Despite the EmDrive sounding like the stuff of science fiction, the fact is, it works. The full development and implementation of a microwave thruster could take astronauts to Mars in weeks rather than months and drive deep space missions, all while radically cutting the costs.
You’ve probably never heard of Roger Shawyer or the EmDrive, but after NASA scientists tested his propellentless space propulsion system earlier this week and found it worked, his name could become synonymous with the future of space travel.
In 2001, British engineer Roger Shawyer set up Satellite Propulsion Research (SPR) to trial and test his radical new concept in space propulsion – the EmDrive.
"The scientists involved can’t actually explain the mechanism behind this new engine..."
Until earlier this week, physicists around the world scoffed at Shawyer’s idea and his invention believing it to be impossible, as it goes against classical mechanics and Newton’s laws of motion. However, American scientist Guido Fetta and a team at NASA Eagleworks have published a new paper that shows the EmDrive actually works.
So what is the EmDrive? Okay, let’s get technical.
Shawyer claims the EmDrive converts electric power into thrust, without the need for any propellant by bouncing microwaves around in a closed container. The microwaves are generated using electricity that can be provided by solar energy. No propellant is necessary, which means that the thruster can work forever, unless the hardware fails. If this is continually proved to work, it would be a major breakthrough in space propulsion technology.
The EmDrive does not have an exhaust. It’s made up of a cavity shaped like a truncated cone or funnel, into which resonating microwaves are channeled. Like other radiation, these exert a tiny pressure when reflected off a surface. According to Shawyer, the pressure exerted on the large end of the cavity is greater than the pressure on the small end and this produces a net thrust.
So what’s the big deal? It works, shouldn’t that be enough?
The scientists involved can’t actually explain the mechanism behind this new engine; basically they can’t explain WHY it works, as NASA scientists pointed out at the Joint Propulsion Conference earlier this year.
“Test results indicate that the RF resonant cavity thruster design, which is unique as an electric propulsion device, is producing a force that is not attributable to any classical electromagnetic phenomenon and therefore is potentially demonstrating an interaction with the quantum vacuum virtual plasma.”
Despite the EmDrive sounding like the stuff of science fiction, it works. The full development and implementation of a microwave thruster would radically cut the cost of satellites and space stations and extend their working life, drive deep-space missions, and take astronauts to Mars in weeks rather than months.
We may just be witnessing the birth of a new space race, something completely new, something which will push us forward into the realm of science fiction, and onward to the stars.