back to article Plasma rocket space drive in key test milestone

NASA spinoff firm the Ad Astra Rocket Company has announced a key milestone in ground testing of its prototype plasma drive technology, Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR). The VASIMR first stage jet fires up, 22 Oct 2008 The electric rocket turns on. The VASIMR "helicon first stage" - which generates the …

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Nice but..

shouldn't we really be trying to create a 'warp' drive instead?

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Anonymous Coward

warp

warp and other such tech are at the moment "magic wands" alot like electric light bulbs would be to 15th century monks. One day, someone will have a eureka moment and the whole world will change forever (well unless we've all killed each other by then or bombed ourselves back into the stone age).

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Warp?

No, we should be working on 'folding space'

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Flame

Orion

The Orion project (as everyone _should_ know) would be the way to get (LOTS of stuff) around the solar system.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Orion_(nuclear_propulsion)

Great for lifting battleships to orbit!

ttfn

flames because rockets have lots of them.

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Alien

Aw, Gawd

Nuclear to Mars? Not more "Little Green Men", phleeeeze! They'll be really pissed off. We're lucky not to have woken the basta*rds up with the (relatively recent) armada of unheavily armed solar-powered Golf Carts.

Where's Orson Kaart (or whatever the bloke's name was) when you need him?

Icon obviously, natch.

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@Nice but...

In fact, why stop at warp? Let's hunt down Santa and have the CIA interrogate him to find out his secrets for high speed travel.

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Boffin

Makes Sense

Well why not nuclear - if we cant get enough energy from that big nuclear explosion in the sky - why not make our own - safe, secure - tiny one. Then when we finally lick this fusion tech, in 30 years or so, we can use that.

Alternatively we can spew out CO2 and water vapor into space - think of the damage that will do to the interstellar evironment. Interplanetary warming!!!!! Think of the children... little green ones.

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Re.: Nice but...

You need the impulse drive first.

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Alien

Re: Nice but..

The scientific community currently lacks any insight as to how to overcome Newtonian physics limitations that arise once velocity starts climbing closer to c. Until there is found a way to bypass or overcome this limitation (be it by space-warping, alternate spaces, or whatever), viable FTL transport remains strictly the realm of science fiction.

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A warp drive did you say?

Here's one, or at least a mathematical model for one.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcubierre_metric

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Happy

Ludicrus Speed GO!

Sure, The problem is it's a much longer way off as we don't have a clue yet how to bend the fabric of space....without a massive amount of gravity. oh like one hundred times that of the sun.

Warp drive was based on the concept of creating a pocket of normal space, inside a warp bubble, which was essentially the layman's term for said pocket of space. Outside the bubble space would be shooting by at FTL (Faster than light) speeds. However inside said bubble it would be static. The theory being that in this sence it would defeat Einstain's theory claiming that to reach light speed one requires infinite energy, and attains infinate mass.

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NASA seems unwilling to find room for VASIMR on the Shuttle

Understandable. It would mean leaving something else on the ground. And with the second stage still to be tested, there's no guarantee the ion drive will work.

There's no time to get it on the Shuttle Unless the new US administration authorises additional flights.

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Stu
Alert

39 days to Mars eh!?

For real!?

Hell to Greenpeace, lets get those dustbin fission nukes up into space TODAY!

I mean isn't space filled with deadly radiation to begin with? I'm sure one little fission reactor is like adding a drop of water to a billion oceans.

It can't be too difficult to design a fission reactor that is rendered totally safe until armed in space, and its debris port pointing squarely AWAY from earth.

Bagsy shotgun on the first 39 day trip to mars!

.

Random Schwartzenegger quote : "Get your ass to Mars.", name that film.

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@ShaggyDoggy

D'you mean the Ikea drive

Mine's the one that falls apart

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Alien

They must have hyperjets on that thing..

And what do we have on this thing? A cuisinart???

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IT Angle

Ad Astra?

_Ad_ Astra? Is this the Google influence at NASA?

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@stu

Total Recall

"See you at the party"

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Alien

That concept drawing

Why do 'artists' insist on putting wings and vertical stabilisers on spaceships - there is no air in space dumbwits.

