NASA-backed fusion rocket could blast astronauts to Mars and back in 30 days
Work is about to start on a rocket that could get astronauts to Mars in just 30 days.
A fusion engine could cut a round trip to the Red Planet to a month rather than the four-year round trip currently expected, cutting costs and the health risks to crew.
The NASA-backed project will use the nuclear technology to power a manned spacecraft up to speeds of 200,000mph – and it could be ready to fly within seven years.
‘Using existing rocket fuels, it’s nearly impossible for humans to explore much beyond Earth,” said John Slough, lead researcher with a team at the University of Washington, US.
‘We are hoping to give us a much more powerful source of energy in space that could eventually lead to making interplanetary travel commonplace.’
The proposed Fusion Driven Rocket (FDR) uses magnetism to compress metal bands around a tiny pellet of hydrogen isotopes to create a propellant seven million times denser than conventional rocket fuel – and much more powerful.
Astronauts could reach the surface of Mars in a month (Picture: File)
A pellet the size of a grain of sand would provide the same propellant as a gallon of conventional rocket fuel, say experts.
Shorter flight times reduce the crew’s exposure to harmful solar radiation, while a vastly smaller volume of fuel cuts costs and allows more room for astronauts or cargo.
Although electricity is needed to run the rocket, researchers say a a 150-ton spacecraft could use solar power.
Flight times to the Red Planet could then take between 30 and 90 days, compared to over eight months that it took to send the Curiosity rover to Mars.
The rocket would not need to run constantly – instead, a three-day blast is enough to get the spacecraft up to speed and another three would be needed to slow it down for an orbit around Mars.
It would send out regular pulses of thrust, cutting the risk of dangerous g-forces to the spacecraft’s occupants.