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José J. Rodal, Ph.D.


It has been argued that the anomalous results found by NASA's Brady for microwave
cavities (that supposedly act as a propellant-less thruster) cannot be due to thermal effects
because a) the temperature increase would need to amply exceed several degrees C to be
explained by thermal effects and b) thermal effects take place too slowly (minutes) and cannot
explain the impulsive response of the thrust pendulum exhibiting a rise to full amplitude in half
the pendulum's period (rise to full amplitude in little over 2 seconds).

These (analytically unsupported) arguments are invalidated here: a thermo-mechanical effect

(thermal buckling) is shown that occurs in less than 1 second (for the copper thickness that has
been argued as employed for the microwave cavity), with a temperature increase of a degree C
or less and that results in forces of the same magnitude (microNewtons) as reportedly
measured by NASA.


Considering the copper thickness at the big circular flat base of Brady et,al.'s truncated cone to
be thermally insulated (by the printed circuit board material) at the surface z=0 and be subject to
heat (energy per unit time, per unit area) "heatFlux" at the surface z=thickness, the complete
transient solution for the temperature increase is (where "time" is time in seconds) [Carslaw, H.
S., and J. C. Jaeger]:

deltaT=(heatFlux*thickness/thermalConductivity)*( (time/fourierTime) + ((1/2)*((z/thickness)^2) -

(1/6)) + temperatureSum


1)^n)/(n^2))*(Exp[- (time/fourierTime)*((n*Pi)^2)])*Cos[n*Pi*(z /thickness)], {n, 1, Infinity}])

fourierTime = (thickness^2)/thermalDiffusivity

thermalDiffusivity = thermalConductivity/(density*heatcapacityperunitmass)

For copper, we have the following material properties:

density=8940 kg/(m^3);
thermalConductivity=390 (J/s)/(m*degC);
heatcapacityperunitmass=385 J/(kg*degC);


thermalDiffusivity = 0.00011331 m^2/s

fourierTime = 8825.38 thickness^2 s /m^2

So we see that steady-state conditions occur very fast due to the very small thickness.
For example, for thickness = (0.025 inch) * (25.4/1000 m/inch) = 0.635 mm

fourierTime = 0.00355862 s

Therefore the temperatureSum term is negligible for time responses exceeding milliseconds.
The term ((1/2)*((z/thickness)^2) - (1/6)) is also negligible in comparison with (time/fourierTime),
so essentially we are left with

deltaT ~ (heatFlux*thickness/thermalConductivity)*(time/fourierTime)

~ heatFlux*time / (density*heatcapacityperunitmass*thickness)

For copper,

density*heatcapacityperunitmass = heatcapacityperunitvolume = 8940*385 (* J/((m^3) * degC)*)

= (3441900 J)/(degC m^3)


deltaT ~ (heatFlux* time)/(3441900 thickness) degC m^3/ J

where heatFlux has units of W/m^2, thickness in meters and time in seconds.

Calculation of the Heat Flux:

For the transverse electric mode TE012 (p. 18, Table 2. Tapered Cavity Testing: Summary of
Results) of the "Anomalous Thrust..." paper by Brady, the Input Power was 2.6 Watts.

The input power gets converted into heat (by eddy-currents from the magnetic field) and since
for the transverse electric mode TE012 only the axial magnetic field is non-zero in contact with
the big diameter base (the small end was insulated by a polymer dielectric), the heat flux is:

heatFlux = InputPower /FluxedArea = 2.6 W /FluxedArea

where the FluxedArea is:

(Pi/4)*( BigDiameter^2 ) / (heatedDiameterRatio^2)


heatedDiameterRatio = BigDiameter / DiameterOfAreaExperiencingHeatFlux

accounts for the fact that the magnetic flux in mode TE012 contacts only a fraction of the entire
circular areas at the ends of the truncated cone.

