AUG 17, 2016 12:58 PM PDT

Will Plasma Rockets Revolutionize Deep Space Travel?

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

It’s on the to-do list of space agencies and major commercial space companies to try and put mankind on Mars sometime in the next few decades, but there remains a crisis that needs to be solved first: where will we get the energy to propel a loaded spacecraft to the red planet?
 
As we know, we sent mankind to the moon with chemical reaction rockets, and still, those remain the modern form of transportation in space, but they are expensive to keep fueled and they only last so long before the fuel runs out.
 
Because Mars is about a year away from the Earth, and because we need to be able to send a whole lot of supplies to Mars with any astronauts we send so they can survive the journey and set up habitation on the red planet, we need something that is efficient, and yet powerful and enduring enough to keep a spacecraft on course for its target.
 

Will electric plasma rockets become the future of space travel?

 Image Credit: NASA

One possible solution could be electric plasma rockets, which can take over to get the spacecraft to the red planet once a chemical reaction rocket gets the spacecraft out of the Earth’s atmosphere.
 
Although they're incredibly more efficient at generating thrust, they come with a side-effect that isn't so much. The concept describes a process where particles from the reaction in the electric plasma rocket are slammed against the walls of the rocket engine itself and eventually break it down.

On the other hand, through processes known as ballistic redeposition and plasma redeposition, those walls could actually rebuild themselves as they are deteriorated by the reaction.

"This is similar to how a baseball tossed straight up into the air turns around and drops back to your hand. With the baseball, gravity stops the ball from going up any higher and pulls it back down to the ground. In a thruster, it’s the electric force between the negatively charged wall and the wall particle itself," Gary Li explains on The Conversation.

"It comes off neutrally charged, but can lose its electron in the plasma, becoming positively charged. The result is that the particle is pulled back toward the wall, in a phenomenon known as plasma redeposition. This process can be controlled by changing the density and temperature of the plasma."
 
Current testing of this kind of technology has reportedly aided in discovering new materials that are capable of reducing damage from these electric plasma thrusters by up to 50%. Of course, addition research in the future may help us to learn of better materials that are even more resistant to these kinds of degradation and may last through the future missions we seek to take.
 
Currently, the technology is in very early stages, but if a feasible solution can be discovered to slow down this degradation process long enough to last us as many as 10 trips between Earth and Mars, electric plasma rockets could become a reliable way to get us to Mars and back on a budget with all of our necessary supplies.
 
Although the concept behind electric plasma rockets isn’t necessarily new, the latest research dives deeply into finding a solution to the aspect of inevitable rocket chamber degradation. If it can be slowed down as much as humanly possible, we might just have the future of space travel at our fingertips.

Li gives a speech in the following video:
 


 
Source: The Conversation

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
NOV 19, 2019
Space & Astronomy
NOV 19, 2019
Can We Terraform Mars?
Space agencies and commercial space companies are taking the idea of colonizing Mars very seriously. There’s just one problem: the red planet isn&rsq...
DEC 09, 2019
Space & Astronomy
DEC 09, 2019
How Close is SpaceX to Sending Humans to Space?
NASA is one of the world’s most capable space agencies, but a crippling budget prevents it from developing a new space vehicle of its own. Instead, N...
MAR 01, 2020
Space & Astronomy
MAR 01, 2020
Astronomers Say it Was the Biggest Explosion Detected Since the Big Bang
When you’re an astronomer, you come to grips with the fact that the job involves a lot of waiting and watching as advanced detectors spend countless...
MAR 02, 2020
Space & Astronomy
MAR 02, 2020
Does the Earth Have a Second Moon?
If you’ve been paying attention to the headlines as of late, then you might’ve caught wind about the Earth having a second moon. But before you...
MAR 03, 2020
Space & Astronomy
MAR 03, 2020
What Makes Black Holes So Mysterious?
Black holes are mysterious objects that have long tickled the interest of astronomers and physicists alike. They’re often described as ultra-dense ob...
MAR 23, 2020
Space & Astronomy
MAR 23, 2020
Here's Why the Planets Orbit the Sun How They Do
All the solar system’s planets follow nearly the same plane and direction as they orbit the Sun, and this is something that has fascinated astronomer...
Loading Comments...