NASA Successfully Tests The ‘Impossible’ Microwave Thruster

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NASA Successfully Tests The ‘Impossible’ Microwave Thruster
By National Aeronautics and Space Administration [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

NASA has achieved a breakthrough in space propulsion technology, albeit at a small experimental level. Researchers at the space agency have successfully tested the microwave thrusters that can work without any propellant. It was considered impossible because the propulsion system violates the law of conservation of momentum.

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NASA’s technology could potentially make spacecraft inexpensive

Scientists at NASA’s Johnson Space Center presented a paper last week, saying that they indeed achieved a small amount of thrust from a microwave thruster system that had no traditional fuels. If the space agency succeeds in replicating and scaling up the results, it could make ultra-fast spacecraft at far less cost. Such a spacecraft could take humans to Mars in just a few weeks.

NASA said the electric propulsion device generated a force that is not attributable to any classical electromagnetic phenomena. The amount of thrust generated was only 30-50 MicroNewtons (mN), even less than the weight of an iPhone. But the fact that the system generated even a small amount of thrust without any onboard source of fuel clearly violates the law of conservation of momentum

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The thruster works by harnessing the power of subatomic quantum particles that consistently pop in and out of existence. Researchers performed the test on a low-thrust torsion pendulum that could detect force at a single-digit MicroNewton (mN) level in a steel vacuum chamber. If replicated at a large-scale, the discovery could bring down the cost of maintaining satellites and interstellar travel.

NASA running behind British and Chinese researchers

The origins of this kind of propulsion system go back to a British scientist named Roger Shawyer, who developed EmDrive. Shawyer claimed that his EmDrive could generate thrust “by rocketing microwaves around in a chamber.” It doesn’t need any propellant because microwaves could easily be produced using solar power. Chinese scientists also developed their own version of the system in 2012.

The system that NASA tested was constructed by an American researcher named Guido Fetta. Fetta named his system “Cannae Drive.” The system produced less than 0.1% of thrust produced by Chinese researchers. Anyway, it suggests that the technology works. Chinese researchers said their system generated enough thrust to potentially fuel a satellite.

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80 COMMENTS

  1. Actually I win because I can cite a credible source that addresses all of your concerns and gives reasons why those concerns are not valid. I am having trouble getting a comment approved with a link in it, so I am going to ask you to google “10 questions about Nasa’s ‘impossible’ space drive answered”. It is a Wired article. It is well-written and researched. This conversation is now concluded.

    As for discussing your intelligence, you really should have googled “steam engine” before commenting.

  2. You are now discussing my stupidity; this forum is for discussion of the Emdrive; I will concede defeat, in order to stop wasting everybody’s time. I lose; you win.

  3. “So about two hours?”

    Oh David. Your profession is SEO, so you should know you can google these things, right? The very first link when you search for “steam engine” gives you a wikipedia article that spells it out. Depending on how you define the “first’ engine and “self propelled”, your estimate of two hours is either hilariously incorrect (decades wrong) or wildly incorrect (centuries wrong). I point this out not to make fun of you (although it is pretty amusing that you’d bother to guess without looking it up and the guess was very, very wrong) but to point out that your gut intuition isn’t very accurate.

    As for your second comment, let me say something about the burden of truth. Consider for a minute who NASA is. They put men on the moon. They put a rover on Mars. They are highly intelligent people with more relevant training than anyone on Earth. When they make a claim about results, they have credibility that they earned.
    You, on the other hand, are not even a scientist. You have done nothing to earn any credibility. In fact, you haven’t even been able to correctly phrase a coherent challenge.
    So when you go online (using your real name David Byrden, even), you must realize that you are someone with no credibility attacking an institution that has proven itself countless times. YOU bear the burden of proof when you make the challenge you made. Frankly, you have produced nothing to back up your argument and I can tell that you don’t even know how to construct such an argument, if you even did have something substantive. Which you don’t.

  4. >> “How long until a steam engine could propel itself? ”

    Off the top of my head; I believe the first steam engine was made in ancient times, and consisted of a container heated by a small external fire, emitting vapour through an angled opening that caused it to rotate.
    I guess good wheels were hard to come by in those days. But if the inventor had placed the apparatus on a floating tray, and straightened the pipe, it would sail away.

    So… two hours?

  5. LukesFather, I don’t wish to “win an Internet argument”. I really don’t care whether anyone else thinks that either you or I defeated the other.

