Maintained by: Joshua Bell <email@example.com>
Archive site (WWW): http://www.dimensionx.com/jsbell/Star_Trek/
FTP site (text versions): ftp.cc.umanitoba.ca:/startrek/minifaqs/
Star Trek ®, Star Trek: The Next Generation ® and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine ® are trademarks of Paramount Pictures registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Star Trek: Voyager is a trademark of Paramount Pictures.
Both of these are posted frequently to rec.arts.startrek.tech,
and they can also be found at the http://www.ee.umanitoba.ca/~djc/startrek/
This FAQ does not discuss warp speeds. See the Warp Velocities Mini-FAQ for discussions of the various warp speed scales and formulas to calculate speeds given a warp factor.
NOTE: There are two distinct problems to be solved when describing any FTL drive:
Both must be addressed to form a believable FTL system.
"Warp works by <insert idea here>!"
Some favorites include:
All of these attempt to get around the first problem, but ignore the second. And none of these match the evidence seen on screen and in the Tech Manual, which is that the FTL effect is created by powerful, nested subspace (aka warp) fields that push off each other to generate FTL speeds.
Further, without any additional effects, each of these can lead to a violation of causality, meaning every time you go into warp you time travel, from a certain frame of reference. This is addressed in great detail in Jason Hinson's "Relativity and FTL" FAQ.
Ships in warp interact with things in normal space, one of the reasons for the navigational deflector. Things in warp require a subspace field to enter and stay in warp, and it takes an enormous amount of power to generate this. When the subspace field decays, a ship drops out of warp returning to some STL velocity.
* The point has been made that by constructing a space with a hyperbolic geometry between the source and destination of two points, you can get away with FTL travel without the nasty causality violation effects pointed out by Jason's FAQ. However, this involves making changes to spacetime along your entire flight path before you travel, and it does not appear possible to construct this path faster than c, so you'd have to set up a travel network beforehand. This obviously isn't what is used in Star Trek.
** A subspace field does reduce the inertial mass of an object within it, i.e. it appears lighter. But it does not lower the mass to zero, nor on its own would this effect allow FTL travel, as massless particles in our universe are still restricted to light speed. It turns out that this effect isn't even considered for warp travel, although it is used for impulse engines - less mass to push around.
"Well, so how *does* warp work?"
A powerful, asymmetric subspace field is established around the ship by the warp nacelles. The field is composed of nested layers, each pushing against the one beyond it. This drives the ship forward, at a super-luminal velocity.
The nacelles are powered by a tuned plasma stream from the warp core Matter/Antimatter Reactor (M/AMR). Injectors feed the plasma into warp field coil segments at specific times, causing pulses to run the length of the nacelle, front to back. This peristaltic flow causes the push of the nested warp fields, and moves the ship forward.
The warp field wraps around the ship in a two-lobed bubble, with the locus at Main Engineering (by design). The shape of the ship determines the efficiency of the field, and this explains why the Enterprise has such a sleek design.
Meanwhile, the subspace field reduces the inertial mass of the ship, aiding in maneuvering. In fact, a small subspace field is kept around the ship at Impulse speeds, so the Impulse drives have less mass to push around. However, this is only a side effect and is NOT the mechanism used to allow FTL travel.
"But, but... that's just what it does! How does it work!!!"
Alas, there is no canonical answer. The "Relativity and FTL" FAQ offers a possibility, that the subspace field forces the ship to take on the reference frame of subspace itself, which is a special reference frame, circumventing the limits of Special Relativity.
Unfortunately, this still isn't an explanation of how it works. The Tech Manual offers that each of the nested fields couple and decouple from each other at velocities near (but less than) c. It could be that the interaction of these fields, combined with the special frame subspace provides, causes the ship as a whole to travel at FTL speeds.
If two nested fields have their outer edges "locked" into the special frame, while the inner edges travel at near-c relative to one another, this might cause the FTL effect, as an artifact of the special frame trick. This has the added support of being almost exactly what the Tech Manual describes, but it doesn't mention the special frame.
Since this makes for boring drama, it's unlikely we'll ever "really know" how warp works in Star Trek.
"So what stops the ship from accelerating and getting faster and faster?"
Warp travel is non-Newtonian. Without a constant influx of energy, the subspace field will decay, and the ship will drop out of warp. In other words, you *must* continue to provide energy to maintain your warp velocity.
