New NASA Tests Confirm Anomalous EmDrive Thrust

Paul March, a senior staff scientist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, has posted an update on NASA’s work to test the controversial EmDrive propulsion, which uses electromagnetic microwave cavities to directly convert electrical energy to thrust without the need to expel any propellant.

First proposed by Satellite Propulsion Research, a research company based in the UK founded by aerospace engineer Roger Shawyer, the EM Drive concept was predictably scorned by much of the mainstream research community for allegedly violating the laws of physics, including the conservation of momentum.

However, NASA Eagleworks – an advanced propulsion research group led by Dr. Harold G. “Sonny” White at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) – investigated the EM Drive and presented encouraging test results in 2014 at the 50th Joint Propulsion Conference.

Breakthrough Space Propulsion Physics

NASAOther encouraging test results were presented in July by Martin Tajmar is a professor and chair for Space Systems at the Dresden University of Technology, interested in space propulsion systems and breakthrough propulsion physics.

On July 10, EmDrive inventor Roger Shawyer published a paper titled “Second generation EmDrive propulsion applied to SSTO launcher and interstellar probe” in the peer-reviewed journal Acta Astronautica (the paper will appear in Volume 116, November–December 2015, Pages 166–174 of the print edition of the journal), with a 5 minute audio/slide presentation with the same title, updated to include the latest test data from the University of Dresden in Germany. Shawyer emphasized that published test data of eight EmDrive thrusters from five independent sources in four countries confirm EmDrive theory and noted that:

Second generation EmDrive offers the best solution for low cost access to space, and for a near term interstellar mission.

In view of the breathtaking implications, it’s understandable that the EmDrive test results have generated heated debates in the scientific community. Some scientists viscerally criticize EmDrive research because it seems to go against the law of conservation of momentum, which is a cornerstone of physics. But other scientists have proposed theoretical explanations of the test results that conserve momentum.

For example, White thinks that the EmDrive’s thrust could be due to virtual particles in the quantum vacuum that behave like propellant ions in magneto-hydrodynamical propulsion systems, extracting “fuel” from the very fabric of space-time and eliminating the need to carry propellant. The EmDrive tests are “potentially demonstrating an interaction with the quantum vacuum virtual plasma,” noted NASA scientists in a research paper.

Current EmDrive research work in the lab is focused on spotting possible experimental errors. “I will tell you that we first built and installed a 2nd generation, closed face magnetic damper that reduced the stray magnetic fields in the vacuum chamber by at least an order of magnitude and any Lorentz force interactions it could produce,” writes March in the popular discussion forum. March describes other measures that have been taken to rule out experimental errors, and concludes:

And yet the anomalous thrust signals remain…

The NASA scientists can’t disclose more information and show the supporting data until a forthcoming peer-reviewed paper is published.

Images from NASA and Ryan Somma/Flickr.

Giulio Prisco is a freelance writer specialized in science, technology, business and future studies.