I am going to split up this project into a number of phases to help make it easier to manage while also giving a narrow and clear focus for each phase.
1st phase: propellant research. Because of the processes needed with the engine, I will need to find a propellant that will split apart easily but will also remain stable in an un-altered state. I'm going to look into readily available inert gases such as helium and argon for easier reproduction. Containers will also be researched
2nd phase: electrode research. due to the high speed nature of the engine, spluttering may become an issue. this occurs when an electron approaches the electrode at high speeds and 'knocks off' part of the electrode, sending it into the exhaust flow. I will need to research and test the different types of conductive materials with different coatings to make sure the anode will still function while gas is still present. If a long lasting anode material is found, the engine can be re-purposed to function as a plasma engine.
3rd phase: power calculations/research. I will find out what load the typical small size battery can handle for my engine. producing a strong electric field will mean that the power supplied will have to be transformed into a high voltage supply to generate a large enough electric field to move the charged particles. other considerations include reducing electrical noise which may be generated by the movement within the electric field. This could also effect radio communications although I'll have to prove this.
4th phase: communications development; mapping out the PQ60 pinout to see which pins I can use to control the engine. I'll also have to either modify or create a new protocol which will be used to talk between the computer and engine.
5th phase: initial prototypes; I will make a vacuum chamber which will be used to simulate outer space. although I don't have the resources or knowledge to heat and cool the chamber, it will give a good indication as to how the engine will work in a airless environment. I will experiment with a variety of different electrode configurations to try and get an optimum thrust output. prototype engine enclosures may be made out of plastic since it is more accessible than other high strength materials. This is subject to change since I may find something better to work with. If I can find a 3d printer I'll manufacture the prototypes that way and publish .stl files online instead of publishing raw instrument drawings.
6th phase: enclosure research; this consists of finding materials that will work in the vacuum enviroment and will be tolerant to very large and fast changes in temperature. the chosen material will be used to create the semi-final prototype.
7th phase: final design of the engine itself. this marks the beginning of integration between the communications system, power inverters and the engine. small modifications can still be made at this point.
8th phase: evaluation of development and publication of Ion engine v1.0 this will still be developed beyond this point to ensure that any bugs and malfunctions are cleaned out.
features to add after first functioning model: thrust vectoring, addition of reaction wheels