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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: 5, Informative) by metamonkey on Saturday August 02 2014, @02:55PM

    by metamonkey (3174) on Saturday August 02 2014, @02:55PM (#76721)

    Nobody's saying it's free energy. What's interesting about it is that it provides thrust without propellant. The only way to move in space (besides solar sails) is to throw something in the opposite direction of your desired travel. We generally do this violently, with rocket engines. Even the ion drive you like uses propellent. It works by excitation of the electric field, accelerating an ion (generally xenon) and propelling it out the back.

    What would be neat about this, if it worked, is that you wouldn't have to carry propellent, just fuel to generate electricity (or solar panels). That's huge, because the mass of the propellent is the real limiting factor on how fast we can move through space. The faster you want to go, the more propellent you have to carry, and the more propellent you have to carry, the more propellent you need, etc, etc. And then you have to carry all the propellent you need to slow down.

    If this works, it would basically be using vacuum quantum plasma as the propellent. The microwaves bounce around in the chamber and push against the particles that spontaneously pop in and out of existence. Momentum would still be conserved.

    However, this test doesn't seem conclusive. First, they didn't even have a vacuum in the test setup. They had it in a vacuum chamber, but it was at atmospheric pressure. Ummmmm maybe it was pushing off, I don't know, the air? It's also in Earth's magnetic field. Perhaps it just created an electromagnet and pushed against Earth's magnetic field. Also, they built another machine that was supposedly designed to *not* produce thrust, and yet it did. Something weird is going on here, but it's a big leap to say "Oh, it must be pushing against vacuum quantum plasma!"

    More study is needed. First produce thrust in a vacuum. If that still works, do it away from the Earth's magnetic field. Then we're talking. If that works, then...damn depending on the efficiency, a real reactionless drive can get you to the stars. A small but constant acceleration will eventually get you a significant fraction of the speed of light, without needing to accelerate the mass of propellant needed to accelerate and decelerate.

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  • (Score: 2) by mcgrew on Saturday August 02 2014, @03:28PM

    by mcgrew (701) <publish@mcgrewbooks.com> on Saturday August 02 2014, @03:28PM (#76732) Homepage Journal

    Damn, I have mod points but I can't mod you up because I commented in this thread.

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