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There's plenty of talk out there about a certain type of propulsion system, but I don't know the proper name for it.

  • You gather up / buy / otherwise acquire some kind of non-rocket material, like water or metal or rock: this is the reaction mass for your spacecraft.
  • You propel it out the back of your spacecraft at high speed using some kind of propulsion system.
  • When you're running low on reaction mass, you gather up / acquire some more.

Ion engines would be a subset of this category.

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  • $\begingroup$ Mass driver, MPDT, or Bussard ramjet perhaps? Or browse through this table of spacecraft propulsion methods. Several methods might apply to what you're describing. BTW "ion thrusters" is a pretty broad category on its own. Anything broader and it would have to be Electric Propulsion, e.g. SEP (Solar Electric Propulsion) that seems everyone is talking about now. $\endgroup$ – TildalWave Nov 7 '14 at 1:55
  • $\begingroup$ Non-chemical propulsion? I would call anything that ejects mass stored on the vehicle a "rocket". It doesn't matter if the rocket engine uses chemical combustion, electrical energy, or something more exotic. The tyranny of the rocket equation applies so long as the ejected mass is stored on the vehicle. The only way to escape that tyranny is not to carry the mass with the vehicle. $\endgroup$ – David Hammen Nov 7 '14 at 11:13

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