Warp drive

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Technical

Basic principles

  • Officially known as a "gravimetric field displacement manifold" (ENT: "Cold Front")
    • Occasionally known as "hyperdrive" as late as the mid-23rd century (TOS: "The Cage")
  • Warp reactor generates high energy electroplasma
    • Immediate production includes various exotic particles that allow for manipulation of subspace when properly channeled
    • Production also includes dangerous byproducts such as delta and theta radiation, but such byproducts either lose energy quickly through inter-plasma interactions and are quickly rendered harmless (such as delta radiation) or are absorbed by radiometric converters to reduce risk to personnel (such as theta radiation)
    • Plasma most commonly the result of highly-focused matter/antimatter streams directed through dilithium crystals
      • In Federation ships, crystals are mounted in an articulation frame (ENT Novel: Uncertain Logic; TNG: "Booby Trap", "Relics")
        • Crystals exposed to electromagnetic fields via dilithium chargers (TNG Tech Manual; NF Novel: Into the Void)
      • Matter and antimatter streams require minimum temperature in order to have sufficient energy to penetrate dilithium matrix (ENT Novel: Uncertain Logic)
        • Without sufficient temperature, streams will scatter in reaction chamber, eroding mounted crystal and articulation frame
        • Eventually, when crystal or frame shatters, matter/antimatter streams meet directly, triggering annihilation pulse that ruptures the core, leading to core breach
        • Depending on temperature, could occur anywhere from seconds to hours
        • In theory, cold streams can be directed purely through carefully controlled magnetic containment manipulation, but calculations to allow for such are extremely elaborate (ENT Novel: Uncertain Logic; TOS: "The Naked Time")
  • This plasma, also known as "warp plasma", is directed along power transfer conduits into subspace field emitter coils via plasma injectors, often mounted in nacelle structures mounted away from the ship (DS9: "Captive Pursuit"; TNG Novel: A Time to Hate)
    • Warp plasma mediated by coolant systems, internal baffle plates, flow regulators to ensure constant flow rate and moderate drive temperature
      • Malfunction of coolant systems or loss of plasma coolant can lead to total failure of warp drive
        • Without coolant systems, plasma temperatures rapidly increase, degrading internal warp drive mechanisms and eventually causing failure of M/AM injectors and loss of antimatter containment (TNG: "Yesterday's Enterprise"; Star Trek: Generations)
      • Malfunction of baffle plate can lead to delta radiation exposure within immediate vicinity of warp drive, and potential warp core breach (TOS: "Charlie X", "The Menagerie, Part I")
        • As baffle plate fails, plasma flow rate becomes uncontrollable
        • Malfunction of the baffle plate can lead to drastic reduction of plasma density within drive as flow increases, preventing internal absorption of delta radiation (TOS: "The Menagerie, Part I")
        • Total failure of baffle plate can quickly lead to plasma flashback into the drive, rapidly increasing internal drive temperature beyond the ability of coolant systems to cope and degrading M/AM injectors, leading to containment breach in seconds (TOS: "Charlie X")
    • Plasma injectors constructed of most durable alloys available, in order to ensure integrity of structure under high temperatures, currents, and exotic particles produced via operation (TNG Novel: A Time to Hate)
    • Drive systems include plasma vents (ENT: "Minefield", "Precious Cargo", "Canamar"; TNG: "Force of Nature"; VOY: "One")
      • Plasma must be vented regularly as it loses energy, to clear system, maintain optimum drive functioning
        • Lack of plasma emissions a sign of inactive warp drive (TNG: "Force of Nature")
        • Because of need to regularly vent plasma, in matter-dense regions of space vents must be regularly cleared of contaminants or else warp drive will shut down or fail to engage (ENT: "Precious Cargo"; VOY: "One")
      • In emergency situations, all plasma can be vented to clear the system (ENT Novel: Uncertain Logic)
        • Warp plasma is highly energetic and explosive; plasma should not be vented in an enclosed environment, in an energetic region of space, or during combat (ENT Novel: Uncertain Logic; TNG: "The First Duty")
    • Subspace field emitter coils used in warp travel commonly known as "warp field coils", or simply "warp coils" (Various)
    • Nature of the exotic particles generated by the process functions within the subspace field emitter coils to generate a field which manipulates the configuration of subspace within a limited radius around the coils
      • Consumption and decay of these exotic particles means that drive plasma must continuously be vented and replenished during warp drive operation (see above)
  • Warp coils pulse in a specifically-computed sequence to generate a field which displaces and reconfigures local subspace domains in order to distort the structure of local spacetime (TNG Novel: A Time to Hate)
    • Known as a "subspace displacement field", or more commonly a "subspace field" or "warp field"
    • Warp coils specifically designed to function in sequence to produce a propulsive effect; subspace fields used for non-propulsive effects created by other fixed devices more commonly known as "subspace field generators"
      • Warp coil operation involves constriction or or contraction ("chilling") of warp plasma magnatomic flux (ENT Novel: The Good That Men Do)
