Aside from SpaceX rocket explosions and the apocalyptic ninth planet, Nibiru, one of the biggest space news stories this year has been the mind-bending and controversial “EM Drive” engine currently being tested by several space agencies. The seemingly physics-defying engine was dreamed up decades ago but has only recently been put through prototype production and testing. The engine works through manipulating some of the laws of physics, creating thrust where there shouldn’t be thrust by bouncing electromagnetic radiation off of the inside of a closed body. Sorry, Newton, it seems your laws of physics weren’t so infallible after all.
Earlier this year, the EM Drive patent was made public and a preprint academic publication about the engine passed peer review. Still, critics and skeptics alike weren’t convinced that the engine would actually work under actual flight conditions. Hopefully (for those of us dreaming of mankind’s future among the stars, that is) that skepticism could be put to rest by a leaked NASA document that purportedly proves the thrust-generating capabilities of the science-fiction-esque EM Drive.
The paper was reportedly leaked onto a NASA spaceflight technology forum by a user named “The Traveller.” The leaked paper is slated for December publication in the journal of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), so the forum’s NASA moderators quickly deleted the post - but not before tech news outlet Next Big Future ran the story. According to the data in the paper, the EM Drive was able to generate 1.2 millinewtons per kilowatt (mN/Kw) of thrust, far below what conventional liquid propellant thrusters can generate. However, given that any spacecraft powered by the EM Drive won’t need to carry immense loads of heavy liquid fuel, the low amounts of thrust might be offset by the weight savings.
While this purported leak seems to suggest the EM Drive might actually work, it will no doubt take years’ worth of testing before it could actually be used in spaceflight. Still, this “leak” should give us hope that despite the fear mongering of the news cycle and apocalyptic doom-and-gloom surrounding current events, we’re at least reaching for the stars as best we can.