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New Tests Suggest NASA's 'Impossible' EmDrive Space Thruster Doesn't Work Like It Should

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The so-called “impossible” EmDrive created quite the buzz about two years ago, as it promised to be an unusual, yet effective way of facilitating space travel. It was one that didn’t involve, in any way, shape, or form, the use of fuel. However, it would seem that NASA’s potential miracle solution doesn’t quite work as the space agency had hoped, following a series of independent tests on a supposedly identical space thruster.

The idea behind the EmDrive was first thought up a little more than a decade ago and, as BGR noted, the propulsion system is designed to push microwaves out of a metal cone, thereby producing thrust and theoretically allowing spacecraft to make long trips to other planets without the need for fuel. It was late in 2016 when a “maverick” team of researchers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center published evidence claiming that the thruster does work in experiments. But that might not be the case after all, according to new research from Germany that involves a virtually identical thruster to NASA’s “impossible” EmDrive.

A report from National Geographicquoted statements made by the researchers behind the new study, as they explained at a recent space propulsion expo that the EmDrive does not actually produce thrust. Instead, electromagnetic interaction might be the source of the thrust, which essentially means the EmDrive won’t be able to propel spacecraft without requiring some fuel.

That same report also looked at the methodologies used by the German researchers, who tested their version of the EmDrive in a vacuum chamber that was outfitted with several sensors and “automated gizmos.” This allowed the team to tweak the settings for different sources of thrust, and as it turned out, the test version of the drive wasn’t able to produce thrust when exposed to Earth’s magnetic field.

Interestingly, the test EmDrive was still able to produce thrust when the researchers reduced the presence of microwaves by damping the power. That might sound like good news, but National Geographic wrote that the finding went against what NASA’s team had published when it first claimed that the “impossible” EmDrive does work in tests – the thrust had most likely been caused by Earth’s magnetic field interacting with the vacuum chamber’s power cables.

Even with that as the most likely explanation, the publication noted that the recent tests did not make use of a special shield made up of “mu metals,” which would have protected the EmDrive from the aforementioned magnetic field interactions. As this shield wasn’t used in NASA’s original tests either, that could mean the test results from 2016 were a false positive due to leaking magnetic fields. However, all that might not be enough for the EmDrive to be truly dismissed as an “impossible” solution, according to California State University, Fullerton researcher Jim Woodward, who told National Geographic that the German researchers also used very low power levels, which could cause actual signals to be drowned out by “noise from spurious sources.”

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