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to Mars in thirty-nine days

Vazimer engines have no pumps, pipes and moving parts. This propulsion can accelerate spacecraft to great speeds, facilitating many missions in space

Artist's impression of VASIMR engines in action. Image source - Wikimedia Commons
Artist's impression of VASIMR engines in action. Image source - Wikimedia Commons

Amber dew Galileo

The field of rocket propulsion limits man and his devices in regards to fast research trips in the solar system. Innovative propulsion could change the picture to a considerable extent, and pave the way for more research, for the development of the field of manned flight beyond the Earth's orbit, and perhaps even for sending research spacecraft to distant missions outside our solar system.

A journey from Earth to Mars today takes about seven to eight months, depending on the relative position of Earth and Mars. Innovative propulsion technology for space applications could - if matured - shorten the journey to only 39 days, and open the way for manned research of the red and intriguing planet. The technology is called magneto plasma propulsion with a variable specific impulse (Variable Specific Impulse) Magneto plasma Rocket), or VASIMR for short.

The idea behind Wazimer engines is to use radio waves to ionize and heat a gaseous mass, and accelerate the hot product to an exhaust nozzle using powerful magnetic fields. This is an application reminiscent of the ion propulsion of spacecraft, which has existed for years (and will even be implemented in the Israeli/French Venus satellite). However, unlike a conventional ion drive, the Wazimer drive will achieve much higher thrust levels, which will translate to a high flight speed. The original idea for the Wazir drive was conceived by former American astronaut Dr. Franklin Chang Diaz in 1977. Today he continues to develop the technology for an operational rocket engine, in the company he founded and which he heads, Ad Astra (Ad Astra Rocket company, and see the link at the end of the column).

The main obstacle in long-duration manned spaceflight is the human factor. Apart from the loneliness, the mental pressure and the workload that will be imposed on the teams that will one day fly to the ends of the solar system, there are serious dangers to their health - starting with the loss of calcium from the bones and the depletion of muscle mass (problems that can be reduced with the help of proper exercise and a special diet, and in the future with the use of a centrifuge), and ending with exposure to radiation levels high, especially during solar flares. Reducing the journey to Mars will reduce to a minimum the time humans are exposed to the extreme conditions, and will also enable support for a large research station, and in the future perhaps also for human settlement on the surface of Mars. During his visit to Israel in January of this year, the head of NASA, Charles Bolden, stated that one of the main goals he is interested in promoting is the development of rocket propulsion that is different from the conventional one, which will enable a significant reduction in flight times to Mars. He even referred specifically to the Wazimer field as a promising and important field of research.


Wazir motors use, as mentioned, the energy of radio waves for the purpose of ionizing and heating gaseous superoxide. The plasma, the product of ionization and heating, is accelerated by means of strong magnetic fields and is emitted from an exhaust nozzle, in order to create an impulse capable of propelling spacecraft and satellites. The engine parts have no direct contact with the plasma, as it is shielded by the magnetic fields it produces. Therefore, there is no mechanical wear of its components while the plasma moves from the engine out. In this sense, a Vazimer engine is more durable than plasma engines of the current generation.

The operation of the engine consists of three stages:

  1. Turning gas into plasma using antennas that transmit radio energy to the appropriate place (the source of energy can be a nuclear reactor or photovoltaic cells).
  2. Heating the plasma using radio waves (a process somewhat reminiscent of the operating principle of microwave ovens).
  3. Channeling the plasma using magnetic fields, which propel it out of the engine and thereby create thrust.

Wazimer engines allow the creation of low or high thrust depending on the need, and also allow high or low specific attack (specific attack is a measure in the field of rocket propulsion that describes the degree of efficiency of the engine and propellant). The engines are fundamentally different from conventional rocket engines where chemical fuels are burned. Unlike engines that run on liquid fuel, Vazimer engines have no pumps, pipes and moving parts.


