Technology developed at University of Michigan may help send people to Mars

Posted at 5:21 PM, Oct 17, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-17 17:51:23-04

Remember the movie “The Martian?” Matt Damon plays a character that travels to Mars, is stranded, and then rescued by plasma thruster powered spacecraft. It was science fiction. The keyword there is, “was,” when it comes to the technology used.

“I love to tell people that we are working on that technology and it is not science fiction. It is real,” said Scott Hall, a 27-year-old Aerospace Engineering PhD student at the University of Michigan. 

NASA recently shared a picture of Hall on its Instagram page. It was taken as the space organization tested the thruster he worked on at the university with a team. 

A thruster is a a system that can propel spacecraft.

“In the test that we did recently in Ohio we broke three records,” said Alec Gallimore, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering at the University of Michigan. “The amount of thrust generated by a hall thruster, the amount of current generated by a hall thruster and the power generated by a hall thruster. The power we generated is about 25 times more powerful than the most powerful hall thruster operating in space right now.”

Scientists say you would need between 600,000 to one million watts of power to send a manned spacecraft to Mars. The thruster created by the team working with the University of Michigan created more than 100,000 watts of power in testing. If pushed to the limits it is believed to be able to create about 200,000 watts of power. Several of them in theory could be used to create enough power to send a spacecraft to Mars. 

“It is kind of exciting to wake up in the morning and think that maybe in 20 years humans will set foot on Mars based on technology we developed with our students,” said Gallimore. 

Students developed the technology in the plasma dynamics and electric propulsion laboratory at the university. 

“We’re just working on it, getting it ready to go,” Hall said. 

NASA has already offered him a job so he will be able to continue the record-breaking work when he graduates at the end of this semester.