In Star Trek III, Kirk takes the Enterprise out on a little "joyride", with the U.S.S. Excelsior in hot pursuit (initially). The audience learns that the Excelsior is equipped with "trans-warp drive". The captain of the Excelsior smirks confidently that Kirk is "really in for a shock" if he thinks he can get away with the Enterprise's old warp drive. Turns out the Excelsior's drive was sabotaged by Scotty, allowing Kirk to escape to Genesis.

In further series in the Star Trek universe, there are various mentions of "trans-warp" technologies, such as Slipstream, folding-space and wormhole conduits. However, no Federation ship to my knowledge ever possesses a technology with that label again (not for long anyway), and even in Star Trek VI they do away with the term for the Excelsior (now commanded by Captain Sulu).

So, what is the basic definition for "trans-warp"? Is it simply any technology allowing a ship to travel faster than the known limits of conventional warp drive? Was Excelsior simply a "next-generation" warp drive ship that pushed the envelope that much further?

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    Borg didn't use Slipstream. They used Trans-warp Conduits. Slipstream is technology even beyond the Borg. – DampeS8N Sep 17 '11 at 1:36
  • Warp and trans warp must address the effects of acceleration and the G forces It create's , if you went from lets say 0 to light speed "186,282 miles per sec. Your body would turn to a pile of mush. Against the bulk head. Their must be a way to suppress these forces attacking your body. The next way is to speed us slowly , its like going very fast in a car and hitting something solid and stopping the auto but your body keeps going. It's only in reverse the auto takes off and you are pined in the seat but thousands of times harder on your body. – user22060 Jan 25 '14 at 18:18
  • @RussellRhoades these are covered by Star Trek Tech. Check out this link. – AncientSwordRage Jan 25 '14 at 18:52
  • @DampeS8N The Quantum Slipstream Drive was created by Species 116, who were almost completely assimilated by the Borg. The Borg have the Slipstream technology, but (so far as I know) do not use it - their transwarp conduits are faster. – Izkata Jan 25 '14 at 19:32

10 Answers 10

up vote 32 down vote accepted

Trans-warp is one of those generic terms that was thrown around a lot in the Star Trek Universe. In the case of the USS Excelsior, it is my understanding that trans-warp stood for an experimental technology that allowed a ship to jump from standstill to any warp velocity the ship was capable of without having to accelerate through the various levels (warp 1, warp 2, warp 3, etc). So, in that case, Excelsior could have caught Enterprise because it not only could accelerate instantly, but it also had a higher top sustainable speed.

In other instances, the term trans-warp referred to any technology that allowed ships to travel "faster" than a normal warp speed ship. For instance, the Borg created wormhole-like conduits, in Voyager there was the slip-stream technology, and so forth.

I've heard in a couple of places that Gene didn't like the term and kept it out of the shows and movies as much as he could until he passed on.

  • See also the Memory Alpha article (en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Transwarp) and Wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warp_drive_(Star_Trek)#Transwarp) for more details. – Tony Meyer Sep 17 '11 at 2:17
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    It's worth pointing out that we never see any ST ships from TNG onwards accelerating through warp speeds. They ALL had Excelsior-style transwarp drives, they just dropped the 'trans'. – Jeff Sep 17 '11 at 14:47
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    @BBlake In VOY "Threshold", dialogue clearly indicated that the shuttle was accellerating gradually, and Voyager was matching its speed up to the ship's maximum velocity. Of course, that's Threshold, quite possibly the single worst Voyager episode ever. – a CVn Jan 9 '13 at 8:47
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    Threshold is much more fun to watch when you replace Quantum Slipstream with Infinite Improbability. This then accounts for improbable events like a missile turning into a bowl of petunias or Paris turning into an amphibian. They never did reach infinite improbability or it would have turned typical Voy writing into interesting SF. – Jim2B Mar 29 '15 at 2:52
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    "How do you know it's a transwarp drive?" "Well, it turned me into a newt!" "A newt?" [beat] "I got better." – Kevin Aug 25 '16 at 6:29

Between the tech manual I had back in the day for the Enterprise-D and my Enterprise blueprints, the following technologies are listed (perhaps not canon, but at least seem reasonable).

