According to Dr. Harold "Sonny" White, the Advanced Propulsion Theme Lead for the NASA Engineering Directorate, "Perhaps a Star Trek experience within our lifetime is not such a remote possibility."
NASA has actually been researching a real life working Warp Drive right out of the Star Trek universe! This is something I never thought I would see happen, but it looks like we just might! The Warp Drive is currently being researched by Eagleworks Laboratories: Advanced Propulsion Physics Research, and here's an excerpt from the report that's been compiled that you can find on NASA's website:
NASA/JSC is implementing an advanced propulsion physics laboratory, informally known as "Eagleworks", to pursue propulsion technologies necessary to enable human exploration of the solar system over the next 50 years, and enabling interstellar spaceflight by the end of the century. This work directly supports the "Breakthrough Propulsion" objectives detailed in the NASA OCT TA02 In-space Propulsion Roadmap, and aligns with the #10 Top Technical Challenge identified in the report. Since the work being pursued by this laboratory is applied scientific research in the areas of the quantum vacuum, gravitation, nature of space-time, and other fundamental physical phenomenon, high fidelity testing facilities are needed. The lab will first implement a low-thrust torsion pendulum (<1 uN), and commission the facility with an existing Quantum Vacuum Plasma Thruster. To date, the QVPT line of research has produced data suggesting very high specific impulse coupled with high specific force. If the physics and engineering models can be explored and understood in the lab to allow scaling to power levels pertinent for human spaceflight, 400kW SEP human missions to Mars may become a possibility, and at power levels of 2MW, 1-year transit to Neptune may also be possible. Additionally, the lab is implementing a warp field interferometer that will be able to measure spacetime disturbances down to 150nm. Recent work published by White    suggests that it may be possible to engineer spacetime creating conditions similar to what drives the expansion of the cosmos. Although the expected magnitude of the effect would be tiny, it may be a "Chicago pile" moment for this area of physics.
This is pretty exciting and unbelievable stuff! Everything they are developing stays within the realm of the law of physics, and doesn't break the speed of light. They've just discovered loopholes in some of the mathematical equations, loopholes that indicate that warping the space-time fabric is actually possible! Dr. White and his team are currently looking for proof of these loopholes which they call warp bubbles. They have "initiated an interferometer test bed that will try to generate and detect a microscopic instance of a little warp bubble." They do this using an instrument called the White-Juday Warp Field Interferometer. White goes on to say,
Although this is just a tiny instance of the phenomena, it will be existence proof for the idea of perturbing space time-a "Chicago pile" moment, as it were. Recall that December of 1942 saw the first demonstration of a controlled nuclear reaction that generated a whopping half watt. This existence proof was followed by the activation of a ~ four megawatt reactor in November of 1943. Existence proof for the practical application of a scientific idea can be a tipping point for technology development.
This is pretty mind-blowingly badass science! By creating one warp bubble, a spaceship's engine will be able to compress the space ahead and expand the space behind, moving it to another place without actually moving, and carrying none of the adverse effects of other travel methods. Here's more of a detailed explination of what this all entails:
By harnessing the physics of cosmic inflation, future spaceships crafted to satisfy the laws of these mathematical equations may actually be able to get somewhere unthinkably fast—and without adverse effects. The math would allow you to go to Alpha Centauri in two weeks as measured by clocks here on Earth. So somebody’s clock aboard the spacecraft has the same rate of time as somebody in mission control here in Houston might have. There are no tidal forces inside the bubble, no undue issues, and the proper acceleration is zero. When you turn the field on, everybody doesn’t go slamming against the bulkhead, which would be a very short and sad trip.
When you think space warp, imagine raisins baking in bread. When you put dough in a pan there’s little raisins in the bread. As you cook the bread, the bread rises and those raisins move relative to one another. That’s the concept of inflation in a terrestrial perspective, except in astrophysics it’s just the actual physical space itself that’s changing characteristics. But for futuristic space travel, we aren’t going to be a passive player. We’re trying to do something locally so that we compress the space in front of us and expand the space behind us in such a way that allows us to go wherever we want to go, really fast, while observing the 11th commandment: “Thou shall not exceed the speed of light.”
What about the colossal energy requirements discussed in the literature? In the past, the literature has quoted Jupiter amounts of exotic matter/negative pressure necessary to implement a “useful” warp bubble, making the idea mostly of academic interest at best. However, sensitivity analysis started by White in 2011 and completed this year has shown that the energy requirements can be greatly reduced by first optimizing the warp bubble thickness, and further by oscillating the bubble intensity to reduce the stiffness of space time.
I'm not a scientist, so it's hard to wrap my brain around all of this stuff, but it sure does sound amazingly cool! I love the fact that this research is going to help us develop the technology to travel through space at incredible speeds!
What are your thoughts on NASA currently researching the development of Warp Drive? Do you think they will successfully pull it off?
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