(covers information from several alternate timelines)
- "Maximum Warp" redirects here. For the Pocket Books miniseries, see Star Trek: The Next Generation - Maximum Warp.
Maximum warp (shortened from maximum warp speed and also known as top warp speed, maximum speed, or high warp speed) was the maximum warp factor velocity a starship was designed for and a term whereby a bridge officer could ask the flight control officer to accelerate the ship to its highest possible velocity.
The maximum warp velocity and the time it could be maintained by a starship varied between classes. This was due to energy output limitations of the warp core and limitations of other systems, such as the warp coils, the structural integrity field, and the amount of energy the propulsion system could handle without overloading. (ENT: "In a Mirror, Darkly"; DS9: "The Sound of Her Voice"; TOS: "The Changeling")
In the early days of warp drive development, the top speed capabilities took massive leaps in the mid-22nd century after the warp 2 barrier was broken. (ENT: "First Flight") The invention of the warp three engine allowed early Earth starships to travel ten times faster, (ENT: "Fortunate Son") while ships installed with the warp five engine could travel a hundred times faster. (ENT: "Broken Bow") The increase in capabilities slowed down later on, as the Starfleet ships of the 2370s were only twice as fast as the ships used in the 2290s. (VOY: "Flashback")
In 2268 on stardate 4843.6, it was imperative for the USS Enterprise to proceed at maximum warp speed for a period which exceeded the recommended safety margin in order to intercept an asteroid headed on a collision course with the planet Amerind. Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott noted that they couldn't maintain warp 9 for much longer as the engines began to show signs of stress. (TOS: "The Paradise Syndrome")
Galaxy-class ships, such as the USS Enterprise-D, could theoretically achieve warp 9.8, but the maximum warp speeds above 9.6 could be maintained for a few hours only. (TNG: "Encounter at Farpoint", "The Best of Both Worlds") Intrepid-class ships such the USS Voyager, on the other hand, could maintain it from three days up to two months. (VOY: "Workforce", "Workforce, Part II", "Friendship One")
In 2370, the Federation imposed a maximum speed limit of Warp 5 on all vessels (except for emergencies) due to concerns over high warp factors causing damage to subspace (TNG: "Force of Nature"). This limit would appear to have been temporary.
Even though the Nova-class was designed to travel at a maximum speed of warp factor 8, when the USS Equinox powered its warp drive with energy derived from the corpses of nucleogenic lifeforms, an increase of 0.03% was added to the warp factor, allowing the velocity of traveling ten thousand light years in less than two weeks. (VOY: "Equinox")
During its time in the Delta Quadrant, the USS Voyager encountered technologies that enabled it to travel great distances at massively greater speeds than its rated maximum warp velocity, including the quantum slipstream drive, transwarp coil and Tash's catapult. The vessel had arrived in the Delta Quadrant from the Alpha Quadrant, approximately 75,000 light years, via the Caretaker's array. (VOY: "Hope and Fear"; VOY: "Dark Frontier"; VOY: "The Voyager Conspiracy"; VOY: "Caretaker")
Maximum warp limitations by class
- Warp 1.4† – Arctic One-type
- Warp 1.8† – Y-class
- Warp 2† – Neptune-class, J-class
- Warp 3.2 – Defiant-class, USS Valiant had suffered combat damage
- Warp 4 – Whorfin-class†, type 9 shuttlecraft
- Warp 5 – Danube-class
- Warp 5.2† – NX-class
- Warp 6† – D5-class, class 3 neutronic fuel carrier
- Warp 6.5† – Suurok-class (Ti'Mur)
- Warp 7† – Suurok-class (Sh'Raan), Coridan ship
- Warp 8† – Constitution-class
- Warp 8 – Nova-class
- Warp 8.7 – Baran's mercenary vessel
- Warp 9 – Defiant-class††
- Warp 9.3 – Nebula-class (2368)
- Warp 9.5 – Nebula-class (2370, could be pushed to warp 9.6)
- Warp 9.6 – D'deridex-class, can be exceeded in exchange for engine damage
- Warp 9.8 – Galaxy-class, Xepolite Free Trader
- Warp 9.9 – Prometheus-class
- Warp 9.975 – Intrepid-class
- Warp 36† – Karla Five's vessel
- †Original Cochrane Unit warp scale
- ††In "The Sound of Her Voice" it was established that the Defiant, traveling at maximum warp, would take six days to reach its destination. Later, O'Brien indicated that he could "increase our velocity to warp 9.5 and save us almost a full day." Worf, however, pointed out that "the problem on the Defiant is how to maintain structural integrity when we go above warp 9," where O'Brien continued, "at those kinds of speed the ship literally starts tearing herself apart." Eventually it was concluded that by "bleeding power from some other source", specifically "phaser reserves", the ship would be allowed to achieve such a speed, but at the same time leaving it mostly defenseless. In the first draft script of "The Dogs of War", the Defiant-class was established as being capable of warp 9.8. According to the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Technical Manual, the Defiant-class was rated for a maximum output of warp factor 9.982 for twelve hours.
Maximum warp requests
As noted above, the tolerance of a ship's systems for the stresses of warp travel are a primary limiting factor, so while exceeding the ship's maximum rated speed can be technically possible, it carries the risk of severe damage to the warp drive or to the ship's structural integrity.
When a ship is ordered to accelerate to maximum warp, it does not always mean the absolute highest reachable warp factor. For example, in ENT: "Affliction", Enterprise NX-01 already travels at maximum warp, but then accelerates to warp 5.2. In both TNG: "Time Squared" and TNG: "Bloodlines", maximum warp denoted warp 9, although the Enterprise-D was established to be capable of faster speeds in other episodes. A similar situation occurred in DS9: "The Sound of Her Voice", when the USS Defiant, traveling at maximum warp, accelerates to warp 9.5.
TNG: "Force of Nature" established Warp 5 as the maximum allowable Federation-vessel speed (except in emergencies), due to environmental concerns. Following this episode, the use of the term "maximum warp" became ubiquitous in lieu of a specific warp factor being stated. Even though later episodes and series strongly indicated that the limit was no longer in place (in particular throughout Star Trek: Voyager), the use of the phrase "maximum warp" has continued, even in series set well before the events of "Force of Nature".