back to article NASA tests crazytech flying saucer thruster, could reach Mars in days

NASA has tested an "impossible" electric space drive that uses no propellant – and found it works even when it is designed not to. EmDrive space motor The EmDrive space engine ... a long time coming This has sparked immediate skepticism of the technology. The system is designed to use microwave energy reflected along a …

  1. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge
    Happy

    At last

    My flying car (pace The Jetsons) could be imminent.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: At last

      With a claimed 2.5kW to produce about 3/4 of a Newton, and about 10kN needed to balance the mass of a small car against gravity, your flying car is going to need about 40 000HP. The good news is that an RR Trent 900 exceeds this comfortably. However, as the Trent produces about 300kN of thrust on its own account, it really isn't worth the bother of messing around with large amounts of microwaves as well.

      1. PleebSmash
        Alien

        Re: At last

        If this works, maybe the "2G" version of the EmDrive will work as well...

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

        http://www.buildtheenterprise.org/80-ton-lifter-possible-in-6-years-interview-with-emdrive-inventor

        "BTE-Dan: You describe a 2nd generation of EmDrive which uses a superconducting microwave cavity where 1kW of input power is capable of lifting 3 tons of mass. Of course if this worked it would be mind blowing. When do you think a prototype of a 2nd generation EmDrive could be built given adequate funding of a development project?

        Roger: A prototype 2G thruster, giving 3kN for 1kW microwave input could be available in 3 years. A large prototype 2G thruster giving 800kN [80 metric ton-force] for an 80kW input would take 6 years."

        1. phil dude
          Alien

          Re: At last

          This is very cool, if it turns out to be thoroughly supported. Especially since it is another example of relativity extending Newton's laws, to give us a more precise understanding of the universe...

          Perhaps that's how the aliens get around...:-)

          P.

        2. Jaybus

          Re: At last

          So if we fire this 2G thruster for 1 second then we have used i kJ of energy (1kW for 1 second). On the other hand, we have produced a force of 3 kN for 1 second. If the mass of this craft is such that the 3 kN thrust for 1s causes the craft to move to a height of 1m against gravity, then we have produced a potential energy of 3kJ with the 1kJ input. Wonderful! Three times better than a perpetual motion machine!

      2. Matthew Smith

        Re: At last

        But a Trent wouldn't work in space or if powered by a solar panel...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: At last

          I was writing in the context of a flying car. If you wish to extend the operating envelope of a car to space, you may need to have a word with the dictionary compilers.

          1. Mage Silver badge

            Re: At last

            The last Starfighter?

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: At last

        Once you're out of the atmosphere and out of orbit, tiny accelerations run continuously, as in the article, work amazingly well. Here on earth, not so much.

    2. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge

      Re: At last

      Real Scientists, when they get the same result with their null control as with the DUT, look for flaws in the measurement instruments.

      1. John Robson Silver badge

        Re: At last

        "Real Scientists, when they get the same result with their null control as with the DUT, look for flaws in the measurement instruments."

        Yes - but they didn't get the same result, they got some thrust, but much less than with the test thruster.

      2. Remy Redert

        Re: At last

        Except they didn't get the same result on the control, the control produced significantly less thrust. Now that thrust on the control might be a measurement error, but the difference between control and experiment indicates something is going on. And it's not like this is the first time the experiment was tried.

        1. PassingStrange

          Re: At last

          The fact that they got ANY result from the control shows that they had a problem of SOME sort. And unless they repeated both experiment and control, each set up again from scratch each time, and the results from each were similar each time (but different between control and experiment), it could simply be that the instrumentation problem was weaker on one occasion than the other.

          I'm with others on this. I'd love it to be verified - it would not only be potentially revolutionary, but throw a spanner in the works of current orthodoxy - rarely a bad thing. But frankly this feels a lot like cold fusion did when it was first trumpeted. Sorry - exceptional claims (apparent violation of conservation laws) require exceptional evidence, and I'd say the jury is still decidedly out.

        2. MyffyW Silver badge

          Re: At last

          It's worthy of investigation, but the positive-ish result with the control tickles my nose. Something doesn't smell right (rigorous scientific argument there for you boys).

          all this is a dream, still examine it with a few experiments

    3. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      Re: At last

      "My flying car (pace The Jetsons) could be imminent."

      Probably not any time soon.

      Note that 720+mN for 2.5Kw input is actually very efficient by ion drive standards

      Suspiciously efficient in fact.

      The NASA thruster seems to be more in the microNewton range.

    4. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
      Boffin

      The most intelligent discusion of this so-called experiment

      https://plus.google.com/117663015413546257905/posts/C7vx2G85kr4

    5. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
      Pint

      REPORTEDLY...

      These gadgets were tested in a vacuum chamber, but THE DOOR WAS LEFT OPEN because their RF amplifier contained cheap capacitors that would not survive a vacuum.

      This will almost certainly be attributed to thermal effects, perhaps the power wires heating up.

      Or maybe their GPS has a loose connection (joke alert, yes, I know...)... LOL.

      1. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: REPORTEDLY...

        You have to read other sources, good as El Reg is, to learn more of the back story on this. I've read extracts from the actual paper that mention that they used a vacuum chamber, but were forced to leave the door open because the electrolytic capacitors in the RF amp were not vacuum certified. So the experiment was a last minute thing, obviously, performed in a vacuum chamber with the door open.

        1. BristolBachelor Gold badge

          Re: REPORTEDLY...

          Bit of a pants vacuum chamber then. Ours have bulk-head patch panels that allow passthrough of cables, fibres or waveguides. Thec whole idea is to have a vacuum inside it but be able to connect your kit up to stuff outside to test it.

          1. dan1980

            Re: REPORTEDLY...

            Upvote for using 'pants' as an adjective - something that never fails to amuse me. (Simple as I am.)

  2. Roo
    Windows

    Just a quick double check, it's not April 1st...

    Holy Cow !

    That is awesome, as will be the necessary power source (at current thrust levels). :)

    1. gzuckier

      Re: Just a quick double check, it's not April 1st...

      Was suggested maybe 50 years ago that a tank of water heated by a ground based tight laser beam makes a good interplanetary engine.

      1. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: Just a quick double check, it's not April 1st...

        GZ: "...tank of water heated by a ground based tight laser beam makes a good interplanetary engine..."

        Ah, the issue is bringing mass to orbit. Energy isn't really the issue, as it can be sourced from nuke or solar cells. The issue is having to throw mass out the back to make it go forward. In other words, the tank of water needs to be left on the ground.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It will be much more impressive with a Death Star wrapped around a bunch of them.

  4. frank ly Silver badge

    Questions for rocket scientists:

    How much continuous thrust would be needed to get a reasonable payload from Earth orbit to Mars orbit within a timescale of a few months?

    How big would a solar panel array need to be to generate even 2.5KW when in Mars orbit?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Questions for rocket scientists:

      The average insolation at the orbit of Mars is about 40% that of the Earth in very rough terms. A typical rooftop solar panel installation in the UK is around 2.5kW peak, but that's with atmospheric losses. So a top of the head, no maths or calculator estimate, is around twice that of a typical UK roof, possibly quite a bit less for the sort of solar cells you would use for a spacecraft.

      I'm sure someone will come along with an accurate estimate in a few minutes.

      Not that big at all really, quite doable.

      1. Chris G Silver badge

        Re: Questions for rocket scientists:

        I'm not quite the rocket scientist you were hoping for but here's a couple of pence worth;

        NASA have PV panels that can hit over 40% efficiency, nearly double that of most commercial high end panels so a space craft fitted with them is going to perform fairly well.

        The only thing that will need a bit of calculating is the turnover point for deceleration, as the inverse square law will have to be taken into account, so the turnover point will necessarily be less than half way in order to ensure sufficient braking at Mars to avoid either overshooting or smacking into mars.

        1. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge
          Boffin

          Re: Questions for rocket scientists:

          The only thing that will need a bit of calculating is the turnover point for deceleration

          Off the top of my head, use a Bussard collector to pick up ionised hydrogen along the way, store it somehow (a tokamak since you're generating a magnetic field anyway? an aerogel-like substance?) and then use it somehow (mixed with LOX?) for the "descent" stage to provide more thrust than could be achieved by the outbound engine.

          Nothing wrong with hybrid systems I guess. If you can make a solar panel that doubles as a sail (like a parachute, or perhaps a neat origami structure) you could probably get useful thrust for part of the journey out of that. Maybe if you could get LCDs working, you could vary the albedo of the sail so that you can transition between converting solar power to electricity and direct propulsion, depending on what you need at any point along the journey.

          Anyway, this sounds very interesting. Let's hope that they can continue to test and maybe one day get something up there that can be tried out for real, and not just in the realm of sci-fi or "possible, but not practical" systems...

          1. Pet Peeve

            Re: Questions for rocket scientists:

            The Bussard Ramjet is nearly as out-there as this emDrive is, unfortunately - the "collector" part is magic tech (or at least we haven't the faintest idea how to make one).

            1. Denarius Silver badge
              Unhappy

              Re: Questions for rocket scientists:

              @Pet, worse, calculations now suggest that BRJ has such a high drag it might be OK as a brake only, assuming one can be built.

        2. gzuckier

          Re: Questions for rocket scientists:

          All these approximations are orbit to orbit.

          that's the easy part.

          1. The First Dave

            Re: Questions for rocket scientists:

            "that's the easy part."

            There is _no_ difficult part, it is only the combination that causes issues - we know how to launch a few tonnes of kit successfully, we know how to land on Mars, we know how to keep men alive, we know how to return them to Earth, but each of these requires weight, pushing the launch weight up to levels that will move the Earth in its orbit...

        3. Ian Emery Silver badge

          Re: Turn around point

          That is assuming they manage to do all their calculations using the same measurement system - Metric OR Imperial - and not a bit of each !!!!

    2. Vulch
      Boffin

      Re: Questions for rocket scientists:

      The Dawn spacecraft, currently in transit twixt Vesta and Ceres has two 18 sq. metre solar arrays which combined produce 10kW at 1AU and 1300W 3AU out in the Asteroid Belt. Inverse square and that's about what you'd need for 2.5kW at Mars distance.

      Earth to Mars takes around 9 or 10 months on the cheapest ballistic transfer orbit depending on exactly when in the launch window they're sent, the Indian and Nasa probes launched back in November are due to arrive this September. Even quite modest continuous thrust can cut that by a lot, but it also greatly extends the launch window so you don't need to wait until the planets are exactly aligned and can launch at almost any time.

