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Memory Alpha
Multiple realities
(covers information from several alternate timelines)
"That machine was designed to manipulate space, to violate the laws of motion. You make the tiniest mistake, you'll collapse the warp field, you'll crush this ship."
– Phlox's hallucination of Trip Tucker, 2154 ("Doctor's Orders")
"Warp drive has been around for three centuries. It's a proven technology."
USS Enterprise (alternate reality) at warp

The alternate USS Enterprise at warp

Warp drive or warp engine was a technology that allowed space travel at faster-than-light speeds. It worked by generating warp fields to form a subspace bubble that enveloped the starship, distorting the local spacetime continuum and moving the starship at velocities that could greatly exceed the speed of light. These velocities were referred to as warp factors. Warp drive was the most common form of interstellar propulsion used in the Milky Way Galaxy, making interstellar civilization, exploration, and commerce possible. By the 24th century, warp was the primary means of interstellar transport, but scientists from various cultures were pursuing various alternative propulsion methods that were hypothetically faster or more efficient.


USS Discovery at warp

The USS Discovery at warp in 2257

USS Stargazer, Picard Maneuver 2

The USS Stargazer performs a warp jump

In 2063, the term "warp drive" was already used by Zefram Cochrane of his engine on the Phoenix. However, Cochrane used the term "space warp generator" in the monitor displays on his spacecraft. (Star Trek: First Contact) Even as late as the 2150s, the warp five engine was still officially known as a "gravimetric field displacement manifold" (ENT: "Cold Front").

Most cultures throughout the Milky Way Galaxy used the term "warp drive" and by the late-23rd century it was the most common term used by the Federation as well (Star Trek: The Original Series, et al.). In the 2250s the term "hyperdrive" was used by Starfleet, (TOS: "The Cage") and the Ferengi occasionally used the term "lightspeed drive". (TNG: "Peak Performance") Finally, there was the term "star drive" which was only used by the Federation and Starfleet in the 2260s. (TOS: "Bread and Circuses", "The Paradise Syndrome")

Space warp was one of the vocabulary words listed on the chart "A Tunnel in the Sky". This chart was seen in the schoolroom aboard Deep Space 9 in 2369. (DS9: "In the Hands of the Prophets")

The process of going to warp was described as a warp jump. (ENT: "Horizon"; TNG: "Peak Performance", et al.)

The use of the term "hyperdrive" in "The Cage" was never fully explained, but the writer's guide, The Star Trek Guide (third rev., p. 8) [1] suggests an origin for the term. According to the guide, "hyper-light speed" was an alternative, less preferred, term for "space warp speed". Decades later, the term "hyper-speed" is referenced in a descriptive/action paragraph of the script for "Where No One Has Gone Before". Hyperdrive later became more prominently known as the ftl drive in the Star Wars franchise.

According to Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual (p. 54), the original official term used by Cochrane in the 2060s was "continuum distortion propulsion", which was only informally dubbed as "warp" propulsion at the time.


Enterprise with disabled nacelle

Enterprise with a disabled warp engine

Warp engines were the bulky units found, in many cases, in a starship's nacelle. (TNG: "New Ground")

24th century Federation warp engines were fueled by the reaction of matter (deuterium) and antimatter (antideuterium), mediated through an assembly of dilithium crystals, which were nonreactive with antimatter when subjected to high-frequency electromagnetic fields. This reaction produced a highly energetic plasma, called electro-plasma or warp plasma, which was channeled by plasma conduits through the electro-plasma system (EPS); that system also provided the primary energy supply for the ships other electronic systems. For propulsion the electro-plasma was funneled by plasma injectors into a series of warp field coils, usually located in remote warp nacelles. These coils were composed of verterium cortenide and generated the warp field.

