NASA Inertial Drive With a Helical Engine Using a Particle Accelerator

David Burns, Manager, Science and Technology Office
Marshall Space Flight Center, NASA has proposed a Helical Engine.
It is a propellantless engine design similar to the Mach Effect propulsion system by Woodward.

Burns goal is to use proven physics and technology
• Focus on extreme duration
• Current state-of-the-art is not sufficient, but has potential to scale

Megawatts of power + space-rated synchrotron = 1 N of thrust
• Not a compelling reason to build this engine
• However
• Equivalent Specific Impulse over 10^17
• “Net” power less than 10 watts
• Options for increasing thrust and efficiency
• Technology is extension of space flown hardware
• Many technical challenges ahead
• Basic concept is unproven
• Has not been reviewed by subject matter experts
• Math errors may exist!

A new concept for in-space propulsion is proposed in which propellant is not ejected from the engine, but instead is captured to create a nearly infinite specific impulse. The engine accelerates ions confined in a loop to moderate relativistic speeds, and then varies their velocity to make slight changes to their mass. The engine then moves ions back and forth along the direction of travel to produce thrust. This in-space engine could be used for long-term satellite station-keeping without refueling. It could also propel spacecraft across interstellar distances, reaching close to the speed of light. The engine has no moving parts other than ions traveling in a vacuum line, trapped inside electric and magnetic fields.

The existing technology would be to try to make a mobile version of the large hadron collider. It would be 200 meters long and 12 meters in diameter – and powerful, requiring 165 megawatts of power to generate just 1 newton of thrust, which is about the same force you use to type on a keyboard. For that reason, the engine would only be able to reach meaningful speeds in the frictionless environment of space.

Below is the large hadron collider.

Nextbigfuture Reader Goatguy Provides Analysis

The ‘nut that isn’t being cracked’ is that it takes 165,000,000 Watts of power to generate 1 Newton of force.

If I shoot a LASER beam of power P out the back of an orbiter, I’ll get a force (from good ol’ Physics)

F = P / c
F = 165,000,000 W ÷ 299,792,458 m/s
F = 0.55 N

Likewise, if we reflect a laser beam with a ‘perfect reflector’ (having 100% reflectivity, no absorption) then

F = 2P / c
F = 2 * 165,000,000 ÷ 299,792,458
F = 1.10 N

Which is almost exactly what the article’s authors cite.

What would make this invention ‘special’ (if it works, of course) is that the 2P/c thrust seems possible without needing anything at all to leave the spacecraft. On the other hand, it requires the humungous power supply to be onboard, which of course carries its own mass … for the fuel, for the machinery turning fuel into power, and for getting rid of the heat and byproducts because it wouldn’t be 100% efficient. Maybe fuel-to-electricity conversions of only 20%. 80% waste heat. More likely only 10%

A real world space-ship, trying to attain relativistic velocities would definitely need WAY more power than 165 MW. Question is … how much? Unfortunately, no matter how much science fiction wishfulness I employ to find a solution, I find it really hard to envision a fusion energy system having a specific energy over 20 kW/kg. Much of that would go into heat-sinking. Unfortunately, it also defines the specific acceleration, absolute.

20 kW × 2 ÷ 299,792,458 m/s = 133 µN/kg.


F = ma, a = F/m … = 0.000133 ÷ 1.0
a = 0.000133 m/s² per kilogram.

Putting that into a PER-DAY perspective

ΔV/day = a × 24 × 60 × 60 = 11.53 m/s per day or 996,000 m/day² … perhaps it would be better expressed in years?

a = 132.7 billion m per year² … and with normalizing that to AU
a = 0.888 AU/y²

Not all that impressive. But let’s use it.

Since the distance to Alpha Centauri is 4.1 LY × 60 × 60 × 24 × 365.25 × 299,792,458 m/s = 3.88×10¹⁶ m … ÷ 149.5×10⁹ m/AU = 259,000 AU
Then with

d = ½at²
d = ½ 0.888 AU/y² t²
t = √( 2 × 259,000 ÷ 0.888 )
t = 764 years.

