When the concept of EM Drive first arrived at the scene, it promised to a provide a fuel-free propulsion system with the potential to get humans to Mars in just 70 days. But soon enough it was declared that the concept was impossible when considering the laws of Physics, or is it?
A recent leak of NASA’s tests on the ‘impossible’ EM Drive reveals that the controversial propulsion might not be scientifically impossible after all, as it has found to be able to generate impressive thrust in a vacuum. This revelation is bittersweet news for the world of science, as while it promises incredible development in space travel, it also shakes the basis of modern day Physics, i.e. Newton’s third law.
The law states that every action must have an equal and opposite reaction, but if the EM drive propulsion goes on without pushing anything, it directly is contradicting this law. Usually, a rocket generates thrust as it burns fuels and propellants. But EM Drive is different in that it works by simply bouncing microwave photons inside a cone-shaped closed metal cavity. The ‘pointy end’ of the EM Drive generates the thrust and helps in propelling the drive in the opposite direction.
Despite years of testing, no one has been able to come up with a theory justifying that the drive’s mechanics. The paper leaked showing the EM Drive to be workable resulted from last year’s NASA Eagleworks Laboratory’s attempt to independently get to the bottom of the EM Drive conundrum.
The paper, although lacking third party verification, concluded that, even after error measurements been accounted for, the EM Drive can generate a force of 1.2 millinewtons per kilowatt in a vacuum, which is comparable to the super-powerful Hall thruster which generates over 60 millinewtons per kilowatt of force.
The NASA Eagleworks team concluded that the Hall thruster requires a heavy spacecraft using fuel to be able to carry heavy propellants, which makes it not an attractive option.
The NASA Eagleworks team used a low thrust pendulum at the Johnson Space Centre to measure the EM Drive’s force while performing tests at 40, 60, and 80 watts. And despite all the efforts to find the source of an anomaly, they found no other factors to be the source of the force.
“The test campaign included a null thrust test effort to identify any mundane sources of impulsive thrust. However, none were identified,” the team, led by Harold White, concluded in the paper.
“Thrust data from forward, reverse, and null suggests that the system is consistently performing with a thrust to power ratio of 1.2 ± 0.1 millinewtons per kilowatt.”
But while the team was counting all the amazing features, it also pointed out that more research is required to cater for variables in design and modelling, such as thermal expansion so that something substantial and conclusive can be said about the technology. An EM Drive launch is scheduled to be held in in September 2017, which will be a landmark when it comes to defining and explaining the science behind the technology.
You can read the full paper here.
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