What is ‘ion Drive’?
An ‘ion Drive’ is a form of Electric Force, which is used for Spacecraft Propulsion. It creates a pressure by fastening the speed of positive ions with Electricity. This pressure of ion is also referred to as ‘ion Thruster’.
The method of accelerating the ion varies, but the system is designed in such a way so that it can take maximum advantage of the pressure released. It is a mature Electric Propulsion Technology, whose development was started in the 1960s. Since then the technology has been in use for Commercial Satellite Propulsion and Scientific Missions.
The idea was first introduced in public by “Konstantin Tsiolkovsky” in 1911. The first experiments with ion thruster were done by ’Goddard’ in 1916-17 at ‘Clark University’. While, I 1959, the working ion thruster was made by ‘Harold R. Kaufman’ at the NASA Glenn Research Center facility. It used Mercury as a propellant.
Working Principle of ‘ion Thruster’:
Ion Thruster uses a beam of electrically charged atoms or molecules to maintain a pressure. Ion Thruster is divided into categories, either the Electrostatic or Electromagnetic. They both follow the different methods for accelerating the ions.
Electrostatic ion Thruster uses the ‘Coulomb Force’ to move the ions in the direction of the electric field. It mainly utilizes the Xenon Gas.
Electromagnetic ion Thruster uses the ‘Lorentz Force’ to accelerate the movement of ions. It follows various methods to move the ions.
a) Pulsed Inductive Thrusters- It uses Ammonia gas as a propellant.
b) Magnetoplasmadynamic Thruster (MPD) - It uses Hydrogen, Argon, Ammonia, and Nitrogen for propellant.
c) Electrodeless Plasma Thrusters- It removes anode and cathode electrodes, then ionizes Neutral gas.
d) Helicon Double Layer Thrusters- Is a type of Plasma Thruster that ejects high velocity ionized gas.
e) Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR)- It uses Radio Waves to ionize a propellant
f) Microwave Electrothermal Thrusters- It uses Microwave Energy Flow (MW).
Working of Ion Drive Airplane:
The researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US has created an aircraft engine by adapting the Ion drive technology which was earlier used in spacecraft. The research published in Nature proposed the possibility of silent drones in the near future.
Ion propulsion sends out charged ions with a high voltage in the gap between two electrodes. The ions combined with air and make an ionic wind pressure backward and push the aircraft forward. The two electrodes can make the plane fly because it charged up to 20,000 volts, which makes nitrogen molecules to lose an electron and become positively charged. Then the negatively charged electrode attracts the positively charged ions of nitrogen. Here, nitrogen ion while traveling between the electrodes get a collision with air molecules. And the process continues, as each nitrogen molecules regain the charge and transfer the energy. Likewise, the process continues after the molecules become neutral again. So, in each collision, it releases energy to those molecules and creates a wind of Natural Air.
It is expected that in future the ion drive could also power mini-drones, or other aircraft builds on the same general manner as the prototype the scientist Barrett already flew. As well as, they will try in future to develop a larger aircraft on this technology which could carry passengers as well.