And that’s for a flyby without slowing down to take a look-see.
And assuming nearly-infinite fuel energy density. And very low overhead for the vehicle’s infrastructure mass.
And all that.
The time to get there and slow down would be

t = 2 √( (2 × ½) D ÷ 0.888 )
t = 2 √( 259,000 ÷ 0.888 )
t = 1,081 years.

Now, I don’t know about your thinking dear reader, but this doesn’t sound promising.

The only way it could work would be to beam hundreds of gigawatts of power from Earth or the Solar System in generation to the craft, where the power would be picked up efficiently out to, oh, maybe 20 AU? or so. You’d get the P/c acceleration for free, just receiving the power. Then the power could go at nearly 80% efficiency to electricity, which then converts to about 1.8 P/c extra thrust. Moreover, the mass of the ship is markedly reduced. Maybe by 1000 times! (Talk about ‘wishful thinking! ‘)

a = 0.133 m/s² (with some conversion yields…)
a = 0.014 LY/y²

t = 2 √( d / a )
t = 2 √( 4.1 ÷ 0.014 )
t = 34 years.

Unfortunately that is also bogus, because there’s no power source at the far end to beam power to decelerate the craft to local vectoring ambient conditions. And, if the power is only reasonably beam-able out to 20 AU, …

a = 0.014 LY/y² (with more conversion calculations)
a = 886 AU/y²

d = ½ at²
t = √( 2 d / a )
t = √( 2 × 20 ÷ 886 )
t = 0.212 year and

v = at
v = 886 AU/y² × 0.212 y
v = 188 AU/y …

Which turns the 259,000 AU Earth-to-Alpha-Cen distance into a 1,375 year adventure.

Which is NO WIN, obviously. The only real win is when Earth power can be received at high fidelity over a 5,000 AU or greater distance. And good luck to that.

d = ½ at²
t = √( 2 d / a )
t = √( 2 × 5000 AU ÷ 886 )
t = 3.36 year and

v = at
v = 886 AU/y² × 3.36 y
v = 2977 AU/y about 4.7% of c!

t = 259,000 / 2,977 AU/y
t = 87 years plus 3.3y
t = 90 years or so.

This is much MUCH better. Hibernation, metabolic slow-down, advance biomechanics and drugs to allow for a nominal 250 year lifetime (even if not hibernating), radiation repair, collision avoidance, all the InterStellar movie stuff.

Still … 5,000 AU beaming power?
We can’t even image the surface of Pluto at 40 AU worth a blip, with our largest Earth based telescopes.
Imagine trying to focus on a rapidly fleeing spacecraft far, far, far tinier than Pluto, at 100x its distance!

So we’re back in the ‘’OK, NASA fly-boys, the theory is great, and how again are we getting to Alpha Centauri?’’ questioning.
Because that’s the question needing answering.
Not the magic tech.

65 thoughts on “NASA Inertial Drive With a Helical Engine Using a Particle Accelerator”

  1. Yes but there’s a Ram Augmented Interstellar Rocket that mitigates that.

    The problem of using the interstellar medium as the sole fuel source led to study of the Ram Augmented Interstellar Rocket (RAIR). The RAIR carries its nuclear fuel supply and exhausts the reaction products to produce some of its thrust. However it greatly enhances its performance by scooping the interstellar medium and using this as extra reaction mass to augment the rocket. The propulsion system of the RAIR consists of three subsystems: a fusion reactor, a scoop field, and a plasma accelerator. The scoop field funnels interstellar gas into an “accelerator” (this could for example be a heat exchange system transferring thermal energy from the reactor directly to the interstellar gas) which is supplied power from a reactor. One of the best ways to understand this concept is to consider that the hydrogen nuclear fuel carried on board acts as a fuel (energy source) whereas the interstellar gas collected by the scoop and then exhausted at great speed from the back acts as a propellant (the reaction mass), the vehicle therefore has a limited fuel supply but an unlimited propellant supply.


