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NASA Space

NASA Tests Microwave Space Drive 201

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

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  • Re:From the pdf... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SJHillman ( 1966756 ) on Friday August 01, 2014 @08:34AM (#47580505)

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

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 01, 2014 @08:45AM (#47580573)

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

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

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

  • Re:Bad summary (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Friday August 01, 2014 @12:41PM (#47582419)

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

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

Make it myself? But I'm a physical organic chemist!