When I started writing my current novel, Project Destiny, I had the protagonist create a prototype engine that can get him to the moon in 3 hours instead of the normal 3 days a conventional Space Shuttle engine would take. When I heard about the EM Drive and what it could supposedly do, I began to think maybe my protagonist’s engine could be this engine or some variation of it. So I started researching to see what the EM Drive was and what it could do.
Here’s absolutely everything I know about the world’s most enigmatic, and maybe Project Destiny’s, theoretical propulsion device.
What is the EM Drive?
The simplest way to describe the EM Drive is as a mystery. It was first designed in 2001 by Aerospace Engineer, Roger Shawyer. Basically, it is a propellantless propulsion system. This means that the engine doesn’t use fuel to cause a reaction. Without the need for fuel, a spacecraft theoretically becomes substantially lighter and therefore easier to move and cheaper to make. In addition, the proposed drive is able to reach extremely high speeds. Humans could also reach the outer reaches of the solar system in a matter of months.
The conundrum researchers and engineers are faced with is the concept of a reactionless drive system is inconsistent with Newton’s conservation of momentum. This states that within a closed system, linear and angular momentum remain constant regardless of any changes that take place within said system. In laymen’s terms: Unless an outside force is applied, an object will not move.
A reactionless drive goes against our current fundamental understanding of physics. This means an as-yet-undefined phenomenon is taking place — or our understanding of physics is completely wrong.
How the EM Drive is Supposed to Work?
The EM Drive is what is called an RF resonant cavity thruster. A magnetron pushes microwaves into a closed truncated cone. This then pushes against the short end of the cone and propels the craft forward.
This is in contrast to the propulsion current spacecraft use, which burn large quantities of fuel to expel a massive amount of energy and mass to rocket the craft into the air. An often-used metaphor for the inefficacy of this is to compare the particles pushing against the enclosure and producing thrust to the act of sitting in a car and pushing a steering wheel to move the car forward.
Implications of a working EM Drive
Why is there such an interest in the technology, and why do so many people wish to test it?
Spacecraft equipped with a reactionless drive could make it to the moon in just a few hours, Mars in two to three months, and Pluto within two years. These are extremely bold claims, and as Carl Sagan once said, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” However, if the EM Drive does turn out to be a legitimate technology, they may not be all that outlandish. With no need to pack several tons-worth of fuel, spacecraft become cheaper and easier to produce, and far lighter.
In the Future, Warp Drive! Seriously? Engage!
One would think that the lack of proof of it’s operation would dissuade Shawyer from making bold claims regarding the EM Drive’s abilities. This has not been the case. He has gone on record saying that this new drive produced warp bubbles which allow the drive to move. Assertions such as these require extensive testing and debate before the scientific community will take them seriously. Hopefully, in the near future, more tests will help to clarify just how this thing really works.