      1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

        Forget about the solar panels!

        Nuclear power is what this thing is made for.

        This device means that, finally, a lot of sci-fi novels have just become simple fiction, not sci-fi anymore. Spaceships flying between planets at will, without the need for reaction mass - we have just passed a singularity in space exploration and human civilization expansion and the world at large have barely even noticed. Wow.

        1. Hans 1 Silver badge

          Re: Forget about the solar panels!

          fission plants, even small ones, are very heavy, that already rules them out. Besides, when will the guyz on el reg understand, nuclear is evil, nuclear is evil, nuclear is EVIL ?????

          I had a chat with the blokes over at ITER the other day and, the only reason the ITER project exists is to extend life of current nuclear facilities.

          Seriously, if you believe nuclear fission is an acceptable solution for anything but human extinction you are completely deluded.

          #idiocracy

          1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

            Re: Forget about the solar panels!

            "Nuclear is EVIL"

            Eh, Hans? What specifically is it that makes nuclear evil? How? Please explain.

            Secondly, how does the heaviness of something rule it out in space?

          2. Dr. Mouse Silver badge

            Re: Forget about the solar panels!

            "when will the guyz on el reg understand, nuclear is evil, nuclear is evil, nuclear is EVIL ?????"

            Or...

            "The sun is EVIL! It could destroy the earth if it went super-nova!"

            Seriously, take your tin foil hat off. Modern nuclear fission technology is safer than most other generation methods, and the only one which could allow a significant reduction in carbon emissions while providing current and future power requirements.

        2. Kunari

          Re: Forget about the solar panels!

          IF this turns out to be real. I'm hoping it is but as someone else said, it sounds way too much like cold fusion at this time.

        3. Mage Silver badge

          Re: Forget about the solar panels!

          Doesn't solve Interstellar travel problem.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Questions for rocket scientists:

        If 18 sq. meters of solar panel produces enough energy for 720mN of thrust then we can say such a space craft produces 40mN/m^2 pressure.

        Solar sails produce 8.25μN/m^2 after losses, according to wikipedia. It should be noted that sails are simpler and probably lighter than an EmDrive + panels.

        If this is true then it's great news! However something tells me that a photovoltaic panel working at 40% efficiancy shouldn't be able to collect 5000x more energy than a reflective sail working at 90% efficiancy.

        1. Mephistro Silver badge

          Re: Questions for rocket scientists:(@AC)

          "a photovoltaic panel working at 40% efficiancy shouldn't be able to collect 5000x more energy than a reflective sail working at 90% efficiancy."

          Use both. A toroidal mirror-sail concentrating lots and lots of sunlight in a smaller solar panel (or another different device for energy production, e.g. a stirling engine) and you have the best of both worlds. That is, if the results obtained insofar are not a rounding error. Crossing my fingers on that part.

          With a little bit of luck we could be sending fecking tourists to Mars in a few decades!!!

          1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

            Re: Questions for rocket scientists:(@AC)

            With a little bit of luck we could be sending fecking tourists to Mars in a few decades!!!

            Ugh. They'll just make it uninhabitable for the rest of us, as they do everywhere else.

            Actually, that sounds like a pretty good idea.

        2. tony2heads
          Pirate

          Re: Questions for rocket scientists:

          Are we simply talking about radiation pressure here?

          If so, why not just use mirrors - like a solar sail?

          haul on the bowline ye lubbers

        3. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

          Re: Questions for rocket scientists:

          "However something tells me that a photovoltaic panel working at 40% efficiancy shouldn't be able to collect 5000x more energy than a reflective sail working at 90% efficiancy."

          A solar cell absorbs the incident photons, collecting X% of of energy from each. A solar sail absorbs the incident photons and then re-radiates them; it doesn't get access to anywhere near the same amount of energy.1 It's the difference between burning hydrogen and nuclear fusion.

          1. I'm not actually sure where a solar sail gets its energy from. My instinct is it keeps some of the energy delivered by the photons - i.e. re radiates them at a lower frequency. But that would mean a perfect reflector wouldn't experience radiation pressure, which seems wrong.

          1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

            Re: Questions for rocket scientists:

            I'm not actually sure where a solar sail gets its energy from.

            The Wikipedia article seems decent. Basically, EM radiation - regardless of whether you consider it as wave or particle - has momentum, even though photons are massless. Since it has momentum, it will transfer some of that to a surface it encounters. A perfectly reflective surface would gain momentum through elastic collision; a perfectly absorptive one through a completely inelastic one. (Of course any real surface will be partly reflective and partly absorptive.)

            The actual quantum-scale interactions are more complicated, but you can just say "EM radiation has momentum" and at the macro level it's quite straightforward. The calculations are simple for perfect absorption and perfect reflection.

    3. Pet Peeve

      Re: Questions for rocket scientists:

      It's surprisingly small! .01g will get you 400,000,000 kilometers (the maximum distance Mars is ever from Earth) in 2.2 months in a straight line run (turning around halfway). At .001g, it would take about 7 months. Continuous acceleration ROCKS, even if it's minuscule.

      In a real trip to Mars, you couldn't do a straight-line trip with this kind of drive - you'd plonk one into orbit conventionally, and then use the thrust to gradually raise the orbit until it intersects Mars. I'll leave it to someone with better skills to estimate how well that would work, but I think it's quite practical.

      On the other hand, all sorts of things are practical with magic tech - let's not put the cart before the horse.

    4. Mike Moyle Silver badge

      Re: Questions for rocket scientists:

      I'm not a rocket scientist so, being basically lazy, I Googled up this site:

      http://www.cthreepo.com/lab/math1/

      If I'm doing this right, an acceleration of 0.1G would get you Earth to Mars at nearest approach in 5.5 days and at their farthest, 15 days (plus a bit extra on that last one to avoid taking a straight line and running into the sun).

      If you're not in a hurry, or are on tight power rations, accelerating/decelerating @ 0.01G would get you to your destination in 17 and 47 days respectively.

      The beauty of constant acceleration, of course, is that -- just like keeping your money in the bank and letting the interest repeatedly compound -- constant acceleration quickly builds on itself to your advantage. So while our 0.1G drive could get us to Mars in between 5 and 15 days, it would get us out to the Jovian moons in something like 20 days, or to Pluto in less than 60. (These are all really quick and dirty averages but I'm really rather abusing the privilege with Pluto, since its orbit is so screwy, but the average should be in there, somewhere.)

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Questions for rocket scientists:

      How much continuous thrust would be needed to get a reasonable payload from Earth orbit to Mars orbit within a timescale of a few months?

      x(t) = x(o) + Vo(t) + 1/2 At^2

      F=mA

      PV=nRT

      Pi=3.1415926...

      Under your chair you will find...

    6. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
      Pint

      ...MISSING THE ENTIRE POINT...

      Rockets to Mars, blah blah blah... Who cares?

      The Laws of Physics as we know them would have to be wrong, fundamentally wrong. That's the important bit... Or there's a glitch in the (obviously-flawed*) experiment. Place your bets.

      (* They left the door open to their vacuum chamber because their RF amp wasn't vacuum compatible. Sounds last-minute to me, otherwise why would they being using a vacuum chamber with the door open?)

    7. Farnet

      Re: Questions for rocket scientists:

      "How much continuous thrust would be needed to get a reasonable payload from Earth orbit to Mars orbit within a timescale of a few months?

      How big would a solar panel array need to be to generate even 2.5KW when in Mars orbit?"

      Frank ly - they wouldn't, with a small Nuclear reactor and using layered tiles of carbon nanotubes packed with gold and surrounded by lithium hydride are under way. Radioactive particles that slam into the gold push out a shower of high-energy electrons. They pass through carbon nanotubes and pass into the lithium hydride from where they move into electrodes, allowing current to flow.

      This was technology identified a few years ago, and is already being used.

      So you'd get loads of power for thrust, and for many years, adding the solar panels for top up, would be a bonus

  5. Paul Crawford Silver badge

    "a fuel-less drive system like EmDrive changes that equation"

    Until one works out where all of that power comes from.

    Close to the Sun you may have solar panels, and farther out you might use a RTG for power, but with 2.5kW needed for 720mN of thrust you are looking at serious power levels to cut the flight-time to Mars.

    Also did they bother to funnel the wast heat for more drive?

    1. lglethal Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: "a fuel-less drive system like EmDrive changes that equation"

      Sorry Paul, I'm afraid you're missing the point. With a conventional rocket you fire once in the direction you want to go, accelerate quickly up to speed, and then cruise the rest of the way, until its time to turn around and put the brakes on. That means you get quickly to a crusing speed and then its coasting all the way, you cannot go faster.

      With a continuous action drive (like this one or an ion drive), you only need to apply a small thrust because there is nothing slowing you down. So you are constantly accelerating, the acceleration might be much lower, but you are always getting faster and faster. It doesnt take long even with very modest accelerations to start travelling faster then your conventionally powered satellite (which is still stuck at the same speed it was when its rockets turned off).And once your faster, you will quickly catch up and overtake the conventional satellites.

      These things are no use in the atmosphere, where things slow you down, but out in Space, they have great possibilities...

      1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

        Re: @lglethal

        A typical satellite with 2.5kW of power is in the big communications class, so its likely this would be similar, so around 1000kg.

        With 0.72N of thrust you get an acceleration of 7.2E-4 m.s^-2 (i.e. 7.3E-5 g) or 62.2m/s per day. To double the escape velocity of about 11km/s would take about 176 days, and then double that time to stop the craft again.

        So of course you keep accelerating, but this is not suddenly going to make interplanetary travel convenient.

        1. AndyS

          Re: @lglethal

          Are you trolling, or just stupid?

          The electrical requirement of a satellite has nothing to do with the weight. You can put big panels on something small, or small on big.

          A double deck bus has a 200 HP engine. So everything with 200HP must weigh 18 tonnes, right? So an F1 car with ~1000 HP must weigh 90 tonnes. Can't be very exciting watching them race.

          Also, 0.72N is the first demonstrated prototype. There's this thing called development that I think you've forgotten about. Heck, they don't even really understand what's happening here yet!

        2. BristolBachelor Gold badge

          Re: @Paul Crawford

          Nah, 2.5kW is in the class of reasonable (big) size imaging or science satellite. Big communication class is more like 15kW - 22kW. Of that maybe 1kW is used by the platform and the rest is for the payload.

