Researchers from NASA have been successful at testing an engine in a vacuum bearing close resemblance to space that could take us to Mars in only 70 days without relying on rocket fuel. The apparatus is the electromagnetic propulsion drive, also known as the EM Drive. We just got closer to Mars. However, it is to be noted that the results of the study have not been replicated, nor peer-reviewed.
The EM Drive was invented in the early 2000s by British scientist Roger Shawyer. Ever since, the engine has been the subject of quite some controversy: some argue that it violates the conservation of momentum, one of the fundamental concepts of physics. The theory states that an object needs some propellant to be pushed out in the opposite direction for it to be propelled forward, while the EM Drive needs no propellant to create thrust. Rather, it depends on electromagnetic waves. On the other hand, its creator has greatly defended his invention as not being in opposition with the concept.
Furthermore, it is reported on nasaspaceflight.com that “despite considerable effort within the NASASpaceflight.com forum to dismiss the reported thrust as an artefact, the EM Drive results have yet to be falsified”.
The next step of the research is to replicate and verify the results in a vacuum. If this yields positive outcomes, the way we travel in space might be changed completely. It is also believed that the independence from rocket fuel will make other systems beyond ours more accessible to us.
As a consequence, Harold White, the lead scientist at Eaglework, forecasts that astronauts onboard a 2 MegaWatt nuclear electric propulsion spacecraft, powered by an EM Drive with a thrust/power input of 0.4 Newton/kW, will reach Mars in only 10 weeks. Getting to Mars in a matter of 70 days seems extremely astonishing though. But, the scientists are even more ambitious: they predict that a trip to the closest star system to ours, the Alpha Centauri, would take 92 years only – a lifetime for mankind, but relatively speaking, it is a very short lapse of time.
Also, the engine might be used for other purposes like sending satellites into space.
“We will go to Mars, but the most important thing is what EM Drive will do for the rest of the world. It will be solar power stations, city-to-city long-haul flights using hydrogen. It’s green and convenient and will change our world in the next few decades,” said inventor Shawyer in a statement.
More interestingly, the EM drive might have allowed faster-than-the-speed-of-light travel. NASA scientists have reported that some of the laser beams they fired into the EM Drive’s resonance chamber travelled faster than the speed of light at around 300,000 kilometres per second. Is that even possible? Well, spacecrafts travelling at warp speed such as these would not really travel faster than the speed of light. Rather, they would create a bubble that warps spacetime in its surroundings so that it covers less distance.
As conclusion, we can dream all we want; the scientists still have lots of testing to do.
“After consistent reports of thrust measurements from EM Drive experiments in the US, UK, and China – at thrust levels several thousand times in excess of a photon rocket, and now under hard vacuum conditions – the question of where the thrust is coming from deserves serious inquiry,” concluded the NASAspaceflight authors.