Project “Faster Than Light”

The warp drive is a theoretical machinery for travelling faster than the speed of light, which moves at approximately 300,000 km/s. Since the 1960s, warp drive has been featured in many science fiction stories, especially the TV series Star Trek, created by Gene Rodenberry. Aerospace engineers use something called a Technology Readiness ladder to scale technology maturity, and on this scale warp drive is at a level 1.0, which means conjecture. This is because currently its just fantasy, and we don’t even have any idea for the basic principles of physics by which the warp drive effect could be activated, let alone engineered.

Theoretical Warp Drive from “How to Colonise the Stars” documentary

That said, nature does allow for warp drives. When Albert Einstein wrote his famous Special and General Relativity papers in 1905 and 1915 respectively he stated that it was impossible for objects with mass to exceed the speed of light, this is because the equations showed an exponential increase in momentum and therefore energy would be required, the closer you get to the actual number. Any spacecraft that does approach this barrier, will undergo a form of time dilation, but the vehicle can never exceed the speed of light through space. What people don’t always realise however, is that it is perfectly allowed within the laws of physics for space itself to exceed this speed. This is exactly what happened during the beginning of the Universe when it underwent a period called inflation; the Universe grew exponentially in size within a fraction of a second. So, space can expand – can space also collapse? Indeed it can.

The Alcubierre Warp Drive Metric

Physicist(s) and Astronomers have studied stars and their gravity through the ages and they have discovered, mainly through Einstein’s revelations, that space will bend around an object with mass. For a dying star greater than around 3 times the mass of our Sun, when it gets to the end of its life, the star will collapse in on itself and create a black hole – an object with a gravity field so intense, that the escape velocity exceeds that of light itself – hence not even light can escape and so the object becomes non-luminous. It is these effects from nature of space expanding (as in the Big Bang formation) and space collapsing (as in a Black Hole) that is the principles upon which the warp drive effect may operate, if it could ever be engineered. The collapse and expansion rate is what determines the speed of the warp bubble surrounding any vessel. The problem however, is the requirement for enormous amounts of negative energy in order to induce the warp drive effect.

In 1994 the physicist Miguel Alcubierre published a paper in Classical & Quantum Gravity titled “The Warp Drive: Hyper-fast Travel Within General Relativity”, which showed at least in 1-dimension, a mathematical formulation for describing the geometry of a warp bubble, and its negative energy requirements. Although the subject remained conjecture, this changed the landscape of breakthrough physics research and a flurry of papers were published thereafter, coming up with new “metric equations”, or deriving new negative energy requirements, using quantum field theory and General Relativity. So it was that in 2007 BIS Fellow Kelvin Long organised a conference dedicated to the Warp Drive titled “Warp Drive: Faster than Light – Breaking the Interstellar Distance Barrier”. This may have been one of the first such dedicated events in history and it showed that even now the British Interplanetary Society was at the forefront of daring visionary speculation. A symposium took place on 15th November 2007 in which several speakers attended from around the world, all gathered to review the warp drive. The papers presented and the authors speaking were as follows:

  • The Status of the Warp Drive, Kelvin F.Long
  • Warp Drive: From Imagination to Reality, Jeremy Gardiner
  • Computer Tensor Codes to Design the Warp Drive, Claudio Maccone
  • Warp Drive: A New Approach, Richard K. Obousy and Gerald Cleaver
  • Casimir Energy: A Fuel for Traversable Wormholes, Remo Garattini
  • Can The Flyby Anomalies Be Explained by a Modification of Inertia, Mike.E.McCulloch.

The special issue of the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society is available as Vol.61, No.9, September 2008 and can be ordered here.

Alternatively, the individual papers can be ordered direct from the JBIS web site here: www.jbis.org.uk

During the symposium, the film producer Christian Darkin was present and he interviewed many of the participants. He also collaborated with Kelvin Long to produce a credible warp drive machine that “broke as few of the laws of physics as possible”, based on the large literature review performed and the list of 19 defined physics and engineering problems from Long’s published paper “The Status of the Warp Drive”. The end result was only partly successful, but was shown in the eventual documentary along with the interviews from the various participants of the symposium. The film “How to Colonise the Stars” is available for purchase from our shop here.

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