Researchers at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston have confirmed that an "impossible" space propulsion technology could actually work and might be able to change space exploration missions forever.
A study released by the NASA researchers shows that a microwave thruster system that requires no propellant appears to generate a small amount of thrust. If the technology works, it could make space travel cheaper and quicker, according to Wired.com.
The researchers also argue that that thruster harnesses subatomic particles capable of popping in and out of existence in accordance with quantum physics.
"Test results indicate that the RF [radio frequency] resonant cavity thruster design, which is unique as an electric propulsion device, is producing a force that is not attributable to any classical electromagnetic phenomenon and, therefore, is potentially demonstrating an interaction with the quantum vacuum virtual plasma," the researchers wrote in their study, which they presented last week during the 50th Joint Propulsion Conference in Cleveland.
Chinese researchers said back in 2012 that their version of the system could create enough thrust to power a satellite.
The roots of the propulsion system tested by the NASA team traces back to British researcher Roger Shawyer, who claimed that his "EmDrive" could generate thrust by rocketing microwaves around in a chamber, according to Wired.
Solar power could be used to produce the microwaves, thus getting rid of the need for propellant. A number of scientists have downplayed such claims, saying that the system violates the law of conservation of momentum, according to Wired.
An American scientists named Guido Fetta then constructed his own device and convinced the NASA team to try it out over the course of eight days last August.
NASA scientists said the device could produce 30 to 50 micronewtons of thrust, or less than 0.1 percent of the thrust measured by the Chinese, but enough to justify additional testing.