Australian-designed rocket engine to be tested on ISS

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Sydney: An Australian-designed rocket engine is heading to the International Space Station (ISS) for a year-long experiment that could ultimately revolutionise space travel, authorities said on Thursday.

The technology could be used to power a return trip to Mars without refuelling, Xinhua news agency reported.

A former University of Sydney student, Paddy Neumann, and his alma mater have developed an ion thruster, a small rocket engine on a spacecraft. It can be used to make alterations in spacecraft’s flight path or altitude and to replace the current chemical-based rocket propulsion technology, which requires huge volumes of fuel to be loaded onto a spacecraft.

Professor Marcela Bilek, one of the co-inventors, said they built a system in the early 2000s that was a “cathodic arc pulsed with a centre trigger and high ionisation flux”.

At that stage of the project, it was basically a machine the size of a fist that spat ions from a very hot plasma ball through a magnetic nozzle at a very high velocity.

“We’ve been testing on Earth in a vacuum system to simulate space, but it’s a small vacuum system, so this will be the first real test of a true space environment with on-board monitoring of the system,” Bilek said.

It will be placed in a module outside the ISS, powered, as Neumann describes, by an extension cord from the station.

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