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Tue Nov 27, 2012, 06:59 PM

How NASA might build its very first warp drive

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 — and all without violating Einstein's law of relativity. We contacted White at NASA and asked him to explain how this real life warp drive could actually work.

The Alcubierre Drive

The idea came to White while he was considering a rather remarkable equation formulated by physicist Miguel Alcubierre. In his 1994 paper titled, "The Warp Drive: Hyper-Fast Travel Within General Relativity," Alcubierre suggested a mechanism by which space-time could be "warped" both in front of and behind a spacecraft.

Michio Kaku dubbed Alcubierre's notion a "passport to the universe." 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 — passengers would perceive it as movement despite the complete lack of acceleration.

White speculates that such a drive could result in "speeds" that could take a spacecraft to Alpha Centauri in a mere two weeks — even though the system is 4.3 light-years away.

http://io9.com/5963263/how-nasa-will-build-its-very-first-warp-drive?tag=Daily-explainer

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Arrow 29 replies Author Time Post
Reply How NASA might build its very first warp drive (Original post)
n2doc Nov 2012 OP
DaDeacon Nov 2012 #1
a geek named Bob Nov 2012 #2
mzteris Nov 2012 #3
hrmjustin Nov 2012 #4
struggle4progress Nov 2012 #5
sir pball Nov 2012 #6
Kablooie Nov 2012 #7
sir pball Nov 2012 #9
Kablooie Nov 2012 #12
Ilsa Nov 2012 #14
WinstonSmith4740 Nov 2012 #15
FiveGoodMen Nov 2012 #19
sir pball Nov 2012 #25
WinstonSmith4740 Nov 2012 #26
sir pball Dec 2012 #28
rwsanders Nov 2012 #8
malthaussen Nov 2012 #24
hunter Nov 2012 #10
Harry Monroe Nov 2012 #22
FreedomRain Nov 2012 #11
backscatter712 Dec 2012 #29
felix_numinous Nov 2012 #13
BlueJazz Nov 2012 #16
SariesNightly Nov 2012 #17
longship Nov 2012 #18
Canuckistanian Nov 2012 #20
Harry Monroe Nov 2012 #23
DetlefK Nov 2012 #21
Glassunion Dec 2012 #27

Response to n2doc (Original post)

Tue Nov 27, 2012, 07:02 PM

1. OfF World here we come...nt

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Tue Nov 27, 2012, 07:11 PM

2. Three words...

 

SIGN
ME
UP

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Tue Nov 27, 2012, 07:43 PM

3. YES!




Beam me up, Scotty! I'm ready to go!

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Tue Nov 27, 2012, 08:54 PM

4. Cool!

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Tue Nov 27, 2012, 09:14 PM

5. that's nice. is there the slightest evidence that it will actually work?

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Response to struggle4progress (Reply #5)

Wed Nov 28, 2012, 02:35 AM

6. None whatsoever.

We're still talking negative energy/negative mass - the requirement is a tiny fraction of the original calculations, but there's no concept whatsoever of how to actually generate it. Basically now it's powered by the farts of ONE unicorn and not a whole herd of them

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Response to sir pball (Reply #6)

Wed Nov 28, 2012, 12:09 PM

7. But you can't discount it. Unicorn farts led to many amazing technologies we have today.

One of those farts is in front of your eyes right now.

But it can take several generations to get those farts industrialized.

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Response to Kablooie (Reply #7)

Wed Nov 28, 2012, 01:00 PM

9. Yes and no

Never say never indeed, but..

..the unicorn fart that's currently bathing my face in a warm warming glow came around ~250 years ago (I'm going back to Galvani), before there was any real concept of the deeper organization and function of the world, where unicorn farts were real, observable, and novel. That age started the ball rolling, great minds exploring, discovering and developing the rules; from then on, the technology, the industrialized production farts, invariably followed the rules. Learn how the world works, and then make it work for us.

That being said, the Alcubierre drive requires conditions that on a macroscale are pretty serious violations of the fundamental maths (esp. general relativity). While "it is true that certain experimentally verified quantum phenomena, such as the Casimir effect, when described in the context of the quantum field theories, lead to stress–energy tensors that also violate the energy conditions, such as negative mass-energy"(1), the applicability of phenomena like that on a larger scale requires at the very least a Theory of Everything; even when we do figure that out it's just as likely to prove impossible as it is to scale up.

