TNG's Galaxy-class Enterprise-D could theoretically get to warp 9.8 and sustain warp 9.6 yet there are a number of perilous situations where "maximum warp" wasn't used.

The one that most recently caught my eye is 3×22: The Most Toys. JLP found out that Data was not destroyed and was likely abducted and went to rescue him... At Warp 8.

LAFORGE: What if Data wasn't on that shuttle?
PICARD: Mister Crusher.
WESLEY [OC]: Aye, sir.
PICARD: Set course for the site of the shuttlepod explosion. Warp eight.
WESLEY [OC]: Aye, sir.

They'd been travelling away from the site of the explosion at warp 6 for 23 hours. That's about 1 light year. The time to backtrack that distance can be calculated as:

  • Around 8 hours at warp 8
  • Under 5 hours at warp 9.2
  • Under 3 hours at 9.6
  • Under 2 hours at warp 9.8

So my question is, why would Picard leave a bridge officer stranded, in danger for an extra 3-6 hours when he had the opportunity to go faster?

  • 2
    I'm guessing an in-universe explanation is probably something to do with fuel (anti-matter) conservation... Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 9:32
  • The explanation could also involve wear and tear on the engines. For instance, it could be that the ship can tear around at Warp 9, but only for a few days at most, and then it would need to put into a starbase for repairs. This would explain remarks like, "Captain, we can't sustain maximum warp for much longer!" By the same token, while Picard would like to get Data back, he won't put the ship at risk to do so. Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 9:54
  • 1
    Would you career down the motorway at 160mph if you were late for work, for fear of leaving your job in danger for a few minutes longer? No, probably not, even though your car can likely manage it in short bursts. This is common sense — life is about balance. Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 18:14

1 Answer 1


There are limitations on sustainability

Memory Alpha explains that:

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." (TNG: "Encounter at Farpoint")

This quote indicates quite clearly that there are limits to how long warp drive can be sustained for.

The below image from the Star Trek TNG Technical Manual confirms that an increase in warp factor requires an increased amount of energy:

Warp graph


And, as explained in this question, antimatter is not produced by starships themselves, so Captains and engineers need to be wary of antimatter supplies as well. This is addressed quite well in this question.

As to why Picard decided to travel at a slower speed and leave an officer at risk for slightly longer, Picard needs to weigh up the safety of his whole ship compared to the safety of one officer. As Spock so famously put it: "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one." Why risk the entire ship for just a couple of hours delay when there was no evidence to suggest that such a delay would jeopoardise Data's safety?

  • This was a relatively short trip though. Under 3 hours at warp 9.6. And warp 8 is so much lower than this "red line".
    – Oli
    Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 10:05
  • @Oli We see that Warp 9.6 is only used in emergency situations; it's not really appropriate to engage at maximum warp for a missing officer when you think about it Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 10:07
  • I only mention 9.6 because of your sustainability argument. It's well within the sustainable range. And it isn't a binary choice between 8 or maximum. Why not any other "safe" value between 8 and 9.2?
    – Oli
    Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 10:09
  • @Oli you pose two questions, so I go and address the overarching question of 'why don't they always travel at maximum warp' and I've subsequently addressed the Data situation Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 10:17
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    @Oli "LAFORGE: What if Data wasn't on that shuttle?" So this is an uncertain "what if" situation . Also if somebody has faked Data's destruction then they want him alive. Data is also immune to torture.
    – Jaydee
    Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 10:30

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