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Neutralization of ions in the ion thruster

Space Exploration Asked on December 4, 2021

I have a question about neutralizing the ion thruster, why simply does not put a positive potential on the satellite to prevent the emitted ions from returning to the satellite? is the ion current so large that it would take several kV to repel that current?

edit: forget to mention that in the solar wind there are electrons to neutralize the ions at some point

2 Answers

The Problem you are assuming, is actually none:

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.

Source: Ion Thruster Wiki, just in the introduction

Answered by CallMeTom on December 4, 2021

It is always important to keep the charge of a spacecraft close to zero and to never get too large. This is true no matter if you are using ion propulsion or not.

A charged spacecraft can suffer from several failure modes. So when a spacecraft emits positive ions it also must use an electron gun to emit electrons to keep the spacecraft close to neutral.

Rather than reproduce all the reasons and problems here, I'll direct you to the excellent discussions in the following posts:

Answered by uhoh on December 4, 2021

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