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Reader Discussions > NASA validates Quantum Vacuum Plasma Thruster engine works

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message 1: by Anna (new)

Anna Erishkigal (annaerishkigal) Okay ... this is just too intriguing not to share with those of you who are -far- more astute than I am as to the validity of all things scientific.

NASA has purportedly validated that a Quantum Vacuum Plasma Thruster engine works, which, from the two articles I read about it, is basically like using a solar panel to run a microwave oven, and then somehow that creates a bit of thrust to power a spaceship. The power loads appear to be different between the two independent studies which validated the engine, but it seems it DOES work.

So Space Opera Fans ... what is this thing? How would it work if it were plunked into some sort of space ship? How fast would it make that spaceship travel? And would their be any negative side effects (such as radiation poisoning) that would need to be mitigated? Could it be turned into a weapon? Could it be used for humorous side effects like you could pop your dinner in the side-door of the engine and use it to microwave your chicken dinner while traveling the stars?

Here's the link to one article:

Here's the link to another:

Here's your chance to weigh in, my wonderful scientifically-proficient Space Opera peeps! What is this thing and how can it be used in a galaxy-romping space opera tale?

message 2: by Robert (new)

Robert Wolfe | 38 comments I think the real story here is how we're all supposed to be all surprised that this thing works. The following is from Satellite Propulsion Research Ltd.'s website,

Q. Does the theory of the EmDrive contravene the accepted laws of physics or electromagnetic theory?
A. The EmDrive does not violate any known law of physics. The basic laws that are applied in the theory of the EmDrive operation are as follows:

Newton’s laws are applied in the derivation of the basic static thrust equation (Equation 11 in the theory paper) and have also been demonstrated to apply to the EmDrive experimentally.

The law of conservation of momentum is the basis of Newtons laws and therefore applies to the EmDrive. It is satisfied both theoretically and experimentally.

The law of conservation of energy is the basis of the dynamic thrust equation which applies to the EmDrive under acceleration,(see Equation 16 in the theory paper).

The principles of electromagnetic theory are used to derive the basic design equations.

So, the creators of the EM Drive have never claimed that this thing defies the laws of nature or anything. I think NASA's initial disinterest in this device had more to do with government contracts going where they were always going to go (if you know what I mean) than with how unpossible this was supposed to really be (10 points for that incorrect use of vocabulary's reference!). The Chinese took one look at it and were all about making it happen.

A lot of movement-related things can't be explained, but we still count on them everyday. The math and the physics have not yet been worked out to explain why bicycles stay up while in motion. Some folks argue that we haven't adequately explained how lift keeps planes in the air. So, NASA's laughing off this technology seems to have been disingenuous to me.

But, that might just be the cynic in me.

It is pretty cool (and perhaps not so surprising) that this came out of White's lab at Johnson Space Center. This is the crew that recently gave a similar, at least theoretical, stamp of approval on Alcubierre's warp drive concept. See this article here (and note that Whites mention of a "Chicago Pile Moment" has now seemingly occurred with this EM Drive!):

To me, this also seems somehow connected to the solving of the Pioneer Anamoly, which took the rocket scientists at NASA literally decades to solve. If heat radiated out the front of your craft can slow it down enough to notice and measure, then why wouldn't a finely tuned magnetron pointed the right way impart thrust? It seems that it can, even if you (or your partner government contractors) didn't think of it first! (I wonder what all the Electric Universe types think of this.)

Anyway, I found the most exciting part of the FAQ at the emdrive website to be this:

Q. How can the EmDrive produce enough thrust for terrestrial applications?
A. The second generation engines will be capable of producing a specific thrust of 30kN/kW. Thus for 1 kilowatt (typical of the power in a microwave oven) a static thrust of 3 tonnes can be obtained, which is enough to support a large car. This is clearly adequate for terrestrial transport applications.
The static thrust/power ratio is calculated assuming a superconducting EmDrive with a Q of 5 x 109. This Q value is routinely achieved in superconducting cavities.
Note however, because the EmDrive obeys the law of conservation of energy, this thrust/power ratio rapidly decreases if the EmDrive is used to accelerate the vehicle along the thrust vector. (See Equation 16 of the theory paper). Whilst the EmDrive can provide lift to counter gravity, (and is therefore not losing kinetic energy), auxiliary propulsion is required to provide the kinetic energy to accelerate the vehicle.

So, maybe we can finally get our flying cars, or at least a Back to the Future style hoverboard, out of this!

In the end, if they think this technology can at least push a car off the ground, it certainly can motivate small craft like space probes and satellites. The first nuclear pile powered a small lightbulb. Now they can use the tech to power whole cities (what, like 75% of France's electricity is nuke-powered, right?). Tweaking this technology might just be worth it, and it might make space flight, at least in-system, much more do-able! (If I were to try to stick in a hard science fiction novel, I'd keep it to something Firefly-class sized, myself.)

message 3: by Betsy (new)

Betsy | 880 comments Mod
If you can connect to Google+, here's a post that says it's BS:

message 4: by Robert (new)

Robert Wolfe | 38 comments Betsy wrote: "If you can connect to Google+, here's a post that says it's BS:"

Yeesh. There's an angry guy sitting in the box grad school put him firmly in.

He may be right in the end (I'm not in on any of these experiments to know what's what, really), but until White retracts his work here or someone else experimentally knocks it out, I'll hold out a little hope that they can make something of this.

