Has NASA Confirmed The “Impossible” No-Fuel Space Engine Works?
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
An experimental microwave thruster that does not require fuel to operate has been dubbed the “impossible” space engine, but a team of NASA researchers has reportedly confirmed the system actually works.
According to Mike Wall of Space.com, researchers from the US space agency’s Houston-based Johnson Space Center evaluated the system and found that it actually is capable of generating a small amount of thrust. If this is true, it could lead space travel to become far less expensive and allow astronomers to explore more of the cosmos.
“Test results indicate that the RF [radio frequency] 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,” the NASA team wrote in a study presented last Wednesday during the 50th Joint Propulsion Conference in Cleveland, Ohio.
“NASA is a major player in space science, so when a team from the agency this week presents evidence that ‘impossible’ microwave thrusters seem to work, something strange is definitely going on. Either the results are completely wrong, or NASA has confirmed a major breakthrough in space propulsion,” added David Hambling of Wired UK.
The device in question is known as the EmDrive, and it was invented several years ago by a UK scientist known as Roger Shawyer, according to Hambling. It converts electric power into thrust without requiring propellant by bouncing microwaves around inside a closed container, he added.
While Shawyer had constructed several demonstration systems, his relativity-based theory has been roundly rejected by critics who claim that it simply cannot work because it violates the law of conservation of momentum. However, in 2012, a team of Chinese Academy of Sciences researchers successfully built their own version of the system, and discovered that it is able to generate enough thrust to potentially power a satellite.
After building and testing their version of the EmDrive, they reported in November 2012 that their 2.45 GHz prototype successfully produced 720 micronewtons of thrust at an input power of 2.5kW, explained PC Mag writer Damon Poeter. Based on those numbers, the EmDrive would be capable of producing enough propulsion for “a practical satellite thruster,” said Wired UK.
After that, a US scientist by the name of Guido Fetta built his own device which is known as the Cannae Drive. Upon Fetta’s request, NASA warp drive researcher Sonny White and his colleagues tested the engine out during an eight-day span in August 2013, and found that is produces 30 to 50 micronewtons of thrust – a fraction of a percentage of that claimed by the Chinese team, but “emphatically a positive result,” according to the NASA team.
While both EmDrives and Cannae Drives are “clearly still in the experimental stages,” and there are questions surrounding the discrepancies in the results of each team’s efforts, Poeter said that the “innovative propulsion system is likely to get a long, studious look” from “a space community looking at everything from solar sails to ion drives as a means to travel more efficiently between the planets – as well as for potential asteroid deflection missions.”
However, John Timmer of ArsTechnica cautions against becoming too optimistic about these so-called “impossible” space engines, as there are still many questions surrounding the technology. For instance, despite the thrust recorded from an electric propulsion test, it turns out that thrust was also observed in an experiment during which the unit was not expected to produce any – in short, even the negative control in the experiment appeared to work.
According to Timmer, this result suggests “that the experiment as a whole tells you nothing. Clearly, the device (even when disabled) appears to produce a force.” There are several ways in which this could happen, he added, and there are ways that experts can monitor the device’s operation in order to see what factors could play a role. The force detected by the researchers could reportedly even be the result of a mass imbalance of less than 3mg.
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