EmDrive inventor Roger Shawyer has confirmed that the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the US Department of Defense (DoD) are both interested in the controversial space propulsion technology, in an exclusive new interview with IBTimes UK.
"Yes, the UK MoD and the US DoD are interested in EmDrive. It would clearly be useful for any intelligence-gathering platform. It provides good manoeuvrability and stealth orbits to be maintained... clearly EmDrive has no exhaust signature and is very stealthy," said Shawyer.
While he cannot say much on this topic, Shawyer indicated that the EmDrive's controversial reputation and ridicule on the internet serves a key purpose for the UK and US military – if it is actually possible to create a propellant-less rocket engine, then this would be really useful in spy satellites, as it would enable the military to get close to a target without anyone knowing it was there.
Shawyer, 69, is a certified chartered electrical engineer who spent 40 years working in the space and defence industry on UK government defence contracts, primarily for BAE Systems and Matra Marconi Space (MMS, now Airbus).
During his career, he was a senior engineer and project manager for multiple satellite contracts including the Skynet 4 military satellite, the NATO-4 satellite serving Nato and the British Ministry of Defence, and the French Euteselat Hot Bird TV broadcast satellite.
Shawyer explains that he was inspired to use a gyroscope to create an electromagnetic thruster after watching Professor Eric Laithwaite's 1974 Christmas lecture at the Royal Institution. He experimented with the concept in the 1980s in his garage and then told his employers at MMS, but his idea was rejected outright – and was told that his career would suffer if he mentioned it again.
Eventually he was told MMS was unwilling to consider any new propulsion concepts for another decade due to the firm's investment into the Arianne 5 heavy lift launch vehicle, and so in 2001 Shawyer left MMS and decided to go it alone, setting up Satellite Propulsion Research Ltd (SPR).
Interest from the UK government, US Air Force, Nasa and Darpa
SPR was awarded a grant from the UK government to continue to research the EmDrive for five years from its beginnings as a feasibility study, right up through the first experimental thruster and to the eventual demonstrator engine, which produced up to 8g of thrust.
And despite the furore of the New Scientist article in September 2006, which saw a huge backlash from members of the public as well as academics in the international space community, and the fact that a group of naysayers persuaded a British MP to ask in Parliamentary Questions why the EmDrive was being funded, the UK government continued to fund the research until its completion in 2007.
There was also a huge interest in the technology in the US – in 2008, Shawyer was invited to the Pentagon to make a high level presentation on the EmDrive technology to members of the US Air Force, Nasa and Darpa, and following this presentation, Boeing stepped in and asked to licence the technology.
"The UK MoD agreed to an export licence, and we designed, built and tested a Flight Thruster for use on a test satellite. The thruster gave 18 grams of thrust," said Shawyer.
"All design data was transferred to Boeing and the contract was completed by July 2010. We waited for them to sign the licence agreement, which had been prepared by Boeing's lawyers and agreed by SPR. However, once we confirmed the test data it all suddenly went quiet, and we have heard no more from Boeing since then."
Working with Gilo Industries
Shawyer has continued to develop the EmDrive, and over the last year began hinting that he is working with an unnamed UK aerospace company on a second generation superconducting thruster that will produce thrust many orders of magnitude greater than that observed by Eagleworks or any other laboratory (view his latest patent application here).
However, he has confirmed that the company he is working with is none other than Gilo Industries Group, the inventors of the personal aviation paramotor vehicle Parajet Skycar, which famously flew TV survivalist Bear Grylls close to Mount Everest in 2007 and is now being developed as an all-terrain flying car.
"Gilo Cardozo approached me. I confirm that we are in a joint venture. Universal Propulsion is the name of the joint venture and it's located in Dorset," said Shawyer.
"It's a very innovative, modern young company. He has an excellent track record. He employs professional scientists and engineers who reviewed the science of the EmDrive. Like many people who don't say much, these guys go through it very carefully. Gilo has the engineering expertise and resources to do this, so it's a good match between us."
Shawyer says that he's not interested in fame the way entrepreneurs like Elon Musk are, but he never expected to receive the amount of personal abuse he was subjected to for a mere invention.
"Some insults still appear on forums, but I have got immune to it now. There are some very strange people out there on the internet," he said, emphasising that he intends to keep going with developing the EmDrive so it can be used in flying cars and to make low cost access to space possible.
"I don't think engineers become superstars, particularly not in the UK. We just quietly get on, having fun and enjoying our job, whilst trying to make the world a safer and better place."