The controversial EmDrive may be one step closer to reality: A NASA insider has claimed that a peer-reviewed journal just accepted a paper from the space agency’s Advanced Propulsion Physics Research team, Eagleworks Laboratories. If the rumor is true and the paper positive, physics would need a dramatic facelift, as the theory behind the EmDrive — thrust and propulsion without propellant consumption — violates the law of conservation of momentum.
A little background for the unfamiliar: About 15 years ago, a man named Roger Shawyer dreamt up a radio-frequency resonant cavity thruster — an electromagnetic thruster nicknamed the EmDrive. It’s similar to the Star Trek warp drive only insofar as it could expedite interstellar travel: A rocket that did not rely on propellant would be far lighter, and could travel farther and faster than any propellant-based engine. Ever since Shawyer floated the idea, it’s been laughed out of the room as hocus-pocus science-fiction bogus. (Propulsion without a propellant? Ha! Newton is rolling in his grave.) Some corners of the internet, however, are convinced both that the EmDrive is feasible and that its completion will bring about the age of interstellar travel.
For the past few years, various rumors of this sort have turned up around the internet. Each time news breaks about an EmDrive advance, scientists worldwide collectively sigh. Only papers published in peer-reviewed journals are legitimate, testable, and reproducible, so only those papers will be respected. Neither EmDrive theory nor EmDrive results had been so published, which only added to the scorn. In March, rumors circulated on NASASpaceflight.com forums that Eagleworks had submitted a paper for peer review. On Friday, Dr. José Rodal claimed — again on the NASASpaceflight.com forums — that at long last, a peer-reviewed journal was publishing an Eagleworks paper. Here’s Rodal:
It is my understanding that Eaglework’s [sic] new paper has been today accepted for publication in a peer-review journal, where it will be published. I expect that Eagleworks should receive notification momentarily (it should be in the mail). Note: I have not heard this from anybody employed by NASA.
If the rumor turns out to be true, it could mean that Eagleworks was able to build a functional EmDrive. It could also mean that Eagleworks failed to build a functional EmDrive, and so publicly admitted defeat.
Inverse has reached out to the apparent publishing journal, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Journal of Propulsion and Power, but has not yet received confirmation.
Here’s Shawyer explaining how he thinks the EmDrive would work in 2015. There’s been some controversy around his statements.
And here’s the 2011 paper that sets up the Eagleworks project: