Led by a Costa Rican: 'The rocket engine that could transform space travel'

Franklin Chang Díaz and Ad Astra may transform space travel.

Despite its small size, Costa Rica has played an important role in space exploration.

Most notably, Tico astronaut Franklin Chang Díaz has participated in seven Space Shuttle missions, is a member of the NASA Astronaut Hall of Fame, and founded the Ad Astra Rocket Company (which has facilities in Liberia).

Chang Díaz is currently President and CEO of Ad Astra, a rocket company that may be about to transform space travel through its Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR) engine.

How does it work? It’s not rocket science:1 A VASIMR engine simply2 converts cold gas into superheated plasma through the use of magnets and radio wave couplers:

The VASIMR engine could fuel a “total transformation of the [space] transportation scheme,” Chang Díaz told Politico. The technology is powerful, reliable and efficient.

“We can see missions to Mars that could be two to three months one way, and even faster than that as the technology progresses,” Chang Díaz said, touting the engine’s benefits for faster human space travel.

The VASIMR rocket engine just “shattered” power and endurance records in testing, Ad Astra says, though it hasn’t quite reached a 100- kW/100-hours milestone set by NASA.

Still, it remains an improving technology with plenty of promise and potential.

“No other electric plasma rocket, at these power levels and technology readiness, has reached the VASIMR engine’s combination of power and endurance achieved to date,” Chang Díaz said.

As Ad Astra continues its testing, the proud eyes of Costa Ricans everywhere will be watching.

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1

Editor’s note: It turns out this is, in fact, rocket science.

2

It’s not simple.