NASA warp drive in the works, but don’t expect Star Trek-like results

30 Apr 2015

Without much brouhaha, NASA scientists revealed they have successfully tested its first electromagnetic (EM) propulsion drive in a vacuum, which could lead to the creation of an actual warp drive.

Given the vastness of space, the distances of light years between planets and galaxies effectively rules out humans travelling to them due to the limitations of our current chemical and solar propulsion systems, which is why the dream scenario is to create a type of propulsion that can achieve faster-than-light travel.

While the warp drive was made famous in the Star Trek franchise, don’t see it so much as a dream anymore, but one with actual promise based off its latest results, which, if true, would defy the laws of physics, specifically the law of conservation of momentum.

Until now, tests from across the world have all failed to meet the requirements of actual faster-than-light travel, or at least were not recognised by the wider scientific community.

Breaking the ‘shackles of the rocket’

Now, Paul March, an engineer at NASA Eagleworks and the person who revealed the detailed findings to the forum, said his findings have been found to not be as the result of thermal convection as a form of thrust, have yet to be falsified and, most promising of all, are considered by his peers to be worthy of ‘serious inquiry’.

Speaking to CNet, March rather understatedly said that the development of a ‘warp drive’ is essential for the next stage in human spaceflight: “My work at Eagleworks (the lab at JSC where the EM drive is being tested) is just a continuation of my work tackling the fundamental problem that has been hindering manned spaceflight from the termination of the Apollo moon program. That being the availability of a robust and cost-effective power and propulsion technology that can break us loose from the shackles of the rocket equation.”

In terms of what an EM drive could achieve in the foreseeable future, March says that if we were to travel to the moon using this propulsion, it would take only four hours and would be capable of carrying two-to-six passengers, with cargo, and would be able to return to Earth in the same four-hour interval using one load of hydrogen and oxygen for fuel cell-derived electrical power.

It would then be hoped that it could facilitate future missions to Mars, drastically cutting the amount of time needed to get there with a two-megawatt Nuclear Electric Propulsion spacecraft equipped with an EM Drive resulting in a transit period of just 70 days from Earth to Mars, a 90-day stay on the red planet, and then another 70-day return transit to Earth.

Just recently, renowned science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson, in a rather comical way, was taught a lesson on how the concept of a warp drive works, at least on Star Trek.

Warp speed image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic