Friday, May 18, 2012
It's obvious from the whiteboard that UAH Professor Jason Cassibry has found the answer, not only to fast interplanetary travel, but to Life, the Universe and Everything (hint: It's in the upper left corner).
Seriously though, he's trying to use the Z-pinch effect to deliver a large amount of energy in a very short pulse, and hopefully cause a target fuel pellet of lithium deuteride to implode and fuse. The exhaust products are focused and ejected through an electromagnetic nozzle and push the rocket forward. This "pulsed fusion engine" could run with very little fuel and achieve higher velocity than possible from chemical rockets.
Reducing the travel time to Mars makes everything easier. Life support systems don't have to operate for years. There is less exposure to radiation. Less food, water and oxygen is required. Physical deterioration caused by microgravity is reduced. The list goes on. Speed is really the key for a successful Mars mission in my opinion, and existing rocket technology will not get us there in a reasonable time.