The quantum vacuum plasma thruster (or Q-thruster) is a theoretical deep-space thruster that uses the quantum vacuum fluctuations to propel a spacecraft. Proponents contend that interaction with 'quantum vacuum plasma' is the cause for thrust produced by an experimental engine (abbreviated to "Q-thruster") proposed for use in deep-space propulsion. Multiple theoretical physicists such as Sean M. Carroll and John Baez (see below) have dismissed this because the quantum vacuum as it is currently understood is not a plasma and does not possess any plasma-like characteristics. It is claimed by various individuals, including a research team led by Harold G. White at the NASA Johnson Space Center, that novel physics may be responsible for thrust observed from prototypes. No such physics has ever been observed or claimed to have been observed by any other collaboration of physicists or engineers. If it is correct that quantum vacuum fluctuations can support thrust sufficient to propel a spacecraft, a spacecraft fitted with such a thruster would not need to carry any propellant for its operation.
Using a torsion pendulum, White's team claims to have measured approximately 30–50 μN of thrust from a microwave cavity resonator designed by Guido Fetta in an attempt at propellant-less propulsion. Using the same measurement equipment, a non-zero force was also measured on a "null" resonator that was not designed to experience any such force, which Brady et al. suggest hints at "interaction with the quantum vacuum virtual plasma". If correct, this would essentially be a proof-of-concept for quantum vacuum plasma thrusters as well as a falsification of the conservation of momentum and energy, scientific laws currently favored on the basis of centuries of experimental evidence. Mathematical physicist John Baez has criticized the reference to "quantum vacuum virtual plasma" noting that: "There's no such thing as 'virtual plasma' ". Noted Caltech theoretical physicist Sean M. Carroll has also affirmed this statement, writing "[t]here is no such thing as a ‘quantum vacuum virtual plasma,’...". All measurements were performed at atmospheric pressure, presumably in contact with air, and with no analysis of systematic errors. The claims of Brady et al. have never been published in a peer reviewed journal, only as a conference abstract presented without review. A team of Chinese scientists have also claimed to have measured anomalous thrust arising from a similar device but have calculated anomalous thrust values on the order of 1000 times higher than those claimed by Brady et al. at power levels on the order of 100 times greater than that employed by Brady et al.
Theory of operation
The research team claims the "Q-thruster" utilizes the quantum vacuum fluctuations of empty space as a "propellant". The existence of quantum vacuum fluctuations is not disputed, because experiments with the quantum mechanical Casimir effect have unambiguously demonstrated that quantum vacuum fluctuations do exist. What remains to be proven is that these fluctuations can be utilized for this practical purpose.
However, a number of physicists have suggested that a spacecraft or object may generate thrust through its interaction with the quantum vacuum. For example, Dr. Fabrizio Pinto in a 2006 paper published in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society noted it may be possible to bring a cluster of polarisable vacuum particles to a hover in the laboratory and then to transfer thrust to a macroscopic accelerating vehicle. Similarly, Dr. Jordan Maclay in a 2004 paper titled "A Gedanken Spacecraft that Operates Using the Quantum Vacuum (Dynamic Casimir Effect)" published in the scientific journal Foundations of Physics noted that it is possible to accelerate a spacecraft based on the dynamic Casimir effect, in which electromagnetic radiation is emitted when an uncharged mirror is properly accelerated in vacuum. Similarly, Dr. H. E. Puthoff noted in a 2010 paper titled "Engineering the Zero-Point Field and Polarizable Vacuum For Interstellar Flight" published in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society noted that it may be possible that the quantum vacuum might be manipulated so as to provide energy/thrust for future space vehicles. Likewise, researcher Yoshinari Minami in a 2008 paper titled "Preliminary Theoretical Considerations for Getting Thrust via Squeezed Vacuum" published in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society noted the theoretical possibility of extracting thrust from the excited vacuum induced by controlling squeezed light. In addition, Dr. Alexander Feigel in a 2009 paper noted that propulsion in quantum vacuum may be achieved by rotating or aggregating magneto-electric nano-particles in strong perpendicular electrical and magnetic fields.
