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NASA Tests Microwave Space Drive

Unknown Lamer posted about 3 months ago | from the onward-to-the-stars dept.

NASA 201

schwit1 (797399) writes with news that NASA scientists have tested the EmDrive, which claims to use quantum vacuum plasma for propulsion. Theoretically improbable, but perhaps possible after all. If it does work, it would eliminate the need for expendable fuel (just add electricity). From the article:Either the results are completely wrong, or NASA has confirmed a major breakthrough in space propulsion. A working microwave thruster would radically cut the cost of satellites and space stations and extend their working life, drive deep-space missions, and take astronauts to Mars in weeks rather than months. ... [According to the researchers] "Test results indicate that the RF resonant cavity thruster design, which is unique as an electric propulsion device, is producing a force that is not attributable to any classical electromagnetic phenomenon and therefore is potentially demonstrating an interaction with the quantum vacuum virtual plasma." Skepticism is certainly warranted: NASA researchers were only able to produce about 1/1000th of the force the Chinese researchers reported. But they were careful to avoid false sensor readings, so something is going on. The paper declined to comment on what that could be, leaving the physics of the system an open problem.

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KSP (4, Funny)

Thanshin (1188877) | about 3 months ago | (#47580387)

Let's stick to the important consequences. When will this reach KSP? Is a patch/hotfix in development?

Re:KSP (5, Funny)

NotDrWho (3543773) | about 3 months ago | (#47580563)

Let's stick to the important consequences.

How fast can it cook a potato?

Re:KSP (2)

gewalker (57809) | about 3 months ago | (#47580947)

No, the question is how fast can it accelerate the average potato. NASA reported 30-50 mN of thrust., call it 40. The average potato is about 375 grams, call is 400 even so math is real east. F=m*a or a = F / M or 1e-7 m/sec^2. So, accelerate for 1 year and you reach the break-neck speed of 31.5 meters per second or 70.5 mph

It is going to take a long time to get that potato to Alpha Centauri. Especially considering that you have to also accelerate the mass of the Q-drive unit itself and the energy source to supply the Q-drive.

Now if the effect is real and the efficiency and can be improved you still have something potentially useful in-deed for satellites. You could even maneuver asteroids if you had lots of patience.

Re:KSP (1)

jythie (914043) | about 3 months ago | (#47580981)

Even if the efficiency can not be improved much, the people who launch probes have impressive patience. Add a good solar panel or a nuclear source and you could get a nice constant acceleration over a long period.

Re:KSP (1)

gewalker (57809) | about 3 months ago | (#47581079)

You have to be more even more patient than they are for a probe. To accelerate from low earth orbit to escape velocity the 1e-7 m/s^2 will take 1080 years. Enough for orbit maintenance, probably. Enough for probes, no not really -- No one plans for missions spanning thousands of years.

Re:KSP (2)

green is the enemy (3021751) | about 3 months ago | (#47581211)

Double-check your units. 0.4 kg will accelerate at 1e-4 m/s^2 under 40e-6 N of force. That's ~3000 m/s per year (3.15569e7 seconds in a year).

Re:KSP (1)

gewalker (57809) | about 3 months ago | (#47581001)

Oops, off by a factor of 10. 1 year give 3.15 m/sec 7.05 m[h

Re:KSP (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47581283)

While we're at it, F=40 micro-Newton, m = 0.4 kg means 4*1e-5/4*1e-1 which in turns gives a = 1e-4 m/s^2, no?

Then one year would give a much more interesting 3155.7 m/s, or 11360km/h (about 7000mph I guess ?)

Re:KSP (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about 3 months ago | (#47581309)

40mN is a 40 milliNewtons, or 0.04 Newtons.

40uN is 40 microNewtons. So up your final result by another three orders of magnitude.

Disregard, I suck cocks. (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about 3 months ago | (#47581325)

Oops, the paper said microNewtons, it was gewalker who turned that into "mN".

Re:Disregard, I suck cocks. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47581365)

yep, I read TFA (okay, I'll turn my geek card back) and only skimmed gewalker's post, so I didn't see the milliN / microN confusion, which explains the difference.

Carry the one (5, Informative)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about 3 months ago | (#47581243)

No, the question is how fast can it accelerate the average potato. NASA reported 30-50 mN of thrust., call it 40. The average potato is about 375 grams, call is 400 even so math is real east. F=m*a or a = F / M or 1e-7 m/sec^2.

40 mN is 0.04N

400g is 0.4kg

a = F/m = 0.04 / 0.4 = 0.1 m/s^2 not 0.0000001 m/s^2.