heatFlux = InputPower * (heatedDiameterRatio^2) / ( (Pi/4)*( BigDiameter^2 ) )

and substituting this into the expression for deltaT

deltaT = heatFlux*time/(density*heatcapacityperunitmass*thickness)
=InputPower*(heatedDiameterRatio^2)*time /
(Pi/4)*(BigDiameter^2)*density*heatcapacityperunitmass*thickness )

For example, the TE012 truncated cone input power and using the copper material properties:

InputPower=2.6 J/s
density=8940 kg/(m^3);
heatcapacityperunitmass=385 J/(kg*degC);

deltaT =InputPower*(heatedDiameterRatio^2)*time /
(Pi/4)*(BigDiameter^2)*density*heatcapacityperunitmass*thickness )
=(( heatedDiameterRatio^2) * time)/( 1.03972*10^6 * (BigDiameter^2) * thickness)
degC m^3 / s


The thermal (membrane) stress of a restrained plate produced by a temperature difference

"deltaT" is simply:

sigma = (ElasticModulus/(1- poissonRatio))*alpha*deltaT

where alpha is the coefficient of thermal expansion, ElasticModulus is the modulus of elasticity
and poissonRatio is the Poisson's ratio of the plate's material. (See for example Noda
p.414 or Roark, top of page.583, Nr. 2).

From Timoshenko (p. 391 Eq. 9.16) or Roark (Table 35, Nr. 11, p.554, referring to Timoshenko's
solution), the buckling (membrane) stress of a simply supported circular plate is:

sigma = 0.35*((thickness/plateRadius)^2)*(ElasticModulus/(1-poissonRatio^2))

and since plateRadius = BigDiameter/2

sigma = 1.4*((thickness/ BigDiameter)^2)*(ElasticModulus/(1-poissonRatio^2))

Therefore, equating both expressions the temperature difference that will produce buckling of
the circular plate is:

bucklingdeltaT =((thickness/ BigDiameter)^2)*( 1.4/( alpha *(1+poissonRatio)))

For copper:

alpha = 17*10^(-6) 1/degC

therefore, for a circular copper plate, the temperature difference that will produce buckling is
only related to the square of the ratio of the thickness to the diameter of the circular plate as

bucklingdeltaT =((thickness/ BigDiameter)^2)*63348.4 degC

For example, for

thickness = (0.025 inch) * (25.4/1000 m/inch) = 0.635 mm

BigDiameter =0.2793 m = 10.996 in (aero's estimate)

bucklingdeltaT =0.33 degC

So, very low temperature differences between the plate (and the rest of the truncated cone) are
required to buckle it. The thinner the plate, the lower the temperature difference (between the
plate and the rest of the truncated cone) that is required to buckle it.

Equating the expression for the deltaT required for buckling with the deltaT expression obtained
at the end of section 1, we have

((Pi/4)*(BigDiameter^2)*density*heatcapacityperunitmass*thickness )
=((thickness/ BigDiameter)^2)*( 1.4/( alpha *(1+poissonRatio)))

therefore the time at which buckling occurs is:

/ (InputPower*(heatedDiameterRatio^2)*alpha*(1+poissonRatio)))

For the following (copper) material properties

density=8940 kg/(m^3);
heatcapacityperunitmass=385 J/(kg*degC);
alpha = 17*10^(-6) 1/degC

we get the following time at which buckling occurs:

bucklingtime =(5553.17*thickness) ^3 /(heatedDiameterRatio^2 InputPower) J/m^3

and for the InputPower=2.6 J/s

bucklingtime =(4038.47*thickness) ^3 /heatedDiameterRatio^2 s/m^3

For example, for

thickness = (0.020 inch) * (25.4/1000 m/inch) = 0.508 mm

heatedDiameterRatio =4

bucklingtime = 0.54 seconds


The originally flat, circular plate, simply supported at its edges, under in-plane stress, buckles
into a stress-free spherical shape.

