NASA scientist unveils warp drive spaceship concept

Physicist Harold White’s concept design explores how “faster than light” travel might work.

0 June 25, 2014
Mike McLeod

Artist Mark Rademaker's visual representations of a warp-drive spacecraft based upon designs by NASA physicist Harold White.

Artist Mark Rademaker’s visual representations of a warp-drive spacecraft based upon designs by NASA physicist Harold White.

Among mechanical engineers, NASA’s Harold White may have the coolest job on the planet. As the head of NASA’s Advanced Propulsion Team, he’s in charge of investigating whether the concept of a Star Trek-type warp drive is possible. If so, the potential of such “faster than light” engines could shorten the time to travel to destinations throughout the galaxy from decades or centuries down to weeks or months.

The NASA physicist and mechanical engineer has been working on the plausibility of the concept since 2010 but recently revealed a concept of a warp-drive spaceship. In conjunction with artist Mark Rademaker, White’s latest design is based on his calculations of how intergalactic travel might work.

Instead of propelling a ship to faster than light speeds and breaking the laws of physics, White’s warp drive would generate a warp bubble around the ship – created by the large toroid rings. In this theoretical concept, space would be rapidly expanded behind the ship and contracted at the front, thereby “propelling” the ship forward, or more accurately, shortening the distance between two points. That is, the ship wouldn’t just move through space, but space would also “move” around the ship.

White’s work is derived from a re-tooling of an Alcubierre Drive, conceived by physicist Miguel Alcubierre in 1994. Alcubierre’s equations showed the theoretical feasibility of warp drive but also concluded that the energy requirements to create it would be galactically huge. White’s exploration of the original math revealed a way to reduce the amount of energy required to something workable.

Appropriately named the IXS Enterprise, White’s concept ship and warp drive design are still purely mathematical and may not be physically possible, he admits. However, NASA says it will continue to study its feasibility and perhaps one day open travel to destinations presently thought impossible

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