As the company continues to test the new hardware, it is gradually building up to longer and longer pulses with inspections in between. As Astra remains on target to perform the 100-hour test in late summer or early fall of 2018, Chang-Diaz said.
Initially, the company foresees the plasma rocket as a means for pushing cargo between Earth and the Moon, or on to Mars. With solar powered panels, the rocket would have a relatively low thrust and therefore would move loads slowly but efficiently. But with more power, such as from a space-based nuclear reactor, it could one day reach much higher velocities that would allow humans to travel rapidly through the Solar System.