Surfing the Quantum Vacuum



I’ve posted about the Light Sail technology, which can propel a spacecraft with the momentum from the sun’s photons. Here’s another no-fuel technology for spacecraft: the Q-Thruster which uses microwaves generated using solar power. It sounds ridiculous at first; it “violates the law of conservation of momentum.” That doesn’t sound promising, but NASA tested the device and found a very small thrust force. Tiny effects can fool scientists – I remember the “cold fusion” kerfuffle many years ago which quickly died when initial results could not be duplicated.

The NASA team is quoted as writing that the device is “producing a force that is not attributable to any classical electromagnetic phenomenon and, therefore, is potentially demonstrating an interaction with the quantum vacuum virtual plasma.” Sounds wild. From EM Drive it seems a related device has been presented at conferences and an evaluation published in a Chinese journal. There’s not enough here yet for me to abandon myself to excitement – I remain cautious. But it would be cool if quantum physics, which sounds so weird, yielded a visible effect that lowers the cost of spacecraft. Keep an eye out for more on this.

PS: I just read this cautionary piece on Don’t break out the champagne yet: “A propellant-less drive technology would be awesome, but we’ve not yet seen sufficient evidence for one.”


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