NASA Test a Law Defying Space Engine

Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Dubbed 'impossible' due to its contravention of the conservation of momentum, NASA has tested a space engine which employs a microwave thruster system requiring no propellent. The thruster named 'Cannae Drive' exploits subatomic quantum particles which are said to transfer in and out of existence.

NASA scientists have released an article (PDF) that outlines their test procedure and findings. They state that between 30-50 micro-Newtons (mN) of thrust via electrical propulsion was achieved by the thruster. An extremely sensitive low-thrust torsion pendulum, designed and built by Eagleworks Laboratories, was used to detect the force.

A US scientist, Guido Fetta, built his device called the Cannae Drive and then persuaded NASA to test it, with its law defying concept, in 2013.

The Cannae Drive container is designed in an uneven way to ensure that the microwaves are channeled from one end of the container to the other. This creates a radiation pressure difference causing exertion of thrust at the larger end of the container.

NASA carefully conclude their paper suggesting that the device creates a force which is "not attributable to any classical electromagnetic phenomenon", whilst also stating that the RF resonant cavity thruster is a unique electrical propulsion device. They now plan to conduct further tests to validate these findings.

To Infinity and Beyond!

The results of NASA's testing of the Cannae Drive have suggested that future advanced space travel may be possible. If equipped with solar panels, spacecraft could generate their own electricity to power the microwave thruster.

Using this method, satelites and similar orbiting objects can maintain the stability of their orbit around earth with very little cost and could potentially lead to interstellar travel.

The concept works using invisible particles that are created lasting for a very limited time. The particles are created by quantum vacuum fluctuations and are transformed into plasma which can then be expelled like a fuel would be to generate thrust.

These particles spontaneously appear inside the thruster without the requirement of a fuel injection system or collectors as with traditional engines.

Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Similar Concepts

The British scientist Roger Shawyer of SPR Ltd. designed and tested a similar thruster and attempted to gain the support of other scientists for his idea called EmDrive.

His claims that it could convert electrical power into thrust without a propellent or fuel were met by sceptical responses from the scientific community and so his idea failed to truly takeoff and reach its potential.

He stated that EmDrive bounced microwaves in an airtight container generating thrust. Critics rejected this theory, claiming that it does not conform with the law of conservation of momentum, and so could never work.

A Chinese team of researchers built and tested their own EmDrive system based on the work of Roger Shawyer in 2012 and managed to generate a much larger 720mN of thrust.

The amount of thrust recorded by the Chinese team is more than enough required to operate on a satelite.

To Boldly Go Where No Man Has Gone Before

Star Trek fans reading about these promising findings, will surely be salivating at the prospect of travelling to the depths of space and beyond.

While it is safe to say that this 'impossible' new space engine won't be launching anybody to Andromeda any time soon, it is most certainly a significant step towards the creation of spacecraft that could travel to Mars and beyond.


Alessandro Pirolini

Written by

Alessandro Pirolini

Alessandro has a BEng (hons) in Material Science and Technology, specialising in Magnetic Materials, from the University of Birmingham. After graduating, he completed a brief spell working for an aerosol manufacturer and then pursued his love for skiing by becoming a Ski Rep in the Italian Dolomites for 5 months. Upon his return to the UK, Alessandro decided to use his knowledge of Material Science to secure a position within the Editorial Team at AZoNetwork. When not at work, Alessandro is often at Chill Factore, out on his road bike or watching Juventus win consecutive Italian league titles.


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  1. KL Rajpal KL Rajpal India says:

    Quantum Physics
    Electron Spin
    Linear Polarization

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