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VASIMR Ion Engine Could Cut Mars Trip To 39 Days

CmdrTaco posted more than 4 years ago | from the i'll-believe-when-i-ride-it dept.

Mars 356

An anonymous reader writes "It would take about 39 days to reach Mars, compared to six months by conventional rocket power. 'This engine is in fact going to be tested on the International Space Station, launched about 2013,' astronaut Chris Hadfield said. The Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR®) system encompasses three linked magnetic cells. The 'Plasma Source' cell involves the main injection of neutral gas (typically hydrogen, or other light gases) to be turned into plasma and the ionization subsystem. The 'RF Booster' cell acts as an amplifier to further energize the plasma to the desired temperature using electromagnetic waves. The 'Magnetic Nozzle' cell converts the energy of the plasma into directed motion and ultimately useful thrust."

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356 comments

Billions and billions... (5, Funny)

GenP (686381) | more than 4 years ago | (#29793697)

A few hundred Newtons here, a few hundred Newtons there, and pretty soon you're talking about some real delta-v!

Tag as SLASHVERTISEMENT (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29793705)

Sorry, guys, but VAWSIMR has been covered too many times. This is an ad.
 
Amen.

Re:Tag as SLASHVERTISEMENT (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29793799)

Yeah, I was totally going to go for one of those conventional rockets for my trip to Mars, but now I'm seriously considering a VASIMR Ion Engine.

Re:Tag as SLASHVERTISEMENT (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29794267)

For 10 years now, I'm commuting to work with my old Ford Pinto.
Until I read the ad in the news paper and decided it was time for a change.
Now I'm owning on of the modern cars with a VASIMR Ion Engine and have cut my commuting time down by 105 percent. And with the money saved I'm buying a new house, yacht, motorbike and wife.
And when my boss saw my new VASIMR ion engine has gave me a raise and promoted me !

Thanks VASIMR ion engine cooperation, your incredible product saved the day and changed my life for the better !

Re:Tag as SLASHVERTISEMENT (2, Funny)

operagost (62405) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794843)

Why buy a new car, when you can just make your "pinto" bigger with C1AL15!

Re:Tag as SLASHVERTISEMENT (5, Interesting)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 4 years ago | (#29793803)

Yeah, coverage like this really makes we want to go out and buy one for my own space ship.

Seriously, I think this might be getting coverage because this is potentially technology that could make a manned mission to MARS much more feasible and safer. Of course, getting back might still be challenging, but I for one would take the honor of being the first man on Mars away from Philip Fry if I could.

Re:Tag as SLASHVERTISEMENT (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29794177)

Since when do more powerful engines imply safer?

Re:Tag as SLASHVERTISEMENT (2, Insightful)

slack_justyb (862874) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794495)

I have to agree with the grandparent. VASMIR is old news as far as cutting edge technology. Really, why not put out an article about how awesome Blu-Ray is (rolls eyes)? So let's look pass the whole VASMIR thing and start looking at the applications themselves, "to be used on ISS in 2013" strikes me as the most useful piece of information in the summary. VASMIR technology is getting better and better every day, but so is diesel and bio-diesel technology.

At some point, continuing to beat the gong on something starts to make it look like those "Wow" commercials from the Windows Vista days, or all those promises of action during the campaigning days here in the United States.

No quite yet. (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29793733)

No stated in this article.

But I'm pretty sure the engine discussed will need to be roughly 100x more powerful to make that 39 day trip a reality.

Re:No quite yet. (4, Insightful)

doug (926) | more than 4 years ago | (#29793971)

No stated in this article.

But I'm pretty sure the engine discussed will need to be roughly 100x more powerful to make that 39 day trip a reality.

No, not really. Hauling the fuel for chemical rockets into orbit is expensive, so mostly they do hard burns to get the right speed and direction, then they coast most of the trip. VASIMR doesn't need the heavy fuel, as it is solar powered, so it provides constant thrust. Apparently days of constant acceleration makes a difference.

- doug

Re:No quite yet. (1, Informative)

inviolet (797804) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794435)

No, not really. Hauling the fuel for chemical rockets into orbit is expensive, so mostly they do hard burns to get the right speed and direction, then they coast most of the trip. VASIMR doesn't need the heavy fuel, as it is solar powered, so it provides constant thrust. Apparently days of constant acceleration makes a difference.

