Oct 11 2008

"Warp 10, Scotty!"

Published by at 9:00 pm under Wave Guide 10: Pop Culture

Will any future Captain Kirk ever say that for real?

In any case, growing excitement over a far-future interstellar propulsion system can be taken as evidence for early ebullience … a key characteristic of the approach to the next Maslow Window.

The September issue (Vol. 61, No. 9) of the prestigious Journal of the British Interplanetary Society features six articles on how we may someday be able to travel to the stars using a faster-than-light (FTL) warp drive.

The secret to the stars may be the Alcubierre warp drive.
Click alcubierre.png.

Although this may sound impossible now — and indeed our Universe may prohibit it — the first serious scientific speculation about warp drive was published in 1994 by Mexican theoretical physicist Miguel Alcubierre. His solution to the Einstein field equations features a “bubble” of highly curved space-time powered by a local expansion of space-time at the bubble’s rear and a corresponding contraction in front. It’s especially nice because while the bubble is executing FTL speeds, the spacecraft — comfortably ensconced inside the bubble — remains at rest with respect to normal space-time and thus doesn’t fuss with annoying time dilations or relativistic mass increases. Old fashioned wormholes need not apply in this future scenario.

But for now, the Alcubierre drive remains “scientific speculation” because of 19 unsolved physical problems with the concept, according to BIS Warp Drive Symposium Chair K.F. Long. For example, it’s not known yet how to disturb space-time to produce the desired “bubble” or how to obtain the large amounts of negative energy needed to maintain it. Plus, the 2nd Law of Thermo may prohibit negative energy anyway.

But assuming it’s possible, how long do aspiring galactic explorers have to wait? Jeremy Gardiner offers an estimate based on an interesting historical analogy with manned spaceflight to the Moon. Although Galileo first observed the Moon’s mountains and valleys in 1610, the first fictional account of human Moon travel was in 1657 by Cyrano de Bergerac. That was even before Newton published the rules (e.g., gravity) about how to get there in 1687. Robert Goddard discussed the theory of rockets in 1919 and then demonstrated it for liquid propellants in 1926. After being refined by the Germans (V-2), the Russians, and the Americans, the first manned landing occurred in 1969 — slightly over 300 years after Cyrano’s fictional winged spacecraft with staged rockets!

The Warp Drive timeline includes Einstein’s Special and General Theory in 1905 and 1915, John W. Cambell’s 1930 novel that first described warp drive (and later movies and TV shows like Star Trek), and the 1994 Alcubierre warp paper. Thus Gardiner suggests a real warp drive might be available around 2180!

Mark your calendars…

3 responses so far

3 Responses to “"Warp 10, Scotty!"”

  1. Matt Metcalfon 13 Oct 2008 at 3:31 pm

    It’s good to see the JBIS publishing these types of theoretical articles. I expect more of this kind of thing in the future, thanks to the formation of the Tau Zero Foundation (http://www.tauzero.aero).

  2. Bonuson 15 Jul 2010 at 11:01 am

    For a more feasible warp drive that may become reality in 10 to 20 years, see
    Hotmail:Real life warp drive science.

    Hi Martin,

    “10 to 20 years”…? Wow, you are an optimist!

    Best regards…

  3. Bill Thorntonon 08 Jul 2011 at 10:28 pm

    —- Snip —

    – – About 100 to nearly 200 years out: Nuclear Fusion (not fission) can yield speeds of up to 5% and possibly 10 % of light, using micro fusion explosions and the famed Buzzard Fusion Ramjet. . . Fusion generators could power an ion engine also. This technology is the first to make a “barely” viable 80 to 100 year round trip to the nearest star outside our solar system possible.

    – – Around 150 + to 250 + years out: Matter-Antimatter with a multi Terawatt laser-ion output using a light sail or similar could make a 10 to 20 year round trip to the nearest star (Proxima-Alpha Centari) possible… viable, still not desirable… though way better than some multi – generational approach with older tech, which would be stupid to try unless Earth faced a life ending disaster.

    These are still sub light speed technologies.

    Warp drive is WAY more advanced than anything described above. It involves NOT just anti-matter, but manipulating gravity using negative or zero point energy. Or achieving something called PLANK energy levels…

    —Snip —

    Hi Bill,

    Although I enjoyed your comment and your timescales may be right, it’s really impossible to extrapolate advanced concepts or technologies much beyond 100 years.

    Think about Moore’s Law …


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