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Scientists Firing The VASIMR Plasma Rocket

This video shows what it's like to fire the VASIMR plasma rocket, the highest power steady-state electric propulsion device in the world, located in Houston TX. Video was taken with the POV.1.5 camera which sports a wide angle lens. Two scientists sit at the command and control computer, and one scientist observes the exhaust plume. The VASIMR VX-200 rocket is located within a vacuum chamber, which simulates the vacuum of space. The cryo-compressors for several vacuum cryo-pumps can be heard in the background. When the rocket fires, valves for liquid nitrogen can be heard opening, which is accompanied by a hiss of gaseous nitrogen. The blue flashing light indicates that the VX-200 superconducting magnet is energized, and the red flashing light indicates that the electrical power for the rocket is enabled. Ad Astra Rocket Companys VASIMR? VX-200 rocket prototype reached its highly-coveted 200 kW maximum power milestone at 11:59 am (CST) September 30th 2009 in tests conducted at the companys Houston laboratory. The DC power trace actually exceeded the design requirement by 1 kW and exhibited the clear signature of a well established plateau at peak power. The achievement comes after an intense experimental campaign that began in April 2009 when the engine was fitted with a powerful low temperature superconducting magnet, a critical component that enables VASIMR? to process large amounts of plasma power. The electrical power processing is accomplished using high efficiency, 95%, solid state RF generators built by Nautel Ltd of Halifax, Canada. Demonstration of a 200 kW capability was required to validate, with full scale performance data, the design of the VF-200-1 already underway. The VX-200 turns out to exceed the expected power density of VF-200-1 by about 25%, so this is a robust demonstration of the technology. The VF-200-1 is the first engine that the company plans to fly in space, and it is presently working with NASA to effectuate inspace testing in late 2013 on the International Space Station (ISS). Short for Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket, VASIMR? is a new high-power plasma-based space propulsion technology, initially studied by NASA and now being developed privately by Ad Astra. A VASIMR? engine could transport payloads in space far more efficiently and economically than todays chemical rockets. The company envisions an early commercial deployment of the technology, beginning in 2014, to greatly reduce the operational costs of maintaining an evolving space infrastructure, including space stations, satellites, lunar outposts and fuel depots in the Earth-Moon environment. Ultimately, VASIMR? engines could also greatly shorten robotic and human transit times for missions to Mars and beyond. THE TECHNOLOGY The VASIMR? engine works with plasma, a very hot gas, at temperatures close to the interior of the Sun. Plasmas are electrically charged fluids that can be heated to extreme temperatures by radio waves and controlled and guided by strong magnetic fields. The magnetic field also insulates any nearby structure, so temperatures well beyond the melting point of materials can be achieved and the resulting plasma can be harnessed to produce propulsion. In rocket propulsion, the higher the temperature of the exhaust gases, the higher their velocity and hence the higher their fuel efficiency. Plasma rockets feature exhaust velocities far above those achievable by their chemical cousins, so their fuel consumption is extremely low and their fuel-related costs substantially reduced. ABOUT AD ASTRA Ad Astra Rocket Company is a privately-owned corporation established January 14, 2005 to commercialize the technology of the VASIMR? engine, a plasma propulsion system originally studied by NASA with potential to support an emerging in-space transportation market. The company has its main laboratory and corporate headquarters at 141 W. Bay Area Boulevard in Webster, Texas, USA. Ad Astra also owns and operates Ad Astra Rocket Company, Costa Rica, a supporting research and development subsidiary in Guanacaste, Costa Rica.
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