Foundations of Physics

, Volume 34, Issue 3, pp 477–500 | Cite as

A Gedanken Spacecraft that Operates Using the Quantum Vacuum (Dynamic Casimir Effect)

  • G. Jordan Maclay
  • Robert L. Forward


Conventional rockets are not a suitable technology for interstellar missions. Chemical rockets require a very large weight of propellant, travel very slowly compared to light speed, and require significant energy to maintain operation over periods of years. For example, the 722 kg Voyager spacecraft required 13,600 kg of propellant to launch and would take about 80,000 years to reach the nearest star, Proxima Centauri, about 4.3 light years away. There have been various attempts at developing ideas on which one might base a spacecraft that would permit interstellar travel, such as spacewarps. In this paper we consider another suggestion from science fiction and explore how the quantum vacuum might be utilized in the creation of a novel spacecraft. The spacecraft is based on the dynamic Casimir effect, in which electromagnetic radiation is emitted when an uncharged mirror is properly accelerated in vacuum. The radiative reaction produces a dissipative force on the mirror that tends to resist the acceleration of the mirror. This force can be used to accelerate a spacecraft attached to the mirror. We also show that, in principle, one could obtain the power to operate the accelerated mirror in such a spacecraft using energy extracted from the quantum vacuum using the standard Casimir effect with a parallel plate geometry. Unfortunately the method as currently conceived generates a miniscule thrust, and is no more practical than a spacewarp, yet it does provide an interesting demonstration of our current understanding of the physics of the quantized electromagnetic field in vacuum.

casimir force vacuum fluctuations vacuum energy adiabatic spacecraft 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • G. Jordan Maclay
    • 1
  • Robert L. Forward
    • 2
  1. 1.Quantum Fields LLCRichland CenterWisconsin
  2. 2.Forward Unlimited LLCClinton

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