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June 13, 2014 11:18 AM   Subscribe

What would a warp-drive ship actually look like? Artist Mark Rademaker has unveiled a set of concept images imagining what a faster than light spaceship would really look like based on theoretical done by Harold White and NASA on an Alcubierre Drive. Video lecture.
posted by stbalbach (95 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
The lecture and Alcubierre Drive stuff are cool, but the images look like generic concept art from any space sci-fi movie, TV show, or video game ever.
posted by Sangermaine at 11:25 AM on June 13


Looks like a luxury RV from the year 2525. I love it!
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:41 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]


I expect a warp drive ship would look a lot like the ISS - a rough tangle of struts and cylinders. You'd probably have to assemble it in orbit anyway, and you're definitely not going to land it, so there's no point in adding cool streamlining - just makes it more expensive and reduces your usable interior space.

Question: if you're cruising along with Alcubierre drive, what would you see out the window?
posted by echo target at 11:45 AM on June 13 [3 favorites]


The White paper on the subject is really readable, even if it's not enough for an amateur like me to build a warp drive.

One of the offshoots White mentions would be something that generated negative mass.

Even if we didn't get FTL travel, negative mass generation, if exploitable on earth and in a way that scaled up at all reasonably, would give us the entire solar system as a playground, and huge changes to nearly everything.

I'm looking forward to his work.
posted by Mad_Carew at 11:47 AM on June 13 [2 favorites]


Looks like a luxury RV from the year 2525. I love it!

Close.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:51 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]


such a ship would have minimum cross-section on the plane perpendicular to its axis of motion, to minimize collisions with space dust, etc. i wrote a story once about a sublight generation ship (0.9c) that was a 50-mile long needle, with cargo bays along its central corridor containing stuff from earth, and kids would ride bikes down the corridor and something would be watching them from one of the bays...
posted by bruce at 11:51 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]


<headdesk>
posted by physicsmatt at 11:51 AM on June 13 [33 favorites]


Great artwork.

It's interesting to see how he's done away with all the layers of nested milicochrane warp fields generated by pulsed plasma with dilithium attenuation, deployed via charged coils of verterium cortenide.

Instead, there's a box inside labeled "negative energy generator."
posted by General Tonic at 11:52 AM on June 13 [3 favorites]


Yeah the design is really bland. Why should a space ship always have to be aerodynamic and white? If we have to stick with Star Trek influence, lets get some Borg cube in there and not just always Federation saucer.
posted by Poldo at 11:52 AM on June 13


Glad to see that NASA is working hard on interstellar travel at a time when we have to hitchhike with the Russians to low earth orbit.
posted by murphy slaw at 11:54 AM on June 13 [4 favorites]


It probably wouldn't look like anything because it will never be built. People will be too busy complaining that children are starving and that space exploration shouldn't be funded, all while paying billions of dollars for bigger missiles to nuke imaginary enemies.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:55 AM on June 13 [4 favorites]


It's also important to realize that FTL travel, even if feasible, is not worth pursuing until I can fix the dimmer switch in my hallway.
posted by aramaic at 11:55 AM on June 13 [6 favorites]


I would like a view of the whole ship instead of all these closeups of the fenders and headlights. Particularly the drive ring which is supposed to be the unique part of the ship.
posted by cardboard at 11:56 AM on June 13 [3 favorites]


What is this nonexistent "exotic matter" they keep referring to?
posted by quiet earth at 11:56 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]


So what logo had to be blurred out on that NASCAR-like agency list on the side? Coca-Cola? Taco Bell?
posted by JoeZydeco at 11:57 AM on June 13


Question: if you're cruising along with Alcubierre drive, what would you see out the window?

It might depend on if you're looking out a front facing window, a side window, or a rear window.

such a ship would have minimum cross-section on the plane perpendicular to its axis of motion, to minimize collisions with space dust, etc.

I'm interested in what happens when such a ship collides with
A: space dust
B: something of roughly equal size at it (asteroid size)
C: planets
D: Stars

This may be a Doc Smith style planet-buster...
posted by Mad_Carew at 11:57 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]


if you're cruising along with Alcubierre drive, what would you see out the window?

Something longer than you think, Dad! Longer than you think!
posted by Shepherd at 11:58 AM on June 13 [18 favorites]


People will be too busy complaining that children are starving and that space exploration shouldn't be funded, all while paying billions of dollars for bigger missiles to nuke imaginary enemies.

Cause whitey's on Alpha Centauri.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:59 AM on June 13 [12 favorites]


What is this nonexistent "exotic matter" they keep referring to?

Cameronium, also known as unobtainium.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:00 PM on June 13 [2 favorites]


What is this nonexistent "exotic matter" they keep referring to?

Scrith.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:05 PM on June 13 [5 favorites]


<headdesk>
posted by physicsmatt at 11:51 AM on June 13 [3 favorites +] [!]


Care to elaborate, or are we so deep into Not Even Wrong that it's not worth your time?
posted by murphy slaw at 12:06 PM on June 13 [2 favorites]


what a faster than light spaceship would really look like

Those mockups are totally Raymond Carver-esque.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:07 PM on June 13


Care to elaborate

The potted plants are very SNG
posted by KokuRyu at 12:08 PM on June 13


Why have aerodynamic curves on a space ship?
posted by Catblack at 12:21 PM on June 13 [1 favorite]


I'm interested in what happens when such a ship collides with

A can of Ravioli ?
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:22 PM on June 13 [5 favorites]


I'm so stoked for Interstellar.
posted by gucci mane at 12:23 PM on June 13


What would a warp-drive ship actually look like?

The answer is shiny.

