Evaluating NASA’s Futuristic EM Drive (updated)

UPDATE: Wired’s Katie M. Palmer has weighed in, explaining in very clear terms why this project is pure fantasy. I’m still a dreamer, and thoughts of hard-to-explain advancements still get my heart racing… but in the end, it’s about the science, and dreaming alone isn’t enough to get us to the stars:

The reason the Eagleworks lab presents results in unrefereed conference proceedings and Internet posts, according to Eric Davis, a physicist at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Austin, is that no peer-reviewed journals will publish their papers. Even arXiv, the open-access pre-print server physicists default to, has reportedly turned away Eagleworks results.

Why the cold shoulder? Either flawed results or flawed theory. Eagleworks’ results so far are very close to the threshold of detection—which is to say, barely perceptible by their machinery. That makes it more likely that their findings are a result of instrument error, and their thrust measurements don’t scale up with microwave input as you might expect. Plus, the physics and math behind each of their claims is either flawed or just… nonexistent.

I am humbly chastened. Now, here’s my original post:

Has NASA built an engine that could get us from Earth to the surface of the moon within four hours? From Earth to Mars in 70 days? How about a trip from Earth to Alpha Centauri in just 92 years?

Such feats may become achievable using electromagnetic propulsion drives now being tested at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, related to similar ongoing experiments in the UK and China.

According to researchers, “a one-way, non-decelerating trip to Alpha Centauri under a constant one milli-g acceleration” from an EM drive would result in an arrival speed of 9.4 percent the speed of light.

The concept of an EM Drive as put forth by SPR was that electromagnetic microwave cavities might provide for the direct conversion of electrical energy to thrust without the need to expel any propellant.

This lack of expulsion of propellant from the drive was met with initial skepticism within the scientific community because this lack of propellant expulsion would leave nothing to balance the change in the spacecraft’s momentum if it were able to accelerate.

But:

Paul March, an engineer at NASA Eagleworks, recently reported in NASASpaceFlight.com’s forum (on a thread now over 500,000 views) that NASA has successfully tested their EM Drive in a hard vacuum – the first time any organization has reported such a successful test

And:

A community of enthusiasts, engineers, and scientists on several continents joined forces on the NASASpaceflight.com EM Drive forum to thoroughly examine the experiments and discuss theories of operation of the EM Drive.

The quality of forum discussions attracted the attention of EagleWorks team member Paul March at NASA, who has shared testing and background information with the group in order to fill in information gaps and further the dialogue.

This synergy between NASASpaceflight.com contributors and NASA has resulted in several contributions to the body of knowledge about the EM Drive.

It’s pretty inspiring that enthusiasts and scientists have been working together in bulletin boards to further science.

So, now, what are the roadblocks to bringing such a thing to production? It’s not power — the technology to power such engines already exists. No, a lot of it comes down to funding. And the forums have already lit up with Kickstarter-like schemes to get these development teams the funding they need.

This story is still very much in development, but you can follow the story as it unfolded in the cited forum here:

Topic: EM Drive Developments – related to space flight applications – Thread 2

And the newly-opened forum discussing this press release is here:

Topic: FEATURE ARTICLE: Evaluating NASA’s Futuristic EM Drive

P.S. Tell me this doesn’t set your brain on fire:

The ultimate goal is to find out whether it is possible for a spacecraft traveling at conventional speeds to achieve effective superluminal speed by contracting space in front of it and expanding space behind it.  The experimental results so far had been inconclusive.