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NASA’s ‘impossible’ engine creates controversy among scientists

An engine without fuel that can carry astronauts to Mars in only a few weeks would revolutionize the field of space exploration and usher in a new era in the history of humanity’s extraterrestrial travels. The authors of a recent study have claimed to achieve this lofty goal, but debate has surrounded their findings.

The Cannae engine, which was developed by Guido Fetta, has been touted as the embodiment of this groundbreaking achievement. During tests of the new technology, NASA scientists created a small amount of thrust using two Cannae engines, with one of them rigged to fail. The fact that it succeeded even though it was designated for failure is seen as a red flag by critics. Another problem revolves around the origin of the study, which was produced by a research team within NASA rather than the space agency itself.

The so-called “impossible” engine produces electromagnetic waves that create a difference in radiation pressure, which leads to thrust.  The Cannae engine is similar to the EmDrive, which uses microwaves for its propulsion system.

Roger J. Shawyer, who develops prototypes of the device at his UK-based company Satellite Propulsion Research Ltd., explained that the engine utilizes patented microwave technology in order to convert electricity into thrust and does not use any propellant in the conversion process. According to Shawyer, Chinese researchers have replicated the EmDrive thruster experiments.

Skeptics of the EmDrive have pointed out that it seems to violate Newton’s law of conservation of momentum, which states that momentum can neither be created nor destroyed, and that it must be conserved during an interaction between objects. This means that the amount of momentum must be unchanged by the interaction. In spite of this apparent violation of Newtonian physics, the EmDrive does appear to work thus far, and therefore prompted questions about how it has managed this extraordinary feat.