DARPA Laser Version of EMDrive Has a Test Result Better Than Commercial Ion Drive

If we could have a space drive that did not use fuel then we could accelerate for decades using a nuclear power source. This would allow a spacecraft with a tiny amount of propulsion to accelerate to near light speed. DARPA has been funding the Nascent Light-Matter Interactions (NLM) project for about three years. This project is looking for functiojnal variations of the super controversial EMDrive. EMDrive was first created twenty years ago and claimed that a conical copper device bounced magnetic radiation in the chamber to generate propulsion without using fuel.

The goal of NLM is to integrate emerging phenomena with fundamental models that can describe and predict new functionality. These models will provide design tools and delineate the performance limits of new engineered light-matter interactions. Important applications to be addressed in the program include synthesizing new material structures for sources, non-reciprocal behavior, parametric phenomena, limiters, electromagnetic drives, and energy harvesting.

The DARPA NLM project is currently funded until May 2021. Mike McCulloch is the current DARPA EmDrive project leader. Mike presented some interim results in an embedded video below.

There are reports that the DARPA project was working with researchers in Spain who claim that forces of 0.1 newtons were generated. This needs to be confirmed. If confirmed then the system would be 5 times more powerful than the 0.02 newtons of some commercial ion drives.

Written By Brian Wang, Nextbigfuture.com

90 thoughts on “DARPA Laser Version of EMDrive Has a Test Result Better Than Commercial Ion Drive”

  1. I think they are on the good track, as the em drive works with random waves, the loop drive works with the same principles , but in a more controlled approach. Silver could be reaplaced with silicon, btw. This makes the device more suitable for mass production, and can be integrated. You can also think about a ring shaped spool. I predicted some time ago that light also works, because it is a form of em radiation.
    You can see it as the start of a new scientific approach. We have a new tool.

  2. It's not at all an uncommon thing in sci-fi.

    I'm rather fond of a recent series in which the first book was called: "We Are Legion: We Are Bob" which has to do with a von Neuman probe (a self-replicating AI-driven probe from Earth) and its many trials and tribulations.

    At one point it finds itself in direct conflict with a more advanced and completely xenophobic alien race that deliberately confines itself to a single star system . . . .

  3. Come to think of it. I am not certain an advanced civilization would even allow relativistic speed space travel.

    All it would take is one incoming/returning ship to malfunction and be unable to decelerate or change course, or even to just get the math wrong, and that's all she wrote.

    Sending them away might be ok, but then you risk maybe destroying someone else's star system or, more likely, some folks that are out there decide to build one and come back, regardless on what admonitions they were given when they left.

  4. It doesn't. At long as you have to burn something to provide the energy for the reactionless drive it doesn't matter. What you need is a perpetual energy machine to power your reactionless drive.

  5. That once again demonstrates my point. "He uses it badly". Please specify. Otherwise, your comment is in the same category as dozens of others: "it is just incompatible with known physics", which has been used discourage difficult scientific inquiry since before Galileo.

    Shawyer lays out his theory in detail, and provides references. If Shawyer uses SR and GR that badly, it should be easy to identify the errors. Saying is it "not even wrong" should make is even easier to refute.

    I've never found any writings that refute Shawyer in his own terms. Further, It seems clear from the large numbers of online science skeptics (and no implied criticism of that community) that some "physicist competent enough" would have taken up the challenge and that a refutation of Shawyer on his own terms would have been widely available. I have not found any.

    That doesn't prove that Shawyer is right, however, his theory needs to be given credence if after all this time it has not been directly and specifically refuted.

  6. The problem with this paper is it's just incompatible with known physics, period. But Shawyer does not provide a "new" (extended) physics framework as a credible explanation. Unlike Woodward, McCulloch, Minotti, etc. who go beyond the standard model, Shawyer uses plain vanilla physics, and he uses it badly, therefore it cannot work. Any physicist competent enough in SR and GR sees immediately that this paper is "not even wrong".

  7. Sure, you can optimise the ISP within the very strict boundaries of what your system is capable of.
    This claim (and that's all it is, a claim) is that they can produce a result significantly better than the best (current) Ion systems are capable of. Maybe better than the theoretical limits of an ion system.

  8. For long-distance travel (ie. interstellar), the propellant mass adds up hugely, and becomes the overwhelming bulk of the overall mass. So a propellantless drive makes a huge difference by saving a lot of mass.

  9. Higher ISP requires more power per unit thrust. What should be done is to optimize the combination of the mass used for power production and the reaction mass by having a variable ISP drive like the VASMIR. You figure out the delta V you need and from that figure out your ISP.