Anything which travels at FTL speeds must use a warp field (or some other technology) to keep moving at those speeds.
"What about "continuum drag" ?"
This was an idea proposed in the forgotten past to explain the above problem. To me, however, it seem that there is no need for such a force, since we are not dealing with Newtonian action/reaction drives, or force/acceleration systems.
"So how'd the Saucer travel at warp speeds (in "Encounter at Farpoint" [TNG]) ?"
The Tech Manual states that the subspace field generators coupled to the Impulse drive can be used to maintain a decaying subspace field for brief periods of time. The decay is inevitable, but it can be drawn out, to allow the saucer section to get out of danger.
By field-saturating the nacelles (according to "Force of Nature" [TNG]), after a 6 second burst of maximum warp the Enterprise can "coast" at warp for 2 minutes 8 seconds before dropping out of warp. This is a form of "warp without warp drive", although the effect does not last very long.
This is similar to how photon torpedos can be used at warp speeds. They have small "warp sustainer" engines that allow them to cruise at their launch velocity (if launched while in warp) for brief periods.
"This new Warp 5 speed limit - whats up with that?"
In "Force of Nature" [TNG] it is discovered that within the Hekaras Corridor, a region of space where warp travel is hindered except for a narrow path, the intense use of warp drives in an already sensitive area can, over time, cause subspace rifts to form, where subspace manifests itself in real space on a macroscopic scale. This is not a good thing.
"What is subspace?"
According to the Encyclopedia, it is a continuum with different laws than our own. That doesn't help much, considering you can makes fields of it in our universe.
The best explanation I can come up with is that subspace is the "substrate" within which our universe exists. A subspace field is either a forced or natural intrusion of this domain into our own space, altering the behavior of things within our spacetime. The "subspace barrier" is the albeit flimsy dividing line between the two continuums.
Many things support this: in "Schisms" [TNG] creatures exist within a tertiary subspace manifold, a manifold being a term used to describe the form our own universe takes when viewed from a higher (theoretical) dimension. This is also called a deeper level of subspace; another universe which is connected to ours by subspace. In "Remember Me" [TNG] an entirely new universe was "spawned off" by a static warp bubble, and it was only accessible through subspace. The protouniverse in "Playing God" [DS9] was an intense subspace manifestation as well.
Protrusions of subspace, such as in "Force of Nature" [TNG], "Vortex" [DS9], or the shockwave in ST6 do nasty things to our spacetime. But subspace is also everywhere: sensors can detect subspace distortions caused by normal objects ("Descent" [TNG] ), communications work through subspace, and you can create subspace fields.
Whenever our spacetime is distorted or torn, or large amounts of energy released (explosions) there are subspace effects; wormholes and Transwarp Conduits are good examples where subspace plays a part in the effect, and the presumably material-based explosion of Praxis in Star Trek VI generated the subspace shockwave. Also, in "Caretaker" [VOY] Captain Janeway mentioned that the warp core of a starship would leave behind a resonance trace signature even if the ship was destroyed - this indicates that the constant matter/antimatter reaction in a starship's warp core generates subspace fields as well.
Subspace fields (the kind that move starships around) are intentional manifestations of subspace in our spacetime, caused by the controlled release of energy in a warp field coil. These fields have many effects, often depending on the intensity.
You can think of subspace as being the "medium" in which our spacetime exists. The nearest parts (nearest being measured by the energy it takes to access them) are tightly coupled to our own universe, and can be thought of as being mapped to our spacetime. This is what sensors generally read, and what the subspace fields of warp drive are interacting with. Slightly deeper parts can connect points in our universe to others. Wormholes and Transwarp Conduits are this sort of thing. Deeper still are the "untamed wilds" seen in "Force of Nature" [TNG]. And even further down are entirely separate universes, all held together by subspace.
Subspace is not in an alternate reality, or "place", or spacetime where things go - or at least, they don't go in the world of Star Trek. It is not entered by a starship at warp. A ship creates a subspace field which acts like another universe very tightly coupled to our own. If I was inside such a field and you were outside, we could conduct a conversation, shake hands, etc. But when the field is powerful enough (1000 millicochranes or more) and asymetric, it is propulsive. Nested, decoupling fields magnify the effect considerably. But the ship still interacts with everything in our universe, and vice versa, as the level of subspace in which the field exists is so tightly coupled to our own that it appears no "fancier" than, say, a magnetic field, if you're looking closely at it.
