(covers information from several alternate timelines)
Warp drive was a technology that allowed space travel at faster-than-light speeds. It worked by generating warp fields to form a subspace bubble that enveloped the starship, distorting the local spacetime continuum and moving the starship at velocities that could greatly exceed the speed of light. These velocities were referred to as warp factors. Warp drive was the most common form of interstellar propulsion used in the Milky Way Galaxy, making interstellar exploration, commerce, and warfare possible.
In 2063, the term "warp drive" was already used by Zefram Cochrane of his engine on the Phoenix. However, Cochrane used the term "space warp generator" in the monitor displays on his spacecraft (Star Trek: First Contact). Even as late as the 2150s, the warp five engine was still officially known as a "gravimetric field displacement manifold" (ENT: "Cold Front").
Most cultures throughout the Milky Way Galaxy used the term "warp drive" and by the late-23rd century it was the most common term used by the Federation as well (Star Trek: The Original Series, et al.). In the 2250s the term "hyperdrive" was used by Starfleet (TOS: "The Cage") and the Ferengi occasionally used the term "lightspeed drive" (TNG: "Peak Performance").
24th century Federation warp engines were fueled by the reaction of matter (deuterium) and antimatter (antideuterium), mediated through an assembly of dilithium crystals, which were nonreactive with antimatter when subjected to high-frequency electromagnetic fields. This reaction produced a highly energetic plasma, called electro-plasma or warp plasma, which was channeled by plasma conduits through the electro-plasma system (EPS). The electro-plasma was funneled by plasma injectors into a series of warp field coils, usually located in remote warp nacelles. These coils were composed of verterium cortenide and generated the warp field.
Other civilizations used different power sources, such as the Romulans' use of artificial quantum singularities to power their warp drives, but the basic process was similar. In some vessels, such as the Intrepid-class, the nacelles were mounted on variable geometry pylons.
Parts of the system Edit
- Antimatter containment
- Antimatter inducer
- Antimatter relay
- Deuterium cartridges
- Emergency shutdown trips
- Main stage flux chiller
- Magnetic interlock
- Nullifier core
- Pre stage flux chiller
- Phase inducer
- Plasma conduit
- Plasma intercooler
- Plasma regulator
- Power transfer conduit
- Power transfer grid
- Space matrix restoration coil
- Warp field generator
- Warp plasma conduit
- Warp core / matter/antimatter reaction assembly
System types Edit
- Class 7 warp drive
- Class 9 warp drive
- Enhanced warp drive
- S-2 graf unit
- Subspace resonator
- Tetryon plasma warp drive
- Tricyclic plasma drive
- Warp five engine
- Warp three engine
- Yoyodyne pulse fusion
Warp drive and other faster-than-light (FTL) propulsion technologies were the linchpin of an interstellar civilization, making trade and exploration across vast interstellar distances viable. Without these technologies, these distances could not be crossed in any reasonable period of time, making interstellar civilization usually limited to a single sector. (TNG: "A Matter of Time") To put this in perspective, planets that were years away with impulse speeds could be reached in days with ships equipped with warp drive. (TOS: "Where No Man Has Gone Before")
Cultures in the galaxy discovered warp drive at their own pace and rate of development, as most of the cultures had to do. The Vulcans were an interstellar civilization by 9th century BC and had reached the level of warp 7 by 2151. (ENT: "The Andorian Incident", "Fallen Hero"; DS9: "Little Green Men") Klingons had interstellar travel capability around the time of Kahless in the 9th century. They had achieved the capability of warp 6 by 2151. (TNG: "Rightful Heir"; DS9: "Little Green Men"; VOY: "Day of Honor"; ENT: "Judgment") Romulans were once considered a group of thugs and warp drive was regarded as the key technology that allowed the founding of their Star Empire. (Star Trek: Insurrection) The Vissians developed warp drive around the 12th century. (ENT: "Cogenitor") The Borg in the Delta Quadrant began to establish their interstellar collective by the 15th century. (VOY: "Dragon's Teeth") However, it was the rapid progress of Humanity which led to the wide-scale exploration of the galaxy and the formation of the United Federation of Planets.
