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RE: starship-design: Re: FTL Drive designs
From: Steve VanDevender [SMTP:email@example.com]
Sent: Wednesday, June 18, 1997 5:52 PM
Subject: Re: starship-design: Re: FTL Drive designs
Let's think about Kyle's figure of 10^28 W/cm^3. Viewed as a rate of of
total mass-to-energy conversion, that's 1.1 * 10^11 kg/s * c^2 per cm^3.
Very roughly that is like continuously shoving neutronium and
antineutronium in a blender. For reference, the total solar flux is
about 3.6 * 10^26 W; your energy flux is literally like a nova per cubic
centimeter per second.
I have only two things to say about that figure.
1. If that kind of energy production density was possible, we could
send entire planets on high-acceleration relativistic trips around the
universe using tiny reactors.
2. I don't think it's feasible to use this for a man-rated spacecraft.
No human could stand to be near that kind of flux without shielding
that's at least as fanciful as the reactor that produces it.
I have serious reservations about "zero-point energy" being useful. My
primary concern is that extracting such energy from the vacuum has to be
disruptive -- you're lowering the ground state of the vacuum in a
region, and that's got to produce some kind of effect as that
disturbance propagates into the surrounding vacuum. And if you extract
that energy by making the vacuum effectively unstable, what risk do you
run of having that reaction be self-sustaining and uncontainable? For
all we know the Big Bang might have been someone's disastrous ZPE
Actually, his figure is correct. The amount of potential energy from ALL possible states in one cubic centimeter is and I quote "sufficient to boil off all of Earth's ocean's instantly". Perhaps the author was exaggerating, but somehow I don't think so.
I doubt that any reactor capable of harnessing those energy densities will ever be described as "small". At least not using any technology currently available. That said, no one has ever said that we had to tap EVERY potential state. It may be possible to tap just one potential state or even fractional potential states. Now we are talking about something that might be useful in the near term for non-FTL spacecraft or perhaps even smaller devices.
I reiterate my earlier caution however, it would be exceedingly bad form to attempt to liberate any significant amount of this energy without thoroughly understanding the theory that underlies it. There has been some speculation in the media (quite a few years ago) that the government was purposefully surpressing this research. I can't say that I would blame them, as Steve says, this could be the ULTIMATE accident.
Long experience has taught me not to believe in the limitations indicated by purely theoretical considerations. These - as we well know - are based on insufficient knowledge of all the relevant factors."