ANU’s Plasma Research Laboratory has $3.1 million in Australian government funding Helicon Double Layer Thruster (HDLT). If its work is successful, the HDLT driver could be in space as early as 2013 via a collaboration between the ANU, Surrey University’s space centre, and aerospace firm EADS-Astrium.
The Helicon thruster has the edge on rival technologies as it is simpler and has been proven to work with many propellants including hydrogen, a waste product of human habitation.
The Helicon Double Layer Thruster has two main advantages over most other ion thruster designs; first, it creates an accelerating electric field without inserting unreliable components like high voltage grids into the plasma (the only plasma facing component is the robust plasma vessel). Secondly, a neutralizer isn’t needed, since there are equal numbers of electrons and (singly-charged) positive ions emitted
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