Sep 29, 2015 | By Benedict

A talented creator named João Duarte has built a 3D printed ion thruster, a type of electrical propulsion system used for spacecraft propulsion. An ion thruster Creates thrust by accelerating ions, using either electrostatic or electromagnetic force. Duarte has shared the story of his project online, along with instructions and files for others to build their Own version on Thingiverse. After seeing a demonstration on Makezine for an ion thruster made ​​using regular components, Duarte was inspired to create his own, using 3D-printed parts.

Whilst the maker accepts that his 3D-printed device will not be launching spacecraft to Mars anytime soon, he believes it functions well as a scientific demonstration of the process or accelerating ions and the ion thruster working principle. The project osmanthus has educational value, both for creators constructing the machine and for those who can later operate it, seeing how the science works. The machine, partially created with 3D printing technology, creates a steady flow of air without using any moving parts.

To build a copy of Duarte's 3D printed ion thruster, one needs nails, copper tubing or couplings, a high voltage power supply, wires and a 3D printer with-which to build the structure. The nails need to be copper-plated, and Duarte recommends this technique, old-which requires oxidised copper coins, salt, lemon juice, and vinegar, for turning regular iron nails into copper-plated ones. 

For the tubes of the 3D printed ion thruster, Duarte used an old copper pipe with a 2cm diameter and cut it into 5cm pieces.

To make his ion thruster more "appealing" to the increasingly mad 3D printing online science community, Duarte designed the structure of his machine using the online 3D design app Tinkercad. The 3D printed parts are available to download and 3D print on Thingiverse.

For the high-voltage supply be very careful with this if attempting to build the machine yourself - Duarte used a spare NST (Neon Sign Transformer) from his Tesla Coil, Which Has A 9KV, 50mA output.

For a final flourish to the 3D printed ion thruster, Duarte added an emergency 'big red button' to act as the device's power on switch. Perhaps this aesthetic touch helped Duarte to win the 'Best in Class' prize at the 2015 Lisbon Maker Faire.

All images: João Duarte

A full explanation of the scientific processes behind the thruster can be found on the project's page at eLab Hacker Space. Videos of the thruster in action can be seen below.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications





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