The weakest subspace fields do appear very similar to traditional fields, like magnetic fields. They have associated particles (see below), can be bound to objects ("Phantasms" [TNG]), can be used for transmissions (subspace radio), and generally unremarkable on their own other than as residue from more powerful effects.
To keep Jason Hinson and Special Relativity happy, subspace doesn't need to follow the rules of relativity. Subspace might have a unique reference frame, and everything enclosed in a subspace field has the reference frame of subspace.
"What are Tetryons and Verterons?"
Subatomic particles mentioned in "Force of Nature" [TNG], and a number of other episodes. These seem to be some of the particles associated with subspace fields, just as photons are particles associated with electomagnetic fields.
A verteron mine is used to disable the Flemming, a Ferengi ship, and the Enterprise in "Force of Nature". Verterons somehow manage to disable all devices which use subspace. Simplest explanation - they inhibit interactions with subspace, causing massive overloads and feedback which damages equipment.
Picard suggests using them to mask a subspace resonance signature in "The Pegasus" [TNG], although Data points out that their artificial nature would preclude their use in that circumstance - masking a warp core for several hours.
In "Caretaker" [VOY] , Voyager is scanned by a coherent tetryon beam before being transported across the galaxy.
Verterons also infest the Wormhole near Bajor. In "Playing God" [DS9], a protouniverse intruding into our own c/o subspace was kept contained by an energy field, but verteron pockets in the Wormhole threatened to release it, destroying a Runabout and perhaps even the Wormhole. Verterons and subspace do not mix well.
They also allow vessels to travel through the wormhole under impulse power ("In the Hands of the Prophets" [DS9]), and they appear in a display in Keiko's classroom on DS9 as the verteron membrane at the outer boundary of one side of the wormhole.
Tetryons are particles which are stable in subspace but unstable in normal space. They appear to be the main mediating particles of subspace interactions with normal space. They were introduced in "Schisms" [TNG] but they've shown up in "Force of Nature" [TNG], and a tetryon field is the result of an metaphasic shield interaction in "Suspicions" [TNG].
"What are 'warp particles'?"
These were mentioned in "Parallax" [VOY], and used to open a subspace breach in an event horizon.
The objection has been raised that warp particles have never been mentioned before. However, fields and particles are different ways of looking at the same thing. You can even consider soliton waves (cohesive waves which don't disperse) as being made up of a special soliton particle, or sound to be carried by a "sonoton" particle, and it makes some calculations much easier than considering the wave or field classically.
Quantum mechanics says that for things like photons, electrons, Higgs bosons, etc, the particle/wave/field distinction is pretty much meaningless. So "warp particles" could refer to the specific particles making up a warp field, or the entire class of particles which partake in subspace reactions (tetryons, verterons, etc).
"What is subspace radio?"
A means of sending a signal through subspace, so that it is not limited by the speed of light. This is done by creating a subspace distortion which propagates in much the same way as an electromagnetic field. A large amount of energy is needed to send a signal any large distance, and the more energy that is available, the deeper the signal can be forced into subspace.
However, the signal dissipates over time, eventually releasing the energy that is left as an electromagnetic field. A more powerful initial signal can travel farther before this happens, but there is a limit; too much energy and the level of subspace that is used won't be tightly coupled to our own spacetime any more, and the signal will probably go awry.
"How fast is subspace radio?"
Under ideal conditions, Warp 9.9997. (TNG TM, page 99) This is "sixty times faster than the fastest starship, either existing or predicted" - assuming traditional warp technology.
The Encyclopedia says that with boosters and relays, Warp 9.9999 is the speed.
"Why is it instantaneous in the movies?"
No ad breaks.
"What is a cochrane?"
According to the Tech Manual, it's a measure of subspace distortion named after Zefram Cochrane, the inventor of warp drive. 1 cochrane is the distortion required to propel a ship at Warp 1, so field strengths are typically measured in millicochranes. It's shown up on TNG a couple of times amidst Geordi's technobabble.
"FASA says the Enterprise-D uses UltraWarp, so nyeah!"
According to the TNG Tech Manual and Star Trek Chronology, the Enterprise-D uses the same old warp technology seen in TOS... just a much more advanced version.