  2. Nuclear power can do a lot. We don’t use enough of it on Earth because people have an irrational fear of it. But something as simple as a fission fragment drive can get you to Alpha Centauri in 100 years.

    It is rational to not want to do Project Orion because it involves nuclear weapons in space, but Zubrin’s Nuclear Salt Water Rocket is basically Project Orion without having to use nuclear warheads. It could theoretically get you there in 60 years.

    Using nuclear thermal rockets would get all around the solar system pretty quickly. And they’re needed if you go much further from the Sun than Mars, because there isn’t enough solar power to use on an ion drive unless your panels are unreasonably large. Plus it’s difficult to keep them pointed at the Sun and it would restrict the movement of the ship.

    Nuclear is the way to go. I was a submariner in the USN, so, even though I wasn’t a “nuke” (nuclear technician), I am “Qualified in Submarines”, so I know enough about the reactor. And people are afraid of it even though it would give us lots of energy without pollution. And it provides a path to the stars as well. 🙂

  3. Nuclear power can do a lot. We don’t use it on Earth because people have an irrational fear of it. But something as simple as a fission fragment drive can get you to Alpha Centauri in 100 years.

    It is rational to not want to do Project Orion because it involves nuclear weapons in space, but Zubrin’s Nuclear Salt Water Rocket is basically Project Orion without having to use nuclear warheads. It could theoretically get you there in 160 years.

    Using nuclear thermal rockets would get all around the solar system pretty quickly. And they’re needed if you go much further from the Sun than Mars, because there isn’t enough solar power to use on an ion drive unless your panels are unreasonably large. Plus it’s difficult to keep them pointed at the Sun and it would restrict the movement of the ship.

    Nuclear is the way to go. I was a submariner in the USN, so, even though I wasn’t a “nuke” (nuclear technician), I am “Qualified in Submarines”, so I know enough about the reactor. And people are afraid of it even though it would give us lots of energy without pollution. And it provides a path to the stars as well. 🙂

  4. Use a little antimatter to fuse the hydrogen. If you could handle the acceleration go to the edge of the solar system and dive close to the sun. You should be able to get a boat load of hydrogen that way. Then there is the concept of laying out a trail of crumbs for the starship to eat.

  5. After reading this article and the learned comments, I cannot help but think that the Orion drive concept is still the most feasible and attainable within the next century or two. Even if it is only used to slow down at the other end of the journey, part of a combination drive concept. Very high speeds with high mass craft are achievable, especially once we start using antimatter as the propulsive, and no other propulsion concept I have read or heard about seems to offer that other than Orion. Chemical rockets will never get us where we want to go in a realistic time frame.

    That being said, bravo to NASA. They are trying to think outside the box, exactly what they are supposed to do IMO. Standardizing space hardware would also be a worthy goal of theirs too.

  6. Am I missing something. Surely as the mass of the rotating ions increases due to energy put in by the magnets reduces the overall mass of the vessel, say the ions are accelerated by a battery the ions increase by mass by E=mc^2 but the battery reduces by mass by the same amount? Thus all this is doing is shifting mass around? I could definitely be wrong though.

    Would the same system work if the ions were replace with casimir plates. If we could turn on and off casimir plates ( could they be made out of semiconductors) that should reduce the mass due to the exclusion of vacuum particles when they are on and thus a changing mass that could be acted on to move the vessel forward?

  7. I wonder if some secret may come out of materials advances.

    I look at articles like these: (EM drive app?)

    Light manipulation

    –and I wonder if they may be linked somehow to quantized inertia drives–if the granularity is right. Otherwise–NSWRs it is to the nearby stars, I guess.

  8. As I’ve said before it would have to be several hundred meters long. Problem with this design is the mass becomes heavier the closer to the speed of light. E=mc2. That’s why this design won’t work. Different design and it would work though.