There is no free lunch. VASIMR is not radically more efficient than a chemical rocket. Its advantage is that it can run off electricity. But the electricity available from solar panels is slight.

This particular VASIMR is an improvement because it can handle more power... more than solar panels could provide. It will require a nuclear powersource -- a fission plant, or a very very powerful RTG.

But if you are willing to heft a fission plant into orbit, then you could just use it as a conventional nuclear rocket (i.e. superheated steam).

Re:No quite yet. (5, Insightful)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794609)

VASIMR doesn't need the heavy fuel, as it is solar powered, so it provides constant thrust

Ummm, no. Or, rather, technically yes, but not really. In a chemical rocket, fuel and reaction mass are the same thing. The fuel burns, expands, and flies out of the back. With an ion engine, they are separate. The fuel is anything that can produce electricity (e.g. solar or nuclear plants) and the reaction mass is something that you've ionised. This still has mass, and still has to be carried with you until you throw it out of the back, irrespective of where the power comes from.

The important thing to remember is that all of these are reaction drives. They work according to the principle of conservation of momentum. When you throw some mass out of the back of your space ship, the space ship gains the same amount of momentum as the thing you throw out of the back. You can double the momentum that you gain from your engine by either doubling the speed of the ejected reaction mass, or by doubling the amount you throw out. With conventional rockets, the speed is limited by the rate of reaction, which is fairly fixed. With an ion drive, the speed is limited by the amount of power you put in.

You still need to carry the propellant, but if you can throw it out at ten times the speed then you need a tenth of the amount. If you need a tenth of the amount, then your space ship will mass a little over a tenth as much, and so the speed that it gains from this change in momentum will be almost ten times as much.

In theory, you could use a small glass of water, accelerated to a significant fraction of the speed of light, as your propellant for an entire trip to Mars and back. In practice, there is a limit to the speed to which an ion thruster can accelerate the ions it's throwing out and so you still need quite a large amount of propellant.

Sound (4, Funny)

whisper_jeff (680366) | more than 4 years ago | (#29793783)

But does this process create feedback over communications systems to create cool sound effects as the ship whooshes by?

Sorry. Star Wars geek moment...

Re:Sound (1)

Jeng (926980) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794361)

My thoughts on why one hears other spaceships around in sci-fi movies is that their propulsion pushes directly off of space time which creates waves which one can hear when they hit the side of the spaceship.

Re:Sound (3, Funny)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794727)

My thoughts on why one hears other spaceships around in sci-fi movies is that their propulsion pushes directly off of space time which creates waves which one can hear when they hit the side of the spaceship.

Ah. That explains the John Williams score we hear in space, too.

Re:Sound (4, Interesting)

isaac (2852) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794373)

But does this process create feedback over communications systems to create cool sound effects as the ship whooshes by?

Quite possibly, actually; at the very least, there might be enough radio emissions at audible frequencies as the plasma dissipates in the presence of a magnetic field (i.e. planetary orbit) to induce something audible in a speaker wire or analog amplifier. It's been speculated that such a mechanism is responsible for the phenomena of hissing, whooshing, or popping sounds heard simultaneously with the appearance of meteorites passing through the atmosphere (as opposed to delayed like a sonic boom.)

-Isaac

Re:Sound (2, Interesting)

mlush (620447) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794745)

I've always assumed the whoosh was synthesized by the ships systems as a audio representation of the local battlespace

I'm dizzy. (1, Interesting)

garcia (6573) | more than 4 years ago | (#29793791)

From the article:

A new NASA rocket engine, designed partly in Canada, raises the revolutionary possibility that a manned trip to Mars could take less than three months instead of two years.

[...]

It would take about 39 days to reach Mars, compared to six months by conventional rocket power.

In three paragraphs we go from 89 days to 39 days. So which is it? With that kind of difference, I'm not quite sure it would be any faster than conventional rockets.

Re:I'm dizzy. (4, Informative)

ageoffri (723674) | more than 4 years ago | (#29793827)

39 * 2 = 78 days for round trip to Mars in the article which is less then 3 months. The 39 days is one way just to get there.

Re:I'm dizzy. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29794429)

except in 78 days, the earth will have completed 21.% of its orbit of the sun...

Re:I'm dizzy. (1)

garcia (6573) | more than 4 years ago | (#29793883)

Thanks everyone. I'm dumb. I blame the 800 miles of driving in the last 24 hours.

