NASA Research To Create A ‘Warp Drive’ Bubble In Lab

What would a warp drive-equipped spacecraft look like?

What would a warp drive-equipped spacecraft look like?

Recently, it emerged that a small team of NASA researchers were working on warp drive technology in the lab. Led by Harold “Sonny” White, the team devised a variation of the Alcubierre warp drive.

It could, in fact, almost be feasibly produced — if we can work out how to produce and store antimatter. Now, White is ready to discuss some other facets of his warp drive, such as the energy requirements, what a spacecraft with a warp drive would look like, and what it would be like to travel at warp speed.

When it comes to interstellar travel, due to the massive distances involved, the only feasible solution for reaching other planets and stars is a method of transport that travels at close to or faster than the speed of light. The nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, is just over four light years away — at a speed of 62,136 kmh (the speed at which Voyager-1 is flying through space), it would take roughly 67,000 years for a spacecraft to reach it.

Essentially, the empty space behind a starship would be made to expand rapidly, pushing the craft in a forward direction

There are a variety of proposed propulsion systems, such as ion drives, but none of them really get close to the speeds necessary to enable the exploration of other planets in under a few thousand years. Warp drives, while years away from even small-scale testing — if they’re even possible at all — are one of the few exceptions that would allow same-lifetime space travel.

As the name suggests, a warp drive enables faster-than-light travel by warping space-time around it. In essence, Miguel Alcubierre proposed a device that causes the space in front of the spacecraft to contract, while the space behind it expands. This creates a warp bubble that carries the spacecraft through space-time at 10 times the speed of light.

We know from our observations of the universe that such deformation of space-time is probably possible, but in this case there’s a huge step between theoretical and experimental possibility. There are numerous problems with an Alcubierre drive — such as whether you’d be able to survive inside the bubble, or my personal favourite: annihilating the entire star system when you arrive at your destination — but the sheer amount of energy required to reach the speed of light, let alone surpass it, is probably the main drawback.

NASA unveiled its warp drive concept spaceship IXS Enterprise

Last year, Sonny White revealed a new design (pictured top) for the Alcubierre drive that reduces the energy requirement from the total mass-energy of a planet the size of Jupiter, down to the mass-energy of Voyager-1 (700 kilograms). We say “mass-energy,” because no one quite knows how to fuel an Alcubierre drive, with some research suggesting that it might require more energy than the mass of the observable universe, or possibly negative amounts of energy.

Basically, though, according to NASA’s preliminary research, the energy requirements appear to be somewhat feasible if the drive is donut shaped (like the image at the top of the story) rather than a flat disc.

Speaking to New Scientist, Sonny White (pictured right) has filled in a few of the questions posed by his team’s original 2012 study. He begins with a warp bubble analogy, to help explain how superluminal (faster-than-light) travel is even possible in the first place: “You are walking along at 3 miles an hour, and then you step onto [a moving airport walkway].

Scientists and astrophysicists in America, China, and Germany are collaborating on a drive build initially developed in the 2000’s by Roger Shawyer.

You are still walking at 3 miles an hour, but you are covering the distance much more quickly relative to somebody who isn’t on the belt.” Speaking about what it would actually feel like to travel at warp speed, White says “you would have an initial velocity as you set off… It would be like watching a film in fast forward.”

What would a warp drive-equipped spacecraft look like? “Imagine an American football, for simplicity, that has a toroidal ring around it attached with pylons. The football is where the crew and robotic systems would be, while the ring would contain exotic matter.” Here the “exotic matter” is an energy source that we don’t know a whole lot about (thus why we use phrases such as “the mass-energy of Jupiter.”)

Harold White, with a small warp drive

Finally, White warns us that the first real-world warp drives are a long way away.

The NASA research team have some “very specific and controlled steps to take to create a proof of concept,” to see if the physics of the Alcubierre warp drive actually play out in practice, but we’re talking about a microscopic warp bubble that will have very little relation to a real-world prototype.

We are probably looking at a decade or more before we can create a car-sized warp drive — and even then, that’s only if we can find some of that elusive “exotic matter,” which we probably won’t.

Source: NASA discusses its warp drive research, prepares to create a warp bubble in the lab | ExtremeTech



In 1994, Alcubierre proposed a method for changing the geometry of space by creating a wave that would cause the fabric of space ahead of a spacecraft to contract and the space behind it to expand.

The ship would then ride this wave inside a region of flat space, known as a warp bubble, and would not move within this bubble but instead be carried along as the region itself moves due to the actions of the drive. It was thought to use too much negative energy until Harold Sonny White said that the amount of energy required could be reduced if the warp bubble were changed into a warp ring.

Alcubierre metric

The Alcubierre metric defines the warp-drive spacetime. It is a Lorentzian manifold that, if interpreted in the context ofgeneral relativity, allows a warp bubble to appear in previously flat spacetime and move away at effectively superluminalspeed. The interior of the bubble is an inertial reference frame and inhabitants suffer no proper acceleration.

This method of transport does not involve objects in motion at speeds faster than light with respect to the contents of the warp bubble; that is, a light beam within the warp bubble would still always move faster than the ship.

Because objects within the bubble are not moving (locally) faster than light, the mathematical formulation of the Alcubierre metric is consistent with the conventional claims of the laws of relativity (namely, that an object with mass cannot attain or exceed the speed of light) and conventional relativistic effects such as time dilation would not apply as they would with conventional motion at near-light speeds.

The Alcubierre drive, however, remains a hypothetical concept with seemingly difficult problems, though the amount of energy required is no longer thought to be unobtainably large.. Source: Wikipedia

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