The Wazimer drive will not allow launching satellites and spacecraft from Earth into space, because of the low ratio between thrust and the weight of the engines. However, in space it is possible to accelerate spacecraft equipped with this drive to much higher speeds than is customary today. To drive a vezimer a host of possible uses in the field of space, among which we mention: compensation for the drag that causes the lowering of the orbit of space stations and satellites; launching payloads to the moon; refueling missions in space, unmanned research missions to various destinations in the solar system; Deflecting asteroids that endanger Earth and manned missions to Mars, missions that would require the use of a nuclear power source.


Despite the simplicity of the structure in relation to conventional rocket engines and even in relation to ordinary ion engines, Wazimer engines pose other challenges including interaction with very strong magnetic fields as well as managing the large amount of heat generated in them. The strong magnets based on semiconductors create magnetic fields with a strength of several Tesla, a high strength that can damage many systems on the spacecraft. Since a lot of energy is needed to create the plasma on the one hand and the magnetic fields to drive it on the other hand, a lot of heat is generated in the engine which must be removed. The large amounts of energy required to heat the ejected gas, as well as to produce the magnetic fields, will probably require the installation of nuclear reactors on the spacecrafts that will use this propulsion method. We note that nuclear propulsion for spacecraft was tested as far back as the sixties of the 20th century and was found to be possible and effective, but the vigorous activity of environmentalists along with bad public relations of the nuclear field have so far prevented the use of direct nuclear propulsion. However, electricity for research spacecraft has been produced for several decades by utilizing the heat of plutonium fission in isolated units to generate electricity. Apart from the problem of the public's approach to the nuclear issue, it is necessary to develop reactors with high efficiency and light weight.

The state of development of Naat and Ezimer

Ed Astra, the company founded by the inventor of the Wazimer propulsion idea, built and tested several engines. The exhaust gas that turns into plasma in the company's engines is argon. The efficiency of some of the planned engines is about 67 percent, and calculations show that it would be possible to raise it up to 98 percent. At full power, the company's experimental engine produces a power of approximately 200 kilowatts. The thrust that the engines have produced so far is not very high. The company has an agreement with the American space agency NASA for an experiment that will take place in 2011 or 2013, and to test an engine and an azimer on the International Space Station. Today, altitude is maintained using rocket engines that operate using hydrazine: as part of the future experiment, an Ad Astra engine will be connected to the International Space Station, and its operation for about fifteen minutes will allow it to maintain its altitude in space above the Earth.

About the author

Tal Inbar is the head of the Center for Space Research, the Fisher Institute for Strategic Air and Space Research, and the chairman of the Israel Space Association.

35 תגובות

  1. The aliens use it... they found a long time ago a way to infinite energy, they fly above the speed of light and everything works with the power of thought

  2. I found the shortest distance to Mars is 55 million km and sometimes 400 million km. 39 days is about 1,000 hours, so the speed is about 55,000 km/h.
    7 months is about 5,000 hours which is about 10,000 km/h.
    So this Weizmir engine is 5 times faster

  3. Come on, someone would be so kind as to say what the speed is or calculate it as if they take the closest distance to Mars and divide by 39 days, how much is that?????

  4. To Michael,

    Funny how a second after you received a compliment with a smile, even though it was worded in a slightly strange language, you already found the time to clash with Moshe (who of course earned it honestly)

    In any case, I will take this opportunity to express my personal appreciation to you, both for your exceptionally broad knowledge in a variety of fields and for your willingness to invest a lot of your time in passing the knowledge on.


  5. To 27:
    I exist.
    I am not 100 years old, but I have not been a child for a long time. I recently celebrated my 58th birthday.
    You can even see a picture of me to the side The articles I wrote on the site.

    I usually avoid talking about myself because I know how people react to it.
    You can see an example of what an answer to a question like yours (and believe me - only a partial answer) does, if you read the This is my response And what she made the Hamiltonian say.

  6. How the hell do you know so much? what is your education Are you unemployed with a lot of free time? Are you 100 years old? What is your real name? are you even real
    Avi. As a curious person who is interested in the site and its contents, I think that I and my shoulders deserve some scrap of information about the man.
    Thanks to the curious and ignorant..

