An Australian student from the University of Sydney has broken NASA's current fuel efficiency record by developing a new device that relies on space junks, the University of Sydney's student newspaper Honi Soit has reported.
Honi Soit is the University of Sydney's weekly student newspaper and is considered one of the most prominent student publications in the country.
According to the newspaper, Paddy Neumann, a PhD student in Physics, has gotten success in making a new ion space drive that could help refuel spacecrafts in space by using recycled metals from old satellites.
Ion drives are the devices that propel a spacecraft forward by throwing particles backwards very fast. Honi Soit reports that Neumann's new ion drive can achieve up to 14690 (+/-2000) seconds of specific impulse, much greater than 9,600 (+/-200) seconds of specific impulse achieved by NASA's High Power Electric Propulsion (HiPEP) system.
While NASA's HiPEP gets power from Xenon gas, the Neumann's drive runs on magnesium or other metals, which could be easily found in space junk. The results obtained with the new drive suggest that it is able to utilize the fuel very efficiently, allowing the drive to run for longer period of time.
In the new drive, a reaction between chosen fuel (a metal) and electricity takes place. When electric arcs hit the fuel (for example, magnesium), it results in scattering of ions. These ions can be used to generate thrust by focusing them using a magnetic nozzle. A continuous rhythm of short and light bursts is used to run the drive.
Although this drive can outperform NASA's HiPEP system in fuel efficiency, it could not beat NASA's technology in terms of acceleration. In other words, the drive wouldn't be able to power a spacecraft off a planet, unless it is paired with some other propulsion systems. In this way, the drive could potentially serve as the workhorse of space travel to send cargo over long distances in space.
According to Neumann, the new ion drive system, with some improvements, could propel a spacecraft to "Mars and back on one tank of fuel" and could also help keep satellites in orbits in space for longer times, saving a lot of money on space transportation.
The findings of Neumann's work will be presented at the 15th Australian Space Research Conference on September 30. Neumann has applied for a patent for his device. He is planning to continue testing his new drive and examine the performance of his device under conditions usually found in space.