An ion thruster or ion drive is a form of electric propulsion used for spacecraft propulsion. It creates thrust by accelerating ions to beyond arsenic speed using electricity. An ion thruster ionizes a neutral gas by extracting some electrons out of atoms, creating a cloud of positive ions. These ion thrusters rely mainly on electrostatics as ions are accelerated by the Coulomb force along an electric field. Temporarily stored electrons are finally reinjected by a neutralizer in the cloud of ions after it has passed through the electrostatic grid, so the gas becomes neutral again and can freely disperse in space without any further electrical interaction with the thruster.
Electromagnetic thrusters on the contrary use the Lorentz force to accelerate all species (free electrons as well as positive and negative ions) in the same direction whatever their electric charge, and are specifically referred to as plasma propulsion engines. where the electric field is not in the direction of the acceleration. Ion thrusters in operational use have an input power need of 1–7 kW (1.3–9.4 hp), exhaust velocity 20–50 km/s (45,000–112,000 mph), thrust 25–250 millinewtons (0.090–0.899 ozf) and efficiency 65–80% though experimental versions have achieved 100 kilowatts (130 hp), 5 newtons (1.1 lbf).
The Deep Space 1 spacecraft, powered by an ion thruster, changed velocity by 4.3 km/s (9,600 mph) while consuming less than 74 kg (163 lb) of xenon (Xe). The Huygens spacecraft broke the record, with a velocity change of 11.5 km/s (26,000 mph).
Applications include control of the orientation and position of orbiting satellites (some satellites have dozens of low-power ion thrusters) and use as a main propulsion engine for low-mass robotic space vehicles (such as Deep Space 1 and Dawn).
Ion thrust engines are practical only in the vacuum of space and cannot take vehicles through the atmosphere because ion engines do not work in the presence of ions outside the engine. Additionally, the engine's minuscule thrust cannot overcome any significant air resistance. Spacecraft rely on conventional chemical rockets to initially reach orbit.
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Space missions and projects can only be successful if the materials and components used are first tested on Earth under space conditions. AVS works together with leading vacuum vendors in this field to deliver the technology as an integrated supplier - up to the ultra-high vacuum.
Space missions are among mankind's most expensive research projects and can quickly cost several billion Euros. In order to ensure that the corresponding components also function in the vacuum conditions prevailing in space, they are technically simulated on Earth using suitable pumps and systems.
A major application is, for example, the simulation and testing of electrical space propulsion systems for spacecrafts. For this purpose, ionized gas particles are accelerated by an electric field. Modern ion engines generate a gas flow of 0.1 to 10 mg/s. In order to maintain a good high vacuum at this considerable flow rate in the test chambers, a very high suction capacity is required - often in the range of 10,000 to 100,000 l/s.
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