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DIY Ion Engine

To get to Mars, we’ll use the same technology as Darth Vader’s TIE fighter.

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TINY ION: Replicate  the basics of an ion propulsion engine using a piece of wire, the cap from a D battery, and  a power source.

TINY ION: Replicate the basics of an ion propulsion engine using a piece of wire, the cap from a D battery, and a power source.

To get to Mars, we’ll use the same technology as Darth Vader’s TIE fighter — the ion propulsion engine. It uses electricity to produce a stream of charged ions exiting 10 times faster than chemical rocket exhaust.

The world’s strongest is Ad Astra Rocket Company’s 200-kilowatt VASIMR engine, which uses radio frequencies to superheat argon ions to 1,000,000°F. Ad Astra’s founder, former NASA astronaut Dr. Franklin Chang Diaz, estimates a two-year round trip to Mars could be cut to 39 days using 20-megawatt ion engines.

Until then, Simon Quellen Field shows how to make your own tiny ion motor using just a high voltage source and two paper clips, at his website Science Toys You Can Make With Your Kids (makezine.com/go/ionmotor). The journey of 100 million miles begins with a single ion.

Keith Hammond

I’m projects editor of MAKE magazine.


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