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Dutch artist helps NASA create vision for warp-drive spaceship21 June 2014, by Alexandra Gowling
In 2012, NASA revealed that a faster-than-light spaceship using warp technology was possible in theory. Now, Dutch artist Mark Rademaker has helped the scientist behind the research, Dr. Harold White of NASA’s Johnson Space Centre, envisage what it would look like.
The result is the IXS Enterprise (no doubt named by Stark Trek fans), a central spaceship suspended between two enormous rings, which are supposed to create the warp bubble.
The IXS Enterprise is an "early draft" of the first real warp drive, says Rademaker. "The ship is a design that follows the current theory about warp drives. Of course it’s a concept, but at this moment it is the most accurate."
So far it has taken 3D artist Rademaker 1.600 hours to create the images and he hasn’t finished yet: this is just the first version.
Faster than light travel?
It was back in 1994 that a physicist, Miguel Alcubierre, proposed a new kind of technology with which we could travel at 10 times the speed of light without actually going faster than light.
The theory is that this could be done by manipulating space-time itself to move the spaceship. Warp drives theoretically shorted the distance between two points, allowing for faster travel in between.
It would look like an oval spacecraft inside a large ring, potentially made from exotic matter, that could warp space-time around the ship, creating a section of contracted space in front and expanded space behind, while the ship itself would stay inside a bubble of flat space-time.
While Alcubierre’s initial theory was found to require prohibitive amounts of energy (estimates suggested the same as the mass-energy of Jupiter), White calculated that by changing the shape of the ring to more of a rounded doughnut shape, as opposed to a flat ring, the warp drive could be powered by mass the size of Voyager 1.
Dr. Harold White explaining his warp drive design (from 41:00).
Current state of research
Despite White's discoveries, it remains unclear whether a warp drive could actually exist. While mathematically the theory does not violate any of the known laws of physics, NASA is still attempting to measure if a warp bubble could exist can exist in our universe.
The experiment White oversees is trying to measure such an effect at nanoscale and currently data is inconclusive. Should this experiment fail, however, that doesn't mean that warp bubbles can’t exist; they may simply need to be detected in a different way.
How far could it go?
Should this kind of technology prove viable, however, then calculating how fast the warp drive could travel is very exciting.
The nearest star to Earth is Proxima Centauri, around four light-years away. At current speeds, it would take over 17.000 years to reach it by spaceship, but with a warp drive that would drop to five months, three months less than it took Curiosity to reach Mars.
See Rademaker’s images here.