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Marc Millis on Hyperspace Propulsion

Centauri Dreams asked Marc Millis, former head of NASA’s Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Project, for his thoughts on so-called hyperspace propulsion, as recently published in an article called “Take a Leap into Hyperspace” (New Scientist, 5 January 2006). The article has received wide coverage because of its sensational implication that we may be much closer to a breakthrough in interstellar propulsion than anyone realized. And as discussed here in the last few days, it draws on the work of the German theoretician Burkhard Heim and the later refinements of Walter Dröscher and Jochem Häuser.

Millis’ response follows. But he leads it off with this qualification: “My assessments below are only a cursory response rather than the result of a full technical review. If I had done a full technical review, I would have submitted it to a journal. Given the level of interest, however, and the habit that many of us have to jump to conclusions (pro or con), I thought I should comment.”

With that necessary provisio, the podium belongs to Marc Millis:

First, there are many different approaches in the literature related to breakthrough propulsion, not just this one. Each is at a very early stage of inquiry. As much as we’d like the final answer NOW if any of these will lead to a real interstellar craft, that question cannot yet be reliably answered. Instead, we should be asking: “What do we work on next; what is the next step?” This is the context in which I’ve framed my comments.

On this particular approach, where Dröscher and Häuser build on the theories of Heim to suggest propulsive effects, the next logical step is to verify the assertion that the Heim theory correctly predicts the masses of subatomic particles; this assessment should be carried out in the open peer-reviewed literature so that the results and its verification are traceable (instead of by anecdote). A confirmation of this assertion, by itself, would be significant. Since this task only requires analysis, instead of experiment, this should not be too costly for the advocates to support themselves.

For those advocating the Heim theory, it would also be very useful to have a more tutorial version of Heim’s derivations (and in English) to help the greater community understand precisely what is being done. From the German 1977 paper and other text I read, I only found the assertions without the step-by-step explanations for how these were developed. The existing publications are insufficient to convey the theory.

Also, it should not be forgotten that the Heim theory and its propulsive implications are two separate issues. It seems that Dröscher and Häuser reintroduced dimensions into the Heim theory that Heim had dismissed, so even if the mass prediction claims of Heim are confirmed, there is no guarantee that the modified theory would, itself, be valid. Having this conversion step explained, and in the form of a peer-reviewed paper, would be quite helpful. As it is, I could not follow the details myself in my quick scans of the papers.

Regarding experimental tests: As much as I am a strong advocate for experimental tests, there is the issue of relative cost. Again, there are other options out there that might be worthy of support. With the Dröscher-Häuser experiments, I could not tell if their experiment was the least-expensive approach to validate (or falsify) their theory. When competing with lesser-cost options, this will be an issue. I strongly recommend that any experimental proposal be designed to be the lowest-cost experiment sufficient to clearly falsify or support the theory.

And this brings me back to the issue of the other options and research funding. Although I still track such developments in my discretionary time, the NASA Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Project is no longer funded and I know of no other group within NASA that is authorized, qualified, and funded to support such on-the-edge propulsion physics. There are pockets of activity scattered across government, industry, and academia, but these are typically small discretionary efforts. If it turns out that there are any funding sources interested in such breakthroughs, I’d recommend having a competitive research solicitation to help identify the best prospects.

For those who do not already know, I recently published overviews of the approaches that I know about, including the work that NASA and others supported. But even these papers do not encompass all the possibilities. I also published a paper on the management methods for dealing with such visionary and provocative prospects in a constructive manner, including the criteria for competitive solicitations. I hope you find these useful:

(1) Summary of options:
Marc G. Millis, Prospects for Breakthrough Propulsion From Physics, NASA TM-2004-213082 (2004 May)

(2) Management methods:
Marc G. Millis, Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Project: Project Management Methods, NASA TM-2004-213406 (2004 Dec.)

(3) Options, methods, and estimating benefits:
Marc G. Millis, “Assessing Potential Propulsion Breakthroughs”, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, (due out early 2006).

In closing:

This Dröscher-Häuser-Heim approach is in such an early stage of development that it is premature to judge its viability. Fortunately, relatively low-cost next-steps could be taken by its proponents to help others assess the prospects, such as confirming (in the open literature) the ability of the Heim theory to predict the masses of subatomic particles, and showing the derivations and equations necessary to comprehend the other assertions.

Also, it is important to remember that there are many other approaches out there. The best way to determine which of these might merit support is to conduct a competitive research solicitation. There is no NASA funding planned for such an assessment in the foreseeable future.

