Quantum Vacuum Plasma Thruster
White shows me into the facility and ushers me past its central feature, something he calls a quantum vacuum plasma thruster (QVPT). The device looks like a large red velvet doughnut with wires tightly wound around a core, and it’s one of two initiatives Eagleworks is pursuing, along with warp drive. It’s also secret. When I ask about it, White tells me he can’t disclose anything other than that the technology is further along than warp drive … Yet when I ask how it would create the negative energy necessary to warp space-time he becomes evasive.
The Quantum Vacuum plasma thruster is discussed in a ten page NASA paper. It is Harold White version of the Woodward Mach effect propulsion system.
In quantum mechanics a vacuum is filled with electromagnetic waves that come into existence, and then immediately disappear. While these electromagnetic waves are extraordinarily small, they do have many measurable effects. One of these effects is that as the electromagnetic waves appear and disappear they leave behind a measurable momentum. Harol White wants to transform this momentum for propulsion. The Casimir Force might be key in creating an abundance of electromagnetic fluctuation that could result in propulsion.
According to NASA, “The Casimir force is a QV phenomenon such that two flat plates placed in close proximity in the vacuum preclude the appearance of particles, whose wavelength is larger than the separation gap, and the resultant negative pressure between the two surfaces is more negative than the pressure outside the two surfaces, hence they experience an attractive force”
This attractive force could be used to create a pool of electromagnetic particles whose momentum could be used to drive a spacecraft.
But what does all of this Quantum Mechanics business have to do with our QVTP? Well, the pool of electromagnetic particles that’s been created by the Casimir force is going to be the fuel for the QVPT. That means that a QVPT doesn’t have to carry a fuel source to propel itself onward, it can generate propulsion through the manipulation of quantum electro dynamics.
NASA’s initial projections for a QVPT estimate that if a 100MW, 200 Ton (QVPT) could be engineered, the timeframe for transit between the Earth and Neptune would be just over 100 days.
In 2009, Harold “Sonny” White of NASA proposed the Quantum Vacuum Fluctuation (QVF) conjecture, a non-relativistic theory based on quantum mechanics to produce momentum fluxes even in empty outer space. Where Sciama’s gravinertial field of Wheeler-Feynman absorber theory is used in the Woodward effect, the White conjecture replaces the Sciama gravinertial field with the Quantum Electrodynamic Vacuum field. The local reactive forces are generated and conveyed by momentum fluxes created in the QED vacuum field by the same process used to create momentum fluxes in the gravinertial field. In a subsequent analysis to high precision, the Nordtvedt effect has been ruled out using this approach. However, White uses MHD plasma rules to quantify this local momentum interaction where in comparison Woodward applies condensed matter physics.
Based on the White conjecture the proposed theoretical device is called a Quantum vacuum plasma thruster (QVPT) or Q-thruster. No experiments have been performed to date. Anyway, unlike a Mach effect thruster instantaneously exchanging momentum with the distant cosmic matter through the advanced/retarded waves (Wheeler-Feynman absorber theory) of the radiative gravinertial field, Sonny’s “Q-thuster” would appear to violate energy and momentum conservation, for the thrust would be produced by pushing off virtual “Q” particles that would annihilate after they have been pushed on, leading to the generation of local momentum and energy from nothing.
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 Drive Experiment
Though no one has ever measured negative energy, quantum mechanics predicts that it exists, and scientists should be able to create it in a lab. One way to generate it would be through the Casimir effect: Two parallel conducting plates, placed very closely together, should create small amounts of negative energy. Where Alcubierre’s model broke down is that it required a vast amount of negative energy, orders of magnitude more than most scientists estimate could be produced.
White says he’s found a way around that limitation. In a computer simulation, White varied the strength and geometry of a warp field. He determined that, in theory, he could produce a warp bubble using millions of times less negative energy than Alcubierre predicted and perhaps little enough that a space craft could carry the means of producing it. “The findings,” he says, “change it from impractical to plausible.”
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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