Other civilizations used different power sources, such as the Romulans' use of artificial quantum singularities to power their warp drives, (TNG: "Timescape") but the basic process was similar. In some vessels, such as the Intrepid-class, the nacelles were mounted on variable geometry pylons. (VOY: "Caretaker")

Warp propulsion systems graphic

A display showing the main components of a warp drive

Parts of the system[]

System types[]


Warp drive and other faster-than-light (FTL) propulsion technologies were the linchpin of an interstellar civilization, making trade and exploration across vast interstellar distances viable. Without these technologies, these distances could not be crossed in any reasonable period of time, making interstellar civilization usually limited to a single sector. (TNG: "A Matter Of Time") To put this in perspective, planets that were years away with impulse speeds could be reached in days with ships equipped with warp drive. (TOS: "Where No Man Has Gone Before")

Rotarran goes to warp

The IKS Rotarran accelerates to warp, viewed from within the vessel

Cultures in the galaxy discovered warp drive at their own pace and rate of development, as most of the cultures had to do. The Vulcans were an interstellar civilization by 9th century BC and had reached the level of warp 7 by 2151. (ENT: "The Andorian Incident", "Fallen Hero"; DS9: "Little Green Men") Klingons had interstellar travel capability around the time of Kahless in the 9th century. They had achieved the capability of warp 6 by 2151. (TNG: "Rightful Heir"; DS9: "Little Green Men"; VOY: "Day of Honor"; ENT: "Judgment") Romulans were once considered a group of petty thugs and warp drive was regarded as the key technology that allowed the founding of the Romulan Star Empire. (Star Trek: Insurrection) The Vissians developed warp drive around the 12th century. (ENT: "Cogenitor") The Borg in the Delta Quadrant began to establish their interstellar collective by the 15th century. (VOY: "Dragon's Teeth") In the Alpha Quadrant, the rapid progress of Humanity in the 22nd century led to the wide-scale exploration of the galaxy being one of the basic goals of the United Federation of Planets, founded in 2161.

Quark stated in "Little Green Men" that the Ferengi would have had warp drive "centuries" before the "Humans, Klingons, and even the Vulcans," had he delivered warp technology to Ferenginar in 1947. See Little Green Men – Trivia for more information. For the Vulcans, this is contradicted in ENT: "Carbon Creek", where Vulcans are clearly depicted as warp-capable in 1957, with the ability to reach Earth with relatively small survey ships.

According to "Rightful Heir", before Kahless died, he declared he would one day return, in the Boreth star system. Shortly after this, Klingons built the Boreth monastery there to await for his return. According to the episode "Day of Honor", Kahless lived in the 9th century. It is stated in Star Trek: Star Charts (p. 55) that Klingons had achieved warp capability in the year 930. Quark, however, stated in "Little Green Men" that the Ferengi would have had warp drive before the Klingons, had he delivered warp technology to Ferenginar in 1947.

Regarding Vulcan propulsion technology aboard the T'Plana-Hath, Ronald D. Moore commented, "Certainly Cochrane is credited with the invention of warp drive as we know it in Trek, so we could assume that the Vulcans were using something else – possibly a variant of the contained singularity used by the Romulans. That might have been a much more dangerous and inefficient technology which was quickly abandoned by most of the galaxy when Cochrane's system was introduced." (AOL chat, 1997)

The development of the warp drive was recognized by the United Federation of Planets as the marker of an advanced society. It was only after a people developed warp drive that the Federation made contact, as codified in the Prime Directive. (TNG: "First Contact") A warp capable society was deemed technically and psychologically ready to embrace the universe at large.

