NASA officials have denied recent reports that the agency has achieved a major breakthrough in efforts to develop a Star Trek-style faster-than-light “warp drive” propulsion system.
NASA officials told Space.com that although a team at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston recently tested a potentially revolutionary propulsion system in vacuum, the engine system generated only a small amount of thrust.
According to NASA officials, research and development efforts on the new thrust system have not yielded “any tangible results.”
“While conceptual research into novel propulsion methods by a team at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston has created headlines, this is a small effort that has not yet shown any tangible results. NASA is not working on ‘warp drive’ technology.”
Space.com reports that information that NASA engineers were testing a revolutionary propulsion system originated from a NASASpaceFlight.com forum. But a rumor emerged linking the novel system to the science fiction idea of “warp drive” technology.
NASA officials said the novel propulsion system that the agency’s JSC Eagleworks team tested in vacuum was not “warp drive” technology but a novel system based on EmDrive technology, reportedly a British invention designed to generate thrust by “bouncing microwaves around inside a chamber.”
NASA said that although the new space engine system is not “warp drive” technology, it could revolutionize spaceflight and facilitate deep space missions of the future.
But the problem with the system, from the theoretical perspective, is that it appears to violate one of the most fundamental laws of physics, the law of conservation of energy, which says that energy cannot be destroyed or created; it can only be converted from one form to another.
According to Space.com, NASA officials said the engine’s energy output appears to be greater than energy put into it.
However, some experts have suggested that the reason why the system appears to violate the law of conservation of energy could be electromagnetic leaks in the experimental chamber or interaction of the system with the Earth’s magnetic field.
Brian Koberlein, an expert with the Rochester Institute of Technology, told Space.com that other scientists outside NASA’s JSC Eagleworks team were anxious to assess the recent vacuum tests but have not been able to do so because the test results have not been made available for peer review.
Ethan Siegel, an expert at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, said it was unclear from discussions on the NASASpaceFlight.com forum whether the propulsion system actually generated any thrust.
According to Siegel, the frequency of occurrence of thrusts in the vacuum tests was not “inconsistent with random chance” and the force of the thrusts was not significantly above the margin of error for measurements. He said it was necessary for tests to produce results outside the range of measurement errors.
“It’s to make sure we give this the third-degree treatment and scrutinize it as much as we can. We do not want false hope for a miracle device that is never going to happen. Before we believe this, let’s do all of the robust tests, look at all the criteria and make sure we’re not fooling ourselves.”
The spread of the rumor that NASA has made a breakthrough in faster-than-light “warp drive” technology reflects the dream of breaking the light barrier inspired by Star Trek.
But according to NASA, “‘Warp Drive’ or any other term for faster-than-light travel still remains at the level of speculation.”
NASA said that although there are some credible ideas being promoted about how to achieve faster-than-light propulsion, current scientific theory, specifically Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, implies that faster-than-light travel is impossible.
The agency admitted, however, that the dream of faster-than-light travel could become reality in the future, noting that “there are many absurd theories that have become reality over the years of scientific research.”
But NASA said its engineers and scientists are not currently pursuing the dream of interstellar flight. However, they are making advances in ion propulsion, currently the most promising technology for deep space missions in the future.
[Images: NASA; Wikimedia Commons]