Structure and Properties of Matter: Ion Propulsion Module

Kepler's mathematical model

Module Overview

Welcome to the Structure and Properties of Matter: Ion Propulsion module. This standards aligned module is intended to engage students and the interested public in the propulsion technology that is necessary for Dawn to complete its mission. As students interact with this module, they will gain an understanding of :

  1. charges and relative charge
  2. momentum and frames of reference
  3. ionization and plasma
  4. how an ion propulsion system works
  5. experiment with designing an ion engine to determine optimal conditions using an interactive simulation

This module is organized around a learning cycle and engages students in a number of experiences in order for the teacher to activate students' prior knowledge, assess student conceptual understanding in order to inform instruction.

Dawn Spacecraft icon

How Do We Get There?
Just like a mission briefing for the press, the purpose of this section of the module is to provide students with some background information about the Dawn mission and the need for a spacecraft with ion propulsion in order to meet mission objectives.

Timeline (PDF) Student Information Sheet
Ion Propulsion Story Mapping History Frame (PDF) Student Activity
How Do We Get There? PowerPoint (PPT)
Star Trek Inspires Dawn Chief Engineer

Photo from the Ion Engine interactive simulation

We Need a Push
The Exploration section of this Ion Propulsion Module focuses on the basic science necessary for understanding the design and operation of an ion propulsion engine.

Charges (PDF) Student Reading
Pushing with Plasma (PDF) Student Reading
Attractive and Repulsive Forces (PDF) Student Activity
Attractive and Repulsive Forces (PDF) Student Reporting Sheet
Positive and Negative Charges Interactive Simulation

Pen and notebook

Where Are We?
Students will develop an understanding that motion is relative by reading the text "Frames of Reference." As a follow-up to the reading, engage students in a writing-to-learn strategy that can help students understand how motion depends on specific frames of reference, as they are asked to assume a specific frame of reference and describe motion in relation to multiple perspectives.

Frames of Reference (PDF) Student Reading
Relative Motion RAFT Writing Activity (PDF) Student Activity
Powered by the Sun (PDF) Student Reading

Interaction Synthesis
Graphical representation of a Xenom atom moving through an Ion Propulsion Engine

Getting Charged Up
In the Interaction/Synthesis section of the Ion Propulsion Module, students will follow a single xenon atom as it travels through an ion propulsion engine, putting together the scientific concepts that play a part in moving the Dawn spacecraft.

A Trip Through An Ion Propulsion Engine (PDF) Student Reading
The Trip of One Xenon Atom Through an Ion Engine (PPT)

Ion Propulsion Engine

Design an Ion Engine
Students apply the background information from this module to determine what Plate Location settings and what Plate Charge produces the most thrust for the engine.

Ion Propulsion Engine Simulation (PDF)

Developed by Educators at McREL

Primary Authors
Dr. Donna Bogner, McREL
Dr. B.J. McCormick, McREL

Interactive Simulation
Dr. John Brophy, Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Cal Tech.
V. Art Hammond, Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Cal Tech.

Contributing Writers
John Ristvey, McREL
Deb Aruca, McREL

Dr. Marc Rayman, Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Cal Tech.
Joe Wise, New Roads School, Center for Effective Learning

Judy Counley, McREL
Lisa Maxfield, McREL

Pilot Test Teacher
Rick Peterson, Central High School, Grand Junction, CO