtopic)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 4 years ago | (#29647631)

Although with our modern day aversion to risk, I can't see it getting a very enthusiastic welcome from todays "sailors".

We'll get rid of the aversion to risk beforehand by lining up all of the lawyers in the country and telling them that there was just a car accident near Jupiter. They'll race each other to get there first, after which the rest of us can explore the solar system in peace and quiet ;)

Re:Perspective (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29647913)

> modern day risk aversion

19th Century Risk-Averse Guy: "Why leave the comfort of Baltimore for the wilds of California? There are Indians, deserts, starvation, loneliness, wild animals, snakes, tornadoes, earthquakes, locusts, bandits ..."
Other Guy: Didja hear? They found gold near San Francisco. I'm thinkin' about... hey, where'd that guy go?"

Re:Perspective (1)

CraftyJack (1031736) | more than 4 years ago | (#29648299)

Why leave the comfort of Baltimore for the wilds of California? There are Indians, deserts, starvation, loneliness, wild animals, snakes, tornadoes, earthquakes, locusts, bandits ...

Don't forget dysentery...although maybe that's only along the trail to Oregon.

Re:Perspective (1)

4D6963 (933028) | more than 4 years ago | (#29647813)

Well one difference is what's at stake. Back then by being the first to get somewhere you could be the first to claim huge lands filled with potential slaves. In space, you can't claim a damn thing, and there isn't much to claim anyway. Even mining is nowhere near being economically viable.

Re:Perspective (2, Interesting)

arthurpaliden (939626) | more than 4 years ago | (#29647815)

The simplest way to remove the problem of risk is to pay each person X million dollars upon arival back to Earth so long as they give up the right to sue for anythimg that can be traced back to the trip.

Re:Perspective (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29648123)

Then the incentive is to make sure that they don't make it back to Earth...

"incentivise" (1)

XanC (644172) | more than 4 years ago | (#29648111)

How can we incite people to use the already-existing word "incite" rather than making up words like "incentivise"?

Re:Perspective (2, Insightful)

sexybomber (740588) | more than 4 years ago | (#29648197)

The rewards are, in fact, very good. As any self-respecting IT geek knows, one of the best ways to protect your data is through multiple, redundant, off-site backups. Homo sapiens currently has no such backups.

Also, if you can physically get to an asteroid, that's the first step towards mining it, or perhaps nudging it (very, very carefully) towards Earth orbit, so as to mine it more easily.

Re:Perspective (1)

0xdeadbeef (28836) | more than 4 years ago | (#29648409)

The worldwide economy nearly collapsed due to ridiculously stupid real estate investment. Where is this "modern aversion to risk" that you speak of?

People don't invest in space because there is little possibility of a return in their lifetimes. Stop pretending that prudence is cowardice. There is no shortage of dreamers willing to die in space on someone else's money.

Re:Perspective (1)

yuriyg (926419) | more than 4 years ago | (#29648075)

In the Age of Sail there were tangible rewards like gold and spices. Unfortunately there aren't too many useful resources out there in space for us to use today.

Re:Perspective (1)

Absolut187 (816431) | more than 4 years ago | (#29648321)

I hear that Martians make excellent slaves.

Re:Perspective (1)

arthurpaliden (939626) | more than 4 years ago | (#29648581)

Moon Maidens even better...(quickly checks to see that wife is not watching)

Really? (2, Informative)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 4 years ago | (#29648161)

I was under the impression that VASMIR was a low-thrust technology (high energy, low propellant mass = high Isp, but normally with low absolute thrust). The proposed 200kW model was expected to have a thrust of 5 Newtons, according to wikipedia. Now, that's nice, but it's on the order of the smallest black powder Estes engines used to fly 50-100gram rockets for fun. It will move a space ship, but it will provide relatively low acceleration.

Since sail circumnavigation of the earth can be done in less than 180 days, it's a bit premature to expect us to circumnavigate the 12 billion kM diameter disc which houses our solar system in anything approaching that kind of time frame. Even if you allow for 1000 of these engines running continuously (all 300 metric tons of engines, plus the 200MW power source, plus the ship, shielding, etc. needed), 5kN is going to take quite a while to bring an interplanetary vessel up to any useful speed.

Don't get me wrong - it's cool technology...but it's still a couple of orders of magnitude from sailing around the world.

Re:Really? (4, Informative)

LaminatorX (410794) | more than 4 years ago | (#29648453)

While 180 day circumnavigation is possible, the travelers of the 16th-18th Centuries usually took three to four years to circle the globe. That's the basis for the comparison I was making.

Re:Perspective (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#29648585)

If you measure distance in terms of transit times, the sustainable thrust potential of this technology would make the Solar System the same size to travelers as the Earth was during the Age of Sail.

