February 5, 2023

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The professor unravels with a dizzying promise: to get from Earth to Mars in just 45 days

Research is being conducted on how future Martian astronauts can better pass the time during the journey to this planet. But there may be a way to cut down on travel time dramatically to default.

Why is this important?

The biggest problem with colonizing Mars is distance: the Red Planet lies between 56 million and 405 million kilometers from Earth. It could take seven months to send a space probe there. In this context, manned flight remains an enormous challenge.

Search for innovations: Every year, NASA launches its NIAC (NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts) program, which aims to discover, test, and fund the most promising aeronautical concepts. Each successful project receives $100,000 in funding for one year.

  • This year, it is one of the winners for travel time between Earth and Earth Mars It has been significantly shortened to 45 days.
  • The idea comes from the professor Ryan Goss from the University of Florida. He invented a new type of rocket engine called “Bimodal NTP/NEP with Rotary Wave Cycle.”
  • His proposal is based not on classic pure chemical fuel, a technology that has been used in all of our rockets to date, but on a combination of thermonuclear and nuclear electric propulsion.

Nuclear energy can bring solace

the theory: Gossse’s idea is based, on paper, on a combination of two types of propulsion.

  • In thermonuclear propulsion, a propellant gas, such as liquid hydrogen, is heated until it turns into a plasma. This material is then passed through a nozzle to operate the machine.
  • Nuclear electric propulsion relies on a nuclear reactor operating at low speed to generate energy, which in turn is used to power the ion thrusters. It is actually an electromagnet with a relatively low thrust.

The two systems are not new. But the idea is to combine them into one machine.

Two integrated systems

  • At this very early stage of development it is difficult to make detailed hypotheses, but one could imagine a rocket using thermonuclear propulsion to develop very high thrust for its maneuvers, then switching to electronuclear propulsion once it is far enough away from the gravitational points of our planet or Mars. .
  • The main advantage of such a vehicle is that it would not have the power-to-weight ratio of today’s rockets, which would have to carry large amounts of chemical fuel and thus be powerful enough to carry them. With the technology the professor describes, the device will have much more thrust – a boost time of 1,800 to 4,000 seconds, compared to about 450 seconds for a current rocket before the boosters are depleted.
  • This isn’t the first time nuclear power has been touted as the future of space travel: it was talked about as far back as the 1960s, but never put into practice.

What’s Next? It will be a long time before this engine is ready. Especially since the grant from NASA wouldn’t be enough to build a prototype, but it would at least allow us to explore the possibilities of that new technology. We will probably get to Mars with help current technologyBut we need to think in the long term.

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