A top NASA boffin has outlined ongoing lab experiments at the space agency aimed at first steps towards the building of a warp-drive spacecraft theoretically capable of travelling at 10 times the speed of light.
The latest developments at the Eagleworks super-advanced space drive lab at NASA’s Johnson Space Center were outlined by NASA physicist Harold White at a conference on Friday. The Eagleworks lab was set up at the end of last year to look into such concepts as the Quantum Vacuum Plasma Thruster and also so-called “warp drives” along the lines proposed by Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre in the 1990s.
Quantum thrusters are fiendish kit indeed, but would be mainly of use for explorations within our own solar system. As most Reg readers are well aware, however, this is a rather limited canvas for humanity to work on for eternity: especially as it seems likely that there may be some rather more hospitable alien worlds to be found orbiting other suns.
The big snag with worlds orbiting other suns is of course that they are utterly, ridiculously far away and according to the laws of physics nothing can travel faster than the speed of light: meaning that journeys even to a few of the nearest stars would take years at the absolute minimum, and in general interstellar voyages would simply not be on human timescales.
Thus much classic scientifiction has assumed the development of warp drive, hyperdrive, stargates etc – some means of getting to other stars faster than light could. Alcubierre’s calculations over a decade ago appeared to show that such a thing was at least theoretically feasible: using a ring of exotic matter, a bubble of unwarped, flat space with a starship in it would be transported through normal space at effective speeds perhaps 10 times lightspeed by warping the space around it. Nothing would actually travel through any space faster than light, and the laws of physics would be unviolated [...]
From The Register