How does solar electric propulsion (ion propulsion) work?

How does DS1's engine work?

DS1's engine makes thrust by magnetically charging atoms and then repelling them from the spacecraft. This stream of atoms spewing out the back of the thruster pushes DS1 forward. Solar power provides the energy. The process is like this:

  1. Xenon atoms are injected into the propulsion chamber. They are heated and bombarded with electrons until they form a plasma, with electrons separated from the cores of the atoms, which become xenon ions.
  2. The positively charged xenon ions move towards the back of the chamber.
  3. Once they are between the positive and negative grids at the very back of the chamber, they are electrostatically accelerated away from the positive grid and towards the negative one.
  4. Since the push from the positive grid on the positive ions is much greater than the pull of the negative grid towards the positive ions, they shoot past the negative grid and out into space at a high speed.
  5. The expelled ions propel the ship forward.
  6. Electrons are shot from a cathode towards the ions behind the ship. The ions are neutralized, and the xenon atoms float away.


What is an atom?
What is an ion?
Could NASA use ion propulsion to put a ship into space?
What is the difference between an ion engine and a conventional one?
Can you use ion propulsion on Earth?
How do conventional rockets work?
How does propulsion work?
What is energy?

What is thrust?
What is plasma?
How fast does DS1 go?
How are ions accelerated?
What causes ions to leave DS1?
What is a cathode?
What happens to the ions once they leave the space craft?
What would happen if DS1 ran out of fuel?
Why is an ion engine solar powered?
Why is an ion plume blue?
What does electrically charged mean?
How are atoms charged?
Are ion engines radioactive?

Why do ion engines need a vacuum to work?
What else uses plasma?