Assuming that somebody figures out how to power a VASMIR engine. The only power source Chang Diaz & Co. has to date is a black box on the diagram marked 'and magic happens here'.

Ob. Steinbeck (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29647481)

"Ad Astra Per Alia Porci" -- "To the stars on the wings of a pig". John Steinbeck's personal motto.

Get out of the way, NASA (3, Insightful)

ForexCoder (1208982) | more than 4 years ago | (#29647485)

NASA really needs to move to a research and incubation role, similar to what it does in the aeronautical world. Given the constant changes in direction each new administration brings, and the whims of budgeting each new congress brings, NASA can't continue to be the primary source for launch vehicles.

They should license out the Ares technology, promote competitions among the multiple private rocket vendors and focus on scientific and development missions using private vendors to provide the launch capacity.

Re:Get out of the way, NASA (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29647849)

What Ares technology?

Re:Get out of the way, NASA (3, Insightful)

dferrantino (1630629) | more than 4 years ago | (#29648273)

That's exactly what they've been doing lately. SpaceX is in the process of becoming the primary provider of resupply missions to the ISS for when the shuttle program ends.

This is Huge (4, Interesting)

hardburn (141468) | more than 4 years ago | (#29647505)

VASIMR means the only expensive part is getting to LEO. Once there, a space tug using VASIMR can lift satellites to GEO for almost nothing (compared to today's prices). It's not really fast enough for human travel, but for moving equipment around Earth orbit (or elsewhere), it's very promising. Between this and SpaceX reducing the price to LEO, the next 10 years should be very exciting in commercial space travel.

Re:This is Huge (1)

arthurpaliden (939626) | more than 4 years ago | (#29647625)

The only problem with it being slow is that we live in a 'I want it NOW!!' culture.

Re:This is Huge (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 4 years ago | (#29648137)

The only problem with it being slow is that we live in a 'I want it NOW!!' culture.

Yeah, that and the van allen radiation belts. Not so bad if you scoot thru them quick, not so good if you slowly meander thru them. Kind of like taking the interstate thru the inner city at midnight, vs transiting the area on foot.

Re:This is Huge (1)

arthurpaliden (939626) | more than 4 years ago | (#29648623)

Actually those would not be a big problem. Since the 'engine' only has to go up once it can be equipped with the shielding required. The additional cost is then amortized over all the transits through the belt.

This must be some of that "new math"... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29647571)

Can somebody explain how a government agency paying a for-profit company to develop something "saves money" over said agency doing it themselves? All I see is some fraction of the development budget falling into this guy's (and his investors') pockets.

Sense of reality = fail (5, Insightful)

TheMeuge (645043) | more than 4 years ago | (#29648089)

This is the same kind of math used by proponents of President Obama's healthcare socialization package. If you will, it's also the same math used to justify the Soviet command economy.

On paper, eliminating profits saves money for the hypothetical society. In reality, however, eliminating profit also eliminates self-interest, which very effectively stagnates or degrades the enterprise... be it at the level of a single supermarket, or the economy of the wealthiest country on Earth.

The reason why this doesn't work, is because you need several things to get something accomplished. You need the WILL to start it... the RESPONSIBILITY to see it through, and the MEANS to get it done. Socialism helps with the means... but not the will. Capitalism helps with the will, by accepting man as the egotistical bastard he is, and appealing to the basest of desires: greed.

But nothing helps with responsibility. For as long as clerks with 1-inch fingernails will 1-finger-type endless requisition forms to get anything done in large organizations (which includes companies as well as governments) with zero interest or concern for what they are doing, waste will reign supreme. At least in private enterprise, this is somewhat moderated by the need for more profit. A government bureaucracy, on the other hand, is like entropy. It spontaneously expands, and this can only be reversed locally, at an even greater cost to the entire system.

All that is keeping us from space is efficiency. (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29647619)

The classic example is if you spread a gallon of gasoline out evenly and ignite it perfectly it can raise the Empire State building one foot in the air. Translated a gallon of gasoline could potentially lift a human into orbit, less spaceship. Three things are keeping us Earth bound. Gravity, friction and efficient use of fuel. Remove any two of these factors and you can orbit a human for the price of a modest plane ticket.

I have no idea what any of this means... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29647651)

But plasma + rocket in the same sentence = really cool.

"200Kw, which is enough to move the ISS" (4, Insightful)

alrudd1287 (1288914) | more than 4 years ago | (#29647665)

Can't any amount of power move the ISS just at a slower rate?

Re:"200Kw, which is enough to move the ISS" (3, Funny)

orangesquid (79734) | more than 4 years ago | (#29647853)

(I'd imagine 200kW is needed for regular orbital corrections for the full ISS when all modules are in place, but I'm probably wrong. But here's something better:)
No--because of NASA cuts, lawmakers have just ruled that physicists must add an additional ISS equation to quantum mechanics, governing the behavior of the ISS in orbit around Earth, so that quantization will inhibit orbital decay. They picked an equation where the only resonant energies were the only interesting orbits. Since the energies are quantized, we can't just nudge the ISS a little bit at a time, now that it has its own wavefunction, duh!

