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Breakthrough Propulsion Physics 11.19.2008


The term breakthrough propulsion refers to concepts like space drives and faster-than-light travel, the kind of breakthroughs that would make interstellar travel practical.

For a general explanation of the challenges and approaches of interstellar flight, please visit the companion website: Warp Drive: When? The Warp-When site is written for the general public and uses icons of science fiction to help convey such notions. This website, on the other hand, is intended for scientists and engineers.

This research falls within the realm of physics instead of technology, with the distinction being that physics is about uncovering the laws of nature while technology is about applying that physics to build useful devices. Since existing technology is inadequate for traversing astronomical distances between neighboring stars (even if advanced to the limit of its underlying physics), the only way to circumvent these limits is to discover new propulsion physics. The discovery of new force-production and energy-exchange principles would lead to a whole new class of technologies. This is the motivation of breakthrough propulsion physics research.

Objectively, the desired breakthroughs might turn out to be impossible, but progress is not made by conceding defeat. Reciprocally, breakthroughs have a habit of taking pessimists by surprise, but can equally remain elusive. By proceeding in small, incremental steps that focus on the immediate questions and by emphasizing the reliability of the findings rather than their long-range implications, relevant and dependable knowledge will result. Regardless of whether the breakthroughs are found, this inquiry provides an additional perspective with which to seek answers to the lingering unknowns of our universe.

Status of the NASA Breakthrough Propulsion Physics (BPP) Project

All NASA support to sustain cognizance on these possibilities has been withdrawn as of October 1, 2008. The final NASA contribution was to assist in the compilation of a graduate-level technical book, Frontiers of Propulsion Science, which is due out in early 2009. This book (750 pages, hardback) will be volume 227 of the series, Progress in Astronautics and Aeronautics Series, which will be published by American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA).

Prior to this point, the project’s leader, Marc G. Millis, continued to monitor and assess a variety of ongoing research with the assistance of an informal network of volunteers scattered across academia, industry, various NASA Centers, and other Federal labs. During that time, several publications were completed to document the progress made. When funding for active research was available, which ran from 1996 to 2002, the project oversaw research into 8 different approaches, produced 16 peer-reviewed journal articles, and an award-winning website (Warp-When), all for a total investment of less than $1.6M. Also during that funded time, the BPP Project coordinated with related research funded at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. With the implementation of the 2003 Federal Budget (p.325), all advanced propulsion research was deferred, including these research efforts.

Accordingly, this web site will no longer be updated.

Status of Research

No breakthroughs appear imminent. This is a nascent field where a variety of concepts and issues are being explored in the scientific literature, beginning since about the early 1990s. The collective status is still at step 1 and 2 of the scientific method, “defining the problem” and “collecting data,” but a small number of approaches are already at step 4, “testing hypotheses;” with experiments underway.

Cautionary note: On a topic this visionary and whose implications are profound, there is a risk of encountering, premature conclusions in the literature, driven by overzealous enthusiasts as well as pedantic pessimists. The most productive path is to seek out and build upon publications that focus on the critical make-break issues and lingering unknowns, both from the innovators’ perspective and their skeptical challengers. Avoid works with broad-sweeping and unsubstantiated claims, either supportive or dismissive.

The references below can serve as starting points for deeper inquires. Citations within these reports will take you to other relevant works. An interim survey is also provided on a separate web page for your convenience.

Interim Survey

Millis, M. G. (2005) “Assessing Potential Propulsion Breakthroughs.” New Trends in Astrodynamics and Applications, Edward Belbruno, (ed.). Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1065: 441-461.
[Note: Although this is published through a non-NASA venue, the contents of this government-sponsored work are available without copyright restrictions in the US.]
+Web Page +Download PDF (0.1 MB).

