One of the biggest hurdles to interplanetary space travel has always been fuel: how can you possibly carry enough to get you to the outer reaches of the solar system? Well, the fuel-conscious scientists at NASA may have cause to celebrate. Their colleagues at the Johnson Space Center recently tested an electromagnetic (EM) propulsion drive, which could replace traditional propellant during space travel. Although EM Drives have been tested in the past, the folks at Johnson were the first to conduct such trials under similar conditions found in space-in a vacuum.
It was long-believed that EM Drives worked great in theory, but could not overcome certain fundamental principles of physics to be applied in the real world. That all changed last summer when a team of advanced propulsion researchers from NASA EagleWorks, led by Harold "Sonny" White, presented their findings at a conference in Cleveland, Ohio. And the key to their success lay in the Quantum Vacuum.
The practical application of EM Drives to spaceflight (and more specifically, space stations) was brought one step closer to reality in 2010 by Professor Juan Yang in China, whose research showed that such drives may provide the necessary power to enable the International Space Station to function without the need for energy re-boosts from visiting vehicles. The only problem was overcoming the complex physics of propulsion in space. That's where White's team stepped in.
By performing the tests in a vacuum, White's team was able to show that the thrust produced by EM Drives elucidated by Professor Yang's research could actually work within the extraordinary environment of space, eliminating the need for propellant, thereby extending the boundaries of space travel. What's more, the technologies required for EM Drives are already in use on high-power communication satellites.
Amidst lively scientific chatter on NASASpaceFlight.com's EM Drive forum, the results of EagleWorks' research have been vetted by scientists, engineers, and enthusiasts from around the globe. And so far, they've stood up to their intensive scrutiny.
And how might EM Drives facilitate future space flight? If all goes as planned, EM Drives could revolutionize interplanetary travel. Craving adventure? How about a 9-month expedition to Saturn? Looking for something a little closer to home? How about a 70-day excursion to Mars? And for those who abhor a long flight, with EM Drive propulsion the moon is only four short hours away.