The Ad Astra Rocket Co. and the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space administration have announced a $10 million agreement.
Ad Astra is developing a plasma rocket for space flight. The Costa Rican-U.S. astronaut Franklin Chang Díaz heads the 10-year-old company, which has offices in Texas and a lab in Liberia.
The agreement was one of 12 that were awarded after a competitive process, said the space agency.
Ad Astra will continue development of its rocket to the point where it can run for at least 100 hours, the firm said. The rocket has been tested thousands of times but for a minute or less, the firm said.
Plasma rockets feature exhaust velocities far above those achievable by their chemical cousins, so their fuel consumption is extremely low, the firm said.
Plasma, an electrically charged gas, can be heated to extreme temperatures by radio waves and controlled and guided by strong magnetic fields, said the firm. The magnetic field also insulates nearby structures so exhaust temperatures well beyond the melting point of materials can be achieved, it added.
Ad Astra has been operating on some $30 million of private capital, the firm said.