          As for solar panels, I'm not sure I believe 40%. For space you need GaAs, not silicon because of the radiation, especially as you move out of LEO orbit and out of the atmosphere. I think maybe 32-35% might be achievable at the cell level, but your panel isn't 100% cells - you have wiring, mechanism, other circuits, etc. Outside the atmosphere you get an average insolation of ~1370W/m², but as has been said, that drops to ~40% by Mars. Given that I don't have Mathcad on my mobile, I'll leave the calcs to someone else.

          The Russians had quite a few satellites with thermal nuclear power plants that would go nicely with this tech for getting to/from the outer planets.

      2. Jaybus

        Re: "a fuel-less drive system like EmDrive changes that equation"

        I think his point was re. needing fuel (for powering the thruster), rather than whether or not the low thrust would suffice. Solar becomes problematic even at Mars orbit, and is completely impractical in deep space. NASA has had very good results with RTGs in deep space, so I would imagine some sort of RTG would be used, or perhaps a SRG (Sterling Radioisotope Generator).

  6. Robert E A Harvey
    Boffin

    Brass?

    Is it me, or is that a steampunk stardrive?

    I like it!

    1. bazza Silver badge

      Re: Brass?

      Yep, it's a steam punk star drive alright.

      Plus if they do actually do a superconducting version there ought to be a lot of mist floating around as well. That'd drive the SPF (Steam Punk Factor) off the top of the scale.

      If they are going to super cool it they might as well just add a few steam nozzles and noise valves just to convince everyone that something is causing it to work. As humans we're just not ready to believe that something can sit there working without flame / smoke / ear splitting noise / deep visceral rumbling / significant humming / a lot of sparks and stuff. Ion drives (which we all know do actually work) produce nothing more convincing than a slight blue glow, which is barely enough to believe in at all.

      1. Ben Bonsall

        Re: Brass?

        " Ion drives (which we all know do actually work) produce nothing more convincing than a slight blue glow, which is barely enough to believe in at all."

        All hail the blue glow!

    2. veti Silver badge

      Re: Brass?

      Except for the part where it won't work if it gets too far away from the sun. I think that pretty much limits its potential for interstellar travel.

      1. hammarbtyp Silver badge

        Re: Brass?

        "Except for the part where it won't work if it gets too far away from the sun"

        Cough, Cough, Nuclear, Cough Cough

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Brass?

          "Cough, Cough, Nuclear, Cough Cough"

          SHHHHH don't mention Nuclear.... that will scupper all research in the US of A unless they are using it to kill something...

          1. g e

            Re: Brass?

            That'd Nukuler, surely ;o)

  7. AndrueC Silver badge
    Joke

    Awesome! But can I be the first to say:

    She Cannae go any faster, Cap'n!

    1. P. Lee Silver badge
      Happy

      > She Cannae go any faster, Cap'n!

      Oh Yes She Can!

  8. Brad Arnold

    It is typical of the current ossified scientific community that you not only need to demonstrate results for them not to call you a fraud, you also need to provide an acceptable theory to explain it. For instance, the following is a clean, virtually free, and super abundant energy technology (LENR) which has been verified (more than once by the way) by an impeccable third party:

    http://pesn.com/2014/07/22/9602521_SHT-publishes_3rd-third-party-test-results_1345x-overunity/

    The following explains more fully, along with some NASA quotes verifying LENR:

    http://coldfusionnow.org/the-evidence-for-lenr/

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Since when is NASA the go-to for crank science? They can't even get a fat plane into orbit.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        >For instance, the following is a clean, virtually free, and super abundant energy technology (LENR) which has been verified (more than once by the way) by an impeccable third party:

        f''k's sake. If what you say is true, why hasn't it been taken up by any commercial company that wishes to cut its energy bills?

        Also, why haven't they claimed the $1 Million USD reward offered (by the marvelous Dick Smith) to anyone who can prove LENR works?

        In February 2012 Smith expressed himself skeptical of the purported Energy Catalyzer Cold fusion device. On 14 February, he offered the inventor Andrea Rossi one million US Dollars if he were to repeat the demonstration of 29 March of the year before, this time allowing particular care to be given to a check of the electric wiring of the device, and to the power output. The offer was declined by Rossi before the lapse of 20 February acceptance deadline that had been set by Smith.

        Smith has subsequently offered one million US dollars "to any person or organisation that can come up with a practical device that has an output of at least one kilowatt of useful energy through LENRs (low energy nuclear reactions)." The offer remained open until January 2013.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dick_Smith_(entrepreneur)#Involvement_in_public_affairs

        1. Frankee Llonnygog

          LENR works!

          Sorry for the lateness of my post - it's due to the transmission delays between you on Earth and my lair on Mars.

          1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

            Re: LENR works!

            "Sorry for the lateness of my post - it's due to the transmission delays between you on Earth and my lair on Mars."

            You really need to update to one of my sub-etha transceivers, I'll ship one over to you once I get my hands on one of these drive upgrades, just need to pop over to Lave and Diso for some, err, shopping :)

            1. Hope Spirals
              Happy

              Re: LENR works!

              Have an upvote for Lave & Diso

              1. Pedigree-Pete Bronze badge

                Re: LENR works!

                Have an upvote for beating me to the upvote for Sir Runcible. :)

    2. Jon Green
      Pirate

      Hmmm...

      ...of the 10 "Brad Arnold" posts El Reg still permits us to see (one was deleted by a moderator), six were promoting LENR.

      I call "sock puppet".

      1. Pet Peeve

        Re: Hmmm...

        *points and laughs at the cold-fusion ninny*

      2. Pet Peeve

        Re: Hmmm...

        "Brad Arnold", real name or not, appears to be a frequent cold fusion booster on the web.

        Hey Brad, stop calling it LENR - making up a technical term for pathological science is putting gold leaf on a turd.

    3. Dave Bell

      Cold Fusion, at the time of the first claims, attracted some substantial research budgets. The potential pay-off was so high.

      This is in some of the same territory.

      Cold Fusion was given a good chance. There are potential pay-offs on this too, though it might not be powerful enough a thruster for station-keeping on a satellite. But the fuel supply is a limit on satellite lifetime.

      This thruster will get a good chance. Results need replicating. That's all part of good science.

      1. MrXavia

        "Results need replicating. That's all part of good science."

        And that is the brilliant bit, NASA are duplicating the original designers results!

        Lets hope this brings him funding so he can afford to get to work on it and either prove it 100% that his idea will bring the results he thinks, or not.

        Maybe only 1 in 10,000 crackpot ideas will turn out a gem that changes the world, but I think all should be funded as best possible, you never know which idea will work until it does...

        Look how much has been wasted on toroidal fusion, its always 50 years away yet costing us billions, so a few million £s thrown at a crackpot idea might prove itself worth it!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Maybe only 1 in 10,000 crackpot ideas

          As we all know, crackpot ideas only work if they are a one in a million chance, and throwing a few million pounds at each one would cost several trillion pounds to get one to work. Therefore, all the effort should be devoted to the (almost) infinitely improbable drive. Once we get to an improbability of one million to one, cold fusion and reactionless drives will just start popping into reality all over the place.

    4. Chris G Silver badge
      Pint

      I am impressed

      From the first link:

      "As I said the other day, bear in mind that the starting product is water: H20, and 97% of the output is Hydrogen. So, apparently, the oxygen is somehow being transmuted into hydrogen in their "symphony" of 16 different functions happening simultaneously (none of which have anything to do with "solar" in the classical sense). This implies that some kind of clean nuclear or similar phenomenon is in play. We're talking new physics."

      That anyone with a modicum of scientific knowledge could give this credulity...... Haa Haaa Haaaaaaa

      Glass of alchemical beer anyone? I guarantee it will give you the sexual proclivity and stature of a bull!

      And I won't charge you too much.

      1. Lorentz

        Re: I am impressed

        Alchemical beer? Make mine homeopathic please!

        On a slightly more serious note, I'm a bit surprised at how many people think there could be not just surprises in electromagnetic effects left but surprises of this magnitude. Quantum Field Theory works to so many decimal places, with such complete consistency, that an effect like this is not merely pretty much ruled out, but about as unlikely as people starting to levitate to work tomorrow.

        I'll wager my house against anyone's penny that this effect will never be replicated under proper controlled conditions.

    5. Zack Mollusc
      Meh

      Clean? Free?

      LNER was never free and certainly not clean! Belching clouds of coal smoke and dripping oil all over the tracks is a more accurate description. You are an idiot.

  9. Roger Stenning
    Go

    Even accounting...

    ...for the fact that conventional rocketry would be needed to bring it to orbit, this is quite something. I hope the scaled-up version exceeds the promise of the model they constructed.

    I can only see one potential problem: It's using microwave energy to produce thrust. If that casing leaks (micrometeorites etcetera), everyone on board the ship it's pushing is likely to wind up as rubber chicken, unless there are some significant Faraday cage considerations given to the crew compartment.

    Never the less, let's hope this works - I want to see us establish a permanent, fully manned, and expanding, facility on Mars before I pop my clogs!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Even accounting...

      Space capsules are already shielded because of the need to account for the raw radiation abundant in space (which you don't see much on earth due to its natural magnetic fields). When you have to deal with high-energy gamma and cosmic rays, infrared microwaves should be relatively easy.

    2. MrXavia

      Re: Even accounting...

      Why use conventional rockets?

      If the US could throw us Brits a few millions, then Skylon can solve that problem for you too... British engineers to the rescue again! :-D

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

        Re: Even accounting...

        It's time they built an orbital launcher that is designed to be cannibalized for construction of power sources in orbit.

        1. Paul_Murphy

          Re: Even accounting...

          A space elevator would be far more useful.

  10. Uffish

    'Impossible' drive

    Did someone spill a nice hot cup of tea over it?

    1. Isendel Steel
      Coat

      Re: 'Impossible' drive

      improbably, yes

  11. Native Angeleno
    Alert

    Let's test it! They guy inside will be reduced to the consistency of peanut butter.

    The future in space is robots. Not those ridiculous little Martian toys but 4-5 foot-tall robots with long striding ability to walk up and over large rocks, replete with all human sensory, including the big one, TOUCH, sent back home instantaneously, all movements controlled from here. Without the need for food, sleep, oxygen or gravity so their "muscles'' won't melt away en route or upon landing. Made much tougher than us for 100s of blast-off and landings. Any nation can build them to be shot out into space in differently-designed ships taking advantage of a non-human robot's need and abilities, not a human's.