  • Warp (Constitution class): Warp number cubed was the velocity relative to speed of light, with the Enterprise having a max normal of Warp 12 listed and emergency max of Warp 14.

  • Transwarp (Excelsior class): Technology enabling the ship to drop into an alternate dimension where time flowed at a different rate. Effectively 2x as fast at each Warp number.

  • Ultra Warp (Galaxy class): A shifting pattern of warp fields that made greater velocity capable and also redefined Warp numbers as an exponential curve with 1 being speed of light and 10 being infinite.

Now, obviously transwarp was redefined when the Borg came out. Perhaps a combination of Ultra Warp, but in transwarp space? Seems like sometimes they used conduits, but not always? Conduits accelerated the transwarp effect? I dunno, it got really fuzzy at that point in the Star Trek space. :-)

  • Professional Warp™ XO™ Extreme Edition™ HD was later introduced by Microsoft. It did the same thing as Ultra Warp, but you could run it on ten starships at once and it cost $80,000 per seat. – Paul D. Waite Jan 3 '13 at 13:01
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    I think you've got it confused with IBM's product, OS/2 Warp. Which effectively made i386 computers slow down and behave like an iapx286... :-) – Brian Knoblauch Jan 3 '13 at 13:57

It is perfectly possible that there were many generations of warp drive which may have been called "space warp", "Time warp", "transwarp" "ultra warp", "hyperwarp", "super warp" etc. when first introduced but were all usually referred to by the generic term "warp drive" after they becaem usual.

Nobody knows if the "Transwarp" used by the Excelsior in The Search For Spock became the next standard type of war drive or was failure and was abandoned.

Whether or not that is the case, there seems to be a big difference between warp drive like the "Transwarp" of the Excelsior and more exotic technology such as the "transwarp corrdors" of the Borg and the "transwarp" in the Voyager episode "Threashold".

In the now NO LONGER CANON book "Mr. Scott's Guide to the Enterprise" they mentioned the transwarp project of Excelsior failing and being discarded research. It was supposed to utilize a dimension that allowed for faster than normal warp travel different than typical subspace, this "new" dimension could allow for more direct lines of travel than typical warp. I'm going on memory, so don't shoot me if I am off a bit, but that book addressed the issue..and also the USS Tiho was the ship they renamed to USS Enterprise after the A was lost in the search for spock...a MUCH better explanation than just a new broken ship showing up at the end of IV.

From reading whats here and the TNG novels, plus the various shows and movies warp isn't a speed. What we recognize as speed is from our linear understanding of time and distance. Its more of a change in space/ time around the ship. Each increase in warp (factor) isn't always geometric increase in "speed". Also "warp speed" is subject to adjustment (i.e. TOS warp speed is slower than TOS Movie warp speed, TNG warp speed is faster than those speeds). So transwarp is faster than current max warp geometries allow. How fast is variable based on technology used, ship size, mass, and shape. Where in the galaxy the ship is starting from and its end point seems to have an effect also.The Borg Transwarp Conduits (TWC) seem to be like ocean currents or trade winds at sea. Trade winds and currents don't always line up but when they do a ship working with them will travel faster while using less energy, than ship not using them. So the Borg have figured out where the space/ time and warp fields intersect favorably. The Hubs would then work like train stations and catapults used to launch planes from aircraft carriers

I have searched online for a different view of transwarp than mine, according to star trek and my interpretation of it, and I find any and all explanations completely insufficient. Nobody appears to remember an INTEGRAL part of the borg's use of TRANSWARP: TRANSWARP HUBS. I believe that transwarp drives are warp drives that are tied into the existing transwarp hub networks available and simply allows the ship fitted with said transwarp drive to utilize this hybrid of natural spatial phenomena and technology built by the borg. That "transwarp" isn't actually a higher level of warp travel per say on its own, but that a normal warp drive is used to connect with these transwarp hub corridors somehow, and at the core is NOT actually a question of advanced propulsion, just a combined effort of a typical warp drive taking advantage of this unknown network of transwarp corridors created by the borg or whatever race they assimilated. After thinking about this over and over, and obviously seen by myself across all star trek movies and tv series, this is the most plausible explanation.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought that the original series had an episode called "The Tholian Web" in which Kirk temporarily got phased between dimensions.

