NASA tested a new, “impossible” space engine recently at its Johnson Space Center in Houston. Although it was thought that it would not work, surprisingly, it did. The test used a microwave thruster system that requires no propellant to generate a small amount of thrust. The thruster harnesses subatomic quantum particles that pop in and out of existence.
A test paper issued by NASA scientists stated that they recorded about 30-50 micro-Newtons (mN) of thrust from an electrical propulsion test article. The test article consisted primarily of a radio frequency resonant cavity excited at around 935 megahertz. Testing was performed on a pendulum that is capable of detecting force at extremely low levels.
The thruster is the brainchild of British scientist Roger Shawyer and his company SPR Ltd. For years he has been unsuccessfully attempting to interest people in his EmDrive, claiming that it converts electric power into thrust without the need of fuel. It does so by bouncing microwaves in an air tight container. Critics have rejected his theory and have insisted that based on the law of conservation of momentum it cannot work.
The “impossible” tests of NASA’s new space engine have opened the door, however slightly, to a realm of possibilities in future space travel. Vessels would be able to create their own electricity through solar panels, creating an inexpensive low-thrust, long-term technology with virtually no cost. By utilizing this method, it could drastically reduce the cost of maintaining orbital stability of satellites and could also make interstellar travel much easier.
At the heart of the matter is that quantum vacuum fluctuations will occasionally create particles spontaneously in space. These short-lived particles can be turned into a plasma and be expelled out of the back, creating thrust. These particles appear inside the thruster spontaneously without a collector or injection system.
In 2012 a Chinese team built its own EmDrive and ran their own independent tests. Their tests produced 720 mN of thrust. That amount of thrust is sufficient enough to use on a satellite. However, that work went relatively unnoticed. In 2013 an American, Guido Fetta, constructed his own device and called it a Cannae Drive. Both the Cannae Drive and EmDrive operate along similar principles.
NASA used a Cannae Drive container to run its tests. This container does not use propellant or nuclear reactors. The unevenly shaped container is designed so that microwaves bounce from end to end, creating a difference in radiation pressure that causes thrust to be exerted on the larger end of the container.
The NASA paper concludes that this unique electric propulsion device is producing a force not attributable to any electromagnetic phenomenon, and is potentially interacting with quantum vacuum virtual plasma. The space agency plans to run further tests to validate its findings.
As NASA sorts out its test of the “impossible” new space engine, it appears that this new technology has the potential to change space exploration. While these findings are promising, there is still a long way to go before it can actually be used to send a spaceship to Mars or beyond.
By Hans Benes