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Did NASA Engineers Just Confirm a Major Propulsion Breakthrough?

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
August 1, 2014
Filed under , , , , ,
EmDrive (Credit: Satellite Propulsion Research Ltd.)

EmDrive (Credit: Satellite Propulsion Research Ltd.)

Gizmodo has a fascinating story about NASA scientists who appear to have proven that Roger Shawyer’s quantum vacuum plasma thruster, known as the EmDrive (a.k.a., Relativity Drive), actually works. But, they’re not sure exactly why.

Shawyer’s engine is extremely light and simple. It provides a thrust by “bouncing microwaves around in a closed container.” The microwaves are generated using electricity that can be provided by solar energy. No propellant is necessary, which means that this thrusters can work forever unless a hardware failure occurs. If real, this would be a major breakthrough in space propulsion technology.

Obviously, the entire thing sounded preposterous to everyone. In theory, this thing shouldn’t work at all. So people laughed and laughed and ignored him. Everyone except a team of Chinese scientists. They built one in 2009 and it worked: They were able to produce 720 millinewton, which is reportedly enough to build a satellite thruster. And still, nobody else believed it.

Now, American scientist Guido Fetta and a team at NASA Eagleworks—the advanced propulsion skunkworks led by Dr Harold “Sonny” White at the Johnson Space Center—have published a new paper that demonstrates that a similar engine working on the same principles does indeed produce thrust. Their model, however, produces much less thrust—just 30 to 50 micronewtons. But it works, which is amazing on its own. They haven’t explained why their engine works, but it does work.

Read the full story.

36 responses to “Did NASA Engineers Just Confirm a Major Propulsion Breakthrough?”

  1. Christopher James Huff says:

    They tested it in a vacuum chamber…at atmospheric pressure.

    They measured 30-50 micronewtons of thrust (which could easily come from convection currents), both from the “thruster” and a modified device that wasn’t supposed to produce thrust.

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I don’t see anything here that comes close to being called evidence of any kind. At best, some hints that they should try an actual formal experiment. In vacuum, perhaps.

    So far, we have “thrusters” with no sound theoretical background, which violate conservation of energy and momentum, which break basic postulates of the theory of relativity, and for which there is no evidence that they actually produce thrust…only a series of poorly done measurements produced with fundamentally flawed procedures. It’s actually progressing a lot like cold fusion scams such as Rossi’s E-Cat.

    • AlainCo says:

      Emdrive have bee tested in Cina and producec 720mN, more tha what Shawyer found himself.

      Fetta is another technology, based on another theory… which seems wrong. It works probably “by accident” as an EmDrive probably. maybe just an asymmetry in the cavity like Emdrive cause the effect.

      about E-cat, you seems misinformed.

      it is clearly no more possible to be a scam. it is getting industrial.

      the 6 month test is terminated and strangely the peer review is long, which is clarly not compatible with “it does not work”, an answer that would need 2 week of review to be accepted.

      the paper is under the classic 3-12month review process, and maybe more when you know how some deluded reviewer can be desperate and unethical.

      the saga is described in tha book


      the detail of the recent test rumors is there

      and you will have noticed tha Elforst support the test and even devent it, with usual corporate apparent neutrality

      Brillouin works with SRI to develop another reactor.

      and there is many more actors.

      expect a big surpise from LENR-Cities. there is corporate news in embargo until CEO get back from vacation.

      no reactor, but expect something bigger than NASA.

      anyway given the cuirrent disinformation and myth, people have forgotten that Shell, Toyota, Mitsubishi, Navy NRL are currently working on LENR after having confirmed it, and tha Amocco, NASA, Navy Spawar, BARC have confirmed it since long…

      for the real history I advice reading tha book: Excess Heat by Charles Beaudette

      page 35 is enough, the rest is fascinating and detailed.

      for the experimental results, you can quickly read

      but the best is reading the book of Edmund Storms (one of the few who nearly read all papers on the subject and is all but tender with his peers)

      he recently wrote a theory book, with a short (100page) experimental summary that is to read:

      he also explains why all current theory proposal are broken, and propose one, not very detailed because it is only what emerge from all what is impossible.

      or you can wait fro lenr-cities to make their announce this autumn, or Cherokee fund (E-cat/Rossi) to have their test published by the Swedish testers, or their powerplant visit, provided Brillouin or some underground actors don’t make their coming out before.