Re:I'm dizzy. (4, Funny)

click2005 (921437) | more than 4 years ago | (#29793917)

You could have travelled those 800 miles in 4 hours with a VASMIR Ion Drive.

Re:I'm dizzy. (1)

DJProtoss (589443) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794299)

Eh? more like under a minute actually. (couldn't see any particular speed figures, but assuming mars earth distance is ~5.5x10^10m, and assuming perfectly linear accel / deccel (which in space ain't that wrong I guess), you get a deltav of ~1.7x10^3ms^-2, now given his trip was only under 1.3x10^6m, using good old a level mechanics that gives you a time of just under 40s...*

*of course, this assumes vast amounts of stuff, including no air resistance and instant change from accel to deccel, but hey.

Re:I'm dizzy. (1)

Canazza (1428553) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794797)

It'll average 0.02% of c, that's about 134123mph, so to travel 800 miles would take 21.47 seconds

Re:I'm dizzy. (4, Informative)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794883)

Depends on how much he weighs. The drive provides a force of 0.5N. A typical car plus passengers masses around 1000kg. F=ma, so, 0.5 / 1000 gives him an acceleration of 0.0005 m/s/s (ignoring friction and air resistance). 800 miles is a little under 1,300 km, or 1,300,000m. Assuming a stationary start, and accelerating for the whole time, we get sqrt(2s/a), which is around 51,000 seconds, or around 14 hours. Of course, after that time he'd be going quite quickly, so he'd probably want to be slowing down for the second half of the journey which increases the total travel time to about 20 hours.

Ion drives are not (yet) fast. They provide a much lower acceleration than conventional rockets, which is why no one is talking about using them to get to orbit. They use a lot less propellant to produce this thrust than an equivalent chemical rocket though, which means that they can provide this thrust for longer. After 14 hours, the car would be going at 25m/s. Not particularly fast; a chemical rocket can get to that speed in a couple of seconds. After a week it would be going at over 300m/s, which is a lot more respectable.

Your distance from earth to mars looks sensible, and makes the average speed 16.3km/s. Assuming linear acceleration and deceleration (which is incredibly wrong when we're talking orbital mechanics, because this would be a transfer orbit so you'd actually be accelerating for most of it), that would mean that the top speed would be 32.6km/s and you'd spend half of the time accelerating to this speed and half slowing down from it. That gives a delta v of just under 0.02m/s/s, which means that either they have more than one ion engine on the craft, or they are using something that weighs a lot less than a car. At that acceleration it would take just over 3 hours to travel 800 miles, which is close to what the grandparent said. I'm not sure where you get your 1.7km/s/s from, but I I think you dropped a 'k' somewhere in your calculations.

Re:I'm dizzy. (1)

MoobY (207480) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794205)

You're confusing going one-way and the whole trip. Go to Mars = 39 days, stay at mars = 10 days, come back to earth = 39 days, total = about 3 months.

Bathroom stops (2, Funny)

NoYob (1630681) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794243)

Trip times may vary as folks stop for bathrooms, coffee, and whatnot along the way. So that's where they're getting the 50 day difference.

Re:I'm dizzy. (1)

wren337 (182018) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794263)

From the article:

A new NASA rocket engine, designed partly in Canada, raises the revolutionary possibility that a manned trip to Mars could take less than three months instead of two years.

[...]

It would take about 39 days to reach Mars, compared to six months by conventional rocket power.

In three paragraphs we go from 89 days to 39 days. So which is it? With that kind of difference, I'm not quite sure it would be any faster than conventional rockets.

Round trip. Less than three months round trip, 39 days each way.

Re:I'm dizzy. (2, Funny)

Aceticon (140883) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794639)

I think they mean 39 work-days, 89 days in total.

Obviously the engine will not work on weekends, so that's 2 days out of 7, roughly 24 in total.

Then there are religious holidays for the astronauts, not to mention national holidays for each nationality represented in the team. I reckon that's about 3 days a month, or roughly 9 days in total.

Then there's mandatory vacation time, about 25 days a year or roughly 8 days for the trip.

Assuming everybody is working really hard, coffee, cigarette and bathroom breaks will probably only add up to 3 days in total.

Of the remaining 45 days, one is preparation before the trip, one to really get going and one is basically wasted on the whole "arrival, get the luggage out and unpack it". Same thing on the Mars side. That's another 6 days.

This is the reason for the difference.