      • Some warp designs run on two or more simultaneous pulse cycles, producing dicyclic warp signatures (VOY: "Hunters"; DS9 Novel: Demons of Air and Darkness)
        • Usually limited to smaller vessels for increased efficiency by consuming greater amounts of warp plasma remnants, usually at expense of reduced warp coil lifespan, greater need to balance warp coil alignment (DS9 Novel: Demons of Air and Darkness)
    • Generation of warp field can be supported by graviton emission (such as via tractor beam emitters) in situations of distorted or "damaged" underlying subspace strata due to the space-time manipulation effects of gravitons, though graviton emissions are insufficient themselves to generate a field (DS9 Novel: Gamma: Original Sin)
    • Ships traveling at warp leave a detectable "warp trail"
      • Combination of the after-effects of subspace distortion and ionized plasma exhaust (VOY: "Cathexis", "Warlord", "The Raven")
        • This ionized exhaust sometimes referred to as an "ion trail" (though different from the ion trail left by impulse drives), or as "warp particles" (VOY: "Parallax", "Critical Care")
      • Trails are particular to a specific drive configuration, meaning ships can potentially be identified by their warp trail (TNG: "Parallels"; VOY: "Initiations")
      • Such a trail can be obscured or erased through local or artificial conditions, including nebular gas, EM fields, stellar winds, and shield harmonics (ENT: "Anomaly"; DS9: "To the Death"; VOY: "Dreadnought", "The Raven", "Dark Frontier")
    • When traveling at warp, ships can generally only fire or be fired upon by beam weapons upon approaching near enough to overlap and synchronize warp fields (TNG Novel: The Buried Age)
      • Otherwise, beam disperses upon leaving warp field, falling back into normal space and thus no longer traveling at FTL velocities (TOS Novel: Ex Machina)
      • Physical projectiles suffer similar effect
        • Torpedo-type weaponry or probes require warp sustainer coils to continue at warp upon leaving warp field
          • Can only maintain existing warp field, insufficient to generate one and enter warp from sublight velocity
  • Local region of distorted space, also known as a "warp bubble", pushes against surrounding space to propel a ship, most commonly at faster-than-light velocities
    • Essentially forms a shell of normal spacetime which itself travels at FTL velocities through interaction with subspace, while the vessel never exceeds the speed of light locally within said bubble (TOS Novel: Ex Machina)
      • As a result, any light emitted forward by a vessel traveling at warp will leave the warp field, fall into normal space, and "catch up" near-immediately, blueshifting into hard radiation and "reflecting" back into the bubble (TOS Novel: Ex Machina)
        • "Reflection" is a frame-of-reference effect of the vessel's FTL speed; the light continues traveling forward at c, but as the vessel is travelling FTL relative to normal space, it catches up to its own light (TOS Novel: Ex Machina)
        • Deflector beam thus must be tuned not only to deflect incoming matter, but to redshift incoming radiation to low-energy radio waves (TOS Novel: Ex Machina)
        • As emitted light is thus near-imperceptible against the CMB, besides the subtle "warp flash" effect, FTL sensors are necessary to detect any vessel traveling at warp (TOS Novel: Ex Machina)
    • Degree of distortion measured in "cochranes", where 1 cochrane = sufficient distortion for travel at c/Warp 1
      • Non-propulsive applications of subspace fields, including FTL computation, also measure distortions in cochranes or millicochranes
    • Power efficiency of warp bubble generation inversely proportional to vessel size (ENT Novel: Patterns of Interference)
    • Speed of travel dependent on multiple factors
      • Fundamental speed determined by degree of distortion, described by "warp factor"
        • Consisting of layered warp fields, each pushing against the next following (Reference: TNG Technical Manual; ENT Novel: The Good That Men Do)
          • Forward motion phenomenon technically known as "asymmetrical peristaltic field manipulation" (Reference: TNG Technical Manual; ENT Novel: The Good That Men Do)
        • Integral warp factors tend to be most efficient speeds for Cochrane-style warp engines; energy required to achieve a given speed increases as velocity increases, but drops suddenly at next integral warp factor, allowing integral speeds to be sustained more effectively
          • Presumably, each warp factor corresponds to a single warp field, thus meaning most efficient warp field projection accomplished when all are fully formed
        • Original warp scale used warp factors such that fundamental speed = WF^3
        • Scale recalibrated in early 24th century as a result of transwarp research from the Excelsior project, in addition to improved field control algorithms
          • Developments lead to increased fine control of warp fields, including shift from single-phase warp coil activation patterns to multiphasic, leading to automatic containment of warp field variability (TNG: "Relics")
        • New scale used warp factors such that fundamental speed = WF^(10/3) up to warp 9, asymptotic increase towards warp 10 (infinite velocity) (TNG Technical Manual)
          • Warp 10 equivalent to occupying all points in the universe simultaneously (TNG Novel: Vendetta)
      • Fundamental speed can be generated through two methods
        • Safer is manipulating warp coil construction or engagement frequency to properly generate layered warp fields for travel at a given velocity
