Over the holidays many important stories emerged, and I hope to be covering them this week prior to New Year's, but one of those stories was China's announcement that it has already been testing the so-called EM drive in space. This story was shared by many regular readers here, but here are two versions, and they both come with a lot of caveats:
Let's look at the caveats for a moment, as expressed by Fiona MacDonald in the second article's opening five paragraphs:
The whole world got excited last month when NASA published the first peer-reviewed paper on the 'impossible' electromagnetic, or EM, Drive, which appears to somehow defy physics by producing thrust without a propellant.
Their verdict was that it seems to work, although a lot of physicists still think the results are flawed. But now researchers in China have announced that they've already been testing the controversial drive in low-Earth orbit, and they're looking into using the EM Drive to power their satellites as soon as possible.
Big disclaimer here - all we have to go on right now is a press conference announcement and an article from a government-sponsored Chinese newspaper (and the country doesn't have the best track record when it comes to trustworthy research).
So until we see a peer-reviewed paper, we really can't say for sure whether the researchers are even testing the drive in space, let alone what their results have shown.
But what the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) team is saying also corresponds with information provided to IB Times from an anonymous source. According to their informant, China already has an EM Drive on board its version of the International Space Station, the space laboratory Tiangong-2.
Lack of published data or "peer review" notwithstanding, it stretches my credulity to believe that China would not investigate an EM drive, nor attempt to do so as quickly as possible in space. A little over a half a century ago, then Senate Democratic Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson stated it best when he said that whoever holds the strategic high ground, by which he meant space, wins. It was a geopolitical maxim he was well aware of and unfailingly pursued both as a Senator, then Vice President and finally President. The Russians understood this (and still do), and the Chinese, by their announcements of various goals for their space program, clearly do as well.
As such, any technology that promises to give an advantage to any space power will, perforce, be investigated by them. What is interesting is the claims - still repeated - that the EM drive somehow either violates the principles of physics, or operates on as yet unknown principles. We'll get back to that claim in a moment. What intrigues is that both articles mention that the Chinese have apparently zeroed in on the geometry of the cavity itself, testing various shapes and dimensions to see if these improve or impede the efficiency of the device; as Iian Thomson notes in the first article:
China is trying out different shapes for the reaction chamber of the drive to see which generates the most thrust. It's clear that the country is taking the EM Drive seriously and wants to get one operational as soon as possible.
"This technology is currently in the latter stages of the proof-of-principle phase, with the goal of making the technology available in satellite engineering as quickly as possible," said Li Feng, chief architect of the China National Space Technology Institute's communications satellite division, at the press conference.
The EM drive, according to its inventor, British engineer Roger Sawyer, maintains the physics is completely known; all he did was to apply it:
(For the record, it should be noted that like many, Mr. Sawyer gives an incorrect version of Einstein's famous equation, E=mc^2, whereas in reality, Einstein expressed the mass component as a Mass Difference, M, and not simply mass, m, and therefore the correct version is E=Mc^2).
In any case, the real question becomes rather why the device is continually said be be operating either in contradiction to known physics or operating by unknown principles. Correlative with this question, is the question of why NASA seems to be dragging their feet if, indeed, China is pressing ahead? One answer is that perhaps NASA has already been quietly and secretly testing the device in space. In this respect it is worth recalling that Dr. Paul LaViolette, in his seminal work Secrets of Anti-Gravity Propulsion, mentioned 1950s tests of NASA and the US Air Force testing microwave propulsion systems, and according to one anecdotal story that he relates, these experiments were successful. The other possibility is that NASA, like China, has actually been paying attention to what Mr. Sawyer said about his own device, which clearly emphasizes the cavity shape or geometry itself as a function of the device's thrust.
So what's the bottom line here? What's the speculation of the day?
This is where it gets interesting. The EM drive is a publicly known technology, one not relying on standard chemical rockets. Mr. Sawyer clearly perceived his invention as a means of satellite propulsion, and China clearly does as well, and the implications cannot be lost on other space agencies, for note in Mr. Sawyer's presentation, the EM drive has been tested at various universities. What this signals is that there is already a quiet new space race shaping up, one concentrating on very different types of propulsion technologies than we've become accustomed to so far, i.e., chemical rockets. As I've said many times, all the talk about mining asteroids and so on using chemical rockets simply isn't very "cost efficient," and some other means has to be found to do so.
What all this boils down to is simply this: we've seen various private space corporations become reality in the past few years, developing their own chemical rocket booster systems and launch facilities. But watch for these corporations to begin making announcements (a few have already done so in tentative fashion) that they are establishing their own private corporate "exotic propulsion" departments of research. One might expect some of them to pick up on DARPA's stated goal of making the USA "warp capable" in a century, and begin their own proof of concept experiments in Dr. Harold "Sonny" White's warp drive theories.
And when can we expect all this to be announced?
I suspect we will see more of these types of announcements in the coming year.
See you on the flip side...