The so-called electromagnetic (EM) drive, which is loosely connected to NASA, is a hypothetical form of spacefaring propulsion that uses microwaves in a small chamber in order to produce thrust. Some in the media have mischievously claimed that this drive will actually be able to reach speeds wherein it will warp space and time around it.
So, has NASA really invented a warp drive? No, of course it hasn’t – but that won’t stop it being peer reviewed, according to a comment made by one of its chief architects on the NASA Spaceflight forum last week. Among all the cloak-and-dagger mystery surrounding the EM drive, a study written about it may have been sent out to a journal for some rigorous scientific examination.
There’s been a lot of controversy surrounding this drive. Back in 2011, NASA announced that they were implementing an advanced propulsion physics laboratory. Colloquially known as “Eagleworks,” it was designed to look into the possibilities of constructing systems capable of sending humans to the furthest, deepest, darkest regions of space.
One of the projects to emerge from this is the EM drive. The NASA-based group claimed there was a way to use microwaves to fire a craft through space without needing a heavy propellant. Not only does this mechanism appear to upend certain physical laws, but additional claims were made all across the wilderness of the Internet that during the testing of the drive, the researchers noticed that the fabric of space was being warped around it – hence, the “warp drive.” NASA, perturbed by all these rumors, actually came out and said that they’re not working on a warp drive.
The laws of physics are notoriously hard to break. Markus Gann/Shutterstock
Generating thrust without a propellant breaks the law of the conservation of momentum; with no pushback by any sort of propellant, you can’t get thrust. Claiming you can is like saying you can get to the Moon by just sitting in a tin can and leaning against the front end of it from the inside – believe it or not, this won’t work. So how on Earth this mechanism could hope to generate faster-than-light travel, then, is anyone's guess.
Nevertheless, Paul March, one of the Eagleworks researchers, recently claimed that they have still somehow developed a propellant-lacking thrust system in a space-like vacuum. Unfortunately, there weren’t any peer reviewed studies to back this up, and to date, there has been absolutely no confirmation that the EM drive has broken the laws of physics.
However, responding to a thread discussing the fate of Eagleworks and the EM drive, March told NASA Spaceflight forum users to “please have patience about when our next EM paper is going to be published.” He then noted that “peer reviews are glacially slow,” which could imply that one of their papers is currently undergoing the peer review process.
Without any additional information, it’s completely uncertain as to what Eagleworks researchers may or may not have been discovered, and what may be described in this EM drive study. Watch this space, but as always, remain skeptical – it’s not easy to generate thrust without a propellant or break the speed of light, after all.