Sample Research

Quantum Vacuum Energy
Maclay, G. Jordan, Jay Hammer, Rod Clark, Michael George, Yeong Kim, and Asit Kir. (2004) Study of Vacuum Energy Physics for Breakthrough Propulsion. NASA/CR–2006-213311
+Abstract +Download PDF (4.4 MB)
Transient Inertia
Cramer, John G., Curran W. Fey, and Damon V. Casissi. (2004) Tests of Mach’s Principle With a Mechanical Oscillator. NASA/CR–2004-213310.
+Abstract +Download PDF (1.5 MB)
Lifters, Biefeld-Brown, Asymmetrical Capacitors, etc.
Canning, Francis X. Cory Melcher, and Edwin Winet. (2004) Asymmetrical Capacitors for Propulsion. NASA/CR–2004-213312.
+Abstract +Download PDF (1.0 MB)
Space Drives(Step 1: defining the problem)
Millis, M. G. (1997) “Challenge to Create the Space Drive.” AIAA Journal of Propulsion and Power, 13: 577-582.
[Note: Although this is published through a non-NASA venue, the contents of this government-sponsored work are available without copyright restrictions in the US.]
+Download PDF (0.7 MB)
Faster Than Light (general relativity approach)
Visser, Matt. (1996) Lorentzian Wormholes: From Einstein to Hawking. Springer-Verlag, New York, Inc.

Project Management Methods

Millis, M. G. (2004) Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Project: Project Management Methods , NASA/TM–2004-213406.
+Abstract +Download PDF (0.4 MB)

[from -]



My Note –

I still say that the most sensible way to do it is to stop creating theories and then working to prove them. It seems backwards to the way nature already exists and the way most of our understanding of physics has been made.

– cricketdiane


University of Massachusetts researchers have made a breakthrough with “Geobacter,” a microbe that produces electric current from mud and wastewater.

A conservative estimate puts the energy output increase at eight times that of the original organism, potentially allowing applications far beyond that of extracting electricity from mud.

“Now, planning can move forward to design microbial fuel cells that convert waste water and renewable biomass to electricity, treat a single home’s waste while producing localized power (especially attractive in developing countries), power mobile electronics, vehicles and implanted medical devices, and drive bioremediation of contaminated environments.”



New Microbe Strain Makes More Electricity, Faster

ScienceDaily (Aug. 3, 2009) — In their most recent experiments with Geobacter, the sediment-loving microbe whose hairlike filaments help it to produce electric current from mud and wastewater, Derek Lovley and colleagues at the University of Massachusetts Amherst supervised the evolution of a new strain that dramatically increases power output per cell and overall bulk power. It also works with a thinner biofilm than earlier strains, cutting the time to reach electricity-producing concentrations on the electrode.


Geobacter’s hairlike pili are extremely fine, only 3 to 5 nanometers in diameter or about 20,000 times finer than a human hair, and more than a thousand times longer than they are wide. Nevertheless, they are strong. Nicknamed nanowires for their role in moving electrons, pili are the secret to this particular microbe’s ability to produce electric current from organic waste and sediment. Geobacter’s pili seem critical for forming the biofilm which aids transfer of the electron products to iron in soil and sediment. In nature, bacteria colonies form gluey biofilms to anchor to a surface such as a tooth or an underwater rock, providing a living environment near a food source.

[ . . . – lot’s more]

Microbial fuel cells, which convert fuel to electricity without combustion, consist of an electrode known as an anode that accepts electrons from the microorganisms, and another electrode known as a cathode, which transfers electrons onto oxygen. Electrons flow between the anode and the cathode to provide the current that can be harvested to power electronic devices.
Adapted from materials provided by University of Massachusetts Amherst.



[and -]

Cow-powered Fuel Cells Grow Smaller, Mightier (Aug. 24, 2007) — Cows could one day help to meet the rise in demand for alternative energy sources, say researchers that used microbe-rich fluid from a cow to generate electricity in a small fuel cell. This new … > read more

Device Creates Electricity And Treats Wastewater (July 15, 2005) — An environmental engineer at Washington University in St. Louis has created a device similar to a hydrogen fuel cell that uses bacteria to treat wastewater and create electricity. Lars … > read more

Engineer Designs System To Put Wastewater To Work (Aug. 7, 2006) — In the midst of the worldwide energy crisis, researchers at Washington University in St. Louis have been continuing their work on a microbial fuel cell that generates electricity from wastewater. … > read more


Metal Rubber
Chemists Create Self-assembling Conductive Rubber

April 1, 2007 — Polymer chemists have created a flexible, indestructible material, called metal rubber, that can be heated, frozen, washed or doused with jet fuel, and still retain its electricity-conducting properties. To make metal rubber, chemists and engineers use a process called self-assembly. The material is repeatedly dipped into positively charged and negatively charged solutions. The positive and negative charges bond, forming layers that conduct electricity. Uses of metal rubber include bendy, electrically charged aircraft wings, artificial muscles and wearable computers.

