em drive
November 14, 2016

Leaked report shows ‘lawbreaking’ EmDrive engine is functional

An experimental engine that appears to breach the laws of physics may actually be functional, a new report has indicated.

A contentious and perplexing engine design referred to as the EmDrive was able to create small quantities of thrust in a lab test, NASA scientists reported in an unpublished study, which has leaked online.

Developed by British researcher Roger Shawyer over a decade ago, the EmDrive is said to create thrust by bouncing microwaves within a cone-shaped container. Conventional rocket engines work thanks to Newton's third law: For every action, there is an equal and contrary reaction. A rocket lifts off because superheated exhuast is fired into the ground. However, because there's no exhaust coming out of the EmDrive system; it is considered to break Newton's law.

Despite appearing to violate that crucial tenet of physics, a NASA team was recently able to see a prototype engine generate some thrust. Expressly, their EmDrive machine generated approximately 1.2 millinewtons of pressure per kilowatt of energy, according to the leaked study. That's around 100 times more drive than a solar-sail spacecraft, which captures the momentum of photons surging from the sun, are capable of achieving.

Just like solar sails, the EmDrive could produce all the microwaves needed to create propulsion using solar panels. Hence, the EmDrive has the potential to make space travel cheaper and faster than using conventional propulsion, possibly setting up deeper exploration.

However, deep space crafts using an EmDrive propulsion system is still a long way from reality, if it occurs at all. The new study is simply a proof of concept, and further evaluations are required to definitively eliminate all achievable sources of experimental error. For instance, air in the EmDrive system could have heated and expanded, leading to some of the witnessed effect, the study authors said in the report.

The new result is the most recent in a number of apparent positive results for EmDrive technology. The NASA team is reported generating thrust generation with their version, and Chinese scientists who tested their own variant in 2012 were also able to observe thrust.

None of these teams, it should be pointed out, have been able to explain the mechanism behind their results. The latest study said the EmDrive may be utilizing the energy of subatomic particles that are continuously popping into and out of existence.


Image credit: NASA