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posted by janrinok on Friday August 01 2014, @08:49PM   Printer-friendly
from the it-shouldn't-work-but-does dept.

This story from a Wired article: NASA is a major player in space science, so when a team from the agency this week presents evidence that "impossible" microwave thrusters seem to work, something strange is definitely going on. Either the results are completely wrong, or Nasa has confirmed a major breakthrough in space propulsion.

British scientist Roger Shawyer has been trying to interest people in his EmDrive for some years through his company SPR Ltd. Shawyer claims the EmDrive converts electric power into thrust, without the need for any propellant by bouncing microwaves around in a closed container. He has built a number of demonstration systems, but critics reject his relativity-based theory and insist that, according to the law of conservation of momentum, it cannot work.

NASA states... "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"

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  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by hubie on Friday August 01 2014, @09:54PM

    by hubie (1068) Subscriber Badge on Friday August 01 2014, @09:54PM (#76551) Journal

    They claim to have measured 30-50 micro-Newtons. They also appeared to have tested it in a steel chamber at ambient pressure (not a vacuum), and it is using a microwave source. First off, micro-Newtons is tiny. Then if you are measuring a tiny signal while you're blasting microwaves out in a metal chamber, they are asking for EMI (electromagnetic interference) problems. I have a lot of skepticism, but unfortunately the conference paper is not available to me (it is a paper for an AIAA conference, and unless you're an AIAA member, forget about getting a copy (I'm even a co-author on an AIAA paper and it was a pain for me to get a copy)).

    Unfortunately, the article shows a picture of the EmDrive, not the one tested for this paper. If they are comparable size, the picture shows it to be a decent size. I would need to read their paper, but given what they measured under the conditions they described, I would be very reluctant to throw around words like "validated" or "confirmed." The Chinese results claim 720 milli-Newtons, which should be much easier to verify. Too bad they didn't use the same thruster the Chinese used.

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 01 2014, @10:24PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 01 2014, @10:24PM (#76557)

    That is one of the things I've long noted about NASA - that they keep hiring these guys who don't know what they're doing.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 02 2014, @12:24AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 02 2014, @12:24AM (#76587)

      That and their funding problems are more the fault of Congress than NASA.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 03 2014, @03:24AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 03 2014, @03:24AM (#76828)

    that's 72 grams from 2.5kw.

    1.21 jiga watt thrust vectoring and my quad racer is set.

  • (Score: 2) by VLM on Sunday August 03 2014, @11:46AM

    by VLM (445) on Sunday August 03 2014, @11:46AM (#76875)

    "First off, micro-Newtons is tiny."

    How tiny?

    Right off the top of my head its an appropriate measure for sunlight pressure for a medium-ish sized spacecraft. Depending on geometry and orbit (like orbit of Mercury or orbit of Neptune?) etc. Light pressure is well understood physics. The point of this experiment is screwing around with a different wavelength of EM waves. Whatever. So if it worked you're not going to the stars as designed currently, but it migth help with stabilization of large solar panel arrays. Other than I think we have a scaling problem here.

    Another thing best measured in micro-newtons is some really small ion thrusters recently developed for some scientific experiment I don't remember. It turns out to be really hard to both generate and measure and control a force this small. It should be possible scientifically but its an area of engineering that has not as of yet been deeply explored. So even if its useless for "real propulsion" it might be handy for weird cutting edge scientific experiments.

    Another thing I can think of that screws around in micro-Newton level is gravity of "human industrial objects". A couple thousand pounds of junk vs a couple hundred pounds of junk at a close-ish range is sorta on the scale of micronewtons. Yeah yeah 10 Kg 10 M apart is like a nanonewton which is a thousandth too small. Luckily things can be closer together than 30 feet and industrial objects can be way heavier than a thousand times a kilogram. The biggest unit object I ever had access to (although as IT guy, I never used) was an industrial metal lathe about 100 feet long by 10 feet high used to build crane shafts or some such thing and as a rough estimate the gravitational force between me and that lathe could be reasonably expressed in micronewtons.

    If you want to play angular games for fun, run the trig analysis of if I weigh a reasonable amount of newtons and my feet are a foot apart, then micro newtons to the left or right represent one foot being a ridiculous amount higher or lower than the other foot. Estimate in my head well below the thickness of a piece of paper. So any measurements require much better than "ah its just kinda flat looking" or "Seems level cause it's kinda lined up with pix on the wall"

    A final micro-newton scale situation I can think of would revolve around sound. I'm having a hard time estimating based electrically making some assumptions about speaker efficiency (which is never as high as people think) but I think micronewtons of force on the speaker in my subwoofer would be quite inaudible across the room yet micronewton forces on the speaker in my mother in law's hearing aid in her ear "could be" audible plus or minus the reason she's wearing the hearing aide. I think it would be out of thermal noise range but not entirely sure.

    I'm just trying to take the measurement outta technobabble land and into "and this is why its an engineering challenge to measure" land.

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