The EM Drive (Electromagnetic Drive) is probably one of the more annoying “breakthroughs” to be made in the last few years. Although it is potentially exciting, it cannot do half the things that some people have claimed it can.
It has not been confirmed to “actually work”. It cannot get us to Mars in 10 weeks. And it does not break the laws of physics as we know them.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s recap. The EM Drive is a hypothetical form of propulsion that uses microwaves in an enclosed chamber to create forward thrust. First proposed at the turn of the 21st Century, it received a huge amount of media attention earlier this year when some claimed that it could lead to propellant-less space travel.
Some erroneously claimed that it would also lead to “warp travel,” which resulted in NASA having to come out and say that they weren't working on a warp drive.
What it actually does is produce a tiny, tiny amount of thrust via a method that’s not entirely understood. Now, in new research presented at the Propulsion and Energy Forum and Exposition held by the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics yesterday, a team from the University of Dresden in Germany has explained its latest findings on the drive. They have not confirmed that it works, but rather, ruled out some factors that could be at play.
As Katie Palmer for Wired explains: “[They] don’t say that they’ve validated the drive – just that they can’t explain where their teeny tiny thrust signatures are coming from.”
One of the outlandish claims for the EM Drive is that it provides propellant-less propulsion but, again, this has never been proven. As the researchers explained in their paper: “Our test campaign can not confirm or refute the claims of the EM Drive but intends to independently assess possible side-effects in the measurements [sic] methods used so far.”
They add: “Nevertheless, we do observe thrusts close to the actual predictions after eliminating many possible error sources that should warrant further investigation into the phenomena.”
So, what does it all mean? It means that the EM Drive remains nothing more than a form of propulsion with a really low amount of thrust that scientists can’t completely explain. That won’t stop a host of places from telling you otherwise, though.
Just remember, if there’s no peer-reviewed research saying how it works (there isn’t) or experimental evidence of it producing high thrust (again, nope), then take everything with a hefty pinch of salt.