Re:I'm dizzy. (0, Flamebait)

operagost (62405) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794701)

Cigarette breaks? Ridiculous. With the new Obama tax on tobacco, they're too expensive on the average astronaut's salary.

Please, please, PLEASE... (5, Funny)

Kirin Fenrir (1001780) | more than 4 years ago | (#29793839)

Let the common name be "impulse engines".

Exactly wrong! (1)

starglider29a (719559) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794093)

At least from the "perception" angle. This is NOT the impulse engines from Star Trek. You can't limp to another star system on it. It doesn't fit nicely into the back of the saucer.

Having an efficient engine is great (when it gets here), but having 10-fold better efficiency mean you need ONLY 1/10 the amount of propellant. Propellant to accelerate you "halfway", propellant to decelerate you halfway... OK, then more propellant to accelerate you back home, then more to decelerate you as you approach earth. And that "few hundred newtons of thrust" won't accelerate/brake the ship very quickly.

You are still talking a Saturn V worth of Argon to get you to Mars and back. Think about 2001's Discovery. That spine was propellant tanks. Full.

How are you going to lift the ship? Space elevator?

And I haven't even asked how you are going insert back into earth orbit. Atmospheric re-entry from the Moon was very tricky. And we were only falling from 1/4 million miles.

Re:Exactly wrong! (1)

Vanderhoth (1582661) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794585)

Why does the ship have to come back to earth? Couldn't you just worry about getting it into space, then leave it there and have a secondary mode of transport to get people to and from the ship?

If we had a space station dedicated to constructing and maintaining ships in space, we'd only have to get the required ship building materials there. Not that this would ever happen in our lifetime. We can't make it to other solar systems to explore planets we could potentially live on and other then researching rocks on other planets in our solar system, which a robot can do, there is no real need to have a ship dedicated to flying around space. So a "ship dock" and exploration ship in space would be expensive and unnecessary.

Main point is, I doubt we would have trouble getting a ship or the materials to put together a ship into space and once there, there wouldn't be a need to land the main ship smaller shuttles could be used to ferry astronauts to the surface of planets.

I can't resist - They do it in star trek all the time

Re:Please, please, PLEASE... (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794305)

Impulse engines have fusion reactors at their core, or so I read. While VASIMR borrows technology from fusion research, You'd need to change the fuel used, change the shape of the magnetic confinement, and increase the energy input of a VASIMR engine many orders of magnitude, in order to reach that point. So, a totally new design...

Re:Please, please, PLEASE... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29794493)

Also, instead of "Lift off," please say "FULL IMPULSE POWER!"

Can it be used for ISStation keeping? (1)

wisebabo (638845) | more than 4 years ago | (#29793875)

Anyone know if there is enough thrust to counteract the drag the ISS has in the extremely thin atmosphere up there?

Does the running of the ion engine cause adverse effect to any of the delicate instrumentation on board? Does it mess up any electric/magnetic measurements?

Is the power draw too great for it to be used in this fashion?

(TFA says "there are plans" to use it in this fashion but nothing beyond that).

*application of Niven's law: is there any way to make it into a beamed energy weapon against "soft targets" like other satellites in LEO?

Re:Can it be used for ISStation keeping? (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29794011)

LOL, if it can push a rather large ship out of Earth's orbit, it can keep the ISS in orbit. The one that is being sent up is rather on the small side though. There was mention in one of the articles about it recently that it could be used for station keeping however.

Bear in mind that it requires a power source for all the energy expended in heating and controlling that plasma, shich in this instance would have to come frrom the station's solar panels. That kind of energy draw was never considered in the original design.

Re:Can it be used for ISStation keeping? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29794423)

LOL

No you didn't. We need to abolish that "word".

Re:Can it be used for ISStation keeping? (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794921)

LOL, if it can push a rather large ship out of Earth's orbit, it can keep the ISS in orbit.

One does not follow from the other. It can provide a thrust of about 0.5N. It could not, for example, lift itself off the ground. It could not, if you were in orbit and pointed it at the ground, break you out of orbit. It can, if you are in a sufficiently high orbit not to be subject to atmospheric drag, accelerate you such that your orbital period increases and eventually you fly out of orbit. If the atmospheric drag on the ISS exceeds 0.5N, then this engine could not keep it in orbit.

