the amazing, possibly viable warp drive

September 26, 2012

varies starship concept

Well ladies and germs, it appears that when I tried to calculate how much effort it would take for an alien civilization to create a warp drive, I may have been wrong and so were the theoreticians on whose work I based my numbers. And that’s a good thing because the latest buzz from the DARPA sponsored 100 Year Starship Symposium is that warp drives are many, many orders of magnitude more feasible than initially assumed. Rather than requiring the mass energy of all of Jupiter to jump start, it would require just 67.8 exajoules, which translates to roughly 755 kilos of material. Considering that just a few decades ago, the first theoretical basis of warp drives was considered to be impossible because it seemed like it would take more than the energy of the entire cosmos to create a space-time bubble, the new requirement lowers the bar to interstellar travel down to almost nothing. Yes, there’s the matter of how we can create a burst of energy approaching 68 exajoules, but we certainly have ideas involving large and powerful lasers.

Hold on though, how did we go from having to turn Jupiter into a spark plug to less than one ton of matter to kick-start a warp bubble? By fine tuning the warping of space and time required. In the classical scenario, we’d need a spherical bubble containing the ship, and aside from causing a number of rather nasty side effects, this arrangement turns out to be very energy-demanding since there’s so much space to warp. The first downgrade came from changing how the energy was applied. Rather than blasting out a space-time bubble, you’d basically implode space and time around you to manipulate the cosmological constant, or the Λ in Einstein’s equations, also known as dark energy. This downgrade in energy requirements does away with the warp bubble and proposes an oblong doughnut shape in which the ship is propelled in an area of normal and stable space-time being moved faster than light. For all intents and purposes, the spaceship will stand still as the universe moves around it. It sounds like a sci-fi cliché, but it may just work.

From what I’ve read on the subject, I could speculate that entirely possible that there would be a leak of Hawking radiation or a high-energy halo from the warp field, but these may not be big obstacles to warp travel. If anything, we may want to use powerful magnetic fields to channel all this energy into acceleration and really put the pedal to the metal when traveling to very distant stars. We’ll need to do a lot of experiments to know for sure and those experiments are already starting as a small NASA lab is trying to create space-time disruptions on an atomic scale with laser beams. When it can do that reliably, it can start scaling up to real-world objects and see if space and time will cooperate. If it does, we may be on our way to becoming the kind of space-faring species we only read about in sci-fi novels and space exploration will become a lot easier and more important. But at the same time, we have to stay realistic and understand that this is a tentative first baby step towards warp drives and into barely charted territory in which the laws of physics may cooperate with us just as easily as they might hinder us…

[ illustration by Adrian Mann ]

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  • Dar Norris

    “Q” !!! Ha Ha.

    If you stopped and let the universe go by, how do you know what direction you’ll go?

  • Brett

    So, instead of requiring a Jupiter-sized mass of “exotic matter” with negative mass-energy that we have no idea how to create and sustain at a macroscopic level, we “only” need three-quarters of a metric ton of exotic matter with negative mass-energy that we have no idea how to create and sustain at a macroscopic level. It’s not that much of a improvement until if or when we can create this stuff – right now, the only things that have negative mass-energy are dark energy/cosmological constant (no idea how to manipulate that, since it appears to be uniformly spread) and the fluctuations between two metal plates due to the Casimir Effect.

  • Tim Seabrook

    I’s a nice idea and a fantastic dream to have viable interstellar travel But to provide the powerrequired to operate a Warp Drive and to provide enough power to keep our world’s civilisation going we need to perfect nuclear Fusion! once we can get Nuclear fusion running Satifactorily, possibly using the Helium 3 Isotope to Combine it with Deuterium – the Hydrogen 2 Isotope found in seawater we’ll have a very good reason to set up a Miningbase cum colony on the moon as it’s the cheapest place in the Neighbourhood to get Helium 3 from, we need to set up off earth colonies as a matter of species survival so that the colony culd act as a lifeboat in the event of a future mass extinction event down here on earth like an Asteroid or Comet Strike of the type that destroyed the Dinosaurs! or a Super Volcano exploding ( e.g Yellowstone Park plunging the world into a volcanic Ash cloud induced Winter which would destroy all plant life and cause all animal life – the human race included to starve! also having a spacefaring system of Colonies on the Moon or Mars would give the Human race the technical Ability and societal values to try to explore the Galaxy for new Habitable worlds to Colonise. so before we chase after Esoteric Technologies like Warp drive I think it would be Prudent to develop a reliable Fusion Reactor system it’s been Calculated that a Tonne of Helium3 mined on the moon and sent back to earth could power all of North America for a year including producing Hydrogen for veicle and Rocket Fuel! ( to get back to the moon, perhaps this is why the Russians, chinese and Indian space research Organisations are all looking at the moon colonisation in their future plans for manned space Flight!

  • Greg Fish

    we “only” need three-quarters of a metric ton of exotic matter with negative mass-energy that we have no idea how to create and sustain at a macroscopic level.

    No, we don’t need negative mass-energy because we’re not trying to make a sphere and we do have a clue how to generate a lot of mass-energy we could direct almost at will. We just don’t have the kind of equipment that can work on such a vast scale. Basically it would involve nuclear powered lasers and powerful magnetic fields. We know how to built both, we just need to figure out how to build them to such ambitious specs.

  • Paul451

    Helium-3 fusion is no easier than D-D/D-T fusion. We don’t know how to create break-even D-D or D-Tfusion plants yet. So He-3 doesn’t get us any closer to that goal.

    And even if we had commercial fusion, the only advantage of He-3 fusion is that it’s aneutronic. But since He-3 is a waste product from regular fusion, we aren’t going to need an external supply of He-3 for decades, perhaps centuries, after we crack commercial fusion.

    Spending a $100b to set up a mining operation on the moon, to scrape the trace amounts of He-3 from millions of tonnes of lunar regolith, to bring back a few tonnes of He-3 for a fusion industry that doesn’t actually exist, is somewhat premature.

    To use an analogy – talking about He-3 mining on the moon, at this stage of fusion research, is like starting construction on a full sized star-ship, at this stage in warp-field experiments.

  • Tito

    p-B11 fusion can be viable enough to power warp drive.