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.
Nextbigfuture covered the Helicon Double Layer Thruster back in 2009
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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