The only hint that TOS, TFS and TNG warp drives might be different is in their visual appearance on screen - only the TFS Enterprise "blurs" while in warp. We *have* seen the TNG Enterprise do this - in "Force of Nature" [TNG], when it field- saturated its nacelles and ran at high warp for 6 seconds. Perhaps the TFS era warp drives used this field saturation to generate higher speeds at lower energy, an effect which was surpassed by later developments and obselete by TNG?
"Some Starfleet ships use 3 nacelles!"
In 2269, Starfleet attempted ships with 1 and 3 or more warp nacelles (TNG TM p65). As previously thought, 2 is the most efficient, but 4 is apparently useful in some cases (Constellation Class, Cheyenne Class).
You need one nacelle to get anywhere, minimum. However, to yaw you need the nacelle to be split vertically (left and right halves) and to pitch you need the nacelle to be split horizontally (top and bottom halves). By using a split nacelle, you can induce slight timing differences, and cause the desired rotational effect (TM p65). This is a bit of a problem with one nacelle, since you end up with each warp coil divided into four segments. The TM indicates that matching *pairs* is difficult and very sensitive. Matching four, and providing four plasma injectors for each coil segment is probably difficult.
Having more than two nacelles (either 3 or 4) allows you to use only a single segment per coil. But the warp field itself requires a gap to be released! (TM p65) (For anyone who doubts this, in "Eye of the Beholder" [TNG], we see TNG TM fig 5.3.3 reproduced on a large screen display with labels.)
So you need to have the warp coils split in two anyway; if you use the top/bottom split to provide pitch control, and two nacelles to provide yaw control, you're set.
On some designs, four nacelles may be the way to go; even with the required split, being able to tune the warp field discreetly may be enough of an advantange to warrant using four nacelles.
"Ha! Three nacelle ships are canon!" ("All Good Things..." [TNG])
Note that a number of things have changed by the time we see the USS Enterprise zipping around with three nacelles in that episode:
My own explanation: new nacelle designs allow ships like the USS Pasteur to cruise at Warp 13 without frying spacetime. Older ships, like the Enterprise, can be refitted with a third nacelle (and other wingdings and widgets) to clean their subspace emissions, so to speak. The third nacelle also allows a more powerful field to be generated, to drive the ship around at Warp 13, but this goes beyond TNG-era knowledge of subspace mechanics.
So as far as strictly TNG-era ships are concerned, three nacelles are still worse than useless.
"But the Ferengi/Borg/Klingon Bird of Prey don't have nacelles!"
The Borg probably have subspace field generators (redundantly) scattered throughout their cube; they can then pulse them to generate *massive* overlapping, pulsating subspace fields in any direction. Same technique, more power, more flexibility.
As for Ferengi, perhaps they use shielding. One thing is certain; the design of Ferengi ships allows for the ship to be contained in a single lobed warp field. The Enterprise requires a double lobe. Having "inboard" warp drives (like the Bird of Prey) gets you a fast ship for less power; likely, shielding can prevent the fields from frying the crew.
A display screen in "Blood Oath" [DS9] may show the warp field of the Bird of Prey - again, a single lobe.
Something to consider; most of the small ships (picture the raiding ship from "Gambit" [TNG]) don't have outboard drives. They probably make the single-lobe/shielding tradeoff to keep their ships small, fast and cheap. Ditto for shuttles with warp.
According to the Star Trek Chronology, the Excelsior was commissioned as NX-2000 in 2284 as a test bed for the new TransWarp technology. By 2287, the TransWarp Development Project was deemed unsuccessful by Starfleet Command, and experiments were halted.
TNG Tech Manual, p 14: "...The attempt to surpass the primary warp field efficiency barrier with the TransWarp Development Project in the early 2280s proved unsuccessful...."
It seems as though the designers were trying to get around the energy limits traditional warp entailed, after passing Warp 9.
A few sources offer speculation on what TransWarp might be. Unfortunately, when we finally saw TransWarp in action, they were blown out of the water.
"Descent" [TNG] portrays the Borg using TransWarp Conduits. They are still an artifact of subspace, but appear to be artificial. Transfer through the conduits is 20 times faster than the fastest warp available to Federation science (Warp 9.7 or 9.8), covering lightyears in a matter of seconds rather than hours.
