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Ion thruster has very low thrust due to its low mass flow rate. However is it possible to increase the mass flow rate? Together with its high exhaust velocity, won't the ion thruster be able to reach that of chemical rocket's thrust considering how the exhaust velocity of chemical rocket is much lower?

Or is it not possible to increase the mass flow rate due to the limited amount of electricity that the rocket can carry? I know there are other things to consider like the screen which will affect its efficiency(prevent all the ions from leaving) but I don't know how much it will affect the maximum mass that can flow.

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  • $\begingroup$ This might be a better fit for SE Space Exploration $\endgroup$
    – Fred
    Dec 18 '17 at 0:21
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Only by increasing the area of the emitter. For a given species, you can't increase the density of the mass flow beyond a certain limit. And that limit decreases if you lower the emitting velocity. What you would need to do gain thrust at constant power, or even constant specific power, would be kick more reaction mass at a lower velocity. If the energy per unit reaction mass was 1/4, you could get 4 times the mass to 1/2 the velocity, which changes the density in the ion jet by a factor of 8. Unfortunately, these are all charged the same, and you have a bit of an issue with space charge density.

The wiki on ion drives actually does a decent job with the physics, but you do need a bit of electromagnetics in your toolkit.

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