Keynote: Christine Charles

Prof Christine Charles

Australian National University

“Space plasma physics applied to smartphones, satellite propulsion and space debris removal”

Location: Lecture Theatre 1 (80.02.07)

Chair: Anton Tadich

Event Timeslots (1)

Friday 6th Dec

Space plasma physics applied to smartphones, satellite propulsion and space debris removal
Harnessing the plasma state on Earth has allowed the development of increasingly performant integrated circuits and sensors such as those found in smartphones. Similarly, progress in satellite technologies is ongoing and eventually finds applications back on Earth. Electric propulsion has been an innovative or complementary solution in a number of space missions but its scalability remains a challenge especially when considering standardised nano-satellite platforms such as CubeSats. The low-cost Pocket Rocket electrothermal radio frequency plasma thruster has now reached Technology Readiness Level 7 and uses a compact, efficient and less expensive power supply with pulsed operation and “instant on” capabilities. Thousands of CubeSats satellites are expected to be launched over the next decade, many in constellations. While most of these will be positioned in low earth orbit with a short lifetime and complete burn on re-entry, the emerging space sector is faced with the problematic issue of space debris mitigation. Space debris removal from Earth orbit by using a satellite is an emergent technological challenge for sustainable human activities in space. In order to de-orbit debris it is necessary to impart a force to decelerate it, resulting in its atmospheric re-entry. A satellite using an energetic plasma beam directed at the debris will need to eject plasma in the opposite direction in a controlled manner in order to maintain a constant distance between it and the debris during the deorbiting mission. By employing a magnetic nozzle plasma thruster (such as the Helicon Double Layer Thruster or the Helicon Thruster) having two open source exits, bi-directional plasma ejection can be achieved using a single electric propulsion device. Paving a path to space heritage for these new propulsion concepts while addressing the fundamental physics of out-of-equilibrium expanding magnetised plasmas is an exciting challenge. The Australian Space Agency was born in 2018 and a complete end-to-end small satellite industry — “Lab to Launch” — may now be envisaged within the Trans Australasian Pacific region, thanks to the recent demonstration of Rocket Lab’s access to orbit and successful commercial launches from New Zealand with the Electron Rocket.

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