Science in Fiction: Ion Propulsion Engines #amediting #scienceinfiction

So, as part of my editing for Tristan’s Choice, I’ve been doing a lot of fact checking (my GOD, the amount of technical errors I’ve found so far makes me want to cry).  With the nature of the story, I knew that I needed to come up with some proper technologies when it came to propulsion (which I hadn’t done for the first draft).  Fortunately, a while back, I stumbled on some articles on new technologies NASA is working on, specifically Ion Propulsion Engines.

Although, new isn’t exactly the right word for it.  They’ve been working on the technology for quite a while.  They’ve used it for long distance probes, but still have to use rocket propulsion for launches.

What IS Ion Propulsion?

Ion propulsion is actually a very literal description of what the engines do.  Instead of blasting flame out the ass of the ship, ion propulsion generates ions and sends them backwards.  You can find some nice explanation here.

Also, here’s a video video of what an ion propulsion engine sounds like (so you can describe it properly):


Challenges of Ion Propulsion:

At present, ion propulsion is great in that it is capable of maintaining the engines for extended periods of time, allowing very high speeds without a loss of fuel.  NASA uses solar sails to maintain a supply of energy to the engines, which results in very little fuel usage of any kind.  NASA can currently operate these engines for up to 5 years continuously, which would be impossible with standard rocket technology.

The biggest challenge with ion propulsion is that it it isn’t easy to make powerful engines.  In space, that doesn’t matter because the lack of resistance will allow the engines to attain impressive speeds even without a great deal of power, but leaving atmosphere requires it.


My Workaround

For my story, I’m using an ion propulsion engine powered by a small nuclear reactor.  The reactor is capable of the high output necessary to leave atmosphere.  Since the ship in question is only a shuttle, it doesn’t need to worry about long distance travel or the risks involved with nuclear waste disposal on long trips.  I suppose, for ships with longer distance travels, I would have to consider those factors, but it wasn’t necessary for Tristan’s Choice.

For longer distance travel, it would likely be beneficial to use a combination of nuclear and solar.  Solar would be idea once desired speed it reached outside of atmosphere.

Discover more from Danielle Forrest | Sci-Fi Romance Author

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