Thursday, May 7, 2009

Warp Drive: Yes, it May Be Possible; But Don't Hold Your Breath

"Star Trek's Warp Drive: Not Impossible" (May 6, 2009)

"The warp drive, one of Star Trek's hallmark inventions, could someday become science instead of science fiction.

Some physicists say the faster-than-light travel technology may one day enable humans to jet between stars for weekend getaways. Clearly it won't be an easy task. The science is complex, but not strictly impossible, according to some researchers studying how to make it happen....

"...'The idea is that you take a chunk of space-time and move it,' said Marc Millis, former head of NASA's Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Project. 'The vehicle inside that bubble thinks that it's not moving at all. It's the space-time that's moving.'..."

This is getting into mainstream news (Star Trek's warp drive: Not impossible," MSNBC, for example), but it's not all that new.

Miguel Alcubierre, Father of the Warp Drive - Maybe

Miguel Alcubierre, a physicist who I see is at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Potsdam, Germany, now, suggested a way to isolate a 'bubble' of space-time and move it at any velocity relative to the rest of space-time.

More accurately, he created math to show how the bubble would work. Provided that we had ways of generating unreasonably strong, unrealistically localized, folds in space-time.

Not everybody in theoretical physics is on the same page with that particular part of Alcubierre's work. Some say the bubble would work - theoretically - others say it wouldn't. Again, theoretically.

Bottom line, right now, is that we don't have the technology to warp space. On the other hand, there are some tantalizingly promising lab experiments that suggest that we could.

Even so, the energy requirements make a 'warp drive' impossible.


Fifty Years, or Two Millennia, Away From Warp Drive Technology - Depending on How You Look at It

We've been through something like this before. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1857-1935) did some very interesting - and useful - theoretical work about using rockets to fly between planets. Today's ships don't look a whole lot like his designs, but he was spot-on about liquid propellants being used.

Walter Hohmann published a description of transfer orbits in the mid-1920s: so did Vladimir Vetchinkin. Soviet literature seems to prefer "Hohmann-Vetchinkin transfer orbit" to "Hohmann transfer orbit - and I'll let the next several generations of academicians wrangle over who thought what, when, and how.

The point is that, a half-century or more before the first spacecraft made it to Earth orbit, we knew - in theory - how to do it.

I rather doubt that we're a half-century away from a working warp drive, though.

Rockets: Ancient Technology by Tsiolkovsky's Time

Konstantin Tsiolkovsky's work pointed out how improvements in an existing technology - rockets - could be used to take people to other worlds.

What distinguishes today's launch vehicles from the cutting-edge military technology used at the siege of Kai-fung-fu is size and sophistication. A Proton launch vehicle is, in essence, a seriously tweaked bottle rocket.

By Tsiolkovsky's time, rocket technology was about 2,000 years old. Around 100 B.C., Hero of Alexandria developed an aeolipile. It spun part of a mechanism, using steam from boiling water. This was, arguably, the first device to use the Newtonian principle of action and reaction (over a dozen centuries before Newton was born).

More than a thousand years after Hero of Alexandria's aeolipile, the Chinese military used weaponized rockets against Mongol forces.

Not quite a thousand years after that, People living in North America, Asia, and India, started sending robot explorers to other planets.

We may have a good start on warp drive theory, but my guess is that we're at the Hero of Alexander stage when it comes to the technology.

Of course, things are changing faster these days.

  • "Breakthrough Propulsion Physics" NASA - including
    • Quantum Vacuum Energy
    • Transient Inertia
    • Lifters, Biefeld-Brown, Asymmetrical Capacitors, etc.
    • Space Drives(Step 1: defining the problem)
    • Faster Than Light (general relativity approach)
  • "Early Days of Rocket and Aeronautics"
    Marshall Space Flight Center - including
    • Timeline of Rocket History)
    • Notes on Robert Goddard)
    • MSFC Goddard Rocket Replica Project)
    • Notes on Hermann Oberth)
    • Photograph of Hermann Oberth)
    • Notes on the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics)
    • Photograph of NACA Pilot)



UNRR said...

This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 5/8/2009, at The Unreligious Right

Brian H. Gill said...


Thanks for the link. Much appreciated.

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