Chris Franklin points out:
[When] they followed Data's shuttle into the Conduit, Riker stated that they had covered 65 light years. I timed the trip with my stop watch and came up with about 9 seconds for their stay in the Conduit. This coresponds to about 227911132.04 times the speed of light.
That's a heck of a lot faster than speeds quoted above for Warp 9.9, even, far more than 20 times, so something is awry.
It *may* be that a TransWarp drive attempts to tunnel through subspace, bypassing the limitations of warp entirely. If this is the case, then it is no wonder Starfleet was forced to give up - the energy requirements are beyond what the Borg have. Instead, they use semi-stable conduits, accessed via a tachyon interaction with a subspace distortion.
And then there's "Threshold" [VOY] in which Voyager - a ship running low on supplies, with half its crew dead, stranded away from repair or research facilities, on the other side of the Galaxy from the Federation - manages to upgrade one of its never-ending supply of shuttles to make a Transwarp flight, something that has defied the best minds in the Federation for a century. And then Paris (killed by the trip) turns into a frog, mates with Janeway, and alters the future of humanity.
The [TECH] isn't too bad, however. Warp 10 is identified clearly as infinite speed, but the pesky Warp 10 barrier is mentioned. Presumably, this is meant as the barrier to going at an arbitrarily large speed without draining the antimatter tanks and/or dilithium crystals and/or other ship components. When the shuttle does achieve Transwarp, it registers as Warp 10 and is everywhere at once for a brief time. Now that is the way to travel! Sensors also lose track of the shuttle, indicating that things in Transwarp do not interact with things in normal space, unlike warp travel. (Thanks to Vikash R. Goel for pointing that out.)
"Besides TransWarp, what other alternate forms of FTL travel have we seen?"
(I'm missing lots, please let me know.)
"Why do ships always meet the same way up?"
I know it's been proposed as a joke, but the idea that warp travel requires a universal "up" isn't as silly as you might think. We know that things in normal space affect subspace. What if the mass and orientation of the entire galaxy, which is nothing to sneeze at, affect subspace in such a way as to make travel more efficient if your warp fields are generated parallel to the plane of the galaxy?
It's then more efficient for ships to align their warp drives with the plane of the galaxy, so flying "up" and "down" in the galactic plane (which is relatively thin, about 1/10th to 1/40th the diameter of the galaxy) would take more energy. This also explains the banking into turns and such.
If you have galactic-up and galactic-down to choose from, why always the same way up? Probably a matter of protocol. Only "loser" races don't adhere to the standard. You'll also note that many small ships are vertically symmetrical, perhaps as their designers aren't quite up to snuff when it comes to designing warp drives.
More support for this hypothesis: warp does really weird things at the edge and at the center of the galaxy. The Great Barrier of TOS fame ("Where No Man Has Gone Before" [TOS] and "By Any Other Name" [TOS]) at the edge of the galaxy and the one near the center of the galaxy (if you believe in Star Trek V) were each considered impassable and gave the Enterprise a rough ride.
Kirk made a number of references in "By Any Other Name" [TOS] about warp drive not working outside the galaxy, or something to that effect. While the Kelvans of Andromeda had got that licked, this does give the theory a little bit of support.
Another note: the subspace shockwave seen in Star Trek VI was both planar and aligned with the direction of the Excelsior's vertical axis, and shockwaves within the subspace rift of "Force of Nature" [TNG] were also aligned coplanar to the ship.
Pete Carr points out the following bit of dialog from Genesis [TNG]:
Picard: Adjust the axial stabalizers (of the shuttle) to match the attitude and rotation rate of the Enterprise.
A "universal up" would explain why this sort of thing doesn't happen all the time; only drifting ships like the Enterprise need help.
See the Reading List Mini-FAQ for full details on the volumes mentioned above and below.
More recently presented information is considered to supercede old information, unless the weight of the evidence supports the original data.
Greatest faith is placed on aired live-action material (canon) and documents produced by or quoting the production crews for Star Trek (quasi-canon), most notably the technical advisors to TNG, DS9 and VOY: Michael Okuda and Rick Sternbach.
Other materials are not considered reliable sources of information, and anything gleaned from these is of questionable relevance.
Questionable (but useful) materials:
Material that is ignored (other than where it reproduces material from the above, e.g. photographs, descriptions, etc.):
Joshua Sean Bell <firstname.lastname@example.org>