||This article needs attention from an expert on the subject. (January 2013)|
A quantum vacuum plasma thruster (or Q-thruster) is a theoretical deep-space thruster that would not require any propellants. Thus, a spacecraft utilizing such thrusters would not need to carry any propellants on board for their operation. A research group at the NASA Johnson Space Center is investigating this possibility.
Theory of operation
A Q-thruster then uses the same principles and equations of motion that a conventional plasma thruster would use, namely magnetohydrodynamics (MHD), to predict propellant behavior. The virtual plasma is exposed to a crossed E-field and B-field, inducing a drift of the entire plasma in the E×B direction, which is orthogonal to the applied fields. The difference arises in the fact that a Q-thruster uses quantum vacuum fluctuations as its propellant, eliminating the need to carry any. This suggests much higher specific impulses are available for quantum vacuum plasma thrusters that will be limited only by their power supply’s energy storage densities. Test results have suggested thrust levels of between 1000–4000 μN, specific force performance of 0.1N/kW, and an equivalent specific impulse of ~1x1012 seconds.
The research group 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 duplicate 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 mN 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 data transfer object.
- Casimir effect
- Unruh effect
- Woodward effect
- Reactionless drive
- White–Juday warp-field interferometer — Another proposed device from the same NASA laboratory.
- "Eagleworks Laboratories: Advanced Propulsion Physics Research". NASA. 2 December 2011. Retrieved 10 January 2013.
- 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). Retrieved 29 January 2013.
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