A tiny Australian-made, metal-fuelled thruster is being evaluated by the US Space Force which believe it provides opportunities to enable its satellites to undertake a higher intensity of mobile operations.
South Australian-based Neumann Space, and Colorado-based CisLunar Industries, have been tasked to develop their space-junk fuel recycling concept to provide the US military with the option of refuelling low-earth satellites to keep them operational longer.
This would enable Space Force to move spacecraft from orbit to orbit without the concern that each and every time a thruster is fired, it is emptying the fuel tank and bringing the demise of that asset’s usefulness ever closer.
The $2.5 million project represents the first commercial sales and export of the radical new drive. It also gives Neumann Space a foot in the door in this increasingly critical space operations arena. In recent months, China and Russia have demonstrated new capabilities in orbital manoeuvre and deployable vehicle operations.
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“As the space domain becomes more contested, Space Force has a need to be able to manoeuvre without regret,” says CisLunar Industries’ CEO Gary Calnan.
CisLunar, Astroscale US and Colorado State University are tasked with demonstrating the practicality of creating a fuel cycle for Neuman Space’s cathodic arc thruster.
Neumann Space’s CEO, Herve Astier, says the drive has already proven it can use a variety of in-space metals as fuel. The most common is steel and aluminium.
And the fact that these heavy materials have been discarded after the average $4 thousand per kilo cost of putting them into orbit makes re-using these metals more attractive.
“Our company’s mission is to enable the sustainable economic development of space, and we are proud that our propulsion system will play a role in this project,” says Neumann Space’s CEO Herve Astier. “
CisLunar’s Calnan says the metal-power drive can be fuelled by space junk to retrieve more space junk, which can be smelted in orbital foundries to become more fuel for metal-powered drives aboard customer spacecraft.
“With the Space Force’s foresight to invest in our combined capabilities, what we are creating now lays the foundation for a full-scale industrial economy in space.”
Originally published by Cosmos as US Space Force evaluates Aussie space-junk fuel concept.
Jamie Seidel is a freelance journalist based in Adelaide.
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