Interplanetary travel could be a step closer after scientists confirmed that an electromagnetic propulsion drive, which is fast enough to get to the Moon in four hours, actually works.
The EM Drive was developed by British inventor Roger Shawyer nearly 15 years ago but was ridiculed at the time as scientifically impossible.
It produces thrust by using solar power to generate multiple microwaves that move back and forth in an enclosed chamber. This means that until something fails or wears down, theoretically the engine could keep running forever without the need for rocket fuel.
The drive, which has been likened to Star Trek's Impulse Drive in the Starship Enterprise, has left scientists scratching their heads because it defies one of the fundamental concepts of physics - the conservation of momentum - which states that if something is propelled forward, something must be pushed in the opposite direction. So the forces inside the chamber should cancel each other out.
However in recent years Nasa has confirmed that they believe it works and this week Martin Tajmar, a professor and chairman for space systems at Dresden University of Technology in Germany also showed that it produces thrust.
The drive is capable of producing thrust several thousand times greater than a standard photon rocket and could get to Mars within 70 days or Pluto within 18 months. A trip to Alpha Centauri, which would take tens of thousands of years to reach right now, could be achieved in just 100 years.
"Our test campaign cannot confirm or refute the claims of the EM Drive but intends to independently assess possible side-effects in the measurements methods used so far," said Tajmar. "Nevertheless, we do observe thrust close to the actual predictions after eliminating many possible error sources that should warrant further investigation into the phenomena."