Come to think of it, I bet I could design a super-efficient combustion engine that relies on macro-scale space quantization. I bet I can lobby a group to get my favorite wavefunction on the books for that, as well! ;)

Re:"200Kw, which is enough to move the ISS" (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 4 years ago | (#29648203)

No--because of NASA cuts, lawmakers have just ruled that physicists must add an additional ISS equation to quantum mechanics, governing the behavior of the ISS in orbit around Earth, so that quantization will inhibit orbital decay. They picked an equation where the only resonant energies were the only interesting orbits. Since the energies are quantized, we can't just nudge the ISS a little bit at a time, now that it has its own wavefunction, duh!

Rather than modifying formulae to add terms, wouldn't it be a heck of a lot simpler just to modify some minor coefficients that are part of the existing nuclear fusion equations to force the sun into a quiet state thus resulting in less atmospheric heating, thus less drag on the station? Of course the sunspots would go away... isn't that interesting?

Re:"200Kw, which is enough to move the ISS" (4, Informative)

vlm (69642) | more than 4 years ago | (#29648079)

Can't any amount of power move the ISS just at a slower rate?

Kind of. It has to boost altitude, on average, more than 200 meters per day, just to keep up. Over and above that, yes anything will do.

There is also a scheduling issue. Currently they burn chemical thrusters every month for a couple hours. That means no "microgravity environment" for less than 1% of the time. That is OK, 99% of the time is good enough for experiments, etc. Now, if the fancy new vasmir can only boost 400 meters per 24 hours of continuous operation, then just to keep up with atmospheric drag, it absolutely must run 1/2 of the time, meaning you only get that fancy microgravity environment for 1/2 of the time. Also with respect to maintenance and reliability, that means it has to be operational about half the time or better. And finally, a 1% of the time activity means direct astronaut operation/intervention is possible, but there is not the staffing to baby sit a low thrust engine literally half the time, so it has to be highly automated.

http://web.archive.org/web/20080213164432/http://pdlprod3.hosc.msfc.nasa.gov/D-aboutiss/D6.html [archive.org]

"Reboost mode is necessary because the Station's large cross-section and low altitude causes its orbit to decay due to atmospheric drag at an average rate of 0.2 km/day (0.1 n mi/day)."

Re:"200Kw, which is enough to move the ISS" (4, Insightful)

samkass (174571) | more than 4 years ago | (#29648611)

This may be a stupid question, but if there is no perceived gravity in a "perfect" orbit, but the ISS orbit is decaying, wouldn't that mean that the decay is being caused by acceleration, causing it to be less than a perfect microgravity environment. If you, on the other hand, had a tiny thruster operating 100% of the time that kept the ISS in its perfect orbit, wouldn't that mean a BETTER microgravity environment, not a worse one? In other words, by constantly counteracting the drag of the atmosphere instead of letting it build up then using significant thrust, wouldn't you go from microgravity 99% of the time to even better microgravity 100% of the time?

Not trying to revitalize NASA. (0, Troll)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 4 years ago | (#29647725)

He's not trying to revitalize NASA. He's trying to make money from his fancy rocket and saying that he's trying to revitalize NASA as a way to get good press. There's quite a big difference.

If his goal was really to revitalize NASA, he'd sell them at cost to NASA. You can bet that isn't happening.

Re:Not trying to revitalize NASA. (1)

toopok4k3 (809683) | more than 4 years ago | (#29648039)

You do know that designing a big thing with lot's of moving parts actually costs a quite lot of money? Let alone building something like that. I doubt there's that much air in the prices when they are eventually selling it to NASA. Raw materials, workforce, facilities etc. cost money, they don't come for free. Hardware ain't like software where some old and grumpy guy with a big beard can do stuff for free.

Re:Not trying to revitalize NASA. (1)

baldusi (139651) | more than 4 years ago | (#29648189)

I think he took a look at the Space Shuttle and Ares Program and decided that he could provide better technology for a 1/20th of the price. Let's charge them a 1/10th of the price. He get's a lot and sill saves the taxpayers 90% of their money AND provides better technology.

stuff it (1, Offtopic)

TheMeuge (645043) | more than 4 years ago | (#29648195)

Why is it that nearly every Slashdot thread that mentions private enterprise, becomes populated with these holier-than-thou replies.

"Why shouldn't he/she/it just give away X?" is the question that drives me up the wall.

Let me answer it.

"For the mortgage".