  10. I think that FTL is deprecated due to it needing to get past the 'c' barrier: when, for the accelerated 'thing', time's passage slows to exactly zero, and it 'rm' or relativistic mass increases to infinity.  FTL requires time to flow backwards, and the blob to have 'negative mass'.  Daunting, to say the least. 

    ⋅-=≡ GoatGuy ✓ ≡=-⋅

  11. +1 … Dâhmn, brother… I couldn't have said it better. Reluctance. Gotta be it. 
    ⋅-=≡ GoatGuy ✓ ≡=-⋅

  12. Well, I saw Trump get elected in 2016 even though all the scientific polls said Clinton was a shoe in. The Trumpanatics believed, and they won.

  13. Good point, but somewhat irrelevant since they still haven't found DM. What scientists see as "consistent" evidence could simply be coincidental. Or it could be a case of seeing what they want to see. Despite the objective nature of science it's still subject to very human subjective judgments and observations, and group think. DM theory smacks of group think regardless of the consistency of the evidence.

  14. It is rather fortunate that, so far as we know, nothing naturally produces large chunks of matter whizzing along through the galaxy at relativistic speeds.

    Even a fist sized chunk of rock hitting the Earth at, say, 60% the speed of light would be roughly equivalent (15 megatons) to the Tunguska event. Imagine what something around the mass of Vader's Star Destroyer would do at that speed (about 350 times what would be needed to crack open the Earth's crust, assuming straight scaling). Then start taking it up closer to light speed.

    At some point (mass and percentage of the speed of light), either before or after this, it wouldn't even need to hit the Earth to do us all in. Just hitting the Sun would do the job.

    An interstellar war might be characterized by a region of space suddenly having an unexpectedly large number of stellar flares, super-flares, and possibly novas and supernovas (by main sequence stars that weren't even close to such a thing happening naturally. Hmm, maybe that is something SETI should be looking for. The obvious problem being that it would probably all be over in the blink of an eye in astronomical time (perhaps just a few centuries).

  15. The Next Big Thing and potential Nobel Prize material, if this really works.
    I am following this with great interest, but not holding my breath yet.
    As with the Q-drive, and IEC/Polywell fusion, and … etc.

    As Brett Bellmore also states below, the proof is simply in solid testing.

    This is exactly the essence of science and what distinguishes it from any belief system: Demonstrability, Verifiability, Reproducibility.

  16. Until it is tested in space it's not important. I follow this for the fun of it,but it's not something to get "hyped" about. 99.999% it is spurious.

  17. Good point. Nuclear power does show that "too good to be true" level ways of getting ridiculous amounts of leverage from physics CAN turn out to be real.

    And the dangers thereof.

  18. Which is why, if you believe really hard, you can turn lead into gold and make free electricity from a collection of magnets you bought from an internet site.
    It's all just belief and faith. Go ahead. Prove us all wrong. We're waiting.

  19. Given that ion drives are already the drive of choice for a lot of space applications, something that takes the same power plant, but gives more thrust/kW, is going to be good (even ignoring the way that 5th generation devices are always much, much better than the first floundering attempts at a new tech.)

  20. The basic difference between the likelihood of dark matter vs this theory being true is all the evidence that is consistent vs inconsistent with the two options. If this theory was as consistent with all the data scientists have gathered as dark matter, a lot more physicists would be paying attention. That's the way science works.

  21. These tiny anomalous forces could be anything, always turns out to be caused by the setup.
    I'm resigned to the idea that there is no scifi super science in the cards for us. There is no arrangement of atoms that will produce the kinds of effects we all know and love from fiction.

    It's never aliens—until it is.

  22. Outgassing from adhesive tape. Why would any competent experimentalist have adhesive tape in a vacuum chamber?

    In 17 freaking 98, Henry Cavendish directly measured the gravitational force between two bodies in his laboratory. A force of less than 2*10^-7 Newtons. Over 200 years ago, researchers were capable of setting up experiments to measure forces that tiny.

    I'm forced to ask, is it an accident that tests of these magical drives are always performed so shoddily? Or is it a buried reluctance to do things right, and see the magic go away?

  23. Yes, very good points. Do not disagree at all. But OTOH, the fact that we discovered neutrinos back in 1975 but haven't discovered DM is telling perhaps. As you point out, both are similar being extremely low mass particles, and some have theorized that neutrinos are DM. That's what bothers me I suppose. Even given the level of tech we have today we still haven't discovered what DM is and whether it exists. If we can discover the neutrino then why not DM. To me it at least raises the possibility that we've been chasing a mirage. Of course, it could also mean that DM is just several orders of magnitude more difficult to detect and we won't find it until we develop better technology.

