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Space & Astronomy

New tests cast doubt on 'impossible' EmDrive

By T.K. Randall
May 24, 2018 · Comment icon 31 comments

EmDrive may not be all it's cracked up to be. Image Credit: NASA
Researchers in Germany may have found an explanation for the thrust produced by the controversial drive.
Despite being branded as 'impossible' by most scientists, NASA's electromagnetic propulsion engine has been attracting a lot of interest in recent years as a possible successor to the chemical engines traditionally used in deep space probes and other spacecraft.

First developed back in 2001 by aerospace engineer Roger Shawyer, 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.

Test results obtained by NASA's own Eagleworks advanced-propulsion lab have proven encouraging, however the exact mechanism responsible for producing the thrust has proven elusive.
Now though, German scientists who have built and tested their own EmDrive in a vacuum chamber have come to the conclusion that this apparent thrust is actually illusory.

Their analysis has indicated that the readings are most likely the result of 'electromagnetic interaction' between the device's power cable and the Earth's magnetic field.

While their findings don't completely rule out EmDrive as a viable propulsion system, it does cast doubt on whether it is really quite as revolutionary as people have been making out.

Source: | Comments (31)

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #22 Posted by paperdyer 5 years ago
Trekkers if you please!
Comment icon #23 Posted by paperdyer 5 years ago
I'm not saying the Germans are wrong, but like the Swiss, if it's not invented here, it's wrong! I've had too many of my ideas pooh-poohed over the years only to show as a claim in their patents later.
Comment icon #24 Posted by bison 5 years ago
The scientific community in China evidently deemed testing the em drive in space a worthwhile project.
Comment icon #25 Posted by pallidin 5 years ago
Now don't get uneccessarilly testy, Waspie... geeze. I know the lab was a controlled environment, but I said a more controlled environment; refining the controls from what was learned or speculated. That's a valid comment. There is nothing wrong with what I had said.
Comment icon #26 Posted by Tom the Photon 5 years ago
Much as I hate to agree with Waspie, this time he’s absolutely correct. Some things are potentially possible, which is why the jury’s out on many issues like dark matter, multiverses, God, etc.  There’s no real harm in thinking about such ideas, even if little is to be gained from them. Other things in science are simply not possible.  Perpetual motion machines do not exist.  Stone pyramids do not channel energy from distant stars.  Star patterns in the night sky do not determine our fates.  An EM drive cannot work, as the idea violates conservation of momentum – a fundamental principle of the... [More]
Comment icon #27 Posted by Tom the Photon 5 years ago
I totally agree with you: there's a lot of supercilious posting, pseudo-intellectual meanderings and pompous put-downs here.  There are a handful of cabals who cheer each other on, voting up even the most banal messages, revelling in their supposed intelligence and superiority.  I hope I don't come across like that - I always try to explain my contributions as carefully as possible. But this topic isn't unexplained.  It's basic physics which is easy to understand (see my previous post).  Let's save our dreams and imaginations for the huge number of currently unexplainable topics still out ther... [More]
Comment icon #28 Posted by bison 5 years ago
It's difficult to know what to make of the EM drive at this point. Even this latest refutation of its working is somewhat tentative. They propose to refine their test apparatus before firmly concluding that there is no unexplained directional force. I agree that the laws of motion are very unlikely to be breakable. It occurs to me, though, that some unconsidered physical mechanism may be at work. Dr. Harold White, at NASA has discerned that a simple electrical charge may be able to warp space slightly. It's not inconceivable that some variant of this proposed electrical interaction with space-... [More]
Comment icon #29 Posted by Tom the Photon 5 years ago
Powered, sustained flight doesn't break any laws of physics!  It was just a matter of building engines light and powerful enough to achieve the speed to generate enough lift to overcome the weight of those engines plus wings and a load.    Dr White's work requires the existence of an entirely new form of matter that has never been detected.  This matter must have exactly the right properties to warp space-time around itself, notably it must have negative mass.  (This is totally different to antimatter which has positive mass but opposite charge.)  So much of the research and thinking in this f... [More]
Comment icon #30 Posted by bison 5 years ago
Lord Kelvin declared in 1895 that heavier than air flying machines were 'impossible'.  Being a very good physicist, he surely based that pronouncement on the laws of physics, as they were understood at that time. Note that he didn't say they were unworkable given current technical limitations. His statement is an unqualified 'impossible'. Eight years later, the Wright brothers performed the impossible. Dr. White assures us that his test apparatus contains no exotic matter. He has explained why he believes that a simple electrical charge, contained in a ring of capacitors, may be able to warp s... [More]
Comment icon #31 Posted by Tom the Photon 5 years ago
Didn't Kelvin also famously state words to the extent that "there is nothing more to be discovered in science" weeks before X-rays and radioactivity were discovered? Thanks for the update on Dr White - I'll make time to read his work in depth and won't comment again unless I think I understand it.

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