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EmDrive  (Source:
It's a a propellantless microwave thruster that defies Newton's laws of motion

Chinese scientists have taken on a heavily criticized space drive idea that could one day launch satellites, deep space probes and even flying cars.

The research team hails from Northwestern Polytechnic University in Xi'an, and was led by Yang Juan. What they developed was a propellantless microwave thruster called EmDrive, which is a controversial idea because it goes against Newton's laws of motion -- and many have claimed to create a "propellantless" thruster before and failed.

Newton's laws of motion are all based on the idea that firing propellant out of the back at a high speed will push a craft forward. While solar cells offer infinite power, thrust is limited by propellant. Many have tried to get around this, but several scams have made this particular field a joke in the scientific world.

While space drives tend to rely on Newton's laws of motion, the EmDrive is a closed, conical container that has a net thrust toward the wide end when filled with resonating microwaves. This goes against Newton, who said that no closed system could have a net thrust. However, EmDrive works because the microwaves have a group velocity (the speed of a collection of electromagnetic waves) that is greater in one direction than the other -- which is where Albert Einstein's theory of relativity comes in.

British engineer Robert Shaywer, who began looking at the concept of a propellantless thruster when he opened his own company called Satellite Propulsion Research in 2001, is the original creator of the EmDrive. He made demonstration thrusters to prove it could be done, and even made sure the test results were accurate (meaning, the results weren't affected by friction, ionization, air currents, electromagnetic effects or interference). The first, made in 2003, had a thrust of 16 mN. This was enough to show it could be done.

However, he received a ton of criticism for his idea and was ridiculed in his own country. But the Chinese team at Northwestern Polytechnic University believed in his research and took the project head on to author the latest study, "Net Thrust Measurement of Propellantless Microwave Thruster."

The Northwestern Polytechnic University team was able to create the EmDrive with 720 mN of thrust with a couple of kilowatts of power.

So what purpose does EmDrive have? It could halve launch costs of satellites because as much as half the launch weight of these objects are attributed to propellant.

Shawyer is even working on a superconducting thruster that could be ready as soon as 2016. It would boost the Q value of the cavity, which determines the amount of thrust produced. He said it could be boosted by a factor of several thousand, possibly equating to a tonne of thrust per kilowatt of power.

Source: Wired

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RE: Interesting...keep moving forward
By EyeNstein on 2/9/2013 2:20:32 PM , Rating: 2
In this case the Chinese seem to have documented experiments. Including quantitative results of thrust/resonant drive effectiveness. It still bends some important laws but experiment always trumps theory.

RE: Interesting...keep moving forward
By Shadowself on 2/10/2013 6:20:07 PM , Rating: 5
It still bends some important laws but experiment always trumps theory.
ONLY -- truly ONLY -- if you run the experiment in such a way that other factors do not come into play and All -- truly ALL -- known external and internal methods that could produce the same type of effect are accounted for within the experiment design as well as fully documented in reports.

These guys have been asked legitimate questions about momentum transfer, ambient environment heating, etc. that they just wave their hands about and claim its either irrelevant or is such a small effect that it can be ignored.

The scientific and engineering communities at large are rightly scoffing at such blatant disregard for doing the experiments right and with enough formality and attention to all external sources of interaction.

This may prove to be real someday, but until they are willing to work through the setups in gory detail with outsiders and document how they have either FULLY accounted for or properly eliminated all forms of other possible sources of their claimed effect then it is just pseudoscience. Until that day, the scientific and engineering communities are right to treat it as such.

RE: Interesting...keep moving forward
By maugrimtr on 2/11/2013 8:51:45 AM , Rating: 5
The problem with these sorts of experiments is pretty simple. When you publish your results, you must immediately ensure that everyone else on the Planet can re-perform the exact same experiment and obtain the exact same result. A single documented experiment (subject to criticism - of a scientific nature) is just the beginning of the process we call the Scientific Method. Essentially, this boils down to the following: Propellantless thrust is impossible. It still is. One experiment simply casts a little doubt. Two independent experiments casts some serious doubt. Five experiments with ever more scientists suspecting it's real starts to qualify as scientific progression. One day, it may even graduate to being an observable "fact" (not Theory - if it works, it works - the Theory is about HOW it works).

Criticising Science for exhibiting traits like doubt and suspicion is mere ignorance. Scientists don't believe stuff - they KNOW stuff. Anything phrased as a belief is a THEORY (e.g. the theories of gravitation and relativity which are likely only approximations of some deeper truth).

RE: Interesting...keep moving forward
By nafhan on 2/11/13, Rating: 0
RE: Interesting...keep moving forward
By delphinus100 on 2/11/2013 10:14:24 PM , Rating: 2
Propellentless thrust is impossible? Not true. A laser or other light source aimed out the back would cause some small (but measurable) amount of thrust - with no propellent.

