|TechStatus||Star Trek Canon|
Warp drive is a technology that allows space travel at faster-than-light speeds. It does this by generating warp fields to form a subspace bubble that envelops the starship, distorting the local spacetime continuum and moving the starship at velocities that exceed the speed of light. These velocities are referred to as warp factors.
Warp drive works by distorting the fabric of space to propel the vessel. Simply put, the drive warps space, both in front of and behind a starship, allowing it travel faster than the speed of light. Specifically, spacetime is contracted in front of the ship and expanded behind it. The starship itself rests in a warp bubble between the two spacetime distortions. This warped space, together with the region inside it, accelerates off at "warp speed" and the vessel then "surfs" the wave in spacetime created by this distortion.
Travel at velocities exceeding the speed of light is possible in this fashion because the starship is, strictly speaking, stationary (relative to the space inside the warp bubble) while space itself is moving. Since space itself is moving and the starship is not actually accelerating, it experiences no time dilation, allowing the passage of time inside the vessel to be the same as that outside the warp bubble.
24th century Federation warp engines are fueled by the reaction of deuterium and antideuterium, mediated through an assembly of dilithium crystals, which are nonreactive with antimatter when subjected to high-frequency electromagnetic fields. This reaction produces a highly energetic plasma, called electro-plasma, which is channelled by magnetic conduits through the electro-plasma system EPS. The warp plasma is funneled to plasma injectors into a series of warp coil, usually located in remote warp nacelles, which generate the desired warp field. Other civilizations use different power sources, such as artificial quantum singularity, but the basic process is similar.
In some vessels, such as the Intrepid class, the nacelles are mounted on variable-geometry pylons to allow them to travel at greater speeds without causing damage to subspace. Further advances in technology allow the most modern starships such as the Sovereign class to feature newly redesigned warp nacelles that eliminate this need for variable-geometry nacelles while still obtaining the speed benefits.
Every culture in the galaxy discovered warp drive at their own pace and rate of development. The Vulcans (and, by extension, the Romulans) had warp drive in the 3rd century AD (Earth calendar) - although the technology was lost during that planet's civil war, and was not reacquired until several centuries later - and had reached the level of warp 7 by 2151, whilst the Klingons had a capability of warp 6 by the same year, although it is unclear when their experiments with the drive began. However, it was the rapid progress of humanity which led to the wide-scale exploration of the Milky Way Galaxy and the formation of the United Federation of Planets.
- Regarding Vulcan propulsion technology aboard the T'Plana-Hath (ship)|T'Plana-Hath, (Ronald D. Moore) commented: "Certainly Cochrane is credited with the invention of warp drive as we know it in Trek, so we could assume that the Vulcans were using something else -- possibly a variant of the contained singularity used by the Romulans. That might've been a much more dangerous and inefficient technology which was quickly abandoned by most of the galaxy when Cochrane's system was introduced."
The development of the warp drive is recognized by the United Federation of Planets as the marker of an advanced society. It is only after a people develop warp drive that the Federation will make contact, as codified in the Prime Directive.
On Earth, warp drive was initially developed by Zefram Cochrane in the period following World War III. Despite the hardships imposed by the war's aftermath, and the lack of advanced materials, Cochrane was able to build a warp-capable vessel using a converted Titan V missile as the testbed. 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.
While Cochrane's original warp engines were fission-powered, using material from the warhead(s) of the missile, the development of reliable matter-antimatter reactors was what would truly allow warp drive to realize its potential.
- The idea that Cochrane's original Phoenix was fission-powered is speculation based on the fact that Cochrane and his team were inoculated against radiation exposure after the Borg attack.
However, development of warp technology proceeded slowly over the next 80 years - 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. This engine was successfully flown in the second NX prototype by Commanders A.G. Robinson and Jonathan Archer to a speed of warp 2.5, breaking the so-called "warp 2 barrier."
By the year 2151, warp technology was sufficiently advanced to allow a vessel to travel at warp 5, and the first human starship Enterprise (NX-01) was built with this capability . Although at first, Enterprise was unable to fully realize this potential (maxing out at warp 4.7), the starship finally reached warp 5 on February 9, 2152.
By 2161, Starfleet had achieved warp 7, and was just starting to install it on the newest of Starfleet vessels.
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".
Higher warp factors continued to be reached, mostly through alien intervention, or dangerous malfunction. The USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) achieved a speed of warp 14.1 in 2268, propelled by an alien force known as Losira.
At around the same time, warp engines were being redesigned, and the refit of the Constitution class saw the cylindrical shape replaced with a flattened design that allowed standard speeds of warp 8 and above.
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 higher warp speeds. However, the installation of these massive engines aboard USS Excelsior ended in failure, and the technology was abandoned. (The Excelsior itself was deemed spaceworthy, retrofitted with more conventional warp engines and commissioned as NCC-2000 under the command of Captain Hikaru Sulu.
