NASA Selects Frankling Chang’s Ad Astra Rocket for Phase II Development of Space Engine

    Company to be on Phase II of Vasimr® engine contract

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    Ad Astra Rocket Company, a company owned by former Costa Rican astronaut Franklin Chang Díaz, has been selected for Phase II of the NASA contract to advance the development of the VASIMR® engine.This is a high-power plasma propulsion system that would allow humans to eventually reach Mars.

    New contract

    The new contract, valued at $850 thousand, means that Ad Astra will continue to develop the Generation 4 (Gen-4) Rhino Horn, which is a crucial component that delivers high radio frequency (RF) power to the engine core, allowing the plasma to be heated to millions of degrees.The Phase II contract is a follow-on to the successful Phase I contract, which was worth $150 thousand and was completed in February.

    During Phase I, Ad Astra developed and tested a small-scale version of the Gen-4 Rhino Horn, validating its innovative design.The previous three generations of this component have demonstrated significant improvements, and the fourth generation is expected to continue this trend.

    The current Gen-3 design of the Rhino Horn already supported an 88-hour endurance test in July 2021, setting a record for the company. Phase I studies suggest that Gen-4 will allow the VASIMR® engine to operate stably at over 100 kW, overcoming the overheating tendency of Gen-3.In addition, significant weight reductions and improvements in the ease of fabrication and assembly of the Gen-4 are anticipated.

    With the new contract, Ad Astra will proceed with full-scale manufacturing and integrated testing of the Gen-4 hardware on the VASIMR® VX-200SSÔ laboratory prototype.

    Exciting innovation

    Franklin Chang Diaz, CEO of Ad Astra, expressed his enthusiasm for the continued advances in the VASIMR® engine.“It is exciting to see the incredible amount of innovation from our team in continuously improving the VASIMR® engine from the inside out. I am proud of their incredible creativity and hard work in bringing technical concepts like this quickly to reality,” said Chang Diaz.

    These improvements are designed to increase the robustness and maximum power of the VASIMR® engine, bringing it closer to a technology readiness level (TRL-6) that would allow it to be tested in space.

    VASIMR®, an acronym for Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket, works with plasma, an electrically charged gas that can be heated to extreme temperatures by radio waves and controlled and guided by strong magnetic fields.The magnetic field also insulates nearby structures, allowing exhaust temperatures well above the melting point of materials to be reached.

    In rocket propulsion, the higher the temperature of the exhaust gases, the higher their velocity and the greater the fuel efficiency. Plasma rockets have much higher exhaust velocities than their chemical cousins, so their fuel consumption is extremely low.

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