(For what it's worth, though, note that he asserts things about the device that the creators actually do not . . .)

message 5: by Betsy (new)

Betsy | 880 comments Mod
One reason I thought this post was worth reading was that Yonatan Zunger, a big shot at Google, shared it. I don't know that he's any more knowledgeable than I am, but he does have a lot of interest in these issues.

message 6: by Steph (last edited Aug 04, 2014 02:49PM) (new)

Steph Bennion (stephbennion) | 302 comments I stilll can't get my head around how it allegedly works. Bouncing microwaves inside a sealed funnel somehow produces thrust?

message 7: by Robert (new)

Robert Wolfe | 38 comments Steph wrote: "I stilll can't get my head around how it allegedly works. Bouncing microwaves inside a sealed funnel somehow produces thrust?"

Yeah, it does sound too good to be true. I can only assume this is somehow the electromagnetic equivalent to putting a raccoon in a barrel and letting nature take its course. That barrel is going somewhere . . .

There was talk in the literature of creating a certain standing or resonance wave pattern, which may be what confines the "racoon" to imparting thrust in only a certain direction.

Again, Pioneer was noticeably and measurable slowed by thermal radiation emanating through the fore of the craft. There is precedence for electromagnetic radiation to alter acceleration. And precedence for NASA rocket scientists to be stymied by it for decades.

NASA scientists failed to predict certain electromagnetic consequences for the Tempel 1 impactor event, as well. Western, mainstream science seems to consistently fail to acknowledge the totality of the electric/magnetic forces at work in the universe, "some Electric Universe theorists say."

message 8: by Betsy (new)

Betsy | 880 comments Mod
“The report talks about the ‘quantum vacuum virtual plasma,’” theoretical physicist at Caltech Sean Carrol told me in an email. “There is no such thing; it’s just made-up technobabble. In order for the system to do what they say it does, it would have to violate the conservation of momentum, which is no more possible in quantum mechanics than in classical mechanics.”

message 9: by Paul (new)

Paul Spence (paulbspence) | 119 comments Interesting stuff.

My first impressions: The reports are confusing, but from reading the published paper, it looks as if the thruster works against the virtual particles that exist in a vacuum. It is not reactionless. It does not violate the laws of thermodynamics.

I'll ask some of my physicist buddies at JPL what they think.

message 10: by Anna (new)

Anna Erishkigal (annaerishkigal) I have no idea if it would work or not. But I'm like a magpie ... it sounds cool, so I'll probably find some excuse to use it someplace :-)

message 11: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan (jsharbour) I don't buy the description at all. Ignoring the source of energy for the microwave transmitter, that's worth discussing--how does the chamber affect microwaves in such a way that produces thrust? That it has a narrow opening hints at jet engine design, also the tech behind supercharging and turbocharging, compressing air to produce a higher psi charge. If that is what's happening with microwaves, it really has nothing to do with words like quantum and vacuum, that's what happens when non-technical media people get their hands on a story, imo. The fact that they immediately jump to the conclusion of interstellar travel means this is sensational abuse of the story. The thing will need some source of energy. The key is, that source is very small, meaning, a large fuel tank is not needed. Maybe solar panels. Maybe just a minor radioactive source like the one used to power Voyager 1 & 2. That small source of power used to produce microwaves.

message 12: by Steph (new)

Steph Bennion (stephbennion) | 302 comments I read the evidence paper at (well, tried to). The chamber is sealed, with no outlet. The chamber is asymmetrical and carefully tuned to the microwave frequency to create harmonic resonances. Somehow this causes the microwave radiation to exert different pressures on either end of the chamber, thus generating momentum. The only power source is that which creates the microwaves. It sounds too simple to be true.

message 13: by Anna (new)

Anna Erishkigal (annaerishkigal) Does this mean I won't be jury-rigging my old microwave and the roll-up portable solar panel from my ham radio outfit onto a big tin can anytime soon and creating a warp drive :-) Bummer... Where is Zeffron Cochrane when you need him?

message 14: by Ken (new)

Ken Doggett (kendoggett) | 56 comments Anna wrote: "Does this mean I won't be jury-rigging my old microwave and the roll-up portable solar panel from my ham radio outfit onto a big tin can anytime soon and creating a warp drive :-) Bummer... Where..."

That actually does work. But you need a tin-foil hat and a metal coat-hanger.

message 15: by Anna (new)

Anna Erishkigal (annaerishkigal) Ken wrote: "That actually does work. But you need a tin-foil hat and a metal coat-hanger..."

Ooh! [*runs downstairs to fetch roll of Reynold's Wrap from the kitchen*]

message 16: by Ray (new)

Ray Perreault (rayjayperreault) | 22 comments Just to weigh in on this one. I wouldn't book your tickets yet. I'm not taking a position but I've seen other scientific break-through's be resolved over time with systematic testing which proves the discovery to be interesting by not practical.
In it's current incarnation, the thrust is minimal and not practical for any craft with significant mass. It appears to be usable for thrusters, which need small specific impulse and use a lot of storage space for fuel.
I suppose if the energy input is increased dramatically then the amount of thrust could increase, but also the energy input requirements would soon become difficult to produce.
But, hey we're talking Sci-fi so it's no problem. I think the theory makes sense but you'll have to add a bunch of imagination.

message 17: by Anna (new)

Anna Erishkigal (annaerishkigal) I dunno ... I hyper-mile with my Prius sometimes. If you are clever about how and where you thrust, sometimes you can really get a lot of gas mileage. Maybe we'll all have these teeny, tiny spaceships with these enormous microwave ovens on the back, big enough to nuke an elephant? Not that much sillier than if you look at the fuel tanks they used to get the space shuttle into orbit.

message 18: by Ken (new)

Ken Doggett (kendoggett) | 56 comments Yeah, but the space shuttle was designed while the Apollo Program was still active. That's a loooong time ago.

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