  24. Yes, good points. It will be interesting to see if we do eventually detect it. I'm really on the fence as to whether DM actually exists or it turns out to be a dead end.

  25. If they supposedly increased thrust by 10x by using silver then it suggests materials and maybe even metasurface geometry (ie metamaterials) could indeed boost it further.

  26. They've made huge strides in thermoelectric generation since the early days of space using RTG's – though having said that even small modular nuclear reactors have dramatically increased in volume/weight efficiency since the days when they started using small reactors for submarines.

    With advancements for shielding decreasing the necessary weight/volume of the shielding part of the reactor I could see it being quite viable in space within the next couple of decades for megawatt level powerplants.

  27. Of course it is – if anyone would benefit from a satellite with near perpetual ability to stay in orbit and even change that orbit it would be for military and surveillance use.

  28. " The first is when astronomers noticed that Uranus's orbit wasn't
    matching what Newton's equations predicted, some suggested that an
    unknown planet was messing it up, while others suggested that maybe
    gravity worked differently far from the sun. It took several decades for
    Neptune to be discovered."

    How do we know that 'dark matter' simply isn't stellar objects too far from their local star for its reflected light to be detected by our telescopes?

    Given we needed a probe flyby of Pluto to actually see what it looks like beyond a smudgy blob, it doesn't seem like such a stretch for a multitude of such situations being to blame for what we call dark matter – especially if they are not on the same planar orbit as the rest of the planetary bodies in the system, as with Pluto which would not necessarily cause a regular dimming of the star as it passes in front of it.

    It stands to reason that most of the detectable matter in the universe is in fact detected from emitted and reflected light, so we are fundamentally limited by what we can detect here in our little corner of a very large universe.

  29. Modern science is an organized system of belief, like religions, where its core values are erected by axioms and theorems, which are as subjective.

  30. Because it makes too much sense for NASA to actually do it. They'd rather placate the military industrial complex and espionage types. Surely the XB-37 is just a spy plane.

  31. The search for truth is endless.

    And fortunately, there so many people on Earth that a few can dedicate their time to these potentially useless endeavors.

  32. Science is not about believing. It's about evidence.

    I do not believe in dark matter. But I believe in the models that predicted lots of stuff that were confirmed but then some stuff don't work.

    The models may be missing some stuff, just like newtonian gravity was.

    Or maybe it's dark matter.

    What were can't have is models that contradict or can't explain things already observed.

    Or they will need much more evidence.

    So if you have perpetual motion, it contradicts previous physics. You must have pretty good evidence for it, unlike dark matter, which were have not detected but does not contradicts what we know about physics

  33. This issue with that is that most other dwarf galaxies do have the same galactic rotational problem going on; in fact most dwarf galaxies appear to have more dark matter relative to observable matter than standard size galaxies. Those 19 specific dwarf galaxies acting differently than other galaxies of similar visible mass is what makes them so unusual.

  34. Lets all just be happy that so far it seems easier to test Mach effects and QI than it is to find Dark Matter.

  35. Yeah, with a technology like this, FRBs can be hyper-kinetic weapons erasing planets and/or star systems.

    These things could amass an almost arbitrarily huge amount of power in the form of kinetic energy, greater than the direct conversion of the projectile into energy.

    The only real limit would be when the projectile goes so close to the speed of light, the CMB radiation blue shifts so much that it starts vaporizing it.

  36. This is my understanding. QI effects only happen where acceleration is so low, the Unruh wavelength is greater than the Cosmic diameter. That paper references Dwarf Galaxies.

    Explained by Mike's theory, without any tuning.

  37. This is why these kind of ideas really beg to be tested in deep space, far from Earth.

    Eppur si muove still is a convincing argument.

    Of course, sending stuff to space is expensive, so we need to check if these things work on Earth. Which is rife with experimental errors and artifacts, probably obscuring the results and preventing the space tests.

    It's possible we will really know if these things work, when sending a device to space is so cheap that any University physics lab can do it.

  38. The universe doesn't know what a good or bad plot device is.

    If it proves to be real, we'd have to deal with it and its consequences. Which most likely would be a very strict control of the technology.

    Which is a funny repetition of history, because we already have had experiences putting the technology genie back into the bottle with nuclear energy, but it was a situation that nevertheless, created a new equilibrium of power (those who control the nukes are the powers).

    This hypothetical/fringe technology seems much simpler to replicate than nukes, and less conspicuous to make. It would take time to make it usable for practical thrust, though (from micro-Newtons to Newtons) and hence it wouldn't be immediately dangerous in a human scale.

    But if it proves to exist, it will attract attention from the powers of the world precisely because of what it can become.

