Start-up firm unveils hopes for 30-day missions to Mars using Star Trek-style tech

  • ITV News Anglia's Sophie Wiggins boldly went to find out more

TV show Star Trek didn't just inspire generations of science fiction fans - it fired the imagination of thousands of engineers and inventors.

The first flip phone developed by Motorola was based on one of Captain Kirk's communicators.

The show's medical diagnostic tool - the tricorder used by Doc 'Bones' McCoy - has led to a $10m dollar quest to develop a real-life version of the device.

Now, one firm is developing a rocket propulsion system inspired by the show's Warp Drive - though this one won't be reliant on dilithium crystals.

Kirk couldn't call Scotty without his trusty communicator Credit: CBS/Star

Pulsar Fusion is working on a new rocket technology which, if successful, it believes could revolutionise space travel.

The start-up from Bletchley near Milton Keynes plans to build a rocket, powered by nuclear fusion, capable of reaching speeds of up to 500,000mph.

The firm says the fully crewed vehicle could reach Mars in 30 days - compared to the seven months it currently takes NASA to reach the red planet.

Dr James Lambert, head of operations for the firm, said: "It'll make a huge difference. And it's important. When you think about sending humans through space, faster is better.

"It's an unnatural environment to be in. You want to minimise the amount of time that humans spend in space. They are exposed to some amount of radiation.

"The absence of gravity is not particularly great for the human body. So you want if you're going to do crewed exploration of the solar system or beyond, speed is key."

And according to the firm, the project is a long way from being a flight of science fiction fancy. Dr Lambert said it was a "completely realistic project".

"One of the inspiring papers for our project is a NASA paper. They're really interested in this tech, and so we are too.

"But I remember the first nuclear reactor was, I think, built on a squash court. So humble beginnings sometimes produce some amazing results."

The technology the firm is hoping to use will look very different to current rocket propulsion systems.

Dr James Lambert said it was "a completely realistic project". Credit: ITV News Anglia

Dr Lambert said: "If you watch Space X doing a launch and you can see all this smoke and fire coming out of the back of the rocket, it's just ejecting that gas.

"[It's] maybe a few kilometres per second. And that's ultimately why the rocket recoils and launches into the sky. The idea with a fusion rocket is to employ the same principle. You eject material out of the back, but at a much greater speed."

The region has a long track record of space exploration and connections to Mars.

In February 2021, NASA landed the Perseverance Rover on the surface of Mars, carrying on board sensor equipment designed by Teledyne E2V in Chelmsford.

Airbus Defence and Space in Stevenage developed the Rosalind Franklin Rover, which was originally intended for a Mars mission, but it's now hoped could play a part in the next moon mission.

Meanwhile, the Open University in Milton Keynes has a record of Mars research.

Dr Lambert nodded towards Captain Kirk, Scotty and Spock when describing the new project.

He said: "I think it's hard to think of a project with this level of ambition and not think about the science fiction type applications or we're going to travel to different planets.

"We're going to travel to different stars, maybe. I think that level of excitement is entirely justified when you look at tech like this. Everything about this project is fascinating. We should be very, very excited about this."

It's hoped the rocket will eventually boldly go and explore the final frontier if a test firing is successful sometime in 2027.

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