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Woodward, Mach and Breakthrough Propulsion

Four trips to the Moon a day? That’s one capability of a theoretical vehicle discussed in last January’s newsletter from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. I hadn’t realized the AIAA was putting these newsletters online until I saw Adam Crowl’s post on Crowlspace discussing the above possibility. Adam notes that a vehicle powered by a so-called Mach-Lorentz Thruster (MLT) of the sort being studied by James Woodward (California State University, Fullerton) could not only make the four lunar trips a day but deliver almost 3000 tons of cargo a year.

The AIAA story, adapted by Paul March from his later presentation at the 2007 STAIF meeting (Space Technology and Applications International Forum) in Albuquerque, presents several startling scenarios, all of which come down to our understanding of inertia. Go back to the days of Isaac Newton and inertia is seen as an inherent property that causes a body to resist acceleration. Inertia means a body at rest will oppose anything that tries to get it into motion. And if it is already moving, inertia is that property that resists attempts to change the magnitude or direction of its velocity. [Addendum: Slightly changed from the original; see Jimmy Cone’s comment below].

But what causes inertia? Woodward, a professor of history as well as physics at Fullerton, sees inertia as the result of all objects in the universe — even the most distant — acting on an accelerated object. The concept is based on Mach’s Principle (named for 19th Century Austrian physicist Ernst Mach), and it may remind you a bit of some of our discussions about John Cramer’s Transactional Interpretation of quantum mechanics. Perhaps pushing on an object causes a gravitational disturbance that moves into the future, ultimately causing all other matter to move infinitesimally, creating a disturbance that moves backward in time and converges on the original object.

And thus you have one explanation for inertia. To say this is controversial is to belabor the obvious — among the scientists who abandoned Mach’s view was Einstein. But Woodward goes on, using Mach’s ideas, to show that objects undergoing acceleration experience transient fluctuations in their mass. Can these variations help us create spacecraft that expel no propellant? Woodward has been working on the concept since 1990, and the AIAA article offers a good introduction to his investigations. Here Paul March discusses the mass fluctuations under discussion:

The M-E [Mach Effect] is based on the idea that when a mass is accelerated through a local potential field gradient, its local rest mass is momentarily perturbed about its at-rest value. These resulting acceleration induced “mass fluctuations” used in conjunction with a secondary force rectification signal can then be used to generate an unbalanced force in a local mass system, which can accelerate a payload or generate energy. Local system energy and momentum conservation is maintained by interactions with all the distant mass in the universe. Therefore to accelerate a spacecraft here, the Machian interpretation of inertial reaction forces means that each star or other distant matter in the universe will move in the opposite direction of the locally accelerated mass in response here – even if only on an extremely small scale. Conservation of energy and momentum must be maintained globally, but nature doesn’t say how big the system box has to be, nor when the accounting has to be done.

Woodward’s continuing experiments at the ‘tabletop’ level have been provocative, and John Cramer investigated mass fluctuation under the auspices of the Breakthrough Propulsion Physics program in the late 1990s, although, as March notes, with inconclusive results. March goes on to the crux of things in describing a thruster built on these principles:

Assuming that mass fluctuations really do exist, in theory an M-E thruster can be built using externally applied forces that can push on the device’s “active” mass when it is lighter and then pull on this active mass when it is heaver in a cyclic manner, thus generating a net time-averaged force per Newton’s F=ma relationship.

Build a true Mach-Lorentz Thruster — assuming such a thing is possible — and if the technology scales the way Woodward believes it must, the outer Solar System is reachable in less than a month. In fact, the travel times are limited largely by the accelerations a human crew could endure. Clearly, the implications for interstellar missions are interesting indeed. But we’re a long way from building such devices. Indeed, conclusively verifying the viability of the thruster principle is still a work in progress, much less building larger MLTs to examine scaling issues.

Woodward’s ideas continue to be investigated. Peter Vandeventer has collected a number of non-published papers on his Woodward Effect site, while Woodward’s own home page offers useful background studies. Given the scope of the challenge of reaching the outer planets with human crews — much less the closest stars — it’s clear that major breakthroughs have to occur to replace conventional rockets and their bulky propellants. We’ll know one day if Woodward’s contribution to breakthrough propulsion physics can provide the answer. Right now we’re still trying to see if MLTs and the the Mach Effect itself make sense.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Ron S June 26, 2007, 11:52

    Out of curiosity I quickly skimmed parts of March’s AIAA article and found this:

    “The answer to these questions
    – at a minimum –
    require a minor expansion of Einstein’s
    General Relativity Theory
    (GRT) that fully integrates the
    strong form of Mach’s Principle
    and also allows for effectively
    instantaneous momentum and
    energy (momenergy) exchanges
    between an accelerated local mass
    and all the rest of mass of the universe
    to occur.”

    Admittedly I’m no expert but this sounds dubious. Instantaneous exchanges and “minor expansions” of GR seem incompatible to me.

  • Jimmy Cone June 26, 2007, 13:26

    Minor point:
    “And if it is already moving, inertia is that property that resists attempts to change its direction or velocity.”