They should have it built as a large cube - works for the Borg - functional and respecting awe and fear from other species.

All hail our new Borg overlords as they assimilate us.....

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Happy

re: That concept drawing

I thought bees have shown that the hexagon is more efficient that the borg square squared.

I for one welcome their buzzing overlordship...

Sorry to go off-topic, but I lost it part way through the first sentence in article and skipped straight to the comments.

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Gold badge

Re: warp

Duff analogy I'm afraid. Example:

Bloke with spaceship from future demonstrating warp drive to 21st century types: "Just a minute while I flip us to Alpha Centauri. You'll be impressed.". <flip> "Wow." "Cool". "Crikey, that's quick". etc.

Bloke from 21st century demonstrating light bulbs to 15th Century monks: "Just a minute while I screw this into a light fitting. You'll be impressed". <frantic search for light fitting in 15th century monastery> "Oh fuck!"

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Borg Cube

Personally if we built a cube shaped space ship. I would....well...honestly I'd be taking every stapshot off the web I could and I'd have a new desktop wallpaper, But coming from me that's a high compliment. But I agree, Stabalisers and Wings for lift....Why does one need lift in space? lift from what? in space which direction is down? Simply there is no down, up, north, south, east, west, and so on. In space everything is simply a heading. That's my beef with most space games, (not that I'm much of a gamer), they all think space is a two dimensional map.

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Alert

This is great but...

Part of the issue be it armed/activated or not is that we still need to shoot off this fissionable material into orbit. And the last time I checked, be it government funded or private, the inherent risks of getting anything into orbit is very very high. Nobody has a 99+% launch success rate... every single rocket launched risks a butt-load of cash if not a few lives that the thing won't go BOOM 90sec into the flight. When it does go boom--not if but when--no company or administration wants the literal fallout of nuke material showering down on all of us. I know we have hundreds of warheads poised to do just that, but that was by design not by happenstance as this would be.

Don't get me wrong, I'd love it. I think space is a great environment that is well suited for nuclear energy. We just need get much much better at getting things up there.

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Anonymous Coward

...gives you wings...

Those aren't aerodynamic aids, they're cooling vanes and solar panels. Not sure why the vanes flare like that, but a long thin spinal accelerator gun for the argon ions doesn't seem unlikely.

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Heart

@AC

Those are neither wings nor stabilisers: they are solar panels, built so that some are always pointing at the best available angle towards the sun.

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Alien

Anti-gravity

Its only a matter of time before we work out how to harness this hidden force of nature that I alone know about bwahahaha. Then we shall ride to the stars together my Earth bound friends, surfing the universe for ever ...

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@ Design

In space, there is no more efficiant space, with a drag coefficient of 0. It could be a giant sphere with a phallic symbol shaped observatoin desk sticking out the side and a giant billboard sized solar panel that says "I brake for Klingons" on the back. It would be just as efficiant as something with wings.

But a good point was brought up that they are solar panels. not wings. There is a problem with the next sentance though. So that they always point to the sun? two problems with that.

1. They crossed on only two Axis, If the light source is ahead of or behind them, no go.

2. Beyond Mars, The level of light has begun to taper off to the point where it would have trouble powering a calculator. Let alone a space ship.

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Solar power to Mars and beyond

I see no problem with this. You don't need to travel outwards right away if you want to reach Mars, an equally valid path is to take a swing closer to the sun (while enjoying higher solar energy) and then coast on the speed gained thereby out to Mars and beyond. By taking swings around Venus and Earth on the way out, you can even get a gravitational speed boost.

You can use aero-braking to reduce speed once you get there.

You can't use the same trick for the return trip, though, but for one-way transport of robotic vehicles, it should be fine.

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Alien

You don't need rockets..

You need to be anchored in space & time.

You need a stasis field..

Slow down or Stop time for your ship/vessel/cube thingy.. then start it again when then earth has moved on a bit.

As time would have stopped for the ship, it would be anchored in it's point in space and would be yanked out of orbit as the earth moves around the sun.

Hey presto, no longer on earth and you've got 12 months to get your nuclear engine up and running before the earth comes around and smashes you..

