Warp Drive

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 Basis

As 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.  

Mechanism

Warp 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.

Bowshock

When 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.
Discovery
The slightly varying forms of warp drive were invented by each sophont species independently, with the exception of humans teaching the Prometheans and skae the operational principles of space-warp technology.
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.
  1. Gen I - 1.5c
  2. Gen II - 5.0c
  3. Gen III - 25.0c
  4. Gen IV - 75.0c
  5. Gen V - 150.0c
  6. 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.

Interstellar Travel

The Long Haul.png
Because of the extreme energy requirements of warp drives, warping large interstellar distances (in the case of Gen VI drives, >20 lightyears) is ill-advised and usually impossible due to fuel limitations. Thus, long journeys across known space (colloquially called "treks," or "hauls" in the case of cargo shipments) are performed in "jumps": a series of shorter warp-flights between station hubs to allow the vessel to refuel and stock up on supplies. Though this is the safest method of travel, further destinations require more jumps to reach, and the longest routes (such as the one to the right) can take up to 9 months.  

Invention History

The foundation for the human warp drive was laid by Mexican theoretical physicist Miguel Alcubierre, who proposed a method for changing the geometry of space by creating a wave that would cause the space ahead of a spacecraft to contract and the space behind it to expand. The ship would then ride this wave inside a region of flat space, known as a warp bubble, as the bubble is carried exactly in tandem with the vessel by the subluminal propulsion. After generations of extensive research and problem-solving, an engineering team spearheaded by Dr. Lindiwe Mbali built the first working full-scale prototype warp drive in 2146. After extensive autonomous and remote testing, the Generation I warp drive prototype was approved for human spaceflight, and flown by pilot Jesse Landis on June 15th, 2152. Captain Landis' 4.5-day, 54.6-million-kilometer flight from Earth to Mars made them the first human to travel within a warp bubble. Since then, the warp drive has undergone several improvements, notably the leap between generations VI and V from amplific factor W150 to factor W300.
For additional information, see the Wikipedia page on Alcubierre drives.

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