NASA has quietly, and successfully, tested an electromagnetic (EM) drive in a space-like vacuum. Some are calling the propulsion system a “warp drive” for its incredible potential speeds, although researchers say it falls short of faster-than-light travel.
The test paves the way to real space travel applications, but scientists don’t know why the engine works, since it appears to defy the laws of physics.
Earlier this year, speculation around NASA’s experimental drive got so heated the agency published a post called “Is Warp Drive Real?“
In summary, their answer was “no.”
“The bulk of scientific knowledge concludes that it’s impossible, especially when considering Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.”
Then again, scientific laws also say that NASA’s EM drive is impossible.
The propulsion system works by shooting microwaves into a closed container, according to the Daily Mail. This surprisingly simple method should be impossible, because it should violate the law of conservation of momentum, which says that unless an external force acts upon a system, its momentum will remain unchanged.
That’s why traditional rockets require fuel as a propellant, whereas the EM drive only requires an enormous amount of electrical energy.
Researchers claim the quasi-warp drive could get passengers to the moon in roughly four and a half hours, or take interstellar colonists to Alpha Centauri – the closest solar system to our own – in just 100 years. That falls short of “warp drive,” a propulsion system capable of speeds faster than light, but it beats the current technology that would require roughly 10,000 years to reach Alpha Centauri.
According to CNet, scientists from the U.S., U.K., and China have been working on the engine for the past 15 years, but skeptics claimed it wouldn’t work in the vacuum of space.
NASA’s recent test showed otherwise. The researchers created a space-like vacuum and tested the drive here on Earth. The device worked, but the experiment will still require peer reviews.
Nevertheless, if everything proceeds smoothly, the first real beneficiary of propellant-less propulsion system could be the International Space Station.
NASASpaceFlight explained, “In terms of the Station, propellant-less propulsion could amount to significant savings by drastically reducing fuel resupply missions to the Station and eliminate the need for visiting-vehicle re-boost maneuvers.”
For travelers wanting to go on an interstellar adventure, hooking up an EM drive won’t be nearly as easy. The system would require a nuclear power plant on board to go long-distances.
Still, the EM drive could help make humanity’s first steps into the wider universe much easier.
[Image Credit: NASA]