Supposedly the discovery prompted the study of the phenomenon and eventually led to the development of dropping into a universe that was smaller than our own, traversing the shorter distance in space there and then shifting back significantly farther along than conventional warp could achieve.

You can see in ST III, that "trans-warp" is the new technology. So surely you wouldn't expect TNG to not use "trans-warp." But wait the term is still "warp." What happened to "trans-warp". Nothing, it was just shortened to "warp".

If you cannot accept this than you have at least coundrums to deal with. First if "warp" is always the same, Voyager and Defiant max speeds are lower than TOS Enterpise. Second, what happened to "trans-warp" technology?

So in fact, "trans-warp" technology didn't go anywhere. The word was just shortened to "warp" after 50 - 100 years use of "trans" warp. All warp engines in TNG era used "trans-warp" technology. So unless it wasn't obvious from context, no need to use "trans-warp".

But later in the TNG era, warp engines had limits. Thus exploration of other technologies: soliton waves, trans-warp conduits, slip-stream etc. But these were not just improvements on warp technology like before. These are new. But you need some "umbrella" term. So "trans-warp," again.

In short, "trans-warp" has two meanings. In the TOS era, "trans-warp" was an improved "warp". And this was common place by TNG and just called "warp". Later there was a need to further improve "warp engines. But the new technology was again referred to as "trans-warp". But it no longer meant improved "warp engines".

  • A good answer, which seems to make sense. You could, however, improve your answer by providing a source that states, or supports that they replaced "trans-warp" with "warp" in later shows. – Edlothiad Jul 8 at 21:49
  • Now that's a good question. I didn't come up with this explanation. It was the explanation when TNG had just come out. I don't know who came up with the explanation. But the need for some explanation became necessary when (a) what happened to "trans-warp" and (b) how could TNG Federation ships have lower speeds than ship from the TOS era (c) the distances in TNG era were much farther then in TOS era and time to travel was same so needs some explanation for this also. – Joe Jul 8 at 22:17

[quote] So, what is the basic definition for "trans-warp"? Is it simply any technology allowing a ship to travel faster than the known limits of conventional warp drive? Was Excelsior simply a "next-generation" warp drive ship that pushed the envelope that much further? [/quote]

Trans-Warp could simply mean 'Beyond-warp' - as far as literal interpretation goes. And indeed, throughout canon, we do see the term used for speeds that go well beyond regular Warp drive.

From a canonical point of view, it might be implied from the movie that the Excelsior was supposed to have a 'next generation propulsion' known as Transwarp at the time that would allow speeds that go well beyond standard Warp engines - at least, that was the intent. As we know, Scotty sabotaged the Excelsior and that was the last we heard of Trans-Warp in the 23rd century (as far as my memory goes).

I find it very odd that no canonical explanation was provided.

But we do know that Roddenberry wanted TNG and the Enterprise-D to explore another galaxy as opposed to our own. This DOES fit well into the premise of a technologically advanced society that doesn't have money and uses full scale cooperation coupled with automated research to advance - but as we saw, this didn't come to pass, because the writers didn't want to make it look like the Milky Way was 'too small' (which I don't really find as making sense to be honest).

In TOS for example Warp speed of 8.4 was described as allowing to traverse about 990 Ly's per 1 solar day - which isn't far fetched by the 23rd century when you take into account what I said above about cooperation, automation and no money.

By the 24th century (or when Enterprise-D launched, I could see Warp drive as increasing in speed by a good amount... for instance, being 1000x faster than TOS Warp drive - allowing the D to get to Andromeda in just under 3 days and start exploring it...

Mind you, the Milky Way would still be under heavy exploration by Starfleet in the 24th century, considering you'd need large amount of exploratory ships to cover it (depending on sensor range, etc.)

