Inertial dampeners are used on Star Trek to prevent starship occupants from experiencing inertial effects of the ship. Clearly, for a ship to accelerate at a very high rate via impulse drive, the inertial dampeners are required to prevent harming any of the crew (and also to keep everyone's quarters from looking like the aftermath of an earthquake).

What about entering warp? It's my understanding that warp speed is nothing more than a bubble of warped spacetime around the starship that it then moves through using impulse drive or some other conventional means of propulsion. To those inside the bubble, they are not moving superluminally. If this is the case, it doesn't seem to me that entering warp would cause the occupants to experience a sudden extreme acceleration, since from their perspective they are moving at the same velocity.

The whole reason I'm asking this question is that in an episode of Star Trek: Voyager one of the characters (I think it was Tom Paris) made a remark to the effect of "without inertial dampeners, we'd all be stains on the wall when we go to warp." (I'm sorry I don't have the exact episode - if anyone knows it please feel free to edit/comment) This statement seems to indicate that entering warp on a starship without dampeners would be fatal, and as an episode of a Trek TV series, this has to be canonical.

So if they are required, does that mean Zefram Cochrane had to invent intertial dampeners for his warp ship too? What about the Bajoran sail-ships that "accidentally" attained warp in DS9 - how did Sisko and Jake survive? Was Tom Paris just full of it? That doesn't speak too well for Voyager's crew if their helmsman doesn't even know how his ship's propulsion works.

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    The Voyager episode is "Tattoo". – Raven13 Nov 17 '11 at 18:50
  • @Raven13 Thanks! I'm pretty sure I only saw that when it was first aired. Good to know my memory still works! – Frank Pierce Nov 17 '11 at 19:12
  • Without inertial dampeners they'd be mere mist when increasing impulse speed. – Chad Levy Nov 17 '11 at 19:30
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    After reading a few threads around here, I'm not sure I can agree with the statement "...as an episode of a Trek TV series, this has to be canonical". – Iszi Nov 18 '11 at 4:51
  • Not having inertial dampeners is very dangerous, especially when going to ludacris speed! – Reinstate Monica - Goodbye SE Nov 24 '11 at 8:01

If it weren't a copyright issue, I'd just scan this guide and upload this somewhere.

This is from the Star Trek: The Next Generation Writer's Technical Manual Forth Season Edition, which was sent to me by Lolita Fatjo (Script Supervisor) when they were preparing me for pitching to them. This is the guide sent to all writers to define what is "true" in the ST:TNG universe and what the rules are for the series itself. It's not the series bible, but it's included with it and, essentially, has the same authority.

Page 12, under Environmental Systems: Artificial Gravity (and under that, Intertial Damping Field):

A second set of forcefield generators is used to create a field which absorbs the inertial stress created when the ship accelerates to high impulse or warp drive. (Otherwise the high gee-forces would instantly crush our crew beyond recognition.)

But it's worth noting this is also included:

The inertial dampening field generators also create a "structural integrity field" which helps reinforce the structure of the ship.

There's also a note about how energy is contained by these fields so it can be re-used.

And on page 40, under Emergency Procedures, subheading Intertial Damping failure:

The Enterprise travels at such tremendous speeds (even when under impulse power) that the acceleration and deceleration involved would instantly turn our crew to chunky salsa unless protected by the Inertial Damping field. Should this system (and its backups) fail, the ship would be limited to very gentle speed changes (compared to what it ordinarily does). It would take many months for the ship to accelerate to Warp One, or to change warp factor...

So, yes, Inertial Damping (they use that, not Dampening) is required for warp speed.

