According to Popular Science, Dr. Chen Yue, Director of Commercial Satellite Technology for the china Academy of Space Technology (CAST), recently announced that China has successfully tested its version of the EM drive in the laboratory. Chen also stated that the technology is currently being tested in space, many presume at the new Tiangong-2 space laboratory. If the latter is true, China has jumped ahead in the race to develop the potentially transformative space propulsion technology.

Recently, NASA’s Eagleworks lab at the Johnson Spaceflight Center published a peer reviewed paper of its test of the em drive, finding the technology to be at least plausible.

The theory behind the em drive is that thrust is created by bouncing microwaves inside an enclosed cavity. The technology would seem to violate the law of the conservation of momentum in that it does not expel any exhaust (at least of the sort that can be detected) out one end.

Yet in test after test, the em drive seems to work and most theories of experimental error that might cause the apparent thrust has been ruled out.

One problem still facing the em drive before it becomes practical is that the thrust it is producing is a fraction of the amount that would be needed for a station keeping role on satellites, not to mention propelling a spaceship to Mars. One reason that the reported Chinese space tests of the em drive is important, besides making sure that microgravity and radiation do not affect the operations of the unit, is that ways to augment the trust can be tested in real world conditions.

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While NASA has not yet taken the next step of space testing the em drive, rumor has it that the Air Force’s X-37 space plane, currently in low Earth orbit, has a version on board for extensive space testing.

If em drive technology is confirmed to work, it will change the art and science of space travel forever. No more will spacecraft have to carry fuel to maneuver. All they will need is a power source, such as solar arrays or a nuclear reactor.

The propulsion unit can be left on for days and even weeks, much like an ion engine, allowing hitherto unachieved velocities to be achieved, shortening the time it takes to reach destinations throughout the solar system.

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