Denote by xbar and ybar the horizontal rectangular cartesian coordinates and by zbar the
vertical cartesian coordinates of the spherical buckled and postbuckled state centered at the
origin of these coordinates, such that

xbar^2 + ybar^2 + zbar^2 = R^2

where R, a function of time, R(time), is the radius of curvature of the buckled and postbuckled

Define a new set of rectangular cartesian coordinates with the origin vertically displaced
upwards such that w(x,y) is the vertical coordinate displacement of the buckled shape with
respect to the original flat configuration:

w(x,y) = zbar - (R - wmax)

Such that

w(0,0) = wmax

and the boundary conditions:



x^2 + y^2 + (w(x,y) - wmax + R)^2 = R^2

w(x,y) = wmax + Sqrt[ R^2 - x^2 - y^2 ] - R

w(x,y) = wmax + R (Sqrt[ 1 - (x/R)^2 -( y/R)^2 ] - 1)

which satisfies w(0,0) = wmax identically. While the other two equalities give

w(BigDiameter/2,0)= wmax + R (Sqrt[ 1 - ((BigDiameter/2)/R)^2 ] - 1) = 0

w(0,BigDiameter/2)= wmax + R (Sqrt[ 1 - ((BigDiameter/2)/R)^2 ] - 1) = 0


wmax = R (1 - Sqrt[ 1 - ((BigDiameter/2)/R)^2 ] )

and hence
w(x,y) = R (Sqrt[ 1 - (x/R)^2 -( y/R)^2 ] - Sqrt[ 1 - ((BigDiameter/2)/R)^2 ])

The thermal strain is simply

epsilonT = alpha *deltaT

where alpha is the coefficient of thermal expansion and deltaT the temperature difference. In
the stress-free buckled configuration, this strain must be equal to the change in length divided
by the original length:

epsilonT =( theta*R - (BigDiameter/2)) / (BigDiameter/2)

= alpha *deltaT

where theta is the angle, measured at the origin of the xbar, ybar, zbar coodinated system,
measured between the vertical coordinate zbar and the simply supported ends. Therefore, this
angle theta is:

theta = (1+ alpha*deltaT) * (BigDiameter/(2*R))

Also, from the definition of the angle theta, we know:

Sin[theta] = (BigDiameter/(2*R))

Which gives the following transcendental equation for the radius of curvature R of the buckled
and post-buckled shape:

Sin[(1+ alpha*deltaT) * (BigDiameter/(2*R))] = (BigDiameter/(2*R))

A solution of this transcendental equation for arbitrarily large deformations would involve Elliptic
functions (as in the Elastica solution), but since the coefficient of thermal expansion of copper is
very small (alpha = 17 *10^-6 1/degC) and the temperature differences involved in this problem
are small (deltaT ~ a few degrees C), it is known that

(1+ alpha*deltaT) ~ 1

such that

Sin[(1+ alpha*deltaT) * (BigDiameter/(2*R))] ~ (BigDiameter/(2*R))

Therefore we can use perturbation solution of the transcendental equation, by expanding the
sine of theta as follows:

[(1+ alpha*deltaT) * (BigDiameter/(2*R))] - ( [(1+ alpha*deltaT) * (BigDiameter/(2*R))]^3)/3! + ...

= (BigDiameter/(2*R))


alpha*deltaT - ( (BigDiameter/(2*R))^2) *( (1+alpha*deltaT)^3) /6 = 0

and solving for R:

R = (BigDiameter/2) * ((1+alpha*deltaT)^(3/2)) / Sqrt[6*alpha*deltaT]

= (BigDiameter/2) / Sqrt[6*alpha*deltaT]


w(x,y) = ( (BigDiameter/2) / Sqrt[6*alpha*deltaT] ) * (Sqrt[ 1 - 6*alpha*deltaT

*(x/((BigDiameter/2))^2 -6*alpha*deltaT *( y/((BigDiameter/2))^2 ] - Sqrt[ 1 - 6*alpha*deltaT ])

