NASA believes it might eventually achieve Warp Drive, transforming a science fiction idea into fact. Warp Drive is a hypothetical FTL (faster-than-light) propulsion system, as occurs in the Star Trek series, where the spacecraft is equipped with a propulsion system that pushes it to speeds far exceeding that of light.
At the moment, NASA is looking at possibly achieving more modest speeds, perhaps 9.4% of the speed of light. However, that would be a massive leap for space travel.
NASA says it has successfully completed a propulsion test using an EM (electromagnetic) drive within a vacuum. The new engine, it says, would allow future spacecraft to travel through space significantly faster than they can today.
If we managed to achieve Warp Drive one day, space travel would be completely transformed. (Image: NASA)
The major breakthrough is the result of a multi-year international effort involving several competing research team, NASA says.
“Thrust measurements of the EM Drive defy classical physics’ expectations that such a closed (microwave) cavity should be unusable for space propulsion because of the law of conservation of momentum.”
In the summer of 2014, NASA Eagleworks – an advanced propulsion research team led by Dr. Harold White at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) – amazed the scientific and technical communities when the group presented its test results at the 50th AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference in Cleveland, Ohio.
They presented the results related to the experimental testing of an EM Drive – a concept that began in 2001 when a small British company, SPR (Satellite Propulsion Research Ltd), started an R&D program under Roger J. Shawyer.
Thrust without expelling any propellant
SPR proposed that electromagnetic microwave cavities could provide for the direct conversion of electrical energy to thrust without having to expel any propellant.
At first the scientific community was skeptical regarding the lack of expulsion of propellant from the drive, because it would leave nothing to balance the change in the momentum of the spacecraft if it were to accelerate.
If NASA’s recent promising research and future trials really do work and can be implemented in future spaceships, it would mean much faster, cheaper and more efficient travel across our Solar System and even further.
Many scientists believe it could be the first step towards eventually travelling faster than light, i.e. Warp Drive.
NASA is talking about technology that could get six humans including their luggage from the Earth to the Moon in just four hours, and a 100-year trip travelling at 9.4% of light speed to reach Alpha Centauri.
For a voyage lasting 100 years we would be looking at at least two generations of astronauts, i.e. the travelers would have children during the voyage who would take over when they became too old and died.
In an interview with CNET, Paul March, the engineer who has been working on the EM drive at JSC, said:
“My work at Eagleworks (the lab at JSC where the EM drive is being tested) is just a continuation of my work tackling the fundamental problem that has been hindering manned spaceflight from the termination of the Apollo moon program.”
“That being the availability of a robust and cost-effective power and propulsion technology that can break us loose from the shackles of the rocket equation.”
None of this breakthrough technology has gone through a rigorous peer review, so we cannot be sure it is the real deal.
To install an EM Drive in a spacecraft, it would need to have a powerful nuclear power plant on board.