UW scientists' nuclear fusion rocket could send humans to Mars

UW scientists' nuclear fusion rocket could send humans to Mars

Credit: University of Washington, MSNW

A concept image of a spacecraft powered by a fusion-driven rocket. In this image, the crew would be in the forward-most chamber. Solar panels on the sides would collect energy to initiate the process that creates fusion.

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by KING 5 News

KREM.com

Posted on April 5, 2013 at 12:11 PM

Thanks to researchers and scientists from the University of Washington, human space travel to Mars may soon be achievable. At a Redmond-based space-propulsion company, the group is manipulating nuclear fusion, the same energy that powers the sun and stars, to power a rocket.

The scientists and researchers hope that a fusion-powered rocket will overcome many of the hurdles to deep space travel, including long times in transit, exorbitant costs and health risks.

“Using existing rocket fuels, it’s nearly impossible for humans to explore much beyond Earth,” said lead researcher John Slough, a UW research associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics. “We are hoping to give us a much more powerful source of energy in space that could eventually lead to making interplanetary travel commonplace.”

Slough and his team published papers calculating 60 and 90-day trips to Mars, which would be more practical and much less costly than current possibilities.

Using current technology, NASA estimates a round-trip human expedition to Mars would take four years, and the launch costs would be more than $12 billion.

The amount of fusion needed to power a rocket is small. A grain of sand of this material has the same energy as a gallong of rocket fuel.

The group things the science is feasible. They've demonstarted successful lab tests for each step in the process. Now each individual test much be combined in a final experiment.

The project is funded through NASA'a Innovative Advanced Concepts Program, and was one of only a handful of projects awarded a second round of funding last fall.

Read more about the technology behind the nuclear-fusion-powered rocket.

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