Mars may well be within our reach thanks to revolutionary new rocket concept

Written on 02/03/2021
Ciarán Mather

A physicist working at the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) has unveiled a new concept for a rocket thruster involving the use of magnets.

This new type of plasma thruster, designed by Dr. Fatima Ebrahimi, could enable spacecraft to travel to distant planets much faster than they can now.

The thruster would involve using magnetic fields to shoot plasma particles into the vacuum of space, effectively boosting the rocket further into space than previous models.

 Dr. Ebrahimi said that she first came up with the design a few years ago. 

She explained: 'I had the idea in 2017 while sitting on a deck and thinking about the similarities between a car's exhaust and the high-velocity exhaust particles created by PPPL's National Spherical Torus Experiment (NSTX).'

She elaborated: 'Long-distance travel takes months or years because the specific impulse of chemical rocket engines is very low, so the craft takes a while to get up to speed.'

'But if we make thrusters based on magnetic reconnection, then we could conceivably complete long-distance missions in a shorter period of time.'

It has been noted that Dr Ebrahimi's new concept is a significant improvement over existing plasma thrusters in computer simulations: in fact, it is reportedly 10 times faster than those of other rocket thrusters currently being used in space missions.

Dr. Ebrahimi's magnetic thruster idea has since been published in the Journal of Plasma Physics.

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