Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Exciting Science: The emDrive

I stumbled across some very interesting science kit, the EmDrive (Wikipedia link).

EmDrive - Picture Credit

To explain why this is so remarkable takes a little bit of rocket science.  When we go to space, we propel ourselves by throwing things out of the spacecraft at high speed.  Accelerating the mass out of the spacecraft provides a force that accelerates the spacecraft in the opposite direction.

This is the stuff Isaac Newton wrote about. 
"For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction."
"Force is equal to Mass times Acceleration."

This means that it is a viable means to propel your spacecraft by having a Baseball pitcher stand in the airlock and throw fastballs out into deep space.  With every throw, the ship gets a nudge in the opposite direction.  The problem with this is that baseballs, and rocket fuel in general, is heavy and we have to haul it all up into orbit with us before doing anything interesting.

If the emDrive works, we don't need any more baseballs.  We can convert electricity directly into motion.  If it works this is a civilization-changing invention like the discovery of fire, the invention of the printing press, or the invention of the steam engine.  It can fundamentally alter the course of the human race.

 That seems like pretty big shoes to fill.  I'll explain.  The way spaceflight works today is we burn a bunch of fuel at the beginning of the flight, and coast to where we're going.  If we're lucky, we can "slingshot" around a moon or planet to help us get moving really fast.  This method works.  We've used it to fly-by every planet in our Solar System.  It might take a while, but we'll get there eventually.

With "propellant-less propulsion" like the emDrive we can change how we fly.  Instead of coasting "down the hill" we can accelerate almost all the way to Mars.  Our flight times can go from Months to Days.  Exploration and Colonization move from Science Fiction to "Next Year."  Scuba-dive on Europa?  I can't see why not.

I've said a couple of times in this post "If it works".  That is a big "if".  Mr. Newton's physics have been around a long time, and this breaks them.  That is a big deal, and a lot more research needs to be done to nail down the new science.  The inventor is off to an excellent start.  He's published his work and it's been replicated at least twice.  He's got working models that produce meter-grams of force, and theoretical models that can lift a car with less energy that we use now to drive.  Sign me up.

If I were in High School today, I would go to University and study to work in this field.  The growth opportunities from this make the dot-com boom look like kindergarten.  I'm not in High School, but I'm still going to try.  I'm reading "Microwave Engineering" tonight, and packing in a bunch of coursework.  The technology is still a baby, and I'm definitely getting in.  This is going to be huge!

One more thing.

Remember the Flying cars in the Jetson's, Star Wars, and every other sci-fi show since you were 6?  This is the technology that makes that a real thing.  Nobody else is going to build me a flying car, I guess I will have to do it myself!


Elizabeth Jane said...

Roger Shawyer says that he would use nuclear power to generate electricity for the EmDrive for space travel. But there is a much more lucrative source of electricity that is just being developed which is going to be as civilization-changing as the EmDrive, which could be used for space flights and for flying cars etc. It is Blacklight Power's Sun Cell, which uses water vapour as fuel,

One Sun Cell will be able to produce about 10 megawatts of electricity using very little water, and will be less than one cubic foot in volume. Blacklight Power will have a 100kW prototype delivered to them by a high tech engineering company within the next few weeks.

Check their site:

Even by itself Blacklight Power's technology will supply all our power for all forms of transportation and for domestic and industrial use, and save us from global warming, but when combined with the EmDrive we will soon be capable, as you say, of colonising the solar system and the stars. The energy required will be virtually free, entirely safe, and inexaustible!

Elizabeth Greene said...

Thank you very much for pointing this out. A small but powerful energy source is the other missing piece to deep space travel. I thought it would be the fusion guys, but I'll take hydrinos. ;)

Full disclosure: I only glanced through their papers (I get distracted really easily and I need to focus on the thruster.)

It seems that there is something really special about the way Hydrogen interacts with metals, particularly at high current densities.

I got really excited when Rossi announced his E-Cat, and this seems like it's using a similar reaction. If this isn't bogus, and that remains within the realm of possibility, big science is going to owe Ponns and Fleischman* a serious apology.

* (the original desktop fusion guys)

Ok, back to work. :)

Elizabeth Jane said...

You will be pleased to hear that Lockheed has produced its first fusion test machine and has fired 200 test shots and they say that they can have 100 megawatt compact fusion reactors about 7 metres in diameter (and therefore portable) commercially available within 10 years. So it looks like we will have both hydrinos and fusion before too long. Here is the reference:

However, I have read about the principles behind the cold fusion of Pons and Fleischman and Blacklight Power's Hydrinos and they do not seem to be related in any way and the Blacklight Power process does not involve fusion, but is a process that is borderline chemical and nuclear.

The Blacklight Power process relies upon fractional electron energy levels not previously believed possible - when the electron in the hydrogen atom collapses to a fractional energy level, below what is generally believed to be the ground state of the hydrogen atom, it releases large amounts of energy. Hydrinos are a very unreactive state of hydrogen which Dr. Randell Mills of Blacklight Power argues is dark matter. I know that Andrea Rossi's eCat works by producing fusion of some kind as it produces heavier metals than it uses in the process, so yes, that seems to be some form of cold fusion too. At least cold fusion is a part of it, according to Andrea Rossi.