Feeds

ANU plasma thruster gets research boost

Hopefully to Europe, and beyond

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

Plasma drives are much-beloved of both science fiction and real -world space research, for good reason: they have a good thrust-to-fuel ratio. Now, more than ten years' work by Australian National University physicists will get a research boost on its way to space via a European satellite.

The $3.1 million grant from the federal government will be used by researchers at the ANU's Plasma Research Laboratory to help build its Helicon Double Layer Thruster (HDLT). If its work is successful, the HDLT driver could be in space as early as 2013 via a collaboration between the ANU, Surrey University's space centre, and aerospace firm EADS-Astrium.

In the hierarchy of propulsion, conventional chemical rockets sit at the bottom of the heap, because they need huge amounts of fuel to produce thrust. Ion and plasma-based drives get more bang for the buck, because they deliver high exhaust velocities from smaller amounts of fuel. That leaves more space - or rather mass - available for payloads.

The ANU HDLT, invented by professor Christine Charles, isn't ready to lift payloads from Earth yet. As project leader professor Rod Boswell explains, the engine is less powerful than a chemical rocket, but should have a longer life-span.

Because of the high temperatures generated in plasma drives, the trick is confining the hot gas without it destroying the chamber. The HDLT uses a magnetic field, uniform in the "source tube" (where a gas like Krypton or Xenon is heated by a radio antenna) and expanding away from the source. The plasma creates its own electrical layer near the exit of the source tube, which accelerates the source plasma to high exhaust velocities.

The system requires external power only to maintain the plasma and the magnetic field: the electrical gradient that directs the plasma is the result of plasma density and the geometry of the magnetic field, which means it doesn’t need to power accelerating grids. In space, the researchers hope that less than one gram of propellant would power a five-hour burn.

In the current project, the ANU is working to deliver a device suitable for keeping a satellite on-station. This would demonstrate whether, as expected, the HDLT's long theoretical life would consequently help extend satellites' life. ®

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
Boffins attempt to prove the UNIVERSE IS JUST A HOLOGRAM
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
China building SUPERSONIC SUBMARINE that travels in a BUBBLE
Shanghai to San Fran in two hours would be a trick, though
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
Cutting cancer rates: Data, models and a happy ending?
How surgery might be making cancer prognoses worse
CRR-CRRRK, beep, beep: Mars space truck backs out of slippery sand trap
Curiosity finds new drilling target after course correction
SpaceX prototype rocket EXPLODES over Texas. 'Tricky' biz, says Elon Musk
No injuries or near injuries. Flight stayed in designated area
Galileo, Galileo! Galileo, Galileo! Galileo fit to go. Magnifico
I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me. But at least I can find my way with ESA GPS by 2017
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Scale data protection with your virtual environment
To scale at the rate of virtualization growth, data protection solutions need to adopt new capabilities and simplify current features.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?