Recent advances in electric propulsion systems have demonstrated that these engines have the potential to be used for long-duration travels, with applications such as cargo and human transportation for interplanetary voyages. The Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR) is an example of this type of engine, possessing the ability to operate at a wide range of specific impulse levels. This chapter presents the results of a study comparing three different thrust control strategies for Earth-Mars trajectories, using the VASIMR engine at a power of 150 kW. These are constant thrust trajectories, trajectories with coasting periods, and trajectories with variable specific impulse, resulting in variable thrust. To achieve this, an optimization tool was created using spherical coordinates to model the dynamics of the spacecraft, optimal control theory to setup the optimization problem, and a differential evolution algorithm to minimize the cost function. A novel approach to model variable specific impulse and coast-arcs in the trajectories for spherical coordinates is presented as well. The optimization tool was utilized to find optimal trajectories from Earth to Mars orbit, and it was concluded that using variable thrust reduces propellant consumption for a variety of trajectories, when compared to the other two methods.
Part of the book: Space Flight