Fusion Science and Technology / Volume 43 / Number 1T / January 2003 / Pages 3-9
Overview / dx.doi.org/10.13182/FST03-A11963555
The development of the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR) was initiated in the late 1970s to address a critical requirement for fast, high-power interplanetary space transportation. While not being a fusion rocket, it nevertheless borrows heavily from that technology and takes advantage of the natural topology of open-ended magnetic systems. In addition to its high power density and high exhaust velocity, VASIMR is capable of “constant power throttling” a feature, which allows in-flight mission-optimization of thrust and specific impulse to enhance performance and reduce trip time. A NASA-led, research team, involving industry, academia and government facilities is pursuing the development of this concept in the United States. The technology can be validated, in the near term, in venues such as the International Space Station, where it can also serve as both a drag compensation device and a plasma contactor for the orbital facility. Other near-Earth applications in the commercial and scientific satellite sectors are also envisioned. This presentation covers the evolution of the VASIMR concept to its present status, as well as recent accomplishments in our understanding of the physics. Approaches and collaborative programs addressing the major technical challenges will also be presented.