Space exploration research

Space exploration research

Space Exploration / September 8, 2019

NASA’s Sonny White and his collaborators have published experimental confirmation that the so-called EM drive produces thrust. If this technology fulfills its promise, it will transform public and private space exploration and may have even broader implications for terrestrial power and energy.

Their paper explains why this work is important with typically understated academic language: “For missions with very large delta-v requirements, having a propellant consumption rate of zero could offset the higher power requirements.” Let me say it another way for everyone else: wouldn’t it be great to travel in space as fast as you want without even using fuel?

The what-ifs that these questions inspire in us are why we find technology at the edge of science fiction so appealing. I suspect that they also inspire the engineers at Eagleworks. Narratives about our future break us free from the tyranny of everyday life and give us permission to imagine a better future for ourselves and the world, if only briefly. That’s part of the appeal of Star Trek and other optimistic takes on the future. It’s little wonder that White’s advanced propulsion research provided the real-world basis for the spacecraft in the current Star Trek reboot.

This paper isn’t classified. It’s in the public domain. This knowledge is for everyone, thanks to the democratic principles on which our nation was founded and that continue to enable the U.S. to lead the world in research in science and technology. And they make NASA the extraordinary agency it is. Public funding is central to any effort like space exploration. We have to pull together—yes, pay our taxes—to support work where there’s no short-term profit to be had and yet so much long-term benefit to be realized.

em drive nasa space deep field A colorful deep space image captured by the Hubble Space Telescope as seen in a NASA handout, June 3, 2014. REUTERS/NASA/ESA/Handout via Reuters

We want a NASA that pushes the limits, rejects staid ideas, and is immune from cynical pork-barrel politics. That’s not always what we get, but more often than not, NASA’s technology innovations change the game. If a warp drive or anything else from the world of science fiction ever becomes real, it will likely be thanks to NASA-sponsored research.