Costa Rica gives a Hand to Aerospace Exploration


On July 15th, 2006 the first (and only one today) rocket technologies laboratory in Costa Rica was inaugurated in the town of Liberia, Guanacaste with a cost of approximately $3.5 millions. The Laboratory is a subsidiary of the Company Ad Astra Rocket located in Houston TX. The Costa Rican scientist and former NASA astronaut Franklin Chang Diaz is the Mastermind of the Project. The objective is to develop a Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR). The VASIMR technology was developed by Chang as a result of his extensive studies and research of applied plasma physics and fusion technology during his Doctorate work at MIT and as a Scientist with the MIT Plasma Fusion Center. The project has a total estimated cost of $150 millions and if successful, it will facilitate space trips at much longer distances than it is possible today cutting also the traveling time anywhere from 30 to 60 percent less compared to the conventional fuel rockets used today. The goal is to take the plasma rocket into space by 2010 and attempt a fly to Mars by 2025.


The principle of operation of the VASIMR is highly remarkable and very interesting. The propellant, usually Hydrogen or Argon Gas, is injected into a chamber. Inside the chamber, radio waves (a lot like heating your food in a microwave) are used to ionized the gas (electrons are separated from the gas element atoms creating a mixture of positive and negatively charged particles) creating the plasma at very high temperatures. At the same time, a strong magnetic field acts on the chamber and it confines the plasma (since charged particles are affected by the magnetic field lines) like a magnetically created container inside the gas chamber. Once the plasma is created, the ions spin around the magnetic field lines with a certain natural frequency. Utilizing radio waves of the same frequency as the natural frequency of the ions to obtain resonance, the system warms up to approximately 10 million degrees Celsius. A magnetically created nozzle accelerates the plasma before it is exhausted producing the thrust.

Picture Source: Ad Astra Rocket, Internet Science Encyclopedia

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