The Physics and Technology of Warp Propulsion

The technology of Star Trek, albeit usually governed by the drama and sometimes misused as a mere plot device with arbitrary characteristics, may be more scientifically correct and consequential than it seems at the first glance. The following article is an attempt to further elucidate warp travel, one of the most important concepts of the series. It is trivial but important to note that suspending disbelief is the key to accept and understand fictional technology. Anyone who applies criteria like "warp drive is impossible because subspace doesn't exist" will probably never enjoy science fiction.


PDF Version

PDF version - from 2015

PDF version - from 2007, by Tobias Heintz


See Also

Power & Propulsion - about the right intermix ratio, warp inside a star system, how to stop a starship etc.

Starship Design Guidelines - Is there such a thing as "good starship design"?

Starship Sizes - some general thoughts about how to determine a ship's size

Miscellaneous Starship Problems - a compilation of some general problems



This will be a comprehensive treatise on all the aspects of warp propulsion seen in the show, the underlying Trek-specific principles as well as the related real science. The introduction, chapters 1, 6 and the appendix are finished thus far, chapter 3 is available as an incomplete draft.



Table of Contents


1 Real Physics and Interstellar Travel

1.1 Classical Physics
Newton's laws of motion, Gravitation, Momentum conservation, Energy conservation, Second law of thermodynamics, Doppler shift, Particle-wave dualism

1.2 Special Relativity
Frames of reference, Space-time diagram, Time dilation, Length contraction, Addition of velocities, Mass increase, Mass-energy equivalence, Light cone

1.3 Twin Paradox
The problem, Part 1: moving away from Earth, Part 2: resting in space, Part 3: return to Earth

1.4 Causality Paradox

1.5 Other Obstacles to FTL Travel
Power considerations, Acceleration and deceleration, Doppler shift

1.6 General Relativity
Inertial frames, Principle of equivalence, Time dilation, Curved space, Speed of light, Black holes

1.7 Examples of Relativistic Travel
A trip to Proxima Centauri, Traveling to the edge of the universe, Fuel problems

2 Hypothetical FTL Concepts (not yet available)

2.1 Folding/Wrinkling/Compressing Space

2.2 Hyperspace Conduits and Wormholes
General concept, Bajoran Wormhole, Barzan Wormhole, Warp field wormholes, Micro wormhole

2.3 Other FTL Concepts
Changing the speed of light, Reducing the ship's mass to zero, Tachyons

3 Subspace (Draft)

3.1 What is Subspace?
Preliminary remark, Definition, Subspace vs. hyperspace

3.2 Subspace Models
Continuous vs. discrete model, Inside subspace, The far end

3.3 Subspace Fields and Warp Fields
Premise, Subspace field, Symmetric warp field, Asymmetric warp field, Multilayered warp field, Warp factors, Energy conservation, Subspace submersion and transwarp

3.4 Subspace Technology
Subspace radio, Subspace relay, FTL sensors, Subspace transporter, Subspace proximity detonator, Subspace mine, Subspace cloak

3.5 Subspace Phenomena
Verterons, Tetryons, Warp particles, Static warp field, Subspace shockwave, Protouniverse, Subspace rift, Subspace rupture, Subspace vacuole, Solanagen-based entities, Nacene, Photonic beings

4 History of Warp Propulsion (not yet available)

4.1 Vulcans and Romulans

4.2 Cochrane's First Warp Flight (2063)

4.3 22nd Century

4.4 23rd Century

4.5 24th Century

4.6 Voyager's Experimental Drives

4.7 Possible Future Developments

5 Warp Technology (not yet available)

5.1 Power Generation and Transfer
Plasma, Fusion power, Matter/antimatter reaction, Artificial quantum singularity

5.2 Warp Field Generation
Warp nacelles & coils, Subspace damage

5.3 Other Warp Propulsion
Warp sustainer engine, Soliton wave, Subspace resonator, Bajoran solar sailing ship, Coaxial warp drive

5.4 Transwarp
Excelsior transwarp, Voth transwarp, Borg transwarp, "Threshold" transwarp, Q, The Traveler, Iconian portals, Cytherian subspace folding, Caretaker displacement wave, Sikarian space-folding device, Subspace funnel, Subspace catapult, Quantum slipstream drive

6 Warp Speed Measurement

6.1 Concept of Warp Factors
Definition, Background

6.2 TOS Scale (23rd Century)
Definition, Range, Background, Use in Star Trek Enterprise, Problems

6.3 TNG Scale (24th Century)
Definition up to Warp 9, Definition between Warp 9 and 10, Background, Problems

6.4 Conjectural Future Scale
Definition, Background

7 Appendix

7.1 Glossary

7.2 Fundamental Constants

7.3 References

7.4 Credits


Physics and Star Trek
sophisticated theory by Jason Hinson

Joshua Bell's Star Trek Page
with the Warp and Subspace FAQ

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