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Will an Ion-Drive Spaceship Take Humans to Mars?

6a00d8341bf7f753ef0115713fcb80970c-500wi Nuclear-powered plasma drives carrying men to Mars - the fact we can say that as a future instead of fiction makes us so happy!  Tests on a new kind of ion drive establish that's already applicable to orbital operations, and could be the breakthrough that blasts us to the next planet.

We've already covered first stage tests of the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR), but now - as electro-rocket scientists at Ad Astra power through second stage testing - people are already looking much further afield.  VASIMR's upgrade over previous plasma engines mean it could have a permanent place in orbit, moving satellites and stations around for free by making use of solar power (tests on the International Space Station are scheduled for 2013).

But never mind being a parking assistant for a crowded orbit - it's time to adventure!  Forward-thinkers say that VASIMR's continuous thrust could be what we need to get to Mars.  The technology to maybe bang a bucket of bolts together and half-land it on Mars has been around for a while - the real race is against time, with the inconvenient fact that most of space is trying to kill us.  You have to get there before the radiation that soaks interplanetary space becomes too much, and the superconducting plasma rocket could cut the trip down to 39 days - within what we're able to do with our soft flesh.  Which means that those guys who just finished 105 days of isolation experiment are officially 2.7 times as prepared as they need to be.

This ambitious objective would mean making a few changes to craft design.  Strapping in a nuclear reactor, for one thing, as the energy requirments of crossing interplanetary space is a little beyond what we can get from solar power without panels the size of cities.  But really, if you're landing on a new planet, doesn't being strapped to a nuclear reaction just make it MORE awesome?

Pushing the ion-based technology forward, space agencies may one day have Charles Darwin to thank for the longevity of their spacecraft, according to a report in New Scientist. The life expectancy of an ion engine has been almost doubled using software that replicates natural selection. Electrostatic ion engines are becoming popular in space missions because Instead of relying on burning large amounts of heavy liquid propellant for thrust, they use solar power to ionise a small supply of xenon gas. 

A high voltage applied across a pair of gridded electrodes sends the positively charged ions rushing at high speed towards the negative electrode adds New Scientist. Most ions pass through the grid, generating thrust. However, some ions collide with the grid itself, causing it to gradually wear out, says Cody Farnell, a space flight engineer at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Simulations suggest grids in a typical NASA engine will last 2.8 years - but Farnell suggests that changing the grid's design could extend its lifespan.

Luke McKinney

VASIMR First Stage Tests 

Aiming For Mars 

Darwinian spacecraft engine to last twice as long 


Again so frustrating the DOE and DOD won't share with NASA! There has been an antimatter powered shuttle in operation since 1999! It has flown numerous missions one for 1 week under power. Some pellet the size of a big marble.

The USAF found another way to create it quite a while ago without the use of a super collider.

No I can't site sources except I was there. You will all hopefully see someday? You want plasma? This thing makes plasma! Same for depth activated plasma for surgery it would be great but I see the weapon implications as well so for now? It's non existent! I can wish?

@MR Dana Manley


You claim that the DOD/DOE have been able to create an amount of anti-matter the size of a big marble?

Are you completely and utterly mad? Do you have any understanding whatsoever as to what anti-matter is? More particularly, do you have any idea how much ENERGY would be required to make a large marble of antimatter?

So many really crazy people seem to read I read here since has been going downhill for so long... any other suggestions?

OMG!! I see two people in there!!! Don't u see it too???

Oh, no! It' the wrong one. I was clicking on the rainbow one! !

Pete: I suggest

it's mine =) and it's better than this garbage

Point #1: Please don't link to items behind a PAYwall. EVER. If I can't read the paper it does not exist.
Point #2: since I can't comment on items behind a paywall, I've yet to understand what Darwin has to do with making ion engines last longer. You're probably talking about a mathematical model involving selection, and they told you it was how Darwin did it. IIRC, Darwin wasn't really into maths.
Point #3: Ion engines kinda suck in thrust. They have a lovely Isp, but it takes too long, astronauts get bored by doing nothing and get zapped by space.
Point #4: there are several ways of improving their trust to half-decent levels, but I'm not gonna tell ya. It requires imaginative thinking and money. You bring the money, I'll bring the thinking. Let's just say ion engines give up efficiency in electrical power for improved efficiency in fuel and mass/size.
Point #5: Being strapped to a nuclear reactor means you're going to get zapped not only by space, but by space AND a nuclear reactor (lol). I'm all for it, but I would design the spaceship to be several hundred meters long (scaffolding is cheap) to place some distance between the men and the reactor. Personally, I prefer being strapped to a nuclear bomb when I'm supposed to die than being strapped to a nuclear reactor when I'm supposed to live. At least it's more certain then.
Point #6: I would put most of the astronauts on a massive sleep program, as we haven't put any effort into hibernation techniques. Not any effort I would call SERIOUS, anyway. Kiddy stuff so far...perhaps I'm not privy of any classified research, but all the research out there is a joke. If we had hibernation it would be the way to go.
Point #7: Higher thrust ion engines don't need the longevity we are trying to accomplish now. It's a vicious circle: because we design ion engines with such low thrust they need to last long to make any difference. we can never put them on any manned spaceship, which means we can only design inherently fail-free designs (which are a *ing bitch to design) for unmanned spacecraft. Because of this, most research money goes into making them last longer instead of increasing their thrust.
Point#8: Ordinary nuclear rocket engines already exist since the 70s. By the time they where production-ready it wasn't hip anymore to build them. We can probably unwrap them and build engines that will take us to Mars in 90 days. All you need to do is keep the bloody hippies out of the way.

"Simulations suggest grids in a typical NASA engine will last 2.8 years - but Farnell suggests that changing the grid's design could extend its lifespan."
Well that's a big DUUUHH!!. Show us exactly what type of adjustments, or admit you got no clue. Winging it worked for the Saturn V rocket, and plenty of other rockets (rocket science isn't that hard can figure it out in your garage. Try fully 4-dimensional quantum physics for a challenge, LOL).

I think this depends on what the Chinese want to build. I don't think they would be particularly averse to nuclear rocket engines. Maybe they will let us hook a pod on the side.

try warpdrive just like the earth pulls it will prepile you away pushing you faster away .youse a manitic core genarted by power sores nuk

star gate manetice fild to give spaeships push thure spase

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