16. Does VASIMR® need a nuclear reactor?
No, VASIMR® is strictly an electric rocket and does not care where the electricity to power it comes from. In fact, the first VASIMR® engine applications envisioned by Ad Astra Rocket Company use solar electric power at power levels of 50 to 600kW. These systems will provide primary propulsion to commercial robotic “space tugs” operating in regions of the inner solar system where sufficient solar illumination is available (between the orbits of Mercury and Mars).
For missions far from the Sun and requiring more power than can be practically achieved with solar technology, a nuclear electric power plant will be necessary. As space nuclear electric technology advances and multi megawatt power systems become more mature, the VASIMR® engine will be a natural fit for these high power applications, which could enable very fast and robust human and robotic space exploration throughout the entire Solar System.
Ad Astra has endeavored to point out that while the VASIMR® engine scales well to a nuclear electric architecture, its first operational niche is not nuclear but solar.