Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket

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The Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR) is an electro-magnetic thruster for spacecraft propulsion. It uses radio waves to ionize and heat a propellant and magnetic fields to accelerate the resulting plasma to generate thrust. It is one of several types of spacecraft electric propulsion systems.

The method of heating plasma used in VASIMR was originally developed as a result of research into nuclear fusion. VASIMR is intended to bridge the gap between high-thrust, low-specific impulse propulsion systems and low-thrust, high-specific impulse systems. VASIMR is capable of functioning in either mode. Costa Rican scientist and former astronaut Franklin Chang-Diaz created the VASIMR concept and has been working on its development since 1977.[1]


Design and operation

The Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket, sometimes referred to as the Electro-thermal Plasma Thruster or Electro-thermal Magnetoplasma Rocket, uses radio waves[2] to ionize and heat propellant and magnetic fields, accelerating the resulting plasma which generates thrust. This type of engine is electrodeless and as such belongs to the same electric propulsion family (while differing in the method of plasma acceleration) as the electrodeless plasma thruster, the microwave arcjet, or the pulsed inductive thruster class. It can also be seen as an electrodeless version of an arcjet, able to reach higher propellant temperature by limiting the heat flux from the plasma to the structure. Neither type of engine has any electrodes. The main advantage of such designs is elimination of problems with electrode erosion that cause rival designs of ion thrusters which use electrodes to have a short life expectancy. Furthermore, since every part of a VASIMR engine is magnetically shielded and does not come into direct contact with plasma, the potential durability of this engine design is greater than other ion/plasma engine designs.[1]

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