Sometimes when you write one post it inspires ideas for your next. That’s what happened when I wrote last week’s episode of “Go Ask Your Father“.
Crash asked what TIE stands for. A T.I.E. fighter is, of course, a Star Wars vehicle. It’s what Vader and his Empire gang fly. T.I.E stands for Twin Ion Engine.
While I was researching that answer I discovered how a twin ion engine works, I found a real life NASA story about ion engines. To put it as simply as I can, an ion engine takes a gas, like xenon, smashes them off each other so they lose electrons and then shove it through an electric field. When the ion is shot from the engine the rocket/spaceship/probe/whatever it’s attached to, it’s propelled forward. Thanks to Newton and his third law; for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Hence, when the ion goes backwards, the rocket goes forward. If you’ve ever inflated a balloon just to let it go and watch it zoom around the room then you understand Newton’s third law. There’s your physics lesson for the day. There will be a test later.
A long time ago, the year of 2007, NASA developed and successfully tested an ion engine (NSTAR). While the force generated was equal to the force needed to hold up a sheet of paper it could generate that force for incredibly long periods of time, think years, with incredibly little fuel. The DAWN mission, a mission to send an orbiter to the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter to study Ceres and Vesta, uses this engine. It reached speeds over 41,000 kmh (25,500 mph).
“If you remember the TIE fighters that Darth Vader and the Evil Empire used to fight the rebel alliance, TIE stood for ‘twin ion engines’,” he said. “Well, Dawn does the Star Wars TIE fighters one better because we use three ion engines.”
However, NASA has improved upon that engine from 9 years ago. The NEXT (NASA Evolutionary Xenon Thruster) produces up to 3 times the amount of force as its predecessor and was tested continuously for 51,000 hours (6 years). Imagine having to fill up once every 6 years!
It doesn’t stop there, though. There is yet another ion engine being developed that will far exceed the performance capabilities of NEXT. The first engine (NSTAR) would be the equivalent of a ’92 Toyota Carolla. The NEXT would be a Corvette. The NSTAR a Lamborghini. Perhaps one day these engines will power our own vehicles and finally end our dependency on fossil fuels. Gas stations will look extremely different by then!
Research gathered from:
This Taboo Word Challenge wasn’t too tough today! Today’s word was “in”.
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