Nasa – Breakthrough Propulsion

By Louis Crane and Shawn Westmoreland, Kansas State University

ABSTRACT: We investigate whether it is physically possible to build starships or power plants using the Hawking radiation of an artificial black hole as a power source. The proposal seems to be at the edge of possibility, but quantum gravity effects could change the picture.


Challenge to create the Space Drive
Journal of Propulsion and Power (AIAA)
Marc G. Millis
NASA Lewis Research Center, Cleveland Ohio

Challenge to create the Space Drive (PDF)

Assessing Potential Propulsion Breakthroughs
NASA, John H. Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field, Cleveland, Ohio, USA

ABSTRACT: The term, propulsion breakthrough, refers to concepts like propellantless space drives and faster-than-light travel, the kind of breakthroughs that would make interstellar exploration practical. Although no such breakthroughs appear imminent, a variety of investigations have begun. During 1996–2002 NASA supported the breakthrough propulsion physics project to examine physics in the context of breakthrough spaceflight. Three facets of these assessments are now reported: (1) predicting benefits, (2) selecting research, and (3) recent technical progress. Predicting benefits is challenging, since the breakthroughs are still only notional concepts, but energy can serve as a basis for comparison. A hypothetical space drive would require many orders of magnitude less energy than a rocket for journeys to our nearest neighboring star. Assessing research options is challenging when the goals are beyond known physics and when the implications of success are profound. To mitigate the challenges, a selection process is described where: (1) research tasks are constrained to only address the immediate unknowns, curious effects, or critical issues; (2) reliability of assertions is more important than their implications; and (3) reviewers judge credibility rather than feasibility The recent findings of a number of tasks, some selected using this  process, are discussed. Of the 14 tasks included, six reached null conclusions, four remain unresolved, and four have opportunities for sequels. A dominant theme with the sequels is research about the properties of space, inertial frames, and the quantum vacuum.

spacecraft propulsion; physics; project management; relativity; antigravity

Assessing Potential Propulsion Breakthroughs (PDF)

Tests of Mach’s Principle With a Mechanical Oscillator
John G. Cramer, Curran W. Fey, and Damon V. Casissi
University of Washington, Seattle, Washington

Abstract: James F. Woodward has made a prediction, based on Sciama’s formulation of Mach’s Principle in the framework of general relativity, that in the presence of an energy flow the inertial mass of an object may undergo sizable variations, changing as the second time derivative of the energy. We describe an attempt to test for the predicted effect with a charging capacitor, using a technique that does not require an unbalanced force or any local violation of Newton’s 3rd law of motion. We attempt to observe (1) the gravitational effect of the varying mass and (2) the effect of the mass variation on a driven harmonic oscillator with the charging capacitor as the oscillating mass. We report on the predicted effect, the design and implementation of the  measurement apparatus, and initial experience with the apparatus. At this time, however, we will not report on observations of the presence or absence of the Woodward effect.

Tests of Mach’s Principle With a Mechanical Oscillator (PDF)

Study of Vacuum Energy Physics for Breakthrough Propulsion
G. Jordan Maclay
Quantum Fields LLC, Richland Center, Wisconsin
Jay Hammer and Rod Clark
MEMS Optical, Inc., Huntsville, Alabama
Michael George, Yeong Kim, and Asit Kir
University of Alabama, Huntsville, Alabama

Abstract: This report summarizes the accomplishments during a three year research project to investigate the use of surfaces, particularly in microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), to exploit quantum vacuum forces. During this project we developed AFM instrumentation to repeatably measure Casimir forces in the nanoNewton range at 10−6 torr, designed an experiment to measure attractive and repulsive quantum vacuum forces, developed a QED based theory of Casimir forces that includes non-ideal material properties for rectangular cavities and for multilayer slabs, developed theoretical models for a variety of microdevices utilizing vacuum forces, applied vacuum physics to a gedanken spacecraft, and investigated a new material with a negative index of refraction.

Study of Vacuum Energy Physics for Breakthrough Propulsion (PDF)

Asymmetrical Capacitors for Propulsion
Francis X. Canning, Cory Melcher, and Edwin Winet
Institute for Scientific Research, Inc., Fairmont, West Virginia

Abstract: Asymmetrical Capacitor Thrusters have been proposed as a source of propulsion. For over eighty years it has been known that a thrust results when a high voltage is placed across an asymmetrical capacitor, when that voltage causes a leakage current to flow. However, there is surprisingly little experimental or theoretical data explaining this effect. This paper reports on the results of tests of several Asymmetrical Capacitor Thrusters (ACTs). The thrust they produce has been measured for various voltages, polarities, and ground configurations and their radiation in the VHF range has been recorded. These tests were performed at atmospheric pressure and at various reduced pressures. A simple model for the thrust was developed. The model assumed the thrust was due to electrostatic forces on the leakage current flowing across the capacitor. It was further assumed that this current involves charged ions which undergo multiple collisions with air. These collisions transfer momentum. All of the measured data was consistent with this model. Many configurations were tested, and the results suggest general design principles for ACTs to be used for a variety of purposes.

Asymmetrical Capacitors for Propulsion (PDF)

NASA Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Program
Marc G. Millis
Lewis Research Center, Cleveland, Ohio

Abstract – In 1996, NASA established the Breakthrough Propulsion Physics program to seek the ultimate breakthroughs in space transportation: propulsion that requires no propellant mass, propulsion that attains the maximum transit speeds physically possible, and breakthrough methods of energy production to power such devices. Topics of interest include experiments and theories regarding the coupling of gravity and electromagnetism, vacuum fluctuation energy, warp drives and wormholes, and superluminal quantum effects. Because these propulsion goals are presumably far from fruition, a special emphasis is to identify affordable, near-term, and credible research that could make measurable progress toward these propulsion goals. The methods of the program and the results of the 1997 workshop are presented. This Breakthrough Propulsion Physics program, managed by Lewis Research Center, is one part of a comprehensive, long range Advanced Space Transportation Plan managed by Marshall Space Flight Center.


Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Project: Project Management Methods
Marc G. Millis
Glenn Research Center, Cleveland, Ohio

Abstract: To leap past the limitations of existing propulsion, the NASA Breakthrough Propulsion Physics (BPP) Project seeks further advancements in physics from which new propulsion methods can eventually be derived. Three visionary breakthroughs are sought: (1) propulsion that requires no propellant, (2) propulsion that circumvents existing speed limits, and (3) breakthrough methods of energy production to power such devices. Because these propulsion goals are presumably far from fruition, a special emphasis is to identify credible research that will make measurable progress toward these goals in the near-term. The management techniques to address this challenge are presented, with a special emphasis on the process used to review, prioritize, and select research tasks. This selection process includes these key features: (a) research tasks are constrained to only address the immediate unknowns, curious effects or critical issues, (b) reliability of assertions is more important than the implications of the assertions, which includes the practice where the reviewers judge credibility rather than feasibility, and (c) total scores are obtained by multiplying the criteria scores rather than by adding. Lessons learned and revisions planned are discussed.

Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Project: Project Management Methods (PDF)