University research inspires new commercial advances in satellite propulsion

A revolutionary theory developed by a University of Plymouth scientist, which he believes could herald a new dawn in space propulsion, is being deployed commercially for the first time by a US-based company.

Dr Mike McCulloch, Lecturer in Geomatics, first put forward the idea of quantised inertia (QI) in 2007. QI predicts galaxy rotation without dark matter and, more practically, that quantum energy can be converted into thrust.

He then received $1.3million from the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in 2018 for a study which aimed to make the concept a reality.

That work initially saw him collaborating with experimental scientists in Germany and in Spain, and that has since led to further work with laboratories in the United States.

One of those collaborations led to Dr McCulloch working with IVO Ltd, based in Virginia, and they have now unveiled the first pure electric thruster for satellites that uses zero fuel.

The IVO Quantum Drive is the world’s first commercially viable and available pure electric propulsion technology to achieve legitimacy via thermal vacuum testing.

The thruster has been validated under the rigorous conditions it will see in space, with tests in a vacuum chamber also serving to validate thrust being developed by quantised inertia.

Dr McCulloch said:
“I have always believed QI could be a real game changer for space science, but the impact of this new thruster technology could be huge in the satellite industry. Most satellites use ion drives or rockets for propulsion, but a QI or horizon-drive would get rid of the need for fuel, making them much smaller and lighter to launch. Given they are powered by solar panels, it could also make them much longer lived, lasting for decades instead of years. QI drives would also mean manoeuvres are possible without expelled propellant or heat.”
Due to its use of just electricity and zero fuel, the IVO Quantum Drive has zero emissions and is self-contained, meaning it can be installed inside the spacecraft itself.
The design of the system also means it can be scaled up or down in size to meet the needs of each individual spacecraft regardless of its thrust requirements.
In 2021, IVO Ltd discovered pure electric thrust is indeed viable for spacecraft through a combination of mathematics and empirical test data.
Daniel Telehey, Chief Operating Officer of IVO Ltd, said:
“The benefits of pure electric thrust technology will be felt across the space industry as a whole. We are particularly excited about the mission capability this technology enables with the drastic reduction in energy requirements. Ultimately the modularity of the IVO Quantum Drive makes it possible to develop far superior spacecraft that are incredibly efficient, lightweight, manoeuvrable, fuel independent and most importantly cost effective.”

Dr Mike McCulloch explains the process of taking quantised inertia to the point of being commercialised

After being awarded funding by the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in 2018, I initially collaborated with researchers at the Technische Universitat Dresden in Germany, and the University of Alcala in Spain.  Some of the attempts to get thrust involving accelerated light did not work, and I subsequently came to understand that was because light dissipates too quickly.
One group that I liaised with was Becker and Bhatt, two engineers in California who devised an approach accelerating electrons in capacitors. Becker had seen an anomaly in a capacitor years ago, and when he read some of my papers he realised quantised inertia may explain it. The tests using accelerated electrons in capacitors did work, as electrons linger longer than light, and Becker and Bhatt patented their work.
Another group I collaborated with was Richard Mansell and his company, IVO Ltd. They have taken their unique application of quantised inertia to patent status and developed their satellite thruster. The technology is both scalable and robust, which is what makes it potentially so exciting for the future.

How quantised inertia gets rid of dark matter

Dr Mike McCulloch discusses his work involving a combination of relativity and quantum mechanics, and explains how this quantised inertia could also predict a new method of launching satellites without rockets.
Graduating students on Plymouth Hoe