Microwave Propulsion Breakthrough Could Revolutionize Space Travel

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“Game changer” has become an overused buzz term. Every innovation or advancement is either a definite game changer, or at least a possible a game changer. But the fact is, the “game” (and by game, I think we’re loosely referring to all of science, if not all of life itself) changes all the time no matter what, though admittedly certain inventions, such as the internet, could be credited with catalyzing particularly significant shifts. Most often, it takes hindsight to accurately identify such innovations, so lofting that descriptor at the outset can prompt skepticism. That said, I’m always on the lookout for advancements that might indeed prove to be major breakthroughs, and NASA just verified one: a microwave-powered, propellant-less thruster.

U.S. scientist Guido Fetta devised a microwave thruster called the “Cannae Drive”—a reference to the Battle of Cannae or perhaps to Star Trek’s Scotty—that operates without propellant. After some cajoling, he got NASA to agree to give it a try, and at the recent Joint Propulsion Conference, the space agency presented the results of its validation testing, which confirms that this system, once thought to be impossible, actually works. NASA spent eight days “investigat[ing] and demonstrat[ing] viability of using classical magnetoplasmadynamics to obtain a propulsive momentum transfer via the quantum vacuum virtual plasma.”