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Mars in six weeks. May 18, 2012

Posted by Mark Flavin in Technology.
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Image Credit – NASA
Fusion Rocket Engine

The Redstone Arsenal located in Huntsville Alabama is preparing for an important test this summer that could pave the way for a usable fusion rocket engine using the Z-pinch concept. The energy density for such a rocket is enormous but the propellant mass is measured in pounds of fuel instead of the huge tank loads that a liquid rocket would consume. The essence of a fusion rocket is similar to the process which drives our sun only instead of hydrogen fused to helium it would be hydrogen and lithium performing the fusion reaction. The result is a burst of pure energy which would drive a spacecraft as a series of fusion pulsed detonations.

A profile of a flight to Mars with such an engine would consist of a thrust phase up to a very high velocity, then coasting flight followed by a braking thrust to a safe speed for entry into the Martian atmosphere. Total time for the trip 6 to 8 weeks instead of six months or more using a chemical rocket. This reduction in travel time is  essential to the crews health and well being upon arrival at Mars.

What Redstone will be doing is a test using some very powerful banks of capacitors to energize the fusion cycle. They will gather data and determine if the concept is viable, and if so the process of scaling it up to a workable engine can begin. This type of engine is for use in space since the mass required to boost a spacecraft into orbit is too great to overcome. It advantage is long duration high impulse with low fuel consumption. If proven a workable concept this engine has uses in manned exploration, asteroid mining, deep space probes or any spacecraft needing high velocity to reach distant objects.

Let’s hope the fusion engine has a future on the Mars Express passenger liners of tomorrow.