NASA confirms results for 'impossible' space drive that uses no rocket fuel
Last August, NASA’s Eagleworks, an advanced space propulsion lab located at the Johnson Spaceflight Center south of Houston, created a great deal of excitement when it announced that it had tested a prototype of something called a Cannae Drive.
Using microwaves, the device seemed to exert a minute but measurable degree of thrust when mounted on a pendulum in a vacuum chamber. On Friday, NextBigFuture provided an update on the experiments on an engine that uses no fuel and seems to violate Newtonian physics.
In essence, the team at Eagleworks has been able to replicate the results of the original experiment, exerting a thrust in the area of 50 micro-Newtons. The team has been hampered by a lack of funding to fight through equipment failures. Nevertheless, they are working, very slowly, to scale up the thrust to 100 micro-Newtons. At that point, they intend to take the device to the Glenn Research Center for another replication effort.
The idea of the Cannae Drive and a similar device called the EM Drive has proven to be controversial, to say the least. Corey S. Powell, writing in Discover Magazine, called into question some of the methodology used by the Eagleworks team to arrive at what they called thrust from the test article. Many physicists suggest that more proof is needed before physics textbooks are revised.
Something seems to be happening, using multiple models of test articles at multiple locations. The Chinese, for instance, have reported having had good results with their model of an EM Drive. Researchers working on these devices will have to replicate their results many times, ruling out alternative explanations for the results, before they can confidently announce they have created a space propulsion system that uses no rocket fuel and uses quirks in advanced physics to operate.
Then two big questions have to be addressed. First, can the devices be scaled up to exert enough thrust to propel a spacecraft? Second, can such a device be made to work in real world space conditions? If these two questions can be answered in the affirmative, then the art of space travel will have made, pun intended, a quantum leap into the future.