Jules Verne Spends 21 Days in Space, Here on Earth

Jules Verne getting tested. Image credit: ESAESA’s new Automated Transfer Vehicle, Jules Verne, has recently spent 21 days in a chamber that simulated the cold, radiation and vacuum of space. And it passed with flying colours. The 20-tonne spacecraft will eventually be attached to the top of an Ariane 5 rocket in the summer of 2007, and flown to the International Space Station. A whole fleet of these spacecraft will eventually be built, transferring replacement cargo to the station, and then serving as disposable garbage cans, burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere.
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Podcast: Plasma Thruster Prototype

If you’re going to fly in space, you need some kind of propulsion system. Chemical rockets can accelerate quickly, but they need a lot of heavy fuel. Ion engines are extremely fuel efficient but don’t generate a lot of power, so they accelerate over months and even years. A new thrusting technology called the Helicon Double Layer Thruster could be even more efficient with its fuel. Dr. Christine Charles from the Australian National University in Canberra is the inventor.
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Researchers Create a New Plasma Thruster

Image credit: ANU
The dream of manned missions to Mars and beyond could become a reality thanks to plasma technology developed at ANU.

Research results to be published in the journal Applied Physics Letters this week show that the ANU Helicon Double Layer Thruster (HDLT) can be powered by hydrogen ? an otherwise unusable waste product in manned spacecraft.

The HDLT uses solar electricity from the sun to create a magnetic field through which hydrogen is passed to make a beam of plasma, which powers a ship through space.

While the plasma thruster has a fraction of the power of the rockets that launch the space shuttle, it uses far less fuel and gets more thrust as a ratio of the fuel it burns, making it ideal for interplanetary missions.

“The Americans say they want to send men to Mars ? this is the technology to take them there,” said the HDLT’s inventor Dr Christine Charles.

“This thruster gives Australia a fantastic opportunity to be part of the international space race.”

The ANU team led by Professor Rod Boswell has been in close collaboration with NASA, helping US scientists fix glitches with their own plasma thruster, the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR) invented by veteran shuttle astronaut Franklin Chang-Diaz, who visited ANU last year.

While the technology of plasma thrusters is not new, its popularity has only taken off in recent years, with it being used to help satellites maintain their positions in orbit. However, the NASA VASIMR concept and more recently the ANU HDLT are very recent inventions which may open the door to deep space exploration.

The ANU thruster has the edge on rival technologies as it is simpler and has been proven to work with hydrogen. Importantly, it also does not emit positively charged ions that could potentially cause a disaster by interfering with a spacecraft’s communications systems.

“The HDLT is a beautiful piece of physics because it is so simple. It doesn’t need any moving parts,” Dr Charles added.

Original Source: ANU News Release