Over the past whole year, there’s been a lot of excitement about the electromagnetic propulsion drive, also known as EM Drive – a logically impossible engine that’s challenged almost everyone’s prospects by continuing to stand up to experimental study. The EM drive is so thrilling because it yields enormous amounts of propulsion that could hypothetically blast us to Mars in only 70 days, without the need for dense and costly rocket fuel. Instead, it’s actually propelled forward by microwaves bouncing back and forth inside a sealed off chamber, and this is what makes the EM drive so powerful, and at the same time so debatable.
As effective as this kind of propulsion may sound, it challenges one of the essential concepts of physics – the conservation of momentum, which states that for anything to be propelled forward, some kind of propellant must be pushed out in the opposite direction. For that reason, the drive was generally laughed at and overlooked when it was designed by English scientist Roger Shawyer in the early 2000s. But a few years later, a group of Chinese researchers decided to construct their own version, and to everyone’s amazement, it really worked. Then an American inventor did the something just like that, and convinced NASA’s Eagleworks Laboratories, supervised by Harold ‘Sonny’ White, to give it a try. And they admitted that it actually works. Now Martin Tajmar, a well-known professor and chairman for Space Systems at Dresden University of Technology in Germany, has worked with his own EM Drive, and has once again revealed that it produces thrust – although for reasons he can’t clarify yet.
Tajmar offered his outcomes at the 2015 American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics’ Propulsion and Energy Forum and Exposition in Florida on 27th of July, and you can read his entire paper here. He has a long history of experimentally testing (and exposing) revolutionary propulsion systems, so his outcomes are a big deal for those looking for outside confirmation of the EM Drive.
Most importantly, his system produced a parallel amount of thrust as was initially forecast by Shawyer, which is more than a few thousand times greater than a typical photon rocket.
So where does all of this leave us with the EM Drive? While it’s fun to speculate about just how revolutionary it could be for humanity, what we really need now are results published in a peer-reviewed journal – which is something that Shawyer claims he is just a few months away from doing, as David Hambling reports for Wired.
So it might turn out that we need to modify some of our laws of physics in order to clarify how the drive actually works. But if that opens up the opportunity of human travel throughout the entire Solar System – and, more significantly, beyond – then it’s a sacrifice we’re certainly willing to make.