I know it's a wonderful thought that somebody is going to come along dreaming of things that never were, and say "why not?"...but the world has moved on. If The Man (er, Men) says it's not going to happen, my hopes are slim indeed.

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Response to sir pball (Reply #9)

Wed Nov 28, 2012, 06:11 PM

12. Oh yeah? Well how does the Starship Enterprise do it, huh?

And thats in 2130. See? They figured it out in only a little over a hundred years.
Come to think of it, on Star Trek they never mentioned the Alcubierre drive ... so maybe they won't figure it out.

Guess we'll just have to be content with wormholes.
And don't tell me THEY will be difficult to implement too.
Invader Zim uses them and he's merely a cartoon character!

Damn them stinky unicorns.

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Response to Kablooie (Reply #12)

Wed Nov 28, 2012, 07:07 PM

14. Maybe Geordi LaForge went back to 1994 to introduce

the Alcubierre idea!

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Response to sir pball (Reply #9)

Wed Nov 28, 2012, 08:54 PM

15. This thread reminds me of a conversation.

It was around 1962. JFK had thrown down the gauntlet on going to the moon. My dad, who was 44 at the time, worked for the government. He was discussing the issue with 3 of my uncles, who were all in their 60's. Dad was absolutely positive we were going to do this. (BTW, he also explained to me how we were going to get our Apollo 13 astronauts back BEFORE it was on the news. Slingshot around the moon? Huh?) My uncles were equally sure it could never be done because, "My God, Mike. They would have to go over 25,000 mph to escape Earth's gravity! Do you realize how FAST that is? We'll never be able to do it, no way." Dad just smiled, winked at me and mouthed "Watch us."

Beam me up, Scotty.

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Response to WinstonSmith4740 (Reply #15)

Wed Nov 28, 2012, 10:19 PM

19. Going 25000 MPH may have seemed difficult

But it didn't violate any established laws of physics.

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Response to WinstonSmith4740 (Reply #15)

Fri Nov 30, 2012, 01:16 PM

25. I wish it were just details like that

I want this to happen, desperately...I was the little nerdlinger in 6th grade with a TNG Starfleet uniform who read the Technical Manual over and over until I could recite it from memory. If this ever worked on a macroscale I'd be willing to kill my cat to get a seat to Alpha Centauri.

But, within the currently known and accepted mathematical structure of the Universe, it's not happening. Exotic matter is a purely theoretical construct that doesn't exist *outside* the rules but rather in *violation* of the rules, at any kind of scale that matters. MAYBE we can exploit vacuum energy and the Casimir effect to work this on a nanoscale, but that would make sending a man to the stars as possible as teleporting a human is today even with men in white coats demonstrating quantum teleportation over hundreds of miles. I suppose instead of people we could warp-drive self-assembling nanomachines there and back, but that's about the extent of my realism.

Anyway, if we did discover how to create negative mass-energy on a macroscale, building a warp drive would be the least of our priorities...we'd be talking about literally limitless, totally clean energy and ways of manipulating the fundamental structures of spacetime in even bigger ways (eg create wormholes and jump 100s of light years instantly, eff this 4x the speed of light). Wake me when we have a working Theory of Everything, that's the bare minimum to even begin to conceptualize how to "industrialize the process".

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Response to sir pball (Reply #25)

Fri Nov 30, 2012, 09:55 PM

26. Me, too.

I want this to happen, desperately...


Of course you do! You're here on DU, which makes you a rational, thinking, person. When we look to the future, we see great things, not sweatshops, dirty air, and undrinkable water. And I know we're talking physics, math, and some pretty hard, fast rules. So even though it would never happen in our lifetimes (well, mine anyway), to quote Jackson Browne, "Don't think it can't happen just because it hasn't happened yet."

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Response to WinstonSmith4740 (Reply #26)

Thu Dec 6, 2012, 12:02 AM

28. Thing is,

I'm absolutely sure that someday, we (or what we become) will be able to create and manipulate the kinds of almost unimaginable things we're discussing..

..and by then, using those abilities to create an Alcubierre-style FTL drive would be like getting a stable, energy-positive fusion reactor working and using it to boil water for a Victorian steam engine. It's a concept that will be obsolete by the time we have the technology to implement it.

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Wed Nov 28, 2012, 12:40 PM

8. This will be great news for this group>>>

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Response to rwsanders (Reply #8)

Thu Nov 29, 2012, 10:29 AM

24. Cool website, thanks for the link.

I love people with imagination.

