University of Sydney Student Smashes NASA Record For Fuel Efficiency; “Mars and Back on a Tank of Fuel”


University of Sydney doctoral candidate in Physics, Paddy Neumann, has developed a new kind of ion space drive that has allegedly smashed the current record for fuel efficiency held by NASA.

The current record, held by NASA’s HiPEP system, allows 9600 (+/- 200) seconds of specific impulse. However, results recorded by the Neumann Drive have been as high as 14,690 (+/- 2000), with even conservative results performing well above NASA’s best. That suggests the drive is using fuel far more efficiently, allowing for it to operate for longer. Furthermore NASA’s HiPEP runs on Xenon gas, while the Neumann Drive can be powered on a number of different metals, the most efficient tested so far being magnesium.

The drive works through a reaction between electricity and metal, where electric arcs strike the chosen fuel (in this case, magnesium) and cause ions to spray, which are then focused by a magnetic nozzle to produce thrust. Unlike current industry standard chemical propulsion devices, which operate through short, high-powered bursts of thrust and then coasting, Neumann’s drive runs on a continuous rhythm of short and light bursts, preserving the fuel source but requiring long-term missions.

The drive—which allegedly outperforms NASA’s HiPEP in fuel efficiency, but not acceleration—could potentially function as the packhorse of space travel, allowing for the transportation of cargo over long distances. Most interestingly, as it runs on metals commonly found in space junk, it could potentially be fuelled by recycling exhausted satellites, repurposing them into fresh fuel. Given the current cost of transporting fuel into space (exponential), and the ubiquity of space junk, the Neumann drive has huge commercial potential. It could vastly reduce the cost of space transportation, keep satellites in orbit for longer periods of time, and enable space travel of much greater distances, with Neumann suggesting the possibly of “Mars and back on a tank of fuel”.

Despite this, Neumann’s attempts to offer his invention as intellectual property to the university were passed on by CDIP (Commercial Development and Industry Partnerships), the university’s wing for commercialising research work done at the University of Sydney. As a result, intellectual property over the Neumann Drive returned to Neumann and Professors David McKenzie and Marcela Bilek, who assisted in his work. Neumann subsequently lodged a patent for the device under the purview of a new company, Neumann Space, and is currently in the process of securing funding for the next stage of research and development. Honi understands that Neumann’s attempts to contact the Vice Chancellor were not responded to.

On Tuesday, Neumann lodged a patent for the invention, opening up the potential to commercialise the drive down the track. He intends to continue endurance testing his device, to examine its performance under the conditions likely to be met in space. He will be presenting his findings at the 15th Australian Space Research Conference, on September 30th at the Australian Defence Force Academy.

Honi Soit is the weekly student newspaper of the University of Sydney. It has a proud reputation of being the most vibrant and prestigious student publication in Australia.
  • ben.

    well guess who’s being offered a job at NASA then

  • Richard Hofer

    Experiments by NASA several decades ago achieved specific impulses of 17,000 s on gridded ion thrusters operating at tens of kilovolts. A peer-reviewed article by Byers may be found here (see Figure 14b): Byers, D. C., “An experimental investigation of a high-voltage electron-bombardment ion thruster,” Journal of the Electrochemical Society, Vol. 116, No. 1, pp. 9-17, 1969.

    • David Boccabella

      Difficulty with Gridded systems is that the ionised gas has to pass through the grid, and this over time causes the grid to erode away.
      No offence to Dr Neumann but I see the difference between his drive and NASA’s is that NASA’s is a Maserati, and his is a VW Beetle.
      The Maserati runs on expensive fuels, needs specialised maintenance, where as the VW runs on a variety of fuels as can be easily repaired when necessary.
      May be slower but it will definitely get there reliably 🙂

  • Some University managers are far far dumber than their students.

  • aries1470

    So, where’s the link to the follow up article?