Warp drive is a technology that allows space travel at faster-than-light speeds. This is accomplished by generating warp fields to form a subspace bubble that envelops the starship, distorting the local spacetime continuum and moving the starship at velocities that exceed the speed of light. These velocities are referred to as warp factors. Warp drive is the most common form of interstellar propulsion used in the Milky Way Galaxy, making interstellar civilization, trade and warfare possible.
24th century Federation warp engines are fueled by the reaction of matter (deuterium) and antimatter (antideuterium), mediated through an assembly of dilithium crystals, which are nonreactive with antimatter when subjected to high-frequency electromagnetic fields. This reaction produces a highly energetic plasma, called electro-plasma or warp plasma, which is channeled by plasma conduits through the electro-plasma system (EPS). The electro-plasma is funneled by plasma injectors into a series of warp field coils, usually located in remote warp nacelles. These coils are composed of verterium cortenide and generate the warp field. Other civilizations use different power sources, such as the Romulans' use of artificial quantum singularities to power their warp drives, but the basic process is similar. In some vessels, such as the Intrepid-class, the nacelles are mounted on variable-geometry pylons.
Parts of the systemEdit
Warp drive and other faster-than-light (FTL) propulsion technologies are the lynch pin of an interstellar civilization, making trade and exploration across vast interstellar distances viable. Without these technologies, these distances could not be crossed in any reasonable period of time, making interstellar civilization usually limited to a single sector. To put this in perspective, planets that are years away with impulse speeds, can be reached in days with ships equipped with warp drive. Cultures in the galaxy have discovered warp drive at their own pace and rate of development. The Vulcans, who were an interstellar civilization by the 3rd century, had reached the level of warp 7 by . Klingons had a capability of warp 6 by the same year. It is unclear when their first experiments with warp drive began. However, it was the rapid progress of Humanity which led to the wide-scale exploration of the galaxy and the formation of the United Federation of Planets.
The development of the warp drive is recognized by the United Federation of Planets as the marker of an advanced society. It is only after a people develop warp drive that the Federation will make contact, as codified in the Prime Directive.
On Earth, warp drive was initially developed by Zefram Cochrane in the period following World War III. Despite the hardships imposed by the war's aftermath, and the lack of advanced materials, Cochrane was able to build a manned warp-capable vessel using a converted Titan II missile. The successful first flight of his ship - the Phoenix - took place on April 5, 2063, and drew the attention of a Vulcan exploratory vessel, leading to the event known as First Contact.
However, development of warp technology proceeded slowly over the next 80 years - due in no small part to the cautious advice of the Vulcans - and it was not until the 2140s that a warp engine developed by Henry Archer at the Warp Five Complex could exceed warp factor 2. This engine was successfully tested in the second NX prototype by Commanders A.G. Robinson and Jonathan Archer to a speed of warp 2.5, breaking the so-called "warp 2 barrier." By the year 2151, warp technology was sufficiently advanced to allow a vessel to travel at warp 5, and the first Human starship, Enterprise, was built with this capability. Although at first, Enterprise was unable to fully realize this potential (maxing out at warp 4.7), the starship finally reached warp 5 on February 9, 2152. By 2161, Starfleet had achieved warp 7, and was just starting to install it on the newest of Starfleet vessels.
Development and improvement of warp drive continued apace, and by the 2240s, Starfleet vessels of the Constitution-class had standard cruising speeds of warp 6 and emergency speeds as high as warp 8 (although under the right conditions the engines could reach warp 9). These ships took advantage of a major breakthrough in warp technology that took place between 2236 and 2254, the breaking of the so-called "time barrier". Higher warp factors continued to be reached, mostly through alien intervention, or dangerous malfunction. The USS Enterprise was modified by the Kelvans to maintain a speed of Warp 11 in 2268. Later that year, the Enterprise achieved a speed of Warp 14.1 after being sabotaged by a Kalandan planetary defense system, though at that velocity the ship came within moments of destroying itself. At around the same time, warp engines were being redesigned to allow standard speeds of warp 8 and above. During the refit of the Constitution-class, the cylindrical shaped nacelles were replaced with a new flattened design. Warp theory continued to advance with the development of the first transwarp drive engines in the mid-2280s, which would have theoretically allowed greater efficiency and any warp speed to be available for a ship. However, the transwarp experiment of USS Excelsior ended in failure, and the technology was abandoned at that time. The Excelsior itself was deemed spaceworthy, retrofitted with conventional warp drive and commissioned as NCC-2000 under the command of Captain Hikaru Sulu.
At some point in the century, a new warp factor scale came into use, which placed warp 10 as a theoretical maximum.
According to the Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual, the new scale was a more advanced function than the previous cubic power scale, with factors increasing exponentially in terms of power consumption and equivalent speed.
By the time the Galaxy-class starship was being designed in the 2360s, warp technology had progressed to the point where speeds of warp 9.6 could be sustained for up to twelve hours, although warp 9.2 was considered the "red line". The USS Voyager is capable of a top cruising speed of warp 9.975. The USS Prometheus is capable of a sustained cruising speed of warp 9.9. In 2370, the Hekaran scientist Serova discovered that the use of conventional warp engines caused damage to the fabric of spacetime. The Federation Council imposed a speed limit of warp factor 5 on all Federation vessels in all but extreme emergency cases, such as medical emergencies.