[ . . . ]

ABOUT SELF-ASSEMBLY: There are two basic ways to manipulate matter. On the large scale, we pick things up with our hands and physically put them together. Nature uses self-assembly, assembling its structures molecule by tiny molecule. Spread out in a liquid, the miniature parts jostle about and come together in random configurations, gradually matching up through trial and error according to shape and electrical charges. It’s as if you shook a box holding the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and looked in to find the puzzle had assembled itself. Yet biological systems, as well as several inorganic physical systems, exhibit self-assembling or self-ordering behavior all the time.

Note: This story and accompanying video were originally produced for the American Institute of Physics series Discoveries and Breakthroughs in Science by Ivanhoe Broadcast News and are protected by copyright law. All rights reserved.



Scientist Revs Up The Power Of Microbial Fuel Cells In Unexpected Ways

ScienceDaily (May 14, 2006) — Scientists have boosted the power output of microbial fuel cells more than 10-fold by letting the bacteria congregate into a slimy matrix known as a biofilm. The research, led by microbiologist Derek Lovley of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, suggests that efficient technologies for generating electricity with microbes are much closer than anticipated. Lovley presented the results Wednesday in a plenary meeting of the Electrochemical Society in Denver.

A typical fuel cell converts fuels to electricity without the need for combustion and microbial fuel cells work the same way. They usually comprise two compartments, or cells, which are separated by an electrically insulating membrane. In one compartment, microorganisms pull electrons and protons from some sort of fuel—such as waste organic matter. These protons and electrons are attracted to molecules in the second compartment—usually oxygen—and will move towards those molecules. The protons do this by passing through the membrane. But the electrons can’t go through the membrane and so must travel via an alternate route—a wire, or electrode that connects the two compartments. It is this flow of electrons through the electrode that supplies power.

Microbial fuels cells harness the electron shuttling that occurs in the energy-making pathway of certain bacteria. In the energy-making pathway of most animals, electrons and protons are also shuttled about, and usually electrons are passed to oxygen brought in through the lungs. Early microbial fuel cells intercepted the bacteria’s electron shuttling with compounds called “mediators,” which would penetrate the bacteria, snatch electrons and then transfer them to the metal electrode. But the compounds typically used as mediators are often expensive and toxic. A more recent and efficient approach has been to use microbes that can pass electrons directly to a metal electrode.

These “metal-reducing” bacteria are ideal for fuel cells, says Lovley, especially species of Geobacter and Rhodoferax, microbes that evolved means to transfer electrons to metals in the surrounding environment. The microbes use thin wire-like growths, several cell lengths long, that extend from their cell membrane out into the environment. Many bacteria have these extended structures—called pili—they usually use the hair-like extensions to attach to other cells or surfaces. But Geobacter uses pili to transfer electrons onto iron in the surrounding soil. These so-called “microbial nanowires” also seem to be critical for Geobacter to form a biofilm, says Lovley.

While investigating the microbes’ electron transfer mechanism, Lovely’s team created a mutant Geobacter that didn’t have the gene for making the pili, yet the microbes still produced electricity when placed in a fuel cell. The researchers suspected that a membrane protein that was part of the microbe’s energy-making pathway was also able to transfer electrons directly to the metal electrode.