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    Great answer; bad design on the part of Trek wrtiers. Frank is right. Using a warp bubble, everything within the warp bubble would feel zero acceleration, so inertial dampeners really ought only be required for impulse travel. – Lèse majesté Nov 20 '11 at 3:55
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    True, it's bad design, but I think, also, from their point of view, that allows more things that can reasonably go wrong and can prevent them from going to warp in an emergency. – Tango Nov 20 '11 at 4:53
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    Yea, I suppose certain allowances have to be made for dramatic effect (just like not being able to revive dead people via the transporter). – Lèse majesté Nov 20 '11 at 5:05
  • As usual, I am probably overthinking things. Thank you for the answer! – Frank Pierce Nov 21 '11 at 14:08
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    @Lohoris: I doubt it's that easy. It's an internal document, intended for limited distribution. I suspect that if they wanted to publish it, then it'd have to be reviewed by lawyer for legal issues and evaluated in terms of whether it helps or hurts the franchise. The bigger something like Trek gets, the more entangled decisions like what to publish and what is just internal become. – Tango May 26 '14 at 18:44

It depends on precisely how warp works. The closest thing we have to a realistic theoretical model of it is an Alcubierre Drive. With an Alcubierre drive, you'd be pulled towards the forward axis of travel by the forward contraction of spacetime, and also pushed along the axis by the rear-ward expansion of spacetime. So the inertial forces are null, or more accurately, they are unrelated to the warp effect. You'd still need to travel at some non-warp speed to make any progress.

You might still need inertial dampeners to guard against imperfections in the geometry of the field, e.g., if the contraction and the expansion are not perfectly balanced, you'll experience a force.

So, I'll propose two in-universe solutions to the problem:

  1. Paris is referring to unavoidable imbalances in the field which are compensated for by the inertial dampeners, or
  2. Cochrane perfected something akin to an Alcubierre design, which had no need for dampeners, but later progress on warp engines negated this advantage.
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  • This sounds like a plausible in-universe explanation to me, though as @TangoOversway's answer indicates it was likely not the writers' intentions. – Frank Pierce Nov 21 '11 at 14:11
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    Star Trek's warp drive is explicitly not the Alcubierre metric. They have intentionally avoided anything like real science, so they can never be wrong in the future. – SteveED May 16 '12 at 3:53

They may be responsible for dumping gravity distortions caused by engaging this spacetime bubble, but I haven't seen this directly mentioned.

About Cochrane -- at least in theory, warp drive (nacelles not the core, which is only a power generator), inertial dumpers and cloak are different implementations of the same spacetime folding technology. Moreover, in the Trek universe it is seemingly easier to master than antimatter annihilation generator, what is in perfect contradiction to the current theoretical knowledge.

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  • Good point about the matter/antimatter reactor! – Frank Pierce Nov 21 '11 at 14:12

Clearly, for a ship to accelerate at a very high rate via impulse drive, the inertial dampeners are required to prevent harming any of the crew (and also to keep everyone's quarters from looking like the aftermath of an earthquake).

Hmmm. I seem to recall that one of the original notions of the impulse drive is that it was NOT a reaction-drive system (unlikely given the speeds involved), but instead acted on the craft and its contents as a whole. Hence, the inertial damper system ought not to be required at all for anything while the ship is operating under impulse. As someone else notes, the whole warp-bubble concept described in TNG and later should negate the need for inertial dampers here, too. The primary need for inertial dampers would be more tied to external forces acting on the ship or the warp field. My own spec on them is that they would be related to the artificial gravity system, and probably worked kind of like noise cancelling earphones. I'm not arguing with the other comments here which quote official canon sources, but I believe those are post-initial conceptual retcons.

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It was always my understanding/interpretation that, while in a warp bubble, a ship would still need to use its impulse drive to actually move. If this is the case then anything required for use of impulse drive(s) like the IDFs and the SIFs would still be needed while traveling at warp speeds.

They may not be needed to enter warp but they are needed to achieve actual movement while in the warp bubble so… yes.

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I read the books and its been many years but when Cochrane invented warp drive they had to accelerate slowly up to their desired warp speed when traveling. when research found the answer (being inertial dampeners) they were able to cut travel times between colony planets down because they could just jump to their desired warp speed without worry.

I also remember something about the inertial dampeners not being able to keep up with damage that was dealt to the ship in battles hence why the crew being are sometimes violently thrown from their seats and having trouble keeping their footing when standing.

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