To Mars and Beyond, Fast!: How Plasma Propulsion Will Revolutionize Space Exploration.pdf

To Mars and Beyond, Fast!: How Plasma Propulsion Will Revolutionize Space Exploration.pdf


As advanced space propulsion moves slowly from science fiction to achievable reality, the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket, or VASIMR, is a leading contender for making 'Mars in a month' a possibility. The current book describes this landmark technology grounded in plasma physics and offering a practical technological solution for exploring beyond low Earth orbit in the decades to come. Developed by Ad Astra Rockets, which was founded by astronaut Franklin Chang-Diaz and backed by NASA, its first commercial tests are imminent. VASIMR heats plasma to extreme temperatures using radio waves. Strong magnetic fields then funnel this plasma out the back of the engine, creating thrust. The continuous propulsion may place long, fast interplanetary journeys within reach in the near future. While scientists dream of the possibilities of using fusion or well-controlled matter-antimatter interactions to propel spacecraft fast and far, that goal is still some way over the horizon. VASIMR at last provides a more attainable propulsion technology that is based on the matter-antimatter concept.


While attending the University of Connecticut, Dr. Chang-Díaz worked as a research assistant in the Physics Department and participated in the design and construction of high-energy atomic collision experiments. Following graduation in 1973, he entered graduate school at MIT, becoming heavily involved in the United States’ controlled fusion program and doing intensive research in the design and operation of fusion reactors. He obtained his Doctorate in the field of Applied Plasma Physics and fusion technology and, in that same year, joined the technical staff of the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory. His work at Draper was geared strongly toward the design and integration of control systems for fusion reactor concepts and experimental devices in both inertial and magnetic confinement fusion. In 1979, he developed a novel concept to guide and target fuel pellets in an inertial fusion reactor chamber. Later on, he was engaged in the design of a new concept in rocket propulsion, based on magnetically confined high temperature plasmas. His 1979 concept of a plasma rocket became the VASIMR® plasma engine, embodied in 3 NASA patents to his name. As a visiting scientist with the MIT Plasma Fusion Center, from October 1983 to December 1993, he led the plasma propulsion program there to develop this technology for future human missions to Mars. In 1994, he founded and directed the Advanced Space Propulsion Laboratory (ASPL) at the Johnson Space Center where he managed a multi-center research team to develop this propulsion technology.

On July 8, 2005, after 25 years of government service, Dr. Chang-Díaz retired from NASA to continue his work on the VASIMR® through the private sector. Initiating a career as a space entrepreneur, he is founder and current Chairman and CEO of Ad Astra Rocket Company,, a US private firm based in Houston Texas, with research operations in Houston and Costa Rica. After eight years of operation, Ad Astra has matured the VASIMR® technology to a near space flight readiness level. The firm has signed an agreement with NASA for the testing of the engine in space on the International Space Station, a goal currently planned for late 2016. Following this initial test, Ad Astra plans to be a major contributor to a new wave of human and robotic commercial space activities emerging worldwide. He is an Adjunct Professor of Physics at Rice University and the University of Houston and has presented numerous papers at technical conferences and in scientific journals.

Erik Seedhouse is a research scientist specializing in environmental life sciences and physiology, the subject in which he obtained his Ph.D. while working for the European Space Agency between 1996 and 1998. In 2009, he was one of the final candidates for selection as an astronaut in the CSA’s Astronaut Recruitment Campaign. He is a certified commercial suborbital astronaut who will fly a payload mission in 2015/2016. Between 2008-2013 he was Director of Canada's Manned Centrifuge and Hypobaric Chamber Operations. He is also the Training Director for Astronauts for Hire. He works as manned spaceflight consultant, triathlon coach, author and public speaker.

Franklin Chang-Diaz.- Evolution of VASIMR.- Benefits and Challenges of VASIMR.- Research and Development.- Breakthroughs of 2005-2006.- Development of the VX-200.- Space Debris and In-space Refueling.- Orbit Re-boosting and Resource Recovery.- Asteroid Deflection and Lunar Transport.- Mars in Six Weeks and Deep Space Robotic Missions.


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