    I’m interested in finding, and exposing, the truth here. I think it’s an INSANE situation. Taxpayer’s money has been granted, in multiple countries, to follow a set of instructions that are clearly faulty. Tiny and dubious measurements have been reported in the media as world-changing breakthroughs. Millions of people have been made to hope and expect something that I can’t see ever being delivered. And who knows, more money may now be misspent on the basis of these expectations.

    What I would like from you, LukesFather, is to prove ME wrong. Go ahead, win the “internet argument”.
    But, REALLY win it. E.g. post a mathematical analysis that proves the side walls in a tapered waveguide experience no force. Or link us to one.

    I’m sorry, but it’s not good enough to say “quantum mechanics are weird, so anything may happen!”

  6. Originally you said the effect size was too small, within an order of magnitude.

    Now you are saying that there were confounding issues, there were “modifications”.

    These are two different arguments. Your first has fallen apart because you forgot about error analysis, so you switch to a second argument. You sound to me like someone who just wants to try and prove something wrong rather than a serious person with serious concerns.

    Secondly, this violates Newtonian physics, but we know MANY things that do this. It does not make sense to doubt this effect for this reason when we know of other things like the common LED lamp that behave according to quantum mechanics rather than Newtonian.

    Finally, you have no reason to make your outrageous claim that a tuned version should be made within months. How long did it take to make a computer that fit inside a single room? Months? No. How long until a steam engine could propel itself? Months? No.

    So why say months? Clearly you want to just win an argument rather than think logically, so you choose an absurdly short window of time. It is so clear that you are more concerned about winning an internet argument than you are about intelligently discussing this breakthrough that is indeed impressive no matter your poorly argued doubts.

  7. Still with the insults, eh?

    I honestly don’t think the NASA folk could TELL you what is the experimental error in that setup. They used two different drive units, one with “modifications”, so they had to remove and install the units between measurements AFAIK. It would have been more convincing if they could simply switch off the power, or remove a small component, etc. without touching anything else.

    >> “you don’t think this is real because no one can adequately explain why it is real.”

    No, that’s not the case. The truth is; I don’t think this is real because people can adequately explain why it is NOT real. There are good, solid laws of physics that would have to be broken in order to make this real.

    Anyway, we won’t have to wait long for a result. If these things work, it should be possible within months to build a “tuned” version that can lift itself off the table and float around the room. I’ll come back and apologise then

  8. I am having a laugh at your expense because you seem to know just enough to get you in trouble but not nearly enough to actually understand how science is done.

    Point One: If you think this effect might not be real, you need to compare the difference between the generated thrust and the “spurious force” and compare that difference to the experimental error. It is of NO significance how different the two values were if you don’t know the experimental error. This is how trained scientists discuss results. It is a basic concept. That you only mention the size of the difference and not the error tells me without a doubt that you don’t know science.

    Point Two: it is extremely common to observe measurable phenomena and reproduce them BEFORE having a peer-reviewed theory that explains the behavior published. It is in fact the norm. In essence, you don’t think this is real because no one can adequately explain why it is real. I am sorry to make fun of you, but this is plain laughable. There are TONS of phenomena we know exist and that we measure that are currently unexplained.

    So no I don’t wish to discuss his theory because we do not need a theory of why something works to know that it does work. We know it works because we use statistics. NASA knows this, and wouldn’t announce anything that wasn’t statistically sound. If you wanted to act like the scientist you seem to think you are, you can look up the error in the measurements, compare them to the magnitude of the results, and go from there. As it stands, your current argument is, honestly, not scientific.

  9. If you click the “presented a paper” link, you can read the abstract for the conference submission. It was in a vacuum chamber, but they didn’t pump it down. The quote in my reply was from the author’s abstract.

  10. LukesFather; I don’t know why you repeatedly insult me, but you surely aren’t showing good fatherly example to Luke. Insults don’t win arguments. They only make you look cheap.

    The reason why I am unimpressed, is not the small size of the effect. It is because the effect is in the same ballpark as the experimental errors. We know this because they measured a spurious force with a “null” device, and it was well within one order of magnitude of the supposed real effect.

    Further, I think it is highly significant that nobody has published a peer-reviewed theory of the Emdrive. In layman’s terms, that means “we have no reason to expect it to work”.
    The inventor’s own theory has serious flaws. He seems to misunderstand the Relativity theory as well as basic mechanics. Perhaps you would like to discuss his theory with me?

  11. ‘Impossible’ is in quotes, which means “someone called this impossible”.
    The errors don’t begin until “NASA has achieved a breakthrough”.

  12. The very first proof of principle device only lifts as much as an iphone. And you aren’t impressed. How big and how powerful was the first steam engine? First computer? Would an intelligent person be impressed by those? Only if they could understand their potential. You seem to be missing how much potential this device has.

