Feeds

NASA inks deal for ISS plasma drive tests

Keeping the station out of this world

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

Plans to test a super-efficient plasma space drive aboard the International Space Station (ISS) have been confirmed. The Ad Astra Rocket Company, which is developing the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR), has announced the signing of an agreement for the tests with NASA.

The view from the ISS

The ISS - shortly to be kept up by plasma

The deal was inked on December 8 by Ad Astra chief and former astronaut Dr Franklin Chang Díaz, and for NASA by space-ops honcho William Gerstenmaier.

According to an Ad Astra statement:

Upon the successful achievement of the milestones set forth in the agreement, NASA and Ad Astra envision that VASIMR™ will be launched to the ISS where the rocket can be tested, for the first time, in its intended environment: the vacuum of outer space.

The primary technical objective of the project is to operate the VASIMR™ VF-200 engine at power levels up to 200 kW. Engine operation will be restricted to pulses of up to 10 minutes at this power level. Energy for these high-power operations will be provided by a battery system trickle-charged by the ISS power system.

The VASIMR works by ejecting plasma reaction mass at extremely high velocities, much higher than a normal chemical rocket can achieve by spitting out combusting fuel. This means that a given amount of reaction mass does hugely more work, which could allow Moon ships to carry more cargo or interplanetary voyages to be made much more quickly.

The VASIMR isn't any use for launching a spacecraft into orbit, however, as its thrust-to-weight ratio is far too low. The planned VF-200 for the ISS, for instance, would generate a trifle less than the push exerted by a weight of one pound in Earth-surface gravity. However, it requires very little fuel to maintain this thrust for a long time, meaning that it can be used to prevent the ISS' orbit decaying without the need to ferry up big loads of rocket fuel.

Of course, unlike a chemical rocket a plasma drive needs electricity. In the case of the ISS, this will come from the station's solar panels. Solar-powered VASIMR ships, according to Ad Astra, could move cargoes to the Moon much more efficiently, or perform other missions at Earth orbit or closer to the Sun.

Further from the Sun, Dr Chang Díaz - an MIT plasma physicist before he became a Shuttle astronaut - believes the best currently-available solution for powering VASIMR ships would be nuclear fission. His analysis suggests that a 12-megawatt VASIMR vessel could reach Mars in just 39 days, for instance. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
Mine Bitcoins with PENCIL and PAPER
Forget Sudoku, crunch SHA-256 algos
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
'This BITE MARK is a SMOKING GUN': Boffins probe ancient assault
Tooth embedded in thigh bone may tell who pulled the trigger
DOLPHINS SMELL MAGNETS – did we hear that right, boffins?
Xavier's School for Gifted Magnetotaceans
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
Canberra drone team dances a samba in Outback Challenge
CSIRO's 'missing bushwalker' found and watered
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.