  9. I think the point of this idea, if it isn’t prevented from working by some dull math error or physics we don’t know, is pure proof of concept. If we had one reactionless drive, no matter how pathetic, we could set about discovering better ones.

    But the purpose of travelling to other stars … I don’t get why that’s important above. Our planet and our solar system make incredibly luxurious places for a species like ours to grow up in. The Sahara and Antarctica waiting to be terraformed. Millions of asteroids just floating around waiting to be converted into rotating habitats. Venus just begging for thousands of cloud cities. And, many centuries down the track, gas giants waiting for us to engineer floaters and dragons … if they’re not already brimming with them, which I bet they are …

    With all these riches right on our doorstep there’s absolutely no point going to any other stars for many millennia. At that point we can do the Drexler idea, copy ourselves onto sand-grain sized light-sails and shoot them off at relativistic speeds in all directions to colonize everywhere in the galaxy that hasn’t got someone smarter there to keep us out.

    We can do all that whether or not we happen to find out the Burns drive works. So that’s not its point. Its point is just to tell us that such a thing is possible at all. Like Twain said, the wonderful thing about a dancing bear is not how well it dances.

  10. In order to patent something, you are supposed to describe it in sufficient detail that the invention can be made to work by a practitioner of the art in question. (While at the same time NOT being something that would be obvious in the first place to a practitioner,

    No argument from me here. I was describing a hypothetical business practice based on my observations of the current state of play, not how things should work.

  11. The Bussard interstellar ramjet concept probably would not work either. It appears that drag caused by the interaction of interstellar particles with the magnetic scoop would prevent it from working as envisioned. The drag prevents you from achieving the speed hypothesized to be necessary to achieve self-sustained fusion. If you can’t achieve that speed then you will still need to carry fuel with you.

  12. In order to patent something, you are supposed to describe it in sufficient detail that the invention can be made to work by a practitioner of the art in question. (While at the same time NOT being something that would be obvious in the first place to a practitioner, which many patents also fail at.) Which requires the invention to work in the first place. If you handed this patent to the guys who built the LHC, they couldn’t make it work. They couldn’t even get it to the level where you might hang it on a torsion pendulum and see something on the level of the noise.

    More likely they’d laugh at it.

    This isn’t a patent application, it’s an expository lump from a cheesy SF story, which the author hasn’t even bothered to write so that somebody might enjoy reading it. You might as well take A Bertram Chandler’s description of the Mannschenn drive, and mail it to the patent office. Maybe you could patent the Dean drive, if the examiner wasn’t aware of prior art. Most of them aren’t, as it happens.

    As somebody who has actually gotten a couple of patents, (Being a tooling engineer, most of my work remains proprietary, not patented.) and never once for something that wasn’t already working to some extent, this sort of thing offends me.

    Our patent system is broken, badly, and this patent is exhibit A. Well, no, more like exhibit Z.

  13. Alternative explanation: Someone has noticed that their particular employment contract gives them a bonus for each patent, regardless of how well it actually works.

  14. IF… one were to think, or at least suspect, that you have a pretty good idea of the general location in idea space where a multitrillion dollar breakthrough was going to happen, even if you haven’t got it worked out to a functional stage yourself… then it might be a good idea to spend a mere couple of thousand dollars to start hammering claim pegs into the ground.

    If that multi-trillion dollar bonanza DOES come true, then a number of things might happen

    • you got lucky enough to put in a claim close enough to the real thing to demand licencing fees or skim some of the money. At which point it’s up to the courts to judge if your claim was “close enough”. Which would be just rolling the dice. So that’s a very, very valuable lottery ticket.
    • if you got REALLY lucky (or actually did know what you were talking about) you managed to claim something that is actually critical. Now you’ve got at least one finger in the Terapie.
    • If you were just in the general area, you can (with a good legal team (which I suspect the USN has)) throw enough heat and FUD around to at least have a seat at the table in negotiations.
  15. Your opinion … remains parallel to mine … insofar as this general reaction-less thruster ‘phenomenon’ goes. I don’t mind the discussion per se, but rather the lousy-goosey scaling everything by 6 to 9 orders of magnitude, invoking serious superconducting magic, more serious power-from-magic and following the math, then realizing accelerations of seriously high value. Like 1 G, continuous.  