Re:Can it be used for ISStation keeping? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29794051)

I tend to doubt it. Ion drives have extremely low thrust. It's their efficency that makes them interesting. Everything I ever read considered them only practical outside both atmosphere and a planet's gravitational field. They really excel in interplanetary or even interstellar space. Keeping the ISS in orbit isn't hard it's having the will and the cash to do it. An ion drive would limit the number of trips if it would work but it would still take transporting it to the ISS and the weigh would be the same as a lot of fuel.

Re:Can it be used for ISStation keeping? (1)

GordonBX (1059078) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794213)

That's the whole point of this type of engine - it's not your traditional ION drive which has very low thrust but high specific impulse. VASIMR has relatively high thrust - not enough to travel through the atmosphere, but high enough to be used to shove the ISS up to a higher orbit.

Needs serious power input for fast travel (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29793897)

Mind you to obtain this 39 day route, you're not going to be doing it by feeding the VASIMR's klystrons off solar cells stuck to the outside of the ship. That's more of a one year sort of trip.

If you want the 39 days, you're going to need to pump the voltage in with a classic onboard nuclear reactor. Not to worry though, both the US and Russians made and tested (The Russians flew) several dozen types of space borne fission reactors in the 60s-80s so this is no great leap. Other than perhaps getting the eco-hippies to shut up about lofting lots of highly enriched nuclear fuel.

Not in space (2, Informative)

NoYob (1630681) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794329)

Other than perhaps getting the eco-hippies to shut up about lofting lots of highly enriched nuclear fuel.

From what I gathered from Googling, the only thing the "eco-hippies" have a problem with is when those nuclear reactors fall back to Earth - or when they're sunk during a nuclear submarine or ship accident.

I don't think anyone will have any problem launching a nuclear reactor into space other than the astronauts who are on board with it. And considering the long track record of such things, I don't think they will have a problem either.

AM Talk Radio career (-1, Flamebait)

NoYob (1630681) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794455)

Other than perhaps getting the eco-hippies to shut up about lofting lots of highly enriched nuclear fuel.

Oh! And very good job of taking a sliver of truth, distorting it and turning it into an anti-environmentalist message!

You could have a career in AM Talk Radio. You just need to work in the "Liberals will stop human progress!" and you'd be making millions of dollars a year by just working 3-4 hours a day for 5 days a week!

Re:Needs serious power input for fast travel (-1, Flamebait)

joh (27088) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794853)

I'm pretty sure that with the demonstrated launch failure rate of rockets there will be more than just the eco-hippies getting up. And while you may care or not, those in a position to actually decide and take the responsibility very much shy away from such things.

Besides, large-scale nuclear power in space is in no way off-the-shelf technology. And if you have to pour lots of money into that, using that money for developing lightweight solar technology and going the solar-electric route is not only safer, it can also much easier be scaled up and down and be used for other useful things (like probes and solar power satellites or communication satellites) while your MW reactor in space would never be much more than a very expensive one-off stunt without any long-term consequences for spaceflight. The ability to deploy large, mass-produced, lightweight solar panels may make a difference for both large and small projects, though. And it's a general engineering effort with lots of companies having good expertise in it. There is a *market* for such technology. Pushing the state of the art here is useful, there's money in it.

Nuclear power in space is very much a dead end. You don't need to be an eco-hippy to see that. People don't like it, politicians and managers don't like to take the responsibility, you can't make money from it, it gives no spin-offs, you'll never have private companies involved: it's a single-purpose, money wasting government exercise. SF from the past, not more.

CANADA ROCKS!!!! Woooh (4, Funny)

gapagos (1264716) | more than 4 years ago | (#29793901)

A new NASA rocket engine, designed partly in Canada, raises the revolutionary possibility that a manned trip to Mars could take less than three months instead of two years.
(...)
A whole bunch of countries (were involved), but Canada has one of the main pieces of hardware.

Yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh!
C'mon you Americans, it's not like you don't defend your national pride in space either! :-)

Re:CANADA ROCKS!!!! Woooh (2, Funny)

thrillseeker (518224) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794097)

Oh good point ... so is it 39 days or, ahem, 39 Canadian days ...

Re:CANADA ROCKS!!!! Woooh (4, Funny)

Bob-taro (996889) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794527)

Oh good point ... so is it 39 days or, ahem, 39 Canadian days ...

That's 39 Metric days. To convert to American days, you double it and add 30.

Re:CANADA ROCKS!!!! Woooh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29794103)

How many Canadians have walked on the moon, again?

Re:CANADA ROCKS!!!! Woooh (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29794397)

About as many as don't have heath care coverage.

