For humans to travel safely to Mars and beyond, it will be important to make the trip as quickly as possible and thereby reduce the crew's exposure to weightlessness and space radiation. With today's chemical rockets, a round-trip mission to Mars would take over two years, with much of that time spent waiting for the right planetary alignment to return. More rapid transit is possible with a VASIMR® propulsion system powered by a nuclear-electric generator.
Ad Astra’s latest human Mars concept ship is a 200 Mega Watt nuclear electric powered vehicle driven by four 50 MW VASIMR® plasma thrusters. The ship would make the journey to The Red Planet in less than two months. With a power level equivalent to that of a Boeing 747, it would depart the Earth-Moon Lagrange point with an initial mass of 600 mT (about 1.5 x the International Space Station). The ship is powered by four 50 MW (electric) nuclear reactors, with advanced magneto hydro dynamic (MHD) power conversion. The VASIMR® engines will have been previously flight qualified at Ad Astra's future rocket test facility on the surface of the Moon. The liquid hydrogen propellant, which will become the plasma, is stored in a toroidal tank cluster that also provides efficient shielding for the human crew against high energy protons from the Sun. A high magnetic field superconducting shield is also nested inside the propellant tank cluster to provide additional shielding against galactic cosmic radiation (GCR).
The designation VF-200M-N means VASIMR®, 200 Mega Watt, Nuclear electric. The name ISS means International Space Ship and "Bekuo" means "Shooting Star" in the language of the Bri-Bri indians of southeastern Costa Rica, some of our early American astronomers and mathematicians, descendants from the Maya-Inca cultures. As an international project, it would involve many countries and more flags will be added as nations join together.
A 12 Mega Watt VASIMR®-powered craft could reach Mars in less than four months. Such a mission is possible for a vehicle weighting 188 mT at LEO with a specific mass of 4 kg/kW for the propulsion and power system, spending 60 mT of propellant and delivering a 60 mT crew lander payload.
Movie of a conceptual human Mars mission using VASIMR engines. Credit: Ad Astra Rocket Company