The Intertubes lit up last night with a reported successful test at NASA’s Johnson Space Center of an electromagnetic (EM) propulsion drive. The drive is said to operate by pushing against virtual particles, meaning that it requires no reaction mass be expelled from a rocket nozzle. For comparison, this is the equivalent of making your car go forward by pushing on the dashboard. In other words, it’s bullshit. The story was picked up by some mainstream media sites in Europe and will probably be all over the US sites today.
There is NASA, and then there is “NASA”. I know who NASA is: They are the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and they have a groovy *.gov website here.
Yet NASA does not seem to be the source of the story. Rather, the story comes from NASA Spaceflight.com. Who the fuck is NASA Spaceflight.com? I’m not really sure, but they appear to be just another internet forum. The story has been on CNET, Gizmodo, Huffington Post (UK) and will probably be in the mainstream US news tomorrow, and the source is … an internet … forum. Seriously, what is with these news rags like Huffington Post? Do they see “NASA Spaceflight” and think “Ah yeah! They must be legit: They have ‘NASA’ in their name and stuff!” If they’re gonna use internet forums as sources of news, why not shoot of the Moon and go to Above Top Secret or some crazy shit like that?
Granted, somewhere behind the glitter there is a grain of truth: There really are people at NASA playing around with this stuff. But it’s fringe as hell, the concept seems to break an awful lot of fundamental laws of physics, and — importantly — the thrust that has been observed from this engine is very very small. In other words, it is likely to be an artifact of something else and not actually thrust. This same EM engine was in the news many months back, and at the time it was suggested that the thrust was an artifact of air currents. What’s new here is that the latest test was in a vacuum, so atmospheric effects have been ruled out. There are still an awful lot of things that need to be ruled out before one jumps to the conclusion that Newton’s Laws can be thrown out the window. 😛
Update (May 4, 2015)
The magazine Popular Mechanics has chimed in on the latest news about this emDrive. See: You Still Shouldn’t Believe in the emDrive.