    And any human that gets jealous and wants to grow up to be a space robot, science will eventually be able to transform them into one. Then an entire population of 'em can live indefinitely on a real star trek, undergoing periodic on-board repairs that will allow them to live for millenia. THAT'S the ticket!

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Tactile feedback on a remote-controlled device like that is going to feel pretty awkward, given that, at the least, feedback is going to go through a minimum 6-minute lag (the closest Earth can come to Mars is some bit over 54 million kilometers). As the saying goes, sometimes, the only way to do things right is to get up close and personal.

      1. GrumpyOldMan

        Yes, but being there, experiencing it first hand - Exploration - is part of what makes us human. We've been doing it for centuries.

        Personally I'll be watching this one with great interest. This is really cool, and NASA have some immensely clever boffins working for them.

        And a decent budget.

        And permission to play....

        Not that I'm jealous at all!

        Not at all.....

        1. Kunari

          NASA's budget is a joke... but hopefully they'll continue to research thing and prove it works and explain how.

          Has the Chineese team released anything recently? What about the original British inventor? Come on you

  12. TechnicalBen Silver badge

    I'm wainting with baited breath...

    As not much of that makes actual science/sense.

    Though theoretically you could fire photons out of a ship, just as you'd fire any energy source in any other form of propulsion. Microwaves would have a similar effect, though I don't know the specifics.

    Most of the claims though, could end up to be nothing more than FTL neutrinos, especially seeing as the control also gave a result! (That's not suppose to happen!)

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: I'm wainting with baited breath...

      Read the abstract of the paper, linked in the article. The concluding paragraph of which is:

      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.

      The last sentence is in keeping with the scientific method.

      "We did X and observed Y. We were surprised by Y. Can anyone help us confirm that we didn't overlook unknown factor(s) Z? Thank you!"

      1. bazza Silver badge

        Re: I'm wainting with baited breath...

        @Dave 126

        ""We did X and observed Y. We were surprised by Y. Can anyone help us confirm that we didn't overlook unknown factor(s) Z? Thank you!"

        Indeed, and in fact it's pretty rare that a theoretician has successfully predicted a result that has been confirmed experimentally. In particle physics it's happened, I think, only twice. Normally an experimenter demonstrates beyond doubt that something weird is happening, and the theoreticians spend the next few years thinking up an explanation and then even longer dreaming up reasons why they hadn't thought of it first.

        For entertainment go and ask a theoretical physicist to explain the Mpemba Effect, and don't let them bluff their way out of the challenge.

        1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

          Re: I'm wainting with baited breath...

          Then it's the claims of the news sites. Just as with the FTL neutrinos. "Mars in 6 months" etc as headlines does not help.

          1. Kevin Johnston

            Re: I'm wainting with baited breath...

            Indeed. Even the populist science gurus in Mythbusters work to fairly strict standards and if they get an answer they don't expect they look to see why. They are peer-reviewed (viewer responses) and have re-visited with different test methods to verify their results. Even then they are not always willing to label an experiment as passed or failed and leave it in the middle ground.

            From the News Site viewpoint though they need viewers and that often requires click-bait headlines.

            El Reg is exempt that accusation though as everyone knows they would never tease with a headline (or sub-head I hear)*.

            *OK, I made that bit up.

        2. Pet Peeve

          Re: I'm wainting with baited breath...

          What do you mean it's only happened twice? Theoretical physicists make predictions ALL THE TIME, it's what they do.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I'm wainting with baited breath...

      "Though theoretically you could fire photons out of a ship, just as you'd fire any energy source in any other form of propulsion. Microwaves would have a similar effect, "

      Translation: you could use photons; on the other hand photons might work too.

      1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

        Re: I'm wainting with baited breath...

        "Translation: you could use photons; on the other hand photons might work too."

        Thanks for spotting it, I was waiting to see who would. But still got the downvotes. :(

        So, this thing is a photon drive. I'd expect the same results as a photon drive, and not claims of magic (from news sites, as I'm sure the scientists who wrote the paper are above that) game changers to space travel.

        Now, if there is some interesting effect, it would be great to see some proper tests and results. Like Vasmir has been getting or similar projects done with ion drives. They are being used in space right now, so we know the actual processes and the results given.

        This current "effect" is dangerously close to "oops, it was Dave leaning on the table with his coffee" as the effect. :P

    3. James Micallef Silver badge

      Re: I'm wainting with baited breath...

      Although the exact science is way out of my league, (and I'm sure I might be confusing some terms, please don't laugh) I suspect the reason this works is that at a quantum level, energy and matter are basically the same thing. So you can produce thrust by 'throwing out' energy that you've collected from the sun (or that you're generating in an onboard nuclear reactor)

  13. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Is it patented?

    I sincerly hope Mr Shawyer has patented this

    1. HMB

      Re: Is it patented?

      I don't think so, but I expect it's already covered by Apple's patent for 'magical effects produced from a shiny metal something'.

      1. P. Lee Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: Is it patented?

        Extra-planetary propulsion system for a mobile device.

        I understand they already have system for building iphones out of meteorites.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Is it patented?

          Isnt the interesting thing Here is that they are interacting with the SpaceFlux .. the plasmordial soup from which all matter sprang. Perhaps this is somehow using energy from somewhere else, another dimension perhaps?

      2. Charlie van Becelaere

        Re: Is it patented?

        "Apple's patent for 'magical effects produced from a shiny metal something'."

        Don't forget, that patent only applies if the shiny metal something has rounded corners.

    2. Spanners Silver badge

      Re: Is it patented?

      I really hope it is fully open to all. That means specifically not patented.

      The idea of patenting is to stop an idea being used by anyone else.

      The World Wide Web was not patented. That is why it caught on so big. Anyone who wants to can create a web server. You can't call it IIS but you can call it your own.

      Does anyone remember all those myths about all the oil companies buying up the patents for better electric cars so that we would all stay with them? We certainly have done that.

      If this turns out to have something to it, it needs to be something that anyone can do. Then all we need is a Great Glass (Space) Elevator and people can start getting off this rock !

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Is it patented?

        "I really hope it is fully open to all. That means specifically not patented.

        The idea of patenting is to stop an idea being used by anyone else."

        As we have seen with the US patent system, patents may be required to protect and keep something open. Otherwise some big corp comes along and patents it for themselves. Once it's been granted, it takes serious money to get it oiverturned, even when there is obvious and blatent "prior art".

  14. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Headmaster

    Captain Future's enemy had one of those.

    "quantum vacuum virtual plasma"

    Star Trek science alert.

    The last time I saw that "microwave-based reactionless drive", the prétendu thrust was conveniently plotted without error bars. That was also when it appeared in NewScientist and I decided to not renew my subscription.

    The system uses microwave energy reflected around a specially designed chamber to produce thrust.

    The last time I thought about it, it seemed evident to me that the force towards the "front" would exactly equal the force towards the "back". So turn the engine around and it will still work the same ... uh ... wait ...

    Additionally, in case it magically works, then we have the good old Aether and an absolute reference system back. So no, it won't work. Fracking self-licking icecream drive.

    1. beast666

      Re: Captain Future's enemy had one of those.

      What do make of the CMB reference frame then?

      It's not an absolute 'special' reference frame, but it is a unique one.

      Get back to bed and take your meds.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Re: Captain Future's enemy had one of those.

        What do make of the CMB reference frame then?

        ITT: People who are not into reference frames and special relativity. And probably still in high school.

        Furthermore... actually written by Greg Egan:

        September 19, 2006: A Plea to Save New Scientist

        However, I really was gobsmacked by the level of scientific illiteracy in the article “Fly by Light” in the 9 September 2006 issue, concerning the supposed “electromagnetic drive” of Roger Shawyer. If Shawyer’s claims have been accurately reported, they violate conservation of momentum. This is not a contested matter; in its modern, relativistic form it is accepted by every educated physicist on the planet. The writer of this article, Justin Mullins, seems aware that conservation of momentum is violated, but then churns out a lot of meaningless double-talk about “reference frames” which he seems to think demonstrates that relativity somehow comes to the rescue ... Mullins quotes one engineer who says Shawyer’s claims are “a load of bloody rubbish”, but that’s really not good enough, when the rest of the article is full of apparent endorsements from various authorities. If Mullins had tried, I’m sure he could have found someone to explain to him exactly why, however clever Shawyer’s design might be, the only possible source of net thrust for this device would be the release of the microwaves in a unidirectional beam, and that the ceiling on the thrust imposed by relativity is P/c (where P is power), or 3.33 microNewtons per kilowatt. As the article stands, it leaves readers with the impression that while one engineer has raised some unspecified quibbles, it’s quite likely that Shawyer is correct.

        So, super-extraordinary claims with no extraordinary evidence. This happens continually of course, no need to get into high dudgeon etc., keep you well-annoted classical physics book on the shelves, do not throw them out etc.

        1. Uffish

          Re: "no need to get into high dudgeon"

          So why all the high dudgeon?

          1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
            Coat

            Re: "no need to get into high dudgeon"

            Is anyone else reading "Null Testicles" in this article or is it just me?

    2. Pet Peeve

      Re: Captain Future's enemy had one of those.

      Exactly!

      The fact that this "thrust" is measurable on the null test article too, makes me think this is much more likely a case of a measurement problem than an actual effect. It is quite common that a piece of crank technology appears interesting precisely because the effect is hard to measure properly. Another example would be not using an RMS multimeter when trying to tally up current in a motor-based perpetual motion scheme.

      Of course I would love to see this be a real thing, because even if it takes large amounts of power, it is STILL a space drive, and that would be universe changing. It would open a new chapter in Fermi's paradox too - if it's possible to build a space drive, it's hard to believe we're the first intelligent species in the galaxy to discover it.

      1. Bucky 2

        Re: Captain Future's enemy had one of those.

        The fact that this "thrust" is measurable on the null test article too, makes me think this is much more likely a case of a measurement problem than an actual effect.

        Alas, this is what I fear as well. Especially given the order of magnitude discrepancy.

    3. david 12 Bronze badge

      Re: Captain Future's enemy had one of those.

      >The last time I thought about it, it seemed evident to me that the force towards the "front" would exactly equal the force towards the "back".<

      Then you will be surprised to hear about the technology called the "sail", by which ships are enabled to move "upwind", into the wind.

