An Australian-designed rocket engine is heading to the International Space Station ISS for a year-long experiment that could ultimately revolutionise space travel authorities said on Thursday.

The technology could be used to power a return trip to Mars without refuelling Xinhua news agency reported.

A former University of Sydney student Paddy Neumann and his alma mater have developed an ion thruster a small rocket engine on a spacecraft. It can be used to make alterations in spacecraft’s flight path or altitude and to replace the current chemical-based rocket propulsion technology which requires huge volumes of fuel to be loaded onto a spacecraft.

Professor Marcela Bilek one of the co-inventors said they built a system in the early 2000s that was a quot;cathodic arc pulsed with a centre trigger and high ionisation fluxquot;.

At that stage of the project it was basically a machine the size of a fist that spat ions from a very hot plasma ball through a magnetic nozzle at a very high velocity.

quot;We’ve been testing on Earth in a vacuum system to simulate space but it’s a small vacuum system so this will be the first real test of a true space environment with on-board monitoring of the systemquot; Bilek said.

It will be placed in a module outside the ISS powered as Neumann describes by an extension cord from the station.