  7. Nir:
    I don't know what you want, but to accuse me of deliberately ignoring it is simply disgusting.
    Your first response (18) could only be interpreted in one way.
    You mentioned the speed of the exhaust as the determining factor in the news and that is far from the case.
    Your second response (20) referred me to a formula that I knew and that confirmed my words, while repeating the mistake you made in response 18.
    Does the fact that in response 21 I referred to this response (20) constitute in your eyes an disregard?

    In your third response (23) you repeat and dispute my correct words and insert according to things I did not say and even contradict what I said.
    You ask there "aren't you convinced that when the exhaust speed is high the efficiency increases?" (The amount of fuel that needs to be taken is smaller in order to reach a certain speed)"
    This is really absurd because:
    1. I have never doubted that exhaust velocity matters
    2. What is written in parentheses does not mean this fact and does not follow from it

    Beyond that, you do not back down from your opposition to what I said and this means that you still object to the fact that there are other important factors.
    On the contrary - what is written in parentheses in the quote tries to convince that the additional factors are not real factors but that they arise from the emission speed - which is wrong.

    So which second comment of yours did I ignore? (And more on purpose!)?

    When you wrote response 25, you probably already realized that the previous responses were wrong and you are trying to create a false representation as if this were not the case.
    There is no need for you to try to explain to me what is written in the formula and to convince me that the formula is correct because I knew that from the beginning (and I also told you this) but you - in all your responses prior to response 25 showed that you do not understand the formula and now - after you understood it following my explanation - you come to me with claims As if I didn't understand that it says door there.
    By the way - the delta matter is not the whole story because the initial velocity can be zero and still the final velocity can be higher than the ejection velocity and this depends, as mentioned, on the initial mass and the final mass.

  8. Michael

    I'm not saying that exhaust velocity can't be "broken" - after all, the equation talks about delta V or the change in velocity, and not something that is a barrier to absolute velocity. Please read my second comment again.
    Given (!!) a total mass (payload + fuel) that can be launched into space - and assuming that this is a constant total mass. The final speed we will reach if we use the same amount of fuel but in an engine with a higher exhaust speed will be higher. It should be clear as day.
    And this is the main reason that drive technologies with high exhaust speed are sought.

    I re-read my first message, and I understand that it could have been interpreted differently, but you completely ignored (perhaps on purpose) the second message that was supposed to explain my intention.

  9. Nir:
    You are probably right and we are not reading the same thing.
    The formula there (which I understand first hand and I even developed it once myself) does not refer only to the speed of the plate but also to the other sizes I mentioned (such as the weight of the motors and the efficiency of the utilization of the material).
    These are reflected in the masses mentioned in the formula - m0 and m1
    The size that appears there (ln(m0/m1 can without any problem be greater than 1 and then the resulting velocity is greater than the emission velocity.

  10. Apparently you and I don't read the same thing Michael.
    Are you not convinced that when the exhaust speed is high the efficiency increases? (the amount of fuel that needs to be taken is smaller in order to reach a certain speed)

    Here is a table for comparison -

    Maybe in the rockets you imagine the amount of fuel, hence the mass, is not important...

  11. Further to what was said on the 19th,

    In fact, even if the spacecraft cruises at 40,000 km/h, and a small, single particle is ejected from the exhaust nozzle at the speed of a scarecrow, it still makes its contribution, albeit a modest contribution, to increasing the speed of the spacecraft.

  12. Nir:
    Why are you referring me there?
    After all, it says exactly what I said!

  13. Nir:
    That is not accurate.
    The exhaust speed is a factor as well as the amount of material that can be emitted per kilo of fuel as well as the weight of the engine.
    There is no law that says a pilot can't move faster than the exhaust speed of its engines, because the movement is relative.
    A speed limit related to the exhaust speed of the engines exists in pilot vehicles that fly in the air and whose engines emit air that they draw from the outside, but it does not exist in rocket propulsion

  14. The critical figure is the high exhaust velocities that these engines have, which are significantly higher than the exhaust speed of a rocket engine.
    The exhaust speed - or the speed at which particles (these or others) leave the engine is the factor that determines the final speed that a spacecraft can reach.