Therefore accelerating for 3e7 seconds (one year) results in a velocity of 3000 km/s. About 1% of lightspeed. And a distance of 330AU. You'll hit one lightyear in 19 years. Two lightyears in about 28 years, if you turn your potato around to decelerate, you'll deliver your potato to Alpha Century in 56 years. If you want to cook your potato by skimming one of the stars, it'll only take 38 years.

Re:Carry the one (3, Informative)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about 3 months ago | (#47581343)

[gewalker said "mN" so I used milliNewtons. I should have checked the paper, it's 30-50 microNewtons (30-50uN). So drop the velocities by 1000. And ignore the rest.]

Re:KSP (2)

freeze128 (544774) | about 3 months ago | (#47581291)

"All hands, prepare for burrito blast!"

Re:KSP (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47580733)

It's already an end-stage upgrade to the plasma thruster in the KSP Interstellar mod.

A HowTo suggestion from a KSP discussion (1)

Paul Fernhout (109597) | about 3 months ago | (#47581073)

http://steamcommunity.com/app/... [steamcommunity.com]
"ishanda --- Kerbal Space Program Apr 17, 2013 @ 2:29am; If you REALLY want Star Trek Style impulse engines why not mod them yourself? All you really need is to make copies of the relevant part files, change the name of the Xenon Tank to "Deuterium" and change the Ion Engine to "Impulse Engine" and then change a few values to make them super efficient. Done."

Still looking forward to seeing how the real device pans out though... Just like I'm still wondering about all the claimed cold fusion results which may also be exploring new areas of physics and chemistry with the behavior of hydrogen atoms at the edges of metal lattices or in cracks in them perhaps in interaction with electro-magnetic pulses ...
http://www.extremetech.com/ext... [extremetech.com]

I'm still waiting on "Tom Swift and his Space Solartron" though: :-)
http://www.tomswift.info/homep... [tomswift.info]
"The main invention in this book is, of course, the Space Solartron. The Space Solartron was probably Tom Swift's most amazing -- and far-fetched -- invention. Its purpose was to make space travel practical by creating oxygen, water, and food from sunlight -- not a simple task, to be sure."

I've mused about even better tech that will extract energy and mass from zero point energy. Although we might then get a "tragedy of the commons" as so much mass and energy is created in nearby outer space as to collectively form a black hole? Now that might be another good mode for the multi-player version of Kerbal Space Program to see what happens politically as that "tragedy" plays out as the outer space equivalent of anthropogenic global warming? :-)
http://www.pcgamer.com/2013/11... [pcgamer.com]

Perhaps that political problem might already be playing out at the core of out galaxy? :-)
http://science.slashdot.org/st... [slashdot.org]

Back to the EmDrive device, it would not surprise me if the impulse provided by the microwave device is much less than the impulse imparted by photons and/or solar wind on any satellite's solar panels to capture needed electricity. But that might be a non-issue if you have a small "Mr. Fusion" fusion reactor or cold fusion LENR device onboard the satellite? :-)

Of course, station keeping is even easier if you have a "HyperEdit" debugger hook into the simulation. :-)
http://www.pcgamer.com/2013/11... [pcgamer.com]
"If you still think MechJeb is cheating, take a look at HyperEdit. It is cheating. Install it, tap Alt+H, and you're given a menu full of options that let you tweak and edit the game. With a few clicks, you can teleport your craft to the orbit of any planet on the solar system, then use the landing options to gracefully touch down. Alternatively, you can instantly replenish your fuel, obliterate a selected craft, or readjust Kerbin's gravity to make escaping its atmosphere unnaturally difficult. HyperEdit is a flexible toolbox that, when used without restriction, completely destroys the difficulty. With a little imagination, though, you can use it to create your own custom scenarios. It's as simple as popping an abandoned craft on a distant planet, and suddenly you've got the basis for a tricky retrieval mission."

See also:
http://www.simulation-argument... [simulation-argument.com]
"This paper argues that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a "posthuman" stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation. It follows that the belief that there is a significant chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor-simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation. A number of other consequences of this result are also discussed."

Or perhaps that explains "Q" tech? :-)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Q... [wikipedia.org]

Although the meanings in life might change in such circumstances, just like cheating in KSP may in some sense ruin the original game while it makes other "games" or scenarios possible depending on self-restraint or agreed on rules? To cheat or not to cheat in KSP, that is the question...

The interstellar mod has microwave power. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47582187)

Along with an alcubierre drive. : )

Bad summary (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47580405)

Skepticism is certainly warranted: NASA researchers were only able to produce about 1/1000th of the force the Chinese researchers reported. But they were careful to avoid false sensor readings, so something is going on. The paper declined to comment on what that could be, leaving the physics of the system an open problem.

