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Successful ion-powered rocket engine test could reduce space missions to Mars in HALF

A British company led by the former Made in Chelsea heartthrob Richard Dinan has built a prototype rocket engine that he believes could halve the travel time between the Earth and Mars.

In a milestone test, the miniature prototype engine built by Pulse Fusion shot the propellant argon through a 12-inch wide nozzle with a top speed of 56,000 mph for about two and a half minutes.

If the engine is scaled at its actual size, it can reach 100,000 mph – more than double the maximum exhaust speed of 40,000 mph achievable by current rockets with traditional propulsion methods – according to Pulse Fusion.

Dinan claims that the use of traditional engines to reach the orbit and then switch to the new argon-driven bow thrusters can shorten the time space ships need to reach Mars in two.

It could also pave the way for a future nuclear fusion rocket engine that can run up to 500,000 mph, making expeditions outside our solar system a realistic possibility.

A miniature ion propulsion engine (photo) has been tested by British scientists who discarded particles at around 56,000 mph. The incredible speeds achieved through the argon engine's 12-inch wide mouthpiece took about two and a half minutes

A miniature ion propulsion engine (photo) has been tested by British scientists who discarded particles at around 56,000 mph. The incredible speeds achieved through the argon engine’s 12-inch wide mouthpiece took about two and a half minutes

HOW DOES THE PULSAR ENGINE WORK?

Richard Dinan, CEO of the company, told MailOnline how his advanced engine works.

“The engine is based on a so-called” Hall effect “Thruster – Pulsar has specifically adapted this design for research into nuclear fusion.

“The plume of plasma that can be seen at the bottom of the bow thruster is from a heated cathode that emits ionized electrons.

‘These are released by heating a material called Lab6 that emits electrons when it is heated to around 1600 ° C.

‘The electrons are then attracted to a circular anode at the base of the bow thruster nozzle.

‘From this anode, argon gas is emitted which is ionized by the electrons trapped in the electromagnetic field created by magnets around the mouthpiece and one in the middle.

“This causes a Hall effect that shoots out the particles at extremely high speeds.”

The engine works by overheating the gas to around 1600 ° C and magnetizing it, so that Argon particles fly out at enormous speeds.

But ion screws work efficiently at much lower temperatures than nuclear fusion.

To achieve a propulsion method powered by nuclear fusion, the engine must create and maintain temperatures above 100,000,000 ° C.

Richard Dinan, CEO of the company and former Made in Chelsea star, told MailOnline: “This is a perfectly functional, full-size ion engine and can be immediately commercialized for space applications.”

The goal of scientists at Pulse, however, is to build an engine that can operate at fusion temperatures, with even higher speeds that are far above 500,000 mph.

“This is the mission for our second, larger prototype that we’re starting to work on later this year,” said Mr. Dinan.

Current rockets with traditional propulsion methods and fuel are effective in reaching orbit, but have a maximum exhaust speed of around 40,000 mph.

Pulse Fusion believes that this could be improved and has spent £ 500,000 on the prototype, including research and development.

It says the end result could be produced commercially for around £ 50,000 and potentially ten times more efficient than existing methods.

Dr. James Lambert, head of operations at Pulsar, said: “This first test round was designed to place our concept in space design and explore the latest electric drive.”

A miniature ion propulsion engine built by British scientists and led by the former Made in Chelsea heartthrob Richard Dinan (photo), reached a top speed of 56,000 mph in a groundbreaking test

A miniature ion propulsion engine built by British scientists and led by the former Made in Chelsea heartthrob Richard Dinan (photo), reached a top speed of 56,000 mph in a groundbreaking test

A miniature ion propulsion engine built by British scientists and led by the former Made in Chelsea heartthrob Richard Dinan (photo), reached a top speed of 56,000 mph in a groundbreaking test

Richard Dinan, CEO of the company, told MailOnline how his advanced engine works. “The engine is based on a so-called” Hall-effect “bow thruster (shown, the inner workings of the engine). Pulsar has specifically adapted this design for research into nuclear fusion

The incredible speeds achieved by the argon engine's 12-inch wide mouthpiece lasted about two and a half minutes. The gas is overheated, magnetized and particles fly out at their backs at enormous speeds, which can reach 100,000 mph if they are scaled to full size

The incredible speeds achieved by the argon engine's 12-inch wide mouthpiece lasted about two and a half minutes. The gas is overheated, magnetized and particles fly out at their backs at enormous speeds, which can reach 100,000 mph if they are scaled to full size

The incredible speeds achieved by the argon engine’s 12-inch wide mouthpiece lasted about two and a half minutes. The gas is overheated, magnetized and particles fly out at their backs at enormous speeds, which can reach 100,000 mph if they are scaled to full size

But although the company has identified a niche, it will take a considerable amount of work to make it feasible for actual space missions.

Pulse says the bow thrusters are great once in space because they can maintain high speeds but struggle with acceleration.

It foresees a future in which solid or liquid fuels will bring rockets from ground to orbit, at least for the next decade, and then once in space, traditional engines would be turned off in favor of fusion screws.

Mr. Dinan said: “The problem with these bow thrusters as they are is acceleration, it takes a long time before they have accelerated the vessel to these speeds.

“Similar devices are currently being used in space for satellite adjustment and repositioning.

‘But interplanetary space travel requires more powerful plasma engines.

“That is why Pulsar fusion is committed to the development of hot fusion engines that could really open the way to interplanetary travel.

“NASA has also invested in this technology.”

But even though NASA is working on similar technology and the developers are convinced that it will be a viable option for long-term space travel in the future, Pulse is currently working independently.

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