Australian student smashes NASA’s fuel efficiency record with ‘Ion Space Drive’
With some improvements the innovative Ion space drive would be able to power a spacecraft so that it can travel till “Mars and return with just one tank of fuel”.
Paddy Neumann, a PhD student from the University of Sydney, has designed a new kind of “Ion space drive” which has smashed the current fuel efficiency record set by NASA.
Ion space drive:
The new space drive designed by an Australian student works on the principle of Ion propulsion technology.
Under normal conditions, a spacecraft is propelled by using standard chemicals as fuel; however in this technology the gas is ionized or charged electrically to propel the spacecraft.
Currently NASA’s record holder for fuel efficiency is its High Power Electric Propulsion or HiPEP system and it allows 9,600 (+/- 200) seconds of specific impulse.
However, as per the student newspaper Honi Soit, the new Ion space drive developed by Neumann was able to achieve up to 14,690 (+/- 2,000), which is pretty impressive.
Interestingly, the new Ion space drive or the Neumann’s Ion drive uses an entirely new type of fuel. NASA’s HiPEP system runs on Xenon gas, however the Neumann’s Ion drive utilizes a range of metals as fuel and so far the best results have been achieved by using metal magnesium.
Working of the Ion space drive:
In this case electricity is used to ionize the metal. Electric arcs strike magnesium, which is being used as fuel, and it results in the formation of ion spray that is then directed by a magnetic nozzle to produce the required thrust.
The standard chemical propulsion devices that are currently used in the industry works by short, high powered bursts of thrusts followed by coasting.
On the other hand, Neumann’s drive can run on a combination of short and light bursts thus conserving the fuel source.
Neumann’s Ion drive smashes the current fuel efficiency record set by NASA; however it could not beat NASA’s acceleration. In other words the new Ion space drive is not an ideal option to power a spacecraft off a planet. However, Neumann says that with some improvements, such as pairing with other propulsion systems, the Ion space drive would be in a better position to power a spacecraft so that it can travel longer distances without having to stop and refuel.
Neumann says there is also a possibility that in future his Ion space drive might actually power a spacecraft so that it can travel to “Mars and back on one tank of fuel”.
Neumann believes that his Ion space drive would definitely reduce the cost of space transportation and at the same time help the satellites to remain in orbit for much longer time as well as it might also power the spacecraft to travel much longer distances.
Another plus point of Neumann’s Ion drive is that it runs on those metals which are commonly found in space junk indicating that the exhausted satellites could possibly be utilized as fuel for this new drive thus making provision for recycling of the old satellites. Well, this also means that the new Ion space drive would be much more cheaper and it might probably even help the space companies to save on the exorbitant cost of carting fuel into space.
The results of Neumann’s innovative Ion space drive is currently awaiting a peer review; however Neumann has already lodged a patent for the new device under the purview of a new start up named Neumann Space, because for some unknown reason the University of Sydney decided not to commercialize the invention and just passed back the research completely to Neumann and other two researchers who were part of the project.
He plans to present the details of his innovative device on 30th September at the 15th Australian Space Research Conference, where he might provide some more concrete details of his device.
For now, Neumann and his team are busy securing funds for further research and development of the new propulsion system-Neumann’s Ion drive.