“Star Trek” introduced the world outside of rocket science circles to the concept of warp drive – the propulsion system that allowed the starship Enterprise to travel faster than the speed of light. Warp speed is the holy grail that would let us explore the universe safely surrounded and protected by a space-distorting warp field. After watching the SpaceX rocket recently just try to land on a platform, you’d think this ability is years if not decades away. Yet the buzz on space websites is that NASA may have accidentally discovered a way to create a warp field. Wait, what?
To get around the theory of relativity, physicist Miguel Alcubierre came up with the concept of a bubble of spacetime which travels faster than the speed of light while the ship inside of it is stationary. The bubble contracts spacetime in front of the ship and expands it behind it. The warp drive would look like a football inside a flat ring. The tremendous amount of energy it would need made this idea prohibitive until Harold “Sonny” White of NASA’s Johnson Space Center calculated that making the ring into a donut shape would significant reduce the energy needs.
Meanwhile, in the lab, NASA and other space programs were working on prototypes of the EmDrive or RF resonant cavity thruster invented by British aerospace engineer Roger J. Shawyer. This propulsion device uses a magnetron to produce microwaves for thrust, has no moving parts and needs no reaction mass for fuel. In 2014, Johnson Space Center claimed to have developed its own low-power EmDrive.A prototype of an EmDrive.