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NASA already working on next generation of spacecraft propulsion

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posted on Sep, 15 2005 @ 12:42 AM
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While a lot of things have changed in over 40 years, today's spacecraft are still traveling at about the same speed that John Glenn did when he became the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962. One possible way to change that would be the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR). Not only would VASIMR allow for faster space travel, it would have some pretty incredible side benefits, as well. For example, NASA researchers believe that VASIMR would be able to travel to Mars much more quickly than a contemporary chemical-powered rocket, and then, once there, to refuel on Mars for the return flight to Earth. The VASIMR engine could also even help protect astronauts from the dangerous effects of radiation during their trip. In the less-distant future, VASIMR could even help keep the International Space Station (ISS) in orbit without requiring extra fuel to be brought up from Earth.

VASIMR is a plasma-based propulsion system. An electric power source is used to ionize fuel into plasma. Electric fields heat and accelerate the plasma while the magnetic fields direct the plasma in the proper direction as it is ejected from the engine, creating thrust for the spacecraft. The engine can even vary the amount of thrust generated, allowing it to increase or decrease its acceleration. It even features an "afterburner" mode that sacrifices fuel efficiency for additional speed. Possible fuels for the VASIMR engine could include hydrogen, helium, and deuterium.

The use of hydrogen as the fuel for the VASIMR project has many side benefits, according to researcher Franklin Chang-Diaz. In addition to being the director of the Advanced Space Propulsion Laboratory, Chang-Diaz is an astronaut who has flown into space on seven missions, more than any other NASA astronaut. "We're likely to find hydrogen pretty much anywhere we go in the solar system," he said. What this means is that a VASIMR-powered spacecraft could be launched with only enough fuel to get to its destination, such as Mars, and then pick up more hydrogen upon arrival to serve as fuel for the return trip home. Another benefit of hydrogen fuel is that hydrogen is the best known radiation shield, so the fuel for the VASIMR engine could also be used to protect the crew from harmful effects of radiation exposure during the flight.

Electrical power sources for the VASIMR engine could include such things as a nuclear power system or solar panels. For long-range flights, Chang-Diaz said, the best option is nuclear power. "Nuclear power is definitely a must if we're going to go to Mars," he said. This means that VASIMR could be integrated with NASA's recently announced Project Prometheus proposal to develop nuclear power generators for spaceflight.


Entire article

VASIMR illustration


Sweet! Forget plasma 'push beams' that would shove a spacecraft to and from Mars.



[edit on 15-9-2005 by NWguy83]




posted on Sep, 15 2005 @ 01:03 AM
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Different types of next generation spacecraft propulsion

Looks like the only other kind that might be used to send humans to Mars is MPD.



posted on Sep, 15 2005 @ 03:44 PM
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Wow, this is some old news...look at the date on that article. Over two years old. VASIMR has not really done much in the last few years...nice concept, no closer to reality. Like project Prometheus, which recently got #canned.



posted on Sep, 15 2005 @ 04:25 PM
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check out www.lanl.gov and search 'nuclear propulsion'.



posted on Sep, 16 2005 @ 12:59 AM
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Originally posted by MrMorden
Wow, this is some old news...look at the date on that article. Over two years old. VASIMR has not really done much in the last few years...nice concept, no closer to reality. Like project Prometheus, which recently got #canned.



Well I did a search on ATS for 'plasma propulsion' and came a with a minor mention of it. Oh and I did e-mail NASA asking if there is any new news on VASIMR, I just hope they write back.



posted on Sep, 16 2005 @ 01:00 AM
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Originally posted by Frosty
check out www.lanl.gov and search 'nuclear propulsion'.


Thats not plasma engines, thats nuclear reactors that power current spaceship engines.



posted on Sep, 16 2005 @ 08:37 PM
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Originally posted by NWguy83

Originally posted by Frosty
check out www.lanl.gov and search 'nuclear propulsion'.


Thats not plasma engines, thats nuclear reactors that power current spaceship engines.


It is a propulsion system which utilizes the extreme heat emitted from the reactor. Plasma is an electrified gas field. I was just stating another example of new propulsion systems.



posted on Sep, 16 2005 @ 09:03 PM
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Hehe what a coincidence, I was just talking to one of my professors two days ago about this very idea. His opinion was that this could be potentially quite viable, primarily because of the massive economics savings that would occur with this method of transportation.

The biggest drawback with plasma or ion propulsion is that while massive velocities can theoretically be achieved, the acceleration is tiny, so it takes a long time to actually get moving at a decent speed. So one idea to combat this was to have the ship (or satellite, probe, or whatever it is) taken up to low earth orbit, then have it sit in orbit for awhile (like a year or however long it will take) to get it accelerated up to a good velocity, then send it out towards its destination.



posted on Sep, 17 2005 @ 12:16 AM
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Originally posted by Frosty

Originally posted by NWguy83

Originally posted by Frosty
check out www.lanl.gov and search 'nuclear propulsion'.


Thats not plasma engines, thats nuclear reactors that power current spaceship engines.


It is a propulsion system which utilizes the extreme heat emitted from the reactor. Plasma is an electrified gas field. I was just stating another example of new propulsion systems.



Really, cause when I did the search all I got was what I stated above.



posted on Sep, 17 2005 @ 12:18 PM
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Thanks, NW, for the post.


While the NASA article may eb dated '03, I found an article on Space.com dated Sept. 15, 2005 --> Click here.

20+ metric tons delivered to Mars in 39 days. Near-limitless potential with regards to improved space exploration capabilties. Near-limitless availbility of fuel across the solar system.

Annual budget for 50 scientists at the JSC ADvanced Propulsion Laboratory?

$1.4 million


And yet future funding of this program seems to be "in limbo."

Meanwhile at the Hall of Justice, the FY 2005 budgest for NASA includes nearly $8.5 billion allocated towards the advancement of exploration capabilities.

It seems the continued R&D of such a technology would be worth more than the .0166 percent of the exploration capabilties budget (especially when compared to the $4.3 billion alone allocated to the aging, obsolete space shuttle program).


See below:




Any of our resident NASA peeps care to sound off on this?

[edit on 17-9-2005 by sdrumrunner]



posted on Sep, 17 2005 @ 12:37 PM
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I feel NASA has been the prominent of old US Technology for a long while. As I said months ago there was one HofC Rep that refused to fund NASA as he felt as did his comittee NASA was using "new" technology that was seriously old technology under the Black Military Program which was not in anyway shared.

Dallas



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