Neumann thruster now in orbit with hopes of powering local space company

Australia’s radical new metal-powered Neumann thruster is now in orbit with hopes it could reshape the future of Australia’s embryonic space industry.

The Neumann Drive is aboard one of 72 small satellites boosted into space via a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket today.

The Adelaide-based company is now anxiously waiting for the satellite to establish a telemetry link with the ground and report its operational status.

Only then can testing of the performance of molybdenum as a propellant be demonstrated under “real world” conditions.

The drive promises to be a relatively cheap, simple, lightweight, safe and reliable propulsion system to address the need for even small satellites to avoid dramatically increasing space traffic incidents and debris, as well as to “deorbit” once their useful lives is over.

The Neumann journey

“Today, we have moved our work from the laboratory to space,” says CEO Herve Astier. “This represents a significant achievement for the company and a transition in our focus from research and development to rapid commercialisation worldwide.”

Molybdenum was chosen as the optimal metal for Neumann Space’s pulsed cathodic arc thruster technology. But laboratory tests have shown most metals – including the scrap steels and aluminium currently in orbit – have the potential to be refined as future fuel rods.

The launch is Neumann Space’s first in-orbit demonstrator. But several other satellites are in the process of approval and construction for further flight performance testing.

“Flight heritage will enable us to provide greater detail about the operational performance of our product to customers and ultimately fill the gap existing in the market today,” Astier says, adding that there was “a broad range of Australian and International satellite manufacturers now collaborating with us to test and refine the Neumann Drive’s performance as we together seek to deliver better mobility in space.”

Neumann Space last week announced a contract with European microsatellite constructor Space Inventor, to integrate a next-generation model of the drive with a 6U EDISON satellite due to be launched in the second half of next year. It’s part of a European Space Agency programme designed to give startup companies a boost towards achieving the evidence they need to convince commercial operators of the viability of their products

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