Posted by on August 5, 2014

Creating thrust from electromagnetic radiation

When it comes to combustion engines, something never sat well in the gut. Seriously, don’t hand us a butter knife and tell us it is a scalpel please. For anyone with a little imagination, combustion engines have the look of an extinct technology, and one we are likely to shake our heads at in 100 years like a bad haircut in our ‘80s yearbook. (What was I thinking!?)

Look at pressure differentials, spooky unknowns radiating from electromagnetism and other burgeoning technologies like the revolutionary Cannae Engine and a bigger picture emerges.

NASA's Impossible Cannae Engine

NASA’s Impossible Cannae Engine (image via IBTimes.com)

This is the ‘miracle’ engine that is seemingly defying conservation of momentum and creating thrust from electromagnetism radiation pressure differentials. WHOA, that’s a mouthful! Let’s unpack this a bit and try to get a sense for what makes it tick – and if it actually can revolutionize space travel to bring us into the great beyond.

What About Rockets?

Before we fully understand this new technology, let’s review a few facts about current rocket technology to contrast the two.

According the NASA, at liftoff an External Tank and orbiter carries a whopping 835,958 gallons of propellants including hydrogen, oxygen, monomethylhydrazine, nitrogen tetroxide and hydrazine. Weighing in at 1,607,185 pounds, the fuel eclipses the empty weight of a space shuttle itself (165,000 pounds according to Cool Cosmos) by roughly 90-percent.

A metaphor for the inefficiency of rocket travel

Is this the picture of an efficient flying machine?

Like the massive force exerted on a tiny bullet, the differential between fuel combustion and the relatively small weight of the craft ultimately helps it escape the Earth’s atmosphere. Since space travel requires covering unimaginably long distances, the requisite fuel becomes a catch 22 of inefficiency, where the fuel needed to lift, well, the fuel, spirals into requiring ever-bigger spacecraft to maintain ever-longer distances.

When you also consider the horrors of the Challenger disaster, the idea of strapping a very big combustion engine beneath your seat to overcome incredible forces and escape the Earth’s gravitational pull quickly seems grossly outdated; especially in our imaginations and innovation centers of the brain.

The Challenger Disaster

The Challenger Explosion

While the causes of the disaster were unrelated to the fuel itself, the combustible fuel always gets the final word in a space disaster. Can’t we do better? Is the Cannae engine actually the answer we’ve been searching for?

Well, it’s really hard to say at this point, but here is what we do know.

The Cannae Engine Lowdown

At the crux of the Cannae engine is this idea of creating energy without consuming a propellant. Before exploring this notion further, let’s throw caution to the wind. It’s easy to get excited about this idea, and certainly far easier than to poo poo it. In so much, as one might imagine, half of the web is saying it’s a scam while the other half is reporting it as fact. So who is right?

Here is where turning to the original source becomes imperative for reaching one’s own conclusions, or for at the very least, gaining a true sense for the actual observations gained at the experimental level. Therefore, it’s deeply encouraged to read the NASA Technical Reports Server yourself: Anomalous Thrust Production from an RF Test Dvice Measured on a Low-Thrust Torsion Pendulum.

The report, issued by David A. Brady, Harold G. White, Paul March, James T. Lawrence, and Frank J. Davies from NASA Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas, summarizes the following key points:

  • An ‘electric propulsion test article’ consisting of primarily a radio frequency (RF) resonant cavity running at approximately 935 megahertz resulted in approximately 30-50 micro-Newtons of thrust being observed
  • Even though one of the test articles was designed with expectations of not producing thrust, thrust was observed on both test articles
  • Unique as an electric propulsion device, the RF resonant cavity thruster design reportedly produced a force that is not attributable to existing electromagnetic phenomenon and thus, is “potentially demonstrating an interaction with the quantum vacuum virtual plasma”
  • The next step: validation and verification at other test facilities

It is certainly far too soon to say whether or not this new technology will be our saving grace in the future of space exploration. Nonetheless, it is extremely exciting for anyone who is waiting and waiting for the end of the combustion engine and the fossil fuel burning paradigm. Arguably, what can be demonstrated in space certainly might find a place in terrestrial transportation, making this exciting news for a myriad of reasons.

We can only hope that more scientists will have this kind of imagination and spend time looking in places that we haven’t looked before for renewable energy solutions. We just might have an effect on more than just space exploration with this type of thinking, as unforeseen technological applications for our everyday travel emerge.

Posted in: Weird Science

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