Warp Power

Every officer should have at least passing familiarity with the working of the starship's warp drives. The warp drive system is the heart of a starship, providing the mobility as well as the majority of power production and protection. The basic theory of its functioning underlies the much of the other equipment used.

As everyone knows, warp drives operate by [...brief summary... By maintaining a continuous reaction, a small volume around the ship is enveloped in a warp field, displaced from normal space. If the antimatter reaction stops, the field will collapse within 4 seconds.]

But in more detail...

Subspace Theory

In the simplest sense, subspace can be considered an intangible fluid or cloud of particles which permeates all of space. In the presence of large gravitational masses like planets, the motion of subspace will tend match that of the planet. However, like a fluid, subspace will have its own eddies and currents which fluctuate chaotically. For any given region, it is impossible to predict just what the exact shape of subspace will be like.

On the large scale, however, subspace is strictly bound by galactic structure. It forms energy barriers in bands around the center of the galaxy, cutting off our region of space from the galactic rim and from the galactic center.

Further, local subspace is polarized into `sheets' of interaction parallel to the plane of the galactic disk. This makes warp travel along the galactic plane over 8 times easier than warp travel perpendicular to the plane, and it applies similarly for other subspace phenomena.

Interacting with Subspace

Subspace can interact with normal matter through certain reactions. First of all, any conversion of mass into energy, such as matter-antimatter annihilation, will create an inherent temporary displacement of the local subspace.

This displacement is described as a subspace field, which can be represented by picturing space as a flat, two-dimensional plane - where the subspace field is a small bump on that surface. Unless the displacement is carefully maintained, however, the field will disperse outwards as subspace waves.

Subspace waves pass through normal matter, occaisionally interacting with the matter in a regular pattern defined by the frequency of the wave. Most waves are unmodulated and will propagate in all directions like sound waves, with only very weak interaction with matter. However, in controlled conditions, subspace waves can be phased to form directional rays which interact more strongly with matter, resonating with different levels of electromagnetic structure.

Warp Propulsion

A warp drive operates by creating a stable warp field around the ship. This warp field is carefully shaped with a level central region over the ship itself, then tapering off into normal space in what is called the interaction region. By maintaining a continuous matter-antimatter reaction, the ship can maintain this warp field indefinitely. If the antimatter reaction stops, the field will collapse within 4 seconds.

To the outside universe, matter within the central region of a warp field appears to have a lower effective mass than usual. Further, energy which passes into the warp field through the interaction region will be distorted or reflected.

The starship can be propelled faster than light by creating a nested series of asymetrical warp fields. Inside the warp nacelles, a reacting stream of matter and antimatter is maintained in a continuous, shaped path to create the fields. The warp field then propel the ship by transfering momentum into subspace, increasing with each nested field.

Maneuvering is accomplished by a more intense matter-antimatter reaction at the central intermix chamber. The resulting subspace reaction is then focussed by (traditionally) dilithium crystals, affording greater control over the resulting field shape. This is used to accelerate, decelerate, turn, and modulate the standing warp fields projected from the nacelles.

Engine Operation

In practical terms, the proper functioning of the warp drives is maintained by a series of steps, all of which are essential to proper warp propulsion.

Antimatter Containment:
The antimatter reserves in almost all Star Fleet vessels is stored by magnetic bottles within the warp nacelles, so as to be removed from the crew in case of minor radiation leakage. The power for these bottles is normally provided by generators in the nacelles which extract power from the ongoing antimatter reactions in the warp coils.

Thus, under normal operation, the warp drives are continuously active (at a low-level), to power the magnetic containment. It is possible to shut down warp engines so that there is no warp signal from them. However, the process is time-consuming and dangerous. It takes approximately a half hour to safely shut down the engines, and about 15 minutes to restart them. If power flow to the nacelles is cut off during the shutdown, the antimatter will instantly explode.

Intermix Control:
The antimatter is transferred to engineering in a series of microsecond pulses along a magnetically focussed waveguide. There the flow is controlled at the intermix chamber. From the chamber, the conventional energy release is converted into electrical power, and the subspace energy continues past the converters to the dilithium crystals.

Controlling Warp Functions: This is accomplished primarily by manipulating the exact positioning of the dilithium crystals.

The dilithium crystals inherently focus subspace energies due to their unique nuclear resonance. The position of the crystals is minutely altered by engineering controls to control various warp functions of the ship. However, an overload of subspace energy can cracks the dilithium crystals. Cracked crystals cannot generally be repaired - they must be replaced, and due to limited supply, no spares are carried. If too much antimatter is annihilated, the signal may crack many or all of the crystals. While it is recognized that pushing the engines may be neccessary, conservative procedure is urged.

Power Extraction Besides the subspace reaction, matter-antimatter annihilation produces an enormous amount of energy in the form of gamma rays. [...Advanced reactor can convert this into electrical power...]

The power producing capacity of a warp drive is enormous. In metric terms, a point of power output is approximately 800 million watts of usable power to dilithium-based functions, with about 12% of that usable through the ships superconducting power lines. Direct warp functions, such as deflector shields and photon torpedoes, have significantly more power available.

Injection to the Warp Coils
Not all of the matter and antimatter annihilate in the intermix chamber. What comes out is a continuously reacting mixture calle an ``energetic plasma''. This plasma is circulated through the helical warp coils in the starship's nacelles. The continuous pattern of antimatter reaction forms a stable warp field around the ship.

You should note that geometry of local space varies considerably from point to point, causing significant problems for navigation, and affecting almost all subspace functions. This has a strong influence on the efficiency of warp drives. In rare cases, it may potentially damage the ship or the engines. It is thus vital that qualified engineering crew be on hand at all times to adjust the drives for local conditions.

John H. Kim <jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net>
Last modified: Mon Jan 22 03:34:12 CST 1996