        • More dangerous is increasing reaction rate to maximize energy production within a warp drive, overdriving existing warp fields to push the vessel
          • Requires increasing plasma flow rate and chamber pressure (ENT Novel: Kobayashi Maru)
            • If pushed too far, can result in chamber rupture due to overpressure, causing warp core breach
          • Increases spaceframe strain, potentially resulting in structural damage
          • Can reduce warp field stability, risking vessel structural integrity upon leaving warp (ENT Novel: Kobayashi Maru)
            • This can be compensated for via warp field stabilizers (NF Novel: Into the Void)
      • True speed largely impacted by local subspace conditions, which provide multiplicative effects on fundamental speed, as well as mass-energy distribution within normal space (TOS Novel: Ex Machina; Star Trek: Generations)
        • Subspace conditions generally globally stable (on a kiloyear timescale) but locally unstable, requiring regular charting of subspace to calculate most efficient geodesics for travel between two points
          • Usual duty for navigator (when role is divided) or conn officer (when it is not); improvement in sensor and computer technology in 24th century led to recombination of this role in Starfleet
        • Additionally, more accurate charting can often vastly reduce energy consumption or time to destination, leading to importance of preliminary exploration of uncharted space when expanding into new areas
      • Analogous in many ways to river or ocean currents, though impact on velocity not necessarily unidirectional
  • Objects traveling at warp cause subspace distortion (also known as "subspace wake"), with strength of effect proportional to mass, inversely proportional to square of distance from object (ENT Novel: To Brave the Storm)
    • Can be used as an easy form of detection of starships traveling at warp in the vicinity
    • Extremely massive objects traveling at warp can cause sufficient distortion to disrupt subspace communication in their immediate vicinity (SCE Short Story: "Cold Fusion")
  • Velocity vector can be rotated through alteration of field alignment in coils, though this can cause nacelles to exert stress on spaceframe (TNG Novel: The Buried Age)
  • Warp travel largely non-Newtonian, as vessel is motionless with regard to immediately local space within warp bubble, and space itself carries the vessel
    • Entry into and out of warp speed does provide a potentially-deadly inertial effect to the vessel, and occasionally improper subspace field formation can lead to inertial effects during travel, both of which must be mediated by inertial dampeners
    • A vessel's Newtonian velocity persists before and after entry into FTL travel (ENT Novel: Live by the Code; S31 Novel: Abyss)
      • Proper asymmetric collapse of a vessel's warp field can impart a desired change to the vessel's Newtonian velocity as it falls back into normal space, but such maneuvers are difficult and potentially dangerous to perform properly (ENT Novel: Live by the Code)
    • Subspace manipulation resulting from high-energy warp fields, such as those used in warp travel, associated with the generation of virtual particles including certain high-mass baryons which can embed themselves in a ship's spaceframe over time (TNG: "Starship Mine")
      • Such particles can be removed via regular baryon sweeps, preventing accumulation from reaching dangerous levels (TNG: "Starship Mine")
  • Repeated subspace manipulation at sufficiently high energies over long spans of time via warp fields was discovered to permanently modify the structure of subspace, potentially destabilizing normal space as a result via the impinging of subspace into space (TNG: "Force of Nature")
    • Such damage to space and subspace is minimized by travel at or below warp 5 (modern scale)
    • Later redesign of warp drive, initially including variable-geometry nacelles but later designed into fixed-nacelle structures, avoids this effect
    • The lack of such phenomena galaxy-wide suggests that such damage to subspace does naturally "heal" as it reconfigures itself over astronomical time scales, though this is potentially also a source of some known subspace anomalies
    • The effect of Omega molecules on subspace is likely similar to this effect
  • If improperly formed, the spacetime distortion of a warp field can lead to any number of hazards for the ship in question
    • Interaction of an uncalibrated warp field with local gravitational forces, especially within the gravity well of a star, can result in the formation of an unstable wormhole extending to a random location in nearby space (ENT Novel: A Choice of Futures; Star Trek: The Motion Picture, TOS Novel: Ex Machina)
      • Such wormholes are unpredictable, and often result in damage or destruction to the ship in question (ENT Novel: A Choice of Futures; Star Trek: The Motion Picture)
  • Entry into or out of warp associated with a sharp burst of light known as a "warp flash"
    • Entry flash the result of gravity-lensed starlight concentrated by the formation of a warp field, and erupting once the field stabilizes into a particular configuration (TOS Novel: Ex Machina)
    • Exit flash a side effect of the collapse of spacetime back to normal configuration, resulting in a very brief release of photons across the EM spectrum, appearing visibly as a sudden dim flash of white light (TOS Novel: Ex Machina)
  • Similarly, travel at warp associated with recurring streaks of light from surrounding stars
    • The result of starlight cycling through a given warp field, being distorted and lensed into the appearance of streaks shooting past the vessel (TOS Novel: Ex Machina)

