Abstract: The Plasma Research Laboratory (Australian National University)
is developing a prototype of the Helicon Double Layer Thruster (HDLT), a
radically different space plasma engine for interplanetary travel (Mars) and
attitude control of earth orbit satellites, in collaboration with the CRC for
Satellite Systems and AUSPACE and funded by a DEST Innovation access grant.
The testing campaigns will be carried out at the European Space Agency
development center (ESTEC, Holland).
The HLDT is based on our recent discovery of a current free electric double
layer in an expanding plasma: electric double layers are like cliffs of
potential (like a waterfall) and can energise charged particles falling
through them. They exist in the plasma environment of the earth and the stars
and can cause phenomena as diverse as aurorae (luminous draperies in the
polar sky) and electromagnetic radiation from rotating neutron stars called
pulsars. We have discovered such a double layer in our laboratory plasma
systems and measured the energy of the highly supersonic ions it has
accelerated. This ion acceleration can be used for thrust in a space craft.
The fascinating part is that the double layer is not triggered by forcing two
plasmas (independently generated by grids with separate potentials, much like
a man-made dam) to interact, but self generates under certain parameters,
much like the riverbed suddenly falling away to create a waterfall. The HDLT
is simple, has no moving parts, no electrodes and no need for a neutraliser.
Both the research (CHI KUNG experimental reactor) and development (HDLT
prototype) efforts are being carried out in parallel by a team of scientists
and Ph D students in collaboration with astrophysicists, rocket scientists,
and plasma physicists around the world (USA, France, Norway, Sweden,
PROFILE: Dr Christine
Charles is Bretonne and was brought up and educated in
Finistère. Her undergraduate years were spent in Rennes
and she completed her Doctorate in Orleans.
To escape from the British tourists she used to paddle her coracle along the
beach at l'Arcouest, near Paimpol, where many French Nobel Prize winners
spent their summers. Her passions are the sea, physics and music. For the
last 8 years she has been at the Australian
researching basic and applied plasma physics in parallel with completing a bachelor's
degree in music specialising in jazz drums and composition. Her own
compositions are a fusion of Breton celtic style with a modern jazz idiom,
and a little touch of french waltz.