When theoretical physicist Miguel Alcubierre initially proposed a warp drive concept in 1994, we in the world science fiction fandom were collectively jumping up and down in our chairs. It borrowed from the explanation of warp drive as seen in Star Trek, a literary device that allowed for the existence of civilization on a galactic scale. By creating a bubble of Newtonian space-time around the ship and then moving that bubble’s context by contracting the space in front of it and expanding the space behind it, it would be possible to move a ship at any speed without breaking the laws of physics from the perspective of the ship itself, which would always remain in Newtonian space.

There was only one problem with the theoretical Alcubierre Drive, in that it required more energy than could be generated by a star in order to power it.

Then came the idea of tilting the generator ring, which dramatically decreased the apparent power requirement. Though it was still an unreachable amount of power from the standpoint of current technology, it was at least now not infinite, but still required power that could not be generated using conventional physics as we know it today.

The concept of true warp drive has now taken a new turn. The modifications to the concept now include an upper speed limit of the speed of light (which sucks) but it does allow for the creation of a warp bubble without any need for hypothesized exotic or negative forms of energy.

Dubbed the “Constant-Velocity Subluminal Warp Drive,” the concept, developed by physicists with the Advanced Propulsion Laboratory at the New York-based think tank Applied Physics and from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, it offers a theoretical new means of propulsion for space travel that conforms to general relativity. It uses the concept of the warp bubble to operate at sublight speeds with no need for unphysical forms of matter outlined in past concepts. Essentially, it uses the warp drive concept, but while it wouldn’t actually exceed the speed of light, it would make it possible to reach nearby stars in a matter of years instead of aeons.

Warp Speed Ahead

Three years ago, researchers with Applied Physics first reported that a warp drive requiring no exotic matter could be constructed, telling The Debrief that their design was constrained by Newtonian physics and that reports claiming it could exceed light speed were inaccurate.

“We show that a class of subluminal, spherically symmetric warp drive spacetimes, can be constructed based on the physical principles known to humanity today,” said Gianni Martire, the CEO and co-founder of Applied Physics.

“This breakthrough represents the first numerical implementation of physical warp drives, made possible using the Warp Factory analysis tool developed at Applied Physics,” reads a statement on the think tank’s official website.

What this means, in essence, is that the concept behind Star Trek’s warp drive can be at applied to the problem of sublight travel, allowing us to reach Mars in between four minutes and 23 minutes, depending on where it is in orbit around our sun at the time. A visit to Pluto would take between four and ten hours. A trip to the nearest star would require a massive undertaking and a pretty darn big ship, as Alpha Centauri is 4.2 lightyears away. What they’re proposing is roughly analogous to Star Trek’s impulse engines, only useful or practical for in-system travel.

A Clearinghouse for Warp Technology

In April, Applied Physics officially unveiled its Warp Factory analysis tool. In a statement provided to The Debrief, Dr. Christopher Helmerich, one of the co-authors of the new paper published in Classical and Quantum Gravity, said the toll “serves as a reality check for warp drive designs,” allowing researchers to analyze designs “in a comprehensive and automated manner” that allows the identification of unphysical characteristics with greater efficiency.

Alongside a detailed paper published in the journal Classical and Quantum Gravity, AP has made all of the Warp Factory papers, documents, simulators, and software tools available on their website. The Warp Factory toolkit is also available directly on GitHub.

In a phone call with The Debrief, AP’s CEO, founder, and co-author of both the original physical warp drive design and the recent Warp Factory paper, Gianni Martire, explained that his group is painfully aware of how small the community of scientists and researchers currently exploring warp drive metrics and their possible solutions currently is. However, he says his international group of physicists and scientists believes that tools like this will not only aid those already in the community but also encourage new minds to take on the challenge of making science fiction-style travel between the stars into a reality.

Aligning with the Alcubierre Metric

In their new paper, the Applied Physics team presents what they characterize as “the first constant velocity subluminal physical warp drive solution to date that is fully consistent with the geodesic transport properties of the Alcubierre metric.” Significantly, the team’s theoretical warp drive concept can facilitate the geodesic transport of observers while satisfying several energy conditions outlined in their paper.

Above: Evaluation of energy conditions for the constant velocity Warp Shell: The direction of motion is along the +X axis, with the cross-section along the Z axis aligned at the bubble center. The minimum values observed across all reference frames are displayed. Positive values (blue) and zero values (white) are physically permissible, while negative values (red) indicate a violation. Units are in joules per cubic meter (J/m³) (Credit: Fuchs et al/DOI: 10.1088/1361-6382/ad26aa).

“This solution was constructed from a stable shell of matter with a modified shift vector on its interior,” the team writes, which they say allowed the creation of a warp solution possessing positive ADM mass—a quantity that refers to the concept of mass as seen in faraway regions—noting that the Warp Factory toolkit was employed for analysis and construction of the shell.

“This exciting new result offers an important first step toward understanding what makes physical warp solutions,” the team writes, adding that the new warp drive solution they have produced “shows that a more generic constant velocity warp drive spacetime can be constructed that satisfies the energy conditions.”

Going forward, the team says they’re planning to optimize and improve their theoretical framework to make sure that there’s nothing in it that can’t be done in physical terms. They will also focus on other aspects of the proposed warp drive model involving things like altering velocity and steering without “breaking physicality” — again, they’re trying to avoid theoretical physics math magic here. Only things they think can actually be built will be considered.

While the concepts outlined in the team’s new paper pave the way toward making travel through space nearing light speed a reality, constructing such an engine is likely something that will only be feasible far in the future, as the present state of technology would not allow for such a device, yet, but at the rate at which technology is currently advancing, thanks to the sudden arrival of practical AI, we may be waiting a few decades instead of several lifetimes.

“Although this design requires significant energy, it demonstrates that warp effects can be achieved using conventional matter while adhering to known energy constraints,” the Applied Physics team says of the new warp drive solution on its website.

“Applied Physics continues to make progress as humanity embarks on the Warp Age.”

The team’s new paper by Jared Fuchs et al, entitled “Constant velocity physical warp drive solution,” was published last month in Classical and Quantum Gravity. An earlier preprint version of the paper can be read in its entirety on arXiv.org.


SCIFI Radio Staff
SCIFI Radio Staff

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