Alternate warp drive configurations

  • Vulcan 22nd century coleopteric drive
    • Massive rear-mounted ring structure holding warp coils; single structure means greater efficiency at higher speeds, but less ability to modify course
  • Romulan quantum singularity drive
    • Uses the strong gravitational fields of a small quantum singularity (coupled with its output of chronitons and other exotic particles naturally) as a natural particle accelerator to generate the necessary warp plasma and exotic particles rather than dilithium-mediated M/AM reaction (ENT Novel: The Good That Men Do)
  • Black hole drive
    • Involves rapidly pushing an array of black holes in containment into subspace in such a manner that they quickly return to real space a small distance away, pulling the vessel in a given direction (SCE Short Story: "The Belly of the Beast")
    • Extremely difficult to engineer, but at sufficiently high frequencies can result in high sustainable warp travel at very low fuel cost (SCE Short Story: "The Belly of the Beast")
    • Many failed implementations known, but only known successful implementation found in ship known colloquially as The Beast, February 2376 (SCE Short Story: "The Belly of the Beast")

Byproducts of warp drive reactors

  • Early warp drive designs generate theta radiation (VOY: "Night")
    • Corrected in most Alpha and Beta Quadrant drive designs by transkinetic chamber to break down residual antimatter from M/AM interaction, radiometric converters to absorb theta radiation
  • Trilithium resin

History

Historical achievement of warp drive

  • Romulan: 7th century (Reference: The Way of D'era: The Romulan Star Empire)
  • Klingon: after 9th century
    • After the death of Kahless (TNG: "Rightful Heir")
  • Vissian: 12th century (ENT: "Cogenitor")
  • Vulcan: mid-19th century
    • 1,500 years after time of Surak (ENT: "The Forge")
  • Andorian: mid-20th century (ENT Novel: Uncertain Logic)
  • Trill: 2040s (DS9 Short Story: "First Steps")
  • Human: 2063 (Star Trek: First Contact)
  • Ferengi: After 1947, before 2150 (ENT: "Acquisition"; DS9: "Little Green Men")
  • Bolian: 2127 (DTI Short Story: "The Collectors")
  • Ingavi: c.2250 (S31 Novel: Abyss)
  • Evoran: 2374 (SCE Short Story: "Past Life")
  • Keorgan: 2376 (SCE Short Story: "Some Assembly Required")

Stages

  • First-generation drives short-ranged, tend to be powered via antimatter-spiked fusion reactors (ENT Novel: Patterns of Interference)
  • Second-generation drives use dilithium crystals to mediate matter/antimatter reaction for greater efficiency (ENT Novel: Patterns of Interference; Reference: TNG Technical Manual)
  • Prevention of antimatter waste (VOY: "Night")
    • Possibly reduces engine efficiency if this is why mirror-Enterprise's warp reactor was so dangerous
  • Warp three barrier (ENT)
    • Goal of warp 5 project was to achieve warp 5, obviously, but apparently no ship could surpass warp 3 until Enterprise judging by NX prototype vessels; possibly technology to achieve warp 3 applies across the scale up to warp 5?
  • Warp seven barrier (ENT relaunch)
  • Multiphasic auto-contained warp fields (TNG: "Relics")
  • Variable geometry warp fields to prevent subspace damage (i.e., Intrepid-class vessels)

Known components

  • Theta-matrix compositor (DS9 Novel: Gamma: Original Sin)
    • Reconstructing dilithium crystals?