Re:CANADA ROCKS!!!! Woooh (0)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794169)

Yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh!

C'mon you Americans, it's not like you don't defend your national pride in space either! :-)

Bad premise. Since the Bush administration, most of us don't have any national pride.

Re:CANADA ROCKS!!!! Woooh (1)

machine321 (458769) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794293)

Yeah, I lost my patriotism in 1989 too.

Re:CANADA ROCKS!!!! Woooh (1)

operagost (62405) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794759)

So, were you guys most proud during the "sorry hostages, we crashed the rescue helicopter" administration or the "I did not have sex with that woman" administration?

Re:CANADA ROCKS!!!! Woooh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29794809)

Embarassed beyond words, truthfully...so much so, I'm posting anonymously...

Re:CANADA ROCKS!!!! Woooh (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29794323)

Bad premise. Since the Bush administration, most of us don't have any national pride.

True, but then Canada isn't a real country either! (ducks!)

Re:CANADA ROCKS!!!! Woooh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29794815)

Bad premise. Since the Obama administration, most of us don't have any national pride.

"A new NASA rocket engine" (0, Redundant)

Sumbius (1500703) | more than 4 years ago | (#29793911)

"A new NASA rocket engine" Is VASIMIR really all that new technology. It has been in development for quite a while now, and has gotten quite much publicity in the past few years or so. Also, correct me if I'm wrong, but ain't VASIMIR developed private company, not by NASA? Sure, NASA is working together with Ad Astra Rocket Company, but does NASA really deserve all the fame? Anyway, I truly hope that we will be sending a man in Mars in the upcoming years and I think that VASIMIR os one of the best ways of doing so. The problem is that Mars has always seemed to be just a bit under decade away for quite a long while now...

Re:"A new NASA rocket engine" (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#29793973)

> Also, correct me if I'm wrong, but ain't VASIMIR developed private company,
> not by NASA?

Who is paying for it? Who is going to buy it?

Re:"A new NASA rocket engine" (5, Informative)

sh00z (206503) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794219)

Also, correct me if I'm wrong, but ain't VASIMIR developed private company, not by NASA? Sure, NASA is working together with Ad Astra Rocket Company, but does NASA really deserve all the fame?

This started as a NASA project, at the Advanced Space Propulsion Laboratory [nasa.gov] at the Johnson Space Center.

Dr Franklin R. Chang Diaz (the other former astronaut involved, and not mantioned in this Canada-centric article) took the project to private industry in 2005 [adastrarocket.com]

ion cannon (1)

meow27 (1526173) | more than 4 years ago | (#29793925)

deos this mark 1 step towards making the ion cannon?

Re:ion cannon (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29794351)

Y .. you thinking of defending the ice planet Hoth?

Name (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29793927)

If they were going through the trouble of registering the name they should have gone with something more speak-friendly then VASIMR. Besides that, this name reminds me of vasectomy which is not the best of thoughts.

But will it break the warp barrier? (1)

ThorofAsgard (1644263) | more than 4 years ago | (#29793959)

If not then the Vulcans won't come down and make First Contact!

Re:But will it break the warp barrier? (1)

FauxPasIII (75900) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794197)

Yeah, but we've got til April of 2063, and we've still got a nuclear world war to contend with between now and then. =/

Re:But will it break the warp barrier? (1)

Hal_Porter (817932) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794465)

Let's get the nuclear war out of the way first, then we can work on the warp drive.

Re:But will it break the warp barrier? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29794829)

I think I'd rather be safely off the planet, with a thousand females. For breeding.

Can this be the primary engine of a space shuttle? (1)

asliarun (636603) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794007)

Noob question: IIRC from an earlier thread on this subject, this is supposed to be a high-efficiency but low-thrust engine as opposed to say, conventional rocket engines that are the opposite. I guess this would allow the VASIMR engine to provide sustained acceleration over a long period of time. Does this imply that this would be paired with a rocket engine and would kick in when the rocket is spent? In other words, do the basic characteristics of this engine force it to be only used as an additional engine or is it capable of being the one and only engine of a space shuttle?

Re:Can this be the primary engine of a space shutt (3, Informative)

geckipede (1261408) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794261)

The vasimr can operate in a high thrust mode. It's got an operating method that acts a bit like an afterburner, if you're willing to lower your efficiency.