The physics of the system has two explanations, one relativistic relying on a classical radiation pressure, and one quantum relying on virtual particles, and is not an "open problem". These are things that were designed, not things that just work but we can't explain why. The EmDrive site will give you the relativistic model; the paywalled Chinese article presumably gives the quantum model. The NASA researchers produced 1/1000th of the force of the Chinese & English drives because they used a different design, which reduces the Q factor of the waveguide - again, this is explained on the EmDrive site. Now Chinese, English and American teams have all measured "anomalous" thrusts from this type of device, so skepticism is not really warranted on that basis, nor on the basis of a presumed anomaly in thrust magnitude when in fact that's all well understood.

Bad summary (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47580519)

No. The NASA team have found unexplained faults in their test apparatus. The null experiment ALSO produced the tiny thrust.

Re:Bad summary (4, Informative)

Sockatume (732728) | about 3 months ago | (#47580781)

Unfortunately in this instance they measured the anomalous thrust on a version of the instrument designed and built by its own inventors in such a fashion as to not produce thrust at all. I'm inclined to believe that the anomalous thrust is some sort of weird ideomotor effect related to the fact that they had to manually control the frequency of the RF excitation as the test ran.

Re:Bad summary (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47580917)

In that case the NASA result adds very little to the existing results. Shame. What I don't get is why they tested this Cannae drive instead of the EmDrive that's been knocking around for a while, and which the Chinese also tested. Seems to me that if the thrust output is 3 magnitudes less, your measurement errors are 3 magnitudes more important. Even if this experiment leads to NASA saying "hey guys, watch out for this unexpected source of errors in this kind of test", the errors are at most uN range so aren't important on a mN measurement.

Re:Bad summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47581321)

And unfortunately as well, it is absolutely not clear for their one-page "publication" (press release ?) whether the thrust observed on the null apparatus is equal to the "with-thrust" instrument. If they're different (with the "null" being smaller than the "with"), that could explain their concluding remark:

Test results indicate that the RF resonant cavity thruster design, ..., is producing a force that is not attributable to any classical electromagnetic phenomenon and therefore is potentially demonstrating an interaction with the quantum vacuum virtual plasma.

That or I'm a bit confused.

In any case, I'm old enough to remember the faster-than-light-neutrinos story ... wait and see.

Re:Bad summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47581959)

I think the paper itself is being presented at a conference, so maybe it'll show up later.

I'm old enough to remember the faster-than-light-neutrinos story

So you're at least one year old :)

Re:Bad summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47582101)

Technically, exactly correct. But what he didn't say is that he's old enough to remember (and put into practice the lessons from) the faster-than-light neutrinos story (which lessons are: wait and see). I don't know what that age is - could be 50 or 60 years old.

Re:Bad summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47582685)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ideomotor_phenomenon

What?

Re:Bad summary (1)

sillybilly (668960) | about 3 months ago | (#47580865)

Dude, they are getting impulse, momentum, mv, from the mass contained in the energy, mc2, which is pure light's mass. You could use that same energy to accelerate any particle, even an electron, to near speed of light velocities via a cyclotron first, then as relativistic mass takes over and cyclotron speeds get out of synch, so you take over with a coiled linear accelerator with correctly placed spacings along its path, a few miles long, then shoot it out into open space as a propulsion kickback conservation of impulse kind of thing, and get better bang, better kickback per energy invested, all you need is a simple piece of matter, like an electron to blow up in mass relativistically and generate a lot of impulse or momentum from this mass increase. As you invest into relativistic mass, you start wasting energy as mass, so there is probably some optimum point of say 0.8c or 0.9c, where the economic scarcity of matter mass dictates wasting energy as relativistic mass. The question is how difficult is it to come up with an electron from outer space, and shoot it back there. Or carry the electron fuel - bound to things like atomic nuclei, and then you can strip the nuclei completely of all electrons, or if that's too expensive energetically, of only a few electrons and the real kick and impulse you get then is of course from these much heavier ions, or stripped atoms, not the light weight electrons. In intergalactic travel you may not be able to filter enough hydrogen atoms or helium atoms (like a whale filters plankton) from the vacuum of space if the vacuum is too close to zero pressure, so then your economic option is using just light, or pure energy, gathered from starlight through massive solar panels, as a propulsion. Accelerating a very scarce electron to very close to speed of light, where the ratio of relativistic mass to rest mass is say, 100, that means 99 grams of 100 grams of stuff ejected as propulsion is energy-mass, then, then you might as well do 100 percent energy-mass, if the operation is simpler, and you don't need a funky cyclotron.

