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NASA developing Star Trek-like warp drive for future space travel

NEW YORK - NASA scientists are developing a Star Trek-style “warp drive” that may eventually allow spacecraft to travel to the stars faster the speed of light.

NEW YORK - NASA scientists are developing a Star Trek-style “warp drive” that may eventually allow spacecraft to travel to the stars faster the speed of light.

Dr Harold White, a physicist at NASA’s Johnson Space Centre, is conducting research to create a warp in space and time.

These so called “warp bubbles” could eventually allow spacecraft to at speeds that appear to exceed the speed of light, the Daily Telegraph reported.

Essentially the warp creates a fold in the fabric of space and time that allows an object inside to travel a much greater distance in a shorter time.

This would allow a spacecraft to overcome one of the central laws in physics – that nothing can exceed the speed of light.

However, Dr White claims warp bubbles are theoretically possible and has now begun work to create warp bubbles for the first time in the laboratory.

Warp drives were an essential part of the Star Ship Enterprise in the long-running science fiction series Star Trek, allowing the crew to between the distant worlds they were exploring.

Dr White presented an update on his work at the Icarus Interstellar Congress, where scientists gathered to discuss ways of travelling between the stars.

He said that they have already begun conducting experiments and have generated some results suggest they are making progress towards being able to generate a warp bubble.

He said: “One of the problems is the amount of energy that would be required to create a space warp.

“We found two mechanisms that can reduce the amount of energy that would be required to create a space warp.

“It was this significant reduction in energy requirements that encouraged us to go on to generate some kind of manifestation of it in the lab.

“This is not something that you can bolt to a spacecraft, this is science trying to go through to find existence proof of the physics.

“It is the first step you want to take to move from the maths to an experimental set up.”

Currently the furthest mankind has managed to venture is to the edge of our own solar system, around 11.6 billion miles from Earth.

The Voyager 1 spacecraft, which was launched in 1977, is currently on the cusp of becoming the first man-made object to leave our solar system.

However, it would take it 75,000 years to reach our nearest star Alpha Centauri, which is around 4.3 light years.

Dr White, however, believes that by containing a spacecraft inside a warp bubble, it could travel over larger distances without having to break the speed of light.

The bubble would compress space and time in front of it.

Dr White is building on work by a Mexican scientist called Miguel Alcubierre who estimated that it would be possible to achieve this if an object had negative mass.

Dr White believes a spacecraft would need to be surrounded by a ring of exotic matter known as negative vacuum energy.

He found that by changing the shape of the bubble and oscillating its intensity, it was possible to reduce the amount of energy that would be required.

Dr White and his team have now set up their equipment in a laboratory that used to be used in the development of technology for the Apollo space missions in the 1960s.

The project, which he has named Eagleworks, uses a high-voltage capacitor ring that is charged up and discharged as a laser is fired through the centre.

Dr White is looking for changes in the way the light passes through it that may indicate the photons have passed through a warp bubble.

Their experiments have shown this may be possible but Dr White insisted it was too early to say anything definitive about what they have achieved.

He said: “We have two separate labs that have been working on this and I think we have some potential non-null results that are intriguing.

“However, these results are far from conclusive and it is way too early to say anything definitive, so we will continue to investigate.”

For those hoping that they may soon be able take a trip to our nearest stellar neighbours, Dr White believes they may still have some time to wait.

He said it could take anything from 20 to 200 years before such a spacecraft could be created.

Experiments that have attempted to break the speed of light in the past have ultimately proved to be unsuccessful. Albert Einstein propsed that nothing can travel faster than the speed ofl ight in a vacuum.

Physicists based at CERN near Geneva, however, stunned the scientific world two years ago by claiming to have shown that particles could move faster than the speed of light.

However, they were later shown to have made a mistake and the extra speed was due to a faulty wire connection in timing equipment.

Dr White and his colleagues, however, have already envisaged what a warp drive spacecraft would look like.

Their design would consist of a central section shaped like an American football where the crew and equipment would be surrounded by one or two rings that are attached to it by pylons

These rings would contain the exotic matter that would generate the warp field but it would also require engines to drive the spacecraft forward.

While it may still be some time before interstellar travel becomes possible, spaceships exploiting warp bubbles could be used to reduce the travel time in our own solar system, reducing journeys that take years to weeks or months.

Dr White told the conference: “What is necessary to make the trick work is the presence of the ring around the space craft. It would have exotic matter or negative vacuum energy.

“You will still need some kind of main propulsion system to make the thing work.”

In an interview with New Scientist he added: “You would have an initial velocity as you set off, and then when you turn on the ring of negative vacuum energy it augments your velocity.

“Space would contract in front of the spacecraft and expand behind it, sending you sliding through warped space-time and covering the distance at a much quicker rate.

“It would be like watching a film in fast forward.

“We are very much in the science rather than the technology phase.

“We have got some very specific and controlled steps to take to create a proof of concept, to show we have properly understood and applied the math and physics.” AGENCIES

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