Centauri Dreams note: Those who continue to follow developments in deep space propulsion will already be familiar with the Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Project. BPP looked at such controversial topics as gravity control, space drives, faster-than-light travel, and vacuum energy, and did so in a credible and efficient manner. For a total investment of only $1.6M spread over 1995 to 2002, this project produced 14 peer-reviewed journal articles, addressed 8 different research approaches, posted an award winning Web site called Warp Drive When, and garnered over 100 positive press articles for NASA.

Since funding for BPP was deferred in 2003, Millis has been actively pursuing the creation of a foundation that can serve as an alternate venue to continue and enhance research and public education toward practical interstellar flight. Centauri Dreams will have more on this work as it develops. For now, background information on the foundation (including a document outlining its charter) may be found here.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Eric James January 10, 2006, 21:56

    Marc Millis wrote:

    “I know of no other group within NASA that is authorized, qualified, and funded to support such on-the-edge propulsion physics.”

    Eric James replies:

    There is one NASA associated agency that does have some discretionary funding available for advanced propulsion concepts (amongst other things). It is the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC).

    They currently have an open Phase 1 Call for Proposals. Their web address is: http://www.niac.usra.edu

    I recommensd reading their “Funded Studies” section.

  • timventura January 12, 2006, 13:22

    American Antigravity is providing additional coverage on Heim & other BPP theories online. Our goal is to showcase a variety of options to assist the decision-making process of both public & private sources interested in potentially funding future experimental research.

    Heim Theory is one of many hyperdimensional-physics theories currently being considered with regards to Breakthrough Propulsion. What interests me is the question of whether experimental testing for this theory is in fact testing only Heim Theory.

    Many Unified & Hyperdimensional Theories utilize common constructs to link Quantum Mechanics & Relativity, so it’s entirely plausible that a dedicated test of propulsive/gravitational effects in Heim Theory may in fact be testing several models at once, and not just a single approach as intended.


  • Sam M July 6, 2006, 15:17

    There have been so many tinkerers, experimentalists, and theorists conducting their own research into advanced propulsion concepts that if an effect is produced, however small, it has been explained away since it cannot be determined the exact root cause.

    Without knowing the exact root cause, such technolgies cannot be reproduced easily, or even exploited to its full potential.

    Once the Root cause is known, verified mathematically and by experimentation, will it lead to its full exploitation for the benifet of society.

  • Ivan Lay August 26, 2006, 13:25

    In reply to the previous entry (Re:Proximal root causes verifiable by experimentation and math, that might make instellar travel practicable)….
    The site http://neuro-kinetik.com/News.htm proposes that the energies exhibited as humans brains produce “paranormal” events might be used to effect star travel. (Large scale teleportation.)
    Experimentation leading to the identification of the (as of yet unknown) new energy generation/reception control systems in the brain is rather straightforward.
    An MRI can show static brain anatomy.
    An fMRI shows the functional sub-areas of the brain, that are currently more active, than other portions of the brain. (This on a time scale of a few seconds on up, with a fair spatial resolution.)
    A high density EEG (128 or 256 recording channels) locates active brain areas in the 0.1 second time range, again with fair precision.)
    Thus, were people to follow this route: these newly identified brain regions could provide operational access to these energies. (Via biofeedback, neural stimulation, etc.)
    This approach to obtain star travel has two practical hurdles:
    Funding, and the belief that paranormal events are categorically impossible. (But, do a Google blog or web search on “spoon bending parties”.)

  • Timothy J Mayes March 8, 2007, 15:32

    The only bpp approach that has much chance of success is to develop a
    an artificial method of achieving gravitational propulsion posssibly using
    exotic matter of some kind.

  • Root Cause Analysis March 18, 2007, 7:26

    Re: Ivan, interesting view on this matter …

    Will spoon bending party hosts have access to intergalactric travels first ? :-)

  • Jossarian October 19, 2007, 6:16

    Regarding the Heim Theory.
    There is some experimental work performed by dr M.Tajmar at ESA labs in Austria and it may have produced the first evidence of artificial gravity:
    In his recent paper (http://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/0707/0707.3806.pdf) M.Tajmar referenced to Heim theory as a possible cause of the artificial gravity.
    Most likely Tajmar experiments show evidence of Heim-Lorentz force envisioned by Heim in 1950. Droscher and Hauser further developed this theory and in 2004 their paper (http://www.hpcc-space.de/publications/documents/aiaa2004-3700-a4.pdf) received an AIAA award (Guidelines for a Space Propulsion Device Based on Heim’s Quantum Theory).

    Right now AIAA Committee of Nuclear and Future Flight Propulsion (NPFF) is in touch with both Tajmar and Droscher&Hausner so most likely they are considering further funding of Tajmar experiments.
    Hopefuly different experimental setup thanks to Droscher&Haausner proposal (http://www.hpcc-space.de/publications/documents/AIAA5595JCP2007DarkAbrreviated.pdf – Advanced Propulsion Systems from Artificial Gravitational Fields) will be used to generate vertical gravitomagnetic force capable of propelling the future spaceships.

