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Former NASA engineer claims he invented a ground-breaking thruster that doesn’t need fuel

Published Apr 23rd, 2024 4:22PM EDT
illustration of Artemis missions and SLS rocket stages
Image: Vadimsadovski / Adobe

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One of the most expensive parts of any rocket launch is getting the rocket off the ground and into space. This part of the mission takes a massive amount of fuel and money to pull off. That’s why projects like NASA’s SLS aren’t sustainable and why many have looked for ways to create propellant-free thrusters to help revolutionize how space travel works. Now, a former NASA engineer claims his company has finally made a breakthrough.

The idea of a thruster that doesn’t require propellant to work might seem preposterous, especially considering how much force these thrusters often need to output. But space startup Exodus Propulsion Technologies says it has achieved a major breakthrough by stumbling upon a new force of nature that could power these types of thrusters.

Of course, this is a very bold claim and one that the scientific community will no doubt be staring down with narrowed eyes. If it does pan out, though, the propellant-free thrusters could have a major part to play in future space missions, including the likes of NASA’s Artemis missions, which require tons of fuel to launch.

zero rocket engine during test
Standard thrusters require loads of fuel to send rockets into space, and even more to deliver them to their destinations. Image source: Interstellar Technologies Inc

Charles Buhler, one of the co-founders of the startup, recently told The Debrief that he and his team have discovered this new force and that it will be “this force that we will use to propel objects for the next 1,000 years.” Again, that is a very bold claim, especially considering that the results so far show this “new force of nature” is only capable of delivering a whopping 10 milliNewtons.

To give that a little more context, Futurism reports that holding a medium-sized apple in the palm of your hand exerts around 1 Newton, which is roughly 100 times more force than this new propellant-free thruster is currently capable of creating.

Of course, Buhler says that the amount of force generated doesn’t matter because, in space, anything greater than zero will move objects. While that might be true, you still have to contend with time, which is why a thruster that barely generated enough force to hold an apple probably won’t see much use in space missions. If the team’s work does turn out to be legitimate and workable, though, it could be scaled up to find more efficient ways to create thrust, which could open the door for new thruster technology.

For now, though, we’ll have to wait and see if the claims that Buhler and his company are making about these new propellant-free thrusters are actually true. There’s obviously a lot to unpack here, especially when you consider how much this kind of thruster challenges the basic laws of physics. But, if it does work out, propulsion systems that don’t require propellant would be a major breakthrough and really cool.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.