While some media reports that NASA has accidentally created a warp field during a test of the EM drive are, at best, premature, the progress being made on the space drive that does not use rocket fuel has been, nevertheless, impressive. The EM Drive uses a closed microwave cavity to produce thrust in a way that seems to defy what is currently known about the laws of physics. NasaSpaceFlight.com reported on Wednesday that engineers at NASA’s Eagleworks, located at the Johnson Spaceflight Center, have tested the EM drive in a vacuum for the first time.
The test of the EM Drive confirmed that the thrust measurements were not due to thermal convection because of microwave heating the air around the test article. The results buttressed the hypothesis that the space agency has stumbled upon an engine that does not behave the way physics says it should behave.
Dr. Harold White, who leads the Eagleworks group that is delving into advanced propulsion technology, offered one possible explanation for the repeated test results that have taken place at NASA, Great Britain, and China.
“Dr. White proposed that the EM Drive’s thrust was due to the Quantum Vacuum (the quantum state with the lowest possible energy) behaving like propellant ions behave in a MagnetoHydroDynamics drive (a method electrifying propellant and then directing it with magnetic fields to push a spacecraft in the opposite direction) for spacecraft propulsion.
“In Dr. White’s model, the propellant ions of the MagnetoHydroDynamics drive are replaced as the fuel source by the virtual particles of the Quantum Vacuum, eliminating the need to carry propellant.”
The applications of a working EM drive are almost endless. Lower powered EM thrusters could be used to provide station keeping for the International Space Station and geosynchronous satellites. If one can attach a nuclear power plant to an EM drive, deep space travel would undergo a revolution similar to the transition from sails to wind did for ocean travel. The time to go to Mars would be greatly reduced, with a 70 day voyage to Mars, a 90 day stay on the surface, and a 70 day voyage back, less than a year as compared to three years round trip using conventional rockets. Moreover, voyages to Mars would not have to await the every 26-month window that typically limits such interplanetary trips.
A voyage to Saturn, including a six months survey of the moon Titan and another six months survey of Enceladus, would take just 32 months round trip. Even a trip to the moon would be four hours from Earth’s surface to lunar surface, using a fuel cell using oxygen and hydrogen refined from lunar ice.
How soon a working EM drive will be available is open to conjecture. Paul March, an engineer at Eagleworks, suggests 50 years. One wonders if the time could be made sooner if real resources were placed behind an effort to develop the space drive that should be impossible, but apparently isn’t.