Called the EmDrive, this microwave engine defies what we know about classical mechanics. However, Nasa says it just might work.
Designed by Roger Shawyer in 2001, this engine bounces microwaves around a closed container, producing thrust as the microwaves rebound off the reflective surfaces within. With the microwaves being generated via electricity, which can be provided by solar panels, the engine works without the need for propellant. Theoretically, it could propel a spacecraft indefinitely through space.
While the idea seems somewhat insane (it did have the scientific community ignoring him), a Chinese team set about to build an EmDrive in 2009, which they claimed actually did work. More so, by producing 720 millinewtons of force, it was powerful enough to be used as a satellite thruster. Still though, no one in the scientific community believed the Chinese team, as the engine should not work given our current understanding of classical mechanics.
A team at NASA Eagleworks, an advanced propulsion team at the Johnson Space Center, have just published a paper illustrating that an engine using the same principles as the EmDrive does indeed produce thrust. While their model only produces 30 – 60 micronewtons, it still does indeed remarkably work.
If the idea is scaled successfully, it could revolutionize space travel. Without the need for propellant, it would allow us to launch cheaper and lighter ships into space. A trip to mars would only take weeks, instead of the 9 months it currently takes to get there. We could send probes to the deep reaches of space, eclipsing the Voyager satellites in a matter of years.
While scientists are still showing a great deal of scepticism regarding the EmDrive, I hope that the design is validated and can be moved into production shortly. Afterall, two seperate team on opposite sides of the globe have successfully built one. With an EmDrive, we would be able to explore and understand our solar system, and maybe even colonize a planet.
Image: SPR LTD