A story in The Scotsman discussing how a hyperspace drive might work is in wide circulation, and today I read the feature in New Scientist that it’s based on (thanks to Ian Brown for the tip). Under discussion is the possibility of building what is being called a ‘hyperspace engine,’ one that could get us to Mars in a matter of hours and to the stars within the kind of time frames once demanded of the crews of sailing ships. But to say that the theories behind this drive are controversial is to turn understatement into a virtual art form. Here’s what The Scotsman has to say about how such an engine would work:
The theoretical engine works by creating an intense magnetic field that, according to ideas first developed by the late scientist Burkhard Heim in the 1950s, would produce a gravitational field and result in thrust for a spacecraft.
Also, if a large enough magnetic field was created, the craft would slip into a different dimension, where the speed of light is faster, allowing incredible speeds to be reached. Switching off the magnetic field would result in the engine reappearing in our current dimension.
Heim is obscure by choice; a rocketry enthusiast who suffered massive injuries in a laboratory experiment during the Second World War, the German scientist shunned publicity and died in 2001 largely unknown, the author of only a single peer-reviewed paper. His work grew out of his attempt to bridge Einstein’s general theory of relativity and the startling world of quantum mechanics. Heim’s revised equations of general relativity resulted in a six-dimensional universe that addded a two-dimensional ‘sub-space’ onto Einsteinian spacetime. Out of his logic came the idea that electromagnetic energy can be converted into gravitational energy and vice versa. Although Heim failed to follow up on hyperspace propulsion possibilities, Walter Dröscher extended his work to include more dimensions and two new forces, one of which might drive a spacecraft.
Joachem Häuser (Applied Sciences University in Salzgitter, and former chief of aerodynamics at the European Space Agency) worked with Dröscher to produce a paper on space propulsion using Heim’s ideas that won an award from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics last year. Both he and Dröscher believe it is possible to put Heim’s ideas to the test. Here’s how New Scientist describes the experiment that the two would use:
This will require a huge rotating ring placed above a superconducting coil to create an intense magnetic field. With a large enough current in the coil, and a large enough magnetic field, Dröscher claims the electromagnetic force can reduce the gravitational pull on the ring to the point where it floats free. Dröscher and Häuser say that to completely counter Earth’s pull on a 150-tonne spacecraft a magnetic field of around 25 tesla would be needed. While that’s 500,000 times the strength of Earth’s magnetic field, pulsed magnets briefly reach field strengths up to 80 tesla. And Dröscher and Häuser go further. With a faster-spinning ring and an even stronger magnetic field, gravitophotons would interact with conventional gravity to produce a repulsive anti-gravity force, they suggest.
Häuser notes that the basic science of the hyperspace engine, still unproven, would demand a change in our understanding of the laws of physics, but he does believe that it would be possible to test a working device within five years. The upside: the kind of drive Häuser describes could get us to Epsilon Eridani (about 10.7 light years away) in 80 days, which is reason enough to hope the basic concepts can be verified. The downside: the basic science behind Heim’s work is obscure and has only recently risen to the level of serious investigation. That investigation will doubtless tell us whether the effects forecast by Heim really do offer us a gateway to the stars, but unravelling the scientist’s work is going to be a lengthy process. Markus Pössel, a theoretical physicist at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Potsdam, isn’t the only scientist who finds Heim’s work ‘largely incomprehensible,’ but see the New Scientist article for other reactions.
You can download papers by Drs. Dröscher and Häuser, including the award-winning paper “Guidelines for a Space Propulsion Device Based on Heim’s Quantum Theory” here and also at the HPCC-Space GmbH site. Centauri Dreams thanks Dr. Berkant Göksel (Technical University, Berlin) for sending these links last year, and for passing along the original news of Häuser and Dröscher’s AIAA award.