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Plasma is Awesome Volume 4

We’re back with Volume 4 of our series shining a spotlight on alternative and awesome Plasma applications. In this issue, we focus on steps forward for truly ground-breaking Plasma technology.

Steps forward for consistency of non-equilibrium Atmospheric Plasma therapy

Non-equilibrium Atmospheric Pressure Plasma jets have provided a promising method of treating a variety of health issues, such as combatting cancer and bacterial cells.

Atmospheric Plasma Medical Treatment Texas University
Image Credit: Texas A&M University.

A pen sized instrument exposes a high-speed jet of plasma to the surrounding air and the creation of free radicals that researchers hypothesise stimulate an immune response which facilitates wound healing, triggers oxidative stress in cancer cells and can even burst open bacterial cell walls.

However, there is an unpredictable turbulence in this plasma that has severely hindered the technology being used consistently as a therapy within medical clinics.

Turbulence isn’t always an unwanted phenomenon with this approach, as the creation of extra free radicals can be beneficial for certain clinical treatments. However, it’s the ambiguity of the cause of the turbulence that can prevent adequate control in clinic due to the lack of uniformity.

Scientists from the University of Michigan used computer simulations to predict the cause of the turbulence that dramatically changes plasma direction and velocity, which have been published on the cover of  “Applied Physics Letters”. It was found that the turbulence arises from heat-induced sound waves generated at the electrodes of instrument which perturbs the boundary between the plasma and air.

It is hoped that these findings will allow clinicians to fine-tune turbulence levels and the number of free radicals directed at patients, creating a more uniform process with a better level of control.

NASA’s Plasma rocket making progress toward a 100-hour firing

To go deeper into the Solar System, we need to go faster and to do that, more efficient propulsion systems are needed than the conventional chemical rockets widely used. Rocket engines are conventionally powered by chemical propellants that are fantastic for breaking Earth’s gravity but they ultimately consume high levels of fuel in space and don’t offer the ideal level of control of a spacecraft’s thrust.

NASA Plasma Rocket Ad Astra Rocket Company ©
Copyright Ad Astra Rocket Company ©

In 2015, NASA awarded three different contracts for the development of advanced propulsion systems and of these, a Plasma based rocket ran on Argon fuel has the potential to shorten the travel time between Earth and Mars from months to weeks.

To realise its full potential, Houston based Ad Astra Rocket Company must demonstrate that its Plasma rocket, VASIMR, will be able to fire continuously, for a long period of time. NASA set out in its three-year, $9 million contract that the company must be able to fire its plasma rocket for 100 hours at a power level of 100 kilowatts by 2018.

NASA Plasma Rocket Ad Astra Rocket Company ©
Copyright Ad Astra Rocket Company ©

Ad Astra has recently reported that it remains on track to reach that goal, and at the performance review with NASA, after the second year of the control, the Plasma rocket has now fired for 10 hours while making significant modifications to its large vacuum chamber to handle the thermal load produced by the rocket engine.

Early in 2017, Ad Astra were successfully pulsing its rocket for about 30 seconds at a time and as of August 2017, VASIMR is now fired for approximately 5 minutes at a time. The pulses are gradually building up to longer periods of time, with inspections in between as new hardware is introduced. Ad Astra remains on target to perform the 100-hour test in late summer of 2018. This is exciting news for Plasma and its gravity breaking capabilities.

Source Articles:

Sci-News: Heat-Induced Sound Waves Drive Turbulence in Plasma Therapy, Study Says

https://www.sci-news.com/physics/heat-induced-sound-waves-turbulence-plasma-therapy-05214.html

Ars Technica: NASA’s plasma rocket making progress toward a 100-hour firing

https://arstechnica.co.uk/science/2017/08/nasas-plasma-rocket-making-progress-toward-a-100-hour-firing/