An Experiment is Testing a Type of Engine That Could Propel Spacecraft Without Fuel

The EmDrive is a hypothetical, and somewhat controversial, type of engine that would break the laws of physics.
Chris Young

Scientists have been debating the feasibility of the EmDrive — a hypothetical engine model that could achieve propulsion without fuel — for close to 20 years.

A functioning EmDrive is, of course, not a likely proposition — it would need to break the laws of physics to work. And yet, a team of German physicists has gathered to carry out a new experiment testing the Em Drive hypothesis. 

They are undergoing what is likely to be a futile task as a working model would, of course, be a world-changing proposition. 


A fuel-free propulsion experiment

As the German research team would need to break a specific law of physics — conservation of momentum — to create such an engine, not many are expecting results.

However, the team says that one of their motivations for taking on the experiment was to finally put an end to the debate surrounding the engine theory.

A noughties theory

British scientist Roger Shawyer proposed the idea of generating thrust by pumping microwaves into a conical chamber in 2001. The microwaves would, theoretically, bounce off the chamber walls, creating enough propulsion to power a spacecraft.

Some researchers do claim to has generated thrust in EmDrive experiments. However, the amount was so low that it was almost negligible. So much so, that detractors believe the thrust may have even been caused by outside influences, such as seismic vibrations, or the Earth's magnetic field.

Isolating external interference

In order to test the theory and clear up the controversy, the team of physicists from Technische University has built a sensitive new tool that they claim is immune to the outside interference that has hampered other studies.

The team plans to publish the latest results of their EmDrive experiment in the Acta Austronatica journal in August. According to a Wired interview, they claim they may be just a few months away from settling the endless debate on endless propulsion engines once and for all.

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