Design Your Own Ion Engine
In an ion engine, negative electrons are emitted from the blue electrode and collide with the green Xenon atoms. In the
collision, the electron knocks another electron off the Xenon atom making a blue positively-charged Xenon ion. These
Xenon ions are then accelerated by two charged plates.
Ions shot out the back of the engine by these plates produce thrust for the rocket.
The goal of this activity is to maximize the total impulse provided by the ion engine as represented by the rocket
at the top of the display.
When you press Launch, electrons are emitted by the blue electrode.
Your job is to adjust the separation between the two plates and the strength of the charge on the plates to push
the rocket at far as possible.
- Adjust the Plate Location slider to change the plate separation distance.
- Adjust the Plate Charge slider to change the charge strength on each plate.
- Click the Launch button to watch the blue ions get accelerated by the ion engine.
- Click the Stop button to reset the simulation and try a different scenario.
Things to observe
- You'll notice that the ions are accelerated between the plates. If the separation between the
plates is not adjusted correctly too many ions will hit the plates.
- If an ion or electron hits a plate or the walls of the Ion Engine, it will emit a brief white flash
and then disappear.
- Increasing the charge on the plates means that more energy goes into each ion. But, you
have a limited energy supply, so you might run out of energy before you can accelerate all the ions.
- Adjusting the charge too low means the plates won't accelerate the charges with as much
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