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Reactionless Space Drives Taken Seriously

michael posted more than 13 years ago | from the dilithium-crystals dept.

Space 18

bjn writes "The Observer ran an article on Sunday about reactionless space drives running on zero-point energy. The article was a bit light, but it seems that the concept is now being taken seriously enough that they are organising international conferences." Well, anyone can call a conference. This seems like some very long-range research going on - interesting, but don't expect anything tangible for quite some time.

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In the article... (1)

TWX_the_Linux_Zealot (227666) | more than 13 years ago | (#523129)

...they talk about how they can potentially deal with inertia too, so wow, increasing entropy in the Universe through a new means AND reducing inertia, at the same time! I bet that Viacom, the parent company to Paramount, is looking forward to throwing their bloodthirsty lawyers at web sites discussing this, because they are using Star Trek(tm)(r)(c) terms on the pages without paying royalties...

"Titanic was 3hr and 17min long. They could have lost 3hr and 17min from that."

very long term? can you read, michael? (2)

CanadaMan (121016) | more than 13 years ago | (#523130)

According to the article itself, a scientist who is involved in the research that is currently taking place claims that it might be possible to have these propulsion methods in use for sattelite deployment and maintenance within five years, with other applications to follow soon. Five years is not such a long time; why is this technology very far away?

Why long term? (2)

WhiskeyJack (126722) | more than 13 years ago | (#523131)

Because Puthoff and company are more than likely pseudoscientists and the technology they're so actively pimping is based on unrealisticly optomistic views of how much energy is available.

See this Scientific American article [sciam.com] , from the December '97 issue.

Of course, I'd be very happy if I were wrong about this.... ;)

-- WhiskeyJack

Oh, yeah, that's right.... (2)

alumshubby (5517) | more than 13 years ago | (#523132)

...this is how the UFOs are supposed to work, right?

Re:very long term? can you read, michael? (3)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 13 years ago | (#523133)

Here [nasa.gov] and here [nasa.gov] are some more substantive NASA web-pages on this. One paper referred to there that pooh-poohs the whole idea is by Lawrence Krauss, who is a real physicist and not a nut. I have to be very skeptcial when they quote this guy Graham Ellis in the original article saying "If we are right, we should be able to build our first small rockets and use them to keep satellites in their correct orbit in about five years." This statement is obviously garbage if you know anything about physics. It sounds to me like NASA started a legitimate long-range academic study on this, but it has also attracted a lot of nut cases.

I hate to sound like a stuffy academic, but I have a PhD in physics, and the whole thing sounds goofy to me. I'm not an expert on this kind of zero-point-energy-of-empty-space stuff, but it seems to me that to release the zero-point energy of empty space, you have to leave that space in a lower energy state after you're done. We don't know if such a lower-energy state even exists.
The Assayer [theassayer.org] - free-information book reviews

Re:very long term? can you read, michael? (3)

krlynch (158571) | more than 13 years ago | (#523134)

it seems to me that to release the zero-point energy of empty space, you have to leave that space in a lower energy state after you're done.

Indeed it would seem that way to me too, if you were truly "extracting" the zero point energy from the vacuum.

We don't know if such a lower-energy state even exists.

And we might hope that such a state doesn't, because it would mean that the current vacuum state is a "false vacuum" meaning that it is unstable and will eventually decay into the true vacuum....and in the true vacuum, physics as we know it may not hold, portending the end of a universe capable of sustaining life as we know it!

I hate to sound like a stuffy academic, but I have a PhD in physics, and the whole thing sounds goofy to me.

Sounds goofy to me too, and I haven't finished the PhD yet....but then again, most of the stuff I do for my research sounds pretty goofy to me as well :-)

We broke the Second Law (2)

Boronx (228853) | more than 13 years ago | (#523135)

set up two zero-point rockets welded nose to nose, turn em on and leter rip, and you've just created an eternal small star.

Seems to me (1)

jaga~ (175770) | more than 13 years ago | (#523136)

That this entire subject/article is based off of misinformation and hype brought about by media types/marketing departments of engine building companies. The concept if even plausable is not an easy thing to do or control, and this sort of thing has been discussed in the past. Also many similar scientific discoveries/topics have followed the same plan, for example Fusion power was going to revolutionize our power systems throughout the country in the beginning of the 2nd half of last century; we are still waiting for an efficient stable fusion power plant. This is why movies 30 years ago have flying cars 30 years in the future...people like to dream. I just hope some respectable scientists are put to task on investigating this and the hype people go discuss dotcoms' failure in the marketplace or something else stupid.

Re:very long term? can you read, michael? (1)

Bluedove (93417) | more than 13 years ago | (#523137)

to release the zero-point energy of empty space, you have to leave that space in a lower energy state after you're done. We don't know if such a lower-energy state even exists.

You don't actually have to have a lower energy state, i think. You could have a fluctuating energy state, and an asymmetric process. (think hysteresis) I don't know what that could be, though, or if in the process it violates some other law.

Black holes *appear* (i'm sure they don't really) to violate the conservation of energy when two virtual particles are created near the event horizon, and one gets sucked in but the other doesn't, rendering them real particles forevermore. Then again, there are competing models that can explain gravity nicely, too, without blackholes, but blackholes are in vogue so everybody insists they're real.

