Artificially induced curvature of spacetime, Patent #6,960,975
The United States Patent Office has issued Patent Number 6,960,975 to Boris Volfson for a "Space Vehicle Propelled by the Pressure of Inflationary Vaccuum State," which translates roughly into an artificially induced curvature of spacetime that the vessel creates around and ahead itself, and continually "falls" into. The paper states that speeds approaching that of light may be achieved within the modified locale, which could be many times that of the ambient light-speed. That's practically identical to the way I described the propulsion system used by the Ganymeans in The Gentle Giants of Ganymede. The Abstract at the beginning of the patent document describes the principle as based on an electromagnetically energized superconducting shell that results in "quantized vortices of lattice ions projecting a gravitomagnetic field that forms a spacetime curvature anomaly outside the space vehicle." Well, that's not exactly the way I put it back in 1978, but you know, given the change in terminology usage over the times, and so on . . . it's kind of what I meant.
It seems to be catching. John Dougherty and Stephen Fleming both pointed me to an article in New Scientist which, not to be outdone, reports that the U.S Government is investigating a "hyperspace engine" that would exploit another dimension to make a Mars trip in 3 hours and a voyage to a star 11 light-years distant in 80 days (making Jules Verne look a bit tame). The theoretical engine is said to work 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. If a large enough magnetic field were 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.
The principle and background are discussed in the UK Register. Although the concept won last year's American Institute of Aeronautics & Astronautics award for the best nuclear and future flight paper, the Register article does offer the caution that most physicists do not seem to have heard of the Heim theory, and the majority of those contacted by New Scientist couldn't make sense of it. Maybe that's because they don't read the right science-fiction.
Note added on January 30, 2006
Comment by Marc Millis, former Head of NASA's Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Project.