A spacecraft normally takes several months to reach Mars. According to Franklin Chang-Diaz, CEO of the Ad Astra Rocket Company from Texas, new rocket engine technology has the potential to be revolutionary.

"This is like no other rocket that you may have seen in the past. It is a plasma rocket. The Vasimr rocket is not used for launching things. It is used for things already there, which we call 'in space propulsion'," said Chang-Diaz, also a former astronaut, in a promotional video.

The Vasimr engine works by heating plasma, an electrically charged gas, to extreme temperatures using radio waves. Strong magnetic fields then funnel this plasma out of the back of the engine. This, in turn, creates thrust, helping to propel the engine at extreme speeds, says a report.

NASA liked what it saw this technology and offered a grant to the Ad Astra Rocket Company as part of its 12 Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextStep) programme.

"The partnership (with NASA) will advance the Vasimr engine to a technology readiness level (TRL) greater than 5 -- a step closer to space flight," the company announced in a statement.

Over a three-year period, NASA will give the Texas-based company in the region of $10 million to fully develop a new version of the Vasimr engine.According to the company, they could save thousands of gallons of rocket fuel by using the Vasimr engine, which would save around $20 million in one year.


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