A NASA engineer has claimed that a ‘running start’ would be key to ensuring that a true Star Trek style warp engine is powered, not reverse.
In Albert Einstein’s theory of special relativity, our universe has a speed limit – with nothing that can travel faster than the speed of light.
This would make space travel impractical to most planets on a human scale if one were to limit it to relativistic speeds.
However, a warp drive could theoretically allow the spacecraft to defraud this rule by moving parts of spacetime instead of the ship itself.
NASA physicist Harold “Sonny” White – who specializes in advanced propulsion technology – discovered that the leading warp drive theory had one major flaw.
The distribution of energy density required to bend space is symmetrical – meaning that a craft that starts at rest can back off just as easily if it is heading in the right direction.
This means that before Captain Kirk says “Ahead Warp 1, Mr. Sulu,” he must verify that the Enterprise is moving in the right direction, slower than light.
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A NASA engineer claimed that getting a ‘running start’ would be key to ensuring that a true Star Trek-style warp engine is powered, not reverse. In the photo, Star Trek’s USS Discovery travels at warp speed – and is heading in the right direction
The so-called ‘Alcubierre warp drive’, developed by the physicist Miguel Alcubierre in 1994, is a speculative concept for how a spacecraft can effectively travel faster than light based on a solution to Einstein’s field equations in special relativity.
It is thought that traveling faster than light is impossible, as particles with mass become heavier the faster they move, making it increasingly difficult to accelerate them more.
In fact, such a hypothetical particle traveling at the speed of light – 186,282 miles per second (299,792 kilometers per second) – would gain infinite mass and require an infinite amount of energy to move.
The only exceptions to this principle are those particles that have zero mass at rest – such as photons and gluons – that can travel at the speed of light, which explains how light itself succeeds at light speed.
However, according to theoretical physicists, there may be ways to essentially “ cheat ” this speed-of-light barrier – achieving what is supposedly ‘seemingly’ traveling faster than light while still technically moving at subluminal (i.e. slower than light) speeds.
An example of such wheezing is the creation of a so-called wormhole – known to physicists as an ‘Einstein-Rosen Bridge’ – in which a spacetime tunnel would connect two disparate parts of the universe, providing a shortcut would offer for spacecraft.
Warp propulsion is another possible approach, which proposes the possibility of bending spacetime around a vessel, contracting the space in front of the ship and increasing the space behind it.
A ship capable of warp would travel in a ‘bubble’ with a regular spacetime that itself moves through the universe at higher speeds than light – while the ship itself remains within the bubble at subluminal speeds, consistent with Einstein’s relativity .
Essentially, a ship that is warp possible would travel in a ‘bubble’ of regular spacetime (depicted as in the center of this illustration as a two-dimensional plane, with contracted and extended spacetime on either side) itself moving through the universe at speeds above the light – while technically the ship remains in the bubble at subluminal speeds
In Alcubierre’s theory, “the spacecraft would exit the departure point using a conventional propulsion system and cover a distance, and then stop the vessel from the departure point,” Dr. White in his paper.
“The field would be turned on and the craft would descend to its stellar destination, never locally breaking the speed of light, but traveling the distance in any short time.
“This approach would allow a trip to Alpha Centauri, for example, measured by an Earth-bound observer (and spacecraft clocks) measured in weeks or months, rather than decades or centuries.”
One problem with Alcubierre’s original theory was that the so-called stress energy sensor that generates the chain field would be completely symmetrical around the surface parallel to the spacecraft’s bow-rear axle, as shown in this illustration. Like Dr. White said, “How does the ship know which way to go? The energy density curves local spacetime, but since space has no bias along the x-axis, how does space know how to contract and expand? ‘
One problem with Alcubierre’s original theory was that the so-called ‘stress energy tensor’ that generates the chain field would be completely symmetrical around the surface parallel to the spacecraft’s bow-rear axle.
Like Dr. White said, “How does the ship know which way to go? The energy density curves local spacetime, but since space has no bias along the x-axis, how does space know how to contract and expand? ‘
To get around this, Dr. White in 2003 for ships to take a ‘running start’ instead – one that would introduce a directional bias that then serves to cause the vessel to bend forward rather than ‘reverse’.
“In this modified concept of operations, the spacecraft leaves Earth and establishes an initial subluminal velocity, then initiates the field,” he wrote.
“If active, the [warp] The boost from the field acts at the initial speed as a scalar multiplier, resulting in a much higher apparent speed. ‘
Although Dr. White has calculated that thickening the “walls” of a chain bell could lower the energy demands of a chain drive, and this would still prove to be prohibitive in practice. Depicted Kate Mulgrew’s Captain Janeway represents the matter-antimatter warp core that powered the warp nacelles of the USS Voyager in the Star Trek franchise
Two other issues could hamper the real-world development of a warp drive, namely that the Alcubierre drive should create a space with a negative energy density – or a negative amount of energy in that area.
Physicists are unsure if this is even possible – although this would be consistent with some hypotheses, such as the so-called ‘quantum field theory’.
In addition, while Dr. White has calculated that thickening the “walls” of a chain bell could lower the energy demands of a chain drive, and this would still prove to be prohibitive in practice.
Dr. Nevertheless, White hopes that these obstacles can eventually be overcome.
“The idea of a chain drive could have some fertile domestic applications” subluminal, “allowing it to mature before being used as a true interstellar drive system,” he wrote.
The full findings of the article are published on the website NASA website.