Re:Bad summary (1)

dullertap (1733776) | about 3 months ago | (#47581133)

Christ

Re:Bad summary (3, Insightful)

Immerman (2627577) | about 3 months ago | (#47582419)

We have two competing theories being advanced by people who've built this family of thruster, both of which are also widely regarded as containing flawed physics (if not necessarily well-examined), and many other provisional theories having been advanced by scientists unconvinced that the effect is real. Meanwhile, NASA tests a related apparatus and does in fact detect thrust, but of a magnitude inconsistent with the theory upon which it is constructed.

By what stretch of logic do you propose they can responsibly claim either theory is accurate? The most that they can confirm is that they did in fact measure anomalous results. Addressing the specific physics in play was far beyond the scope of the experiment they performed, and thus would be pure speculation on their part. The proper response is to do exactly what they did: not endorse any specific explanation, but confirm that a repeatable phenomena unexplained by broadly accepted physics does appear to exist. That bolsters the legitimacy of anyone exploring the phenomena without endorsing a particular theory that they lack the data to confirm (aka making a statement of "faith" or "opinion").

Zaphod? (5, Funny)

fuzznutz (789413) | about 3 months ago | (#47580413)

Theoretically improbable, but perhaps possible after all.

Actually, it's infinitely improbable, therefore finitely probable. All they need is a heart of gold.

Re:Zaphod? (2)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47580417)

and add a cup of tea

Re:Zaphod? (1)

dowens81625 (2500160) | about 3 months ago | (#47581607)

A really hot cup of tea !

Re:Zaphod? (1)

dave420 (699308) | about 3 months ago | (#47581933)

A nice hot cup of tea. Your hoopiness is fading ;)

Re:Zaphod? (4, Interesting)

Prof.Phreak (584152) | about 3 months ago | (#47580447)

``anything not explicitly forbidden, is mandatory!'' ---someone commenting on quantum mechanics.

Re:Zaphod? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47580717)

. The paper declined to comment on what that could be, leaving the physics of the system an open problem.

And a enthusiastic under-grad, willing to solve the open problem if it's in the text book.

Ugh (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47580421)

Don't be deceived by vacuum chamber: the device was placed inside a chamber designed to be evacuated, but the experiments were conducted at atmospheric pressure. Ionization effects of air were not considered, and to demonstrate force at pressure and not in vacuum does nothing to establish the utility of such apparatus for extra-atmospheric purposes.

Re:Ugh (2)

queazocotal (915608) | about 3 months ago | (#47580821)

Nor were convection effects considered.
You don't need much airflow to generate 50 micronewtons.

Re:Ugh (1)

green is the enemy (3021751) | about 3 months ago | (#47581391)

Yeah, that paper should be rejected. The results are totally useless. I wonder how many people went "WTF?" upon reading "...within a stainless steel vacuum chamber with the door closed but at ambient atmospheric pressure."

Re:Ugh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47581743)

And the Slashdot Expert Speaks Again.

Really, these guys are NASA. I expect they know what they are doing. I expect they know way more than you do.

Re:Ugh (1)

cyberchondriac (456626) | about 3 months ago | (#47582337)

While you're more than likely right, some of the guys on here probably are from NASA themselves.

free electricity! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47580467)

"it would eliminate the need for expendable fuel (just add electricity)"

And as plug-in electric car proponents everywhere will vigorously agree, electricity is free and abundant. It comes from nowhere, and no fuel is expended to create it.

Re:free electricity! (2)

kav2k (1545689) | about 3 months ago | (#47580487)

In terms of thermonuclear fuel supply in the Sun, it's a good approximation. We're talking about space here.

Re:free electricity! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47580497)

Sure, so as long as you're close enough to the Sun to allow for practical solar panels to work, whoopee, we're colonizing space now!!!

Re:free electricity! (1)

jythie (914043) | about 3 months ago | (#47581005)

For that matter, a nuclear source on a probe or satellite can be treated as fuelless energy. Much better then having to expend propellent.

Re:free electricity! (0)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | about 3 months ago | (#47580491)

Imagine a nuclear 747. The turbines spin, air moves through, and the plane moves. Great for a 50 pound brick of metal as a fuel source, eh?

Now imagine that 747 in space.

One of these things actually works. The other doesn't.

Re:free electricity! (4, Funny)

NotDrWho (3543773) | about 3 months ago | (#47580575)

Imagine a nuclear 747.

I'm already working on my pitch to Syfy.

Re:free electricity! (5, Informative)

Guspaz (556486) | about 3 months ago | (#47580593)

Luckily, there are existing electric propulsion technologies. They don't provide much thrust, but they're extraordinarily efficient (they require so little "fuel" as to effectively not be using any, with VASIMR producing roughly 10x-20x the fuel efficiency of chemical rockets, and the current VASIMR engine is very inefficient in terms of heat loss and such). The problem is that we've never had any large source of power in space, so while electric propulsion is great for getting your probe around the solar system with a minimum of fuel consumption, or perhaps automated cargo runs to some future colony that isn't time sensitive, they're not going to get you anywhere.