      However, I understand that the suggestion here is that there is a mysterious quantum force. My analysis of quantum forces is that they are mysterious, and that my humble intuitions about the nature of Newtonian mechanics are of no help in predicting quantum effects.

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

        Re: Captain Future's enemy had one of those.

        "The last time I thought about it, it seemed evident to me that the force towards the "front" would exactly equal the force towards the "back"."

        Because that's quite obviously why a balloon will zip around the room when you let go after blowing it up and not sealing it.

        I theorize that the chamber itself is acting as a balloon whereby small amounts of energy released at the quantum level from 'stuff' popping in and out of existence are being held temporarily in the chamber, building pressure. The opening at one end allows the energy to escape and generate a small amount of thrust.

        The addition of microwaves to increase the internal energy pressure of the chamber could then explain the increased thrust that was seen.

        You never know do you? I much prefer 'hmm, that's odd' to 'Eureka'.

    4. BristolBachelor Gold badge

      Re: Captain Future's enemy had one of those.

      The last time I thought about it, it seemed evident to me that the force towards the "front" would exactly equal the force towards the "back".
      I guess that you come from flatland and can only thonk 1-dimensionly. If you think 3-dimensionly and use vectors, you realise that the conoical sides are supposed to generate a net difference in one direction compared to the other. I'm not saying it works, but hey, that would be a great thing, no?

  15. Jon Green
    Boffin

    Bugger solar panels!

    Let's see what it could do, coupled to a smallish nuclear reactor.

    Only thing is, it'd probably still need chemical lift to orbit - I dread to think of what that volume of microwave energy would do at ground level during initial climb.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Bugger solar panels!

      It wouldn't help you get into orbit. It provides a bit of thrust indefinitely (if you have electricity) rather than shitloads of thrust for ten minutes.

      In a vacuum, a bit of thrust sustained over a few days or weeks will get you going very fast indeed.

      1. Al Jones

        Re: Bugger solar panels!

        In a vacuum, outside a gravity well.

        The vacuum helps, but you won't be able to take off from the moon with this device.

  16. 4ecks

    Cool.

    That's the Impulse Engines sorted, now what about the Warp Drive?

  17. Tahuaya

    If the trip to Mars can be shortened to weeks, that means the trip to Mars does not have to be one way. People could go there, do research, or work, and then return to Earth. That means colonies are possible.

    I'm not a scientist and so cannot evaluate the scientific part of this but from an economic view, I find this all very interesting and I hope to live to see this actually happen.

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      You still need the big thrust to get off Mars again, even if not quite the magnitude of leaving Earth's gravity pool.

      At the thrust figures mentioned here (even assuming they are right), that means carrying chemical fuel, or making said fuel on Mars, or using some nuclear thruster (not necessarily Project Orion, but as heat source for expanding/accelerating a propellant) that you would not get permission to use on Earth for safety fears.

  18. Nicholas DeWaal

    This drive is complete nonsense and hype. Its source of propulsion violates fundamental laws of physics. The tiny amount of force reported by NASA is so small, that it can be attributed easily to measurement error.

    1. bazza Silver badge

      You need to read more Feynman. If a theory / law / hypothesis doesn't fit correctly measured physical results then it doesn't matter how complete or satisfying that theory is, it's wrong.

      NASA's chaps would be well aware of the career limiting ridicule that would ensue if they reported a result as unexpected and 'ridiculous' as this without very careful checking. They've already done a control experiment and got another unexpected result. The very fact that they've published this at all implies that an awful lot of work has gone into checking their experimental set up, and they still can't explain it away.

      And anyway, measuring force is such a trivial thing to do with very good accuracy there's hardly anything to check.

      1. DougS Silver badge

        The reason why this is published

        The idea of publishing this is to say "we've looked at everything we can and can't explain away this effect". They're hoping others will take up the challenge, and either find a flaw in their methodology, or after enough people replicate the experiment with similar results and fail to find a flaw, to make it more likely it is true. If they got to that point, then they can change the experimental conditions in various ways to try to get to the bottom of how it works, and what its limitations are.

        Science doesn't work by "this is impossible to according to our current understanding, thus it must be wrong" and nothing further need be said. At least it shouldn't, because if you have that attitude, progress will be artificially constrained.

        This is basically what the Italian researchers did last year with the FTL neutrinos, and a flaw in the experiment was eventually found. Maybe the same will happen here. I hope not, a reactionless drive would be a very useful invention!

        1. Denarius Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: The reason why this is published

          DougS, correct. Not first time something like this has happened. FermiLab had anomalous results on the last runs they did getting more energy out than they put in when they were not doing fusion or fission. They published the anomalous results asking for comments on what they had missed. No idea if they got answers. As Asimov wrote, progress happens when someone says, "That's odd" NASA made no claims on groundbreaking, just something was observed that does not fit current understanding. Anything that might be messing with quantum effects, especially quantum foam is in "not sure about that "territory IMHO. Have a thumbs up

        2. Grifter

          Re: The reason why this is published

          It's not a reactionless drive though, it needs reaction to generate thrust, it's just a propellantless drive.

          1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

            Re: The reason why this is published

            Ok, how about 'reactionmassless' drive then?

      2. DavCrav Silver badge

        "You need to read more Feynman. If a theory / law / hypothesis doesn't fit correctly measured physical results then it doesn't matter how complete or satisfying that theory is, it's wrong."

        I think you needed the emphasis on correctly measured, not on wrong. And the level of doubt increases as the law of physics that is violated becomes more fundamental. Conservation of momentum is a pretty fundamental law of physics, so the fact that some guy with a metal jar can violate it seems like it's a problem with the experiment, not with the law. Violate CoM a few more times, in verifiable and repeatable experiments (for example, this time they could pump out the air to see if it works without air currents, like the Crookes radiometer).

        Read a more in-depth analysis of the experiment by John Baez here: https://plus.google.com/117663015413546257905/posts/C7vx2G85kr4

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    NASA Tests?

    As usual, when NASA funds something that is someone else's idea or a contractor's accomplishment, they step right up for the publicity and the credit. And the contractor can't complain, or they may never get another contract.

  20. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What uses?

      Accelerate slowly but for a long time. Means go fast. Fast means go long way in short time.

      Why do I feel like Blackadder explaining simple addition to Baldrick?

      1. bristolmoose
        Coat

        Re: What uses?

        Exactly, It's not rocket scie...oh.

        1. Old Handle

          It's not rocket scie...oh.

          Or is it? It sounds to me like the fact it isn't a rocket is precisely what's so amazing about it.

          1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

            Re: It's not rocket scie...oh.

            If it's not rocket science, then it's quantum science, obviously much easier to grasp for the layman :)

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

  21. EDy

    Gravity

    Perhaps the perpetual acceleration and deceleration can be used as artificial gravity to minimize the physiological effects of weightlessness. I wonder how many G's would be generated during a trip to Mars.

    ED

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Gravity

      To borrow the back-of-an-evelope calculations of "Arnaut the less" above, the thrust wouldn't be enough to simulate gravity in any useful way. You'd be better off with a spinning design, a la 2001: Space Odyssey.

    2. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Gravity

      If the acceleration is only 0.1G, it's not going to be all that useful for astronaut health. A big problem is that we do not know how the human body reacts to different gravitational fields. The only data we have is 1G and 0G. This is why I advocate a return to the moon with stays long enough to get data on how the human body might adjust. It might be a big problem to find that after 2 years on Mars astronauts could not return to Earth. Then what? Continue to send them care packages indefinitely or apologize for abandoning them on another planet to die.

      I'm having a bit of a problem with people that think 1kW or even 2.5kW is sufficient to complete a trip from Earth to Mars in a couple of weeks. Regardless of the method of propulsion, it takes a certain amount of energy a certain amount of time to accelerate a given mass to a specified velocity. I'll leave the math as an exercise for the student since I need to get to the post office before they close.

      1. Chris Miller

        @Machdiamond

        I'll show you the back of my envelope for getting to Mars in 23 days (ignoring gravitational wells along the way):

        Mass = 10 tonnes = 10^4 kg (Apollo CM+SM+LEM was ~5 tonnes, but a lot of that was fuel)

        Time = 10^6 s (11.5 days)

        Distance = 200 million km = 2x10^11 m

        We want to get half way (10^11 m) at constant acceleration and then turnover and start slowing down, which gives an acceleration of 0.2 m/s^2 (0.02g) (s = a.t^2/2)

        Peak velocity = a.t = 2x10^5 m/s (450,000 mph!)

        Kinetic energy is m.v^2/2 = 2 x10^14 Joules

        Dividing by time (10^6 secs) gives us a power consumption of 200MW (and, of course, you wouldn't get anywhere near 100% efficiency).

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @Machdiamond

          At the tiny efficiencies quoted for these speculative drives, we're looking at 20GW and up. Good luck with fitting the necessary number of nuclear submarine reactor/generator sets into a 10 tonne mass.

          I think you've just explained quite neatly why nobody is going to be zipping around the solar system from planet to planet in a few days. Ever.

        2. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: @Machdiamond

          Chris Miller - If your power source is solar, turn over is going to be much less than half the distance as insolation will be dropping off as the square of the distance. Your estimated mass is also low. It's a much longer duration, more food, water, air and other consumables to bring along. More fuel for a lander. I would also expect that the mission would be more than flag planting, so there will be more supplies to do research with.

      2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        Re: " we do not know how the human body reacts to different gravitational fields"

        What makes you say that ? We've been to the Moon and back. The men that went came back fine and their entire trip was monitored, if I am not mistaken.

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: " we do not know how the human body reacts to different gravitational fields"

          >The men that went came back fine and their entire trip was monitored, if I am not mistaken.

          MachDiamond was talking about years on Mars, not a few days. However, there have been a fair few astronauts and cosmonauts who have spent extended periods in orbit, so NASA and other agencies have a fair bit of data about the effect of microgravity on the body, and the physical exercises the crew do to mitigate them. Most of the issues are related to muscle and bone density, and to the distribution of fluids in the body.

          Though the gravity on Mars is less than that of Earth, at least exercise would be easier (less need for crazy-looking elastic gym machinery) than in microgravity.

          Personally, if I were to be sent to Mars, I'd place the gravity issue fairly low down on the list of things that were bad for my health... behind radiation, stranded by drive failure, life support system failure and being skinned alive by a crew mate who has succumbed to SPAACE MAADNESS! Okay, not sure about that last one...

  22. Tahuaya

    I'm more interested in the economics of this.