      I agree tha EmDrive is still an open question, quith some home and great theory challenge, but for cold fusion the only exdplanation to current rejection of thousands of papers, with hundrededs peer reviewed despite opposition, is a clear groupthink

      enforced by media manipulation, which is usual (truth, official truth is often frozen in the first hours or month of a controversy. further evidence are ignored).

      it is hard for naive people to admit they are manipulated by people who in theory are rational, but there is no rational people, just humans.
      If you imagine that thousands of Scientsits are gullible when they support LENr or EmDrive because of evidences, accept that they can be more gullible when they support their peers without the least evidence.

      • mfck says:

        Dude, you should seek medical assistance

      • Christopher James Huff says:

        The Chinese test would be one of those “poorly done measurements produced with fundamentally flawed procedures”. They were simply measuring the force between the “drive” and the magnetron (which was stationary and connected to the test article via a flexible waveguide), air currents, thermal expansion, magnetic fields, etc. Similarly to the many “tests” of E-Cat, the EmDrive people and those working on similar devices have so far consistently used setups and methods completely unsuited to performing the measurements.

        • AlainCo says:

          do you have elements for that or is is just a wild guess as usual ?

          the paper describing the measurements is not very detailed, but there is a description of their balance

          I never heard of a written refutation of their measurement. this is a sign.

          note also tha for E-cat the refutation was mostly conspiracy theory and full of arrors, that was rebued without tenderness spoting the lack of ethic and the incompetence of the comments

          when experimental results face people who don’t understand well their theory, there is sometime this kind of desperate attack.

          this does not mean EmDrive works, this mean there is no serious critic currently, and 3 replications.

      • twizell says:

        Some of those links don’t work, and as for recommending a cold fusion book out of print and costing $500 for a second hand copy! Sheer nuttiness. If this worked we’d have seen some proper evidence. I won’t believe it until someone other than Rossi has built and tested a device, as insufficient detail is presented about how to build one, this necessary proof cannot be attempted. How convenient.

      • Pathoskeptic says:

        Chinese may just have made crappier measurements, don’t you think?

        • AlainCo says:

          you should consider reading thaose article, which show that the measurement protocol, unlike critics , is not designe by clowns in their armchair.


          anyway serious people should ignore critics as long as they are based on nothing serious.

          as usual theory is not a serious critics especially when people don’ account for all parameters and use classical physics.
          If theory is good, the experiments will bring it justice, no need of any priority.

          • Pathoskeptic says:

            Oh boy, have I read the articles. Agreed that ignorance would be a bliss, but I just can’t stomach it.


            • AlainCo says:

              I’m used. Stephan Pomp flee when proposed to test E-cat, like Huizenga. Garwin and hansen stayed silent… that is a rule for Groupthink victims to reject information upfront in case it may change their position.

              Beaudette describe it well:


              “In general, skeptics display the following habits.

              1. They do not express their criticism in those venues where it will be subject to peer review.

              2. They do not go into the laboratory and practice the experiment along side the practitioner (as does the critic).

              3. Assertions are offered as though they were scientifically based when they are merely guesses.

              4. Questions are raised that concern matters outside of the boundaries of the claimed observation.

              5. Satire, dismissal, and slander are freely employed.

              6. When explanations are advanced for a possible source, ad hoc reasons are instantly presented for their rejection. These rejections often assert offhand that the explanation violates some physical conservation law.

              7. Evidence raised in support of the claims is rejected outright if it does not answer every possible question. No intermediate steps to find a source are acceptable”

              EmDrive may be an error, but it have to be investigated.

