NIAC Award: A Pulsed Plasma Rocket for Fast Human Transits to Mars

Depiction of the Pulsed Plasma Rocket: Shielded, Fast Transits for Humans to Mars concept. (Credits: Steven Howe)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Phase I Award
Amount: $125,000

Pulsed Plasma Rocket: Shielded, Fast Transits for Humans to Mars

Steven Howe
Howe Industries LLC

Development of a space faring civilization will depend on the ability to move cargo efficiently and humans rapidly. Due to the large distances involved in space travel, the ships must reach a high velocity for reasonable mission transit times. Thus, propulsion systems with high specific impulse (Isp) AND high thrust are required.

Possessing both attributes has eluded the current state of technology. Howe Industries is investigating a system that may produce 20,000 lbsf of thrust with an Isp of 5,000 s. The system is derived from the Pulsed Fission Fusion [1] concept but the Pulsed Plasma Rocket (PPR) is smaller, less complex, and more affordable.

The performance of a propulsion system with high Isp and high thrust allows missions throughout the solar system and beyond which are not possible with current technology. Human missions to Mars in two months are possible.

Alternatively, heavier ships containing shielding against Galactic Cosmic Rays are enabled so that the dose to the crew is reduced to negligible levels. This may be preferable for Mars missions or may enable human missions to the Asteroid Belt in acceptable timeframes. Additionally, a mission to the 550 AU location where the Sun’s gravitational lens focuses can be considered.

For this study, we intend to focus on the large, heavily shielded ship to transport humans and cargo to Mars for the development of a Martian base.