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Engage: Star Trek’s Warp Drive May Be More Possible Than We Thought, According To Scientists
September 23, 2012
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All you Star Trek fans out there, start dreaming again: according to scientists, the warp drive that propels the Starship Enterprise in the Trek universe might not be as unrealistic as once thought.

Back in 1994, Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre proposed a model for a real-life warp drive, but when he crunched the numbers, he discovered it would take way too much energy to make it work.

Now scientists say that with some adjustments to the proposed drive, it could run on significantly less energy. And that could bring warp technology into the realm of actual science.

"There is hope," Harold "Sonny" White of NASA's Johnson Space Centre said at the 100 Year Starship Symposium in Houston, an annual event that gathers together scientists, researchers and yes, some of the cast of Star Trek (Levar Burton and Nichelle Nichols, to be precise) to consider the realities of future instellar space flight.

Here's a video of advanced propulsion researcher Marc Millis at the Symposium, talking through the technology of the proposed warp drive, and, of course, his favourite sci-fi movies:

Here's how it would work - and fair warning, it's kind of confusing.

First, we'd build a football-shaped spaceship (gives a whole new meaning to the term "go long," doesn't it?) with a large ring around it. The ring is made out of "exotic matter" that causes space-time to warp around the ship, creating a region of contracted space in front and expanded space behind.

The starship itself would be inside a bubble of flat space-time that isn't being warped at all.

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This will allow the ship to go faster than the speed of light, since, unlike everything else, space-time "is not limited by the speed of light," according to Richard Obousy, president of Icarus Insterstellar, a non-profit group of scientists and engineers devoted to pursuing interstellar flight.

The original 1994 design would have needed a power source about the size of Jupiter to work. But with the new adjustments, the warp drive could be powered by something about the size of a small spacecraft like the Voyager 1 probe NASA launched in 1977.

But don't invest in (another) Captain Picard outfit just yet. The science is still theoretical, although some scientists are experimenting with a miniature version of the warp drive in their laboratory.

"If we're ever going to become a true spacefaring civilization, we're going to have to think outside the box a little bit, we're going to have to be a little bit audacious," Obousy said.

Or, to put it another way, we'll never boldly go where no one has gone before unless we're very enterprising.

Sorry.

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