NASA gives a thrilling thumbs-up to microwave space drive

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Aug 2, 2014, 1:52 PM EDT (Updated)

The seemingly "impossible" space drive known as the propellant-less microwave thruster just took a huge leap toward reality, as NASA has given its sterling seal of approval to the technology after successful test results were presented this week.  U.S. scientist Guido Fetta delivered his data on July 30 at the 50th Joint Propulsion Conference in Cleveland, Ohio, and the reception was a sunny departure from the skeptical attitudes toward the controversial technology in the past. Despite the relatively low profile of the announcement, make no mistake that this couldn't be pretty huge, as a propellant-less drive could dramatically cut the cost of space flight. 

One of the first proponents of this revolutionary propulsion system was British scientist Robert Shawyer, whose EmDrive converts electric power to thrust by bouncing microwaves around in a closed container.  The concept was duplicated last year by a Chinese team, whose microwave thruster produced a minor 72 grams of thrust, sufficient for small satellite orbital thrusters using solar power for the electrical element.  While operating on a slightly different design than Shawyer's EmDrive, Fetta has named his invention the "Cannae Drive," after the famous Battle of Cannae in 216 B.C., where Hannibal was victorious over a much larger Roman army.

Scientists at NASA's Johnson Space Center have validated the drive's feasibility in a report titled Anomalous Thrust Production From an RF Test Device Measured on a Low-Thrust Torsion Pendulum.   Here's an excerpt from their conclusion:

"Test results indicate that the RF resonant cavity thruster design, which is unique as an electric propulsion device, is producing a force that is not attributable to any classical electromagnetic phenomenon and therefore is potentially demonstrating an interaction with the quantum vacuum virtual plasma.  This paper will not address the physics of the quantum vacuum plasma thruster, but instead will describe the test integration, test operations, and the results obtained from the test campaign."

Fetta and NASA are both working on several hush-hush projects surrounding these microwave thrusters, and their development and eventual implementation could drastically reduced the cost of satellite missions, space station construction and deep-space travel.

(Via Wired UK)