In "Hollow Pursuits," an ever-increasing warp speed creates an imminently dangerous situation: if the issue is not resolved, the ship will suffer a loss of structural integrity and tear apart.

It seems to be a poor design that such a steady increase in warp causes the ship to break apart. In "Day of the Dove," for instance, Kirk and company faced the same situation. However, that Enterprise was only going to be stranded in a distant system, after its fuel was spent.

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    I think the phrase to focus on here is "ever-increasing". Even in the 23rd century, materials will still have stress limits. Exceed the stress limits of your ship's hull without doing anything about it, and your ship will break apart and your mission will be over swiftly. Jun 1, 2017 at 18:45
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    @maguirenumber6 Which begs the question, what is putting stress on the hull? Space is a vacuum.
    – Spencer
    Jun 1, 2017 at 21:55
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    Presumably the stress is a consequence of the warp field. The problem in Hollow Pursuits wasn't an ever-increasing speed, per se, but an ever-increasing engine output. Jun 2, 2017 at 8:30
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    @maguirenumber6: As long as the acceleration is constant, the ship is under the exact same physical stress from accelerating. Only if the acceleration increased continually would the ship endure more stress as time goes on. However; while most of space is a vacuum, I would consider that the faster you go, the more of an impact that debris (small asteroids or rock chunks) would have on your ship. Even if the deflectors are unbreakable, that still means the ship is pushed whenever it collides with an object. The more abrupt (=high speed difference) the collision, the more force acts on the ship.
    – Flater
    Jun 2, 2017 at 10:34
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    @Flater, warp travel in the Star Trek universe doesn't appear to be inertial; for a given amount of engine power, you have a constant speed, not a constant acceleration. Nor is there any indication AFAIK that this is due to space dust or debris, I think it is just the way the physics of warp speed works. Jun 3, 2017 at 1:04

2 Answers 2


According to The Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual, Chapter 5 - Warp Propulsion Systems, page 54:

The space-time continuum distortion based propulsive effect of a warp field is created by nesting several layers of warp field energy together, with each new layer exerting force against its outermost neighbour. The cumulative effect of this force results in the massive subspace field distortion that allows the ship to reach faster than light speeds.

A great amount of force is exerted on the Warp Energy Field when travelling at Warp speed. The faster the Warp Factor, the greater the force exerted and the more strain put on the system. In addition, the more you push a Warp Core, the less stable the field becomes. If the Warp Core were to completely fail whilst travelling at these speeds, the distortion field would collapse and the ship would be subject to all of the aforementioned forces, ripping the hull apart.

Similarly, it was mentioned in the episode "Deja Q" that an object not entirely encompassed by the forward end of the warp field may be destroyed by a subspace compression anomaly as it passed through it. This suggests that the warp distortion field is a critical factor in maintaining structural integrity whilst being subjected to extreme force.


The real-life theory for warp travel (originally proposed by Miguel Alcubierre) relies on the principle of contracting space in front of a vessel and expanding space behind it. One can assume that this when this differential becomes powerful enough, the space around and occupied by the hull will warp, increasing in severity with the warp factor, and at some point the structural integrity field won't be able to cope with the stress, and will fail.

The following extract comes from Alcubierre's original paper (PDF) on page 3:

'The previous example shows how one can use an expansion of spacetime to move away from some object at an arbitrarily large speed. In the same way, one can use a contraction of spacetime to approach an object at any speed. This is the basis of the model for hyper- fast space travel that I wish to present here: create a local distortion of spacetime that will produce an expansion behind the spaceship, and an opposite contraction ahead of it. In this way, the spaceship will be pushed away from the Earth and pulled towards a distant star by spacetime itself. One can then invert the process to come back to Earth, taking an arbitrarily small time to complete the round trip.'

Here's a link to an article about the Alcubierre Drive

I hope this helps!

  • Can you provide some information from the article into your answer, in case the webpage dies and can't be read anymore.
    – Edlothiad
    Jun 3, 2017 at 22:25
  • @Edlothiad Good idea, I've added an extract from the original paper written by Alcubierre. Thanks for the suggestion! Jun 4, 2017 at 12:58

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