About two years ago magnesium.com introduced you to Patrick Neumann
and his super fuel-efficient ‘Neumann Drive’ he said could power a spacecraft on a roundtrip Mars voyage on a single tank of fuel.
Now Neumann, founder and chief technology officer of Neumann Space, and his space junk-eating rocket, are ready for launch.
The self-fueling rocket (identified for its potential to remove fragmented rocket parts, defunct spacecraft and other junk adrift in space),
is joining an Airbus mission to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2019 to test its real-world capabilities and collect data. The rocket will be tethered to the ISS for the yearlong trial before a free-flight model is tested.
The Neumann Drive ‘feeds’ on a variety metals to power itself over long distances. The drive works similarly to an arc welder by creating thrust in the process of eroding material at the tip of a metal cathode.
When the material gets evaporated and ionized it causes a pulsating thrust that propels the rocket forward. Although materials like tungsten, chromium and carbon have been successfully tested, researchers have found magnesium to be the optimal fuel source. “A lot of the metals we are using already have aerospace applications and a lot of the structural parts of the (space) junk are made out of those (same) metals,” Mr. Neumann said. “As long as it’s a solid and conductive we can probably use it as fuel.”
The Neumann Drive can produce thrust at more than 10,000 seconds for 1lb of thrust when magnesium is used as fuel. This is significantly better than gridded iron thrusters, which max out at about 3500 seconds.
Neumann said the Drive’s efficiency record made it powerful enough to send a mission from earth’s lower orbit to the lower Mars orbit and back without needing to refuel.
He said if metal fuel stops were placed at various points in space, it could further increase the rocket’s reach, leading to deeper space exploration.
Neumann, who developed the Drive through his South Australian-based startup Neumann Space, said floating space debris was an increasingly serious issue that put many satellites and space missions at risk.
“There is an incentive for people to go up there and grab the junk and move it away from the useful orbits where they are a hazard because they are (the orbital spaces) getting cluttered,” he said.
“The system is useful for different things,” Neumann explains. For example, a large device (like a ‘space tugboat’ or truck-type device can explore specific regions in space and focus on clean up space junk, so defunct satellites have a less risk of hitting an active one.
“Another option is using the system’s short, sharp thrusts of power to keep stations and satellites ‘doing their thing’ and staying in orbit.”
Neumann’s research group is exploring ways to capture and reprocess space debris into a usable resource for the rocket when it is tested in space.
According to the European Space Agency (ESA) about 18,000 large objects are in orbit, more than 90% of them being space junk caused by hundreds of spacecraft explosions. Additional millions of debris pieces and particles, some to small for radar to track, are also floating in space.
A collision with a piece of material only a few millimeters in size is enough to alter a satellite’s orbit and offset its orientation.
Neumann Space recently signed an agreement with the South Australian Department of Education and Child Development that will see three STEM experiments created by South Australian public schools, join its mission to the ISS in 2019.
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