Then again, maybe i'm just confused. ;)

Re:very long term? can you read, michael? (1)

Andreas Bombe (7266) | more than 13 years ago | (#523138)

Black holes *appear* (i'm sure they don't really) to violate the conservation of energy when two virtual particles are created near the event horizon, and one gets sucked in but the other doesn't

The energy in the now real particle flying away is taken from the black hole's mass. That's the process that causes black holes to lose mass and eventually disappear.

Another Dream to be Stolen and Hidden (1)

beefjerky_com (302825) | more than 13 years ago | (#523139)

Do you really think the existing energy companies will let this out? Its another promising technology headed for the back shelf of hidden wonders.


To the Moon!

http://www.beefjerky.com

Terminology (2)

sconeu (64226) | more than 13 years ago | (#523140)

Not to nitpick or anything :-P, but they called the quantum fluctuations the "zero-points". I always thought it was called zero point energy because the vacuum had a net E of 0, and you could extract the energy from the quantum fluctuations (thank you Heisenberg!).

Of course, there are some theories that say our entire universe is a quantum fluctuation that just got a wee bit out of hand...

Re:Seems to me (1)

krenshala (178676) | more than 13 years ago | (#523141)

This is why movies 30 years ago have flying cars 30 years in the future...people like to dream.

For the most part, I agree with you on the (on topic) subject. However, I have to point out that flying cars actually exist [moller.com] , despite Capt Sisko's IBM commercial.

problem (1)

Xeo2 (301694) | more than 13 years ago | (#523142)

the problem with zero point energy is that using it at all or for two long is liable to fubar the universe....it's still finite

Re:Terminology (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 13 years ago | (#523143)

Not to nitpick or anything :-P, but they called the quantum fluctuations the "zero-points".

Don't feel bad. "Chaos [dictionary.com] " used to mean "A condition or place of great disorder or confusion. or A disorderly mass; a jumble: The desk was a chaos of papers and unopened letters. or The disordered state of unformed matter and infinite space supposed in some cosmogonic views to have existed before the ordered universe.

But now "Chaos Theory" has brought us a whole new definition: "A property of some non-linear dynamic systems which exhibit sensitive dependence on initial conditions. This means that there are initial states which evolve within some finite time to states whose separation in one or more dimensions of state space depends, in an average sense, exponentially on their initial separation. Such systems may still be completely deterministic in that any future state of the system depends only on the initial conditions and the equations describing the change of the system with time. It may, however, require arbitrarily high precision to actually calculate a future state to within some finite precision."

("On defining chaos", R. Glynn Holt rgholt@voyager.jpl.nasa.gov and D. Lynn Holt lholt@seraph1.sewanee.edu.)

So don't feel bad about something like "zero-points" being redefined. Unfortunately, life does not generate compiler errors and halt nearly often enough; Usually you get a malformed birth, instead.

Re:Another Dream to be Stolen and Hidden (1)

Andreas Bombe (7266) | more than 13 years ago | (#523144)

Aww, it's a conspiracy again!

But would you really think that anyone could hold something like that back? Any government and their military would have a really big interest in free energy anywhere. Energy companies would just be shoved aside.

However it is not a technology. It's a bunch of wild theories that don't look like they'd play well with the most basic laws of nature (creating energy out of nothing).

Voodoo science (2)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 13 years ago | (#523145)

This page [aps.org] by physicist Robert Park (of What's New fame) is very relevant. It was clear from the start that the guy predicting commercial applications within 5 years was reality-challenged, but I was inclined to take it a little more seriously as a long-range research topic since NASA was involved. Park has made a career out of studying abnormal science, so in his article he's able to trace how this particular piece of bad science relates to other bad science.

I'm almost done reading Park's excellent new book Voodoo Science. I've learned a lot from it about the psychology of pseudoscience, and I've also learned that no branch of the U.S. federal government is really free of it. I'd assumed NASA was run by people with good scientific training, so if they were studying a certain topic, it must not be 100% nonsense. Not true, as it turns out. In the book, Park documents how NASA panders to the politicians by betraying science. (It's also nice to see a cogent and knowledgeable presentation of the case against human space flight and the ISS.)


The Assayer [theassayer.org] - free-information book reviews

conservation of momentum (1)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 13 years ago | (#523146)

I guess it's bad form to reply to myself, but some of the stuff in Park's book also got me thinking about how this is obviously complete garbage. The original "propellantless" drive idea was based on a discredited antigravity device, and that approach, as Park points out, is voodoo science because it violates conservation of energy. The new version would seem to sidestep the energy-conservation issue, since presumably you're leaving the vacuum in a lower-energy state after you're done (no evidence such a state exists, of course), but it has a problem with conservation of momentum. The antigrav version would presumably have involved a momentum exchange with the Earth, but this one is supposed to work in a vacuum. So it violates conservation of momentum unless you believe the sub-normal-energy vacuum state also has nonzero momentum!
The Assayer [theassayer.org] - free-information book reviews
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