    But the real intellectual salt-in-the-wound is when the then conjured mega-thrust is mathematically deployed to travel from Earth to Mars in say 2 days. Or Saturn in 9 days. Alpha-Cen in only 4 subjective years.

    Just saying … running loose-and-free with 7+ orders of magnitude.
    Beggers belief.
    GoatGuy ✓

  16. In my humble opinion, the reason all these reactionless thruster concepts involve supposed phenomena that produce infinitesimal thrusts at any sane power level, is that they’re all based on failing to account for everything going on, making assumptions that are alright for normal situations, but which don’t quite account for everything.

    Such as moving energy around, and forgetting that the energy you’re moving around itself has inertia. Which would appear to me to be the big hole in the concept above.

  17. Sad.

    Like him or hate him, Trump’s being on the side of protecting things actually ‘invented here’ is probably going to be history’s best take of the guy. Taking on China, in particular, but he’s agnostic about the color and slant of the international mendacity-is-us corps. The Europeans are JUST as unfair in their competition as you cite above, and as are the Chinese.  

    Indeed … just about the only ‘first world’ competitors that ‘play fair, on the level’ are … take your pick … Australia/NZ, Canada, México and Japan. Oh, wait… America’s longest term high-value trading partners. Funny thing, that. 

    I’ve got mixed feelings about Jolly Old Britain.  

    On the one hand, there’s a King-sized opportunity (which comes with sizable geopolitical risk) in just inviting the Old Grey Lady to have a really-special, really-tight relationship with the Eagle a pond away … when she leaves the E.U.. I think most Brits would embrace it, and frankly we’d both benefit from the seamless trade of goods, services, ideas and intellectual pursuits.  

    On the other hand, the OGL has also become nearly the Capitol of left-falling neo-socialism and the most spoilt brat-of-them-all, “identity politics”. So… interculturally, there’s the risk of catching I.P. “herpes” from the OGL. 

    Just Saying,
    GoatGuy ✓

  18. OK, and now, instead of the hammer magically changing its mass, the hammer head is a container. You hit the box with the hammer head empty, then fill it with lead shot for the return swing. Rinse and repeat.

    This won’t work, because you then have to remove the lead shot and move it back to the other end of the travel, for each swing, and doing this exactly cancels out your gain from the hammer changing its mass.

    In the proposal above, the “lead shot” is energy, which as Einstein taught us, has mass. Moving that energy back and forth is moving the mass back and forth, and perfectly cancels the thrust out.

  19. Well, as you say, the description is kind of scanty, so I’m a little vague on that.

    My second point is the key one: They’re presuming to get a thrust effect by manipulating the inertial mass of particles by relativistic effects, and ignoring that the mass of the energy required exactly equals the relativistic mass change. EXACTLY. That’s WHERE the relativistic mass change comes from: The mass of an object includes the mass of any associated energy, including kinetic.

    Ignoring the inertial effects of moving that energy back and forth is almost certainly where they get their “thrust” from. I suspect a lot of “reactionless” thrusters rely on this particular physics mistake, it can be kind of subtle for people who haven’t got their heads wrapped around the topic.

  20. I agree, the patent system has really gone down hill since they dropped that requirement, and especially since the US joined the international system. (My previous employer basically got destroyed by a deep pocket competitor patenting our new power bolster system overseas, and threatening to sue if we marketed it. “And WE have lawyers on staff, how about you?”)

