Ion thruster

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An ion thruster is a form of electric propulsion used for spacecraft propulsion that creates thrust by accelerating ions. Ion thrusters are categorized by how they accelerate the ions, using either electrostatic or electromagnetic force. Electrostatic ion thrusters use the Coulomb force and accelerate the ions in the direction of the electric field. Electromagnetic ion thrusters use the Lorentz force to accelerate the ions. Note that the term "ion thruster" frequently denotes the electrostatic or gridded ion thrusters only.

The thrust created in ion thrusters is very small compared to conventional chemical rockets, but a very high specific impulse, or propellant efficiency, is obtained. This high propellant efficiency is achieved through the very frugal propellant consumption of the ion thruster propulsion system. They do, however, use a large amount of power. Given the practical weight of suitable power sources, the accelerations given by these types of thrusters is of the order of one thousandth of standard gravity.

Due to their relatively high power needs, given the specific power of power supplies, and the requirement of an environment void of other ionized particles, ion thrust propulsion is currently only practical beyond planetary atmosphere (in space).


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