  2. Christopher James Huff says:

    Funny you should mention that. Look at the other articles by the Wired author hyping the EmDrive and this thing:

  3. eclectic_student says:

    Agree with Christopher James Huff: no, they didn’t. They got an invalid result. They got nothing different from their null test results. What is required is getting something significantly different from the null test.

    Put it this way: if you ran a rocket test with fuel, tested the thrust, and then ran it without fuel and tested the thrust, and got similar thrust measurements, could you discard that glaring problem in your setup? ESPECIALLY if the forces you are measuring are smaller than gnat sneezes (ten millionths of a pound of thrust). Maybe the rocket is good, maybe it’s bad, but the test is a failure.

    I don’t know if the way they hype up the non-result is self-deception, putting the best face on poor results, or an outright attempt to deceive others to perpetuate funding. In any case, it won’t enhance their reputation among people who understand sound scientific testing.

    • AlainCo says:

      wrong, they obtained a null result for the theory of Fetta.

      clearly he does not know how to design a reactor that don’t work.

      however, like for Emdrive, they show that the resonance of the cavity is important.

      there is an evil problem today with science, people don’t understand that theory is not all, but just a tool to explain experiments.

      Fetta have a theory for his reactor, it is broken.

      However if it was a fraud, it would have worked as expected, one positive, and one negative test.

      this is a honest result, question is artifact or effect.

      now you can connected that with the test of Emdrive, which have a much better Q-factor, and have been tested 2 times by Shawyer and yang Juan.

      the logical conclusion from the test is , given the test done by shawyer

      is that

      1- the effect is not a classic artifact (all have sure been cross checked)

      2- the effect (artifact or real) is linked to Q-factor, resonance

      3- Fetta theory is wrong phenomenologically

      here is shawyer test details, and be sure that all following test tested those points at least:

      Test procedures

      Q. Has buoyancy been allowed for?
      A. Buoyancy has been allowed for in the initial experiments and then eliminated by hermetically sealing the thruster.

      Q. Are there any convection currents which might affect the results?
      A. Convection currents did not affect the results, as measurements were taken with the thrust vector up, down and horizontal. Test runs were also carried out using a thermal simulation heater to quantify the effects of change of coolant temperature.

      Q. Has stiffness in cables and pipes been allowed for?
      A. The only connections to the balance were high flex electrical links

      Q. Has friction in any pivots been allowed for?
      A. Static thrust measurements were carried out using 3 different techniques – a counterbalance rig with a knife edge pivot, a direct weighing method using a 16kg balance (0.1 gm resolution), and with the thruster suspended from a spring balance with the weight partly offloaded on to an electronic balance.

      Q. Have electromagnetic effects been taken into account? These include interactions between current-carrying conductors and between such conductors carrying RF currents and nearby metallic structures in which currents might be induced.
      A. Stray electromagnetic effects were eliminated by using different test rigs, by testing two thrusters with very different mounting structures, and by changing the orientation by 90 degrees to eliminate the Earth’s magnetic field.

      Q. Is there any ionization within the air, which might cause electrostatic charging and resulting forces?
      A. Electrostatic charges were eliminated by the comprehensive earthing required for safety reasons, and to provide the return path for the magnetron anode current.

      Q. Could RF pick-up measurement circuits have produced erroneous results?
      A. EMC tests were carried out on the instrumentation to eliminate the effects of RF pick up.

      Q. Could acceleration be caused by spurious torques generated by the air bearing?
      A. Dynamic tests are preceded by an acceleration calibration test, using standard weights to determine the air bearing friction.

      Q. Could acceleration be caused by anomalous thermal or electromagnetic effects?
      A. Acceleration and deceleration tests have been carried out in both clockwise and anti-clockwise directions Acceleration from rest only starts when the magnetron output frequency matches the resonant frequency of the engine, following an initial warm-up period.

      • M Drive says:

        Hey, I’ve seen your site around the net when I went looking for more info about EmDrive.

        I’m actually the inventor of another ‘reactionless’ drive called “M Drive” (unfortunate that the names are so similar, I know). Just thought I’d let you know I exist.

        (Second post, the first one is awaiting approval it seems.)

