What Price Warp Drive?

Is a faster-than-light warp drive possible? Is it feasible? According to Harold "Sonny" White of NASA's Johnson Space Center, "there is hope."


(Alcubierre drive)

An Alcubierre warp drive would involve a football-shape spacecraft attached to a large ring encircling it. This ring, potentially made of exotic matter, would cause space-time to warp around the starship, creating a region of contracted space in front of it and expanded space behind.

"Everything within space is restricted by the speed of light," explained Richard Obousy, president of Icarus Interstellar, a non-profit group of scientists and engineers devoted to pursuing interstellar spaceflight. "But the really cool thing is space-time, the fabric of space, is not limited by the speed of light."

But recently White calculated what would happen if the shape of the ring encircling the spacecraft was adjusted into more of a rounded donut, as opposed to a flat ring. He found in that case, the warp drive could be powered by a mass about the size of a spacecraft like the Voyager 1 probe NASA launched in 1977.

Furthermore, if the intensity of the space warps can be oscillated over time, the energy required is reduced even more, White found.

"The findings I presented today change it from impractical to plausible and worth further investigation," White told SPACE.com. "The additional energy reduction realized by oscillating the bubble intensity is an interesting conjecture that we will enjoy looking at in the lab."

Star Trek's "warp drive" owes its existence (or at least its name) to the spacewarp drive from What Mad Universe, a 1949 novel by Frederic Brown.

Brown, in turn, was building on the work of Jack Williamson, who originated the term space warp in his 1936 novel The Cometeers. Williamson's description is not too much different from the Alcubierre drive:

Every atom of ship load and crew was deflected infinitesimally from the space-time continuum of four dimensions, and thus freed of the ordinary limitations of acceleration and velocity, was driven around space, rather than through it, by a direct reaction against the space warp itself.

Via Fox; thanks to Dewtey for pointing this one out.

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