# How is the FTL drive supposed to work in Star Trek?

I couldn't figure this one out. Has anyone? I know it's about anti-matter and some kind of reactor, but what is it supposed to be doing?

• Quite well, thank you. Commented Oct 17, 2015 at 18:07

The matter-antimatter reaction is just the energy source for the work it has to do. The energy created by the reactor is used by the warp nacelles to build the warp field: this deforms the space-time-continuum.

So the spaceship itself isn't accelerating; the warp field makes the ship "falling" into the direction it should go. This has some side-effects, as moving in a direction other than straight forward is highly discouraged because of the damage done to the ship's hull.

You may picture it as if there would be a strong gravitational force in front of the spaceship which drags it through the room.

As you can see, the time-space-continuum in the front of the ship is compressed, where in the back it is stretched. In the light gray area the normal room isn't altered. As a side-effect a observer outside of the warp field sees the ship stretched (like at the end of the intros).

• That would explain why, in season 7, there is a restriction to the amount of "warping" done, and the structural damage to subspace. Thanks! Commented Jan 12, 2011 at 8:13
• happy to help, i've added an additional picture to explain it a little bit better :) Commented Jan 12, 2011 at 8:16
• It also helps that they were worried a single galaxy would become too small if they kept increasing the speed of the ships. That is part of the reason they reindex warp factors from TSO to TNG and made warp 10+ basicly infinite. Commented Feb 20, 2011 at 13:59
• The notion of space in front being compressed and space behind being expanded is how the theoretical Alcubierre Drive is supposed to work, but it has nothing to do with how Star Trek sources have explained things. For example, the Star Trek Voyager Technical Manual at cygnus-x1.net/links/lcars/… (which was written for the production staff to use as a reference) says on p. 32 that the warp field "suspends the ship in a bubble of subspace. In other words, the ship is partially existing in another universe." Commented Jun 4, 2014 at 22:40
• @maguirenumber6 - It appears that warp gondola is the translation in czech (and perhaps other languages as well), perhaps Samuel Herzog is not a native English speaker--but you're right, the term as used in original English version of the show, and in the English-language versions of technical manuals and such, is "warp nacelle". Commented Oct 17, 2015 at 17:47

This type of warp drive is known as an Alcubierre drive, proposed by the Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre. It is a speculative method of space travel that involves generating a warp bubble/ring that contracts space in front of the craft and then expands it again behind it. The Alcubierre drives moves space around the spacecraft, which remains stationary inside the bubble, resulting in the craft arriving at its destination faster than light would in normal space.

• Except that Miguel Alcubierre proposed the system in 1994, as a real-science explanation for Star Trek warp drives. It's a retronym - warp drive existed in sci-fi before real science could explain it feasibly. Commented Nov 30, 2011 at 20:35
• But his theory holds. It will take a few stars worth of energy to move the mass of a starship at FTL, but the math is valid, lol Commented Nov 30, 2011 at 21:24
• NASA researcher Harold White has proposed that changing the geometry of the exotic matter-energy distribution in the Alcubierre drive from a bubble to a doughnut, and then oscillating the energy intensity, brings the mass-energy requirement down to 700 kg or less. Commented Sep 30, 2013 at 16:26
• This answer would be better if it explained what an Alcubierre drive is. It's currently little more than a link-only answer.
– user1027
Commented Jun 4, 2014 at 21:42
• @RobertF I was disappointed to learn that the NASA experiments in this area have become regarded as somewhere between a joke and a hoax by the wider physics community. Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 18:06

The Warp drive is a variable geometry space folding engine. One doesn't actually travel at actual faster than light speeds, it augments the curvature of space around the vessel and passes it behind them. Very much like a treadmill as it moves behind a person. While the laws of physics state no object can travel faster than light, no such law exists permitting space from being manipulated at such a velocity. Thus allowing them to travel lightyears in mere hours or days. However the amount of energy to perform this task in real life is Substantial. However if certain "materials" can catalyze efficient manipulation. One thing Star Trek get's right is the power demands for space manipulation travel; the energy requirements are substantial. The warp core aboard the vessel is a matter-antimatter annihilation reactor. With a single kilogram of matter/antimatter in annihilation producing 179 Petajoules or 49.7 terawatt-hours.