NASA is Building a Real Warp Drive


That’s right; FTL may be closer than we think. And because I thoroughly enjoy it I’m going to say it – more Star Trek technology is coming to life! (In addition to the tractor beams, universal translators, VISORs and, of course, replicators).

A physicist named Harold White recently made the landmark announcement that he and his team at NASA were beginning work on a faster-than-light warp drive. And he doesn’t say ‘warp drive’ lightly – it works very much like the engines we see in Star Trek.

You see in 1994, a physicist named Miguel Alcubierre published a paper titled, “The Warp Drive: Hyper-Fast Travel Within General Relativity“. In this paper, he showed that it was possible to travel faster than light without violating relativity and without the introduction of wormholes.

How? The mechanics of it involves a localized expansion of spacetime behind the spaceship, and a corresponding contraction in front of it. This creates what Star Trek would call a “warp bubble” around the spaceship, moving spacetime around the ship. Since spacetime can be contracted/expanded as fast as you like, from a frame of reference outside the disturbed region, it would appear that the spaceship was moving faster than light. Of course, within the ship’s frame of reference, it will perceive no acceleration at all, and would not be exceeding the speed of light, thus not violating relativity. To the ship, everything else has moved around it, while to us Earthlings, it’s sped off at warp 9.

[Image Source]

The problem with the Alcubierre Drive is that, while it would allow us to travel to Alpha Centauri (which is 4.3 light years away) in a matter of weeks, the contraction and expansion of spacetime to the degree required proves to need amounts of energy that is simply impossible to achieve. The theory was thus discarded as impractical – we’re running out of fuel as it is, how are we expected to power spaceships that require a mass-energy equal to the planet Jupiter?!

However, White has had put a bit of thought into redesigning the Alcubierre drive to renew hope of upgrading Earth from a pre-warp civilisation. He figured out that if you increase the thickness of the negative vacuum energy ring, making it more of a toroid shape rather than a flat belt, and if you oscillate the warp bubble, the energy requirements drop dramatically. His approach saw a reduction of mass-energy requirements to as little at 1600 pounds!

Now that the whole idea of achieving interstellar travel doesn’t seem so impractical, the man is hard at work beginning actual experiments. That’s right ­– the idea has progressed from theoretical physics into experimental physics and NASA scientists are, at this very moment, testing the theory. They’re trying to simulate the re-designed Alcubierre drive at a very small scale, using lasers to disturb spacetime by one part in 10 million.

White is still cautious about premature hype surrounding the experiment – he’s waiting for the “Chicago Pile” moment. That is a reference to the moment in 1942 when the first ever nuclear reactor was activated in Chicago, generating just half a watt. That’s barely enough to light up a standard bulb. A year later, a reactor that produced approximately 4MW was built and we’ve only built bigger reactors since. That “Chicago Pile” moment is the one where existence is proven. It may be on the tiniest scale, but it’s real, solid and measurable evidence that the theory works. That hasn’t happened yet for warp drive theory, but we are all waiting with bated breath.

Perhaps it will not be long before we can boldly go where no man has gone before.

[Via io9 | Top Image Credit]

34 Responses to NASA is Building a Real Warp Drive

    • "No man" is far less offensive. Man IS a generic term for the human race. In the Star Trek universe, aliens, while not "man", are still PEOPLE and therefore still someONE. To say, "where no ONE has gone before" denies all non-humans personhood and is Terran-supremist. It's the space equivalent of saying that Christopher Columbus was the first person to discover America: the native who were living here had discovered long before him!

      If you want to make it unable to be taken as an offensive statement, try "where no HUMAN has gone before", or "where no Terran has gone before."

  1. Great, now we're going to need an entire department on the ship devoted to monitoring the oscillation frequency of the warp field modulation.

  2. That's why the universe is expanding at an increasing rate – warp drive pollution from all these starships creating all this extra expanded spacetime . . .

