One of the biggest challenges in exploring our solar system is the vast distances that astronauts have to traverse. Researchers at the University of Washington are currently working on a fusion-powered spacecraft that in theory will be able to take astronauts to Mars and back in only 30 days. The researchers believe that their fusion-powered spacecraft could shave years from a round-trip to Mars.
The project at the University of Washington is being funded by NASA's Innovative Concepts Program. The system is described as a "unique manipulation of nuclear fusion." Reducing the time needed to travel between the Earth and distant planets such as Mars would reduce the cost of exploring the solar system and reduce the health risks that astronauts face during the journey.
Researchers on the project aren't offering any specific details on their propulsion system, but have said that it involves "a type of plasma that is encased in its own magnetic field." That magnetic field can be compressed to produce nuclear fusion. The lead researcher on the project is John Slough and he and his team report success with laboratory tests of the process.
The research the team was conducting proved so promising that NASA offered a second round of funding to continue to perfect their propulsion system. The scientists say using existing rocket fuels, it is virtually impossible for humans to explore much further than Earth orbit. Right now NASA believes that a round-trip voyage from Earth to Mars would take four years using chemical rocket fuel. Sending a crew capsule on that trip could cost over $12 billion. Researchers at the University of Washington believe that their propulsion system could reduce the time of that trip to the area of 30 to 90 days.
[via PC Mag]