The EmDrive is the latest controversial technology to push our understanding of the laws of physics. A propulsion system that has no physical fuel or exhaust, no moving parts and seems to transgress many of Newton’s laws. Powered by electricity and microwaves the EmDrive is quickly dividing the scientific community.
Challenging the well established laws of physics is a risky pastime for scientists, a pastime that has only two logical outcomes; the laws are adjusted or the technology disappears.
Helping to support EmDrive (Electromagnetic Drive) against impossible odds the Chinese have built and demonstrated their variation that is already producing incredible results. Can they can see in the dawn of an entirely new space age?
Developed by Robert Shaywer the EmDrive would probably have disappeared into obscurity if not for the Chinese. While Nature took a chance and was one of the first to publish an article on the drive back in 2010 (with disastrous results) the Chinese have gone one step further and constructed a working demonstration model. The original Nature article created such a backlash amongst the scientific community that Shaywer was branded a nut and sent on his way. The Chinese weren’t put off however.
Yang Juan, Professor of Propulsion Theory and Engineering of Aeronautics and Astronautics at the Northwestern Polytechnic University in Xi’an has now published a paper on the EmDrive, “Net thrust measurement of propellantless microwave thrusters.”
In the paper, Yang describes an iteration of the EmDrive that’s able to generate 720mN of thrust with 2.5kW of electricity. By no means a large amount of thrust but still four times more powerful than an ion-thruster, the current leader of electrical propulsion in space.
Shaywer has plans for more advanced superconducting EmDrives that he hopes will be far more efficient and more powerful, he estimates that 3 tons of thrust per kilowatt is achievable.
While many news sources are claiming his technology has been rejected by the SkunkWorks, Shaywer claims that his technology is still being investigated by an unnamed government department.
In theory no closed system should be able to produce thrust within its external frame of reference. Like putting a cap on the end of a rocket the enclosed EmDrive shouldn’t be able to generate thrust.
At the heart of the system is a magnetron that generates microwave radiation that is sent into the enclosed copper cone. The small amount of energy that the bouncing microwaves generates when ricocheting off the copper wall should balance out.
Shaywer claims that the tapered shape of the cone causes the microwaves to move much faster in the smaller part of the cone, creating a difference in energy between bounces at the top and bottom, generating the force.
The truth is no one knows how the EmDrive works exactly, it is an unknown but there is more evidence that it works than not. There are multiple working drives built by different teams around the world while the western world is still to investigate the drive. The results of the test systems will keep this controversy bubbling away for years.
At what point do scientists become more concerned with the known than the unknown. When do the known laws of physics become more important than new understandings? This is the balance that the Western scientists seem to get so wrong, so often.
See the very interesting DVICE article here for an interesting scientific discussion of the technology.
The technology itself has monumental ramifications for human society. This is Jetsons technology that could shift man away from reliance on the wheel, no form of transport would be left unchanged.
Satellites and transport to space will be revolutionised with cost reductions in the order of 130x when comparing EmDrive craft to an Atlas Rocket. Aircraft and cars would be vastly changed while the hover-board would become possible with such a propulsion system.
Here at Highpants we don’t want the impossible to be possible but we do wish the curiosity we all felt as children never faded with the harsh realities of life.
Is the EmDrive pseudo-science or breakthrough technology? The controversy will surely continue for many years. Will the Chinese start the next space race using impossible technology? Or will the impossible soon be possible?