  39. Reactionless drives aren't better than reaction drives. What matters is the total weight of the drive, the reactor, the reactor fuel and the radiator.

  40. It would be somewhere beyond nice to find a real exploit for cheap energy and space travel. Obviously, we have to do due diligence in checking out the possibility.

    The word exploit may be unfortunate as it made me think of something else. There is a seemingly remote possibility that research into something like this might also explain the mysterious non-repeating fast radio bursts. These are one-time bursts that always seem to originate in the kind of places we would be most likely to expect life-bearing planets, and not from places where we would not, such as galactic cores (which you would think would have more of these bursts due to density of stars, giant black hole, etc.).
    Nikola Tesla wanted to do an experiment that other scientists of the time felt might ignite the Earth's atmosphere in a chain reaction, killing us all. Tesla decided the other scientists were wrong and went ahead and did it.
    Obviously, the other scientists were wrong.
    Doesn't mean the naysayers will be wrong on future sci-tech experiments. Or that the proponents will always be right. Or maybe no one at all will foresee the danger. Then they do the experiment, because it's a basic next step in advancement that every technologically advanced species eventually comes to.
    Then there is a fast radio burst and nothing.
    Would certainly explain the Fermi Paradox.

    Yet we have to risk them. The alternative is pretty much remaining all-organic subsistence farmers until the Earth overheats.

  41. I like his modified inertia theory, but I think he's making a mistake using it to make EM drive predictions. There may be something to the idea of an information horizon created by acceleration being a source of inertia, but equating such a horizon to a physical barrier made of metal is a massive leap that doesn't seem to make sense.

  42. oh gosh. Not again. I spent countless hours reading about this stuff only to watch it repeatedly be inconclusive or just debunked. Not doing it again. Use practical stuff we know.

  43. If it works as they describe, how long it would take for such system to transport probe to Mars, Pluto, Alpha Ceuntari system (0,1 newton)?

  44. Keep in mind that dark matter, if real, may be very weak at small scales, just like gravity and unless dark matter is all around us (as in centimetres / inches away) then we have to travel to where it is to feel its effects more evidently.

  45. Correct me if I'm wrong but I thought Mike said QI only kicks in at a certain galactic radius? And maybe according to his theory those smaller galaxies don't have large enough radii?

  46. I wonder if anyone has asked McCulloch how well QI handles some more recent galactic discoveries. He states that QI is a solution to the Galactic rotational curve issue, where the stars on the outside of a galaxy are moving around the center much faster than our current theories suggest they should; the visible matter not having enough gravity hold them in orbit. But late last year astronomer's discovered a small number of galaxies where the stars & dust clouds DO orbit in a way that matches up with what good'ol relativistic gravity says they should. This can be explained with the dark matter theory easily enough; those galaxies just don't have much dark matter. But they are really hard to reconcile with any sort of modified gravity theories. 


  47. I can think of at least two times in the past, where when observations didn't line up with the math, scientist ended up proposing that some (then)invisible stuff was messing things up. The first is when astronomers noticed that Uranus's orbit wasn't matching what Newton's equations predicted, some suggested that an unknown planet was messing it up, while others suggested that maybe gravity worked differently far from the sun. It took several decades for Neptune to be discovered. Likewise, beta decay seemed to violate the law of conservation of momentum, so Pauli suggested that a really hard to detect particle (that we now call the neutrino) was to blame. Again, it took a few decades to prove neutrinos were a thing. Dark matter being something like a neutrino, but even harder to detect, isn't too much of a stretch to me.

    Of course, sometimes you do need new math and theoretical models; look at how relativity ended up explaining Mercury's orbit, not a theoretical planet Vulcan.

  48. When you've pursued all the ideas that make sense, but physics still isn't making complete sense, it's time to pursue ideas that break the old "sensible" framework. Even if some of them *appear* to break some very old, very solid rules. Maybe the old, very solid rules will be found to be based on something more fundamental.

  49. Exactly, test everything and maybe some researcher might be blessed by the great god Serendipity, even if none of the original work pans out.

  50. This is something that I have always found puzzling with all dark matter explanations and these "propellant-less" drives and why they should not work. If it does exist, then should it not be plausibly converted to a propellant of sorts? Lets say dark matter is there, but it exist on a quantum level or something, just maybe we have haphazardly figured out how to phase shift it, to where it acted a a sort of neutral force, but when charged becomes something else. So why should it not be the actual force powering these drives and we just haven't yet observed how due to our technical limitations? but yet we have a very rudimentary method of actually utilizing it?

    Its just a more general critique of how they can argue the existence of something that is essentially intangible with no force, but somehow exerts massive force.