-- Mal

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Wed Nov 28, 2012, 02:44 PM

10. Humans are not allowed to own or operate warp drives.

Any humans transported out of their home system must be spayed and certified not to carry any communicable diseases.

It's the Law.

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Response to hunter (Reply #10)

Thu Nov 29, 2012, 10:04 AM

22. No, we are allowed. But...the Vulcans will be closely monitoring us

They need to certify that we are worthy to expand past our puny little blue dot. So far, it seems, we are failing that test.

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Wed Nov 28, 2012, 05:00 PM

11. weaponized space

I wonder what it would do to a planet to have part of its space expanded. Maybe nothing, maybe devastating. Of course, if we don't make it the aliens will. (/actually not sarcasm)

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Response to FreedomRain (Reply #11)

Thu Dec 6, 2012, 03:16 AM

29. IIRC, there is a lethal problem with the Alcubierre drive.

As you're starship is warping through space, it picks up high energy particles, which get caught in the warp bubble, and travel with the ship. The number of those particles build and build, the further you go, until after you've traveled a few hundred light years, you arrive at your destination, drop out of warp, and watch as all those particles you brought with you annihilate your destination's solar system. Oops.

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Wed Nov 28, 2012, 06:48 PM

13. This is where I want my taxes to go

(after healthcare, education and welfare, green energy and infrastructure)--instead of wars--->space travel. Yeah!!!

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Wed Nov 28, 2012, 09:45 PM

16. That would equate to 75 billion miles per hour.

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Wed Nov 28, 2012, 09:52 PM

17. Seriously?

Or is this one of the big announcements that go nowhere in a few months?

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Wed Nov 28, 2012, 09:54 PM

18. My question... Einstein!

General relativity says mass warps space. Special Relativity says that mass originates from energy:


........E
M = -----
.......C^2


The title of Einstein's 1905 paper was (in English): Does the Inertia of a Body Depend on Its Energy Content? (one of two on special relativity that year)

So the above algebraic restatement of Einstein's iconic E = MC^2 recapitulates the question posed in the paper's title. (A tip of the hat to Frank Wilczek, for that.)

So, how are you going to warp space sufficiently without either a huge amount of mass, or a huge concentration of energy?

I know... Dilithium crystals and anti-matter, eh?

Sorry, the former is fiction; the latter takes orders of magnitude of energy more to generate it than is released in using it as fuel -- the most efficient in the universe, as far as anybody knows.

And how are you going to generate enough concentrated energy to warp space sufficiently without destroying yourself? Plus, your equivalent mass is related to that energy as well. Matter/anti-matter anialation is only so efficient. Plus, you still have to carry enough anti-matter and matter with which to anialate.

Sorry, people. No warp drives.

on edit: sorry about the equation. Ignore the dots.

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Wed Nov 28, 2012, 11:00 PM

20. Now, we have to wait for Zefram Cochrane

Who's probably now in high school.

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Response to Canuckistanian (Reply #20)

Thu Nov 29, 2012, 10:09 AM

23. And is on a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri

According to Star Trek TOS. "First Contact", however, obviously had him born on Earth, since he could not have reached our planet without having developed warp drive in the first place. However, he cold have developed it, secretly traveled to Earth...the whole movie, then becomes a scenario where Cochrane had developed it all along and was simply re-enacting his first triumph unbeknowest to everyone involved.

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Thu Nov 29, 2012, 09:41 AM

21. You can't break the laws of nature, but you can bend them.

Double-Zing!



EDIT:
Eek! He's going to use ceramic capacitors to create space-time-disturbances for his proof-of-concept. I hope he takes electro- and magnetostriction in the interferometer's material into account.

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Tue Dec 4, 2012, 07:06 PM

27. Oh this is such bullshit!

Facts:
Dilithium crystals are not an element found on Earth.
Low-quality artificial crystals can be grown or replicated, but they are limited in the power of the reaction they can regulate without fragmenting, and are therefore largely unsuitable for warp drive applications.
Natural Dilithium can be found on the Halkan homeworld, Coridan, and Elas, as well as Rura Penthe.
According to my starcharts, the closest source of natural Dilithium capable of of the reaction required is over 40 light years away.

We would have to travel for about 9 billion years using our current techology to go pick up what we need. The trip back however would be quick.

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