Somehow, a large number of well-fed, well-clothed, and easily-surviving members of Slashdot have gotten into their heads that they (or some proxy of themselves, such as the NASA in this instance) are entitled to the fruits of other people's labors, simply because they exist. "Why doesn't he just give it away!" "Why should doctors make money, aren't they in it to help people?" "Patents and copyright should be abolished". etc... etc... etc...

To be honest, I find that attitude to be far more selfish than any kind of profiteering. It's a product of a life lived with few real difficulties, without denying themselves anything substantial... a live full of luxuries and entitlements.

Have shuttle pull or push it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29647763)

Can't it do that? Why the need to develop something new and expensive?

Re:Have shuttle pull or push it? (1)

arkane1234 (457605) | more than 4 years ago | (#29648551)

I'm sorry but obviously you don't realize that the shuttle is far from being a tugboat...
It's not like the ocean where you can put a vehicle in front of something, and put energy into pulling it to where you want, without a zillion different things that can go wrong, and are impeding. The travel in orbit isn't standing still, along with costly thruster fuel (costly in weight, & price)
Slapping an engine onto something, and letting it take care of itself is alot cheaper, safer, and more efficient.
hint: we aren't playing Homeworld here...

The more things change the more expensive they get (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29647803)

Translation: The private sector can make a lot of profit doing things under subcontract that NASA would otherwise have to justify to OIG/OMB. (Proof of concept: Is Chang Diaz making more, or less, money than he did working for NASA?) NASA gets to subcontract the work out, which is easier to push through Congress for appropriations (see Blackwater USA and Halliburton for references.) The subcontractor at a critical point will prove that the work cost more than the estimate and not have to live within the budget quoted. The only loser: Still the American taxpayer, who will ultimately pay more for the private subcontract *and* eventually still pay NASA the same amount as before for doing only the "important stuff." (And I happen to be in favor of space exploration and travel.)

No Thanks, I'll Fly With The Proven (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29647867)

Russian technology [energia.ru]

Yours In Baikonur,
Kilgore T.

Too many cooks... (2, Interesting)

Last_Available_Usern (756093) | more than 4 years ago | (#29648155)

Without oversight by NASA, components won't have the compatibility required to integrate within the launch vehicle. Essentially it means that all of these companies will just be contractors to NASA (Company X builds the fuel injection, Company Y builds the stage seperators, etc). Is that really cheaper than paying NASA employees to develop the same technology?

Video? (1)

Goblez (928516) | more than 4 years ago | (#29648277)

Anyone else disappointed in the 'video'. Nothing like some CGI and then some still photographs to NOT sate the urge to see a plasma engine in use.

Physics question (4, Interesting)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | more than 4 years ago | (#29648305)

Bank in 1999. electricity has been generated in space by dragging a copper tether though the earth's magnetic field (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/astronauts-seek-power-in-space-1319781.html).

Presumably this produced drag. Can't this "drag" be used for some near earth maneuvering using a mesh system to create an electromagnetic sail by which one might tack? Or is the amount of force to small to be useful?

Re:Physics question (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#29648619)

Ir can be done - in theory. In practice the engineering challenges to deploying and recovering a simple tether (let alone a much more complicated sail) are formidable, and no promising approaches have emerged to date.

Just how big (1, Funny)

SnarfQuest (469614) | more than 4 years ago | (#29648397)

Just how big of a rocket do you need to go from one movie studio lot to another?

Idiocy (0)

ShooterNeo (555040) | more than 4 years ago | (#29648483)

This doesn't solve ANYTHING.

The problem with space travel, that has been true for the past 60 years since the first rockets reached the edge of space, has been it costs a HUGE amount of finite resources to get anything into orbit. At least $10,000 a kilogram for a man rated launcher. Better engines that only work out in space do utterly nothing to solve this problem.

Laser launch, space elevators, cheap rockets made in China....whatever solution works, we need to be spending every dollar on that. Once we finally have a technology that is cost effective, THEN we can start sending missions to other planets and setting up space hotels and building plasma engines that only work in vacuum.

Re:Idiocy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29648621)

Plasma engines are very good for giving a nice big delta-v budget to terrestrial satellites. Which means longer service lifetimes, and therefore fewer launches. So good for this, in fact, that engines with better Isp than VASIMR have been in use for decades...

The Electricity (4, Interesting)

florescent_beige (608235) | more than 4 years ago | (#29648651)

Despite it's high specific impulse this engine isn't the whole answer to the exploration of the solar system. Blame the inverse square law.

It may be feasible to power an slow unmanned Earth-Moon VASIMR transfer vehicle with solar, but at Mars solar radiation is only 25% as strong and at Jupiter it's 4%. So you are talking about nuclear for probes to the outer planets and for manned missions to anywhere.

There's nothing technological that would stop space-based nuclear but you just know it'll take years to get that done.

New Scientist [newscientist.com] has an article that says VASIMR + nuclear = 39-day transit time to Mars.

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