NASA Is Developing Its First Warp Drive

This render by artist Mark Rademaker shows NASA’s first warp vessel, appropriately named the Enterprise.
This render by artist Mark Rademaker shows NASA’s first warp vessel, appropriately named the Enterprise.

A few months ago, physicist Harold White stunned the aeronautics world when he announced that he and his team at NASA had begun work on the development of a faster-than-light warp drive.

His proposed design, an ingenious re-imagining of an Alcubierre Drive, may eventually result in an engine that can transport a spacecraft to the nearest star in a matter of weeks — and all without violating Einstein’s law of relativity.

The technology achieves these great speeds by, essentially, cheating. Instead of actually moving the ship, the drive would do all sorts of strange things to the fabric of space around the ship, moving it through space on a little area that is, itself, not moving.

A decent analogy is to think of space like a sheet of paper. The drive, instead of pushing you along the paper, makes folds in the paper and allows you to skip across the peaks you’ve created.

Harold G. White, a NASA physicist, is working on the concept of warp drive, like on "Star Trek." Some of the original series' ideas fit into the new warp field theories, like the round shape of the engines in the rendering.
Harold G. White, a NASA physicist, is working on the concept of warp drive, like on “Star Trek.” Some of the original series’ ideas fit into the new warp field theories, like the round shape of the engines in the rendering.

“This loophole in general relativity would allow us to go places really fast as measured by both Earth observers, and observers on the ship — trips measured in weeks or months as opposed to decades and centuries,” he said.

Given just how fantastic this all appears, we asked White if he truly thinks a warp-generating spacecraft might someday be constructed.

“Mathematically, the field equations predict that this is possible, but it remains to be seen if we could ever reduce this to practice.”

There are a number of hurdles to this, the least of which is perhaps the insane amounts of energy needed to create this effect. When the drive was first conceived in 1994, it was calculated that the device would require energy equal to the mass of Jupiter in order to work.

Dr. White has gotten that down to the size of a small minivan.

The drive’s power requirements aren’t the only barrier to this technology; it needs to be scaled up, made tough enough to survive its own operation and performed in small scale.

But thanks to these preliminary efforts, White has already done much to instill a renewed sense of hope and excitement over the possibilities. Now, in that little lab in Florida, faster-than-light travel may await us yet.

Reference: io9.com, rantlifestyle, extremetech.com

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