It can't manage a positive thrust to weight ratio in any mode, and in any case can only operate in a vacuum, so it would end up being launched from ground on top of a chemical rocket. In theory once in space you shouldn't need other types of engine.

Re:Can this be the primary engine of a space shutt (2, Insightful)

Guysmiley777 (880063) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794269)

These types of ion engines are only useful once you're in orbit, they're of no use in a deep gravity well or in an atmosphere. They are useful for things such as station keeping thrusters in satellites where you don't want to have to carry a lot of fuel with you.

Sure, they'd be nice for a Mars mission as well, the problem is that they require external power. Not a big deal when you're talking about a couple hundred watts of electric power for less than a Newton of thrust. When you're talking about hundreds of kilowatts it gets a lot more impractical.

Primary power source? (1, Interesting)

JSBiff (87824) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794013)

So, it appears that the VASIMR page shows a diagram where an external power source is applied to the engine (I presume in the form of electricity). Are there any electrical generators currently in existence which would be suitably compact and low enough mass, while at the same time generating sufficient power, to actually power this thing (basic physics tells me that no matter what propulsion method you use, energy is energy, and it takes a LOT of energy to generate large accellerations)? Or is this engine gonna have to sit on the shelf after being developed, while we figure out how to power it?

I suspect this thing would need some sort of small/light power generator that can produce a GW or more of power. So, do we need to first perfect fusion power before we can actually use this engine?

Re:Primary power source? (1)

Guysmiley777 (880063) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794193)

You hit on exactly the problem people don't discuss with ion engines. They require a source of electric power. The Deep Space 1 probe used solar panels, but it only has 2.5 kW of electrical power available. Large engines would take hundreds of kilowatts, more than any solar array could provide and be of a practical size. Maybe a nuclear fisson power supply? But that would add a huge amount of mass and volume to the spacecraft. Not to mention how up in arms some people get when you talk about launching nuclear material into space.

Re:Primary power source? (1)

wisty (1335733) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794413)

You can point a great big space laser at them (from space station with a big array of solar panels), but the crew might get a bit nervous.

Re:Primary power source? (1)

Professeur Shadoko (230027) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794811)

No, you cannot.

Do you know that the laser used to measure the distance between the earth and the moon has a radius of over 6km when it reaches the moon, and that only one photon every few seconds comes back to the detector on earth ?

Considering how far the spaceship will be from earth, it is not even remotely possible to focus a beam precisely enough to transfer energy.

Re:Primary power source? (3, Informative)

confused one (671304) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794383)

They usually discuss using it with solar arrays for near Earth use and with nuclear reactors on the order of 10-100MW for Mars and outer solar system.

made in Webster, TX (2, Funny)

boristdog (133725) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794015)

Hooray! Now maybe Webster, TX will be know for something other than being a speed trap between NASA and I-45.

Re:made in Webster, TX (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794641)

Hooray! Now maybe Webster, TX will be know for something other than being a speed trap between NASA and I-45.

A wet, muddy, mosquito infested speed trap between the JSC and I-45, perhaps. Not bloody likely anything else ...

Well (1)

MistrX (1566617) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794085)

With all other news that comes as to be a 'breaktrough' in some field: First see then believe.
And I see it when flight plannings are altered.

4 out of 5 astronauts surveyed (5, Funny)

bl8n8r (649187) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794405)

preferred 39 days of abstinence to 6 months!

Re:4 out of 5 astronauts surveyed (1)

RivenAleem (1590553) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794735)

It's only 4 out of 5 because the 5th astronaut had nobody to hook up with (Zero-G threesomes don't work out as the collisions are elastic)

Re:4 out of 5 astronauts surveyed (1)

cathector (972646) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794791)

.. implying there's a whole passel of people to it with once you reach Mars ??

LCD vs Plasma (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29794543)

Take that, LCD pundits ! Could you fly to Mars on a Variable Specific Impulse MagnetoLCD Rocket ? No ! That requires the power of plasma ! Don't talk about contrast, color accuracy, response time or resolution : if you can stick it to a rocket is the only relevant criteria. And if it goes kaboom, it's ever better.

Well that's just great... (0, Troll)

FrozenGeek (1219968) | more than 4 years ago | (#29794659)

A motor that runs on hydrogen - a non-renewable resource. How long will it be before we run out of hydrogen????

ALIENZ (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29794827)

Sweet!
39 days to bring back a carnivorous alien life form to earth, instead of 6 months!

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