RF drive to the stars?

About 8 months ago, mini_elon posted on this TMRO Reddit thread that he’d like to see a TMRO SpacePod about the microwave device developed by Roger Shawyer reported to create thrust without propellant called an “EM Drive”, but more properly described as a ‘RF resonant cavity thruster’.

(yes I’m deliberately jamming as many links in here as I can🙂 )

The most interesting information I’ve found on this topic is in the NASASpaceFlight.com forums which now is on its 5th 7th thread.  For the insomniacs among you, here are links to all 7 threads (1 being the oldest):
Thread 1Thread 2Thread 3Thread 4Thread 5  –  Thread 6Thread 7 Warning: they’re LONG and tend to be full of ‘noise’ like most forums…

There are several excellent physicists, microwave engineers, theoreticians, and ‘idea people’ (I put myself in the last category) who are contributing to the forum.  At least 3 Do-It-Yourself (DIY) builders are fabricating devices currently, and several other devices have been built trying to replicate results reported by (most notably) Roger Shawyer and a Chinese researcher named Yang Juan.

This entire idea is not without controversy (again, and again although this is a great article!).

Now… I’m no physicist. I’m a software engineer, but I do work in the satellite industry and have designed, built, and flown satellites for 19 years (after a long career in other aspects of the software industry).  And one of my passions is data visualization, including 3D animation mostly produced by a raytracing program called ‘POVRay‘.  It’s freeware and I’ve been using it for over 20 years.  I also have gotten to be a pretty decent video editor.  So much of my ‘free time’ in the last 8 months has been helping out the folks who are running simulations by creating videos from the data.  They – most notably a contributor who goes by ‘aero’ – have been running a program from MIT known as ‘meep‘ which models electromagnetic systems.

And the reason I’m so interested in this EMDrive is that if it’s even SLIGHTLY functional, it changes the entire satellite industry.  No more reaction wheels, torque rods, thrusters, catalysts and their required heaters, no propellant tanks, fuel lines, toxic fuels and therefore nothing to wear out or run out.

SO…Here are links to some of the videos I’ve produced from the meep data.  They aren’t linked anywhere except here and the NASASpaceFlight.com forum as I didn’t want to clog up my YouTube channel with them.  The early ones are just taking the stills produced by meep and tiling them into a video.  The 2nd generation was taking the stills and putting them into a 3D animation using POVRay.  The 3rd (current) generation takes the raw numbers and builds the 3D animation for both the electric and magnetic fields at once using all the vector data.

1st Gen videos: (note: dates are the date the sim was run)
27 Jun 2015 Ex Hx

27jun ey ez loop
27 jun hy hz loop
27 jun Ex Hx loop
27 jun all loop
1 jul Ey Ez loop
1 jul Ex Hx loop
1 jul hy hz loop

2nd Gen videos:
1-Jul-2015 Copper EX POVRay
Rodal Poynting Loop (also from the 1-Jul-2015 data, Rodal is the username of one of the physicists working on this data)
Rodal Poynting Loop2 (same data, more ‘slices’)

At this point we got the picture files from meep to have better color consistency.  The next set is from ‘aero‘s simulations of a device ‘seeshells’ is building.

CE2Spe i1 3D animation (E fields)
CE2Spe i1 – HFields

And another run, slightly different simulation parameters:
CE3 Copper 64cycles 2015 11 13 EFields y vectors
CE3 Copper 64cycles 2015 11 13 HFields y vectors