During the 24th century, Federation warp theorists rewrote the rule book, and created a new warp factor scale (the Warp factor|Revised Cochrane Scale). Whilst the scale was originally based on a cubic power scale, the new scale was a more advanced function, placing warp 10 at the infinite end of the scale, and factors increasing exponentially in terms of power consumption and equivalent speed.
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".
In 2370, the Hekaran scientist Serova discovered that the use of conventional warp engines caused damage to the fabric of spacetime. The Federation Council temporarily imposed a speed restriction of warp factor 5 on all Federation vessels in all but extreme emergency cases.
Fortunately, a solution was developed less than 8 months later that was gradually implemented on all vessels, and Starfleet vessels were again able to use the maximum capacity of their warp drives, first through the use of variable geometry nacelles, as on Intrepid class vessels, which also allowed a warp engine of essentially the same construction as those on the Galaxy class to achieve speeds of warp 9.975, and later through new nacelle design, as on the Sovereign class.
Glimpses into alternate timelines and temporal anomalies have given Starfleet scientists the chance to see possible enhancements to the warp drive system. In a possible future glimpsed by Jean-Luc Picard, by 2395, the warp scale had been reworked again, allowing speeds of at least Warp 13 (at least on board the USS Pasteur and USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-D) of that time).
Breakdown of Warp Speeds
|SPEED||KM / Hour||X * Speed
|Earth to Moon
|Across Sol System
8,976 Million KM*
|To nearby star
5 Light Years
|Across One Sector
20 Light Years
8,000 Light Years
|To Andromeda Galaxy|
2,500,000 Light Years
|11,160||0.00001||34.5 Hours||92 Years||483,867 Years||1.9 Million Years||774 Million Years||242 Billion Years|
|28,080||0.00003||13.7 Hours||36.5 Years||192,306 Years||769,225 Years||307.7 Million Years||96 Billion Years|
(1/4 light speed)
|270 Million||0.25||5.13 Seconds||33.27 Hours||20 Years||80 Years||32,022 Years||10 Million Years|
|Warp Factor 1||1,079 Million||1||1.28 Seconds||8.32 Hours||5 Years||20 Years||8,005 Years||2.5 Million Years|
|Warp Factor 2||10.8 Billion||10||0.13 Seconds||49.9 Minutes||6.1 Months||2 Years||800.5 Years||250,171 Years|
|Warp Factor 3||42 Billion||39||0.03 Seconds||12.8 Minutes||46.8 Days||6.24 Months||205 Years||64,146.5 Years|
|Warp Factor 4||110 Billion||102||0.01 Seconds||4.9 Minutes||17.9 Days||2.4 Months||78.5 Years||24,526 Years|
|Warp Factor 5||231 Billion||214||0.006 Seconds||2.33 Minutes||8.5 Days||1.14 Months||37.41 Years||11,690 Years|
|Warp Factor 6||423 Billion||392||0.0033 Seconds||1.27 Minutes||4.66 Days||18.64 Days||20.42 Years||6,382 Years|
|Warp Factor 7||708 Billion||656||0.00195 Seconds||45.64 Seconds||2.78 days||11 Days||12.2 Years||3,813.6 Years|
|Warp factor 8||1,105 Billion||1,024||0.00125 Seconds||29.24 Seconds||1.78 Days||7.13 Days||7.82 Years||2,443 Years|
|Warp Factor 9||1.63 Trillion||1,516||0.00085 Seconds||19.75 Seconds||1.2 Days||4.82 Days||5.28 Years||1,650 Years|
|Warp Factor 9.2||1.78 Trillion||1,649||0.00078 Seconds||18.16 Seconds||1.11 Days||4.43 Days||4.85 Years||1,517 Years|
|Warp Factor 9.6||2.06 Trillion||1,909||0.00067 Seconds||15.68 Seconds||22.96 Hours||3.83 Days||4.19 Years||1,310.5 Years|
|Warp Factor 9.9||3.29 Trillion||3,053||0.00042 Seconds||9.81 Seconds||14.36 Hours||2.39 Days||2.62 Years||819.43 Years|
|Warp Factor 9.99||8.53 Trillion||7,912||0.000162 Seconds||3.78 Seconds||5.54 Hours||22.16 Hours||1.01 Years||316 Years|
|Warp Factor 9.9999||215 Trillion||199,516||0.000006 Seconds||0.15 Seconds||13.18 Minutes||52.72 Minutes||14.65 Days||12.54 Years|
- The diameter of the Sol system is not exact but for the purposes of this chart is set to twice the diameter of Neptune's orbit (60 AU).
Article content taken and modified from Memory Alpha