June 9, 2014 - NASAâ€™s Warp
Drive Project: â€śSpeedsâ€ť that Could Take a Spacecraft to Alpha Centauri in Two Weeks â€” Even Though the System is 4.3 Light-Years Away.
A few months ago, physicist Harold White stunned the aeronautics world when he announced that he and his team at NASA had begun work on the development of a faster-than-light warp drive.
His proposed design, an ingenious re-imagining of an Alcubierre Drive, may eventually result in an engine that can transport a spacecraft to the nearest star in a matter of weeks â€” and all without violating.
The idea came to White while he was considering a rather remarkable equation formulated by physicist Miguel Alcubierre. In his 1994 paper titled, â€śThe Warp Drive: Hyper-Fast Travel Within General Relativity,â€ť
Alcubierre suggested a mechanism by which space-time could be â€śwarpedâ€ť both in front of and behind a spacecraft.
Michio Kaku dubbed Alcubierreâ€™s notion a â€śpassport to the universe.â€ť It takes advantage of a quirk in the cosmological code that allows for the expansion and contraction of space-time, and could allow for hyper-fast travel between interstellar destinations.
Essentially, the empty space behind a starship would be made to expand rapidly, pushing the craft in a forward direction â€” passengers would perceive it as movement despite the complete lack of acceleration.
White speculates that such a drive
could result in â€śspeedsâ€ť that could take a spacecraft to Alpha Centauri in a mere two weeks â€” even though the system is 4.3 light-years away.
In terms of the engineâ€™s mechanics, a spheroid object would be placed between two regions of space-time (one expanding and one contracting).
A â€śwarp bubbleâ€ť would then be generated that moves space-time around the object, effectively repositioning it â€” the end result being faster-than-light travel without the spheroid (or spacecraft) having to move with respect to its local frame of reference.
â€śRemember, nothing locally exceeds the speed of light, but space can expand and contract at any speed, â€ťHowever, space-time is really stiff, so to create the expansion and contraction effect in a useful manner in order for us to reach interstellar destinations in reasonable time periods would require a lot of energy.â€ť
â€śHowever,â€ť said White, â€śbased on the analysis I did the last 18 months, there may be hope.â€ť The key, says White, may be in altering the geometry of the warp drive itself.
A new design
â€śMy early results suggested I had discovered something that was in the math all along,â€ť he recalled. â€śI suddenly realized that if you made the thickness of the negative vacuum energy ring larger â€” like shifting from a belt shape to a donut shape â€” and oscillate the warp bubble, you can greatly reduce the energy required â€” perhaps making the idea plausible.â€ť
White had adjusted the shape of Alcubierreâ€™s ring which surrounded the spheroid from something that was a flat halo to something that was thicker and curvier.