  21. Does the Z velocity vector and resulting ‘handness’ affect the direction of momentum increase? The description is kind of scanty for me, but seems like they’re saying they move their ions in a particular direction when the mass is greater and the other when it is lesser – which doesn’t seem tied to the direction of Z motion of the system?

  22. To simplify to the easiest way to look at what is happening, lets make the metal hammer in the box out of Beryllium (Be) the lightest usable metal. When the hammer hits the left side of the box it’s effect is not much more then that of a feather, but to give an idea of the difference when going back to the right side the hammer turns into Lead (Pb). So this is where the confusion is, but the idea that matter when accelerated to near the speed of light in a particle accelerator become almost infinitely heavy is well known. This has nothing to do with the speed of the hammer but the effect of turning the hammer weight from that of Be to Pb. All this is because of turning on the circular particle accelerator when moving to the right and turning it off when moving to the left, the actual movement of the box is to the right when the hammer hits it each time.

  23. See my reply to James … where the (ΔV = 1/k) and (ΔV = 2/k) criterion (with k = N/W) are reiterated. ⊕1 of course, too.

  24. Why not talk about wormholes, yah? To me it seems that such talk really ventures deep into a rabbit-hole of little-to-no this-real-world applicability. 

    We’ven’t even seen a glimmer of ‘spacetime warping’ in our highest energy physics experiments (where, as the alt.physics.theory goes, one might observe spacetime warping effects), and we’re up to trillions of eV of kinetic energy, and relativistic speeds of well over 99.999999999% the speed of light. 

    For itsy-bitsy protons, anti-protons, electrons, positrons and the like.  

    The idea of creating a warp-field large enough to envelope an entire macroscopic spacecraft, long enough (days-to-years), requires ‘by theory’ so much power that it is essentially impossible to imagine the SOURCE of power onboard that spacecraft that’d do the New Physics bidding. Seriously… gargantuan energy.  

    But sure, there are plenty of great SciFi books written that glibly use the wormhole trope to ‘answer the problem’ of how to get from here-to-there in a humanly reasonable amount of subjective time.  

    Hyperion is a great title. Really worked the idea richly.

    Just Saying,
    GoatGuy ✓

  25. The Game: … if something like this turns out to work, then royalties can be paid to the first claimants to have patented the idea … 

    It really is too bad that the US Patent Office no longer requires working demonstrations of patentable ideas.  

    Just Saying,
    GoatGuy ✓

  26. So… you resort to “magic wand” solutions then? “Just back up to a star, and … ummm… do something magical … suck up all the power … and warp to translightspeed … and its just that easy in the future where Physics has no stronghold on reality!” 

    Sure, whatever. 
    Star Trek. 
    The Foundation trilogy.
    Hundreds of other SciFi novels, etc.

    Just Saying,
    GoatGuy ✓

  27. Not really… its momentum (or inertia, if you prefer) is what keeps it spinning on its axis, and rotating around the Sun. GoatGuy ✓

  28. Yes.

    But frankly, whether they ‘use the words’ or not, virtually all these reactant-less thruster proposals casually flip around the orders of magnitude, then project astounding Science Fiction possibilities. Such as getting millions of newtons for only millions or a billion watts of power.  In other words … k = 0.001 to 0.1 N/W

    Elsewhen, using napkin math, one can prove that above a ΔV = 1/k, the amount of kinetic energy of any device, of any mass, is increasing faster than the rate of energy fed to the thruster idealized by ‘k’. Moreover, using the same math, beyond ΔV = 2/k (i.e. twice the previous Δk criterion), the kinetic energy of the entire craft is GREATER than energy invested in the thruster.  

    This is also what DoctorPat was referring to herein.

    Just Saying,
    GoatGuy ✓

  29. Why stick with relativistic speeds and “spaceships”? Even if we get close to light speed, Proxima is still 5-6 years out. One way. We would still be really, really far away from exploring anything. Can quantum effects do it? Wormholes? In theory we could basically go anywhere in the known universe more or less instantly (and not through one of those cool technicolor tubes like the movies). And if it were possible, wouldn’t some other species have figured this out and is traveling like that as we speak?

