Grant to ready plasma thruster engine for spaceflight

Engineers at the Australian National University (ANU) have won a A$3.1m (£2.063m) grant from the Australian federal government to make a plasma thruster engine ready for spaceflight.

If successful, the engine could be used in satellites and deep-space missions as soon as 2013.

Project leader Prof Rod Boswell, from the Plasma Research Laboratory, said the engine will be based on his colleague Prof Christine Charles’ Helicon Double Layer Thruster (HDLT) design.

’Plasma thruster engines are set to be the future of all space exploration and satellite activities. They are much less powerful than conventional chemical rocket engines, but in principle are more efficient for long periods of time, making them ideal for deep-space missions,’ said Boswell.

The grant won by Boswell and his colleagues in the Plasma Research Laboratory will also help build a space simulation facility at ANU. Based at Mt Stromlo Observatory in Canberra, the space simulation facility will enable the HDLT to be tested in space-like conditions.

The facility will also be made available to other scientists, astronomers and industry bodies seeking to develop space equipment.

The grant to ANU forms part of a $6.1m investment in space research and education announced last month by Australian innovation minister Kim Carr.