Chapter 1 - Recent History of Breakthrough Propulsion Studies

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Updated 1/9/2011


Notes by David A. Roffman on Chapter 1 of


(Chapter by Paul A. Gilster of the Tau Zero Foundation)


      The revolutionary field of Breakthrough Propulsion Physics is dedicated to advancing our knowledge of theoretical propulsion science and novel power sources.  It entertains ideas from warp drives to the Quantum Vacuum.  For the time being, this new discipline is relatively underfunded and has scattered scientists that may or may not share work.  Those who do not share are somewhat of a burden to the whole because they force others to reinvent the wheel and drain limited research funds.  However, the “think-tank” has persevered in the face of budget crises, and has skillfully used its limited funds to test (and, as of February 2009 when this book was published) mostly disprove ideas posted by many other researchers.

      The textbook covers a multitude of propulsion proposals, including Space Drive, Wormholes, Faster than Light Travel (FTL), Anti-Gravity, Warp Drive, Zero Point Energy (ZPE), and so forth.  In order to define some of the terms, the Space Drive entails a propulsion device that relies on the use of indigenous matter as a power source for motion.  However, since the hydrogen and other gases in interstellar space are relatively scarce, this idea may not have merit, unless the Quantum Vacuum is tapped.  The vacuum of space is not at all empty.  In fact, scientists wish to procure a variety of exotic particles and unusual “matter” from this un-voidly void.  Particle creation is given by the uncertainty principle: ΔE*Δt > (h-bar)/2.  This version is the energy-time uncertainty principle.  It allows for the creation of a particle of a specified energy for a specified amount of time.  Since h-bar (Planck’s constant divided by 2Pi) is so small (~10-34 in SI units), large amounts of energy are only available for a very short time; plug in numbers to see what happens. 

      The hopeful prospect in the vacuum is ZPE.  This is the lowest allowable energy state allowable.  Currently, it can be drawn from the vacuum and used as an inefficient power source via the Casmir Effect - what happens when two charged plates are placed in extremely close proximity, and ZPE is drawn through.  Currently, the whole idea of the vacuum as a power source is listed as nonviable, but more testing is needed. 

      Another bizarre quantum idea is quantum tunneling.  This uses a wormhole to travel faster than light in terms of distance traveled in a given unit of time (not the actual speed of the wave/particle in question).  Tunneling is also deemed to be nonviable by the textbook, because only huge wavelengths (allegedly too large to effectively carry information) can be passed through the “vortex.”  Look at the energy-time uncertainty principle and the fact that E = h*c/λ.  Larger wavelengths mean less energy, meaning more time is allowed to perhaps send a signal.    Once again though, more testing is needed to see if this path leads to a dead end.

      To date, there have been several attempts to research the field of Breakthrough Propulsion Physics, including: Vision-21, the Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Project (NASA based), Project Greenglow, ESA’s General Studies Program and Advanced Concepts Team, etc.  NASA’s work had a total of 1.6 million dollars to fund their research over a seven year period.  But given that small amount of money, it is doubtful that the funds paid for more than the AC bill.  The program was eventually cut, and thus, went nowhere (except, perhaps, for disproving Podkletnov and his Gravity Shield claims amongst others).




       "The coupling of electromagnetism, gravity, and spacetime," according to Gilster, "offers ground for continuing interest."  This raised questions about Eugene Podkletnov's claims which will be discussed in my review of Chapter 5. Martin Tajmar and his associates used a spinning superconductor ring to detect what looked like a frame dragging force that was much stronger than theory would have predicted.  Such effects show up below a critical temperature for a number of materials including a nonsuperconducting ring of aluminum.