Chinese researchers claim they've confirmed the theory behind an "impossible" space drive, and are proceeding to build a demonstration version. If they're right, this might transform the economics of satellites, open up new possibilities for space exploration - and give the Chinese a decisive military advantage in space. To say that the "Emdrive" (short for "electromagnetic drive") concept is controversial would be an understatement. According to Roger Shawyer, the British scientist who developed the concept, the drive converts electrical energy into thrust via microwaves, without violating any laws of physics. Many researchers believe otherwise. An article about the Emdrive in New Scientist magazine drew a massive volley of criticism. Scientists not only argued that Shawyer's work was blatantly impossible, and that his reasoning was flawed. They also said the article should never have been published. "It is well known that Roger Shawyer's 'electromagnetic relativity drive' violates the law of conservation of momentum, making it simply the latest in a long line of 'perpetuum mobiles' that have been proposed and disproved for centuries," wrote John Costella, an Australian physicist. "His analysis is rubbish and his 'drive' impossible." Shawyer stands by his theoretical work. His company, Satellite Propulsion Research (SPR), has constructed demonstration engines, which he says produce thrust using a tapering resonant cavity filled with microwaves. He is adamant that this is not a perpetual motion machine, and does not violate the law of conservation of momentum because different reference frames apply to the drive and the waves within it.
Shawyer's big challenge, he says, has been getting people who will actually look into his claims rather than simply dismissing them. Such extravagant claims are usually associated with self-taught, backyard inventors claiming Einstein got it all wrong. But Shawyer is a scientist who has worked with radar and communication systems and was a program manager at European space company EADS Astrium; his work rests entirely on Einstein being right.