The “cutting-edge” technology promises to slash space travel times and outperform conventional ion engines by a factor of a “1,000”. Richard Dinan, the CEO of Pulsar Fusion and former Made in Chelsea star, is certain plasma-based rocket engines will make space travel faster, cheaper and more efficient.
The UK company based in Bletchley, Milton Keynes, has built and tested a miniature prototype plasma thruster, observing exhaust speeds of 100,000mph.
Mr Dinan told Express.co.uk private enterprise like Pulsar Fusion is pushing the envelope on what is possible in space and what will become standard technology a few decades from now.
He said: “Speed in space is money. The less time you spend in space, the less equipment you need in space, the less weight you need in space, the less fuel you need to get to space, and hence it all works in your favour.”
Traditional rockets may be our only way of escaping the clutch of Earth’s gravity but once in orbit, burning rocket fuel becomes a costly and ineffective way to push a spacecraft forward.
Ion engines offer a more efficient, electric form of propulsion by expelling clouds of charged particles to create thrust.
Ion thrusters are great for small satellites that only need to make small course adjustment but they do not accelerate fast enough for larger spacecraft.
Plasma thrusters offer a better alternative for long-term missions and space travel, with faster acceleration and higher top speeds.
Mr Dinan said: “NASA knows and all the scientists who have been focusing on fusion, know that if we can get to fusion temperatures in the same way you would do in a tokamak energy device, then you’re utilising a different force.
“So rather than using the electrostatic, you’re using the strong force inside a nuclear reaction and the exhaust speeds you’re going to get from that are going to be 1,000 times more than ion thrusters.
The prototype thruster built at Pulsar has shown it can reach exhaust speeds of up to 100,000mph.
The thruster reaches these speeds by putting a large amount of energy into a propellant gas, argon, to convert it into plasma.
The plasma is similar to the kind found inside of a nuclear fusion reaction and is shot out at high speeds using an electromagnetic field.
On a trip to Mars, the speeds could halve the time needed to reach the Red Planet from Mars.
Even the most optimal launch from Earth will take a spacecraft upwards of six months to reach the neighbouring planet.
But Mr Dinan said his company is looking to build an even “bigger and hotter” plasma engine that could potentially hit speeds of 500,000mph.
But the technology is hard and a big challenge is securing the funding required to upscale the current Pulsar prototype.
Mr Dinan said: “We want to record exhaust speeds infinitely faster than what we’ve got.
“Not that what we’ve got isn’t cutting-edge – it is cutting-edge – but we want to break records, we want to try and get records.”