A number of media outlets, including Yahoo News UK, are suggesting that the Chinese have (or at least claim to have) developed a Working Prototype of an Em Drive, citing a video put out by Chinese television. One has to regard the claim with a little bit of skepticism, at least until someone offers a public demonstration of the technology.

What is an EM drive?

An EM drive is a device that alleges to produce thrust by bouncing microwaves inside an enclosed cavity. A number of experiments at labs around the world, including one at NASA’s Johnson Spaceflight Center south of Houston, seems to indicate that the device is creating some kind of thrust.

However, whether the thrust is caused by the EM drive or some other phenomenon as the result of experimental error has yet to be determined. So far as is known the only operational EM drive is on the science fiction TV show “Salvation.” Many scientists believe that the device is impossible, akin to perpetual motion because it apparently violates the laws of physics.

The Chinese and the EM drive

The Chinese are rumored to have been working on an EM drive and have had some promising test results similar to the one achieved by NASA, The development of a prototype, however, would be a leap forward in the development of technology that would revolutionize space travel if it is made to work. If China turned out to be the country that first developed a working device of that nature, it would be the greatest shock to the United States, which prides itself on its technological prowess, since Sputnik.

Why the Chinese probably do not have a working EM drive

If the Chinese had a working flight ready EM drive prototype, they would surely have demonstrated it. The proof that China was able to master a technology that the United States and indeed no other country has managed to create would be of the greatest propaganda value.

China is basing its drive to become a super power, in part, on technological achievements, particularly in space exploration. It has already landed a rover on the lunar surface, something no other country had managed since the 1970s. A demonstration of an exotic new piece of technology would announce to the world that China and not the United States is the leader in space exploration.

On the other hand, such a demonstration might have a Sputnik effect. The United States would regard a Chinese EM drive as a challenge and would move to create its own. Thus, a new space race will have started with results that may be uncertain.