However, if you fit a nuclear reactor inside a 747, strap a bunch of if VASIMR thrusters to it, then that'd actually work. You wouldn't get much thrust, though... the 200 kW VASIMR engine produces only 5N of thrust. If you put a nuclear reactor on the thing similar to what you'd find in a submarine, you'd get 300N of thrust. Compare that to the "Draco" rockets used by a SpaceX dragon as manoeuvring thrusters... they have 400N of thrust.

Re:free electricity! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47580935)

For comparison, you can accelerate a 747 to Earth escape velocity in half a year with 300N force, a=300N/450000kg, v=a*60*60*24*180s=~10km/s

Re:free electricity! (1)

Guspaz (556486) | about 3 months ago | (#47582199)

I think your mass figures are off, that's above the maximum takeoff weight of a 747 (442mt), let alone the weight of the empty aircraft itself. Of course, somehow this 747 got into orbit, so the maximum takeoff weight is kind of meaningless.

An empty 747 weighs 178mt, and a submarine reactor weighs about 110mt. It's true that there are micro reactors that can produce about the same output at a fraction of the weight, but let's just say that we also need some radiators for cooling (since there's no active cooling in space) and call it as using up that extra weight. Some weight for the thrusters themselves, and perhaps 300 tons is a feasible weight for an unmanned spacefaring 747. Which is a totally insane phrase to say, I'll admit.

Re:free electricity! (1)

Shortguy881 (2883333) | about 3 months ago | (#47581253)

Problem being is all of these thrusters (VASIMR and the one above) only work in a vacuum. Good luck flying anything in atmo with one of these.

Re:free electricity! (1)

Guspaz (556486) | about 3 months ago | (#47582067)

What atmosphere would a 747 in space have to contend with? Of course it's absurd to have put a 747 in space to begin with, but then that was bluefoxlucid's example, not mine.

Re:free electricity! (3, Informative)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | about 3 months ago | (#47582653)

Still wrong. VASIMR ejects ionized particles--mass--which is the same problem as a chemical rocket: eventually you run out of shit to eject.

We're looking for a technology that can take energy and turn it into movement without ejecting any mass. In other words: We're looking to keep going even when we have no mass to eject. You can't eject the control units, the ship's body, its atmosphere, or its crew, if you want it to keep functioning or support life; so your nuclear pile might remain hot longer than your mass resources hold out.

Re:free electricity! (3, Informative)

PPH (736903) | about 3 months ago | (#47580769)

Imagine a nuclear 747.

OK [wikipedia.org]

Re:free electricity! (1)

The Grim Reefer (1162755) | about 3 months ago | (#47581231)

Now imagine that 747 in space.

I believe you meant a DC-8.

Re:free electricity! (1)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | about 3 months ago | (#47582665)

No, those are DC-8s with rocket engines.

Re:free electricity! (2)

SJHillman (1966756) | about 3 months ago | (#47580499)

It is possible to generate electricity without expendable fuel, whereas our current methods of chemical propulsion *must* use expendable fuel. Unless your religion doesn't believe in solar panels?

Re:free electricity! (1)

invid (163714) | about 3 months ago | (#47580535)

If you live near a star and you have solar panels, you won't need expendable fuel.

Re:free electricity! (1)

Immerman (2627577) | about 3 months ago | (#47582581)

Well, technically you are still using expendable fuel - it's just in the form of the hydrogen being fused in the core of the sun with the power being beamed away as omnidirectional EM radiation. That you're operating a power antenna rather than a on-site reactor, or that the available fuel supply is projected to last for billions of years are incidental to the physics.

Of course, for most practical purposes on a human timescale, operating within range of a nigh-infinite near-constant power broadcaster is indeed functionally very similar to not needing expendable fuel.

Re:free electricity! (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47580573)

Compared to burning fossil fuels, electricity is easier to derive from multiple sources (solar panels, thermocoupled radioactive decay nuclear batteries, fuel cells), especially on a vehicle where refueling can be prohibitive.

For satellites, this is profound, as the life span of most satellites is determined by the amount of fuel they carry to correct orbital trajectories. Any time a satellite has to change orbit (i.e., retasked), it shortens it's service time significantly. Now, with reactionless propulsion, satellites are only limited by their ability to produce electricity. Of course, only when this technology proves out and it is able to be put into service.

For a Mars mission, for instance, it's a lot easier if all you need for propulsion is a fission reactor core and require no reactive fuel. Previously, you had to factor in this additional mass requirement. Now, all you have to worry about is breathable air and water for the crew.

