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NASA‘s “Impossible” EM Drive Works

NASA‘s “Impossible” EM Drive Works

NASA has recently released a paper that has been peer-reviewed, and then published by Aerospace Research Central. The focus of this paper is an EM drive that they have been working with and testing. NASA’s Eagleworks Laboratory at the Johnson Space Center is responsible for this paper, which details their hypothesis of the mechanism that allows the EM drive to produce thrust, and how it is compatible with our current understanding of physics.

It is important to pass a peer-review; however it does not guarantee the results for the EM drive produced. It simply confirms that the methods used during the experiment to get the results are done in a valid and responsible matter. This being said, the results from this EM drive could still prove to be incredibly important.

An EM drive, also know an Electromagnetic Drive, was suggested in 1999 by Roger Shawyer. This type of propulsion would have advantages over conventional rockets, if it works as they expect it to. Conventional rockets use heavy rocket fuel in order to propel themselves forward; an EM drive would instead gain its thrust by bouncing microwaves around inside a cone shaped container. This being the case, an EM drive would allow you to cut back on the overall weight of the propulsion system.

When testing the EM drive, they found that it was producing around 1.2 mN/kW (millinewtons per kilowatt) in a vacuum.  This is not much when compared to ion drives which produce 60 mN/kW, however the EM drive does not need to carry fuel like an ion drive, which could help offset the large difference in thrust. It is also important to note that the EM drive has not been optimized at all, and this would likely improve its thrust output, making it more comparable to the ion drive.

But, the EM drive faces one major problem. As we understand it now, it is not compatible with Newton’s Third Law of Physics which states “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” This means in order to move, a system must push off of or away from something; the EM drive does not do this. For this reason, it is important to continue forward with the EM drive, but remain skeptical. Newton’s Third Law is not wrong, especially since they have overlooked a few possible explanations for this result, one of which is thermal expansion. This could be responsible for the results of the tests, but thermal expansion is not a reason to not look further into EM drives. At this point, the researchers are looking at pilot-wave theory which is “a slightly controversial interpretation of quantum mechanics” (Macdonald), to explain how the EM drive could work without breaking Newton’s Third Law.

It is important to remember that even if the EM drive future results show that it does not work, it is a good example on how good science is done. Knowing how to do good science is a process; it takes time and you must get your findings evaluated so the experiments can be replicated and scrutinized to insure the validity of the result.

Read the NASA’s Eagleworks Laboratory’s Full paper here: http://arc.aiaa.org/doi/10.2514/1.B36120

Resources:

Koberlein, Brian. "NASA's Physics-Defying EM Drive Passes Peer Review." Science. Forbes, 19 Nov. 2016. Web. 19 Nov. 2016.

Macdonald, Fiona. "It's Official: NASA's Peer-reviewed EM Drive Paper Has Finally Been Published." Science Alert. Science Alert, 19 Nov. 2016. Web. 19 Nov. 2016.

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