Expanding the square root terms, since (1+ alpha*deltaT) ~ 1, gives

w(x,y) = ((BigDiameter/4) * Sqrt[6*alpha*deltaT] ) * (1 - (x/(BigDiameter/2))^2 - (


therefore the maximum displacement of the buckled and postbuckled shape, occurring at the
center of the circular plate (x=y=0) is given by:

w(0,0) = wmax = ((BigDiameter/4) * Sqrt[6*alpha*deltaT] )

and we check again, that the boundary conditions w(BigDiameter/2,0)=0 and

w(0,BigDiameter/2)=0 are satisfied by this expression.

Recalling the previously derived expression for the buckling deltaT:

bucklingdeltaT =((thickness/ BigDiameter)^2)*( 1.4/( alpha *(1+poissonRatio)))

it follows that the buckling displacement at the center of the plate is:

(alpha*(1+poissonRatio))))] )

wmaxBuckling = 0.724569* thickness / Sqrt[1+poissonRatio]


and for poissonRatio = 0.3

wmaxBuckling = 0.635489 * thickness

wBuckling(x,y) = 0.635489 *thickness*(1-(x/(BigDiameter/2))^2-(y/(BigDiameter/2))^2)

So, the buckling displacement at the center of the plate is only a function of the thickness of the
circular plate: it does not depend on the diameter of the plate, the coefficient of thermal
expansion, or the temperature difference.

Now I derive the postbuckling displacement at the center of the plate, which is a function of
time. In the previously derived expression:

w(0,0) = wmax = ((BigDiameter/4) * Sqrt[6*alpha*deltaT] )

if we substitute the previously derived expression for deltaT

deltaT =InputPower*(heatedDiameterRatio^2)*time /
(Pi/4)*(BigDiameter^2)*density*heatcapacityperunitmass*thickness )

wmax = ((BigDiameter/4) * Sqrt[6*alpha*( InputPower*(heatedDiameterRatio^2)*time /

( (Pi/4)*(BigDiameter^2)*density*heatcapacityperunitmass*thickness ))] )


w(x,y,time)= heatedDiameterRatio*Sqrt[((3/(2*Pi))*alpha*InputPower*time)/

For the following (copper) material properties and InputPower:

density=8940 kg/(m^3);
heatcapacityperunitmass=385 J/(kg*degC);
alpha = 17*10^(-6) 1/degC;
InputPower=2.6 J/s;

this give the postbuckled displacement as a function of time, plate thickness and heated
diameter ratio:(for input power=2.6 watts)

wmax=heatedDiameterRatio*Sqrt[time)/thickness]/403847. m*( (m/s)^(1/2))




Similarly we can compute the partial derivatives of the postbuckled displacement with respect to
time: the speed and the acceleration:

dw/dt=(1/2) heatedDiameterRatio*Sqrt[((3/(2*Pi))*alpha*InputPower)/

d^2w/dt^2=(-1/4) heatedDiameterRatio*Sqrt[((3/(2*Pi))*alpha*InputPower)/

which for
density=8940 kg/(m^3);
heatcapacityperunitmass=385 J/(kg*degC);
alpha = 17*10^(-6) 1/degC;
InputPower=2.6 J/s;


dw/dt=(heatedDiameterRatio/(807695. *Sqrt[time*thickness]))
*(1-(x/(BigDiameter/2))^2-(y/(BigDiameter/2))^2) m/s (s*m)^(1/2)

d^2w/dt^2= - (heatedDiameterRatio/((1.61539*10^6) *Sqrt[thickness*time^3]))

*(1-(x/(BigDiameter/2))^2-(y/(BigDiameter/2))^2) m/s^2 ((s^3)*m)^(1/2)

The postbuckling speed decreases with time, inversely proportionally to the square root of time.
The postbuckling acceleration decreases with time as the inverse of time^(3/2).

