Quantum drive that draws 'limitless power' from Sun will fly to orbit this year

IVO Ltd. believes its new 'Quantum Drive' defies the laws of motion, and it aims to put it to the test by sending it to orbit on a SpaceX rocket.
Chris Young
An artist's impression of a satellite.
An artist's impression of a satellite.

Love Employee / iStock 

US company IVO Ltd., a wireless power technology firm, is set to send an all-electric propulsion system for satellites to space for the first time in October.

The IVO Quantum Drive system was due to launch atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket as part of the rideshare mission Transporter 8 in June. However, delays in developing the company's prototype led IVO to opt for sending their technology to space aboard SpaceX's Transporter 9 later this year.

If it lives up to IVO's expectations, the Quantum Drive could rewrite critical principles of physics that have been a cornerstone for the space industry since its inception.

Defying Newton's laws of motion

IVO Ltd., founded in 2017, has been developing a pure electric thrust system for spacecraft, partly in a bid to tackle the space industry's massive carbon footprint.

Their Quantum Drive builds on the idea of Quantized Inertia (QI) proposed by physicist Mike McCulloch, a professor at the University of Plymouth.

On his website, McCulloch writes that Isaac Newton's First Law of Motion, which defines inertia by stating "objects move in straight lines at constant speed unless pushed on," doesn't fully describe what inertia is.

McCulloch devised his QI theory to explain the true nature of inertia via the strange properties of quantum mechanics. His theory has been widely criticized, with some physicists stating his proposal defies the laws of motion set out by Newton.

These laws of motion have been precious to the space and rocket industry, but that hasn't deterred IVO. The company has built its Quantum Drive based on principles from McCulloch's QI theory, and the company says it has managed to generate thrust in laboratory tests.

IVO claims its Quantum Drive produced thrust in lab tests

This means that, in October, we will see the first real-world test of the QI theory in space, and conventional physics may be on the line. Critics of the theory will likely feel there isn't much to be worried about, but IVO founder and CEO Richard Mansell feels it could be a watershed moment.

In an interview with The Debrief, Mansell explained that IVO performed 100 hours of vacuum chamber testing, during which their Quantum Drive consistently produced a small amount of thrust (roughly 10 millinewtons) consistent with McCulloch's QI theory.

During their tests, they aimed to ensure that the force wasn't coming from any other aspect of their drive, like electrostatic forces.

"We got to the point where our third-party inspectors said, at this point, there's nothing we can do to debug what you're doing,” Mansell told The Debrief. "It’s just got to go to space. It’s really got to go to space."

IVO believes that its Quantum Drive could eventually produce up to 52 millinewtons (mN) of thrust from a single watt of electricity. In a press statement in March, the company said it would draw "limitless power for propulsion from the Sun", meaning it could remove the need for satellites to deorbit at all.