If you’ve followed what’s been happening in the world of space news over the last several years, you know that space litter is getting to be just as big a problem as the trash we throw around down here. With Elon Musk giving his recent speech on his plans to take man to Mars, it’s no wonder that a new potential technology that could help convert space trash into fuel is getting a lot of attention.

The new propulsion technology, created by an Australian team, is getting ready to test their new ion thruster on the ISS. If it proves successful, it could replace the current chemical rockets that have become the standard of the space industry.

The new drive has been dubbed the Neumann Drive, after it’s lead engineer, Dr Patrick “Paddy” Neumann. Instead of the current chemical mixture, it uses a combination of solid fuel and electricity to produce thrust, in “a ‘wire-triggered pulsed cathodic arc system’ that works kind of like an arc welder”

You can be sure that Musk is paying attention, as this new system actually directly speaks to one of the issues he discussed last week. Because solid fuel rockets have a much more compact fuel source, they don’t require the massive storage tanks that chemical rockets need. Even more, it converts all the crap we’ve dumped in space, and uses that to provide thrust.

What kind of junk are we talking about? The team behind the the Neumann Drive says that magnesium is the most efficient source and the best for long journeys. However, they can also use aluminium, and even carbon that has been harvested from the poop of astronauts. However, there’s one source that stands above the rest, Molybdenum. The downside is that it has to be mined from the Earth. On the bright side, it’s so efficient that you could almost compare it to Nibbler’s poop from Futurama.

Source: Inhabitat