    If the trip to Mars can be shortened to weeks, that means the trip to Mars does not have to be one way. People could go there, do research, or work, and then return to Earth. That means colonies are possible.

    I'm not a scientist and so cannot evaluate the scientific part of this but from an economic view, I find this all very interesting and I hope to live to see this actually happen.

  23. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge

    Sounds an awful lot like

    the time machine in "Primer". Resonant cavity and all that.

  24. Bartholomew

    I like it, but I just don't trust it (yet)

    I'm wondering if this has been tested in a vacuum. Ideally inside of a Helmholtz coil to cancel out any possible influence of the earth's magnetic field. And even then the effect may still be dependent on the distance from the Sun.

    But even if it this only works for LEO (Low Earth Orbit) to GEO (Geostationary Earth Orbit), it is still a very useful technology that should be pursued to reduce the cost of getting mass into space.

    1. Old Handle

      Re: I like it, but I just don't trust it (yet)

      Didn't think of the magnetic field, but the vacuum test absolutely needs to be done. The possibility that it works by pushing against the air (whether by some exotic electromagnetic means or not) needs to be ruled out as soon as possible.

      1. 4ecks

        Re: I like it, but I just don't trust it (yet)

        I agree, this would need to be tested in a "Hard Vacuum" with to eliminate the possibility that you are just microwaving the gas particles in the air, also some method of testing that ablation of the chamber walls is not contributing reaction mass to the engine.

        1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

          Re: I4ecks

          Quick duck, I see downvotes coming as you dared to question science, scientists and NASA with some additional observations to support their findings.

          Notice no where did we say they are wrong, but that science needs to be done before it can be said to be "right".

    2. James Micallef Silver badge

      Re: I like it, but I just don't trust it (yet)

      "it is still a very useful technology that should be pursued to reduce the cost of getting mass into space."

      No, it won't work to get mass into space, way too feeble. But once it's lugged into space by a conventional rocket, it would be great for getting mass around space

  25. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Boffin

    Capt'in!! The engines have lost all power, and she cann'a take no more!!!!!

    Damnit, Scotty!! I need engines if we are going to get to our rendevous with the nubile green space women of Coitus 5!!! Is there anything you can do!?

    Well Capt'in, I can try to set up a propulsive momentum transfer via the quantum vacuum virtual plasma, but it will take 12 hours!

    You have 6 hours, Mr. Scott!!

    Aye Capt'in!!

    (Yes, I watched WAAAYYYY too much Star Trek as a kid)

  26. Number6
    Joke

    Who needs solar cells, they could use cold fusion to power it.

  27. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
    Alien

    The Nazis nearly got there first.

    There seems to be some bits missing from this version. It needs more stuff. See this science article for more information.

  28. Chris Gray 1
    Go

    Here's another...

    I too will take this with lots of grains of salt until it is proved out a lot more. However, I would like to contribute another reactionless drive scheme for you all. :-)

    Make a smallish particle accellerator. Accellerate particles from one end to about the half-way point. Then decellerate the particles. Reverse, and send the particles back. Keep them going back and forth. No resulting momentum is imparted to the structure of the chamber because it all cancels out. But, make the thing strong enough to accellerate the particles to close to the speed of light in the middle. Now you get a mass increase in the particles. Still no big deal.

    Now use two different waveforms - one to accellerate and one to decellerate, such that the particles spend different amounts of time at different near-speed-of-light speeds. Do both phases contribute the same momentum to the the chamber's structure? We would assume so, but I'm not good enough at math to actually do the calculations to prove it.

    If its not balanced, you have a reaction-less drive. If this actually works, some theory as to why it works would be needed, and this "quantum vacuum virtual plasma" stuff doesn't seem to be involved.

    (I first had this thought in my undergrad days, which is a loooong time ago.)

    1. Alan Johnson

      Re: Here's another...

      But the center of mass of the system as a whole is not affected. It is like running up and down a small boat. The boat will move backwards and forwards a little but you can't do more than oscillate the boat around an average position and the center of mass of the whole system does not move.

  29. FreemonSandlewould

    Don't power it with solar cells. Power it with NUCLEAR. I want to see some serious get up and go instead of some pansy poof solar cell powered rig

    1. P. Lee Silver badge
      Holmes

      > Don't power it with solar cells. Power it with NUCLEAR. I want to see some serious get up and go instead of some pansy poof solar cell powered rig

      When the launch rocket fails, breaks up and spews bits all over the earth, I want to see pansy solar cells raining down.

      1. FreemonSandlewould

        Screw that....just place the launch area where we can manage the cleanup. You lefty loons always want to go full on Luddite. You probably believe in global warming too.

  30. FreemonSandlewould

    I looked at the data. Are they talking milli newtons or MICRO newtons......?

    1. KjetilS

      m = micro, µ = micro

      Metric prefixes

      1. Major N

        m = milli; µ = micro

        FTFY

  31. harmjschoonhoven
    Stop

    Re: Anomalous Thrust Production

    From D.A. Brady et al.: "Testing was performed ... within a stainless steel vacuum chamber with the door closed but at ambient atmospheric pressure."

    So it is not rocket science after all.

  32. DocJD

    Acceleration

    I hope this is not redundant. The first time I tried to post it seems to have evaporated.

    Before anyone calculates trip time with an "assumed" acceleration, some simple calculations should be done (and shame on the headline writer for not doing them).

    The key number is specific power (W/kg).

    F=ma (Force equals Mass times Acceleration so....

    a = F/m

    From a slightly old source, the "long term goal" for specific power of solar panels on spacecraft was 300 W/kg, and this was at Earth orbit, It will decrease on the way out. If we use the optimistic 300 and the optimistic Chinese data with .72 Newtons/2500 Watts we get:

    a = (0.72 kg-meter)/(2500 Watt-second^2) * 300 Watt/kg

    a = 0.086 m/s^2

    1 g is 9.8 m/s^2 so we have less than 0.01 g (without any spacecraft body or payload).

    There is a rule of thumb that the power source is 25-35% of a satellite's dry mass, which means we get (assuming the optimistic-for-payload smaller number) less than 0.0025 g acceleration.

    Based on previous calculations by Pet Peeve, this gives us a 14 month straight line to Mars time and (if I read it correctly) that is straight acceleration without slowing down. This is an impressive number, but no big improvement over what we can do now.

    It may be possible to better this if the craft takes a slingshot journey near the sun, since it will be able to greatly increase the acceleration while it's in close.

    Don't look towards nuclear power to improve on this. The now cancelled ASRG was supposed to improve on present RTG (Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator) technology and it would still have had a specific power of only 7 W/kg. This is useful out around Jupiter, where sunlight is dim, but not for the topic under discussion.

  33. HCL

    Very innovative idea. If it can really scale up, we can extend this to create flying suits for humans and the then the whole gamut of transport will go through a see change.

  34. Winkypop Silver badge
    Joke

    Pfffft

    Hasn't Deepak Chopra had one of these in his Quantum Free-Flow Energy Mind Control Flux Converter for years?

  35. dncnvncd

    Surfing the solar waves

    Finally someone demonstrated how the microwaves are generated. Depending on solar activity this could be highly variable. If the one designed to fail worked, perhaps the actual enabling mechanism is not the one theorized. Totally useless for Deep Space(beyond our solar system).

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    it's all good

    but i'm led to believe we are all just falling in space, and things in orbit merely fall towards the other at a speed which the other object is moving away from it. perhaps we can just "fall" a ship to mars in the future.

    1. d3rrial

      Re: it's all good

      That ain't how gravity works!

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So basically...

    ... large scale application of the Casimir effect?

    7671312bc7174fae9df2257775d1c7df489b4237e9b2450d1f24e720724470c2

  38. solaries
    Black Helicopters

    So are going to finally have that Star Trek future after all. I pray sooner the better so we can escape the Neo-Nazi's who are out to enslave or kill us.

  39. VinceH Silver badge

    Hmm. Ignoring the many bits I don't understand (I'm no rocket surgeon), I am minded of what I wrote on these very forums two weeks ago:

    "Or a fantastic new means of propulsion (that doesn't involve lots of mass to weigh the rocket down at launch) so you can accelerate the rocket at 9.8M/s^2 for half the distance and flip it around and decelerate it at the same rate for the other half. (And back again)."

    Okay, we're not talking 9.8M/s^2 in this case, but still. Neat. If it really works.

    (Also, on the bonus side, if microwaves are involved, that's a handy way to heat up the astronauts' meals: Just hang 'em out of the back of the ship. Job's a good 'un.)

  40. Indolent Wretch

    Skepticism

    Hmm I remember reading about this when it came out, at time it was relatavistic effects causing photons to exit different ends of the cavity with non matching momentum thus exerting a force without propellant.

    And I seem to remember at the time a lot of people looked at it and came to the conclusion that yes the device was capable of generating a force BUT only if it didn't move in the direction of that force. So you can generation 10 newtons of force to counteract gravity but you can't generate 20 and go up, something about the relative movement of the inertial frames. So if you get the efficiency up you may get a hover board but not a starship.

    I wonder if anything has changed or whether this is just a repackaging. You always have to worry when gen 1 produces a barely perceptible effect that even it's existence can be debated, but the gen 2 that's in development (just need a bit more seed capital) will produce a floating building.

    Still I'm not saying I wouldn't want to live in a universe where it worked.

  41. d3rrial

    Do I get this correctly?

    This engine uses microwaves to accelerate a pair of virtual particles in the opposite direction of it's vector, thus transferring momentum from the resting virtual particle pair into the rear-facing direction of the device, and due to conservation of momentum, the device is moved 'forward' while the particles move to the back, but because of their virtuality the particles (annihilate?) / seize to exist before they'd impact the back-wall of the device and thus will not accelerate the device in the opposite direction again, leaving the momentum of the thrust-device intact?

    In dumb terms: It's creating a 'stone' inside it's hull 'throws' the 'stone' in the direction of the back of the device and thus gains momentum (equal and opposite reaction and all), but lets the 'stone' disappear before it hits the back-wall.

    At least that's what my imagination says whats happening. Unfortunately I'm not very well versed with technical terms so, yeah.

    1. phil dude
      Boffin

      Re: Do I get this correctly?

      Actually, I was thinking of dropping them an email to ask if they had cloud chambers to mount at either end. If virtual particles are being produced it should be a pretty straightforward(!) matter to calculate the energies and see if they appear in the trace. Maybe even synchronised.