Re:free electricity! (1)

sycodon (149926) | about 3 months ago | (#47581789)

I expect that the vast majority of people reading that knew they were referring to the elimination of rocket fuel.

From the pdf... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47580481)

Thrust was observed on both test articles, even though one of the test articles was designed with the expectation that it would not produce
thrust.

Re:From the pdf... (4, Insightful)

SJHillman (1966756) | about 3 months ago | (#47580505)

The best part of science is when we expect X to happen, but we get Y instead. And the very best of that is when X = nothing.

Re:From the pdf... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47580545)

No, the best part is that NASA were able to prove 1000 times more accurately than the Chinese that the "engine" produced NO thrust and that there are some inaccuracies that they haven't eliminated.

Re:From the pdf... (2)

SJHillman (1966756) | about 3 months ago | (#47580557)

Why won't you let me have my magic space drive? Picard had one. Solo had one. Why can't I have one?

Re:From the pdf... (2)

brambus (3457531) | about 3 months ago | (#47581255)

Aside from the warp drive, which is currently from a physics stand point pure gobbledygook, the sub-luminal "impulse drive" of the Enterprise was a classical nuclear fusion plasma engine fueled by interstellar hydrogen gas (that's why those red things on the front of the Enterprise's warp drive nacelles were called Bussard [wikipedia.org] collectors). It is technologically speaking far in excess of what we can do today, but nonetheless theoretically permitted by known laws of physics.

Re:From the pdf... (2)

ConceptJunkie (24823) | about 3 months ago | (#47582125)

which is currently from a physics stand point pure gobbledygook

Dr. Alcubierre would beg to differ.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A... [wikipedia.org]

The warp drive in Star Trek was based an earlier incarnation of this theory, which is based on results from Einstein. Warp drive FTL travel might not be possible, but the idea is definitely not "pure gobbledygook".

OMG It's P rays! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47582771)

Sounds JUST like the infamous P ray demonstration, where the skeptic secretly removed a vital part of the apparatus, but the person promoting the effect still claimed to see the result.

Re:From the pdf... (2)

tjmcgee (749076) | about 3 months ago | (#47580623)

You're right. "Thrust was observed on both test articles, even though one of the test articles was designed with the expectation that it would not produce thrust. Specifically, one test article contained internal physical modifications that were designed to produce thrust, while the other did not (with the latter being referred to as the "null" test article)." Also: "within a stainless steel vacuum chamber with the door closed but at ambient atmospheric pressure" I think maybe they made one of these: https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

Sensationalism at its worst (5, Informative)

MyLongNickName (822545) | about 3 months ago | (#47580561)

Fact 1: The NASA team has measured approximately 30-50 micronewtons of thrust in the experiment
Fact 2: The NASA team experienced a similar thrust on a test item that was NOT design to experience any force.

It is pretty obvious that there was a systematic error in NASA's experiment.

Re:Sensationalism at its worst (1, Funny)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 3 months ago | (#47580629)

Fact 1: The NASA team has measured approximately 30-50 micronewtons of thrust in the experiment
Fact 2: The NASA team experienced a similar thrust on a test item that was NOT design to experience any force.

It is pretty obvious that there was a systematic error in NASA's experiment.

Or the midichlorians were just screwing with them for fun.

Re:Sensationalism at its worst (2)

Sockatume (732728) | about 3 months ago | (#47580773)

The relevant quote:

Thrust was observed on both test articles, even though one of the test articles was designed with the expectation that it would not produce thrust. Specifically, one test article contained internal physical modifications that were designed to produce thrust, while the other did not (with the latter being referred to as the “null” test article)

Re:Sensationalism at its worst (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47582277)

Depends... it could be correct that it is systematic or it could be that the force is being generated in some unknown way, by both objects. They should have run with a truly null test article - something like a house brick, and perhaps no test article too.

Re:Sensationalism at its worst (1)

meta-monkey (321000) | about 3 months ago | (#47580835)

The big problem I have with their "test" is that they did it at atmospheric pressure. So, they're supposing the force is pushing off quantum vacuum virtual plasma. That's one possibility. The other possibility is it's pushing off THE FREAKING AIR IN THE CHAMBER.

Don't get me wrong, I would love to see a reactionless drive. A reactionless drive could get us to the stars. But it generally involves violating conservation of momentum, and that's unlikely.

Re:Sensationalism at its worst (1)

jschultz410 (583092) | about 3 months ago | (#47580959)

Nope, they did it in a vacuum chamber ...

Re:Sensationalism at its worst (2)

fnj (64210) | about 3 months ago | (#47581045)

What part of this is hard to understand? "Testing was performed on a low-thrust torsion pendulum that is capable of detecting force at a single-digit micronewton level, within a stainless steel vacuum chamber with the door closed but at ambient atmospheric pressure." That's a direct quote from the abstract of the NASA paper.

