posted on May, 11 2004 @ 06:36 AM
This xenon ion engine prototype, photographed through a port of the vacuum chamber where it was being tested at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory,
shows the faint blue glow of charged atoms being emitted from the engine. A similar engine powered the Deep Space 1 spacecraft
Ion Engine Operation
The fuel used in DS1's ion engine is xenon, a chemically inert, colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas. The xenon fuel fills a chamber ringed with
magnets. When the ion engine is running, electrons emitted from a cathode strike atoms of xenon, knocking away one of the electrons orbiting an
atom's nucleus and making it into an ion. The magnets' magnetic field controls the flow of electrons and, by increasing the electrons' residence
time in the chamber, increases the efficiency of the ionization.