3rd Gen videos:
OK – now we get to the point where I’m not taking the pictures generated from meep, I’m using the raw comma separate value (CSV) files and generating the images directly in POVRay.  The electric fields are the red and blue dots and the magnetic fields are the ‘whiskers’.  The other big difference here is that ALL the previous videos have been only one of the vector elements.  What I mean by that is this; every point has a <x,y,z> vector associated with it that shows both the direction and magnitude of the energy.  All the previous videos show only ONE of those 3 elements.  So for instance, the last of the 1st gen videos is named “1 jul hy hz”  So these are only the magnetic field y and z vectors for those slices.  The following uses the <x,y,z> data to generate both the color intensity of the electric field dots and, more obviously, the cylindrical ‘whiskers’ that show the magnetic field strength and direction.  The whiskers are also colored by the vector length, so longer vectors are also more yellow.  Additionally, any vector where the length is < 1e-6 are just a black dot.  In the first one, there are electric field whiskers too, but as they’re almost entirely perpendicular to the plane (as they should be), just using color dots is less confusing and I eliminated them in subsequent videos.

CE3 Copper 64cycles 2015 11 13 CSV X Slice(this has whiskers for E and H fields)
CE3 Copper 64cycles 2015 11 13 CSV X Slice NoEWhiskers
CE3 Copper 64cycles 2015 11 13 CSV All NoEWhiskers

More videos added 26-Apr-2016 (although generated months earlier)

CE3 Copper 64cycles 2015 11 13 Poynting VectorsMeep run seeshells hx field,50 frames/cycle
CE3 2015 12 21 H fields only
CE3 2015 12 22
These next two are the most important.  To my knowledge they represent the highest density plots ever done of an EMDrive simulation.  The simulation took over 22 hours to run, and the 2nd one took almost a day to render the visualization.
CE3 2015 12 27
CE3 2015 12 30

seeshells is documenting her build on PhotoBucket, another builder rfmwguy (aka Dave) is pretty much only documenting his build on the NASASpaceFlight forum, so you’ll have to dive in to find his stuff, and TheTraveller has moved his updates to a Google Group.

I will update this entry as important developments show themselves, and as I generate new videos.

As a final note, I haven’t mentioned NASA’s actual work on this through the Eagle Works lab at the Johnson Space Center in Houston TX.  Paul March from NASA does show up from time-to-time on the NASASpaceFlight forum, and NASA is reported to have a paper in peer-review to hopefully be released soon (your guess is as good as mine).  This is going to be the most publicized work of course, but I think the crowd-sourced work is also very important and so wanted to shed some light on it here.


Added 30-Nov-2015
Update on one paper from NASA currently in peer-review.


Added 1-Dec-2015
C++ and POVRay source code for the CSV file animations


Added 3-Dec-2015
New video of

CE3 Copper 64cycles 2015 11 13 CSV Poynting Vectors


Added 7-Dec-2015

There’s a new website where results will be recorded for posterity.  Designed to be a repository of all tests regardless of outcome (positive, null, inconclusive).  No content yet, but book mark it…


Added 10-May-2015
TMRO did a show on the EMDrive with NASASpaceFlight.COM forum mod and EMDrive builder Dave Distler (RWMWGuy) last week:
TMRO Episode 9.16 #EMPossibleDrive
(I get a nice mention in here🙂 )

I have been inspired by the EMDrive discussions to ‘go back to school’ and learn the physics I didn’t get in undergrad (I was computer science and only required 2 semesters of science, in my case chemistry).  Over the last 9 months I have ‘audited’ courses in electromagnetism and quantum mechanics.  Here are some I recommend:
National Programme on Technology and Advanced learning from Govt of India: Electro Magnetic Fields – note: very heavy on math

MIT Open Courseware (MIT OCW) 8.01 (classical) 8.02 (electricity & Magnetism) and 8.03 (vibrations & waves) taught by Walter Lewin.  These are no longer available from MIT due to allegations against Dr Lewin, but are made available through CC:ATTRIB

MIT OCW 8.04 Quantum Mechanics 1 taught by Dr Allan Adams – GENIUS lecturer!!

MIT OCW 8.05 QM 2 (just started this one)

I can almost follow the physics discussions at this point😉


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I really should have known better than to create a fun hashtag on a day when I’m working in a facility where 1) I can’t take my phone, and 2) don’t even have access to a computer with internet access.  #SpashdownBingo was just a wild idea at about noon (PDT) today and now there are a nearly 100 entries!