  30. Look the thing is this. This system requires MASSIVE amounts of power. Which means heat. Add for all this you get……..1 newton…in other words not even a quarter pound of thrust.

    I’d just go with Orion

  31. Gravitons have allready been assumed, but never proven. Also note that performing this acceleration experiment would not tell us anything about their properties: their mass, angular momentum, etc..

    And I would just like to point out that conservation of momentum is upheld in this helix-drive. Mass is converted to energy, which is converted to gravitons that are ejected. If you make an average of all the mass times velocity, then it will be constant. The gravitons – corresponding to the mass loss of the energy source – are speeding in the opposite direction by a greater speed than the vessel, and hence cancel the opposite contribution from the vessel yielding a net result of zero inertia.

  32. Well, you are correct that if demonstrated, it would provide interesting physics. If I understand this correctly, then you accelerate the particles in the tangential direction and cause them to increase their mass.

    The heavy particles are then accelerated along the z-axis and gives a certain inertia (I1). As the particles get close to the end of the z-axis, they are retarded in the tangential direction and loose mass. The lighter particle is then retarded in the z-direction. This gives an inertia (I2) that is opposite to I1, but smaller than I1 since the particle is lighter now.

    I don’t know if it has already been proven that a tangential acceleration results in an increased mass in the z-direction, but if not, then that would be an interesting first.

    Since we are talking about charged particles – what else can you accelerate? – they will be sending out radiation. Will this radiation cancel the inertia that has been created by the acceleration/retardartion in the z-direction? We know that photons can create inertia by themselves….

    But it is worth a science experiment, but at a smaller scale than sending a massive synchroton into space. Perhaps miniaturize the experiment to a mass of ton?

  33. “Has not been reviewed by subject matter experts
    Math errors may exist!”

    Says all you really need right there. It isn’t even worth thinking about until those two have been addressed. Though Goat Guy pointing out that it’s fairly useless even if it works as suggested is significant.

    But, let’s think about it anyway, for yucks.

    It’s a helix because the apparatus is moving along the axis of the particle accelerator, while the particles are going around in circles. Is it a right hand, or a left hand helix?

    That depends on your reference frame! From a reference frame that’s moving in the same direction, faster, you get one handedness, from a reference frame that’s moving in the same direction, slower, or in the opposite direction, you get the opposite handedness.

    I’d assert that, (Prove me wrong with math!) this thing, if it works, would logically provide thrust in one direction in one reference frame, and the opposite direction in the other. Which is a really, really big clue that it doesn’t provide thrust at all.

    Second point: Why do relativistic particles have more mass, and thus more momentum? Because kinetic energy has mass. When you transfer energy from one place to another to raise the mass of one set of particles, and reduce the mass of another set, you’re moving mass to do it.

    And, that’s why it doesn’t work. Because you can’t get thrust by moving mass around inside a closed system. Period. End of story.

  34. I wonder how long we really will be stuck in our own solar system? I think Roddenberry was on to something in that we are still such a backwards warp-less species that no one out there would bother to pay us a visit. Also don’t think anyone wants our resources either. If it was water, aliens could easily take Ganymede which has more water than Earth, and there are other planets out there with iron etc. Maybe it would be for the protein.

    Nope, with Goat’s analysis here, goes to show us Earth dummies still have a long, long way to go until we can explore space. Sometimes I feel like we live in one of those early civilizations that gets amazed every time the sun “rises” in the morning after angrily leaving us later in the day to make us live in the dark because we didn’t sacrifice enough goats.

  35. Perpetual motion devices are actually useful, and I mean really radical new ones that look like they should work, not the idiots wasting time with yet another spring and moving weight contraption.

    They are useful because working out how they don’t work teaches us something. The example I gave above of Maxwell’s Daemon was an “unsolved puzzle” of physics for a long time until people worked out information theory.