[ etc. ]


Fuel Cell That Uses Bacteria To Generate Electricity (Jan. 7, 2008) — Researchers are using the tiniest organisms on the planet — bacteria — as a viable option to make electricity. They have gained critical insights that may lead to commercialization of a promising … > read more

Seabed Microbe Study Leads To Low-cost Power, Light For Developing World (Dec. 30, 2007) — A biology professor’s fascination with seafloor microbes has led to the development of a revolutionary, low-cost power system consuming garbage, compost, and other waste that could provide light for … > read more

Secretary of Energy: Breakthroughs Essential to Fully Meet Nation’s Energy Challenges

Published by Juliana Williams, August 6th, 2009

Economics , Government , Posterity , Renewable Energy , United States , innovation

Today, the U.S. Department of Energy announced $377 million in funding to establish 46 Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) pursuing potentially path-breaking basic and translational research at the cutting-edge of clean energy innovation.

Of this funding, $277 comes from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA, otherwise known as the stimulus package) and $100 million comes from the DOE’s FY2009 budget. The funding will be sustained over the next five years, with the DOE committing $100 million of its budget to the research centers each year.

“Meeting the challenge to reduce our dependence on imported oil and curtail greenhouse gas emissions will require significant scientific advances,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu as he announced the new funding for EFRCs. “These centers will mobilize the enormous talents and skills of our nation’s scientific workforce in pursuit of the breakthroughs that are essential to expand the use of clean and renewable energy.”

The majority of EFRCs are based in universities, with several harnessing the skills and resources of the national laboratories, and just three awarded to non-profit organizations and private corporations.

Over the course of the program, these centers will employ over 1,800 people in research into four primary realms: Renewable and Carbon-Neutral Energy (including Solar Energy Utilization, Advanced Nuclear Energy Systems, Biofuels, and Geological Sequestration of CO2); Energy Efficiency (Clean and Efficient Combustion, Solid State Lighting, Superconductivity); Energy Storage (Hydrogen Research, Electrical Energy Storage); and Crosscutting Science (Catalysis, Materials under Extreme Environments).

A few examples of the research this funding will support include (full list here):

* Columbia University will focus on achieving higher sunlight-to-electricity conversion efficiencies from thin film solar photovoltaics.
* Cornell University will focus on advanced battery chemistry and design that could enable affordable electric vehicles or mass on-grid energy storage
* University of Texas-Austin will focus on advanced materials used in energy storage technologies.
* Purdue University will focus on improved conversion of biomass to energy, fuels or chemicals.

To be sure, this funding should be celebrated – this research is crucial to developing the scientific foundation for breakthrough energy technologies. It is a great (small) step. But the time has long since come to fully invest in our nation’s innovators and the cutting-edge research essential to both improve today’s clean energy technologies and to achieve breakthroughs that pave the way for the transformational energy technologies of tomorrow. Both forms of support are necessary to make clean energy cheap.

Unfortunately, total U.S. spending on energy research, development and deployment is in a sorry state. I noted yesterday that the entire budget for ARPA-e (a newly funded government agency centered on high-risk, high-reward energy research) is less than talk show personality Rush Limbaugh’s latest contract. In total the U.S. government spent about $4 billion on energy research in 2007 (the same as the Navy’s phone bill that year by the way).

That figure is thankfully up somewhat, with this new infusion of innovation investment in the stimulus and President Obama’s FY 2009 budget, but still just barely tops $5 billion. In contrast, the United States spends over $30 billion annually to pursue cures to deadly diseases and improve human health through the National Institutes of Health – evidence of the scale of a true national innovation priority.

While spending on energy research is expected to be higher this year than in recent years (in large part due to the stimulus), we need a sustained commitment to clean energy that reflects the scale of our mounting energy and climate challenge. The Waxman-Markey climate and energy bill, currently promoted as the next driver of a clean energy economy, would invest only about $1.2 billion annually in energy research and development and roughly $10 billion in the clean energy sector as a whole – less than 0.1 percent of U.S. GDP.

In contrast, South Korea is investing a full 2 percent of its GDP in clean technologies, and China is planning to invest $44-66 billion annually to build their own modern clean energy industries and infrastructure. We must inspire and empower our nation’s youth to become the next generation of energy innovators by fully funding President Obama’s RE-ENERGYSE initiative, and we must build and expand upon this new funding for Energy Frontier Research Centers as just the first launching pad into the next frontiers of clean energy deployment.