    If you change its direction, you are changing its velocity.

  • Administrator June 26, 2007, 13:52

    Jimmy, point taken, and thanks — I just re-phrased the original in a tighter way.

  • Administrator June 26, 2007, 14:09

    Ron, it’s the January issue. But yes, the phrase “…a minor expansion of Einstein’s General Relativity Theory” certainly catches the eye!

  • Ron S June 26, 2007, 14:57

    Paul, Paul March is the author, not the issue (which is indeed January). Lots of opportunity for confusion with all those Paul’s and month-like names.

  • Administrator June 26, 2007, 15:22

    Good grief, right you are, Ron!

  • Joseph Mahaney June 26, 2007, 22:33


    The paper that I gave you was by Hito and goes in depth concerning his own experiments.


  • Administrator June 27, 2007, 9:20

    We’ll try to get to the Hito paper right away, Joseph, and thanks again for sending.

  • James Nicoll June 27, 2007, 12:19

    As I recall, Woodward’s model violates local conservation of momentum. There are no fonts sufficient to convey the degree of scepticism that invokes in me.

    At least he’s open to testing his model. Norman L. Dean of the famous Dean Drive wasn’t (even his patent was misleading) with the result that you can still find people who think Dean was on to something.

  • philw June 27, 2007, 18:54

    Perhaps Machs Principle is related to the Bell Effect spooky action at a distance wherein 2 quantum entangled entities both exhibit the same spin or whatever parameter once one of them is observed, regardless of the physical distance between them. These effects hint that distance or perhaps time may not be what we think it is.

  • Ronald June 28, 2007, 4:37

    @philw: this brings me to the next question: whatever has become of this research into quatum coupling/entanglement? The latest I heard about it is that is was still working instantaneously (i.e. unmeasurably fast) at over 10 km distance.
    Could this perhaps ever be used for communication over truly great distances?

  • philw June 28, 2007, 8:32

    Yes, QE has been experimentally verified over several Km, however for reasons I’m incapable of explaining, expert scientists state that no ‘information’ can be sent via this method. But the fact that it exists as a real phenomemon is telling us something about distance and time that we don’t really understand.

  • James Nicoll June 28, 2007, 10:06

    I can set up an instantaneous communications system using a simple deck of cards. Shuffle and cut the deck into two stacks and without collapsing the state bu looking at the cards, place the stacks into sealed envelopes. Travel some great distance. Open your pack. Simplying by examining your cards, you can tell which cards the other packet has.

    Unfortunately, that’s all you can tell.

  • James Nicoll June 28, 2007, 10:19

    “the outer Solar System is reachable in less than a month.”

    Implying a delta vee of 0.06 C or an Ek of about 4×10^13 Joules/kilogram at peak velocity (or roughly the energy delivered on August 6th, 1945 to the city of Hiroshima). Assuming this takes wall current at a nickel per kilowatt-hour, that comes out to about $560,000.00 per kilogram. Actually, twice that because you want to slow down.

    I think this ends up looking a bit like Jack Williamson’s Seetee Shock, where energy considerations kept practical delta vees much lower than the best the propulsion system could deliver.

    On the plus side, if the impact effects calculator can be trusted, a 1000 tonne space craft moving at 9,000 kilometers per second would break apart at around 37 kilometers altitude and very little of the energy would reach the surface of Earth. Worlds like Earth, Titan and Venus should be relatively safe from hyperkinetic impactors (and besides, it takes a couple of weeks to reach these speeds, so it isn’t like it could be a sneak attack).

  • Marc G Millis June 28, 2007, 13:05

    This Woodward approach has been in the peer-reviewed literature for some time, evoking fitting critiques and subsequent refinements. Although it is too soon to judge if this is a genuine effect, at least its progress is being vetted in a rigorous way.

    Given how much is not yet understood about spacetime (dark matter/energy just to name drop), deeper inquires into the nature of inertial frames, plus experiments that attempt to tangibly explore these issues, will at least be insightful, even if we never devise a propulsion device from them.

    And, of course, there is the flip side; If these schemes work, we will have gained more than just intellectual stimulation. I’m not sure if they can work as well as Paul March asserts, but even a feeble new device would open opportunities.

    Worst case scenario: It doesn’t work and we’ve learned more in the process, due in large part to having this research conducted and scrutinized in the open peer-review literature.

    My best wishes for continued progress.

  • philw June 28, 2007, 19:23

    James Nicoll just described why QE conveys no information. An apt analogy.

  • Adam June 29, 2007, 3:22

    Hi philw

    The “Bell effect” is properly the Einstein-Podolsky Paradox and in fact Bell initially set out to disprove such effects.

    The two are related because John Cramer’s Transactional Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics explains the “non-locality” of quantum entanglement by using back-reaction, just like Woodward’s inertia effect. Back-reaction is the simple fact that the equations of both electromagnetism and gravity are time-symmetric – both forwards and backwards in time evolution of the fields are physically consistent. Forward time-travelling field changes propagate unhindered, but backwards propagating field changes tend to get cancelled out by their own future reflections – but not always. Thus Woodward’s effects.


