Last year, Harold â€œSonnyâ€ White attended the 100 Year Starship Symposium and presented a truly outlandish idea: what if we could make warp drive exponentially more efficient simply by using a doughnut shape, rather than a disc? He calculated that by using such a shape a theoretical warp ship could induce a warp field just as strong as those previously proposed while drawing a fraction of the power.
Now having had some more time to think about the implications of warp technology, NASAâ€™s Sonny White sat downÂ for a chat about his latest activities.Â Most people know that traveling faster than the speed of light is impossible. As it turns out, though, that is only a very semantic restriction, and there are a couple of ways around it. You canâ€™t travel through space faster than the speed of light, but you can potentially change the amount of space you need to traverse to get from one point to another.
Wormholes are potential â€œshortcutsâ€ for space craft, essentially creating bridges between two points that take a much shorter path than that which follows the surface curvature of space-time. An analogy would be taking a tunnel straight through the Earth from New York to Beijing, rather than circumnavigating exterior of the globe. Interestingly, the time savings with a wormhole could be far greater than any possible shortcut through the Earth â€” that is, if wormholes are ever directly proven to exist in the first place.
The second workaround for Einsteinâ€™s limiting principle is the one thatâ€™s generated more interest from legitimate scientists: a warp drive. As the name suggests, it involves warping space time by expanding it and contracting it â€” and thatâ€™s actually a fairly mundane idea for modern physics. We know that space-time is a deformable quantity, and thereâ€™s fairly robust library of mathematical evidence suggesting how such distortions might behave, and how we might create them.
The big problem has always been the practical feasibility of actually doing it. Whiteâ€™s 2012 presentation was a huge step forward for the idea of practical warp drive, but even with the huge reductions in energy costs itâ€™s still a massively expensive proposition.
The actual ship, containing the crew and robotic assets, would sit in the center of the toroidal drive system, which would contain a form of â€œexotic matterâ€ called negative vacuum energy. When switched on, the drive would augment any existing velocity (generated through conventional means) by contracting space in front of the ship and expanding it behind. This means that the ship is essentially creating a hill down which it can fall â€” but in this case it falls forward rather than down. White says that traveling in a warp ship would be like â€œwatching a film in fast forward.â€
As to actual progress: â€œWe are very much in the science rather than the technology phase.â€ Theyâ€™ve set some milestones for themselves to pave the way to creating a micro-scale warp bubble in the lab, and measuring its properties.