Is NASA's EmDrive the Key to Hyper-Fast Space Travel? Get Ready for Bad News!
The odds that we finally have a potentially world-altering spacecraft propulsion system are astronomically low. Here's why.
If humans intend to make interstellar space travel commonplace in the future, they’re going to need to invent a new kind of propulsion technology that can fire vehicles out to greater distances in shorter times. Easier said than done, of course. So far, we have a ton of ideas that sound incredible on paper, and farcical in real life.
Case in point: the EmDrive, a proposed electromagnetic thruster technology that propels a spacecraft forward through ambient microwave energy. A vehicle jetting through the vacuum of space could use the EmDrive to accelerate without an actual form of propellant (i.e. fuel). Not only would this be a faster way of getting around from planet to planet, but it would also eliminate any concerns about allocating space and weight to fuel storage.
It’s also batshit. Yes, if the EmDrive worked, we could start sending shit to Pluto in 18 months (as opposed to the current nine to 12 year timeframe). But unfortunately, the EmDrive doesn’t work under the current laws of physics — particularly the conservation of momentum (i.e., momentum does not change if there are no external forces acting on a given system).
Yet here we are — contending with yet another announcement that the dawn of the EmDrive is upon us. The latest rumor draws its hopes from a NASA Spaceflight forum post, where NASA engineer Paul March makes the claim that the EmDrive is currently under peer review:
“The Eagleworks Lab is NOT dead and we continue down the path set by our NASA management. Past that I can’t say more other than to listen to Dr. Rodal on this topic, and please have patience about when our next EW paper is going to be published. Peer reviews are glacially slow…”
Eagleworks is an experimental lab at Johnson Space Center. It was started with the express goal of exploring alternative propulsion technologies — and it’s found precisely bupkis.
Is there a chance the EmDrive actually works, and really is being peer reviewed as we speak? Sure, there’s a chance. But there’s also a chance you might be able to stop time, or even travel backwards in time. The EmDrive so bizarrely upends the laws of physics in normal situations that the only way this kind of technology could feasibly work is in some kind of phenomenal situation. If we want space travel to become the norm for the future, we have to start advancing ideas that make more sense than this.
That being said, March might simply be referring to a new finding or test that doesn’t necessarily prove the EmDrive works, but rather sets down another block that could help lead to a brand new propulsion mechanism. That would certainly be a welcome development. Let’s just cut down on the warp-drive hype a bit.