According to Science Officer Spock in 2259, not once in the entire history of first contact had warp been first developed as anything but a drive. However, the Kiley had developed warp in the form of a warp bomb. (SNW: "Strange New Worlds")

21st century[]

Phoenix warp

Phoenix goes to warp

On Earth, warp drive was initially developed by Zefram Cochrane, in the period following World War III. (Star Trek: First Contact)

The spacecraft credited with discovering the space warp phenomenon was the Bonaventure. (DS9: "The Nagus", production art)

Despite the hardships imposed by the war's aftermath and the lack of advanced materials, Cochrane was able to build a manned warp-capable vessel using a converted Titan II missile. The successful first flight of his ship – the Phoenix – took place on April 5, 2063, and drew the attention of a Vulcan exploratory vessel, leading to the event known as First Contact. (Star Trek: First Contact)

The Bonaventure then became the first deep-space starship to have warp drive installed. (TAS: "The Time Trap")

22nd century[]

Columbia mirrors Enterprise

Two NX-class starships in tandem warp flight

Development of warp technology by Humans proceeded slowly over the next eighty years, after the flight of the Phoenix – due, in no small part, to the cautious advice of the Vulcans – and it was not until the 2140s that a warp engine developed by Henry Archer at the Warp Five Complex could exceed warp factor 2.

This engine was successfully tested in the second NX prototype by Commanders A.G. Robinson and Jonathan Archer to a speed of warp 2.5, breaking the so-called "warp 2 barrier" in 2143. Eight months later, Duvall achieved warp 3 with the NX Delta. Warp 4 was first achieved by the USS Franklin. (ENT: "First Flight"; Star Trek Beyond)

By the year 2149, warp technology was sufficiently advanced to begin the construction of Enterprise, a vessel capable of warp 5 and launched in 2151. (ENT: "Broken Bow") Although Enterprise was at first unable to fully realize this potential (maxing out at warp 4.7), the starship finally reached warp 5 on February 9, 2152. (ENT: "Fallen Hero")

By 2161, Starfleet warp drive technology had achieved the capability to reach warp 7, and these engines were being built into the latest class of Starfleet vessels as the NX-class ships were being decommissioned. (ENT: "These Are the Voyages...")

23rd century[]

USS Shenzhou at warp

The USS Shenzhou at warp in 2256

Development and improvement of warp drive continued apace, and by the 2240s, Starfleet vessels of the Constitution-class had standard cruising speeds of warp 6 and emergency speeds as high as warp 8 (although under the right conditions, the engines could reach warp 9). These ships took advantage of a major breakthrough in warp technology that took place between 2236 and 2254, the breaking of the so-called "time barrier". (TOS: "The Cage")

Higher warp factors continued to be reached, mostly through alien intervention, or dangerous malfunction. The USS Enterprise was modified by the Kelvans to maintain a speed of warp 11 in 2268. Later that year, the Enterprise accelerated to a speed of warp factor 14.1, after being sabotaged by a Kalandan planetary defense system. At that velocity, however, the ship came within moments of destroying itself. (TOS: "By Any Other Name", "That Which Survives")

At around the same time, warp engines were being redesigned to allow standard speeds of warp 8 and above. During the refit of the Constitution-class, the cylindrical-shaped nacelles were replaced with a new flattened design. Engines required precise tuning; imbalanced engines caused a wormhole effect that almost destroyed Enterprise on its first mission after refit. (Star Trek: The Motion Picture)

According to the Star Trek Spaceflight Chronology (p. 180), the new warp drive of the Enterprise after the refit was an advanced fourth generation warp drive system known as "pulsed warp drive".

USS Enterprise-A escapes Klingon attack

The USS Enterprise-A jumps to warp to escape an incoming photon torpedo

Warp theory continued to advance with the development of the first transwarp drive engines in the mid-2280s, which would have theoretically allowed greater efficiency and any warp speed to be available for a ship. However, the transwarp experiment of USS Excelsior ended in failure, and the technology was abandoned at that time. The Excelsior itself was deemed spaceworthy, retrofitted with conventional warp drive and commissioned as NCC-2000 under the command of Captain Hikaru Sulu. (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock; VOY: "Threshold"; Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country)

24th century[]

USS Enterprise-D, TNG Season 1-2

The USS Enterprise-D at warp

At some point in the 24th century, a new warp factor scale came into use, which placed warp 10 as a theoretical maximum. (VOY: "Threshold")

According to Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual, the new scale was a more advanced function than the previous cubic power scale, with factors increasing exponentially in terms of power consumption and equivalent speed. This "new" scale also presents a maximum "cap" on the absolute velocity of a warp drive, even beyond the warp 10 limit; since energy cannot be created or destroyed, an exponential increase in power consumption would eventually outstrip the amount of available energy in the known universe.

