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Curtin PhD student’s thruster tech set for space

A German company creating green propulsion technology for spacecraft is to incorporate a thruster design pioneered by a Curtin PhD student.

It came after Daniel Turner, 24, completed an internship at DLR, the German space agency, and his breakthrough was spotted by its spinoff, ISP Tech.

Now, the organisations hope the final product will be used for Curtin’s upcoming Binar Prospector mission, an ambitious geophysical survey to identify lunar resources from orbit.

Turner said ISP Tech’s original technology has unrivalled capabilities, and the partnership with Curtin will produce what he believes will be the best CubeSat propulsion system of its kind in the world.


“We quantify propulsion systems by how much they can change a spacecraft’s velocity,” he said.

“This system can increase our spacecraft velocity by over 700km/h, yet it could easily fit on a shelf in your pantry at home, which is very impressive.

“It’s also very resilient, as it can cope with multiple failures and still deliver on a mission.

“It can also run on cheap fuels and keeps weight down; the Binar/ISP Tech propulsion system, for example, is almost twice the size of the propulsion system used on a recent spacecraft mission but is 30 per cent lighter.”


ISP Tech’s unique HyNOx propulsion system uses green propellants (nitrous oxide and ethane), which it believes are both cheaper and more reliable than traditional methods.

Curtin Space Science and Technology Centre’s Professor Phil Bland said the technology being created by the new collaboration would form the foundation for other space missions.

“The spacecraft itself can carry a range of different payloads to do many different jobs in space,” he said.

“We’re looking to create the first affordable, interplanetary-class small spacecraft – and this would be a big part of that.

“Daniel is still early in his PhD, and he’s already developed technologies the DLR are eager to implement.

“The fact he is doing a PhD here in Perth and yet he is connecting with the global leaders shows what an internationally known hub for space research Curtin and WA has become.”

The Binar Prospector mission, meanwhile, will consist of two 6U lunar orbiters.

“The spacecraft will host a thermal IR imaging camera, and a magnetometer: payloads designed to deliver a deeper understanding of the geology of the moon, identify mineralisation, and localised accessible ice deposits,” according to its website.

“To obtain high-resolution data, the spacecraft will make extremely low (20 kilometres) altitude passes over the lunar surface, delivering a magnetic survey x10 current resolution over targets of interest.

“Binar Prospector will take advantage of the new opportunity for rideshare to the moon, and leverage the real potential of CubeSats: doing one job well in an environment that is not optimal for larger spacecraft.

“The mission will validate an interplanetary-class small spacecraft platform that can be a workhorse for future Australian missions. And it will explore the potential of a radically new mission architecture, focusing on low-altitude data acquisition using inexpensive spacecraft.”

Adam Thorn

Adam Thorn

Adam is a journalist who has worked for more than 40 prestigious media brands in the UK and Australia. Since 2005, his varied career has included stints as a reporter, copy editor, feature writer and editor for publications as diverse as Fleet Street newspaper The Sunday Times, fashion bible Jones, media and marketing website Mumbrella as well as lifestyle magazines such as GQ, Woman’s Weekly, Men’s Health and Loaded. He joined Momentum Media in early 2020 and currently writes for Australian Aviation and World of Aviation.

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