VASIMIR stands for "Variable Specific Impulse Magneto-plasma Rocket", and it is a plasma thruster that NASA has just agreed to test out in Earth orbit, potentially aboard the ISS. This is a very ambitious project that if it works correctly, it will be able to take us to Mars in 40 days rather than six months. Next wannabe Phileas Fogg may set a new historical bet to go and return to Mars in 80 days!
The total power processed by the engine is distributed between its two electromagnetic stages. The first, tested last July at its full 32 kW power rating, generates the plasma from Argon feedstock gas, while the second energizes it to the desired output conditions. At maximum power, the second stage contributes an additional 168 kW to complete the 200 kW power rating. The 200 kW test is, in effect, a validation of the VASIMRŽ second stage design, a hitherto untested element of the engine at these tremendous power levels, said Dr. Jared P. Squire, Ad Astras Director of Research and leader of the experimental team conducting the tests. Preliminary data indicate a better than expected power coupling, leading to slightly less thermal stress than originally predicted. These findings will continue to be verified, but the indications point to operation well within the chosen design specifications he said.