By the time the Galaxy-class starship was being designed in the 2360s, warp technology had progressed to the point where speeds of warp 9.6 could be sustained for up to twelve hours, although warp 9.2 was considered the "red line." (TNG: "Encounter at Farpoint")

According to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Technical Manual (pp. 151-158), the classification of Federation warp drives capable of maintaining speeds of warp factor 9.2 and above for at least twelve hours was "1,500+ cochrane warp core".

In 2367, the warp drive on the Galaxy-class starship was managed by the warp propulsion power system. In that year, when Data hijacked the USS Enterprise-D, he issued a command override on this system giving him complete control of the system from the bridge. (TNG: "Brothers")

Warp without Command

Voyager accelerates to warp

The USS Voyager was capable of a top cruising speed of warp 9.975. (VOY: "Caretaker", "Relativity")

The USS Prometheus was capable of a sustained cruising speed of warp 9.9. (VOY: "Message in a Bottle")

In 2370, the Hekaran scientist Serova discovered that the use of conventional warp engines caused damage to the fabric of spacetime. The Federation Council imposed a speed limit of warp factor 5 on all Federation vessels in all but extreme emergency cases, such as medical emergencies. A conspiracy theory posit by Steve Levy suggested that the discovery of this was part of a Vendorian morality test (TNG: "Force of Nature", "The Pegasus", "Eye of the Beholder", LD: "Caves")

Warp speeds above warp 5 were routinely used after 2370, without mention of the harmful effects, suggesting a solution was found, even though it was not mentioned on-screen. (Star Trek Encyclopedia, 2nd ed., p. 187) See also: Variable geometry pylon. As the "speed limit" probably also limited potential future storylines, it seems that the concept was quietly done away with, shortly into the next season. Brannon Braga has noted that, "When you limit warp drive, the rug is being pulled out from under Star Trek." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 294) Technical specifications for the USS Voyager published in Star Trek: Voyager 25th Anniversary Special state that the vessel's advanced warp system allows the vessel to exceed the warp speed limit without damaging the nearby space continuum.

It was not until 2372, that the transwarp threshold was broken by the Federation. Tom Paris of the USS Voyager managed to achieve infinite velocity on the shuttlecraft Cochrane. However, this form of travel was found to have severe, unanticipated side effects. (VOY: "Threshold")

...and beyond[]

In what was originally the future which was observed and altered by Jean-Luc Picard, speeds of at least warp 13 were possible. (TNG: "All Good Things...")

In the October 1995 issue of OMNI, science advisor Andre Bormanis stated the idea of warp factors beyond 10 in the alternative future was a recalibration of the warp scale, as ships of that era had gotten faster. Bormanis suggested the possibility that warp factor 15 was set to be the ultimate speed limit and warp 13 in that scale would have been the equivalent of warp factor 9.95 in the previous scale.

The box of the Playmates desktop model of the alternative future Enterprise-D called it a transwarping ship. [2]

In the late 32nd century, the pathway drive was developed by the Federation as an alternative to warp drive as it eliminated their reliance on dilithium. Decades later during the 33rd century, the pathway drive appeared to have replaced the warp drive completely. (DIS: "Red Directive", "Life, Itself")


Background information[]

Gene Roddenberry originally intended the Enterprise to become transparent while in warp drive, as depicted in "The Cage" (later reformatted into the two-part "The Menagerie"). The idea was that the ship would be traveling faster than light, which means that light would not reach it, rendering the vessel invisible to the naked eye. However, according to Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity, the speed of light is a constant from any frame of reference; an observer moving at close to c would still observe light moving toward him and away from him at c.

External links[]