  4. Paul451 says:

    Actually, if it worked, you could build a free-energy machine from an EmDrive. (One of the reasons many think it can’t work. Violation of CoE.)

  5. Dave Salt says:

    I’ve been reading about this device for more than a decade. New Scientist ran a article about it in 2006 and ESA also looked at it before then, while BAe in Stevenage also ran some tests but found nothing significant.

    I note that in this case they built two test article and that “[T]hrust was observed on both test articles, even though one of the test articles was designed with the expectation that it would not produce thrust”, which immediately suggests that the measurement errors were too large to say for sure that thrust was actually produced.

    Carl Sagan once said that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” and this is far from extraordinary. I really do hope the device works but, at the moment, I’m not holding my breath.

    • AlainCo says:

      on reddit someone detail the null which is not an experimental null, but a theoric null…(which thus failed)

      I’m using the term null test differently than the paper. When I say null test, I mean the RF load that was supposed to not do anything to prove that the testing apparatus was not the cause of the anomalous readings.

      The paper refers to the symmetric test aparatus as the null test, because it was meant to test a prediction of Fetta’s theory on how the device produces thrust (that the force is produced by an imbalance of the lorentz force caused by the asymmetric chamber). This test seems to indicate that Fetta’s theory is incorrect (or at the very least innacurate). Dr. White’s theory on how thrust is produced however predicted that both test articles should produce thrust, which they did.

      I’m not saying that the abstract is wrong, I’m saying it is incomplete and that quote, taken out of context, implies the opposite of what actually happened.

      Now the debate on this subject is not over. Fetta sticks to his theory, and is planning on publishing a paper in the next few months (probably around october) on the subject. I do not speak to the validity of either side’s claim, I’m merely stating that the issue is different from the one /u/IsTom thinks it is.”

      if one accept that Fetta theory is wrong, and that it is anyway the 3rd positive test of a resonant microwave thruster, and that Fetta and Shawyer reactors are differents, and Emdrive more powerful, you can simply propose that Shwayers have a better design and a better theory… probably wrong, but at least working…

      deserving at least to study.

      this remind me the statement of the Swedish DoE facing histerical critics by Sverigue radio

      anyone with a rational behavior should follow their position, which mean few people.

      SR Vetenskapsradion has this week issued criticism towards Elforsk investigations of the alleged phenomenon that is usually called LERN – Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (nuclear reactions at low energy). The investigations began in 2012 when Elforsk was asked by a group of Swedish scientists that support the evaluation of an invention called Energy catalyst. It was stated to have a heat output far exceeding that which can be explained by conventional combustion reactions.

      The evaluation was conducted by Swedish and Italian researchers (Giuseppe Levi and Evelyn Foschi, University of Bologna, Torbjörn Hartman, Bo Höistad, Roland Pettersson and Lars Tegnér, Uppsala University and Hanno Essén, KTH) where the results were published in the report “Indication of anomalous heat energy production in a reactor device. ” The measurements indicated a heat which not only could be explained by conventional combustion.

      Based on the results of those measurements Elforsk chose to go ahead and ordered a summary statement regarding LERN.The results were published in Elforsk report 13:90, which is available on Elforsk website.

      LENR is a controversial phenomenon that has received increased attention over the past two to three years. When a dozen companies over that they engage in the commercialization of LENR technology can this possibly indicate that something unexpectedly discovered and that this discovery in the future may affect the energy supply in the community.

      Elforsk is careful to emphasize that we do not currently have enough information to be able to decide whether the phenomenon LENR exists or not. However, Elforsk determined the state state to briefly follow developments and to some extent help to increase insight and clarity on these issues.

      It is in Elforsk instructed to monitor ongoing research and development in order to prepare the companies in the energy sector on potential breakthroughs and build the necessary knowledge to challenge or affirm further development. For this reason Elforsk continue to monitor developments in the LENR field.