  15. Interesting, but I find it hard to believe that the engine will be operational in the coming decades, if it even succeeds in the 2013 test.
    The title is beautiful, attention-grabbing, but nothing more.

  16. If these are powerful magnetic fields, how could astronauts survive on such a spaceship? Even if insulators are developed for the electronic equipment, there is still a problem for people.

  17. In the past it was said that ion propulsion and solar sails could accelerate a spacecraft to a speed of up to a tenth of the speed of light. According to the description expressed in the news, it does not seem that the potential speed of the drive in question should be lower.
    But that's not the main thing, because when it comes to "nearby" space travel, the acceleration of the propulsion system is much more important - it doesn't really help to fly to Mars at a speed of 30000 km per second when it takes a good few years to accelerate to that speed. This is exactly the advantage that the system in question offers over non-rocket propulsion systems that exist today.

  18. Sounds like a really good idea, according to what is written a spacecraft equipped with such an engine will still need another engine to escape from Earth.

  19. This will probably be the future propulsion in space. Sounds like it's much more efficient than an ion engine.

  20. Chen T:
    I agree with you. I'm just claiming that number 39 already takes these improvements into account.

  21. Michael Shalom,
    In my experience, during the product development process, it is already possible to know which additional benefits will be tried to be implemented in the product that will follow. If it doesn't happen during the second half of development, it happens during the first period of its use.
    My assumption is that this is just the beginning of wonderful technology 🙂

  22. thank you for the answer.

    Does anyone know what maximum speed a spacecraft with such an engine should reach?

  23. Chen T:
    I don't usually make predictions, so I can't say anything about future technologies, but here we are talking about 39 days when the technology will mature.
    This is not an alpha phase, but the phase where the technology has been completely exhausted.

    The new engine does not allow a higher acceleration, but the opposite - it is written that it cannot be used in a launch above the surface of the earth because the acceleration it can create is less than that of gravity.
    The advantage of the engine lies in its ability to operate for a long time and in the end - to extract much more energy from the fuel which, in a situation where gravity is weak enough, becomes all kinetic energy of the spacecraft.
    Conventional rocket engines end their operation in a very short time. They give a strong thrust but waste a lot of energy that is not translated into propelling the aircraft and eventually depletes the Chi-Chek fuel supply.
    In order for them to operate for a long time, it is necessary to take a lot of fuel - in fact - such a large amount that the missile will not be able to lift off despite the enormous thrust that these engines can provide.
    With the Casimir method - the engine itself is heavy, but you can take much less fuel because you can produce more energy from the same amount of fuel.

  24. All this is nice, but we need a nuclear reactor that will supply 200Mwe, a reactor that should be both light enough and safe. Also, there are only two reactor technologies that meet these requirements, nuclear fusion reactors and another type of reactor that is only in the initial stages of planning the vapor core reactor

  25. 2 As soon as there is a train to the moon, all expeditions into space will leave via the moon because less energy is needed to escape its gravity

  26. I could not fully understand, will the new engine allow the spaceship to reach a higher acceleration compared to a normal rocket drive? Will it allow to reach a higher final speed? It's a shame that the speed they intend to reach is not specified, if I remember correctly today's spaceships reach a final speed of approximately 40 thousand km/h, what speed will the spaceship reach with the help of the new engine? I would appreciate it if someone has an answer.

    Also, does the calculation of the arrival time to Mars also take into account the time needed to stop the spacecraft before reaching its destination? If the acceleration of the engine is very slow and gradual like in a ionic engine, then it also takes a very long time to slow it down...

  27. Michael, I would appreciate your learned response 🙂

    If in this initial development stage (alpha?) they are talking about shortening a process of 8 months to 39 days, it is interesting to how many days the trip will be shortened after the technology reaches the final product, before a more efficient technology is developed.
    We will reach a situation where within a week it will be possible to reach Mars 🙂
    It is strange that the article does not mention the idea of ​​a space train to the moon to bring helium 3. With this technology and a large robotic spacecraft (space tanker) it could be possible at low costs. With cold fusion of helium 3 it might be possible to achieve higher speed or even stop using a rocket engine to exit the atmosphere.

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