At any rate, Warp drive as seen on DS9 and Voyager was way too slow. I think Paris's statement of 9.9 being 21473 times LS might be accurate, considering that no SF ship on-screen was able to use that ship as a cruising speed. Voyager technically could, seeing how its maximum sustainable cruise velocity was stated to be 9.975 (which would technically allow 440 Ly's per hour travel - if every increment past 9.9 doubles the speed).

I find it sad that the Federation was not given by the writers Transwarp in late 23rd century. It would be far more consistent with their progress and technology - but unfortunately, network executives had other things in mind.

Getting back on track...

Transwarp as we have seen has been used thus far by the Voth and Borg. The Voth used a Transwarp version that was closer (in special effects) to what we saw in Threshold episode of Voyager, but evidently, it was not 'infinite velocity' so much as it was 'much faster than Warp' and managed to cross 60 Ly's in the span of seconds.

The Borg used their own Transwarp - by opening various conduits. As we've seen, the Enterprise-D was able to open those conduits by figuring out their aperture frequencies (simply because they were already there).

I think that what the Borg might have done here was create 'temporary' conduits... ones that would last specific amount of time before deteriorating unless they are used (though how long would they last is unknown).

The Borg ships later on needed Transwarp coils to achieve TW speeds, and Federation ships couldn't use those conduits without them it would appear (a security feature perhaps?).

As for the TW Hub... that was something which was introduced as a concept in the last episode of Voyager from the writers, however, the conversation implies the Borg had 6 of those in the Galaxy, meaning that the Borg would likely have been using these Hubs as means of transport, though, this doesn't mesh with 'Dark Frontier' where the Borg ships were apparently able to use TW wherever they wanted independently... and indeed, this is confirmed by 7 of 9 in episode 'Inside Man' when describing how a Borg Cube enters a TW conduit.

Unless the Hubs are used as means of facilitating faster travel compared to what individual ships can accomplish... which in a way makes sense if you have a larger force of Borg ships as the Hub that waits to be deployed to various regions of the Galaxy for studying various species for assimilation potential so the individual ships do not expend their own resources (instead, just use the centre of a nebula as a giant power source for the Hub to initially launch the ships, after which the ships only need to expend power on subsequent exploration and eventual return if recalled).

Slisptream is another technology allowing faster than Warp speeds... but it doesn't seem to be classified as Transwarp. Slipstream was described as being similar to Borg Transwarp... but it also seemed to be better than Borg TW.

V1 of Slipstream as seen in the fake Dauntless allowed speeds of 300 Ly's per hour. V2 as improved upon by Voyager crew with Borg tech and Benemyte crystals was able to achieve 10 000 Ly's per minute (if you look at the dialogue, the phase variance issues don't start until 17 seconds into the flight, and roughly 1 minute into the ordeal and when Harry transmitted the shut down phase corrections, Voyager managed to traverse 10 000 Ly's at the end of the episode - this didn't take more than 1 minute perhaps in-universe).

Transwarp as a term could have wide-reaching explanations... and realistically, Slipstream falls into the category of transwarp... but I think reclassifications are needed since these propulsion technologies achieve faster than warp speeds using different regions of Subspace (probably).

  • ...and of course we now have to ask, is it the same Slipstream as Andromeda? – Brian Knoblauch Oct 7 '16 at 18:51
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    Not really. Andromeda needed piloting in order to navigate through Slipstream. In Trek, everything was handled automatically and course corrections could be applied on the go if needed by the crew... navigation inside slipstream was perhaps limited to Humans/humanoids for monitoring of how the systems perform, but other than that... not really. – Deks Oct 15 '16 at 0:36

I really don't think there's a true Canon answer to that. TNG kind of implied that any speed above warp 10 was transwarp, didn't All Good Things state that future Enterprise was capable of transwarp speed, specifying it to be Warp 13 max, and only by giving it a 3rd nacelle? On the other hand I find it hard to believe that Scotty set back the progress of the Federation for over a century if it was that simple. Then there's ST 09, where Spock Prime tells Scotty about "transwarp beaming" that Scotty himself only finally figured out in the 24th century. Apparently transwarp drive is whatever the plot needs it to be.

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