      Magnus Olofsson
      Vd, Elforsk”

      people will say that they don’t say it is true…
      but most mindguard conclude that if it is not sure, we should not verify it.

      people try to hid that way of mind with many fallacioes, but basically they say :

      if experiments says it is real, and theory say impossible, then it may be wrong, and THUS we should not investigate further.

      It is nearly the motto I hear on all discussion place… blogs, forum, scientific agora, labs…
      if it is impossible and proven real, then be careful, don’t look further.

      DoE Erab panel was factually saying the opposite, but was interpreted as that fallacy.

  6. Aerospike says:

    I’m skeptical about the results. Like others I frowned when I read that they tested in a vacuum chamber… at ambient pressure? Too bad only the abstract is available, I would love to read the whole paper.

    However, the claims against it are almost as extraordinaire, as the ones by the inventor(s) and supporters in its favor!
    Example: Unless someone can prove that this is _not_ a quantum vacuum effect, how can one claim that the device violates conservation of momentum and energy?

    • Paul451 says:

      Unless someone can prove that this is _not_ a quantum vacuum effect, how can one claim that the device violates conservation of momentum and energy?

      If you are saying that if it is a quantum-vacuum effect then it doesn’t violate CoE/CoM, then you’re wrong. A device which uses QV for thrust is precisely the sort of thing that is a violation of CoE/CoM. [Basically because QV is velocity insensitive.] Ditto if it somehow uses the average inertial state of the rest of the universe as a preferred frame of reference. Ditto if it’s some kind of magneto-gravity. Ditto every other proposed mechanism.

      [I’ve suggested elsewhere that the only possible “magic” mechanism that would not violate CoE/CoM would be if it somehow interacted with dark matter. (And even that requires the interaction produce some kind of counter-drag on the device, making energy input non-linear to velocity.) Of course, then it would have a preferred direction, easily testable. And they tested it, and it didn’t. So… Well actually, that sucks. I’d really like a dark-matter engine. Seriously SF. Propellant-less propulsion, unlimited free(-ish) energy on Earth. All within the existing laws of physics (kind of).]

  7. AlainCo says:

    so you don’t need any evidence to dismiss 3 independent replication, and more than all advise not to investigate further.

    is that not “true believer” behavior?

    I agree is is very common however, even in the highest spheres.

    statistically you will be right but the tiny chance you are wrong will be a catastrophe. investigating is not an option,.

  8. AlainCo says:

    they uised much less power too, and if you were competent you would know that measuring tiny amplitude is often more precise.

    it may be an error, but what is sure today is that you have no evidence of such. have to investigate or shut up.

  9. AlainCo says:

    you should better focus on epistemology than grammar…

    do you have real arguments against 3 experiments, based on facts if possible?

    of like me you prefer to wait for more replication and possible explanation of artifact?

    today critics are armchair critics. we need more lab.

  10. AlainCo says:

    did you consider the evidence instead on focussing on your half understood perception of the theory ?

    EmDrive is tested by 3 team, in 6 configuration and in each time the resonance is the condition for the artifact/effect, the dummy does not work, and the theory is hard to swallow…

    skepticism is not denialism. it mean once evidence are not straitened totally you suspend your judgment and call for more test.

    what you ask is an administrative risk adverse version of modern science, where facing an uncertain, a theory challenging, possible phenomenon it is urgent not to investigate it.

    for cold fusion sorry, you are in denial, flooded by mass of bad logic and misinformation.

    if you had read the data like Excess Heat by Beaudette

    (just that page is enough, the few first chapters even)

    there is no written critic on F&P calorimetry that is anymore supported by their author, and Wilson even killed the official one that skeptic love to launch (recombination and stirring…. read for details of Hansen and Lewis incompetence. read also for Morrison delirium, and Wilson competence but exaggeration)

    there are already at least 153 peer revewaed paper that give evidence of excess heat, some above 50 sigma.

    there are some more about tritium, thousands above background…

    add to that many other experiments like Iwamura/Toyota replication… see how ENEA/SRI/NavyNRL replicate F&P and have understood the key metallurgy parameters.

    as edmund storms have synthetised, the evidence are clear

    you are simply in denial, and as I always not skeptics never have real evidence.

