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Ion Engines Interactive > Design Your Own Ion Engine


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Ions shot out the back of the engine by these plates produce thrust for the rocket.

The goal of this activity is to maximize the total impulse provided by the ion engine as represented by the rocket at the top of the display.

When you press LAUNCH, electrons are emitted by the blue electrode.

Your job is to adjust the separation between the two plates and the strength of the charge on the plates to push the rocket as far as possible:

pointer icon Adjust the Plate Location slider to change the plate separation distance.
pointer icon Adjust the Plate Charge slider to change the charge strength on each plate.
pointer icon Click the Launch button to watch the blue ions get accelerated by the ion engine.
pointer icon Click the Stop button to reset the simulation and try a different scenario.

Things to observe:

pointer icon You'll notice that the ions are accelerated between the plates. If the separation between the plates is not adjusted correctly too many ions will hit the plates.
pointer icon If an ion or electron hits a plate or the walls of the Ion Engine, it will emit a brief white flash and then disappear.
pointer icon Increasing the charge on the plates means that more energy goes into each ion. But, you have a limited energy supply, so you might run out of energy before you can accelerate all the ions.
pointer icon Adjusting the charge too high may cause you to run out of energy before all of the ions have been accelerated.
pointer icon Adjusting the charge too low means the plates won't accelerate the charges with as much force.