A controversial and puzzling engine design that could potentially make space travel much cheaper and faster may actually work, a new NASA study suggests. The experimental propulsion system known as the EmDrive, which seems to violate the laws of physics, generated small amounts of thrust in a lab test, researchers said.
The EmDrive, which was developed by British researcher Roger Shawyer over 10 years ago, generates thrust by bouncing microwaves around inside a cone-shaped chamber. According to Newton’s third law of motion – for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction – this should not work, because there is no exhaust expelled out of the EmDrive system.
However, researchers led by Harold White from NASA’s Johnson Space Centre in Houston, did measure some thrust. Their EmDrive variant produced about 1.2 millinewtons of force per kilowatt of energy, ‘Space.com’ reported.
That is about 100 times more thrust than solar-sailing spacecraft, which harness the momentum of photons streaming from the Sun, are able to achieve, researchers said.
Like solar sails, the EmDrive requires no propellant; a spacecraft equipped with this propulsion system could generate all the microwaves it needs using solar panels. It is believed that the EmDrive could make space travel much cheaper and faster, theoretically opening up the heavens to greater exploration.
However, the study is just a proof of concept and further testing is needed to definitively rule out all possible sources of experimental error, White said.