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Costa Rica’s former astronaut, Dr. Franklin Chang

QCOSTARICA – Over a three year period, NASA will give Ad Astra around US$10 million dollars to fully develop a new version of the VASIMR engine to be flight ready.

The engine utilizes plasma technology that makes space travel practical in that it is faster and gives the vessel longer range.

The NASA contract is for three years. Ad Astra is a Liberia, Guanacaste and Texas based firm headed by Costa Rica’s former-astronaut and physicist Dr. Franklin Chang. The company is one of three winners in the field of advanced electric propulsion and is a favorite to power future expeditions to Mars.

With the successful demonstrations of their new VX-200-SS prototype, able to fire continuously for more than 100 hours, NASA will consider employing the propulsion system on their future excursion to Mars.

“We’re exited by this announcement and proud to unite forces with NASA in the final steps in the maturation of technology,” said Dr. Chang in an Ad Astra press release. Last November the company won a NASA contract of US$855,000 for a short term ending in April.

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The Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR), developed by Ad Astra, is an electromagnetic thruster for the propulsion of a spacecraft. It employs radio waves and magnetic fields to ionize and heat a propellant to generate a thrust for lift off.

Also in the pipeline is a plan to help keep the International Space Station stable. According to the company, they could save thousands of gallons of rocket fuel by using the Vasimr engine, which would save around $20 million a year.

The contract story was broken first by El Financiero, Costa Rica’s premier business publication.

Ad Astra produces hydrogen at its Guanacaste site.

The plasma rocket engine uses hydrogen contained in a so-called “magnetic bottle.”

Sources: iNews.co.cr, Sputniknews.com, elfinancierocr.com, nasa.gov