NBC News Asks ‘Big Question’ — Is the EM Drive Possible?

There’s article on the NBC News website in its ‘Big Questions’ section that looks at the possibility of the EM drive being a viable technology for deep space travel, based on the claim that it requires no onboard fuel source for propulsion.

The article, written by Kate Baggaley, is titled “Will this ‘Impossible’ Motor take people to other planets?” Here’s the link:http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/the-big-questions/will-impossible-motor-take-people-other-planets-n761101

It’s a relatively short piece that explains the claims surrounding the EM Drive, also providing links to other useful resources, and it does take the subject seriously, while being very cautious about it, noting that “the vast majority of physicists remain decidedly unconvinced” because the EM Drive appears to violate the laws of physics. Also, so far, the amount of thrust measured in reports is very small, and even if real, is not practical enough for transporting a spacecraft.

I’m glad to see that traditional media is paying some attention to the ‘impossible’. I hope in the case of the EM Drive, if the effect is indeed real, that there will be more impressive results reported, so that it will be harder for mainstream science and media to dismiss.

  • William D. Fleming

    People keep saying the em drive won’t need fuel to push stuff out the back. There’ll have to be power though, maybe solar, nuclear, or LENR.

    That stream of hot gases coming out the back of a rocket is not causing the rocket to move–it is just a side-effect. The fuel has already done its work before it exits. That’s how I see it anyway.

    • Ophelia Rump

      shoddy journalism, the word they should have used is propellant.

      Why is it that writers with the lowest comprehension become science writers?

      • Carl Wilson

        Peter Principle: ”
        the selection of a candidate for a position is based on the candidate’s
        performance in their current role, rather than on abilities relevant to
        the intended role”

        • Ophelia Rump

          It seems too extreme and consistent to be based upon any form of current performance.

          I suspect that science reporting is the haven for the least skilled.

          I think it goes something like this; Put the new guy on science reporting, no one understand or care anyway. On a dark day, I suspect a conspiracy to keep humanity ignorant.

          • Bernie Koppenhofer

            I agree, I am having increasing numbers of bad days waiting for the fake news report.

      • Warthog

        They don’t. Those with LOWEST comprehension become editors and columnists.

      • John Williamson

        Actually, the article gets it pretty well right. It’s the interpretation summarized by Acland that’ s wrong.

        The article does not say no fuel is required. It says “burning fuel” is not needed. And it says there is no need to belch exhaust, and dropping the weight of *such* fuel could make ships lighter. And it says (or quotes) *explicitly* that you still need energy.

        On earth, moving from chemical fuel to nuclear fuel gives a million-fold decrease in the mass of fuel required to heat buildings, or power cars, etc. But in space, that million-fold increase in energy density does nothing for you as far as reducing the mass required for thrust, because you still have to eject propellant, according to the current understanding of the conservation of momentum. You can get more thrust by ejecting the same mass at a higher velocity, but again nuclear energy does not provide an obvious way to increase the speed of the propellant.

        Propentless thrust would allow rockets to benefit (mass-wise) from nuclear energy, and therefore reduce the mass of rockets by the mass of chemical fuel currently used. And that essential point is well made in the article.

        The article also reports accurately that most physicists remain skeptical because the evidence for the claim is still weak, and it is contrary to widely accepted generalizations (laws) of robust experimental evidence.

        And the expulsion of exhaust is not a side effect of generating thrust. It is an intrinsic part of it.

        • William D. Fleming

          What is your opinion of my response above to clovis ray? Do I have it wrong?

          • john williamson

            Well, to some extent it’s semantics. I would agree that it’s not a case of something pushing off something else. But the point is that momentum conservation, as it is currently understood, *requires* the ejection of propellant to achieve thrust in a vacuum (without interactions with other objects). (This of course does not exclude acceleration due to gravitational or electromagnetic interactions (light sails) with external bodies.) Propellant and the loss of mass is therefore intrinsic to the process. Conventional propulsion requires you to let the mass go, which is why propellantless thrust would be such a great benefit to space travel. And that was the point in the article.

            If you have contained pressure, after the burning of the fuel you have no thrust. Thrust happens when you cause an imbalance in the pressure, and that is caused by the release of propellant, and yes, releasing the gas is equivalent to releasing the rocket, and so in that sense, the increased speed of the rocket causes the average speed of the gas to increase in the opposite direction.

  • Fibber McGourlic

    This is a well-balanced, interesting and very well written report for the NBC and popular audience. It’s intended to be casually informative and, as such, does the job very well. Also, it’s very hard work. If anyone doubts that, let them try to rewriting it to reach the same mass audience. It’s very hard work, and it’s clearly written by a clever woman who’s near the top in her line of work.

  • guitarwebs

    I have seen this in flight, thought is was a tr3b, but lighting was wrong, but this fits the bill….november,2011.

  • Thomas Kaminski

    Add Quantum Computing to the list, too:


    • William D. Fleming

      As I understand it, the burning of fuel creates high pressure within the body of the rocket. The pressure is equal on all the interior surfaces except for the nozzle end, where there is a deficiency of pressure. So the resultant pressure is against the inside forward wall, resulting in forward motion.

      Think of two bricks standing on end together with a firecracker between them and the fuse protruding at the top. If you set off the firecracker brick A will fall in one direction and brick B the other. Brick A’s falling does not cause brick B to fall any more than brick B causes brick A to fall. They fall at the same time, so the cause is something else.

      The expulsion of gasses does not cause the forward motion of a rocket any more than the forward motion of the rocket causes the backward motion of the gasses. Newton’s third law is in effect on the inside forward wall of the chamber as energetic molecules impact there.

      That’s how I see it.

  • Axil Axil

    I like LENR as a basis to support a light speed capable interstellar motor. As discovered by Holmlid, LENR produces sub atomic particles and nuclear fragments moving at ¾ light speeds. And even better, LENR produces its own energy. If we want to fly between the stars, LENR is the way to go… think LENR.

  • Omega Z

    “and actively squash attempts to divert money to other ideas.”

    It started with P&F. If LENR/Cold Fusion had shown even an inkling of being real, the ITER funds would have quickly dried up.

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