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What do you know about ion thrusters?

  1. Feb 23, 2013 #1
    So I am planning to design and construct a small scale ion thruster for an independent study class i am taking at my local high school. I have spent many hours researching the subject, so i feel like i know a little something about the function and physics behind an ion thruster. i am curious to what information you guys can provide to me about:

    - safety (this is of the up most importance to me)

    - construction of a hollow cathode (energy requirements: what Voltage & Amperes needed)

    - info about the ring magnets that contain the plasma (specifically the shape of their fields within the ionization chamber)

    - general info that anyone would like to add about an ion thruster

    sorry in advance if i have made this topic in the wrong spot or ask about this information it the incorrect format.

    I am new to posting the the physics forums

    And of course thank you for any and all information/help :)
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 23, 2013 #2


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    Staff: Mentor

    First and foremost, do you have any experience with electrical circuits and basic electronics? And I don't mean using them, I mean looking at circuit diagrams, applying Ohms Law to them, etc. You will be working with high voltage electricity and this is not something to just decide to do on a whim. It is dangerous and can kill yourself and others. If you have not and you still want to do this project then you MUST find someone who has ample experience working with electricity.
  4. Feb 23, 2013 #3
    I do have some experience electrical circuits and basic electronics. By this i mean, I have taken advance placement physics classes and excelled at them (we cover what a typical physics class covers with respect to electricity). I am a self taught kind of person and over the last month or so i would have to say i have learned even more about electricity and electronics (still only scathing the surface of the subject matter). I have though long and hard about doing this project for the reason of working with HV electricity, but the ion thruster tech. interest me so that i am pursuing this endeavor as far as i can. and at the moment i don't have any one with an electrical backround that i can have help me, but i will definitely make inquiries to some local EE firms for possible advice now. Because the last thing i want to do is kill/hurt anyone/myself. Thanks for all the advice and concern
  5. Feb 23, 2013 #4


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    Gold Member

    zachmer, Welcome to Physics Forums!

    I certainly agree that safety of personnel must be your UTMOST priority. Your planned experiment sounds similar to one we would find in the Princeton University Plasma Physics laboratories, along with all their professional experience and safety precautions. In your basement lab or your garage the risks could be high, and here at PF we have a rule against participating in any dangerous activities.

    As for the construction of a hollow cathode thruster, there are working devices which range from milliwatts to kilowatts of power required. Therefore it’s impossible to suggest some specific voltage and amperage.

    For ring magnets the same as above applies: depends on your design.

    For general information on ion thrusters I suggest you begin with this overview:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ion_thruster Don’t forget to visit the referenced sites.

    Here’s an excellent technical discussion: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=...n1meT8QsWXu4qhvYw&sig2=hzm3RPB69bP1OwuyXyvlJQ

    Here “mini” thrusters using only milliwatts of power are described:

    Here’s a group that develops thrusters for NASA space applications:

    Here’s the website for the recent convention of “Ion Thruster designers”:
    https://www.aiaa.org/JPC2012/ [Broken]

    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  6. Feb 26, 2013 #5
    I know that it can be a very dangerous endeavor with out the proper safety precautions, but it is a subject that interest me greatly. And i predict i will not build one with in my semester period at school, if at all, but i am seeing how far i may be able to go with my resources and know how. Thank you for the links they have very helpful. And ill comeback with some more direct questions next time.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  7. Feb 26, 2013 #6


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    Gold Member

    OK. Members here are always ready and willing to assist any true searcher trying to increase her scientific knowledge.

    By the way, in English the first person pronoun is written using the capital letter: "I".

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