It was in a vacuum chamber, but it was not in a vacuum.

Re:Sensationalism at its worst (1)

jschultz410 (583092) | about 3 months ago | (#47581353)

Whoops! Mis-read that somehow. I thought it said ambient temperature. The fact that they were doing it an vacuum chamber threw me off. And, yes, I know temperature in a vacuum doesn't mean a whole lot. Just read too fast.

Re:Sensationalism at its worst (2)

sycodon (149926) | about 3 months ago | (#47581909)

What would be more likely?

1. They tested a quantum vacuum plasma thruster inside a vacuum chamber, which is probably cramped, difficult to run test instruments in, and costs more than a bench top and even closed the door but DIDN'T perform the test in an actual vacuum.

2. The did perform the test in a vacuum, but the abstract simply mischaracterizes what they did because the author of the abstract was some Public Relations flunky.

Re:Sensationalism at its worst (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47581157)

They did it in a vacuum chamber at atmospheric pressure. I don't really understand the point of that.

Re:Sensationalism at its worst (1)

angel'o'sphere (80593) | about 3 months ago | (#47581219)

Why do people always make such stupid claims: ... it generally involves violating conservation of momentum, and that's unlikely. Why would a drive using microwaves to utilize a quantum effect violate impulse conservation? Your ship gets a momentum in one direction ad said quantum effect thrust holds the other half of the momentum ... obviously!

Re:Sensationalism at its worst (1)

ConceptJunkie (24823) | about 3 months ago | (#47582211)

If the thing works, it's not that it violates conservation of momentum, it's that it's doing something we don't understand, which appears to violate the conservation of momentum because we don't know how it works.

I'm sure many people would love to see this turn out to work because it would be a really cool real-world effect based on some of the the really bizarre and incredibly abstract physics going on these days. Like many people here I'm sure, I'm fascinated by the advances in modern physics in the last century, but a lot of it, especially in the past 30-40 years, seems to bear no connection to the world we see and experience. I know it explains how matter and energy work, but I'm talking about allowing us to do things we couldn't do before.

Plus, who isn't looking at this and wondering if it couldn't be the basis, assuming it can be improved umpty orders of magnitude, to Jetsons-style anti-gravity devices. Let a nerd dream...

Re:Sensationalism at its worst (1)

minogully (1855264) | about 3 months ago | (#47580931)

Fact 2: The NASA team experienced a similar thrust

[citation needed]

From the NASA article:

Thrust was observed on both test articles, even though one of the test articles was designed with the expectation that it would not produce thrust.

and

Test results indicate that the RF resonant cavity thruster design, which is unique as an electric propulsion device, is producing a force that is not attributable to any classical electromagnetic phenomenon and therefore is potentially demonstrating an interaction with the quantum vacuum virtual plasma.

I don't read this as a "similar thrust" but rather as a non-zero but different thrust. So, yes, there's an error in the experiment causing the non-zero thrust, but there was still enough of a difference between the two experiments to lead them to the conclusion that something is going on.

Re:Sensationalism at its worst (1)

jschultz410 (583092) | about 3 months ago | (#47580953)

Thank you! You beat me to posting this. From the summary:

"Thrust was observed on both test articles, even though one of the test articles was designed with the expectation that it would not produce thrust. Specifically, one test article contained internal physical modifications that were designed to produce thrust, while the other did not (with the latter being referred to as the "null" test article)."

Re:Sensationalism at its worst (1)

Ceriel Nosforit (682174) | about 3 months ago | (#47581033)

How do you explain the discrepancy between the two tests?

Sensationalism at its worst (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47581561)

It is pretty obvious that there was a systematic error in NASA's experiment.

Predicated on the assumption that science is never wrong. Therefore, unexpected behaviour are due to testing errors or chicanery of unethical scientists.

The alternative is that our knowledge is incomplete, and that as we increase our knowledge things that we assumed to be one way may in fact be different than what was accepted before.

Featured in a movie (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47580617)

Brave Little Toaster goes to Mars

cool! (1)

silfen (3720385) | about 3 months ago | (#47581007)

Let's power it with cold fusion! Alpha Centauri, here we come!

The paper... (1)

hAckz0r (989977) | about 3 months ago | (#47581039)

Is useless drivel. Its a one page abstract that reads like a news media comentatry of the test. There are not even graphs of measurments taken, no specifics on the test setup. Nothing. Its not even Science by my definition. Lets move along, nothing to see here.