It depends on what you mean by 'propellant.' Photons do carry away momentum (solar sails could not work, otherwise), and that satisfies Newton's Third Law. They are the 'reaction mass.' That's what 'photon rockets' are about, and you described a crude but accurate form of one.

RE: Interesting...keep moving forward
By maugrimtr on 2/12/2013 8:36:53 AM , Rating: 2
Rocket which streams photons out the back is still streaming something, i.e. a propellant, out the back. Saying something is true does not make it true.

RE: Interesting...keep moving forward
By JKflipflop98 on 2/12/2013 10:03:46 AM , Rating: 2
Likewise, people have labelled things "impossible" for as long as they've been around. Things are impossible until they're not - just like propellantless thrusters. If you really understand science, you understand how dumb it is to call anything impossible.

Sailing around the world? Impossible once. Going faster than the speed of sound used to be impossible. Going to the moon? Same. And it won't be too long before I can add EM engines and FTL travel to that list.

RE: Interesting...keep moving forward
By 91TTZ on 2/12/2013 3:35:26 PM , Rating: 2
You seem to misunderstand basic science and the meaning of the word "impossible". You're confusing it with "not feasible".

At no time did anyone claim that sailing around the world is impossible.

By maugrimtr on 2/14/2013 9:33:04 AM , Rating: 2
In an infinite Universe with uncertain laws of Physics (the multiverse), nothing can ever be impossible.

That said, Science is a study of facts and evidence. You start with an assumption. Saying something is impossible is just such an assumption. It remains a truthful assertion UNTIL PROVEN OTHERWISE because it fits with what we already understand as being true.

If we took your approach, it misses the point of the Scientific Method. If you haven't proven it, it hasn't happened. It's one reason why a lot of social research appears to be self-obvious - we know that people deny Evolution because their reason has been overcome by blind faith. However, in Science that is NOT true unless it's proven, i.e. someone actually goes out, performs a poll, and collects hard data.

By nafhan on 2/12/2013 3:31:24 PM , Rating: 2
I've generally only seen the term propellant used for massive particles, but I wouldn't necessarily say your definition is wrong. It is however kind of irrelevant. You are probably looking for the term reactionless.

Anyway, the point I was making is that in both situations (photon drive and "EmDrive") you're deriving your forward movement from the expenditure of electrical energy. Thus both have the same advantage for space travel: no need to carry propellant mass . This sets both apart from standard chemical rockets, ion drives, and anything else that throws mass (i.e. propellant) out the back to move forward.

Photon drives and the "EmDrive" also have something else in common: neither are practical with current tech. :)

RE: Interesting...keep moving forward
By Ammohunt on 2/11/2013 2:00:04 PM , Rating: 2
On man by himself carving and moving 1,100 tons of coral rock to build the Coral Castle is impossible as well but Edward Leedskalnin did it and he wasn't even a Scientist.

RE: Interesting...keep moving forward
By JediJeb on 2/11/2013 9:00:42 PM , Rating: 2
Funny you get rated down and yet the object exists and no one has been able to explain how it was built.

By Ammohunt on 2/12/2013 11:02:08 AM , Rating: 3
yeah not sure what that is about. People around here sometimes have problems with hard truths; mostly likely derived from lack of life experience.

By nafhan on 2/12/2013 3:49:19 PM , Rating: 2
I think you're confusing impossible with impractical.

The naysayers in your example felt it was impossible because of the scale of the project. It's unlikely that anyone believed large amounts of stone cannot be carved (as there's plenty of evidence). The naysayers regarding the EmDrive are making the case that it actually can't be done, and that's largely due to lack of evidence.

By lawsonb on 2/18/2013 1:55:09 PM , Rating: 2
All of the posts shown are important, and to the point (more or less). I possess only an undergraduate degree in physics. But what I have learned is that to pooh-pooh some concept via a knee-jerk response, can be very dangerous. Should the claims of the proponent prove correct, then the scoffer(s) will suffer the egg-on-face syndrome. We must be extremely careful to avoid this type of sneering skepticism. There is a big difference between such baloney devices as the old "Dean drive", which clearly attempted (and failed), to thumb its nose at Newton's laws, and this concept which appears to depend on Einstein's theory. Now I am on both sides of this fence. All I can say is that: Elaborate claims require elaborate proof. I congratulate the Chinese for having the guts to investigate the Emdrive concept without carrying the cock-sure intellectual baggage that some many in the west are carrying. Even if this proves to be a blind alley, at least they are not so hide-bound as to dismiss it out-of-hand.
Imagine the fun we could have if this proves to be viable! Then Shawyer and his supporters could strut to-and-fro in front of their detractors and gloat!

“So far we have not seen a single Android device that does not infringe on our patents." -- Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith

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