The latest word from NASA is that the microwave space drive, developed independently British and Chinese teams, is not, as previously believed, impossible. In fact, when NASA built one of the propellant-free thrusters of its own – apparently to “debunk” the Chinese findings – it worked exactly the way the “impossible” math predicted.
Which, in case you didn’t catch on by now, is pretty awesome.
There’s a ton of science-y talk about the microwave space drive over at Wired.com using the source link, below, and if you’re into that you should definitely head over there. The short version, however, is this: about half the weight of any satellite is propellant used to steer the thing. Sometimes more than half. All that mass means we have to send up more, simpler satellites than we’d have to if they didn’t need an aerosol propellant. As such, a propellant-free satellite means more functions can be built into it, and we here on Earth – as a consequence – would have to burn up far less fuel (in the form of emission-heavy rocket launches) to get those functions into orbit.
It’s neat stuff- but we should probably start using its name. It’s called the “Cannae Drive”, which the drive’s inventor, Guido Fetta, explains as a reference to the Battle of Cannae in which Hannibal decisively defeated a much stronger Roman army. “You’re at your best when you are in a tight corner,” says Fetta. However, Wired speculates that hard not to suspect that the Star Trek character, Scotty – “I cannae change the laws of physics” – might also have influenced Fetta.
Fetta has presented a paper at the AIAA on his drive, “Numerical and Experimental Results for a Novel Propulsion Technology Requiring no On-Board Propellant“, which you can check out at the link. Enjoy!