Not impossible just misunderstood (1)

epwpixieqneg1 (3709433) | about 3 months ago | (#47581125)

Everyone who has experimented with High Voltage 30-40KV+ will tell you that there is a thrust effect, observed. Clearly, this is due to the push against the dielectric particles of air, here on earth, but the same is true for the interplanetary space, just there the particle are fewer but of course the speeds they accelerate to a lot higher. If one reads Tesla's publications in "The Electrical Engineer" from June 10, 1892 ( and several others form the same train of publications), (s)he will realize the concepts and see that this is naturally possible phenomena, just requites clear understanding without common misconceptions.

oh great (1)

slashmydots (2189826) | about 3 months ago | (#47581247)

If you believe Chinese test results then you probably are busy taking photos of the North Korean unicorn burial site as well. They lie about everything. Sometimes I think China is run by 5 year olds.

Re:oh great (1)

ConceptJunkie (24823) | about 3 months ago | (#47582235)

Sometimes I think China is run by 5 year olds.

As opposed to the U.S., which is clearly run by 6-year-olds...

I had a Crookes radiometer as a kid (1)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | about 3 months ago | (#47581281)

Can someone explain to me again why this couldn't be modified, scaled up and used as a micro thrust system for satellites and such? And why is a microwave resonant chamber "better?"

Re:I had a Crookes radiometer as a kid (1)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about 3 months ago | (#47581387)

Can someone explain to me again why this couldn't be modified, scaled up and used as a micro thrust system for satellites and such?

Can you explain how it could be modified, scaled up, and used as a micro thrust system?

First problem: it goes round and round, but doesn't produce net thrust in any one direction.

Re:I had a Crookes radiometer as a kid (1)

ConceptJunkie (24823) | about 3 months ago | (#47582239)

If the effect is real, it could be. The question is whether the effect is real.

Interesting - quantum effects (4, Informative)

tbg58 (942837) | about 3 months ago | (#47581411)

The Wired article speaks of Shawyer's EMDrive, which has been around for some time, and at first appears to confuse the EMDrive with a different technology Dr. Harold "Sonny" White of NASA has been working on for some time.

The tech report clears things up a bit. The test results are showing anomalous thrust, however NASA is reticent to attribute the thrust to Shawyer's theory of how it operates, which would violate conservation of momentum (hence the "impossible" in the title.

What the technical report says is something far more interesting. Dr. White has been working with several different test articles which use electromagnetic forces to increase the rate of virtual particle pair production in the quantum vacuum, then using the virtual particles during their very short time of existence as reaction mass. In other words, it is a reaction drive, but instead of carrying reaction mass in the tank, the investigators are trying to use mass borrowed from quantum vacuum plasma to generate a small, but measurable, amount of thrust.

The final sentence of the technical report contains the salient material:

"Test results indicate that the RF resonant cavity thruster design, which is unique as an electric propulsion device, is producing a force that is not attributable to any classical electromagnetic phenomenon and therefore is potentially demonstrating an interaction with the quantum vacuum virtual plasma. Future test plans include independent verification and validation at other test facilities."

Coypu

Re:Interesting - quantum effects (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47582047)

hurray :) a sapient response to the article and exciting news.

Re:Interesting - quantum effects (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47582099)

It's not fundamentally different technology, it's just that Shawyer has a relativistic theory of operation while White has a quantum theory of operation. Both explanations can be correct. The Chinese worked on an identical design to Shawyer but also came up with a quantum theory of operation, based on virtual pairs being the reaction mass, and their numbers agree with Shawyer's. Shawyer also claims to predict the uN range of the forces produced by White's design, which the NASA experiment bears out.

Re:Interesting - quantum effects (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47582405)

I think you're right, this leads to bigger stuff. I read the Summary of the paper, and Sonny's appearance is quite interesting.

mod Dow^n (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47581667)

Always left out... (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 3 months ago | (#47581703)

From TFS:

If it does work, it would eliminate the need for expendable fuel (just add electricity).

Always left out of these discussion is just how much electricity they need to produce useful thrust. While in theory, even a micro-Newton can eventually get you anywhere you want to go, practical considerations (E.G. the desire to not spend months in the Van Allen while spiraling outward, or the need to decelerate to enter planetary orbit) usually dictate a higher thrust level.

Power is, for example, a huge Achilles heel for the much vaunted VASIMIR - it requires much more than can currently be efficiently delivered in space.

won't this zero out? (1)

wes33 (698200) | about 3 months ago | (#47582467)

the vacuum is electrically neutral; the virtual charged particles
created by quantum fluctuations will be in oppositely charged
pairs (e.g. electron / positron). Won't this drive send these pairs
in opposite directions? So the whole thing will have zero thrust

this thought is the product of complete ignorance of how this
drive is actually supposed to work however :)

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