from the invisible-light dept.
A new peer-reviewed paper (open, DOI: 10.1063/1.4953807) on the EmDrive from Finland states that the controversial electromagnetic space propulsion technology does work due to microwaves fed into the device converting into photons that leak out of the closed cavity, producing an exhaust.
So how could something come out that you can't detect? Well, the photons bounce back and forth inside the metal cavity, and some of them end up going together in the same direction with the same speed, but they are 180 degrees out of phase. Invariably, when travelling together in this out-of-phase configuration, they cancel each other's electromagnetic field out completely.
That's the same as water waves travelling together so that the crest of one wave is exactly at the trough of the other and cancelling each other out. The water does not go away, it's still there, in the same way the pairs of photons are still there and carrying momentum even though you can't see them as light.
If you don't have electromagnetic properties on the waves as they have cancelled each other out, then they don't reflect from the cavity walls anymore. Instead they leak out of the cavity. So we have an exhaust – the photons are leaking out pair-wise.
After months of speculation and leaked documents, NASA's long-awaited EM Drive paper has finally been peer-reviewed and published [open, DOI: 10.2514/1.B36120] [DX]. And it shows that the 'impossible' propulsion system really does appear to work. The NASA Eagleworks Laboratory team even put forward a hypothesis for how the EM Drive could produce thrust – something that seems impossible according to our current understanding of the laws of physics.
In case you've missed the hype, the EM Drive, or Electromagnetic Drive, is a propulsion system first proposed by British inventor Roger Shawyer back in 1999. Instead of using heavy, inefficient rocket fuel, it bounces microwaves back and forth inside a cone-shaped metal cavity to generate thrust. According to Shawyer's calculations, the EM Drive could be so efficient that it could power us to Mars in just 70 days.
takyon: Some have previously dismissed EmDrive as a photon rocket. This is addressed in the paper along with other possible sources of error:
The eighth [error:] photon rocket force, RF leakage from test article generating a net force due to photon emission. The performance of a photon rocket is several orders of magnitude lower than the observed thrust. Further, as noted in the above discussion on RF interaction, all leaking fields are managed closely to result in a high quality RF resonance system. This is not a viable source of the observed thrust.
[...] The 1.2 mN/kW performance parameter is over two orders of magnitude higher than other forms of "zero-propellant" propulsion, such as light sails, laser propulsion, and photon rockets having thrust-to-power levels in the 3.33–6.67 μN/kW (or 0.0033–0.0067 mN/kW) range.
Previously: NASA Validates "Impossible" Space Drive's Thrust
"Reactionless" Thruster Tested Again, This Time in a Vacuum
Explanation may be on the way for the "Impossible" EmDrive
Finnish Physicist Says EmDrive Device Does Have an Exhaust
EmDrive Peer-Reviewed Paper Coming in December; Theseus Planning a Cannae Thruster Cubesat
The man behind the disputed thruster technology EmDrive has published a presentation detailing the third generation of the device. Roger Shawyer envisions EmDrive 3.0 enabling personal flying vehicles and a "space elevator without cables":
[Although] the second generation of the EmDrive can theoretically produce 3 tonnes of thrust for 1 kilowatt of power, it isn't able to move very far, so it is only useful for marine applications or for diverting asteroids, like in the new CBS sci-fi TV drama Salvation.
Shawyer has long said that his aim for inventing the EmDrive was to help get satellites into space cheaply, to enable more applications and new ways for the human race to combat global warming and the energy crisis. Essentially, the EmDrive needs to be able to move and work as well as a conventional rocket, in order to be a viable solution.
To negate these shortfalls, Shawyer's firm Satellite Propulsion Research Ltd (SPR) has also been researching a third generation of the EmDrive, which solved the acceleration problem by reducing the specific thrust.
So instead of getting 3 tonnes of thrust for every kilowatt, substantially less thrust is produced – but it can be used to accelerate the device (more about this theory can be read in a paper Shawyer presented in Beijing in 2013).
Speaking of that TV show, Roger would like some credit please.
Previously: Finnish Physicist Says EmDrive Device Does Have an Exhaust
It's Official: NASA's Peer-Reviewed EmDrive Paper Has Finally Been Published
Space Race 2.0: China May Already be Testing an EmDrive in Orbit
Physicist Uses "Quantised Inertia" to Explain Both EmDrive and Galaxy Rotation