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round and round...

re-inventing another wheel? Lunar cargo ship with ion propulsion, even the 'wings' llok the same!

http://altairvi.blogspot.com/2008_09_01_archive.html

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shadowmatt

In reply to "Why do 'artists' insist on putting wings and vertical stabilisers on spaceships - there is no air in space dumbwits."

If there is no air in space then why do we have air in space museums?

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Silver badge

Launching nuclear reactors

This has been done plenty of times. The pioneer and voyager space craft are nuclear powered. The reactors were designed to 'survive' a huge chemical explosion followed by a long drop and impact with the Earth. By 'survive' I mean they would be in one piece but not in working order.

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Coat

In A.D. 2101 war was beginning.

Captain: What happen ?

Mechanic: Somebody set up us the bomb.

Operator: We get signal.

Captain: What !

Operator: Electric engine turn on.

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jon

nice, but...

"Great for lifting battleships to orbit! "

- only if you wanna make the launch pad and a few miles around radioactive.... it was ended for this reason... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Partial_Test_Ban_Treaty

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Boffin

@gives you wings

You are correct in that it is not wings that is depicted in Dr. Chan-Diaz's artist's conception. Your first conjecture, that they are waste heat radiators is almost certainly the correct one- with a 10 megawatt nuclear plant, there is a LOT of waste heat to get rid of and very little need for solar panels (which would be near useless by the time you got to Jupiter what with solar power falling off as distance squared). As for why they are shaped like arrow feathers, I would wager that the 10MW nuclear power plant uses a shadow shield to keep it from irradiating the rest of the spacecraft. The angling of the waste heat radiators serves to keep them in the "shadow" cast by the shield placed in between it and the reactor, which is otherwise left unshielded to save on mass.

Here are links for waste heat radiators:

http://www.projectrho.com/rocket/rocket3e.html#radiator

and radiation and shielding (including shadow shields) in the context of nuclear rockets:

http://www.projectrho.com/rocket/rocket3ah.html

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Bronze badge

warp drives

what happened to the fusion reactor. for a warp drive you would need to use the reaction mass from a quantum explosion. fusion mk2

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TJ
Go

Since you bring up the Borg...

The Star Trek Voyager was a sexy Space craft. Just because its OK to build a box doesn't mean we have too. Do you really want to get to another species in a box? Thats like trying to look cool in a minivan.

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Coat

Warp drive

as some one pointed out warp dirve is about a bubble of normal space around a vessal but they missed that you then compress the space in front of said bubble and expand the space behind. not sure who thats supposed to work something to do with artifical gravity and magnetism. your then travel over the compressed space using a more conventation means ion drive etc (star treks famous impulse drive was supposed to be ion refusion drives) these relative to the ship speed was only 1/4 of the speed of light (impulse drives topspeed but probable self limited by ship builds to stop the time dilitution effect being to bad) while to the rest of the universe yours traveling faster than light

of and the warpfactor is the factor of compression once you reach warp factor 10 supposely you can go compress the intire universe to a degree you can go anywhere personally i think that's a bit stupid.

on of the reasons given for no warp in a solar system is compressing the space in which a star is would me either a start in your face or possible prature super nova neither good for a starship.

yes i know this makes me a total treky nerd but when i was younger like physics and start trek so the science of star trek book was out so read that.

ok i'll get my coat

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Coat

The Saturn V

Was originally supposed to feature nuclear thermal rockets. Then Kennedy said "Moon. Now." and the project got dropped.

Speaking of the Saturn V, it does have a 100% success rate. It's even powerful enough to get nuclear flasks into space.

Mine's the one that says "Mars or bust".

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Radiators guys, not wings

Typical space nuke power-plant is 25-30% efficient. Thus generating 10 MW electrical power makes about 30 MW of heat that can only be dumped by radiating it away. Thus big radiator surfaces.

Someone mentioned fusion drives, but even they will need BIG radiators, unless you're throwing bombs overboard and riding the plasma - in which case you need a big ablation plate and huge shock-absorbers.

Chiang-Diaz's 39-day ride to Mars needs a 200 MW power source that doesn't mass too much - ain't gonna happen soon. The 10 MW VASIMR takes a couple of hundred days for the trip.

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