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Science & Technology

How does NASA's EmDrive actually work ?

By T.K. Randall
April 22, 2016 · Comment icon 24 comments



The EmDrive could revolutionize space travel. Image Credit: NASA / Mark Rademaker
Scientists have been coming up with new ideas to explain how the controversial propulsion system works.
The electromagnetic propulsion engine, which some scientists believe could herald a new era of spaceflight by replacing conventional chemical rocket engines, has been a hot topic recently.

EmDrive allegedly works by converting electrical power in to thrust without the need for propellant through a process that scientists argue is in direct violation of the laws of physics.

Now in a renewed effort to understand exactly what is going on inside the controversial engine, researchers have been mulling over possible explanations for its peculiar behavior.

One new hypothesis, which has been presented by Mike McCulloch from Plymouth University, suggests that the anomalous propulsion being generated by the drive is the result of something known as "the Unruh effect" which asserts that an accelerating observer will see black-body radiation where a stationary observer will see none.
In other words, the universe warms up when you accelerate and, according to McCulloch, the inertia is the pressure that this Unruh radiation is exerting on the accelerating body.

"At very small accelerations, the wavelengths of Unruh radiation become so large they can no longer fit in the observable universe," he said.

"When this happens, inertia can take only certain whole-wavelength values and so jumps from one value to the next. In other words, inertia must [be] quantised at small accelerations."

Whether this turns out to be what is causing the EmDrive's thrust however remains to be seen.

Source: Science Alert | Comments (24)


Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #15 Posted by Skulduggery 7 years ago
Me too. They are on the right track. The concept is a good one.
Comment icon #16 Posted by Vox 7 years ago
See? That's the problem when you reverse engineer Alien Tech which you are dying to try out but need to have a conventional answer as to how it works so that the world doesn't go into meltdown Sarcastic mode: OFF
Comment icon #17 Posted by DieChecker 7 years ago
So... The microwaves bounce around inside the chamber, and the shape of the chamber causes the microwaves to interact with the virtual particles (providing thrust) in only one direction? Is the shape of the chamber scalable? Or does only the one very specific sized chamber work?
Comment icon #18 Posted by drewiduk 7 years ago
This is great, the laws of physics have been defined by humans, anything that pushes these boundaries will lead to new thinking and progression of science
Comment icon #19 Posted by Maars 7 years ago
Stupid question: How can they speculate on how it works if it has not been built yet?
Comment icon #20 Posted by herbygant 7 years ago
Let's reinvent the flying saucer, which never existed, right?
Comment icon #21 Posted by QSTR 7 years ago
Could it be as simple as when the microwaves hits the back of the chamber it provides a little punch/kick which create the motion.
Comment icon #22 Posted by CBbeachbum 7 years ago
Chances are, it' s already in prototype...by the time WE know that it's in production, it will have already been in use for 40 years.
Comment icon #23 Posted by Saitung 7 years ago
Maybe it's time to rewrite our concepts of the laws of physics! So true paperdyer, We must first stop calling them laws, as that title asserts that we have the answers to every aspect of physics, when we clearly do not.
Comment icon #24 Posted by Codenwarra 7 years ago
Question is whether it works at all.


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