NewSpace 2010: Advanced Space Propulsion

Approaching Warp Speed: Advanced Space Propulsion

Bruce Pittman (Moderator) – NASA Ames Space Portal
Franklin Chang-Diaz – CEO and President, Ad Astra Rocket Company
Leik Myrabo – CEO, Lightcraft Technologies, Inc.; Research Associate Professor, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Steve Howe – Director, Center for Space Nuclear Research
Vince Teofilo – Lockheed Martin

Bruce Pittman

— If we want to do anything economically beyond low Earth orbit, we need propulsion breakthroughs

Franklin Chang-Diaz
Ad Astra Rocket Company

— VASIMR – type of technology we badly need in order to send humans out into
— Fusion and plasma physics and magnetic mirrors
— First experiments done at MIT in the early 1980s
— Moved to Johnson Space Center – spent 10 years there
— VX-50 – 50 kilowatt test bed where they verified most of the controlling physics of the device
— About 2004-05 – NASA decided to shut down its advanced propulsion program to support other efforts
— A “virtual massacre” occurred
— Convinced NASA to privatize the project – formed the Ad Astra Rocket Company in 2005
— Space Act agreement with NASA
— Able to bring in large sums of money to make the project possible
— VX-100 – VASIMR experiment 100 kilowatts
— Finished experiment in 2007
— VX-200 – fully integrated prototype inside of a vacuum chamber
— Last September, fired the engine at 200 kilowatts
— Next step – ISS test – signed an agreement with NASA in December 2008
— VF-200 – VASIMR Flight 200 kilowatts
— Will tests VF-200 in mid-2014
— Develop a space tub that allows them to work in LEO, lunar orbit and possibly Mars missions – using only solar power
— Larger rockets will be tested on the moon

Leik Myrabo
CEO, Lightcraft Technologies, Inc.

— Showed video of a laser-powered lightcraft – funded by FINDS group
— Lifting small payloads to orbit using ground-based power
— Formed Lightcraft Technologies Inc.
— $10 million – put 1 kilogram cargo into suborbital trajectory
— Looking to locate in Las Cruces, New Mexico
— Beamed energy propulsion – vehicle is a power converter
— Multiple concepts being pursued around the world
— Doesn’t think that chemical rockets will be dropped more than 10-15 percent
— Beamed propulsion could cut costs by factors of 10s or 100s or even 1000s
— Phased approach – 1 kilogram to 10 kilograms to 100 kilograms
— High-level work between U.S. and Brazilian air forces to develop technology
— Economic, technical and political obstacles to beamed propulsion
— Point-to-point travel possible with beamed propulsion – anywhere in the world in 45 minutes
— Replace system of jumbo jets with lightcrafts

Steve Howe
Director, Center for Space Nuclear Research

— Based in Idaho Falls, Idaho
— RTGs – used since the 1960s – Apollo and deep space missions
— Working on radioisotope thermal rocket
— Mars hopper – hop 10 kilometers every five days with a small payload
— Liquify carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and use it to power the propulsion systems
— Working on nuclear thermal rocket
— Can no longer have radioactive material in exhaust
— Shifting to a tungsten-based fuel
— Trying to produce a lower mass, high propulsion rocket for space
— Nuclear thermal rockets could open up the Solar System for robotic and human exploration


Q: How much depends upon government support?

Franklin Chang Diaz

–  Private sector has been more reliable
–  Working with NASA Glenn, Marshall and Johnson agreement to enhance the ISS test article to be launched in 2014
— Delighted to see NASA engaged and interested
— But if they don’t, our investors are committed
— Major impediment is money

Steve Howe

— Need government support and interest in NTR
— Hope that happens in 2011

Leik Myrabo

— Mainly a matter of money, time and interest
— Lasers are available – getting access to using them
— Will need sources of power that are affordable for orbital transport
— Engines he has been developing are pulsed laser propulsion – all the engines are CW

Franklin Chang Diaz

— See a market to re-boost the space station
— Cost of re-boosting the space station is $210 million per year
— Fuel cost of $30,000 per kilogram
— VASMIR – $10.5 million per year