New fusion-powered rocket could cut trip to Mars down to months

Although it has recently become popular to discuss the possibility of sending people to Mars, what is often not mentioned is how long the trip will take using current technology. According to NASA, the overall trip would take a year to three years round trip, depending on the speed of the spacecraft. But now a group of researchers claim to have propulsion technology that could cut the one-way travel time down to just a few months.

Researchers from the University of Washington, along with a company called MSNW, have published papers that describe a type of fusion propulsion that would allow spacecrafts to travel to Mars in as little as 30 to 90 days. According to the research group, their method of fusion would be achieved by "compressing the hydrogenic fuel by magnetically driving barrel size rings of lithium metal radially inward, compressing the fuel to high temperature and density. These converging rings merge to form a shell that compresses and ignites the fusion fuel…"

By reducing the amount of time passengers spend in space, fusion propulsion could help astronauts avoid muscle and bone loss, as well as potential cancer risks associated with exposure to cosmic rays. And, if the group's findings turn out to be solid, this development could also dramatically improve the prospects of realizing the oft-mentioned colonization of Mars.

Apparently, the technology has legs because NASA decided to fund the research through its Innovative Advanced Concepts Program. The group hopes to conduct its first real world test of the technology by the end of this summer.

You can check out MSNW's concept animations of how the fusion-powered spacecraft would operate in the videos below.

Via Univ. of Washington

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