Neumann Space develops rocket using space junk as fuel


Australian start-up firm Neumann Space has developed the Neumann Drive rocket, which uses space junk as fuel.

This rocket could help to eliminate floating junk in space as a result of explosion, and defunct spacecraft.

The vehicle will join an Airbus programme to the International Space Station in 2019, during which its functional capabilities will be tested in a real-world a scenario.

Before testing a free-flight model, the vehicle attached to the ISS will have to undergo a trial for a year.

Several satellites and space missions face risk due to drifting space junk.

Neumann Space founder and CTO Patrick Neumann was quoted by Eurekamagazine.co.uk as saying: “The system is useful for different things. One option is a tugboat or tow-truck device that can go around and focus on cleaning up junk, which means people who own defunct satellites have a lot less risk of hitting an active one.

"As long as it’s a solid and conductive, we can probably use it as fuel.”

“Another option is using the system’s short, sharp thrusts of power to keep stations and satellites doing their thing and staying in orbit.”

The European Space Agency estimates there are approximately 18,000 large objects in space and more than 90% of spacecraft explosions have happened due to junk. In addition, several small objects drift in space that are very minute to be tracked by radars.

Neumann Drive is a 'wire-triggered pulsed cathodic arc system'. Thrust is created by eroding material at the metal cathode tip.  When the material evaporates and ionises, its 'spat down range' creates a pulsating thrust and pushes the vehicle forward, reported Theleadsouthaustralia.com.au.

Magnesium has been found to be a viable fuel source. The reseachers have also trialled materials such as chromium, carbon and tungsten.

According to Neumann, the researchers are still refining the approach to reprocess space junk into a viable resource once it is trialled in space.

Neumann was quoted by Theleadsouthaustralia.com.au as saying: “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 metals. As long as it’s a solid and conductive, we can probably use it as fuel.”