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EM Drive ‘Sci-Fi’ Space Engine: Does it Really Violate the Laws of Physics?

Nov 14, 2016 04:40 AM EST
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An unpublished paper from NASA reveals that the controversial EM Drive – a space engine with fuel-free propulsion system – could actually work. But critics remain skeptic about the idea saying that the engine violates the laws of physics.
(Photo : Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images)

After results from NASA's tests on the EM Drive have been leaked, all other reports - leaks and rumors alike - have been subjected to controversy.

Just recently, an unpublished paper revealed that NASA has made a functioning Radio Frequency Resonant Cavity Thruster, otherwise known as electromagnetic propulsion drive or EM Drive.

The EM Drive uses magnetic waves to create thrust by bouncing microwave photons within a closed cone-shaped metal vessel. The motion causes the pointed end of the drive to generate thrust and propel it in the opposite direction. The microwaves gather electricity via solar power and it does not require a propellant.

The so-called "warp drive" is said to be capable of transporting humans to Mars in just 10 weeks, fly to the Moon in just four hours, and travel to Pluto in only 18 months - all without the need for a propellant.

But critics remain skeptical about the engine because according to laws of physics, such an engine could not possibly work.

The drive system violates Newton's third law, which states that "for every action, there is an equal opposite reaction," ScienceAlert reports. It therefore follows that it is impossible to have an action (propulsion) without a reaction (ignition of fuel) as far as conventional physics go.

According to Universe Today, the drive also goes against the logic behind the Conservation of Momentum law, one of the most powerful laws of physics. The law states that the momentum of two objects that collide remains constant before and after the collision and that momentum cannot be created nor destroyed.

A typical rocket engine relies on this principle as it uses a propellant that blasts out to create an opposing force. But since the EM Drive involves electromagnetic microwave cavities, it does not have a reaction mass.

But the leaked paper written by Harold White, the Advanced Propulsion Team Lead for the NASA Engineering Directorate and principal investigator for NASA's Eagleworks Laboratories revealed that the team has come up with a working EM Drive, although it generates force of only 1.2 millinewtons per kilowatt in a vacuum.

While the level of thrust to power is significantly smaller than ion thrusters, the researchers said it is twice as powerful as the thrust of light sails - currently the most popular form of zero-propellant propulsion, which uses beams of sunlight to propel it forward.

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