  51. A list of 6 amazing results if it turns out to be true, and not one mention of free energy?


    At 0.1 N/kW, the energy in vs. energy out goes over unity at 10 000 m/s. That's a bit too extreme to fit into a rotary engine, but well inside the window for even orbital mechanics.

    You could even, I suppose, devise some orbital scale electric generator that operates at a couple of dozen km/s. We aren't talking Dyson sphere sized engineering, only space elevator sized at most.

  52. I agree with you. That's why I am skeptical of those "conventional" theories as well. As I said elsewhere in here, QI at least has the potential of testability in the near term.

  53. Yes. And why this theory is really not any less legitimate than those invoking the existence of dark matter and drak energy, neither of which ever having been detected after over 50 years of astronomical observation and experimental physics. At least this theory has the potential of being testable in the short term.

  54. In the remote chance this works, my hunch is FTL won't be that far away (and it even might be embedded in this theory as per some blog posts by Mike!).

    But unlimited thrust and energy would certainly bring space and the stars much closer to us.

    Yeah, I know things that are too good to be true usually aren't (true). But in my opinion, we have to pursue every idea that has some soundness behind it and that might have a slight chance of working.

  55. There is nothing wrong with realism and making your opinion in empirical, evidence-based ways.

    Every time physics (and knowledge in general) has caved in to philosophizing and mental castles in the air, it has gone astray.

  56. Thx! I have to laugh a little because my first thought was that it was some newly proposed theoretical drive system like EM.

  57. As per Kerbal's wiki:

    Kraken Drive, also called a K-Drive, is an assembly that lets the player power a vehicle's thrust using suspension-based parts. It is part of a wider group of phantom force-based exploits … Kraken drives can be assembled with stock parts, and are of interest due to their ability to propel or halt ships effectively forever, at no cost.

    And also they talk about the patch and the remaining sources of phantom thrust:

    Krakensbane significantly reduced phantom forces but did not remove them entirely. Physics errors can still be magnified, and even controlled, by building certain assemblies.

  58. I’ve never read where anyone has refuted the theory of the emdrive on its own terms. It has always been why it is impossible according to some other framework. The paper has got some sticky math however overall it isn’t crazy (though relativity might be) and it has references.

  59. Scientists have been trying to detect dark matter for the last 50 years without success. That doesn't mean it doesn't exist, or that they won't be successful in the future. OTOH the longer the search goes on with no results the more it at least raises the possibility that it's a mirage.

    There are so many fringe and/or alternate theories like MOND, String theory, QI, the Mach effect, the Woodward effect, EM Drive, or Unruh radiation. All of which have challenges and also remain unproven. That said, the fact that different folks keep coming at this thing with a different theoretical approach would seem to give credence that perhaps there is something else going on here.

    I have no physics background but I have to say that I've always found the concept of dark matter to be overly complex and non-intuitive. This mystical particle that no one can detect, yet makes up 85% of the matter in the universe and affects the rotational speed of galaxies. It's kind of analogous to saying well there's this mystical force that propels ships across the ocean. No one has seen it or felt it but if you raise your sails it will speed you to your destination. Which of course is the wind which is quite easy to see and feel. If dark matter does exist and exerts such profound effects on the universe it's difficult to understand how it hasn't been detected.

    Karma being karma, scientists will probably detect dark matter tomorrow and I will have crow for dinner.

  60. This still doesn't get me to Mars in 20 minutes. On second thought, can I please just have a Holtzman field generator for folding space, plz?

  61. Just out of friendly curiosity, do you believe in dark matter? No one's seen that either.

    Re-read my post today (9/22/20). Didn't mean it to sound harsh. My apologies Kurt!

  62. After several Kraken drives were found in Kerbal Space Program, the developer patched the system to stop them.

    Just saying.

  63. Anyway, I have a pet theory/fantasy that this is partly what the XB-37 spaceplane is for: To test things like the EMDrive and Mach Effect in an actual space environment, and not spend years futzing around in a laboratory.

  64. This is related to Mike McCulloch's quantized inertia theory, which is related yet different from the usual Mach effect and Emdrive drama.

    This guy has a theory for inertia that predicts galaxies' rotation sans dark matter, distant binaries and other anomalies presumably without adjustment, and it has other several interesting implications. It explains the Emdrive and predicts several kinds of inertia-based drives using EM waves of different efficiencies, this one included.

    If this actually works, McCulloch also predicts the effect could be obtained with meta-materials sporting nanocavities of certain shape and using the universe as source of thrust. That is, perpetual thrust sans energy expenditure. Basically, quantum cavorite.

    To call it controversial is an understatement.

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