In Brief
  • Rumor has it that the Chinese are testing that fabulous Sangraal of spacecraft propulsion—the EmDrive.
  • But the Chinese have been known to make some pretty fantastic, and insupportable claims; and there's so far not a shred of evidence that the EmDrive actually works.

Made in China

If you’ve seen Rogue One (or any Star Wars movie), you’ve seen how those X-Wing and TIE fighters were able to do those crazy maneuvers in space using just their thruster engines, right? Well, that’s supposed to be impossible in a vacuum. But with the EmDrive (short for Electromagnetic Drive), which is able to generate thrust without needing a propellant, it just might be possible—of course, it’ll need more than just that.

This is assuming that the EmDrive actually works—and not just in theory.

Well, China claims to have been able to prove that it does, and says it’s already begun testing one. The news comes from a government-sponsored article published at the Science and Technology Daily, the official newspaper of China’s Ministry of Science and Technology, which claims that the country has been doing “key technology research” for five years now into the EmDrive for “possible engineering applications.”

In a press conference announcement, officials from the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) confirm that they have indeed developed EmDrive prototypes and have begun testing if the device could actually work in space.

“We have successfully developed several specifications of multiple prototype principles,” claimed CAST communication satellite division head Chen Yue. “The establishment of an experimental verification platform to complete the milli-level micro thrust measurement test, as well as several years of repeated experiments and investigations into corresponding interference factors, confirm that in this type of thruster, thrust exists.”

Also at the press conference, Li Feng, chief designer of the communication satellite division of CAST, explained what exactly it is they’re doing. “This technology is currently in the latter stages of the proof-of-principle phase, with the goal of making the technology available in satellite engineering as quickly as possible,” he said. “Although it is difficult to do this, we have the confidence that we will succeed.”

This would seem to confirm information from unnamed sources which claim that an EmDrive is being tested on its Tiangong-2 space laboratory.

No Real Proof

Apart from these mysterious sources, however, there’s no actual indication that China indeed has a functioning EmDrive in space—especially since China doesn’t exactly enjoy a good record when it comes to trustworthy research. And, Chinese tests or no, it’s certainly not proven that this “propellantless” thruster technology actually works. Despite NASA’s recent publication of their peer-reviewed study, experts remain skeptical about the EmDrive. They are also taking the NASA study with a sizable grain of salt.

Credits: NASA
Credits: NASA

As the University of Connecticut’s advanced propulsions system expert Brice Cassenti explained:

This is a violation of Newton’s third law of motion, which says that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Action and reaction is a direct result of the conservation of momentum. The violation of such a basic law as the conservation of momentum would invalidate much of the basis for all of physics as we know it. Hence, many scientists and engineers feel the thrust measurements reported for the EM Drive are due to experimental error. Adding to this is the fact that those who believe the results are valid do not yet have an experimentally or a theoretically plausible proven physical explanation.

So we may not be zooming through space just yet.