      Just a thought...

      P.

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Thrust is no mystery - siz eo fthrust is.

    Photons have momentum if the thing broadcasts microwaves the existence of thrust is not a surprise. The size of the thrust is it should be the power divdided by the speed of light but is two big. but there are lots of possible explanations like the vaccum not being perfect and it causing ionsation and acceleration of ions or an unintended interaction with the test chamber.

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

      Re: Thrust is no mystery - siz eo fthrust is.

      I think I read that the test was performed with an atmospheric pressure, but they are clever bods so one would assume they have ruled out the obvious like heated air being expelled to produce the force measured.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Thrust is no mystery - siz eo fthrust is.

        "but they are clever bods"...

        Wait, I'm about to go get me a PHD then ask you for your wallet, as I know how to make it grow in size... honest, my PHD says I can!

  43. JimmyPage Silver badge

    Anyone ever read "OMNI" in the 80s ?

    I'm sure they had an article about the problems of long distance space travel, and someone suggested a drive based on heating metal up. The glow of photons would create a tiny thrust, which - over time - would accelerate to quite a speed. IIRC the artists illustration (OMNI had some stunning sci-fi fantasy artwork) showed something like a car cigarette lighter in space ....

  44. Bunbury

    Crazy Eddie

    It's the only way for the Moties to get out without frying in Murcheson's Eye

    1. Ashton Black

      Re: Crazy Eddie

      They could have used a static Langston Field instead of the expanding one!

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

        Re: Crazy Eddie

        "Crazy Eddy"

        Is that the same one who lives in the space time continuum?

      2. Bunbury

        Re: Crazy Eddie

        You'd have thought they'd have worked that out wouldn't you? Perhaps the Theoretical Physicist class was ignored by all those clever Engineers.

  45. MrXavia
    Pint

    Brilliant!

    Good going NASA for testing this out, I am really surprised they proved it really works, but very pleased of course! When no sound came out of china after they started research on it, I expected it was either they failed and didn't want to loose face or they succeeded and decided to not publish...

    A pint for the British boffin thinking outside the box (or should I say thinking inside the box considering how this works)

    Now we just need to get a decent mini nuke reactor to power it!

    Not only does this make manned interplanetary travel more practical, but interstellar travel becomes possible with constant acceleration!

    1. psyq

      Unfortunately, no, they did not prove it works.

      Even the modified setup "worked" - although it was not supposed to.

      This suggest that more likely cause is error in experiment setup / measurement.

      It would be really great if this thing worked, but it's going to take a bit more to prove it.

  46. Bunbury

    equal and opposite reaction

    so as our banks of microwave emitters blast our invasion fleets out into the galaxy, the earth is ever so slowly nudged into the sun?

    1. Ashton Black

      Re: equal and opposite reaction

      Indeed and every time a spaceship uses a planet's gravity well to perform a gravity assist maneuver that planet slows just a little...

  47. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

      Re: Sorry but they did test it in (fairly good) _vacuum_, didn't they? Tell me they did.

      No, they didn't. And that is a potential problem - until that thing is tested free-flying in space there will still remain a possibility that the thrust might be caused by some unaccounted for conventional factor.

      Having said this, they have done some elimination tests - like putting one of the devices backwards and replacing the "thruster" with a dumb load.

  48. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sorry, too busy to check the details of the test right now but...

    ... if they tested it in less-than-perfect vacuum (a bit hard to avoid) and were measuring the force exerted by the device on the test rig (and not the force exerted by the sealed test rig on the environment) then certainly more likely mechanisms for transfer of momentum are available.

    1. harmjschoonhoven

      Re: Sorry, too busy to check the details of the test right now but...

      The test was done at atmospheric pressure (see my post above).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Sorry, too busy to check the details of the test right now but...

        Two words: Crookes radiometer.

        1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

          Re: Sorry, too busy to check the details of the test right now but...

          Yes, but can you produce trust from a closed system of Crookes Radiometers?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Sorry, too busy to check the details of the test right now but...

            No you can't, that was the point.

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If it works outside of Earths magnetic field

    Is this not just another tap off the planet's magnetic field and is hence useless for propulsion outside of said field?

    I remember another system that tapped the power of the planet's field via creating and collapsing magnetic fields that disappeared due to perpetual motion scepticism again minimal power output the result of the energy recovered from collapsed EM fields. So yes this standing wave thruster will work here within the Planet's magnetic field but outside of our relatively strong bubble this drive will have nothing to push a

    gainst

    1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

      Re: If it works outside of Earths magnetic field

      I'll tell you what - if this thing works by pushing against the Earth magnetic field (it doesn't but, anyway), I'll still take it. Will come in just perfect for my flying car/landspeeder/swoop.

  50. DrStrangeLug

    I call hacks !

    This would total unbalance kerbal space program and must be banned.

  51. Tom Cooke

    Paradigms

    I'm not saying I believe this experiment - though sooner or later somebody *will* find a large-scale engineering solution to exploit quantum relativistic effects, and I bet they get all the same flak as this one.

    But to quote someone from another field altogether - 'new paradigms don't become accepted when they're proven; they get accepted when the people who believed the previous one all get old and die, and nobody is left who *didn't* think the new paradigm worked'.

    1. psyq

      Re: Paradigms

      Sorry, but that is a load of bull.

      Relativity did not have any problem to get accepted. Quantum mechanics, too.

      Because these things were proven conclusively and repeatedly. Sure, there were probably people who did not "believe" until their deaths, but actually most of the academic world quickly catched up.

      If this thing "works", then it will be absolutely no problem to replicate the setup and confirm that it really works. Perhaps somebody will also eliminate the possible causes of concern, such as the fact that the NASA chaps did not test in vacuum. If the proposed invention is really meaningful, it will have no problem with replication and confirmation in a rigorous setup.

      1. Tom Cooke

        Re: Paradigms

        In reply to "Sorry, but that is a load of bull. Relativity did not have any problem to get accepted. Quantum mechanics, too. Because these things were proven conclusively and repeatedly. Sure, there were probably people who did not "believe" until their deaths, but actually most of the academic world quickly catched up."

        Ironically, Albert Einstein had serious theoretical issues with quantum mechanics and tried for many years to disprove or modify it. If *he* wasn't sure at first, I don't see any grounds for anyone to be smug. The modern academic world does - and should, objectively - continue to challenge new hypotheses, and there will always be those who fail to be convinced.

      2. rav

        Re: Paradigms

        Actually neither are proven. They just happen to fit our understanding of physics today.

        If they were proven then there would be a Unified Field Theory and there is not.

  52. fritsd
    Boffin

    looks like VASIMR but sounds different

    Photons have a rest mass of 0; microwave photons -- doubly so.

    But the idea to use microwaves in a resonating cavity was thought up by Franklin Chang-Diaz and used, not to spill those microwaves out of the open end, but to excite, accelerate and spew argon ions. These are cheap (much cheaper than Krypton and Xenon) and much heavier than light particles.

    The difference between VASIMR and other ion engines is, I thought, that the other engines need some kind of electrified grid for the acceleration, so that grid gets degraded as the ions bump into it; it gets sandblasted away. VASIMR should be able to perform much longer without eating up the engine.

    Years ago, NASA was supposed to launch and test Ad Astra's VASIMR on the ISS, but I haven't heard anything about it ever again.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: looks like VASIMR but sounds different

      The point is that this is supposed not to be using ions as propellant, so it won't run out of reaction mass. Argon, krypton, xenon, Rn produced in your onboard fission reactor, it hardly matters because in the longer run you will use it all up.

      Of course, if it works and is practical another one of Newton's laws hides under a table and curls up in a small ball hoping nobody will notice it. But since all of Newton's universe turned out to be correct just in the limit as velocity -> 0, and microwaves obligingly travel at c, it may not be very surprising.

      (incidentally, pedantic note, the very concept of a rest mass is meaningless for photons as they are either travelling at c or don't exist. A rest mass is only meaningful for a particle which can actually be at rest. For me, the spookiest thing about photons is that from a photon's point of view, its lifetime is zero. To anything outside the photon, it has a transit time. To the photon itself, it never exists. God may not play dice, but she has a sense of humour.)

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: looks like VASIMR but sounds different

        "To the photon itself, it never exists."

        I think, therefore I exist (and am not a photon) ?

  53. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I've read a few articles and scientific debunkings of this over the past couple of days, and each time i'm left with just one response in mind.

    Don't tell me that its wrong, it can't work that way, it breaks laws of physics, its junk science.

    Show me, make one yourself, prove that it can't work - you know, do the science yourself.

    1. psyq

      Err, actually it works the other way: people with extraordinary claims need to come up with extraordinary proofs.

      Inventor claims he invented a brilliant new method of propulsion, which seems to violate some physics laws. No biggie, if it really works I am quite sure the inventor will have no problem selling / licensing / giving away / whatever implementations of his invention.

      If people had to recreate every single silly apparatus just to state that it does not work, the civilization would be busy with recreating garbage.

      Mind you, I am not saying this particular thing is garbage, maybe it is a paradigm shift in space travel. But the burden of proof is on the inventor and people claiming the invention works.

      NASA experiment did not prove this thing work. The fact that they got something out of deliberate setup designed NOT to work casts doubts on the validity of experiment. It also does not help that they did not perform the experiment in vacuum.

      Nevertheless, if this invention does indeed work, it will have no issue whatsoever in being confirmed experimentally.

      1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

        "The fact that they got something out of deliberate setup designed NOT to work casts doubts on the validity of experiment."

        Actually, it doesn't. All it does put in doubt is the underlying hypothesis of why and how it should work, which is what they themselves admit.

        "It also does not help that they did not perform the experiment in vacuum."

        That is true, because there may conceivably be some conventional mechanisms involved, creating thrust through interaction with the surrounding air (ionisation etc). Let's hope they will test in a vacuum soon (once they change the capacitors to vacuum-hardened ones).

  54. ZippedyDooDah
    WTF?

    Dark Matter

    Hmmm, something from next to nothing. It must be dark matter related shirley?

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

      Re: Dark Matter

      I've often had the thought that since mass is a function of energy (isn't everything?) that sub-atomic activity could be create mass on a tiny scale, yet taken over a large enough volume of space it could potentially account for some of the Univserse's missing mass.

      Although why there are areas of varying density I'm sure I have no idea, it's all bit exotic to me.

  55. Yesnomaybe

    Please,

    please, please, please let it be true.