To compute the inertial force resultant, we need to integrate the acceleration across the whole
surface of the circular plate. To do this is most convenient to express the acceleration in polar
coordinates r and phi (where r is the radial in-plane polar coordinate measured from the center
of the plate and phi is the in-plane azimuthal polar angle) instead of the rectangular coordinates,
using the transformation x=r*Cos[phi] and y=r*Sin[phi]:

d^2w/dt^2=(-1/4) heatedDiameterRatio*Sqrt[((3/(2*Pi))*alpha*InputPower)/
m/s^2 ((s^3)*m)^(1/2)

= (-1/4) heatedDiameterRatio*Sqrt[((3/(2*Pi))*alpha*InputPower)/
*(1-(r/(BigDiameter/2))^2) m/s^2 ((s^3)*m)^(1/2)

inertialReaction=density*thickness*Integrate[r*d^2w/dt^2,{r,0 BigDiameter/2},{phi,0,2*Pi}}]

=(-1/4) heatedDiameterRatio*Sqrt[((3/(2*Pi))*alpha*InputPower)/
*density* thickness *( BigDiameter^2)*Pi/8

*Sqrt[((3Pi/2)*density*alpha*InputPower* thickness)/
(heatcapacityperunitmass *(time^3))]

Essentially, due to the boundary conditions (no out-of-plane deflection at the edges of the
circular plate) the simply-supported circular plate has half the inertia as if the whole plate
accelerated with the same acceleration of the center of the plate.

density=8940 kg/(m^3);
heatcapacityperunitmass=385 J/(kg*degC);
alpha = 17*10^(-6) 1/degC;
InputPower=2.6 J/s;

inertialReaction=-(((BigDiameter^2)*heatedDiameterRatio*Sqrt[thickness /( time^3)])/ 460.129)

N (s^(3/2) m^(-5/2) )

The inertial reaction force at buckling is obtained by replacing the expression for the

/ (InputPower*(heatedDiameterRatio^2)*alpha*(1+poissonRatio)))

inertialReaction = - (((alpha^2) (InputPower^2) (BigDiameter^2) (heatedDiameterRatio^4)

Sqrt[((1 +poissonRatio)^3)] )/(16.9964

and for

density=8940 kg/(m^3);
heatcapacityperunitmass=385 J/(kg*degC);
alpha = 17*10^(-6) 1/degC;
InputPower=2.6 J/s;

inertialReaction = - (BigDiameter^2)* (heatedDiameterRatio/( 1669.99*thickness) )^4 microN


The inertial reaction force is a very nonlinear function of the plate thickness (to the fourth power



BigDiameter =0.2793 m = 10.996 in (aero's estimate)

inertialReaction = - (heatedDiameterRatio/( 3159.94*thickness) )^4 microN m^4

So, for example we can compute the following table:

thickness (in)/ (mm) Buckling Time (sec) heatedDiameterRatio Buckling reaction Force

0.027/ 0.6858 0.590120 6 -58.7626

0.023/ 0.5842 0.525285 5 -53.8171
0.018/ 0.4572 0.393413 4 -58.7626
0.014/ 0.3556 0.329074 3 -50.8071
0.009/ 0.2286 0.196707 2 -58.7626
0.0045/ 0.1143 0.0983534 1 -58.7626


BigDiameter =0.397 m = 15.63 in (Fornaro's estimate)

inertialReaction = - (heatedDiameterRatio/( 2650.44*thickness) )^4 microN m^4

So, for example we can compute the following table:

thickness (in)/ (mm) Buckling Time (sec) heatedDiameterRatio Buckling reaction Force

0.033/ 0.8382 1.07743 6 -53.2034

0.027/ 0.6858 0.849773 5 -57.2553
0.022/ 0.5588 0.71829 4 -53.2034
0.016/ 0.4064 0.491212 3 -60.1722
0.011/ 0.2794 0.359145 2 -53.2034
0.0055/0.1397 0.179572 1 -53.2034


I have shown that a thermo-mechanical effect (thermal buckling of the base of the truncated
cone) can account for some of the "anomalous" results reported by NASA's Brady I have
shown that the buckling time is under 1 second for copper thicknesses under 0.84 mm (33
thousands of an inch) and just 2.6 watt power input. I have shown that the buckling temperature
increase required is of the order of 1 deg C or less. I have shown that thermal buckling can
produce a sudden output response.

