A linear particle accelerator permits to accelerate ions to high speed and there is no need to use big, heavy magnets to divert the beam. The space vacuum remove the need of pipes, so it could be delivered compact and then open to reach the right length. An RTG or a bunch of it could power the accelerator for years, maybe the exhausted plutonium could be used as ion source. Is it possible?

  • $\begingroup$ But an accelerator like SLAC with 3.2 km is far too big, you will need a very short accelerator. But a shorter accelerator permits only lower speed. $\endgroup$ – Uwe Apr 2 '17 at 21:23

A gridded ion thruster is a linear particle accelerator. So yes.

If you're looking for higher exhaust velocity, which is higher Isp, sure, you can make it whatever you like. However you end up with proportionally lower thrust for the same amount of power. You very quickly end up having to take forever to produce a useful amount of $\Delta V$. The sweet spot is where you can consume your propellant in units of years, as opposed to decades or longer.

I suppose if we had much longer lifespans and more reliable equipment, we would be tolerant of something like a century-long mission. Then again, humans have spent centuries building cathedrals, so maybe our lack of patience is a cultural thing.

  • $\begingroup$ Another cultural thing: getting enough energy to keep both reasonable thrust and ISp. No nuclear reactors in space. $\endgroup$ – SF. Apr 3 '17 at 5:18
  • $\begingroup$ For now. You might see space nuclear power showing up sooner than you think. $\endgroup$ – Mark Adler Apr 3 '17 at 5:23
  • $\begingroup$ Any news/advancements I'm not aware of? $\endgroup$ – SF. Apr 3 '17 at 6:59
  • $\begingroup$ gameon.nasa.gov/projects/nuclear-systems $\endgroup$ – Mark Adler Apr 3 '17 at 15:21
  • $\begingroup$ If we compare the particle energies, SLAC acclerates electrons up to 50 GeV, ion thrusters use ion energies of 1 - 2 keV, that is a factor of 25000 at least. $\endgroup$ – Uwe Apr 3 '17 at 16:12

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.