Cross-posted at The Breakthrough Institute

Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)

* THe Future is a Verb: Spread the Word
* Energy Secretary Steven Chu: Honorary Breakthrough Fellow?
* Strategy 9: Promote energy conservation, renewable resources



Tertiary Minerals achieves metallurgical breakthrough at Flourspar deposit

06 August 2009

Tertiary Minerals, the mining group working on the large Storuman Fluorspar deposit in Sweden has achieved a metallurgical breakthrough by producing a Fluorspar concentrate to a specification that would be saleable to customers.

The latest results, from tests being carried out at the metallurgical laboratories of Canada’s SGS Minerals Services, are a breakthrough for the project. Previous testwork carried out in the 1970s produced fluorspar with acceptable chemical specifications, but only on samples that were ground to a grain size that was too fine for use in the majority of consuming acid plants around the world.

Until now, Tertiary’s testwork programme has been rather slow-paced in order to preserve its financial resources. However, following these latest results and a £3.36 million fundraising announced in July, the testwork is set to be speeded up.



EU Wants RBS To Cut Back On Small Business Lending

LONDON (Dow Jones)–Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC (RBS) Friday said it has been asked by the European Commission to pull back on lending to small U.K. businesses in order to get state-aid approval, putting it at odds with the U.K. government’s call for banks to ease credit to small companies.

RBS and the U.K. government are seeking European Union state-aid approval after the bank received a GBP20 billion capital injection in October, resulting in the government taking a 70% stake in RBS.

Chief Executive Stephen Hester said the bank, the U.K. government and the commission are discussing “what is and isn’t feasible and sensible” to reduce RBS’ roughly 20% market share in small business lending.

“There is a contrast here and it’s not a comfortable one. It’s our job to support our customers. Anything that disrupts our ability to do that is not good for the U.K. economy and that is being taken into account in our discussion with the E.U.,” Hester said.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling has demanded banks pass on lower interest rates and ease credit access to small- and medium-sized firms in particular.

RBS is set to receive further government aid in the form of an insurance policy on GBP294 billion in risky assets that would limit its potential losses.

Company Web site: http://www.rbs.com

-By Margot Patrick, Dow Jones Newswires; +44 (0)20 7842 9451; margot.patrick@dowjones.com



My Note –

That seems a little backasswards, doesn’t it?

– cricketdiane, 08-07-09


oh yeah – and this –

Thomson Reuters
India, China resume border talks amid rising tension
08.07.09, 04:34 AM EDT

By Krittivas Mukherjee

NEW DELHI, Aug 7 (Reuters) – India and China began talks on Friday to resolve their long simmering border dispute, but hopes of any progress are expected to grind against a recent spike in geopolitical tensions as well as muscle flexing along the border.

[ etc.]

Feathers were ruffled two months ago when China objected to a $60 million Asian Development Bank loan for a project in northeast India in territory that is claimed by Beijing.

India officials say China also tried to block its efforts to get the United Nations to designate a Pakistan-based militant leader a terrorist, as well as privately lobbied against a nuclear deal between India and the United States last year.

Of late, Chinese patrolling of the 3,500-km (2,200-mile) border, particularly along India’s Arunachal Pradesh state, which Beijing claims as its territory, has also been markedly assertive, Indian officials said.

All this, some analysts said, was largely consistent with Chinese policy towards India, but New Delhi saw it as an increasing assertiveness as part of Beijing’s overall ‘Rising China’ strategy.

In response, India began to modernise its border roads and moved a squadron of Su-30 strike aircraft close to the border. Arunachal governor J.J. Singh, said in June up to 30,000 new troops would be deployed in the area.

The reaction in Chinese official media has been strong. An editorial in the Global Times said China would never compromise on the border dispute and asked India to consider if it could afford the consequences of a conflict with China.

‘The Chinese government is trying to say that the public opinion in China is in favour of a more assertive stand towards India,’ B. Raman, former head of India’s spy agency, said.

[ . . . ]

(Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Sugita Katyal)

((krittivas.mukherjee@thomsonreuters.com; +91-1…; krittivas.mukherjee.reuters.com@reuters.net))Keywords: INDIA CHINA/