Ad Astra, NASA Agree to Continue Work on VASIMR Engine

A VASIMR powered space tug. (Credit: Ad Astra Rocket Company)
A VASIMR powered space tug. (Credit: Ad Astra Rocket Company)

HOUSTON, Texas (Ad Astra PR) -– Ad Astra Rocket Company and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have signed an Umbrella Space Act Agreement to continue the parties’ collaboration in the development of the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket engine (VASIMR®).

The agreement specifies a five-year term and sets out the provisions by which the parties will contribute in-kind know-how and/or resources, with no transfer of funds in either direction, to facilitate the achievement of the partnership’s common and mutually-beneficial goals and objectives. The specific tasks to meet these objectives are defined in separate companion support agreements called Annexes.

The Agreement was executed December 16, 2013 at NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center (JSC) by its Director, Dr. Ellen Ochoa and by Ad Astra’s Chairman and CEO, Franklin R. Chang Díaz.

Annex-1 to the Agreement was concurrently signed on December 16, 2013 on NASA’s behalf by Mr. William S. “Bill” McArthur Jr., NASA-JSC Director of Safety and Mission Assurance (S&MA) and by Dr. Chang Díaz on Ad Astra’s behalf.

The Annex provides the terms and conditions of the parties’ continued collaboration in the development of the safety protocols and documentation, associated with the flight test of the VASIMR® system on the International Space Station. These activities were initiated in May of 2012 (


Established in 2005, Ad Astra Rocket Company is the developer of the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR®) engine, an advanced plasma space propulsion system aimed at the emerging in-space transportation market. Ad Astra also owns and operates Ad Astra Servicios Energéticos y Ambientales (AASEA) and Ad Astra Rocket Company, Costa Rica, respectively supporting research and development subsidiaries in the US and Guanacaste, Costa Rica. Through its subsidiaries, the company also develops earthbound high technology applications in renewable energy, advanced manufacturing and applied physics. Ad Astra has its main laboratory and corporate headquarters at 141 W. Bay Area Boulevard in Webster, Texas, USA, about two miles from the NASA Johnson Space Center.

  • momerathe

    whatever happened to the ISS trial? They were talking like it was a done deal, but nothing’s materialised.

  • Stuart

    I to wondered about the ISS deal. Nevertheless it is good news to see that Vasimr has not been cast aside like yesterdays newspaper.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    I think it’s always been scheduled for 2015.

    Yep, just checked wiki – “anticipated” launch 2015.

  • windbourne

    this is a mistake.
    First off, the work should have been done in America, rather than Costa Rica.
    Secondly, it makes little sense to spend the money on this. Instead, we should focus on NERVA or the next nuke implementation. The reason is that VASIMR will require loads of lightweight energy. Solar is NOT it, UNLESS the sat is headed to Venus or mercury. BUT, it is worthless to go outwards from here.

    BUT, a nuke engine is PERFECT for taking us outward and making it fast.

  • pathfinder_01

    Solar is fine for the moon or mars if you limit it to cargo(i.e. preposition equipment). It will take longer to get to both locations but the amount of mass needed to be lifted to send the stuff to both locations would be reduced and the spacecraft would be capable of reuse. The crew might need the fastest trip posible but some less time sensative items could take the slow boat approach.

    In addition you can use solar electric propulsion to reduce the amount of chemical propellent needed to get somewhere( build in LEO and let the Solar Electric stage slowly spiral your craft out to an High Earth orbit) the amount of delta V needed to escape would be reduced and you could then launch a crew in a small capsule(or other craft) to meet the larger spacecraft in HEO. Since most of the mass needed for a mission is propellant you have reduced the amount of mass needed and you don’t need to touch the political hot button of thermal nuclear rockets.

    So not worthless for going outwards, but you would need to use it differently.

  • Aerospike

    First, since when is Texas in Costa Rica?
    Ad Astra has its main laboratory and corporate headquarters at 141 W.
    Bay Area Boulevard in Webster, Texas, USA, about two miles from the NASA
    Johnson Space Center.

    Ok, the Company is partly based in Costa Rica, so what? If we are going to leave this planet, we should do it as “humanity”, and not as individual states still fighting each other like boys in kindergarten…

    Second, Solar Power VASIMR is more like a “proof of concept”, for example for tugs in LEO or for a lunar (cargo) transportation system. Its real strength can only be harvested using a nuclear reactor to provide high amounts of energy. And then it is still a lot more efficient as a thermonuclear rocket (meaning less fuel, aka lower mass to get somewhere)

    So why NERVA again?

    Third, it is an agreement without transfer of funds, so NASA doesn’t really spend any money on this at the moment.

  • windbourne

    NASA has funded all of it. They are not getting any money from elsewhere.
    All real work is in CR. Texas is a front with just a few admin, nothing more.
    Third, developing nuke power is inefficient.
    NERVA is the only real solution to move around solar system

  • windbourne

    Actually, good point. But other ion engines can do the trick today.

  • windbourne

    BTW, do yourself a favor and google map it and then look at it via sat with labels.
    What you will find out, is that it is a shopping area with restaurants. All that they have is a little office suite, with ALL of the work in Costa Rica.
    Considering that NASA is short on cash, the last thing that I want to do is fund other nation’s R&D when that money could do SO much more here.

    Also, when talking about humanity to the stars, you will note that it only seems to apply when we speak About American spending, but never for other nations.
    So, lets keep our spending local, and let other nations spend as well.

  • Aerospike

    According to their website, Ad Astra has never received any government funds, with the exception of one contract for NASA worth 142,000 $. Of course, the original work had been done at NASA, but just like the inflatable habitats (now @ Bigelow) they didn’t have any funds to pursue that technology further.

    Their huge vacuum chamber (where the mportant work is done) is in Texas, not in CR.

    Why is nuke power inefficient?
    What’s so great about NERVA? A ~900 Isp just doesn’t cut it compared to plasma and ion engines and in today’s political environment, it will never get launched from earth, not even passively as a payload.