Ion Engine Propellant

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Ion Engine Propellant

Postby TheLeopard065 » Mon Nov 11, 2013 5:19 pm

Hello! This question, which is crucial to fully completing my science fair project, has a due date of November 13th. (Not trying to rush anyone) Is it possible, by any means, to use a solid matter (instead of a liquid or gas) as the propellant for an ion engine? I'm wondering if you would have to change some components, modify them, add/remove some, or even if you could use a solid-matter propellant at all.
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Project Question: Can you use a solid matter as the propellant for an ion engine instead of a liquid or gas?
Project Due Date: 11/13/13
Project Status: I am finished with my experiment and analyzing the data

Re: Ion Engine Propellant

Postby kgudger » Mon Nov 11, 2013 10:07 pm

Hello and welcome to the forums.

First, the material used as a propellant is actually a plasma, which is one of the four states of matter, neither liquid, solid or gas. Is your question, can a plasma be formed from a solid instead of a liquid or gas? Check into Laser Induced and Magnetically induced plasmas.

Keith
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Re: Ion Engine Propellant

Postby TheLeopard065 » Thu Nov 14, 2013 5:35 pm

Oh! I didn't know that. Thanks for telling me that. And yes, then, I'm wondering if you can, in any way possible, turn a solid (if there's certain kinds that can or can't, it would be appreciated if you can tell me that) into plasma for the ion engine's propellant. This question -thankfully, given the date of this post- is needed by tomorrow, at approximately 9:00 pm. I got my teacher to extend the due date for what this is due for.

Thanks, TheLeopard065
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Posts: 4
Joined: Mon Nov 11, 2013 5:12 pm
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Project Question: Can you use a solid matter as the propellant for an ion engine instead of a liquid or gas?
Project Due Date: 11/13/13
Project Status: I am finished with my experiment and analyzing the data

Re: Ion Engine Propellant

Postby TheLeopard065 » Sat Nov 16, 2013 3:24 pm

Hey, I can't find anything that helps on magnetically and laser induced plasmas, so would mind just telling me if a solid matter can be turned into a plasma for the propellant all while still being contained in the ion engine? This question will not solve my science fair project by having someone answer it, if that's your policy. I just can't find this, and I need it for my research report. Oh, and I need this by 9:00pm tonight! Not trying to rush anyone, though. :)

Thanks, TheLeopard065
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Posts: 4
Joined: Mon Nov 11, 2013 5:12 pm
Occupation: Student
Project Question: Can you use a solid matter as the propellant for an ion engine instead of a liquid or gas?
Project Due Date: 11/13/13
Project Status: I am finished with my experiment and analyzing the data

Re: Ion Engine Propellant

Postby TheLeopard065 » Wed Nov 20, 2013 7:07 pm

Hey, uh, I've been waiting for a long time for the answer to this question, and my teacher isn't happy about my research report not being done because of it. I can't find the answer to this anywhere, and I need this question answered.


Thanks, TheLeopard065
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Posts: 4
Joined: Mon Nov 11, 2013 5:12 pm
Occupation: Student
Project Question: Can you use a solid matter as the propellant for an ion engine instead of a liquid or gas?
Project Due Date: 11/13/13
Project Status: I am finished with my experiment and analyzing the data

Re: Ion Engine Propellant

Postby Terik Daly » Fri Nov 22, 2013 1:01 pm

Hello TheLeopard065,

I'm sorry that you've been waiting such a long time. Please understand that the Ask an Expert Forums are not chat rooms. We Experts check the forums on a rotating basis throughout the week. So, it isn't a good idea to bet on having an answer to your question the same day you ask it. In addition, repeatedly posting the same question doesn't help you question get answered any faster.

That being said, your question is an interesting one. I'm a planetary scientist, and NASA's Dawn mission is powered by an ion engine, which enables Dawn to make maneuvers that simply aren't possible with chemical propulsion systems. Ion engines open up all sorts of opportunities for doing great science.

As Keith said, an ion engine is powered by a plasma. It isn't powered by a solid, liquid, or gas. So, the question of whether an ion engine can use a solid, liquid, or gas as fuel is kind of like asking whether ice can power a water wheel. Just like ice can't power a water wheel, other states of matter can't power an ion engine. But, just like ice can be melted into liquid water, solids, liquids, and gases can go through phase changes to become plasmas, if you put enough energy into them. I'm familiar with two techniques that involve this: inductively-coupled plasma mass spectrometry and laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy. Check out these two articles to learn more about how those techniques work:

http://crustal.usgs.gov/laboratories/icpms/intro.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laser-indu ... ectroscopy

Now, just because we can turn a solid, liquid, or gas into a plasma doesn't mean that the resulting plasma will be useful for ion propulsion. The ion engine on NASA's Dawn spacecraft, for example, uses plasma made from xenon gas. Xenon is useful because it is a noble gas (it doesn't like to bond to other elements), it has a low first ionization energy, and a high charge to mass ratio. Those last two points make a xenon plasma quite efficient. There are other ion propulsion techniques that use liquid metals as the starting material (see, for example, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Field_emis ... propulsion).
All the best,
Terik
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