    Also, you seem to think NASA somehow doesn’t understand how to correct for experimental error with confidence intervals. I promise you, they know Physics 1A material.

    Finally, the exciting purpose is for propelling devices in space. We have other means of sending your books into low Earth orbit. If you even own/read books.

  13. Your explanation does not conflict with mine. Theoretical physicist Miguel Alcubierre in his 1994 paper indicated that that a volume of flat space could be carried in a bubble of curved space and not violate the theory of relativity. It would cause the space in front to contract and the space behind to expand, creating “warp” drive.

  14. Warp drive as described in Star Trek moves the ship into another dimension (warp bubble) and then the universe flows around the ship.
    Because it is not of “this dimension”, our physics do not apply and the ship can go faster than “our dimensions” light can.

    Science! ( fiction! )

  15. The British and the Chinese have done the same thing (before us) and have better numbers.
    If you want NASA to have better funding get on the Congress to give funds.

  16. Another approach would be to recognize that the Brits and Chinese have already done this with success and better numbers than us.
    Third place! Whoo-hoo!

  17. Marconi violated 17 of Tesla’s patents, when he made the radio. Tesla was okay with it because he said “Marconi worked hard and deserves the recognition”. Tesla’s family did not however agree and after Tesla’s death, they sued and the Supreme Court vacated Marconi’s patent in 1943.

  18. If the physics aren’t settled or the effect isn’t properly understood, then how do we know that the conservation of momentum is being violated?

  19. Lukes; sorry, I did not make myself clear.
    The reason why I am not impressed, is that the device generated only enough force to lift a dozen houseflies. Considering that it’s a microwave cavity, there are several reasons why that could be experimental error.

    In short; I think the test was a failure.

    If an Emdrive ever lifts itself off the table, then I will be impressed, I promise you.

  20. Don’t forget that Marconi apprenticed under NicolaTesla, who used radio waves to pilot remote toy boats at the 1898 Worlds Fair.

  21. NASA bilks the USA for so much money & does not even share the true reality of Outer Space & what it is.

    The Space Program we have now is a farce, there is a true “space” program, but you won’t see it on TV or in the movies as it relies on off World technology to function.

  22. Before throwing out conservation of momentum or accepting a demonstration of quantum plasma propulsion… The abstract says: “Thrust was observed on both test articles, even though one of the test articles was designed with the expectation that it would not produce thrust.” So it sounds like a major control for the experiment did not behave as expected, and further investigation is necessary before claiming a “breakthrough”.

    Another control could be to test the device in vacuum instead of at atmospheric pressure. This shouldn’t change any quantum vacuum effects, but could rule out propulsion based on ionizing and/or accelerating a small fraction of the background gas.

  23. Some physicists believe that “warp drive” is possible, as the ship does not exceed the speed of light, the universe does.

  24. In Star Trek “impulse engines” expend fuel, in the form of ionized gas, as indicated in “Undiscovered Country”. the Enterprise located the cloaked Warbird, by its expelled gas.

  25. Mostly none sense… Photons carry momentum which is totally conserved. Furthermore, the energy to make it work has a mass equivalence equal to any alternate propellant

  26. How does anything in space create thrust? It accelerates mass away from itself. An ion propulsion system needs to expel ions. Eventually you run out of your ion fuel.
    This system does NOT expel mass. It can run indefinitely on a renewable power source like a solar panel. Nothing else like this has ever existed. It is truly amazing and actually pretty useful.

  27. dark matter is “dark” because it does not interact with electromagnetic forces. it seems to only interact with gravitational forces.

  28. You seem to have a funny idea of the way science works. In the first place, it is very common for people to develop the same ideas independently at the same time. In an almost comical instance, George Zweig and Murray Gell-Mann did so, unbeknownst to each other, while working at the same department in CalTech. In the second place, there is no violation of the laws of physics, for several well understood mechanisms would explain this effect; we just don’t know which one it is.

    Apart from this, nobody has gone back to the moon after Apollo because the technology to do so is very expensive – during the 60s, NASA was using more than 1% of the total US budget. I.e. going to the moon in the 60s was little more than a pissing contest to remind the Soviets (the Chinese were not a player at the time) who was top dog in the hi-tech sphere.

    Lastly, your optimism about alien life is commendable but, at this point, nothing more than wishful thinking: We currently have no solid evidence of life of any kind anywhere but on Earth. You can believe what you want, but that’s all.

