NASA scientists have announced the successful testing of an electromagnetic propulsion drive (EM Drive), a device that could turn the concept of warp drive – faster-than-light travel – into a possibility.
According to Paul March, a NASA Eagleworks engineer, the space agency was able to test an EM Drive in a hard vacuum at the Johnson Space Center. The drive was operated by converting electrical energy into thrust without the use of standard fuel. The developers of the EM Drive instead used solar energy to power the device.
Questions about the validity of the testing are however being raised, considering that the principles of EM Drive violate the law of conservation of momentum in classical physics.
According to the law, if there are no external forces acting on a system, then its momentum remains constant. This is the reason why traditional rockets depend on propellants in order to launch.
Researchers from various countries, including China, the United Kingdom and the United States, have conducted earlier experiments on the possibility of the EM Drive Their results remain controversial, because no singular explanation exists on how the EM Drive actually works.
NASA said the reason why the previous EM Drive tests were inconclusive is that they were not tested in a vacuum. The scientists at the agency are confident that their experiment on the EM Drive – assuming it passes peer review and replication – will have "multi-fold" benefits.
The EM Drive could be used for low Earth orbit operations and space missions to planets outside the solar system. The International Space Station (ISS) also stands to gain from the development of the EM Drive.
"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," NASA said.
The agency stated that it is not pursuing interstellar travel. The concept of warp drive remains a dream — at least in the foreseeable future. The space agency will continue to develop ion propulsion that can be used for missions into deep space because it is thus far the fastest and most efficient method of space travel.
The idea of warp travel was made popular by science fiction TV shows and films like Star Trek and Star Wars that featured spacecraft capable of faster-than-light travel.