NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory California Institute of Technology JPL HOME EARTH SOLAR SYSTEM STARS & GALAXIES SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY BRING THE UNIVERSE TO YOU JPL Email News RSS Podcast Video
Follow this link to skip to the main content


Mission > Ion Engines Interactive

ion engine

Ion Engines are the most exciting new rocket propulsion system since the Chinese invented the rocket about a thousand years ago.

Most rocket engines use chemical reactions for power. They combine various gases and liquids to form chemical explosions which push the rocket through space. Chemical rocket engines tend to be powerful but have a short lifetime.

Ion Engines use electric fields instead of chemical reactions. Ion Engines tend to be much less powerful, but they are so efficient, they can last for years before running out of fuel.

These activities should help you understand how Ion Engines work.

Before you can understand the entire Ion Engine, you need to understand some basics about electric charges.

Ion Propulsion Content Module

Positive and Negative Charges Interactive Tutorial

Charge Simulator Interactive - Get the charges to hit the targets

A Trip Through the Ion Engine

Design Your Own Ion Engine Interactive - Put what you've learned to use

Ion Engine Hotspots Game - Play against the computer in this soccer-like action game