Physicists have just published new calculations that suggest the controversial EM drive - or electromagnetic drive - could actually work, and doesn't defy Newton's third law after all.
In case you've missed the hype, here's a quick catch-up: a lot of space lovers are freaking out about the EM drive because of claims it could get humans to Mars in just 10 weeks, but just as many are sick of hearing about it, because, on paper at least, it doesn't work within the laws of physics.
Recent reports about propulsion without reaction mass have been met on one hand with enthusiasm and on the other hand with some doubts. Namely, closed metal cavities, when fueled with microwaves, have delivered thrust that could eventually maintain satellites on orbits using solar power. However, the measured thrust appears to be without any apparent exhaust. Thus the Law of Action-Reaction seems to have been violated. We consider the possibility that the exhaust is in a form that has so far escaped both experimental detection and theoretical attention. In the thruster’s cavity microwaves interfere with each other and invariably some photons will also end up co-propagating with opposite phases. At the destructive interference electromagnetic fields cancel. However, the photons themselves do not vanish for nothing but continue in propagation. These photon pairs without net electromagnetic field do not reflect back from the metal walls but escape from the resonator. By this action momentum is lost from the cavity which, according to the conservation of momentum, gives rise to an equal and opposite reaction. We examine theoretical corollaries and practical concerns that follow from the paired-photon conclusion.