NASA is pinning its hopes on private firms like Ad Astra, developer of the VASIMR, to pioneer novel technologies after the Obama administration cancelled its next manned moon mission.
So far, only scaled-down models of the VASIMR have been built and tested in a vacuum, under a deal with NASA.
Thanks to the radio frequency generator, VASIMR can reach power levels a hundred times as high as other engines
At its current power level, VASIMR could be run entirely on solar energy.
For that, VASIMR would need an onboard nuclear reactor.
Chang-Diaz called VASIMR "a precursor to fusion rockets, [which] provides a power-rich, fast-propulsion architecture."
The VASIMR engine consists of three linked magnetic cells.