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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: 2) by maxwell demon on Saturday August 02 2014, @11:42AM

    by maxwell demon (1608) Subscriber Badge on Saturday August 02 2014, @11:42AM (#76696) Journal

    The point is that it would, according to the article, violate conservation of momentum. Just because it doesn't violate the laws of thermodynamics doesn't mean it doesn't violate any laws of physics.

    Well, actually, if it indeed works, it quite obviously doesn't violate the laws of physics; however, we might then have to update our idea about what the laws of physics are.

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  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by DrMag on Saturday August 02 2014, @02:57PM

    by DrMag (1860) on Saturday August 02 2014, @02:57PM (#76722)

    Speaking as a genuine physicist, my biggest pet peeve of the science world is that while non-scientists misunderstand what is meant by "theory", scientists mis-understand (or at least mis-construe) the meaning of "law". Laws in science are not like laws in government, though sometimes they can be as arbitrary. A scientific law is simply a mathematical equation that describes some process--nothing more, nothing less. There is nothing that requires a scientific law to be correct, or have any bearing in reality. As a result, the laws of the game of science can be as meticulous as chess, or as crazy as Calvin ball. Though often I feel like they are now so convoluted that, along with the degree of obsession people have over them, it feels more like D&D.

    There are three things I wish everyone understood better: statistics, compassion, and the fallibility of all fields. We'd all be much better off if our response to statements like this were, 'Huh, that's interesting... How can we test this?' rather than turning up our nose at and ignoring any idea that doesn't fit perfectly into our particular mindset.

  • (Score: 2) by metamonkey on Saturday August 02 2014, @02:58PM

    by metamonkey (3174) on Saturday August 02 2014, @02:58PM (#76723)

    While I think there are many other things that could have generated the measured force (pushing against the air in the chamber? It wasn't a vacuum. Maybe it created an electromagnet and pushed against earth's magnetic field?), if it does work it still conserves momentum. They think it was pushing against the vacuum quantum plasma, the virtual particles that continuously pop in and out of existence even in vacuum. If so, the virtual particles become the propellent, accelerated away from the drive, providing thrust. Momentum is conserved.

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  • (Score: 3, Informative) by mcgrew on Saturday August 02 2014, @03:22PM

    by mcgrew (701) <publish@mcgrewbooks.com> on Saturday August 02 2014, @03:22PM (#76730) Homepage Journal

    Yes, the article points that out but adds that much having to do with particle physics seems to violate Newtonian laws while following relativistic laws. This seems to work on the principle that waves added in phase with each other double amplitude, while waves added out of phase cancel them out, making it only seem to violate conservation of momentum without actually doing so.

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