    they have theory, innuendo, errors, failed experiments, buit not positive evidence of any artifact…

    in fact it is logic since the peer review and hunt against artifact is really strong in LENR, which is no less a battle of ego than any scientific domain

    to get a correct knowledge of the techniques, of the experimenta corpus, of the challenge and pitfalls of calorimetry, tritium and ehlium detection you can read “the science of LENR” by edmund storms

    by the way you will read how incompetent was Gary taubes…
    Mallove in fire from ice, even explain how this famous key author who was supported by physics authorities tweaked the data, hiding data points, to make his theory of fraud fit against Bockris (because evident were impossible to deny scientifically)…
    without his omission statistically he proved nothing, moreover ed storms proved that even if the fraud was done it would not behave like the data observed…

    that is a refutation..

    add MIT tweaking, Harwell and Caltech incompetence…

    today the frauds, lies, incompetence in calorimetry, peer-review manipulation, debunked claims are on the anti-cold fusion side…

    You should really read the book of Beaudette, because not only it explains the calorimetry, the history of cold fusion , the myths, the results, but also it explains some key concept of epistemology, some cargo cult skepticism practice (like using negative results, theory, authority, rejecting others science).

    The book of ed Storms is useful to judge the solidity of arguments in others books, either realist like Beaudette or Mallove (fire from ice) or mythical like gary taubes, Morrison, huizenga.

    one point on which we agree is that cold fusion is a science fiasco of the century.

    On EmDrive, where unlike LENR evidence are not yet conclusive, don’t mix skepticsm which is suspending beliefs to more evidences (and thus calling for more test), and true denialism which is being sure of inexistence because of theory

  11. Pathoskeptic says:

    What the hell is a cold fusion reactor?

  12. AlainCo says:

    not really.
    emDrive is not replicated thousands of time, nearly industrial, replicated by nasa, Enea, Navy, SRI, CEA,Amoco, Mitsubishi, Toyota… under industrial development by 2 serious companies having already third party test published.

    EmDrive is just replicated 4 times (Fetta,Shawyer, Nasa, China)on 3 models (EmDrive, Cannae Drive, Null Cannae Drive).

    EmDrive still have serious chance to be an artifact, not a trivial one as some armchair critics says, but a tricky artifact linked to resonance and dielectric.

    anyway from uninformed people who ignore experimental data when they naively imagine an experiment challenge theory, it looks the same…
    you just ignore experiments, imagine that you understand theory better than nature, and all is ok.

    • Pathoskeptic says:

      Alain. Not a single working cold fusion reactor exist anywhere in the world.

      • AlainCo says:

        you can believe it as long as you reject facts.

        This is well described by Roland Benabou in

        It seems that at least Elforsk thinks there is interesting evidences

        but you are probably better informed that that company whose mission is to make research for Swedish Utilities… yes?

        SRI have tested Brillouin early prototype, which is enough honest to admit it was not yet practical (COP 2).

        Nasa GRC say they replicated the lab experiments, like Navy, ENEA, Toyota, Technova, Amoco, CNAM, CEA, BARC, Texas AM, … of course it is discrete because you disagree and since you are an authority they are afraid you send a letter to their boss..

        at least with EmDrive there is doubt on the experimental results, limited replications, and few teams having replicated.

        you are so funny.

        • Pathoskeptic says:

          Oh boy, you’re confused.

          Sounds to me a lot like Sasquatch.

          A lot of people seem to be sure its exists, but nobody can show me one.

          • AlainCo says:

            just read what I give you if you dare.

            ask Elforsk they see it


            ask Cherokke they see it

            problem is that any source that prove you are wrong in your beliefs is sure a bad source. and you share that opinion with many identical people. that is groupthink.


            it seems that like many pretended scientist you assume that any experiment that challenge your narrow interpretation of theory, is an artifact, and if artifact is impossible, and if no fraud is possible, is an unknown fraud.

            Huizenga principle.

  13. Pathoskeptic says:

    Yes, a thingo not is existence.

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