  36. I think the difference is that we already know about photons and have been deliberately sending beams of them around for… well since the invention of fire.

    Control of inertions or whatever is definitely breaking new grounds in physics.

  37. It’s not gonna work because:
    When you have acceleration the ions in the top bent lose more mass than they lose speed.
    in the bottom bend the ions will lose more speed than mass, it’s the other way around because of relativistics. 
    If you keep on accelerating the spaceship  the ions will keep on going faster.
    The design of the helical engine will only allow for a certain maximum speed of the ions.

  38. Regarding breaking thermodynamics, if the ‘breaking point’ velocity is high enough, you might run into relativistic effects that ‘save’ physics, at least from the perspective of outside observers?

  39. Why should people dismiss it, considering it should work, with known technology?
    This raises some interesting questions about how such a device fits in with the conservation laws.

    Unless you found a flaw in the proposal. Beyond dogmatically stating said conservation laws, that is.
    If so, do share.

  40. The physics doesn’t make it viable now, but I hope the concept is explored experimentally to glean a potential unforeseen nugget of useful information for the physics pool of facts. Most big discoveries happened unexpectedly.

  41. I don’t understand why so much human energy is being devoted to newton scale spaceships. Perhaps it would be easier to see how senseless this is for anything but the tiniest of cubsats if we measured thrust in flypower (vs. horsepower).
    There have much better, further along, concepts like fusion drives since the 1970s-1990s:
    Even antimatter concepts are better understood:
    The Mass needs for fuel are not that great either, and more realistic destinations like Jupiter would only take a few months, maybe less if efficiency ratios can be scaled up from 20% or so currently (well, still theoretically).
    Why haven’t these concepts, mostly from unfairly maligned NASA, been developed? Money. If we redirected even 1% of the DoD budget over the last 50 years or so, we’d probably be zipping around the solar system almost as well as they do on The Expanse by now. Instead, the timelags from concept to development are solong and uncertain that people forget antimatter spaceships (not starships) were a serious theory as far back as the original Star Trek.
    The problem, as usual, is political, not technical.

  42. All I’m hearing here is “Wait! That’s a lot of power!” No kidding. Every feasible model or otherwise projected 15+ generations into the future uses an obscene, unthinkable amount of power. That’s like saying the Isaac Newton would have been skeptical of the James Webb telescope. Tell us something we don’t know.

    Back it up against a medium sized star -and I mean CLOSE – w/ 95% of the rest of the craft designed as a heatsink, and you’re on your way.

  43. In the case of the “laser drive” you use energy to create photons, i.e. energy is converted to photons. These photons are the “ejected” at the end of the rocket – much like the case of a chemical rocket – to create thrust.

    In this new drive energy is converted to gravitons – or whatever particle mediates inertia – which is ejected at the end of the rocket to create thrust. The end of the rocket here is the accelerator ring..

    I don’t see a difference in principle….

  44. While Goat’s numbers are showing that this doesn’t make sense for an Alpha Centauri mission, I think that this is kind of missing the point.

    The point, as I see it, is that this here is a thought experiment in which long standing, experimentally proven (since before WW2!) particle accelerator tech can provide propellent-less drive.

    And as everyone who can do simple math has long accepted, any propellentless drive has the potential to smash a big hole right through the 1st law of thermodynamics. Eventually.

    As long as there is no theoretical basis as to why you can’t get a thrust (F) to power (P) ratio better than a pure photon drive, then eventually your propellentless drive gets fast (v) enough that F.v > P.

    At which point you’re looking at another ultraviolet catastrophe and need to rewrite fundamental physics.

    If I had to bet, I’d say that somewhere there is some electromagnetic law that means that even if everything was made of unobtainium fictionite, with 99.99999% efficient superconducting coils and perfect acceleration and deceleration, there would still be some required energy usage that you can’t get away from in a similar way to how information theory disproves Maxwell’s daemon. But it’s most definitely worth looking into.


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