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The rocket named Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR) is a twin peer of the one being developed for testing aboard the International Space Station.
VASIMR uses the technology of radio waves, ionise propellants like argon, xenon or hydrogen, and heat the resulting plasma to temperatures 20 times hotter than that of the solar surface. The rocket uses magnetic fields instead of metal nozzles to control the direction of the exhaust.
Constructed of electric propulsion system, the rocket is being built to send astronauts to Mars in 39 to 45 days.
Shorter travel time of this rocket will ensure more safety for astronauts. It would reduce their exposure to potentially deadly cosmic and solar radiation which is presently the biggest hurdle for missions to Mars.
"All of a sudden, the future is here. The engine is actually firing right now. We have lots of hurdles and challenges; we have lots of work to do. But if you look at what has happened in the last five years in NASA, it's been amazing," says VASIMR inventor and physicist Franklin Chang-Diaz.
His Houston-based Ad Astra Rocket Co, had raised millions of dollars from private investors to make this milestone possible. This significant achievement was reached last year when it successfully operated a demonstrator VASIMR at full power in a vacuum chamber. Ad Astra aims to launch it's flight version of VASIMR to the space station in 2014.