  29. NASA will be disappointed to learn they did not impress David Byrden, internet commenter. /s
    This is an amazing breakthrough. Satellites and space probes have a limited lifespan because their fuel is limited. This device will allow for a near indefinite lifespan. Powered vehicles that can travel indefinitely on just solar panels. The only type of person that would not be impressed would be someone who didn’t understand what they were reading or someone who has no interest in anything outside of Earth’s atmosphere.

  30. >> “it is an impressive engineering achievement.”

    NASA built something very similar to a household microwave oven, and discovered it was capable of lifting part of a housefly. I am not impressed.

  31. Let’s not get too carried away in hyperbole. The drive requires energy to be input for any motion to occur. It is not a perpetual motion machine. And yes it does seem that Conservation of Momentum needs an update for quantum effects, but you can be certain that energy is not appearing magically from the void. This is not radical new science, though it is an impressive engineering achievement.

    To me, the only big question is whether it can be scaled up to do useful work, and in an economical way. It would be a huge step forward to be able to have spacecraft that do not have to lug around giant stores of reaction mass, to have spacecraft that can translate energy more directly into motion. How big a step is directly proportional to how economically this technology scales up.

  32. Roger Shawyer’s “technical paper”, which he published without peer review, is supposed to explain the Emdrive’s workings. I recommend that you read it for your own amusement. Even if you cannot follow the math, you will see the following;

    – He calculates the forces on the front and back walls, while ignoring the slanted side walls. His results are therefore worthless. You could fill the device with air instead of microwaves, and still get a thrust, if this approach was valid!

    – He actually DOES imagine the Emdrive filled with gas, and he actually DOES expect a thrust from that (see page 6), but instead of taking the hint and doing the math again, he dismisses it by saying there would only be strain in the walls. So, he doesn’t seem to understand the formula F=ma which is high school physics!

    More at http://byrden.com/emdrive

  33. Basically. The US was trying to prove its rockets were better than Russia’s. Once that was accomplished, there was really no reason to maintain the expenditure. Congress just pulled the plug. Was there any external reason for the cessation? Who knows.

    But I do agree with you on the Zoo analogy. If there were intelligent life on other planets – which I believe there is – and they traveled here – which I believe they do – I can see why we don’t venture too deeply into space. For two main reasons:

    For one, do you think mankind is ready to find out that we’re truly not alone out here? There would be rioting in the streets. Our whole system could easily break down.

    For second, do you think any extra-terrestrial organization would allow humans off our planet? We can’t even stop from killing each other, let alone another race entirely. Until our race matures some more, we’d be a plague on the universe.

  34. Fantastic proof that these fleeting particles exist! Might end up with ZPMs after all (Zero-Point Modules — sci-fi devices that extract free energy from the particle foam – yes, I know the foam isn’t even close to being powerful enough to bother, but I’m still hoping…)

    — NASA will use Microwave Thrusters to keep satellites lofted for longer and get us to Mars in weeks instead of months or years.
    — Scientists will use it to explore the particle foam in more detail, now that they can affect it in a quantitative fashion.
    — Educators will use it as an example of the wonders of science, to generate interest in pursuing a science career.
    — Neil Degrasse Tyson will discuss it on his radio and TV appearances, hoping to get the American public to understand the importance of funding open-ended science because you never know where it will lead (think penicillin, microwave ovens, MRI machines).
    — Republican will block funding for it as “frivolous over-budget expenditures” and spend the money on tax breaks instead.
    — Islam will plot to steal it just to fly themselves into buildings…

  35. While I would attribute a lot of evil and shortsightedness to our politicians, ending all life on Earth is a bit farther than I’m willing to go.

    Any chemicals released into the atmosphere by rockets is a drop in the bucket next to the amount of crap our industry pumps out annually. Besides, our atmosphere is penetrated with countless objects all the time. Surely, the universe has to be better designed than destroying a planet’s ecology simply by poking a few holes in its atmosphere…

  36. Sixty years and no cash with any country ?. Moreover, planting a flag on moon is sign of staking claim and national pride. For that cost is no-problem for China or Russia.

    Also, why did Apollo missions ended abruptly ?. NASA must be allocating funds before publicly declaring their schedule specially for something as prestigious as Apollo missions ?. Did money run out there as well ?

  37. Well, for one thing, going to the moon is absurdly expensive. Not many countries in the world have that kind of spare cash floating around.

  38. Do you happen to have a copy of that contract? If so, can you please post it online and link it so we can all see the evidence? Please and thank you.

  39. Your history is weak. Marconi’s work was motivated by predecessors, particularly Heinrich Hertz, who developed the theory of electromagnetic waves. Scientists usually add developments on the shoulders of those who went before them. Even the revolutionary physicists like Einstein didn’t operate in a vacuum, pardon the pun.

