The USSR-USA space race might be history, but China has confirmed that NASA still has some serious competition as it may have successfully created its own version of the mysterious ‘Impossible Engine’ known as the EM Drive.
Deemed ‘impossible’ because in order for it to work it breaks the laws of physics - and basically all conventional understanding of how the universe works - the American space agency has so far been baffled by the technology and left unable to develop a working prototype.
Now a video released by China’s Central Television state broadcaster (CCTV) claims that scientists at China Academy of Space Technology have done it.
According to the news clip, not only have Dr Chen Yue and his team, managed to conceptualise their own version, they’ve also created a fully-functioning model that is ready to go.
Although there has yet to be any official announcement from the Chinese government.
There have also been no further details about when they plan to put it into space, or any technical examination of what they have produced in the laboratory.
According to IBTimes, Beijing has been funding research into EM engines since 2010, and even credits itself with being the only people in the scientific community to take British engineer Roger Shawyer seriously when he first suggested it in 2001.
The furthest NASA have managed to get was in 2016 when they published their first evidence that an electromagnetic propulsion system could theoretically power spacecraft, in a peer-reviewed journal.
According to the team they were able to use the EmDrive to produce around 1.2 millinewtons per kilowatt of thrust in a vacuum.
Although this didn’t prove they were any closer to achieving what China claims to have done, it was a milestone moment for the technology.
If scientists were able to develop an EM Drive thruster, they believe that it could be instrumental in taking humans to Mars, as it would shorten the journey time to only 10 weeks, and doesn’t require fuel to function.
But this is also where many of the issues arise.
The EmDrive has no propellant and no exhaust and so completely goes against our understanding of how thrust works.
Instead it supposedly works by bouncing electromagnetic waves around its interior, creating photons which then in turn produce thrust.
The problem with this design is that it fundamentally shouldn’t work. Newton’s third law of motion demands that every object in the universe suffers from cause and effect. So for every action there is a reaction.
Understandably this has led to many showing a not unwarranted amount of skepticism and a continued debate about whether EM engines will ever work.