The EmDrive — an “impossible” propulsion technology due to the fact that it defies the laws of physics — has been in something of technological purgatory for decades.

NASA scientists have purportedly been trying to make the EmDrive a reality, but China now claims to have beaten NASA and pulled off successful testing of the EmDrive on Earth. Furthermore, China’s space agency is also saying it is currently testing the EmDrive out in space aboard its Tiangong-2 space station.

What is the EmDrive?

The EmDrive, short for Electromagnetic Drive, is basically a proposed technology that uses an electromagnetic radiation in a microwave cavity to propel a spacecraft forward. Such a technology could allow a vehicle to accelerate through space without propellant and jet off at unbelievable speeds. Imagine making it to Pluto within 18 months, as opposed to current time of 12 years.

But the EmDrive has been long said to be “impossible” because it violates the conservation of momentum. But if there’s ever a time to invent something that breaks the laws of physics, it’s now.

The Long March-2F rocket carrying China's manned Shenzhou-10 spacecraft blasts off from launch pad at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on June 11, 2013 in Jiuquan, Gansu Province of China.

Which brings us to China’s announcement. Chen Yue, the director of the commercial satellite technology program at the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), held a press conference to confirm the government had been providing CAST funds to build and test a prototype of the EmDrive. He claimed the research group had successfully tested the EmDrive in lab settings on the ground, and was currently moving forward with testing in orbit.

There are, of course, reasons to be skeptical. China’s record of dubious science is long — and that’s particularly true for the kinds of space technologies the country shows off every few months.

An Iron Man-like spacebot and satellite repair system that seem be going nowhere — and those are just two examples.

Still, this news is hot off the heels of the revelation that NASA scientists are about to publish a new research paper on the EmDrive. If NASA indeed has cracked open the case of the mythical EmDrive, there’s little reason to believe China couldn’t do so.

Photos via Getty Images / VCG, Flickr / Łukasz Strachanowski