NASA’s experimental, allegedly impossible reactionless drive has finally passed academic peer review, and physicist Scott Manley explained how the drive could work and why there’s reason to be skeptical of it.
Researchers recently published a study verifying the drive’s existence in the journal of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, which is one of the world’s largest technical societies dedicated to aerospace innovations. The EmDrive is extremely contentious since it allegedly uses exotic physics to violate Newton’s Third Law and the law of conservation of momentum.
“The idea is that it would generate thrust purely from electricity, no reaction mass needed,” Manley, who operates a popular science channel on Youtube, said in a recent video. “[This] would of course be fantastic for spacecraft, it would mean that you wouldn’t have to carry around that very heavy reaction mass. Its [sic] not so good for people who like physics, as it does kinda break the laws of physics.”
Manley is a skeptic of the EmDrive and says that NASA hasn’t yet proven that it works, but claims he’s willing to be persuaded and the paper’s passage through peer review is a good first step. Manley suspects that it is “highly likely” that the anomolous thrust detected in experiments is the result of an unknown expertimental error.
“At this stage, it is little more than a curioristy,” Manley stated. “I don’t believe its going to change the laws of physics, but obviously I’m a skeptic … If they do fly in space and do generate thrust, nobody would be more pleased than me. It would not only mean that everything I learned was wrong but it would actually mean we could fly spaceships around and stuff like that.”
Manley notes that media outlets have overly hyped the possibilities of the EmDrive, as it would only be better than conventional rocketry for extremly long missions, but notes that the experimental drive was “literally built in a dining room.”
Believers in the EmDrive claim that the drive generates thrust through radiation pressure. The EmDrive first gained prominence after NASA’s secretive Eagleworks lab published a non peer-reviewed technical report attesting it generated a small amount of thrust by an unknown mechanism. All three attempts to replicate the drive’s thrust results were successful, but the amounts of thrust generated were relatively low and could have been the result of experimental error.
“People all around the world have been measuring thrust. You’ve got guys building them in their garages and very large organisations building cavities too,” Roger Shawyer, the British scientist who first proposed the concept of EmDrive in 1999, told International Business Times. “They’re all generating thrust, there’s no great mystery. People think it’s black magic or something, but it’s not. Any physicist worth his salt should understand how it works, or if they don’t, they should change their profession.”
If successful, the device could make it much cheaper to move satellites and spacecraft around in space as well as have numerous terrestrial applications.
NASA is not ready to officially confirm test results. The development of EmDrive was funded by the British government and licenced by aerospace manufacturing giant Boeing. Testing of the EmDrive has been plagued by experimental design issues and repeated delays.
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