back to article ANU plasma thruster gets research boost

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 …


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  1. Mikel

    Thrust signature

    Every time a new one of these comes out I hope the SETI folks are looking at the exhaust signature to see if they can identify it in their sky observations. That would give us a clue about if anybody else out there is using it, and let us know if they're decelerating on their way here.

    Sooner or later they're going to figure out how to make fusion work to power the thing, and Hydrogen plasma thruster, and ion scoop fuel collection. After that we're off to the stars.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "That would give us a clue about if anybody else out there is using it"

      Grow up. The nearest star is >4 years away probably 40.

      1. Evan Essence

        Methinks AC is an olde pharte

        in mind if not in body

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          As opposed to ..

          .. a wishful thinker. Optimism is great as long as it's not facing the very large hurdle of special relativity. Too many people BELIEVING science fiction WILL become fact.

          Optimism doesn't makeup for ignorance.

          1. boothamshaw
            Thumb Down

            faith in SF? Heaven forbid.

            I have absolutely no idea how many scientists start off because they got switched on by SF - I certainly did, and sure, only a tiny fraction of that crazy optimistic nonsense got into the textbooks. (Orbital phone relays anyone?) However, I don't read this column to hear about grown-up realism. I want to see the edges of what might be possible, just maybe, one day. Or maybe not.

            1. Chemist

              If you are scientifically trained..

              you will know that although many areas of science have unknowns and therefore contain possibilities other areas are more constrained by extensive experimental evidence.

              So Special Relativity gives the kinetic energy of an object moving at high speed which for the sort of velocity necessary for even a forty year trip to the nearest star is absolutely colossal and that's per tonne. Plasma drive or not that energy is needed and the mass of fuel/engine also needs colossal energy to accelerate it.

              Any conjecture about FTL/warp rightly is in the realms of SF as there isn't a jot of evidence and only highly dubious theories.

              SF is great, the moon landings were great (I was 18 at the time ) but too many people seem to think ANYTHING is possible. It isn't !

  2. Bunker_Monkey

    Good news indeed

    Earth to Mars in 3 months! woop woop here we come!

  3. Anonymous Coward

    Well, that explains it

    Well, this at least gives a reasonable non-black-helicopter explanation why VASIMR has been taken off the Space Station schedule. If Europe will supply something which is better for _MAINTAINING_ a satellite in orbit - why bother. You might as well work towards a more juicy target instead.

    1. Tim Cockburn


      That's Europe as in Australia is it?

    2. Spartacus

      maybe, but..

      Still no reason not to chuck one of these on the ISS, it does need a decent engine afterall.

    3. annodomini2

      This isn't an equivalent of VASIMIR

      VASIMR is an ENGINE where as this is a THRUSTER.

      VASIMR is designed for higher thrust, long duration burns for interplanetary operations, this is designed for station keeping and orbital manoeuvres.

      The reason for attaching VASIMR to the ISS was testing.

  4. Robert E A Harvey



  5. Pete 8

    But will this fit

    on my old cortina?

  6. Graham Bartlett

    Uni names

    Looking forward to that department title. Australian National University - Surrey...

  7. Andus McCoatover

    "Hopefully to Europe, and beyond"

    "Hopefully to Washington, and no further" might be better....

  8. Swarthy


    Every time El Reg turns around, someone s proposing a new sub-orbital rocket or Space Plane. It says in the article (and everything else I've read) that plasma drives are not suited for take off from earth, even the beloved (by geeks, if not gov't accountants) VASMIR lacks the Ooompf to reach orbit from the bottom of our gravity well.

    So: Semi-conventional, reusable, sub-orbital "assistant" to give a headstart, and then plasma for the rest? A multi-stage rocket, with each stage being re-usable?

    1. annodomini2

      Eh.. errr.

      VASIMR generates about 5 Newtons of thrust (pokey for an ION engine), which is useless for getting into orbit.

      Basically if the payload, rocket, power supply (200Kw) and engine (100-200 kg I believe) weighed less than 0.25kg it may get into orbit

      But once in orbit, due to the amount of fuel it consumes it can generate that 5 Newtons for a long time, as there is little resistance the velocities achieved are much higher compared to conventional chemical rocket.

  9. Mr Young
    Thumb Up

    one gram of propellant would power a five-hour burn!

    Excellent - more room for the beer supplies

  10. rbrtwjohnson
    Thumb Up

    Relativistic Space Drive

    It would be much better if it could be relativistic instead of expelling-mass propulsion.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Load of rubbish

      1. Anonymous Coward

        talent upset you


        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward


 use a meaning of talent that is unknown to me.

        2. Chemist

          talent upset you

          IGNORANCE is pure bliss (in your case) !

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