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WARP SPEED

 

History

Since warp drive was first used by Zephram Cochrane in 2063, two methods of scaling warp speeds have been used. The original "Cochrane Scale" was devised by the great man himself for his first test flight aboard the Phoenix. It was a relatively straightforward scale in which the speed of the vessel was proportional to the warp factor cubed. There is no upper limit.

In 2312, the Terrance-Neltorr Graduated Scale (TNG Scale) was adopted by Starfleet. On the TNG Scale the warp factor is indicative of the subspace stress levels which the vessel must both create and endure, rather than the actual velocity of the vessel itself. On the TNG scale, warp 10 denotes infinite speed, the transwarp barrier, and is not achievable by standard warp drive.

Although the TNG Scale proved highly successful in use, recent advances in warp drive brought its practicality into some question. In 2312 it seemed unlikely that starships would get beyond Warp 9.9 for a very long time, but modern vessels are capable of Warp 9.97+ speeds and some predict that the next twenty years will see ships which can travel in the Warp 9.9999+ region. While there are no engineering difficulties with these numbers, it became problematic for bridge crews to keep track of a tactical situation while having to use numbers to three or four significant figures.

In 2380, Starfleet returned to the original Cochrane Scale.

The Cochrane Scale

The classic WF3 * c = v (where WF3 is the warp factor cubed and c is the speed of light) has often been used to determine faster-than-light velocities; but it is obvious that this formula is insufficient if we consider that starships have visited the galactic center approximately 30,000 light years distant (a trip which would take thirty years even at WF 10 using this formula).

As Zephram Cochrane pointed out in 2063, actual warp speeds relative to the speed of light may be calculated by multiplying the warp factor cubed by a variable that accounts for the curvature of space in a fourth dimension by the presence of mass; subspace, a continuum in which a vessel under warp drive travels, is not curved in a fourth spatial dimension, and therefore offers a linear short cut between points in our galaxy. This variable, called Cochrane's Factor and sometimes indicated by the symbol ©, can be as high as 1500 in dense dust and gas clouds and as little as 1 in the intergalactic void. It is larger near massive objects such as stars and black holes, as space is curved around such objects to an even greater extent. For practical reasons, warp drive is not used in the vicinity of massive objects, as the disproportionately high warp speeds tend to produce a "slingshot effect", catapulting a starship out of the space-time continuum altogether. Between galaxies, where negligible matter exists, space is not perceptibly curved, and the short cut afforded by Cochrane's Factor disappears. Warp speeds attain their "ideal" (WF3 * c = v) values, and the transit time to Andromeda becomes thousands rather than hundreds of years.

The correct warp factor formula is therefore expressed as ©WF3 * c = v, where the value of © varies with the local density of matter. This variable, somewhat analogous to the winds or ocean currents in sailing, explains why great interstellar distances may sometimes be traversed at greater speeds and in less time than shorter distances. Accordingly, a navigator must take into account any variations in the density of matter along a given route before he is able to estimate the arrival time at his destination.

The following table shows the corrected values for warp speeds, given an average value for © of 12.9 within Federation space.

Speed x c

Travel Time

WF

WF3

©WF3

1 Lightyear

1

 

1

 

12.9

 

28.29

 

days

2

 

8

 

103.2

 

3.54

 

days

3

 

27

 

348.3

 

1.05

 

days

4

 

64

 

825.6

 

10.61

 

hours

5

 

125

 

1,612.5

 

5.43

 

hours

6

 

216

 

2,786.4

 

3.14

 

hours

7

 

343

 

4,424.7

 

1.98

 

hours

8

 

512

 

6,604.8

 

1.33

 

hours

9

 

729

 

9,404.1

 

55.89

 

minutes

10

 

1000

 

12,900.0

 

40.74

 

minutes

11

 

1331

 

17,169.9

 

30.61

 

minutes

12

 

1728

 

22,291.2

 

23.58

 

minutes

13

 

2197

 

28,341.3

 

18.55

 

minutes

14

 

2744

 

35,397.6

 

14.85

 

minutes

15

 

3375

 

43,537.5

 

12.07

 

minutes

16

 

4096

 

52,838.4

 

9.95

 

minutes

17

 

4913

 

63,377.7

 

8.29

 

minutes

18

 

5832

 

75,232.8

 

6.99

 

minutes

19

 

6859

 

88,481.1

 

5.94

 

minutes

20

 

8000

 

103,200.0

 

5.09

 

minutes

 

Warp Shallows and the Briar Patch

While some regions of space have a speed multiplier in the tens of thousands, there are also regions where the value is less than one. For example, in the region around the Xendi Sabu system warp speeds are reduced by almost one half - a Cochrane Value of 0.55. These regions, which are commonly nicknamed 'Warp Shallows', tend to cover a large area. Warp shallows can be caused by a variety of phenomena - the Hekaras corridor is a region of relatively normal space which passes through a large warp shallow caused by unusually intense tetryon fields. The Briar Patch is a warp shallow caused by the unusual metaphasic radiation common to the region.

Subspace Sandbars

Subspace Sandbars are a phenomenon which prevents a vessel using warp drive at all within a given region - essentially, a region with a Cochrane factor of zero. These regions are, fortunately, very rare.