  40. haven’t you seen F1 races? I’ve seen driver’s cars malfunction with 1 or 2 laps to go. They went 68 laps without any incident and Zap! white smoke all over the car.

  41. Looks like we have discovered Impulse Drive technology. Next step, Warp Drive. Then we will have First Contact. Gene Roddenberry and the crew of Star Trek brought to you back in the nineteen-sixties. Almost 50 years later to find out that fantasy is correct. WOW!

  42. I am no conspiracy theorist just using some common sense. Have you ever seen scientists from three differnt countries working so confidently on technology which violates known laws of Physics ?. They have “build” something which works but they don’t know why it works. Is this how science or scientist work ?. But yes, this is how reverse engineering works.

    If you think life can only exist on planet earth and only earthlings can travel to Mars then you are mistaken.

    Answer this, Americans went to moon in 60’s-70’s, just think/research why no other country including US ever sent men to moon again after Apollo mission ?. Sixty years passed, forget US not even Chinese or Russians went there. And yes, Apollo missions were abruptly “called off”.

    Lastly, do you go to zoo to observe animals or have you ever thought of traveling to Amazon or Africa to observe tribal life or animals in their natural habitat, without disturbing them ?. This is exactly why, any alien civilization would want to visit earth.

  43. “NASA has achieved a breakthrough in space propulsion technology”…

    Really? They laughed at the inventors for years and only after China proved it work did they even take a look at it. Let’s give credit where it’s due.

  44. maybe the microwave energy is interacting with ‘dark matter’, which is still a mystery and nobody knows what is made off.

  45. Our planet now has almost 100 launches into space a year. Nasa and the US government know the mesosphere/mesopause of our planet is damaged by rocket propulsion systems. Our planet’s outer atmosphere has extreme limited capacity to repair itself. Once a point of no return is reached catastrophic failure will occur: there is no fixing it. Almost all life will end on earth. Our scientists are forced to sign secrecy agreements. I refused to sign a secrecy agreement which had a writ of order for my immediate execution attached to it for violated the conditions. Our planet can safely launch 4 rockets a year. We may have passed the point of no return. I do not have access to the data. Please help save our planet. please read warningfromgod Thank you for your support

  46. I suspect what we are seeing here is similar to the “cold fusion” flap. It is likely that what is actually happening can be attributed to magnetic or electrical fields reacting with the steel vacuum chamber or the torsion balance. In other words, the effect is simply experimental error and wishful thinking.

  47. I’m not sure Marconi understood exactly how radio waves work, but decided to go ahead had a pretty successful career in radio transmission anyway…

  48. You are an odd little conspiracy theorist.

    Let me ask you something….in all honesty do you REALLY think it is likely that a civilization that could travel dozens of light years (at the very least) would crash their UFO while parallel parking on earth? I mean, my wife is a horrible driver but even she can parallel park with only scraping the paint.

  49. The “News Release” seems to have conveniently left out the other end of the equation. In order for any microwave device to work it must consume energy. So in this scenario Rocket Propellant is replaced with energy to run the Microwave device. No doubt the Microwave consumes more energy to run itself than it generates in thrust.

    Remember the Ion Propulsion system from Gene Roddenberry’s USS Enterprise form the TV series Star Trek? It is a real technology that works. The problem with both of these technologies is that they are not efficient and are therefore cost prohibitive for use in transporting large objects. They maybe efficient for sending a mouse across the galaxy but not for sending a couple of humans across the galaxy.

  50. Isn’t it strange that scientists of 3 countries are so confidently working on technology that “clearly violates the law of conservation of momentum”.
    This is clear case of reverse-engineering of a known technology….. to be honest, extra-terrestrial technology recovered from crashed UFOs

  51. “The system produced less than 0.1% of thrust produced by Chinese researchers. Anyway, it suggests that the technology works. Chinese researchers said their system generated enough thrust to potentially fuel a satellite.”

    It needs to be reported that the NASA experiment used 17 watts of power vs the Chinese using around 150 watts. The two devices were different in size and that’s why the thrust produced was different.

    Is this the Casimir Effect? I think we are very close to figuring out how gravity works. That the vacuum we are surrounded by in the universe is in fact a substrate that one can push of and that when two objects in space vibrate near the same frequencies, the space between them will build up a vacuum pressure that is greater than the space surrounding them causing the objects to move together.

  52. This physics of this thruster aren’t as settled as this article would make it appear.
    No one has definitively proven how or why it works, just that it does.

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