Faster than the Speed of Light? NASA Looks at Warp Drive

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Warp Technology: In the Laboratory

White-Juday Interferometer: White, H. “A Discussion on space-time metric engineering” Gen. Rel. Grav. 35, 2025-2033 (2003). Image courtesy of NASA

There are two sets of microscopic warp drive experiments planned at White’s Eagleworks laboratory.

In the current “low fidelity” experiment, NASA is using ordinary positive energy to try and warp local spacetime. A “White-Juday” interferometer splits a laser beam into two beams. Very high energy capacitors are placed around a small region of one beam.

“The light will go through that region as though it seems like a shorter distance.” Dr. White told Decoded Science. “So it takes less time for it to cover that region with the device on versus off.”  When the two beams are recombined, detectors look for tiny changes in the interference pattern.

A future experiment will attempt to extract negative energy from the vacuum to warp local spacetime. “We have a line of technology called Q-thrusters, which works off the principle of pushing off of the quantum vacuum.” said Dr. White. “Q-thruster technology has invention disclosures in the NASA system.” 

“We hope to adapt that technology to construct some test devices for our interferometer — to get closer to negative (energy and) pressure. This would get us one step closer to something that is non-trivial in magnitude.”

Objections to Warp Drive Theory

I asked Dr. White about a number of arguments against warp drive (some of his responses are a bit technical, so bear with us). First, University of Sydney research says that during warp drive the spacecraft will collect high energy particles in the cosmic void. Upon return to normal space, they will be released at colossal energies — destroying the entire star system you are trying to get to.

“Yes, I’ve seen that,” said Dr. White, “but I don’t know that I agree with that technical assessment. When you look at the null-like geodesics of the metric (the Alcubierre solution) using the canonical form, I don’t see how that arises.”

Others argue there will be enormous tidal forces (squeezing in one direction and stretching in the other) near the edges of the flat space volume because of the large space curvature you’re producing.

“The tidal forces will be very pronounced the thinner you make the bubble. Stretching out the donut (as I’ve done) will reduce the tidal forces when you are in the meniscus of the bubble.”

Per physicist S. V. Krasnikov, you have to place matter en route, sort of like laying down railroad tracks.

“If you’ve seen the PowerPoint graphic, a little football inside the center of a donut that goes around the spacecraft, that’s where all that negative vacuum energy, negative pressure is distributed around the spacecraft. What the field equations require is an equatorial belt around the spacecraft. It’s not like you are spitting stuff out in front of you. So you do not need anything laid out in advance. You can see that when you look at the analytic models and the canonical form I published in the General Relativity and Gravitation Journal in 2003.” 

Warp drive means backwards time travel, because you are effectively traveling faster than the speed of light.

“I don’t agree with that. I don’t believe in time travel. You can expand and contract space at any speed you want, but it doesn’t enable time travel.”

Finally, according to physicist Lawrence Ford of Tufts University, there’s a limit to how much negative energy can exist at any place over any length of time. And physicists Carlos Barceló, Stefano Finazzi, and Stefano Liberati argue that at faster-than-light speeds, Hawking radiation would produce extremely high temperatures and fry everything inside the warp bubble.

“We haven’t really started to try and address the feasibility (of warp drive). We’re at the plausible point at this time, which is why the scientific endeavor is in the lab.”

Obviously, NASA’s warp drive is in its infancy and still highly speculative. NASA’s meager funding of the project confirms this. Still, I applaud NASA’s support for very high risk of failure, very high potential payoff projects like this one. Who can say what new discoveries await us in this basic research effort at the very frontiers of science? 

“Beam me up, Scotty.”

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