  56. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Biefield-Brown Effect

    Look up the Biefield-Brown Effect. Then check 'lifters' on YouTube.

    (I could give more info but, hey, do your own research.)

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

      Re: Biefield-Brown Effect

      From my limited understand of things, I think you my be in error, Sir.

      The Biefield-Brown effect utilises considerably more energy input than I believe was used in this experiement.. "ranging from a few kilovolts and up to megavolt levels" in order to achive some form of ionisation.

  57. Julz

    Space Plane

    Send one up on a X-37B and fine out if it works...

  58. Nuserame

    Is it just me...

    ...or is that in the picture just some sewage pipes with the insides of a clock attached to it?

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

      Re: Is it just me...

      welcome to Steampunk

  59. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I love napkin math!

    Assume this thing works...

    Then load an unmanned satellite with enough power source to keep this thing propelling until it reaches C and see if it gains mass or disappears in a beam of light into the horizon.

    Napkin math says that if you keep a full 1G over 1 year you should reach luminal speed.

    (assuming 300.000.000m/s for C you get 30.612.244 seconds at 1G which is 354 days by Newton's Law.).

    0,1G should put you on a 306122449 seconds trip time which is 9,7 years.

    If we can do any of these, we should do it. For the sake of science. But at 0,01G it would take... 97 years?

    I still struggle with the concept of gaining mass as anything reaches ever close to C, so we should throw something really fast that could potentially reach C to know what would happen. The dream of every junior scientist, a simple, crude experiment to see if stuff really works as the theory says. Nobody actually proved it experimentally, for, say, 0,9G where things should get really weird and relativity should really kick in hard and be noticeable. Well, not proved yet.

    By the way, when I turn on flashlight in my hand... is it LOSING mass? Photons on the direction of the beam? How much momentum is gained on that? If I turn on a really big flashlight in space do I get propulsion then?

    Come on, think like a 6 year old, people!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I love napkin math!

      I believe the filament in the bulb will be losing mass as it converts electrical energy to photons and heat.

      And I also think that an ion drive is just a glorified flashlight as well :)

    2. mr.K

      Re: I love napkin math!

      When you turn on your flashlight the batteries releases chemically stored energy. It is believed* that also release of chemical energy results in a loss of mass, but that the amount of mass is so small that we are not able to measure it. I am not sure, but I do not believe that how the energy leaves the flash light matters. Be it via light or thermal conduction to it's surroundings.

      *or so I have read on the Internet. Consult Stephen Fry if you are to use this information as anything other than trivia.

    3. Stevie Silver badge

      Re: I love napkin math!

      You can't reach luminal velocity. The implications of the various bits of Relativity Theory in play mean that as you get faster the spacecraft gets more massive requiring more and more oomph just to maintain the same acceleration. The change isn't linear either. Near the speed of light the energy required to nudge the craft up to the line (photonic speed-wise) goes asymptotic. At least, it did some thirty odd years ago when I last did the maths involved to see what was what using equations I found in Einstein's own book "Relativity" (very readable, worth a look).

      We don't need to do the experiment you describe to confirm the mass-gain at fractional lightspeed velocities. We use the effect all the time in supercolliders.

    4. Chemist

      Re: I love napkin math!

      "Nobody actually proved it experimentally, for, say, 0,9G where things should get really weird and relativity should really kick in hard and be noticeable"

      They did !

  60. Rick Giles
    Trollface

    Jargon

    "...and therefore is potentially demonstrating an interaction with the quantum vacuum virtual plasma..."

    Is that code for "We haven't a fucking clue"?

    1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

      Re: Jargon

      Actually it's very spot on with the scientific observations and calculations. The problem is though, if this is possible, as soon as someone theorised the quantum "foam" they would have tested for these kind of effects... no?

      The first thing to do would have been "can we use the quantum foam like a sea and sail through it/drain it/use it as a resource". However, I never see anyone, not even Stephen Hawkins, suggesting that one.

      1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

        Re: Jargon

        Actually, I first heard such suggestion in a Soviet popular science TV program back in 1990 or so...

        Then there is Buzz Aldrin's 1996 novel "Encounter with Tiber" which describes a starship propulsion system based on Casimir effect and, of course, 2004-released Half-Life 2 with its "zero-point energy field manipulator"...

  61. Don Quioxte
    Meh

    Everyone is missing the point

    Everyone is missing the point. Whether or not we get a viable space engine out of this is trivial. What matters is that we have apparently broken the Law Of Conservation of Momentum by bouncing microwaves off the quantum vacuum virtual plasma (http://ntrs.nasa.gov/search.jsp?R=20140006052).

    Note the words quantum and virtual and plasma in the previous paragraph. This leads me to suspect we are looking at a gamechanger here, the first inkling of a whole new branch of physics (subject to exceptional proof being provided by the scientific community as a whole).

    Would any of my betters care to comment?

  62. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    ""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," "

    Prediction: No, it isn't.

  63. Charlie van Becelaere
    Boffin

    "quantum vacuum virtual plasma"

    When I was a lad we called that the aether.

    1. Stevie Silver badge

      Re: "quantum vacuum virtual plasma"

      Aye, but when you were a lad they called Oxygen "dephlogistated air".

  64. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re. drive

    Just a thought, but if the effect works better with high Q resonators then using very thin layers of diamagnetic bismuth alternating with manganese oxide doped pyrolytic graphite (well known high Q material) might allow it to work without the need for superconductors at all.

    For that matter, dispense with the bulky chamber and make the whole thing out of a monolithic block of Bi:MnO2:C microwave resonant metamaterial with an emitter at one end, using mobile phone base station parts.

    Ought to work far better than the Gen 1 device due to thousands of small chambers rather than one large one.

  65. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    The big barrier to getting anywhere in space is the current travel technology that uses constant velocity, so takes literally months or years. This is the first step to the required technology of constant acceleration. At 1G you can get from Earth to Mars in six days. Yes, six DAYs. LESS THAN A WEEK.

    1. Stevie Silver badge

      At 1G you can get from Earth to Mars in six days.

      Yesyesyes. Every 12 year old has done that math (or I would hope they had).

      But this thing doesn't put out 1G. This motor would not pass muster in any sort of planetside test by the Galactic Patrol as it cannot make way in even an asteroidal gravity well.

      Consider: To make the microwaves and steer them about you need lots of metal. To actually get any useful thrust from this motor it would need to be made entirely out of soap film.

  66. J 7 Silver badge

    Methinks the thrust observed is due to the cheap chinese capacitors cooking off and venting gas. Did they check the before- and after- mass of the test rig? Wouldn't take very much loss of mass to generate the tiny thrust observed

    1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

      Water vapour from the atmosphere could do this. The Vacuum chamber is suppose to "cook off" such vapour, but by the sounds of it, they forgot to turn it on! :P

  67. J 7 Silver badge

    "At 1G you can get from Earth to Mars in six days. Yes, six DAYs. LESS THAN A WEEK"

    And on the seventh God rested. So God really WAS a Martian

  68. Archie1954

    NASA

    If NASA waits too long it will be surpassed by the European Space Agency which is not waiting.

  69. YetAnotherLocksmith

    Last time I debunked this one the setup was the same.

    A torsion balance is very rigidly constrained sick that it had only one degree of freedom. Add to that a microwave source with a rotating cooling fan, and you will get 'lift' as there is a centripetal force interaction. You can do this by picking up a bench grinder and twisting it around.

    Remove that constriction of movement and exactly nothing happens.

    You can't, in a closed system, turn a torque moment into actual thrust.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @ YetAnotherLocksmith

      I like it when you say "torque". Makes me all tingly...

  70. MachDiamond Silver badge

    Randal Munroe sums up

    http://xkcd.com/1404/

  71. Esme

    How does that thrust compare with..

    the amount of thrust you'd get if you used the same amount of power to just dump photons out the back? I presume it must be higher, else it wouldn't be worth doing?

  72. rav

    Impossible like Cold Fusion?

    Just because it seems impossible doesn't mean it is not, you know, like Cold Fusion.

    One man's magic is another man's physics.

  73. RMycroft

    It's not Star Trek babble. Star Trek babble uses three words of nonsense that sound good. e.g. quantum phase inverter. This has FOUR words of nonsense, which is a whole new paradigm shift modulation!

  74. Zmodem

    my thruster is still better

    http://www.dogsonacid.com/threads/nasa-confirms-laws-of-physics-are-broken.763468/#post-11154077

    http://www.dogsonacid.com/threads/has-nobody-else-noticed-this.763532/page-3#post-11156064

    1. Zmodem

      the crap site has been taken down by the FBI americants and all the UFO rubbish

      the basics :

      you need :

      a few electric ring magnets

      a micro timer

      a battery

      some plastic pipe

      then you place the ring magnets some retracting pole force mm apart, and set the watts to 1 greater then the other, and the micro timer to turn them off 1ms before the last,

      so then, you have a dodgy electro magnetic pulse propulsion drive, without using nano seconds like a maglev train

      which in a lab you would have good magnets like https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LyvfDzRLsiU

      so all phyics aside, the last of the remaining field, gets push out the pipe through the ring magnets which is needed for the next pulse

      so if you have 50w per kilo like https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysTMByWXphQ

      you will need a 440kw perpetual generator to lift 22tons into space with earth gravity, using your wind turbine dynamo which can go upto 10Mw https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T52brmhYaTs

      although there are plenty of working perpetual generators on youtube using my way

  75. Palf

    The elephant in the room is the inescapable fact, true for all propellantless drive ideas, that it is not only a perpetual motion machine, but that it can be made to generate free energy forever. This can be seen using very basic school physics. Constant input power generates constant thrust (it is claimed) and thus we get constant acceleration. Thus total input energy increases linearly with time, but output (kinetic) energy increases quadratically with time. It should now be clear that if you put this device on a wheel, there exists a breakeven speed above which free energy can be continuously obtained.

    Therefore Shawyer is talking out of his arse when he says that the stored energy drops as the machine goes faster. Physics demands there be no preferred frame of reference, so pray tell, Roger old chap, how the cavity knows its velocity relative to its original rest frame?

    I believe the thrust measurement is an artifact of induced patch charges. The only way to truly settle the debate is to do a space-based test.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @ Palf

      "how the cavity knows its velocity relative to its original rest frame?"

      Simple, you give it an inner ear...

  76. TinMan Emeritus
    Pint

    Can you say "perpetual motion"?

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