The Q-thruster operates on the principles of magnetohydrodynamics (MHD), the same principles and equations of motion used by a conventional plasma thruster. The difference is that the Q-thruster uses the subatomic particles spontaneously produced by quantum vacuum fluctuations as its propellant. The subatomic particles produced by the fluctuations are subsequently electrically ionized to form a plasma. The now electrically charged plasma is then exposed to a crossed electric and magnetic field, inducing a force on the particles of the plasma in the E×B direction, which is orthogonal to the applied fields. However, according to Puthoff, while this method can produce angular momentum causing a static disk (known as a Feynman disk) to begin to rotate, it cannot induce linear momentum due to a phenomenon known as "hidden momentum" that cancels the ability of the proposed E×B propulsion method to generate linear momentum. The Q-thruster would not technically be a reactionless drive, because it expels the plasma and thus produces force on the spacecraft in the opposite direction, like a conventional rocket engine. However, this action does not require the spacecraft to carry any propellant. This theory suggests much higher specific impulses are available for Q-thrusters, because they only consume electrical power and thus are limited only by their power supply's energy storage densities. Preliminary test results suggest thrust levels of between 1000–4000 μN; specific force performance of 0.1 N/kW, and an equivalent specific impulse of ~1x1012 s.
The research group[vague] is attempting to gather performance data to support development of a Q-thruster engineering prototype for reaction-control-system applications in the force range of 0.1–1 N with a corresponding input electrical power range of 0.3–3 kW. The group plans to begin by testing a refurbished test article to improve the historical performance of a 2006 experiment that attempted to demonstrate the Woodward effect. The photograph shows the test article and the plot diagram shows the thrust trace from a 500g load cell in experiments performed in 2006.
The group hopes that testing the device on a high-fidelity torsion pendulum (1–4 μN at 10–40 W) will unambiguously demonstrate the feasibility of this concept. The team is maintaining a dialogue with the ISS national labs office for an on-orbit detailed test objective (DTO) to test the Q-thruster's operation in the vacuum and weightlessness of outer space.
- Dean drive
- Casimir effect
- Unruh effect
- Reactionless drive
- White–Juday warp-field interferometer — Another proposed device from the same NASA laboratory.
- Photon rocket
- "Anomalous Thrust Production from an RF Test Device Measured on a Low-Thrust Torsion Pendulum".
- "Anomalous Thrust Production from an RF Test Device Measured on a Low-Thrust Torsion Pendulum".
- "The Performance Analysis of Microwave Thrust without Propellant Based on the Quantum Theory".
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- Puthoff, H. E.; Little, S. R. (2010-12-23). "Engineering the Zero-Point Field and Polarizable Vacuum For Interstellar Flight". J.Br.Interplanet.Soc 55: 137–144. arXiv:1012.5264.
- "Preliminary Theorectical Considerations for Getting Thrust via Squeezed Vacuum". JBIS. Retrieved 2014-08-04.
- Feigel, Alexander (2009-12-05). "A magneto-electric quantum wheel". arXiv:0912.1031 [quant-ph].
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- White, H.; March, P. (2012). "Advanced Propulsion Physics: Harnessing the Quantum Vacuum". Nuclear and Emerging Technologies for Space. Retrieved 29 January 2013.
- "Propulsion on an Interstellar Scale – the Quantum Vacuum Plasma Thruster". engineering.com. 11 December 2012. Retrieved 29 January 2013.
- March, P.; Palfreyman, A. (2006). "The Woodward Effect: Math Modeling and Continued Experimental Verifications at 2 to 4 MHz". In M. S. El-Genk. Proceedings of Space Technology and Applications International Forum (STAIF) (American Institute of Physics, Melville, New York) 813: 1321. Bibcode:2006AIPC..813.1321M. doi:10.1063/1.2169317. Retrieved 29 January 2013.
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