Rocket powered by nuclear fusion could send humans to Mars
By Michelle Ma
Human travel to Mars has long been the unachievable dangling carrot for space programs. Now, astronauts could be a step closer to our nearest planetary neighbor through a unique manipulation of nuclear fusion, the same energy that powers the sun and stars.
University of Washington researchers and scientists at a Redmond-based space-propulsion company are building components of a fusion-powered rocket aimed to clear many of the hurdles that block deep space travel, including long times in transit, exorbitant costs and health risks.
. . . NASA estimates a round-trip human expedition to Mars would take more than four years using current technology. The sheer amount of chemical rocket fuel needed in space would be extremely expensive – the launch costs alone would be more than $12 billion.
Slough and his team have published papers calculating the potential for 30- and 90-day expeditions to Mars using a rocket powered by fusion, which would make the trip more practical and less costly.
But is this really feasible?
Slough and his colleagues at MSNW think so. They have demonstrated successful lab tests of all portions of the process. Now, the key will be combining each isolated test into a final experiment that produces fusion using this technology, Slough said.
The research team has developed a type of plasma that is encased in its own magnetic field. Nuclear fusion occurs when this plasma is compressed to high pressure with a magnetic field. The team has successfully tested this technique in the lab. . . .
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