RF drive to the stars?

17-Nov-2016 7:30PM EST
NEW INFO!!! The NASA paper is officially published!!
AIAA Paper on NASA’s EMDrive Research

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 8th 9th 10th thread.  For the insomniacs among you, here are links to all 10 threads (1 being the oldest):
Thread 1Thread 2Thread 3Thread 4
Thread 5  –  Thread 6Thread 7Thread 8Thread 9Thread 10

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 21 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 25 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 20-May-2017
Phil Wilson (TheTraveller on the NSF forum) posted that he has demonstrated 0.5N with 100W of Rf power – that’s 5N/KW.  If that’s real all the hype around this device is understated. He has not provided his evidence yet, so folks are kind of holding their breath until we see the data, but holy moley that’s a LOT of thrust – more than 3 orders of magnitude over anything else we’ve seen so far. (fingers crossed!)

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 😉


About VAXHeadroom

Among other things I was the Lead C&DH Flight Software Engineer on LCROSS. My LCROSS photo blog on Facebook can be accessed at http://tinyurl.com/lcross-is-go I run a recording studio and publishing company http://www.untiedmusic.com and tweet as @VAXHeadroom. I'm also a public speaker on space, physics, technology and stage performance. I love talking to kids from K to college, drop me an email if interested in having me come speak!
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4 Responses to RF drive to the stars?

  1. Hey VAX!

    Sorry for turning and burning in the TMRO chatroom there – had to let the dog out. Great work with the visualisations. You’re pretty close to the coal-face of publically-accessible research into this thing – what’s your current gut-feeling on the reality or unreality of this phenomenon?

  2. VAXHeadroom says:

    It looks to me like the effect is real. Jury’s completely out on what the physics is. I think we’ll know a lot more in the coming months – more than 1 paper being peer reviewed, SeeShells building her device, TheTraveller building his device, and rfmwguy building a 2nd device. These are all professionals and the first time to my knowledge that truly independent, crowd sourced and openly shown builds have been done trying to replicate the effect. Stay tuned 🙂

  3. Steven lee says:

    Hey Vax,
    Isn`t Elon suppose to be testing his heavy lift soon? I think its pretty empty being unproven as yet. Might be worth someone taping him on the shoulder and asking for a free test ride….just a thought.
    Kindest Regards

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