What if spacecraft didn’t need propellant to travel long distances? It might seem like an “impossible” dream, but a company is getting ready to test just such a device in outer space. Cannae Corporation, led by inventor Guido Fetta, will launch an experimental microwave thruster said to produce zero exhaust.
In 2003 British scientist Roger Shawyer demonstrated a propulsion device called the EmDrive that appeared to ignore physics – specifically the law of conservation of momentum. The Cannae Drive follows a similar model, however Fetta says that it works due to “Lorentz force imbalances.” NASA tested the Cannae Drive, and in 2014 concluded the microwave thruster was “… producing a force that is not attributable to any classical electromagnetic phenomenon.”
Now it’s time to see if the thruster will actually work in space. Satellites orbiting in low altitude need propellant to generate thrust for “station keeping,” the process of maintaining position in the face of atmospheric drag. If a satellite could function without propellant, it could be a huge leap for the satellite industry. A microwave thruster could also help us travel faster and deeper in space; according to some, the thruster could allow us to send a spacecraft to Mars in a mere ten weeks.
In August, Cannae announced it would demonstrate its thruster technology on “an upcoming satellite mission.” The thruster will get to space aboard one of Cannae’s Cubesats, a satellite about the size of a shoe box. Cannae says the technology will stay in orbit “for a minimum of six months.” According to Popular Mechanics, if the thruster can stay in orbit for as long as Cannae says, the the exhaust-less technology could actually work as promised. There’s no official launch date just yet, but the thruster could journey to space sometime next year.