Thanks to @Mini_Elon for helping wrangle!!

There’s also a subreddit: http://www.reddit.com/r/SplashdownBingo/

OK – here’s the ‘official’ rules (at least as official as they’re going to get!!):

First person to guess a square gets that square. Here’s the empty map: https://i.imgur.com/9t5KGPK.png
You MUST MUST MUST enter by posting on twitter with the hashtag #SplashdownBingo in order to win THE PRIZE.
The coordinates will be determines as closely as possible on the map by using the ATMOSPHERIC REENTRY COORDINATES POSTED BY NASA/Roscosmos once the Progress vehicle re-enters.  OK – so it’s not really ‘splashdown’, but it was such a fun hashtag!! :)In the event the coordinates land on a line, the square to the SOUTH and/or EAST of the line will be the winning square.
THE PRIZE: I will send – at my expense – a 3D printed Progress vehicle model to the winner.  In the case where no one picks the square, the closest chosen square TO THE EAST of the atmospheric entry square will be the winner.  This is a completely arbitrary direction, don’t give me any guff about orbital mechanics on this :D  The winner must be willing to share their mailing address with me (in private).

Follow @MINI_ELON on Twitter and/or search for the hashtag to see the current map!
Most recent as of 12:25AM EDT 30-Apr-2015:

Update: as of about 1AM EDT 30-Apr-2015:

Update 5-May-2015

Here’s the 3D model of the prize: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:46073 
I will be printing this in glow-in-the-dark plastic and adding a base with the date, time, and coordinates of atmospheric re-entry, and the winner’s twitter handle🙂

We’re using http://www.n2yo.com/progress-cargo-reentry.php as our official reentry point map.  So we calling O8 the official square – which nobody guessed. Because there’s a bit of uncertainty, and because P8 was guessed, we going to call 2 winners!! Both P8 and O11 (due east of O8) are being declared winning squares!  That means:
P8 –
O11 – will receive 3D printed Soyuz models with 3D printed stands🙂


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NASA Under Siege

I say we put together a short (fictional?) movie where 100 NASA personnel decide they’re going to work anyway and basically gate crash a facility and go to work. Nobody wants to actually arrest them because it would look REALLY BAD but they kind of barricade them into the facility and threaten to arrest them if they come out. Tensions escalate when the national guard is called in, but half the guard refuses to storm the facility. The group on the inside has to cope with no food except what they can scrounge and what people sneak over the fence to them. Other govt agency people imitate this ‘walk in’. Stalemate is broken when the public outcry against this siege action gets so big Congress basically has to cave in and actually fix the budget.

I have a good camera, good audio gear, audio and video editing system…

Who’s in?

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My Little Star Trek

The mom of one of my high school daughter’s friends recently posted on Facebook that she (the mom) was tired of her high schooler watching this little kids show that was only for one year olds.  My daughter – a very intelligent voracious reader and writer and somewhat fanatical Brony responded with several full-paragraph, grammatically correct, posts on why “My Little Pony” is a great show.

But it got me thinking – why the fanatical following?

I came to an interesting conclusion: It’s basically the same show as “Star Trek”.

OK, I’ll wait right here for the Bronies to stop cheering and waving their manes and for the Trekkers to have smelling salts and tri-ox compounds applied.

Y’all back? Good.

IMHO Literature at its best – and I’m lumping TV and movies in here, a dubious generalization I realize – looks at, and comments on, the human condition. Star Trek, most specifically ‘The Original Series’, used science fiction to abstract this in a way that allowed Gene Roddenberry to talk about the Vietnam War (and war in general), race relations, bigotry, over-reaching governments, and many other aspects of human interaction and culture in a way that made it past the censors (and studio executives!) and out into the public. Those who ‘got it’ REALLY got it. One great example is Dr. Martin Luther King, discussed here in this interview between Nichelle Nichols and Neil DeGrasse Tyson. The characters are somewhat stereotypical – hey it’s TV after all – and give the audience a ‘landing zone’, something they can recognize and usually at least one character with whom they can really resonate (for me it’s the chief engineer ‘Scotty’). The writers can then explore the conflicts that arise from positing some situation and placing those characters in it, running the conflict to a conclusion that ultimately comments on the more general human condition or political or social situation.

