Engineers have long searched for a thruster that can propel a space shuttle forward without needing any onboard fuels, a feat many believe is impossible. Now, NASA has validated the design of a propellantless thruster in a paper presented on 30 July at the 50th Joint Propulsion Conference, Wired UK reports. The drive bounces microwaves off the walls of a closed container to convert electric power into thrust. It produced a tiny amount of force in the NASA experiment—30 to 50 micronewtons—but if the results hold true, a workable microwave thruster would drastically cut the cost of space travel and send astronauts to Mars in weeks rather than months.
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