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Warp drive

In the fictional TV series Star Trek the warp drive is a form of propulsion that allows the user to go faster than the speed of light.

It was mentioned back in the first pilot episode "The Cage", under the name timewarp. The episode said that the time barrier had been broken recently, but since this was given as news to a group of interstellar travellers who had been shipwrecked, it couldn't have been referring to the breaking of the light barrier, as has been suggested.

The speed of warp travel is usually given only in warp factors. It is generally assumed that warp 1 is the speed of light, and that at higher factors speed increases exponentially. Several episodes of the original series placed the Enterprise in peril by having it go at absurdly high warp factors, once as high as warp 13.4.

Realising that this was a problem and wanting to remove this plot element, the creators of The Next Generation decided that warp 10 should be the maximum. Backstage treknobabble suggests that the warp scale was recalibrated, with the new warp 5 being the old warp 6, and warp 10 being infinite speed and unattainable. The Voyager episode "Threshold" agreed with this, in that the characters said it was impossible—but then they achieved it anyway, with the side effect that they hyper-evolved (reversibly) into anthropomorphic newts.

The term transwarp has been used a number of times, referring both to Borg propulsion, and to a Starfleet development project in Star Trek: The Search for Spock. Just as the generation of a warp field around a starship is required to enter warp speed, thereby breaking the light barrier (a theoretically impossible event in our universe), so a transwarp field is required to break the warp barrier. At least the Borg (in the Star Trek: The Next Generation two-part episode "Descent" and in the Star Trek: Voyager final episode "Endgame") have developed transwarp conduits, stationary devices that facilitate transwarp travel. At least five of these Borg transwarp conduits are known to exist in our galaxy (the sixth having been destroyed in "Endgame").

Table of contents
1 Warp Velocities
2 Warp and the Environment
3 Alternative Ideas
4 Could there be an actual Warp Drive?
5 References
7 See also

Warp Velocities

In the original series, warp factors were supposedly converted to multiples of light speed with the formula . However, this cannot possibly be the whole story, as it would make the Enterprise far too slow.

For the later series, Mike Okuda devised a formula based on the older one. For warp 1-9, if w is the warp factor, s is the speed in km per second, and c is the speed of light, then . After warp 9, the exponent increases toward infinity. There is no exact formula for this section because the quoted speeds are based on a hand-drawn curve.

Here is a table with new-style warp factors and their approximate values in kilometers per second and multiples of c:

Warp 11c299 792.458 km per second
Warp 210.079c3 021 608.18 km per second
Warp 338.941c11 674 218.1 km per second
Warp 4101.59c30 455 915.8 km per second
Warp 5213.75c64 080 637.9 km per second
Warp 6392.50c117 668 539.8 km per second
Warp 7656.13c196 702 825.5 km per second
Warp 81024c306 987 477.0 km per second
Warp 91516.4c454 605 283.3 km per second
Warp 9.21649c494 357 763.0 km per second
Warp 9.61909c572 303 802.0 km per second
Warp 9.93053c915 266 374.0 km per second
Warp 9.997912c2 371 957 930.0 km per second
Warp 9.9999199516c59 813 392 100.0 km per second

The later series were better at keeping to these speeds than the original, and when specific speeds were given they usually checked out; however, when speeds were not given, the ship often went far too fast—at the "speed of plot". For example, in Enterprise's pilot episode they give a time and speed to Neptune that accords with the original series' formula, but then they estimate a trip to the Klingon Homeworld at warp 5 as a four-day journey, placing it just one light-year away from Earth—far closer than the nearest solar system, Alpha Centauri.

Warp and the Environment

In the Season 7 Next Generation episode "Force of Nature", it was revealed that warp drive is bad for the environment, and in some areas it could lead to the fissuring of space. Travel faster than warp 5 is banned, but there is argument among fans as to whether the ban exists only in the affected areas of space, or in all areas. If it is a universal limit, it is widely ignored and not even mentioned in later episodes and series. Some fans have speculated that a technological solution was found, possibly involving the moving warp engines on USS Voyager. However, if it is not universal, and only applies to affected regions of space, then Captain Picard and Janeway are not in violation of code (and the definition of the ban as a "plot tool" could be redefined).

Alternative Ideas

Some physicists have proposed an alternate idea as to how exactly warp speed works. They recognize that it is impossible to go faster than the speed of light. However, given enough energy it is possible to change the shape of space (to warp it). In which case, a starship using this system would only need to travel a few kilometers per hour. Thus warp factors would be a measure of the warping of space, not of actual speed.

Could there be an actual Warp Drive?

As many Star Trek fans know, many of the futuristic technologies featured on Star Trek have actually been created (such as the hypospray) and are currently being researched (ex: VISOR). The Warp Drive is no exception. NASA is researching interstellar travel and has a website called Space Transportation and the section Advanced Space Transportation Program [1] states "The ASTP is also conducting fundamental research on the cutting edge of modern science and engineering, including fission, fusion and antimatter propulsion, and breakthrough physics theories that might enable thrusting against space-time itself and faster-than-light travel."




See also