Technology 105 - The Ion Drive and Thrusters

Ion Drives

The ion drives systems are the most visible movement system on any starship. The basic workings of an ion engine are as follows: Fuel is moved from the tanks into an ionisation chamber, which is essentially a large cyclical magnet. Within the chamber the fuel particles become ionised, and therefore susceptible to magnetic fields. As they pass from the chamber into the emitter they are subjected to a series of powerful coil magnets each fed with power from the SIR. When they reach the final emitter stage they're already nearly at lightspeed. The final stage accelerates them finally through the lightspeed barrier where they strip themselves of a modicum of energy and impart thrust to the vessel.

One side effect of the energy transition is a portion of the energy released phases down into visible light, which is why ion engines glow brightly when operating.

Many aerospace vessels incorporate scram, ram and jet engines into the ion engine fittings as the two integrate fairly well. In these engines atmospheric gases enter through an intake, are compressed by fields, have fuel added via aerosol injectors, which then ignites naturally as it encounters the high energy ions. The very hot and energetic air is then expelled out the same vent providing a great deal of thrust. This allows such equipped ships, often, to operate effectively without repulsorlift support. This can be useful as it then allows the ship's CRMS to be used offensively.

Ion drives are used to impart kinetic energy to a ship. Whilst the majority of actual movement is usually achieved with the CRMS, the ion system can generate a good amount of base speed without any CRM target available. Ships most often give a high energy burn to get up a good 'head of steam', then relying on the CRMS to change direction or tweak actual speed.

Ion engines generally fall into one of two catagories, radials and hyperspikes.

Radials are, for all their complexity, essentially rocket tubes, ejecting hypermatter streams through a baffle array in a cone to orient the thrust. Hyperspikes direct the hypermatter through a large number (dozens to hundreds) of nozzles over formed and sometimes variable, plates. The pressure of outside air, or in space, the pressure of the other streams, forces the hypermatter stream to orient. In addition the confluence of two streams of hypermatter serve to accelerate the ion stream even further, thus making hyperspikes slightly more efficient. Radials, however, are much simpler and gram for gram provide greater overall thrust.

The main advantage of a hyperspike is redundancy, every single stream emitter is effectively a very small engine, and so if the strip is damaged, you lose only the proportion of thrust relative to the incident, not an entire engine.

Thrusters

Many ships are equiped with basic chemical thrusters, or ion thrusters. These are very small engines that impart thrust via the same mechanism as the main ion drives. Their positions off the center of gravity act to rotate the ship. Thrust can then be applied by the basic engines in order to alter course even in deep space where other manouver systems cannot work.

Both the ion drive and thrusters use fuel, which must be replenished when expended.