Warp drives are the sole known mechanism for macroscopic faster-than-light travel (wormholes, while possible, are only stable at subatomic scales suitable for ansibles alone.) These devices are used to traverse space in arbitrarily less time than photons do, making them by far one of the most vital technologies any spacefaring sophont species can have, and one of the most complex. The drives allow apparent superluminal travel at anywhere from just 1.5 times the speed of light to 200 times that same speed, depending on the generation of the drive.
Physical BasisAs the name suggests, warp drives distort four-dimensional spacetime in a way that amplifies motion through "real" space. Vessels using warp drives are enclosed in a "bubble" of distorted spacetime that effectively multiplies their apparent velocity due to the "bunching up" of spacetime around them. The intensity of the warping, referred to as "opacity," varies depending on the generation of the drive.
MechanismWarp travel is facilitated by a series of energized dielectric Casimir plates arranged in a ring surrounding a spacecraft that, when pushed close enough to each other to produce a Casimir vacuum force, generate enough negative energy to warp spacetime in accordance with the Alcubierre metric. The plates are powered by one or more matter-antimatter reactors, generating the massive amounts of energy required to form an Alcubierre bubble. Larger vessels typically have two or more warp rings to elongate the bubble and ensure all of the ship is warped at once.
Drawbacks & Stipulations
Hyperspace Relative Velocity (HRV)Since warp drives amplify velocity in any direction, operators must ensure their craft's velocity is absolutely aligned to their desired vector before engaging the warp device; else they risk warping sideways, missing their destination, or colliding with subluminal mass. This factor and its associated safety procedure are loosely termed "hyperspace relative velocity"; once HRV is within acceptable parameters it is safe to engage the warp drive.
BowshockWhen in motion, the Alcubierre bubble snowplows cosmic radiation in a sort of bowshock, which is immediately released as a forward-directed shockwave upon the flattening of the bubble. This has been alleviated as a side effect of the Penning shield: an artificial magnetic field around the vessel initially intended to protect inhabitants of the vessel inside from cosmic radiation, with the added bonus of trapping blueshifted bowshock particles to gradually disperse them.
Warp Drive Generations The terms "generation" and "class" are used interchangeably in regards to warp drives, referring to the maximum apparent velocity they can achieve given a subluminal velocity of 0.5c. Each generation amplifies realspace velocity much more than its predecessor.
- Gen I - 1.5c
- Gen II - 5.0c
- Gen III - 25.0c
- Gen IV - 75.0c
- Gen V - 150.0c
- Gen VI - 200.0c
Technical Impossibility Though initially argued to be impossible due to the constrains of special relativity in regards to information reference frames, its first successful long-distance tests demonstrated no temporal displacement, casting severe doubt on the validity of that portion of special relativity which links time to frames of reference. This eventually lead to the widely accepted universal now addendum to general relativity, which posits that the entire universe can be seen through a single temporal reference frame.