Paddy Neumann works on the Neumann ion drive.
Paddy Neumann works on the Neumann ion drive, which powers spacecraft from space junk.

In a warehouse hidden away in the inner suburbs of Adelaide, there's a great deal of work being done, and it's all about space. 

“The short answer is, it is rocket science,” says Dr Paddy Neumann, the founder and driving force behind the Neumann Space initiative. 

Out of this location comes all kinds of research, inventions, and educational initiatives. Currently, Neumann and his team are testing methods of converting space junk (debris left over from accidents or waste disposal in orbit) into viable fuel. 

“If it’s solid and conductive, we can use it as fuel,” Neumann says.

“As part of my thesis I tested aluminium, titanium and magnesium — these three metals are called the aerospace metals because they’re light and strong, so you build spacecraft out of them. Therefore space junk is made out of them, so we can recycle them.”

Neumann Space is aiming to partner with larger organisations to test the viability of their procedures in real-world situations. 

“The T-shirt slogan is, ‘Mars and back on a tank of fuel,’” Neumann says. 

“[If] we can send a robotic spacecraft to Mars, orbit, do stuff there, take measurements, pick up a rock or two from one of the tiny moons of Mars, and bring it back to Earth without needing to refuel... nothing else can do that.”

Neumann, who graduated with a Bachelor of Aerospace Engineering (Honours) and a Bachelor of Science specialising in physics in 2006, is originally from Sydney. He moved his start-up to Adelaide late last year for “numerous reasons”.

“First of all, there’s aerospace manufacturing already present in Adelaide and it’s where Australian new space (start-ups) are starting to cluster,” he says.

“Adelaide is very supportive of novel industries being formed, there’s a large amount of industrial and commercial space becoming available which leads to ‘my God, the rent is so much cheaper’. This space we have here is costing one quarter as much as an equivalent space in an equivalent area in Sydney would cost.

“We’d be foolish to be staying in Sydney when we can get so much more for our money in Adelaide.”

To inspire the next generation, Neumann Space is creating the first school space mission with the State Government, where three public schools will get the chance to send a project to space.

“GPS, all our communications, surveillance … if we don’t move forward as a country and build up our kids with the skills for that century, we’re gonna be left behind,” Monika Stankiewicz, one of the six team members, says.

Neumann Space hopes to prove to people of all ages that everyone can get involved with space research, not just traditional academics. 

“When I was a much younger version of me, I remember looking at space stuff and going ‘oh, only the super intelligent geniuses can do that, it’s way too advanced for me’. But then as I got older, and through this company, I’ve realised space is a lot more accessible to people from all fields,” Stankiewicz says.

“You don’t have to be an engineering or science diehard. Kids that like working in workshops for example, with welding ... someone has to build the components to get up there (in space).

“Even if someone has a law background — at the moment, space law is the equivalent of the Wild Wild West, there isn’t much regulation out there.

“It’s generally been shown that, particularly with the development of a space agency, you gain jobs across all the sectors.”


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