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Space travel is fast becoming a competitive market. Private contractors, government agencies and international space programs are all vying for supremacy, to be the first and fastest in the global space race. One thing is certain, the most important element to ensuring they remain one step ahead of their rivals is by securing the latest space propulsion technology. Here, Bold Business looks at the controversial EmDrive and whether it really can reduce the time it takes to travel through space.

NASA recently hailed the EmDrive as the key to interstellar travel which will speed up travel to new planets and solar systems. A leaked document detailing the inner workings of the EmDrive, set to run in the Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ scientific journal, describes a “propellantless propulsion system that uses a magnetron to push microwaves into a closed truncated cone to propel the craft forward.”

Designed by aerospace engineer Roger Shawyer in 2001, this radical new concept ensures the engine doesn’t use fuel to cause a reaction which in turn makes the craft lighter. What’s more, the hypothetical drive can “reach extremely high speeds” which reduces space travel time. The design is proving extremely controversial with scientists because “a reactionless drive is inconsistent with Newton’s conservation of momentum, which states that unless an outside force is applied to an object it will not move.” The notion of the EmDrive defies the laws of physics and reveals unknown forces behind its workings.

Tests have been conducted on experimental versions of the drive, positive results have been detected and it has even passed a peer review. In 2001, Shawyer’s test achieved 0.016 Newtons of force and required 850 watts of power. In 2008, a team of Chinese researchers achieved up to 750 mN (millinewtons) of thrust. In 2014, 2015 and 2016, NASA researchers tested their own version of an EmDrive and achieved thrust.

A new theory was put forward by physicist Michael McCulloch this year, which may explain the thrust observed in the above-mentioned tests. McCulloch’s theory deals with “inertia and the Unruh effect — a concept predicted by relativity, which makes the universe appear hotter the more you accelerate, with the heat observed relative to the acceleration.”

The EmDrive is revolutionary. It will cut costs, reduce weight, improve space travel and decrease travel time. Craft equipped with a reactionless drive would make it to the moon quickly, Venus or Mars in just two to three months, or Pluto and beyond within a few years.

Further tests, research, and experimentation are needed before the EmDrive can be deemed successful or usable on the open market. However, the possibilities are endless and it’s no wonder the EmDrive is being hailed as the holy grail of space travel. This bold idea is already yielding scientific results and it could prove historically significant by rewriting the laws of physics.

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