The development of the warp drive was recognized by the United Federation of Planets as the marker of an advanced society. It was only after a people developed warp drive that the Federation made contact, as codified in the Prime Directive. (TNG: "First Contact")
21st century Edit
Despite the hardships imposed by the war's aftermath and the lack of advanced materials, Cochrane was able to build a manned warp-capable vessel using a converted Titan II missile. The successful first flight of his ship – the Phoenix – took place on April 5, 2063, and drew the attention of a Vulcan exploratory vessel, leading to the event known as First Contact. (Star Trek: First Contact)
22nd century Edit
Development of warp technology proceeded slowly over the next eighty years, after the flight of the Phoenix – due, in no small part, to the cautious advice of the Vulcans – and it was not until the 2140s that a warp engine developed by Henry Archer at the Warp Five Complex could exceed warp factor 2.
By the year 2151, warp technology was sufficiently advanced to allow a vessel to travel at warp 5, and the first Human starship, Enterprise, was built with this capability. (ENT: "Broken Bow") Although Enterprise was at first unable to fully realize this potential (maxing out at warp 4.7), the starship finally reached warp 5 on February 9, 2152. (ENT: "Fallen Hero")
23rd century Edit
Development and improvement of warp drive continued apace, and by the 2240s, Starfleet vessels of the Constitution-class had standard cruising speeds of warp 6 and emergency speeds as high as warp 8 (although under the right conditions, the engines could reach warp 9). These ships took advantage of a major breakthrough in warp technology that took place between 2236 and 2254, the breaking of the so-called "time barrier". (TOS: "The Cage")
Higher warp factors continued to be reached, mostly through alien intervention, or dangerous malfunction. The USS Enterprise was modified by the Kelvans to maintain a speed of warp 11 in 2268. Later that year, the Enterprise accelerated to a speed of warp factor 14.1, after being sabotaged by a Kalandan planetary defense system. At that velocity, however, the ship came within moments of destroying itself. (TOS: "By Any Other Name", "That Which Survives")
At around the same time, warp engines were being redesigned to allow standard speeds of warp 8 and above. During the refit of the Constitution-class, the cylindrical-shaped nacelles were replaced with a new flattened design. (Star Trek: The Motion Picture)
Warp theory continued to advance with the development of the first transwarp drive engines in the mid-2280s, which would have theoretically allowed greater efficiency and any warp speed to be available for a ship. However, the transwarp experiment of USS Excelsior ended in failure, and the technology was abandoned at that time. The Excelsior itself was deemed spaceworthy, retrofitted with conventional warp drive and commissioned as NCC-2000 under the command of Captain Hikaru Sulu. (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock; VOY: "Threshold"; Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country)
24th century Edit
By the time the Galaxy-class starship was being designed in the 2360s, warp technology had progressed to the point where speeds of warp 9.6 could be sustained for up to twelve hours, although warp 9.2 was considered the "red line." (TNG: "Encounter at Farpoint")
In 2370, the Hekaran scientist Serova discovered that the use of conventional warp engines caused damage to the fabric of spacetime. The Federation Council imposed a speed limit of warp factor 5 on all Federation vessels in all but extreme emergency cases, such as medical emergencies. (TNG: "Force of Nature", "Eye of the Beholder")
It was not until 2372, that the transwarp threshold was broken by the Federation. Tom Paris of the USS Voyager managed to achieve infinite velocity on the shuttlecraft Cochrane. However, this form of travel was found to have severe, unanticipated side effects. (VOY: "Threshold")
...and beyond Edit
Background information Edit
Gene Roddenberry originally intended the Enterprise to become transparent while in warp drive, as depicted in "The Cage" (later reformatted into the two-part "The Menagerie"). The idea was that the ship would be traveling faster than light, which means that light would not reach it, rendering the vessel invisible to the naked eye. However, according to Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity, the speed of light is a constant from any frame of reference; an observer moving at close to "c" would still observe light moving toward him and away from him at "c."
- Warp drive at Memory Beta, the wiki for licensed Star Trek works
- The Warp Drive: Hyper-Fast Travel Within General Relativity - a paper by Miguel Alcubierre
- Warp Drive: A New Approach. An exciting new concept in warp drive by Richard Obousy
- rec.arts.startrek.tech Warp Velocities FAQ - extra information on maximum warp explanations
- rec.arts.startrek.tech Warp and Subspace FAQ - discussions about warp and subspace
- Alcubierre drive at Wikipedia
- Hyperdrive at Wookieepedia, the Star Wars Wiki