Design Engineering

NASA scientist unveils warp drive spaceship concept

Mike McLeod   

General Aerospace NASA slideshow

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

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.

Unlike matter, space can expand at any speed. So instead of propelling a ship to faster than light speeds and thereby 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-time would rapidly expand behind the ship and contract at the front.

That wave of warped space-time would thereby “propel” the ship forward, or more accurately, the bubble of flat space-time the ship was within. The ship itself, relative to its own frame of reference (i.e. inside the warp bubble), would “stand still.” As a result, passengers wouldn’t be subject to extreme g-forces or time dilation. .


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 — provided you had enough of the exotic matter the warp drive would require.

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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