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NASA's 'Impossible' Propulsion Engine EmDrive Passes Peer Review

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Ending all speculations, NASA has presented its paper on the new rocket propulsion concept known as EmDrive, which has caught the imagination of all space enthusiasts despite defying the core laws of physics and workability.

The long-awaited EmDrive paper of NASA has now been peer-reviewed and published with the title, "Measurement of Impulsive Thrust from a Closed Radio-Frequency Cavity in Vacuum."

Published online on Nov. 17 in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics' Journal of Propulsion and Power, the research was done by the NASA Eagleworks Laboratory team. In the paper, the NASA scientists detailed how they tested the EmDrive technology for producing more thrust.

Rumors had been swirling that NASA was developing an Electromagnetic Drive, or EmDrive, though physicists had dismissed it as an impossibility. The new paper hints at the eventual plunge of NASA into the technology.

Credit goes to Roger Shawyer, a British researcher who pioneered the concept in 1999 and said thrust can be generated by bouncing microwaves inside a cone-shaped chamber.

Apparently, that was against Newton's third law of motion, which insisted every action must have an equal and opposite reaction. In an EmDrive there is no exhaust to expel as an opposite reaction. In conventional propulsion, rockets expel superheated gasses and other material through their nozzles at high speeds.

As a unique propulsion system, EmDrive does not require any rocket fuel. In fact, Shawyer claimed that EmDrive could send humans to Mars in just 70 days.

Greater Efficiency

According to the paper, Eagleworks Laboratories created a radio frequency resonant cavity thruster with a capacity to produce 1.2 millinewtons per kilowatt of thrust in vacuum. NASA used electricity to create the microwaves and bounced off waves in the closed copper cone.

The fuel-free propulsion system of EmDrive that bounces off microwaves defies the law of physics that a system cannot produce thrust without a push in the opposite direction.

Although how the EmDrive propulsion works remains a mystery, the study is trying to offer a controversial interpretation of the quantum mechanics to explain that. Called the pilot-wave theory, the new interpretation departs from the Copenhagen interpretation of the same by saying subatomic particles that take a fixed location have a role in this phenomenon.

Principal investigator Harold White and his colleagues also measured the thrust. In their EmDrive variant, 1.2 millinewtons of force per kilowatt of energy was recorded, which was 100 times more than a normal solar-sailing spacecraft.

No Propellant Needed

Unlike solar sails, the EmDrive takes no propellant, with the microwaves coming from the power of solar panels.

The best part is that EmDrive can render space travel cheaper and faster. However, there is still a long way to go as EmDrive is in a proof of concept mode and requires further validation, White said.

However, the vetting by NASA and the successes that the EmDrive technology accrued by proponent Shawyer and some Chinese researchers who tested a model in 2012 makes it promising.

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