Reactionless drives


In my ‘Stars’ trilogy, I’ve been looking at the issues, strengths, weaknesses opportunities and threats with regards to Reactionless Electromagnetic Drives, of which my fictional ‘Omega’ drive is one such.

Today I was reading about Project Icarus, and the type of Drive envisaged to send what Niven would call a ‘Slowboat’ to other worlds. Essentially a pulsed Fusion reaction (See this Animation).

The same principle was envisaged in the Project Orion of the late 50’s and early 60’s which was killed off by various Nuclear test ban treaties. Essentially the Orion and Icarus Drives use the principle of a controlled nuclear detonation to provide a pulsed thrust to the vehicle they propel.

To my mind these solutions are on a par with Ramjet technology. Sure they could be made to work, but using one for interstellar travel would surely be like trying to use wood burning steam engines to drive Formula 1 racing cars. Or even Sir George Cayley’s Gunpowder engine, which probably worked, temporarily. Although the Mythbusters test showed how difficult the concept is to implement.

There is a body of opinion which says reactionless electromagnetic drives are ‘impossible’. See this paragraph from a Wikipedia article below.

“In spite of their physical impossibility, such devices are a staple of science fiction, particularly for space propulsion, and as with perpetual motion machines have been proposed as working technologies.”

I’d disagree strongly with Electromagnetic Drives being akin to ‘Perpetual Motion’ devices. Mainly because it’s a bad analogy. An EM drive by its very nature would utilise huge amounts of energy, but not reaction mass. Which in itself would not violate the rules covering the conservation of energy or momentum. With my fictional Omega drive, these rules are scrupulously observed. There is definitely no such thing as a ‘free lunch’ when it comes to interstellar travel.

When it comes to reactionless electromagnetic drives, at least in my fictional universe; I make a paradigm shift in starship construction and design. Working on the premise that such a vehicle would have to travel inside a magnetic warp to obtain the acceleration described, my fictional engine is an integral part of the hull. Several theoretical advantages to this approach present themselves; firstly economy of hull shape and use of the well documented skin effect. Secondly a tightly contained electromagnetic ‘shield’ to deflect harmful radiation / small objects as a benefit of the hull coils creating a magnetic circuit. Thirdly to create a pulsed electromagnetic field of sufficient density which might allow the fictional ‘Sub space transition’ I write about.

Low velocity impulse would be provided by a VASIMIR type engine, but the serious ‘grunt work’ of traveling between star systems would be provided by an electromagnetic drive such as the ‘Omega’. Again, this is an almost practical proposition. All it requires is enough energy.

Whilst there are some who might dismiss my musings on this subject as being ‘moronic’ or ‘impossible’, at least I’ve bothered to try the ideas out and take them for a test drive. What’s foolish about that?

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Martyn K Jones

A writer who first trained as an Electrical Engineer, then fulfilled various roles within the computing industry. First published in 'SuperBike' magazine, 1978 under the pseudonym Harry Matthews. Since then has written and had published a wide variety of work; from PR copy in trade magazines to supernatural short stories and the occasional satirical article. Emigrated to Canada in 2007. Became a Canadian Citizen December 2014. Now branching out as a serious science fiction novelist.

Categories Stars Trilogy, TechnologyTags