Dr. Franklin Chang Díaz

Developing VASIMR®

FRIDAY, November 20, 7pm – 9pm, UHCL Bayou Theater

We dream of going to the stars. In the last 50 years we have witnessed the development of the first ships that have transported humans beyond Earth. We have landed humans on the Moon and have now established a continuous human presence in low Earth orbit. Yet we still lack the technology required to safely venture far into the vastness of space. Although well suited for surface to orbit transportation, our current rockets are too inefficient for long journeys to the planets and ultimately the stars. For example, a one-way trip to Mars, would take about 10 months, and most of the ship’s mass would be taken up by fuel. Flights beyond Mars with current technology would be out of the question. Plasma rockets on the other hand, open up new and exciting possibilities for fast space transportation. Utilizing ionized gases accelerated by electric and magnetic fields, these devices expand the performance envelope of rocket propulsion far beyond the limits of the chemical rocket. The VASIMR® engine – short for Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket – is one such rocket. Its genesis dates back to the late 1970s when I was involved in the study of open-ended magnetic ducts, and their applications to fusion research. After 30 years of development, the VASIMR® has reached a high level of maturity and is now being prepared for its first test in space in late 2013 on board the International Space Station. Its success could imply a paradigm shift in space transportation and open the entire solar system for human exploration. Under development by the Ad Astra Rocket Company the VASIMR® VF-200 mission will serve as a pathfinder and help establish the US portion of the ISS as a national laboratory. In this presentation, I will describe the development of the technology in a historical context, from its roots at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to the NASA Johnson Space Center and ultimately to Ad Astra Rocket. I will also present the VASIMR® current status and our plans for its deployment and utilization in support of a developing commercial market of human and robotic space activities.

Franklin Chang Díaz (born in San José, Costa Rica on April 5, 1950 and a dual citizen of the United States and Costa Rica) is the founder and President of Ad Astra Rocket Company, an advanced rocket technology company in North America, with operations in Webster, Texas and Guanacaste, Costa Rica. In July of 2005 he concluded a successful 25 year career as a NASA astronaut, achieving a world record of seven space flights. During this time, he continued the development of the VASIMR, a new space propulsion system he invented and patented and which is now entering its commercial phase. Throughout his career, he has promoted science and space technology in Latin America, aware of the extraordinary potential that exists in the region. In 1990, he led a group of space scientists in search of a plan for regional integration and collaboration in space technology projects in Latin America that resulted in the organization of the First Space Conference of The Americas, sponsored by The United Nations and held in Costa Rica. Three similar conferences in Chile, Uruguay and Colombia followed this initiative. Two years later he helped to form The Chaga Space Project, a collaboration of 5 countries in the study of potential natural inhibitors to Chagas disease in the microgravity of space. The project resulted in the first multinational flown experiment from Latin America in protein crystallization with medical applications, which he conducted in two of his missions on the Space Shuttle. More recently, he has been active in his country of birth, Costa Rica, where he leads the implementation of The Strategy for the 21st Century, a master plan designed to transform Costa Rica into a fully developed country before 2050. He graduated in 1977 with a PhD in plasma physics from MIT. He is married to Dr. Peggy Marguerite Stafford of Alexandria, Louisiana and has four daughters. He enjoys music, flying and diving. His mother, brothers and sisters live in Costa Rica.

The VASIMR VX-200 operating at full power, Oct 2009.

A VASIMR lunar tug concept.

A VASIMR Mars mission concept.

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Design inspired by:
"If the dinosaurs explored space, they would still be alive today." -Dr. Don Pettit

"Since hazards from asteroids and comets must apply to inhabited planets all over the Galaxy, if there are such, intelligent beings everywhere will have to unify their home worlds politically, leave their planets, and move to small nearby worlds around.  Their eventual choice, as ours, is spaceflight or extinction." -Dr. Carl Sagan



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