Revolutionary ion rocket can be fuelled by space junk and get to “Mars and back on one tank”

Posted on 12 Oct 2016 by Aiden Burgess

Sydney rocket scientist, Paddy Neumann, and his company Neumann Space, have signed a deal with Europe's biggest aerospace company, to help accelerate the development of a prototype ion rocket which could get to "Mars and back on one tank of fuel".

The Neumann Space deal with Airbus Defence & Space will see the Australian aerospace company’s ion rocket engine, the Neumann Drive, launched and tested at the International Space Station.

The deal between the two aerospace companies will see Neumann Space pay Airbus Defence and Space for the commercial contract to fly a 50L payload, including a prototype ion rocket engine, to the International Space Station and test it there for at least one year with the option to extend the mission.

The mission could be a big step towards enabling humans to conduct return journeys to Mars without the need to refuel.

Numerous fuel options including space junk

Neumann Space tested a number of materials to help find which would be the best to use as fuel, including aluminium, carbon, titanium and tin.

The team reached the conclusion that magnesium is the most efficient fuel for sending equipment on long missions, while Molybdenum, a heavy metal with a high melting point, was the fastest fuel tested so far in the Neumann Drive. The latter is the current favourite for fuelling a passenger ship to Mars. Aluminum, which could be sourced from space junk, was the best proposed recycled fuel.

The Neumann Drive is expected to launch in 2018 and will operate as an external research platform on the International Space Station, allowing researchers to evaluate the system under real space conditions.

It will be placed in a module outside the ISS, powered, as Dr Neumann described in an interview with the ABC, by an extension cord from the station.

“What we’ll be doing with our system is running it for as long as we can, hopefully for the entire year on the space station to measure how much force its producing for how long,” he said.

“Are there any particular failure modes? Does it change its behaviour over time? Do we have any issues with environmental hazards?

“So that we can tell potential customers and project partners that we have in fact tested our drive in space.”

Neumann Drive ion rocket shows great potential

Dr Paddy Neumann believes his Neumann Drive, a type of super-efficient ion rocket for space travel, has the potential for use in areas such as the settlement of Mars, exploration of deep space solar systems and orbital adjustments for satellites.

The recent PHD graduate made headlines last year when his ion space drive absolutely obliterated NASA’s fuel efficiency record.

NASA’s then record holder was the High Power Electric Propulsion (HiPEP) system, which allowed 9,600 (+/- 200) seconds of specific impulse.

The Neumann Drive smashed this record by achieving up to 14,690 (+/- 2,000) seconds of scientific impulse.

To achieve an efficiency better than any NASA can provide, the Neumann Drive uses solid fuel and electricity to produce thrust.

The Neumann Space website describes the super-efficient Neumann Drive as a “wire-triggered pulsed cathodic arc system” that works kind of like an arc welder.

The Neumann Space website states that the Neumann Drive’s fuel efficiency is so good, that it can send a probe to Mars and back on a single fuel rod.

This super efficiency is achieved by what Dr Neumann describes as the Neumann Drive working like an arc welder, in that it throws out metallic ions at high speed and, similar to when there is a recoil when a bullet is fired from a gun, the recoil of the plasma moving away from you gives you thrust which helps to push the spaceship along.

This “drifting plasma” is the exhaust of the Neumann Drive rocket, pushing the rest of the system forwards as it hurtles away.

These higher exhaust velocities mean more efficient fuel use which enabled the Neumann Drive to beat NASA’s fuel efficiency record measured by specific impulse.