If us Earthlings are ever going to travel vast distances into deep space at speeds that won’t have us tapping our fingers and asking the captain, “Are we there yet?”, then scientists are going to have to develop a seriously efficient propulsion system to make it happen.
Current methods can indeed transport spacecrafts huge distances, but they require large amounts of heavy fuel, as well as plenty of time to get anywhere.
One idea that’s been getting plenty of attention since it was first presented in 1999 is the EmDrive. Designed by aerospace engineer Roger Shawyer, the proposed “warp drive” design is remarkable in that its engine doesn’t use fuel to cause a reaction.
Instead, the system makes use of a magnetron and microwaves to create a propellantless propulsion system. Put simply, the thrust necessary to propel a craft is created by pushing microwaves into a closed, truncated cone and back toward the small end of the cone.
The EmDrive is, however, controversial, not least because it seems to challenge the known laws of physics.
But a leaked NASA document obtained this week by the IB Times suggests the system may indeed be viable. The paper, described as “an early draft of Nasa’s much-anticipated peer-reviewed paper” on the technology, details tests carried out by NASA’s experimental Eagleworks Laboratories at the Johnson Space Center in Texas and describes the system as “consistently performing.”
News that the document contained positive results first leaked in August, but now the full text has hit the web.
“The paper is exciting to EmDrive fans as it indicates NASA has succeeded in replicating the work British engineer/scientist Roger Shawyer did in 2006 to produce rotating thrusters and prove the controversial device does in fact obey Newton’s Laws of Motion,” the IB Times reports.
The EmDrive’s propellantless propulsion system in theory allows for a significantly lighter and more cost effective mode of transportation, but notably, it would be able to generate incredibly high speeds, bringing the outer reaches of the solar system tantalizingly close. As for Mars, it could get spacecraft there in a mere 10 weeks instead of the six months it takes with current technology.
Not surprisingly, the EmDrive continues to cause much debate in the scientific community, with many quick to dismiss the entire concept as “baloney.” It’s fair to say that the jury is still out on this one.
According to IB Times, the leaked document was posted on the NASA Spaceflight forum on November 5 by Australian EmDrive enthusiast Phil Wilson. However, a while later NASA Spaceflight’s moderators deleted the post as the paper has not yet been officially released. Soon after, science-tech news site Next Big Future provided a link to it. You can pore over the document here.
It’s expected to be published by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics in December, 2016.