Did NASA Engineers Just Confirm a Major Propulsion Breakthrough?

EmDrive (Credit: Satellite Propulsion Research Ltd.)
EmDrive (Credit: Satellite Propulsion Research Ltd.)

Gizmodo has a fascinating story about NASA scientists who appear to have proven that Roger Shawyer’s quantum vacuum plasma thruster, known as the EmDrive (a.k.a., Relativity Drive), actually works. But, they’re not sure exactly why.

Shawyer’s engine is extremely light and simple. It provides a thrust by “bouncing microwaves around in a closed container.” The microwaves are generated using electricity that can be provided by solar energy. No propellant is necessary, which means that this thrusters can work forever unless a hardware failure occurs. If real, this would be a major breakthrough in space propulsion technology.

Obviously, the entire thing sounded preposterous to everyone. In theory, this thing shouldn’t work at all. So people laughed and laughed and ignored him. Everyone except a team of Chinese scientists. They built one in 2009 and it worked: They were able to produce 720 millinewton, which is reportedly enough to build a satellite thruster. And still, nobody else believed it.

Now, American scientist Guido Fetta and a team at NASA Eagleworks—the advanced propulsion skunkworks led by Dr Harold “Sonny” White at the Johnson Space Center—have published a new paper that demonstrates that a similar engine working on the same principles does indeed produce thrust. Their model, however, produces much less thrust—just 30 to 50 micronewtons. But it works, which is amazing on its own. They haven’t explained why their engine works, but it does work.

Read the full story.