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[SCI] Relativity drive


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Relativity drive: The end of wings and wheels?

08 September 2006

Justin Mullins

 

 

The trip from London to Havant on the south coast of England is like travelling through time. I sit in an air-conditioned train, on tracks first laid 150 years ago, passing roads that were known to the Romans. At one point, I pick out a canal boat, queues of cars and the trail from a high-flying jet - the evolution of mechanised travel in a single glance.

 

But evolution has a habit of springing surprises. Waiting at my destination is a man who would put an end to mechanised travel. Roger Shawyer has developed an engine with no moving parts that he believes can replace rockets and make trains, planes and automobiles obsolete. "The end of wings and wheels" is how he puts it. It's a bold claim. Read Shawyer?s theory paper here (pdf format).

 

Of course, any crackpot can rough out plans for a warp drive. What they never show you is evidence that it works. Shawyer is different. He has built a working prototype to test his ideas, and as a respected spacecraft engineer he has persuaded the British government to fund his work. Now organisations from other parts of the world, including the US air force and the Chinese government, are beating a path to his tiny company.

 

The device that has sparked their interest is an engine that generates thrust purely from electromagnetic radiation - microwaves to be precise - by exploiting the strange properties of relativity. It has no moving parts, and releases no exhaust or noxious emissions. Potentially, it could pack the punch of a rocket in a box the size of a suitcase. It could one day replace the engines on almost any spacecraft. More advanced versions might allow cars to lift from the ground and hover. It could even lead to aircraft that will not need wings at all. I can't help thinking that it sounds too good to be true.

 

When I meet Shawyer, he turns out to be reassuringly normal. His credentials are certainly impressive. He worked his way up through the aerospace industry, designing and building navigation and communications equipment for military and commercial satellites, before becoming a senior aerospace engineer at Matra Marconi Space (later part of EADS Astrium) in Portsmouth, near where he now lives. He was also a consultant to the Galileo project, Europe's satellite navigation system, which engineers are now testing in orbit and for which he negotiated the use of the radio frequencies it needed.

 

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