‘Impossible’ EM drive engine produces thrust from nothing — and science can’t explain why – NEWS.com.au

 In Science
As the planet becomes more crowded, eyes are rising to the stars. The colonisation of space is no longer science fiction, it’s big business, from NASA to entrepreneurs like Elon Musk. Frans von der Dunk is a space lawyer, and one of the few people in the world trying to bring some order to the space race.

The prototype EM space drive. In some as-yet unexplained process, it appears to be generating thrust without fuel. However, it could all just be a mistake. Picture: NASA

IT’s impossible. But science appears to say it’s happening. A prototype space engine seems to be producing energy from nothing. And it’s just passed peer review.

The reactionless thruster was met with a surge of excitement — and scepticism — when reports of its science-fiction sounding ability to pull fuel out of the void of space itself emerged in 2001.

If true, we could be walking on the surface of Pluto much sooner than anyone dared dream.

Despite a bevy of tests, including this one by NASA’s propulsion workshop (Eagleworks), the bold claim simply hasn’t gone away. Now it’s another step closer to credibility.

The formal study into the controversial, physics-defying EM Drive was formally published in the Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ Journal of Propulsion and Power late last week. This means the processes and measurements used in testing the performance of this ‘impossible engine’ could not be faulted by a panel of independent scientists.

It doesn’t mean it’s real, though.

It just means something’s happening that isn’t yet fully understood.

Dr Patrick Neumann, the Australian inventor of a highly efficient space ion engine which uses metal as its fuel, says the idea is exciting.

At best, he says, it could be an extraordinarily efficient means of powering our way to the stars.

At worst, there’s an unrecognised, unwanted spanner in the works that everyone will think was obvious — in hindsight.

The EM drive positioned inside a vacuum chamber for testing. Picture: NASA/Eagleworks

The EM drive positioned inside a vacuum chamber for testing. Picture: NASA/EagleworksSource:Supplied

SOMETHING FROM NOTHING

The EM Drive is essentially a chamber with a hole at one end with microwaves bouncing around inside.

There is no fuel supplied.

But, when turned on, the drive generates thrust.

This shouldn’t be happening.

Worse, it violates some of the most fundamental laws of physics that our understanding of the universe — and all of our technology — is built upon.

Or not.

“It’s looking stronger,” Dr Neumann says. “But it’s still breaking the law of conservation of momentum — which is something we’d really like to keep as it’s the basis of some really important bits of science and technology.”

What should make the engine impossible is Newton’s Third Law: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”. Put simply, something doesn’t move unless an outside force pushes it.

This is why engines need fuel. The fuel contains energy.

The EM Drive carries no fuel. So there is no energy to release.

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