Starting to sound familiar?

My Little Pony, specifically the latest incarnation Friendship is Magic does much the same thing. The characters are more stylized, more allegorical, and, more accessible to a younger audience, but the stories are thoughtful, and the conflicts that arise tend to show both how characters can improve themselves but also comment on society and, again, the human condition.
The show has found a great supporter in actor John DeLancie who voices the character ‘Discord’ and has spoken at several My Little Pony conventions, an obvious Star Trek tie-in, but he talks about both in some of the videos.

I’m obviously not the first person to think of this connection, but, hey, what’s a dad to do?🙂

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Beer bet it never flies.

So I’ve been saying this for months and no takers yet.

Beer bet the NASA SLS never flies.  Not even a test flight.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m as crazy an optimist as there is.  I hope to high heaven I’m wrong.  I want the US (and the world) to have this capability.  But I don’t have any hope that the SLS will ever fly.  Why not you ask? Because the Congress of the United States is dictating the design and politics.  This is a purely political project, nothing to do with furthering the actual goals of NASA (goals? NASA has goals?) or human spaceflight OR “large payload” spaceflight.

So here’s the thing.  I bet anybody who puts a comment in this blog post a beer that the SLS never flies.  Not even a test flight.  Conditions: I will not travel more than 100 miles from my home to either pay up or collect.  Either you have to come to me or you meet me somewhere when I’m on travel.  This ends when one of two conditions occurs:

  1. An SLS test flight actually launches or
  2. the SLS program is cancelled.

The rocket that launches has to be substantially the design that exists as of 1-July-2012.  If it’s even close, I’ll be happy to pay up, I’m not going to be a snot about it, I’ll be honestly happy to be wrong.

Any takers?

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Penny4NASA response

My response to the White House response:

Your response is a ‘non-response’ to the petition, just political double speak. ‘We can’t do it because the other party are idiots.’ Where’s the bold ‘CHANGE’? Where’s the vision? Where’s the actual LEADERSHIP from the White House? Will the President mention this in a speech, ever? How about committing to use the weekly radio address to mention this petition to the American People?


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Crowd-sourcing a science opportunity on NASA’s SAMPEX satellite.

We received the following email at work today:

     The Solar Anomalous and Magnetospheric Particle Explorer (SAMPEX) has been orbiting the earth for the past 20 years and is expected to re-enter the earth’s atmosphere around September 29, 2012. Prior to reentry it is predicted that the spacecraft will lose control around September 1 at an altitude of 250 km.

     Currently, SAMPEX is in a 361 km x 397 km orbit with an inclination of 81.64 degrees. The reaction/momentum wheel failed in 2007 (though attempting to restart it might be possible). The spacecraft has the following functioning sensors and actuators: one three-axis magnetometer, one two-axis digital sun sensor, six coarse sun sensors, and three magnetic torquer rods. The spacecraft has been spin stabilized since the wheel failed.

     The SSMO office is looking for ideas for engineering tests to run on SAMPEX prior to reentry. The plan is to have all engineering tests performed during the month of July. If you have any ideas or suggestions, please forward them to Josephine along with an initial test plan.

My boss, Mark A., was one of the ACS software engineers so we have intimate knowledge of how this bird works.

Here’s the SAMPEX page at GSFC: http://sunland.gsfc.nasa.gov/smex/sampex/index.html

How would you use this asset to do some interesting science?  Post ideas as comments to this blog post and I’ll forward them to my team and we’ll see if anything might work!


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