I have shown that the calculated buckling forces agree with the measured force (55.4
microNewtons). The buckling force is a very strong function of plate thickness (to the fourth
power), to prevent thermal buckling from occurring it suffices to have a thicker copper sheet (1/8
inch or thicker would completely prevent this thermal buckling under these input powers).

This thermal buckling effect does not depend at all on air as a conducting medium; it will take
place in a complete vacuum as well, since the axial magnetic field in the transverse electric
mode TE012 results in heating of the copper by producing eddy currents on it.

Thermal buckling of a thin copper sheet produces extremely small reaction forces
(microNewtons) and as such it is the kind of effect that is usually disregarded in experiments. It
is of possible concern here due to the experimental methodology of using very small power
inputs (2.6 watts in mode TE012) to measure very small forces in the torsional pendulum.


Cotterell and Parkes (based on Cotterell's Ph.D. thesis at the University of Cambridge) correctly
point out that the distribution of the heat flux "is not significant in the problem" of thermal
buckling of a circular plate, whether the heating takes place uniformly over the whole circular
plate or is concentrated in a central region. Cotterell chose a distribution with a
heatedDiameterRatio =1/0.3=3.333 instead of the heatedDiameterRatio=1 analyzed by Noda The fact that the exact distribution is not significant for the deltaT that will produce
buckling or for the buckling displacement follows from equilibrium: the membrane stress
(=E*alpha*deltaT) force resultant (the integral of the membrane stress through the thickness) is
is reacted at the simply supported edges (that constrain the in-plane displacement). The
membrane force resultant is uniform and it is equal in the polar radial and angular (azimuthal)
directions. If only a central area is heated, the membrane stress is still equilibrated throughout.
If the plate has uniform thickness and isotropic material properties, the strain in the non heated
area prior to buckling is the same as in the heated area.

The fact that my solution satisfies that these buckling variables are independent of the heated
area distribution is shown by the fact that these variables are indeed independent of the

bucklingdeltaT =((thickness/ BigDiameter)^2)*( 1.4/( alpha *(1+poissonRatio)))

/ Sqrt[1+poissonRatio]


Brady, D, White, H., March, P., Lawrence, J., and Davies, F., Anomalous Thrust Production
from an RF Test Device Measured on a Low-Thrust Torsion Pendulum, 50th
AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference, Propulsion and Energy Forum, July 28-
30, 2014, Cleveland, OH

Carslaw, H. S., and J. C. Jaeger, Conduction of Heat in Solids, Oxford University Press; 2nd
edition (April 10, 1986), ISBN-10: 0198533683

Cotterell, B., and Parkes, E. W., Thermal Buckling of Circular Plates, (United Kingdom's)
Aeronautical Research Council, Ministry Of Aviation, Reports and Memoranda No. 3245,
September, 1960

Noda, N., R. Hetnarskj, Y. Tanigawa, Thermal Stresses, CRC Press; 2nd edition (October 27,
2002), ISBN-10: 1560329718

Roark, R. J., and W.C.Young, Formulas for Stress and Strain, McGraw-Hill Book Company; 5th
edition (February 1976) ISBN-10: 0070530319

Timoshenko, S. P., and J.M. Gere, Theory of Elastic Stability, McGraw-Hill; 2nd edition (1961),
ISBN-10: 0070647496