Two days ago I talked about jetpacks so today I thought I would speak a bit about rocket science in outer space. According to FlightGlobal, NASA is close to announcing the testing of their hydrogen-powered plasma fueled VASIMR engine on the International Space Station (ISS). The next step will be a scale model test of VASIMR but no date has been given.
The Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket or VASIMR could be in line for a mission to Mars if all goes well on the ISS. According to NASA, “Although the VASIMR could operate with waste hydrogen gas from the space station, no connections to this supply are planned for the experiment … Hydrogen is the primary choice for propellant but deuterium and helium are also of interest and might also be included.”
Also, according to NASA official and former astronaut, Franklin Chang-Diaz, hydrogen fuel has many benefits including, “We’re likely to find hydrogen pretty much anywhere we go in the solar system. What this means is that a VASIMR-powered spacecraft could be launched with only enough fuel to get to its destination, such as Mars, and then pick up more hydrogen upon arrival to serve as fuel for the return trip home. Another benefit of hydrogen fuel is that hydrogen is the best known radiation shield, so the fuel for the VASIMR engine could also be used to protect the crew from harmful effects of radiation exposure during the flight.”
There are couple of enlightening videos on the building and testing of VASIMR. One day, this hydrogen-powered technology could take astronauts to Mars, refuel with H2 using the resources there and come back to Earth. While usually I talk about hydrogen cars and other Earth-bound vehicles, on occasion it is fun to entertain the possibilities that lie beyond the boundaries of our atmosphere.