A VISUALISATION OF MARS CREATED FROM SPACECRAFT IMAGERY.

A brilliant combination of solar power and magnetism firing a Fusion Driven Rocket Engine being developed at the University of Washington could get a human to Mars in 30 days, according to researchers.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/04/10/nasa_fusion_engine_fast_mars_trip/

“Using existing rocket fuels, it’s nearly impossible for humans to explore much beyond Earth,” said lead researcher John Slough, a UW research associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics in a statement. “We are hoping to give us a much more powerful source of energy in space that could eventually lead to making interplanetary travel commonplace.”

The proposed Fusion Driven Rocket (FDR) is a 150-ton system that uses magnetism to compress lithium or aluminum metal bands around a deuterium-tritium fuel pellet to initiate fusion. The resultant microsecond reaction forces the propellant mass out at 30 kilometers per second.”

Dr. Anthony Pancotti, an advanced propulsion engineer with the team, told The Register that the advantages of magnetic inertial confinement fusion (over that requiring massive lasers, for example) mean that the spacecraft could power itself on solar energy alone.

“It’s very scalable; we can achieve fusion at a much smaller scale,” he said. “We could run the designed engine off 200KW of solar panels, which is about the same power as generated by the panels around the International Space Station”

“Such a motor would also be considerably cheaper to launch than a chemical rocket system, since there is much less fuel to hoist out of the gravity well before it starts a trip. The proposed design for a 150-ton spacecraft would allow around a third of that mass to be used for cargo – human or otherwise – and the reduced flight time would reduce the exposure of astronauts to the effects of solar radiation.”

“The 30-day trip would require three days of engine operation to get the spacecraft up to speed and another three to slow it down into orbit around Mars. The FDR engine has the potential to make chemical or ion drives for spacecraft as obsolete as the steam engine for earth-bound transportation. “