Could VASMIR Make Human Mars Missions Feasible?

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Route to Mars may come through Costa Rica
Tico Times

The route to Mars may go through Costa Rica. On Wednesday, Ronald Chang, executive director of Ad Astra Rocket Company Costa Rica, gave a presentation at the National Museum that detailed how Costa Rica has the opportunity to serve as a vital cog in the first-ever mission to Mars.

Chang is the brother of former NASA astronaut Dr. Franklin Chang, who in 24 years as an astronaut, logged over 1,600 hours in space during seven space missions, making him one of the most-traveled astronauts in history. Both of the Chang brothers were born in San José.

In his presentation, Ronald Chang explained that his brother created an ion plasma rocket, the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket, known as VASIMR, which can reach Mars in 39 days. Using technology currently available, a rocket can travel to Mars in eight to nine months.

Read the full story.

Ion Engines Could Make Mars Trips Routine

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Ion engine could one day power 39-day trips to Mars
New Scientist

Several space missions have already used ion engines, including NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, which is en route to the asteroids Vesta and CeresMovie Camera, and Japan’s spacecraft Hayabusa, which rendezvoused with the asteroid Itokawa in 2005.

But a new engine, called VASIMR (Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket), will have much more “oomph” than previous ones. That’s because it uses a radio frequency generator, similar to transmitters used to broadcast radio shows, to heat the charged particles, or plasma.

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VX-200 Demonstrates Superconducting First Stage at Full Power

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AD ASTRA PRESS RELEASE

Ad Astra Rocket Company has successfully demonstrated operation of its VX-200 plasma engine first stage at full power and under superconducting conditions in tests conducted today at the company’s Houston laboratory. This achievement is a key milestone in the engine’s development and the first time a superconducting plasma rocket has been operated at that power level.

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Chang Díaz Pioneers New Space Propulsion System

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Rockets For The Red Planet
IEEE Spectrum

From his corner office at Ad Astra Rocket headquarters near Houston, Franklin R. Chang Díaz hatches big plans. He’s tucked away behind a strip mall on a bland suburban street, but his mind is wandering the cosmos. He envisions multibillion-dollar mining operations extracting iron, cobalt, and platinum from asteroids for use in cities on the moon and Mars. He dreams of space infrastructures so evolved that astronauts freely roam the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. He sees parallel societies grown teeming and rich, and Earth gradually transformed into a grand nature preserve.

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VASIMR Rocket Undergoing Testing

Plasma engine is ready for final test on Earth
Nacion.com
31 May 2009

Translated from Spanish (Google Translate)

In Houston, Texas, laboratory of the Ad Astra Rocket Company, led by Costa Rican astronaut and physicist Franklin Chang-Diaz is preparing for an exciting week.

The high vacuum chamber of the laboratory, ten meters long and four meters in diameter, is inside the VX-200: VASIMR the prototype of the engine propulsion plasma Chang outlined three decades ago to make space travel for faster and more cheaply, and hence to explore far away places in the solar system.

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Franklin Chang Diaz Profile

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I found a story (in Spanish) on Franklin Chang Diaz, the former NASA astronaut who heads up Ad Astra Rocket Company. Below is an excerpt in English courtesy of Google Translate.

Why support Franklin Chang?
Elfinancierocr.com

I had the pleasure of meeting Franklin Chang in June 2006 with a handful of notes on his experiences at NASA with the physics of plasma.

His long career in the space race, after reaching the orbit of the earth seven times, had given him the vision to develop new ideas on the development of space propulsion, yea, a new era is developing in the exploration space.

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Superconducting Magnet Delivered for Ad Astra’s VASIMR Engine

PRESS RELEASE

The VX-200 low temperature superconducting magnet has been delivered to Ad Astra’s Houston facility by its manufacturer, Scientific Magnetics Ltd. of Oxford, England and has successfully passed a battery of acceptance tests conducted by a combined team from Scientific Magnetics and Ad Astra. The superconductor is an essential component of the VASIMR™ engine and is responsible for generating the strong magnetic field required to fully heat and accelerate the plasma in the engine.

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Griffin on Ad Astra Deal: I LIKE IT!

NASA PRESS RELEASE

NASA and Ad Astra Rocket Company of Webster, Texas, have signed a Space Act Agreement that could lead to the testing of a new plasma-based space propulsion technology on the International Space Station. The Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR) engine initially was studied by NASA and is being commercially developed by Ad Astra.

This is the first such agreement for a payload on the station’s exterior and represents an expansion of NASA’s plans to operate the U.S. portion of the space station as a national laboratory. This effort follows the success achieved by the agency last year in reaching multiple agreements to utilize internal station sites for this endeavor.

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Ad Astra To Fly VASIMR Engine on ISS

AD ASTRA PRESS RELEASE

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Ad Astra Rocket Company of Webster, Texas have entered into a Space Act Agreement that could lead to conducting a space flight test of the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMRâ„¢) engine on the International Space Station (ISS).

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Ad Astra Reports Progress on VX-200 VASIMR Plasma Rocket

AD ASTRA PRESS RELEASE

The helicon first stage of the VX-200 VASIMR™ plasma rocket prototype has achieved its full power rating of 30 kW with Argon propellant in tests conducted last Wednesday at Ad Astra’s Houston laboratory. The helicon first stage is an essential component of the VASIMR™ rocket and is responsible for generating the core plasma needed by the engine to operate.

Short for Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket, VASIMR™ is a new high-power plasma-based space propulsion technology, initially studied by NASA and now being developed privately by Ad Astra. A VASIMR™ engine could maneuver payloads in space far more efficiently and with much less propellant than today’s chemical rockets. Ultimately, VASIMR™ engines could also greatly shorten robotic and human transit times for missions to Mars and beyond.

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Ad Astra Rocket Company Reaches Milestones on VX-200 VASIMR Plasma Rocket

AD ASTRA ROCKET COMPANY PRESS RELEASE

In an internal report to its investors, presented in February of this year, Ad Astra Rocket Company reported the achievement of all its stated milestones in 2007 and presented a revised schedule of testing for the VX-200 VASIMRâ„¢ prototype under development at its Houston facility.

Short for Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket, VASIMR™ is a new high-power plasma-based space propulsion technology, initially studied by NASA and now being developed privately by Ad Astra. A VASIMR™ engine could allow space operations far more efficiently and with much less propellant than today’s chemical rockets. Ultimately, VASIMR™ engines could also greatly speed up robotic and human transit times for missions to Mars and beyond.

Major 2007 milestones achieved included key results from a newly operational VASIMRâ„¢ 100kW test bed, the VX-100 and initiation of manufacturing and subsystem integration for the first flight-like engine prototype, the 200kW VX-200. In addition, the company signed important agreements with NASA and NAUTEL Ltd of Canada.

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