Ad Astra has successfully designed and mathematically tested their new VASIMR engine and now has plans in place for testing on the ISS. Named the VF-200 engine, the “first flight unit” will test thrust capabilities and performance in zero gravity. Researchers at AD Astra will be able to measure the capacity without the use of simulation chambers, bearing better and more accurate data.
The VASIMR engine is designed to run on argon, hydrogen or xenon gases to produce a plasma reaction that creates thrust. Although some speculate that this engine runs on cold fusion, this is not the case. The basic physics call for injected gases to become ionized, by passing a helicon coupler. This coupler creates helical waves, which cause the gas to become cold plasma.
Once the plasma is created, is passes through an Ion Cylcotron heating segment, which will create waves that push ions out, creating thrust. The trick about this is that the ions must be directed. In order for this to occur, the nozzle is magnetized in order to direct the flow, making navigation simple. This results in velocities of about 110,000 mph.
Power sources for the engine are a bit tricky at this point, but there are several options that Ad Astra is considering. One option is solar power, which would be ideal once the engine is in orbit. With advances in solar tech, VASIMR would be energized sufficiently to carry out propulsion experiments.
A controversial, but powerful, energy they are also looking at is nuclear. Granted, nuclear power provides an abundance of energy, there is always the fear of meltdowns in space. This fear is still fresh, considering Japan’s unfortunate accident during the tsunami of 2011. At the same time, fusing nuclear propulsion with VASIMR will further enhance the engine’s capabilities.
Further, VASIMR is capable of altering its thrust and impulse with ease, creating thrust optimization. With the fact that the engine does not have any electrodes internally; this provides for a cleaner burn, without any interference. As such, Ad Astra also proposed creating a nuclear-electric hybrid for space flight. As opposed to chemical and nuclear thrust capabilities, the VASIMR concept “promises to make fast human mission a reality,” according to their website.
At the present time, Ad Astra is no longer receiving federal funding. If funding did resume, humanity could see VASIMR engines powering the colonization of the moon, as well as the human exploration of our heavenly neighbors.