How much energy is in the Quantum Vacuum? Using the Plank frequency as upper cutoff yields a prediction of ~10^114 J/m3. Current astronomical observations put the critical density at 1*10^-26 kg/m3. The vast difference between QED prediction and observation is not currently understood. Is there a way to utilize this sea of virtual particles and photons (radiation pressure) to transfer momentum from a spacecraft to the vacuum?
A number of approaches have been detailed in the literature and synopsized: Vacuum sails that develop a net force by having materials on either side with different optical properties; Inertia control by altering vacuum energy density and reducing total spacecraft mass thus minimizing kinetic energy and amount of work needed to accelerate a spacecraft; and dynamic systems that make use of the dynamic Casimir force to generate a net force.
Recent models developed by Harold White suggests that there are ways to increase the net force, and these models have been validated against data at both the cosmological scale, the quantum level, and test devices have been fabricated/ tested in the lab and found to agree with model predictions.
The Eagleworks Q-thruster experiment attempts to utilize applied scientific research in the fields of quantum vacuum, gravitation, the nature of space-time, and other fundamental phenomenon to realize the possibility of an ultra-high Isp propulsion solution. Through these underpinnings, it is mathematically possible to employ the vacuum particle/anti-particle “sea” and utilize it as propellant reaction mass. Previous QVPT tests have generated possible thrust signals in the milli-Newton range and hinted at Isp’s on the order of 10^12 seconds. This iteration aims to validate or refute the present evidence in order to push forward in pursuit of breakthrough propulsion physics. For the exhibit, we will present a conceptual visualization of these effects, and provide a summary of present data and future plans.
ASA/JSC is implementing an advanced propulsion physics laboratory, informally known as “Eagleworks”, to pursue propulsion technologies necessary to enable human exploration of the solar system over the next 50 years, and enabling interstellar spaceflight by the end of the century. This work directly supports the “Breakthrough Propulsion” objectives detailed in the NASA OCT TA02 In-space Propulsion Roadmap, and aligns with the #10 Top Technical Challenge identified in the report. Since the work being pursued by this laboratory is applied scientific research in the areas of the quantum vacuum, gravitation, nature of space-time, and other fundamental physical phenomenon, high fidelity testing facilities are needed. The lab will first implement a low-thrust torsion pendulum (less than 1 micronewton), and commission the facility with an existing Quantum Vacuum Plasma Thruster. To date, the QVPT line of research has produced data suggesting very high specific impulse coupled with high specific force. If the physics and engineering models can be explored and understood in the lab to allow scaling to power levels pertinent for human spaceflight, 400kW SEP human missions to Mars may become a possibility, and at power levels of 2MW, 1-year transit to Neptune may also be possible. Additionally, the lab is implementing a warp field interferometer that will be able to measure spacetime disturbances down to 150nm. Recent work published by White suggests that it may be possible to engineer spacetime creating conditions similar to what drives the expansion of the cosmos. Although the expected magnitude of the effect would be tiny, it may be a “Chicago pile” moment for this area of physics.
How does a Q thruster work
How does a Q-thruster work? A Q-thruster uses the same principles and equations of motion that a conventional plasma thruster would use, namely Magnetohydrodynamics (MHD), to predict propellant behavior. The virtual plasma is exposed to a crossed E and B-field which induces a plasma drift of the entire plasma in the ExB direction which is orthogonal to the applied fields. The difference arises in the fact that a Q-thruster uses quantum vacuum fluctuations as the fuel source eliminating the need to carry propellant. This suggests much higher specific impulses are available for QVPT systems limited only by their power supply’s energy storage densities. Historical test results have yielded thrust levels of between 1000-4000 micro-Newtons, specific force performance of 0.1N/kW, and an equivalent specific impulse of ~1×10^12 seconds. Figure 4 shows a test article and the thrust trace from a 500g load cell.
The near term focus of the laboratory work is focused on gathering performance data to support development of a Q-thruster engineering prototype targeting Reaction Control System (RCS) applications with force range of 0.1-1 N with corresponding input power range of 0.3-3 kW. Up first will be testing of a refurbished test article to duplicate historical performance on the high fidelity torsion pendulum (1-4 mN at 10 to 40 W). The team is maintaining a dialogue with the ISS national labs office for an on orbit DTO.
How would Q-thrusters revolutionize human exploration of the outer planets? Making minimal extrapolation of performance, assessments show that delivery of a 50 mT payload to Jovian orbit can be accomplished in 35 days with a 2 MW power source [specific force of thruster (N/kW) is based on potential measured thrust performance in lab, propulsion mass (Q-thrusters) would be additional 20 mT (10 kg/kW), and associate power system would be 20 mT (10 kg/kW)]. Q-thruster performance allows the use of nuclear reactor technology that would not require MHD conversion or other more complicated schemes to accomplish single digit specific mass performance usually required for standard electric propulsion systems to the outer solar system. In 70 days, the same system could reach the orbit of Saturn. Figure 5 illustrates the performance capabilities of this advanced propulsion concept for transforming outer solar system exploration
Warp Field Interferometer
Recent work published by White suggests that it may be possible to engineer spacetime creating conditions similar to what drives the expansion of the cosmos. The canonical form of the Alcubierre metric as derived in provides new insight into how a test device could be constructed to generate say a spherical region of perturbation of ~1 cm diameter. Figure 5 depicts the graphical layout of a warp field interferometer experiment capable of measuring possible York Time perturbations within a small (~1cm) spherical region. Across 1cm, the experimental rig should be able to measure space perturbations down to ~1 part in 10,000,000. As previously discussed, the canonical form of the metric suggests that boost may be the driving phenomenon in the process of physically establishing the phenomenon in a lab. Further, the energy density character over a number of shell thicknesses suggests that a toroidal donut of boost can establish the spherical region. Based on the expected sensitivity of the rig, a 1cm diameter toroidal test article (something as simple as a very high-voltage capacitor ring) with a boost on the order of 1.0000001 is necessary to generate an effect that can be effectively detected by the apparatus. The intensity and spatial distribution of the phenomenon can be quantified using 2D analytic signal techniques comparing the detected interferometer fringe plot with the test device off with the detected plot with the device energized
Harold White work
White, H., “A Discussion on space-time metric engineering,” Gen. Rel. Grav. 35, 2025-2033 (2003).
White, H., Davis, E., “The Alcubierre Warp Drive in Higher Dimensional Space-time,” in proceedings of Space Technology and Applications International Forum (STAIF 2006), edited by M. S. El-Genk, American Institute of Physics, Melville, New York, (2006).
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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