    For more information please see:


  • Administrator October 19, 2007, 8:19

    We need to be careful about such comparisons, Joss. The paper you reference is Tajmar et al., “Search for Frame-Dragging in the Vicinity of Spinning Superconductors,” and although Dröscher’s extensions to Heim theory are mentioned, that is only in the context of “…several theoretical approaches [that] were developed that propose significantly amplified non-classical frame-dragging fields for superconductors…” Other theoretical approaches are also mentioned. Tajmar has never to my knowledge gone any further than this in relating his work to anything Heim has done, nor does there seem to be any connection to Heim theory, which shoots off into tangents that are not yet understood theoretically, much less experimentally (and experimental analysis of Heim theory is a long way off). Let me stress — Heim theory, such as it is, is a different thing altogether than the experiments that Tajmar and colleagues have been running, and which are indeed reported on by the ESA here:


    What Tajmar is doing is not intended to be nor can it be considered to be a validation of Heim or of Walter Dröscher’s extensions to Heim theory.

  • ejbcommander October 12, 2008, 4:46

    Sadly, the Tajmar Effect has been falsificated currently:


    The used FOG (Fibre Optic Gyroscope) itself is reacting to temperature gradients and creates a false signal.

  • Matt Athan November 30, 2008, 19:01

    I’m an avid watcher of “The Universe” on the History channel, and just saw a special featuring Mr. Millis. Marc, if you happen to read this, I’d like to extend an invitation to join a modding community based off the Stardock game “Sins of a Solar Empire, and despite the science fiction elements we are always looking to add new layers of realism to the game. Your input would be more than welcome!

    the website is subject to change

  • Administrator November 30, 2008, 19:14

    Matt, I’ll pass this information along to Marc.


  • Hyperdrive December 14, 2008, 16:04

    How much longer before the theory is proven?

  • ejbcommander April 17, 2009, 18:45

    See above…

  • James C. Bowling May 7, 2009, 12:45

    Ladies, Gentlemen

    First I am a layman and my education is limited, however I was wondering if I could get some feedback on the following topic. It deals with the manipulation of Photon propagation. Is it possible for light to be canceled out in the same manner that sound is canceled out; by finding the frequency and rotating a feedback signal 180°? Please reply to ffjcb@uaf.edu

    Thank you for your time.


  • PaulFS June 1, 2009, 17:03

    Sorry, but I seem to be in a hopeful mode, here . . .

    [Through Hard Work & Significant Breakthroughs, Maybe a Version of the Following will be a PR Release someday soon . . . Let’s make it happen]

    BACKGROUND Since the shuttles were retired more than ten years ago, there has been a huge reduction in the wasteful millions of pounds of chemical fuel for reaction propulsion. Probes continue to add to our knowledge, and now, more emphasis & research has gone into the Revived Breakthrough Propulsion Physics project. From ‘ 96 to ‘ 02, the funding was $1.6 M, but now due to steady small breakthoughs in Dark Energy & Gravity Effects, it is now an ongoing 10 year, $500M program.

    PR RELEASE ” Discovery has been made in the trinary star system Alpha Centauri (collectively aka ‘ Rigil Kentaurus ‘) of a visually-observed fourth planet that seems to be earth-like. It is orbiting the reddish/orange dwarf companion star, Alpha Centauri-B. This star is somewhat similar to our own yellow/orange Sun in size, but is less massive & luminous.

    The new planet, CentB-e (or CentauriB-4), is slightly larger than Earth, and lies about Point 71 AUs (66 million miles) from the dwarf star. This rocky fourth world appears green/tan, & the planet receives almost the same illumination as Earth. Spectral analysis reveals it has water, a higher oxygenated air content, & similar surface air pressure. Also, an surface atmospheric temperature range of -25C degrees (-13F) to 42C+ degrees (108F+) along with a slightly lower gravity than Earth. Having the very close secondary star Alpha Centauri-A & it’s ilumination in the sky probably means that CentB-e’s night sky could appear very dark blue.

    Alpha Centauri-A at about 2 billion miles away from Alpha Centauri-B . The third trinary member, the smaller red dwarf Proxima Centauri, is about 1 trillion miles from A and B, in a hyperbolic orbit, and about 26 trillion miles (4.5 ly) from Earth. ”


  • Lena Smirnova February 20, 2011, 19:14

    The Breakthrough Propulsion Physics is a research program which was funded from 1996 through 2002 by NASA, in the hope of studying various proposals for “revolutionary” methods of spacecraft propulsion. I love it…

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