  3. The idea is to wrap the space around the ship, by first contracting then expanding the environment, this will allow the ship to travel at a speed far faster then achievable using current methods. Real problem is the sheer energy requirements for make this happen are immense, now granted this new warp bubble design reduces that cost but not to a point where its still easily reached, this is called a 100 year project for a reason. However proving it can be done will do wonders for allowing grants and research to continue for this project. I will be watching the results from this closely. After all we are kinda wrecking this planet we live on, and at our population growth levels we better find a way to expand our options or we will all end up killing each other over what resources are left. Sure its not an issue we have to worry about in our life time, but hell if you have children or even grandchildren that should at least concern you a little.

  4. Now the only trick will be not blowing up our solar system with the damn thing. That is one of the potential downsides. Just a little one…..

  5. Whenever creationists with their anti-science agenda get me down I take great comfort in announcements like this…… at least there are people out there that are dragging the ignorant human race forward kicking and screaming.

    I hope to live long enough to see even a working prototype of this technology…… even if it is just a toy sized model.

      • Assertions without evidence are conjecture, therefore irrelevant. Accepting someone's belief purely w/ out falsifiability is naive & makes you susceptible to manipulation. Invoking an invisible sky faerie in a vacuous attempt to cover your argumentum ad ignorantiam *is* anti-science.

        Creationism/Intelligent Design revels in the wilfully ignorant.

    • I think you're referring more to the Literalists, who believe every word of whatever Holy book they grasp on to. One can be a Creationist and still trust in science, I don't see a contradiction between the belief and fact…. It's when you interpret belief as fact that you make egregious errors.

      But yes, scientists will drag us dirty apes into the future whether we like it or not.

      • I don't think you grasp the absurdity of your comment. Assume you're a theist, kindly explain how man was fully formed as is, (eg: specifically, in "his" image per Gen 1:27) & then? explain how all 46 of our chromosomes virtually mirror the 48 of the chimp, ape & orangutan. Both, by your logic, are facts. Only one requires faith. The other is true regardless.

        Now, if your god required multiple revisions before settling on this model, please explain why an omniscient deity would require the use of any, let alone numerous, revisions.

        Belief is irrelevant but that doesn't stop some from calling it "reality".

  6. Another issue is whether Einstein was right and violations of causality are possible with FTL. Given that his theories have a wealth of experimental evidence to back them up, it's a real possibility. The issue then becomes this: what will the effect be on spacetime if we break causality?

  7. "reduction of mass-energy requirements to as little at 1600 pounds!"

    You realise that means the energy released by completely converting 1600 pounds of matter to energy don't you? Which is equivalent to about 15,000 megatons of TNT. The Tsar Bomba (largest H-bomb ever tested) was 50 MT, and it broke windows 500 miles away.

    We haven't a clue how to achieve complete matter conversion yet, but when we do it had better not be tested anywhere near Earth!

  8. MIGHT!! Nasa MIGHT build a warp drive… not "will". Headline of this article is misleading. This is why shoddy reblogging is not real news.

    • Headline says “is” and they are. Now, it may not work; failure is always one of the possible outcomes.

      • Quote from the original article, "But for now, pursuit of this idea is very much in science mode. "I'm not ready to discuss much beyond the math and very controlled modest approaches in the lab," he said."

        Also from the original article, "A few months ago, physicist Harold White stunned the aeronautics world when he announced that he and his team at NASA had begun work on the development of a faster-than-light warp drive. His proposed design,…"

        Keywords, "science mode", "development", and "proposed design". None of these indicate actual construction.

        Also from the original article… the headline! "How NASA might build its very first warp drive".

        And I know the headline say "is". That's why I commented. Read the original article, not the re-blog.

        Read before shooting your mouth off.

  9. This may be a reflection of my ignorance on this topic, but what would happen to anyone/anything within said regions of expanded/contracted spacetime (outside the warp bubble)? Would they become expanded/contracted as well?