  • Ronald June 29, 2007, 4:34

    @philw and James Nicoll: not quite the same, because the essential part of QE is, that the state of one can be changed, instantaneously resulting in corresponding state change in the other. With the deck of cards only ‘static’ information is retrieved, no change.

  • Ronald June 29, 2007, 4:40

    OK, totally lay-person’s-but-interested question: is there any relationship between this Woodward effect aka Mach-Lorentz drive on the one hand and Heim’s hyperdrive (or rather: a hyperdrive based on his proposed principles) on the other?

  • dfk June 29, 2007, 9:36

    Ronald: OK, so there’s no EPR paradox with a deck of cards. But considering their uses for sending information, are they equally useless or there’s more to it?

  • Administrator June 29, 2007, 9:39

    Ronald, I know of no relationship between Woodward’s ideas and Heim’s, but maybe someone who understands Heim better than I do will want to elaborate.

  • Bob Shaw June 29, 2007, 19:07

    Um. ‘Table-top experiments’ sounds like the the dear old Dean Drive, which was (in effect) also the downfall of poor Professor Eric Laithwaite…

    Let’s be realistic: There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Launch

  • Adam June 29, 2007, 19:39

    Hi Bob

    The difference in this case is that Woodward has worked out the physics and has tested it. Now it’s up to science to replicate or falsify the data he has obtained. Dean might’ve been on to something or (probably) not, but he didn’t open up the “black box” to allow replication or falsification, and thus rightly is in the dustbin of ideas.

  • Eric James July 1, 2007, 3:52

    Doubtful, dubious, unlikely… I just don’t see it. I’ve looked into this in the past. As I recall, Woodward wasn’t taking into account the inertia of energy. Is he on to something new? It looks like the same old stuff.

    Maybe he should get together with the folks working on the microwave spacedrive/antigravity thingy.

  • ljk July 9, 2007, 14:40

    The latest claim for the perpetual motion machine:


    It’s run into a few snags, including the laws of physics.

  • Lubo July 12, 2007, 7:34

    Interesting, I hope that such device will be created as soon as possible. We should not forget the work of Dr. Tajmar. Maybe he will be the person who will create the first of this kind propulsion. As I see the Mach-Lorentz Thruster (MLT) is equivalent to the anti-gravity device and something must be added(hyperspace travel) if we are going to the stars. If not then we will only open our solar system for exploration, but not anything outside.

  • Ben July 19, 2007, 5:21

    The “Warpstar-1” in the January article is very amusing. Great care has gone into providing H2 and LOX tanks for the 6 fuel cells that power the numerous Mach Lorentz Thrusters, which are distributed about the vessel symmetrically (so as not to tear it apart presumably). This all seems like overkill to me. Why not leave all the mundane chemistry behind and simply take an extra MLT strapped to the flywheel of a generator? The article claims a 1N/W or 10Watts/Kg power to thrust capability for it’s MLT. If so, a 1Kg MLT could be spun up to 10m/s using just 10 Joules, which would in turn allow the generator to extract its 50 Joules of kinetic energy! And it just keeps getting better the faster it goes. Who needs 19th century fuel cells when you’ve got 21st century perpetual motion technology?

  • Dean Crockett September 7, 2007, 14:47

    The comments about QE particles not being able to transmit information strikes me as being half-true. One particle may not be able to transmit data, but given 16 particles entangled in pairs I assume one could transmit a byte of data. The fuzzy/resolved states of the QE pairs would be the On/Off states of binary logic. Granted, each bit that was used would then be useless for conveying any further data, but that’s a separate issue from the fact that data was transferred instantaneously.

  • ljk September 22, 2009, 13:22

    September 19, 2009

    On a Path to Unification of General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, Mach Effect Propulsion and a Large Collection of Videos Explaining Physics

    Paul March believes that the Quantum Vacuum Fluctuation / Magnetohydrodynamics of Harold White is the QM (Quantum mechanical) based version of Dr. Woodward’s M-E (Mach Effect) work

    Paul March comment:

    The GRT and QM worlds will ultimately be combined into a coherent “Quantum Gravity” theory that will better explain our current M-E experimental results and will lead the way to FTL interstellar flight.

    Full article and many informative links here:


  • Mike Lorrey October 1, 2009, 11:36

    At this point they’ve been able to demonstrate an efficiency of 0.001 N/W, which is on a par with existing rocket propulsion, energy wise, but needing no expenditure of reaction mass. This alone makes it a breakthrough in propulsion and these models should be getting tested in LEO asap. Personally I doubt we’ll ever reach a 1 N/W level, but 0.01 N/W would be highly useful, coupled with a polywell fusion reactor, that makes for an interstellar capable spacecraft.

  • john June 7, 2011, 14:51
  • Kalish September 5, 2011, 10:41

    Hello, indeed transactional interpretation of QM is directly inspired by feynman’s work on absorber theory that he refuted once he created the QED (but keeping some of the ideas). As in GR you can not beam dipolar waves, it might be really harder to create an analog absorber theory of gravity.


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