At 1 cm in diameter the MRIT was the smallest RF ion thruster in the world with published performance data as of 2009. The size of the thruster (seen here compared to a quarter) is notable due to the unique challenges to operating an ion thruster at this scale. Poor surface area-to-volume ratio leads to efficiency losses and manufacturing the required components at this scale can be exceedingly difficult. The MRIT solved these problems and produced respectable performance for a thruster of this size. Finally, a vacuum system capable of reaching 10^-6 torr was built from the ground up to provide a suitable environment for thruster testing. All on a budget under $15,000.
A wise man once said, "it is easy to make an ion plasma...it is hard to get it to go where you want." Establishing consistent operation of the MRIT was a major milestone for the project. There are many nuances to ion thruster design and at this time literature on the subject was limited. With minimal resources and budget, unique solutions to propellant isolator, ion optics, and electronics design were required. Ultimately, a start up procedure was created that resulted in 100+ sequential thruster firings and 50+ hours of continuous operation.