Shiny.
posted by Kabanos at 12:23 PM on June 13


Bistromathics.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 12:24 PM on June 13 [5 favorites]


If I had to guess at the shape of such a ship, I'd guess "spherical", because the field it's inside is spherical and we might as well enclose everything...
posted by Mad_Carew at 12:25 PM on June 13


Are the pictures of the model with the sport trim? This has heated seats and the upgraded Navigation package, yes?
posted by mazola at 12:26 PM on June 13 [2 favorites]


in the early days of starfleet command, about 100 years before TOS, a starship moving at warp 2 collided with a space rock the size of a basketball. because the ship was moving faster than light relative to the rock, the rock behaved as if it had infinite mass. that's how they learned to turn their shields on while moving, to push that stuff out of the way.
posted by bruce at 12:26 PM on June 13


Why have aerodynamic curves on a space ship?

Because the images are from a 3D artist who works in the Star Trek milieu. White curved surfaces are part of the ST motif, you may have noticed this over the decades.
posted by aramaic at 12:27 PM on June 13


If I had to guess at the shape of such a ship, I'd guess "spherical", because the field it's inside is spherical and we might as well enclose everything...

Spherical means the lowest possible surface-to-volume ratio, and one problem in space is heat management, specifically radiating the excess heat to space (PDF).
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:32 PM on June 13 [3 favorites]


It seems like a design for a submarine more than a spaceship. The lines don't seem aerodynamically inspired to me as much as they remind me of a pressure vessel using arches and spheres for strength.
posted by feloniousmonk at 12:32 PM on June 13 [1 favorite]


Why have aerodynamic curves on a space ship?

What does God need with aerodynamic curves?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 12:35 PM on June 13 [3 favorites]


If I had to guess at the shape of such a ship, I'd guess "spherical", because the field it's inside is spherical and we might as well enclose everything...

I suppose if that were the design then the comments on every news story would just be, "That's no moon, that's a space station," over and over.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:42 PM on June 13 [1 favorite]


Looks like a luxury RV from the year 2525. I love it!

Close.


I thought for sure that link was going to go to this.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:44 PM on June 13 [3 favorites]


and one problem in space is heat management, specifically radiating the excess heat to space

So we'll cover it with microvilli.
posted by Kabanos at 12:46 PM on June 13


The thing I am really interested in is how a space community would be designed for human habitation. This pdf describing how the human-habitable portions of the space station had to be altered to help us adapt to space is very interesting to me. The whole space architect site is pretty amazing.
posted by winna at 12:48 PM on June 13 [2 favorites]


quiet earth: "What is this nonexistent "exotic matter" they keep referring to?"

The work of Dr. William Weir has some extensive notes on this.
posted by boo_radley at 12:48 PM on June 13


I'm interested in what happens when such a ship collides with
A: space dust
B: something of roughly equal size at it (asteroid size)
C: planets
D: Stars


Based on the Wiki article on Alcubierre drives, the ship can't collide with anything. However, anything along the path of the metric distortion will accumulate and be released when the bubble stops (collapses?), thereby destroying the destination.
posted by justkevin at 12:50 PM on June 13 [2 favorites]


Marvelous way to solve the Fermi Paradox: Gamma Ray Bursts turn out to be the deceleration events for alien prototype FTL vessels. Every civilization builds one.

One.
posted by aramaic at 12:59 PM on June 13 [19 favorites]


IF you have material with negative energy density, violating the positive energy conditions (T_{\mu\nu}k^\mu k^\nu < 0).

And you had enough of it.

And you could manipulate it to position it as you like.

Then you could realize a particular known solution to Einstein's equations, where a segment of spacetime is disconnected from the flat background. This region of spacetime would have large curvature at the boundaries and a flat metric at the center. It would also self-propagate through the background spacetime at speeds that outside observers would measure as superluminal. It is known.

However, no known material has the negative energy conditions needed. Even something as esoteric as dark energy does not have the right properties (it has positive energy, just negative pressure). It is hypothesized but not proven that maybe the region between two plates, when the Casimir force develops, may have such properties. However, at best the negative energy would exist only in a small region, and requires a much larger and more massive apparatus made of positive energy to construct. As such exotic material would allow you to do wonky things with spacetime horizons and possibly violate entropy bounds, I am suspicious. Also, quantum effects might inherently destabilize the bubble configuration. Not to mention, as always, your faster than light spaceship is actually a time machine. Further, the guy claiming he can do this has never actually demonstrated that he can make this stuff, and from my googling around a bit, is starting to ring the psychoceramic klaxons.

So sure, make a pretty picture of your Star Trek starship. I love spaceships. I want a starship. I've dreamed since I was little about having starships. But remember your starship runs on magic pixie dust that doesn't appear to exist. I would love nothing more than to be proven wrong, because, see above, I want my goddamn starship.

That aside, once inside the bubble, you are casually disconnected from the outside Universe (you cannot, for example, stop the bubble from inside). So looking out your window, you will not see anything outside of the warp bubble. I'm not sure what you would see, my guess is you'd see whatever light your ship emits that hit the inside of the bubble wall, redirected back inwards. Just a guess though. As for hitting something, looks like people have worked this out in more detail, but unless you hit something with positive energy density great enough to destabilize the Alcubierre metric, it'll just get vaporized (or apparently swept up by) the bubble wall.

And now I return you to your regularly scheduled <headdesk>.
posted by physicsmatt at 1:00 PM on June 13 [36 favorites]


> Question: if you're cruising along with Alcubierre drive, what would you see out the window?

Mostly stars looking normal, though they'd be gradually moving, depending on your speed. Close-by things would be red-shifting (as you approach them) or blue-shifting (as you move away from them) more severely than distant stars.

There was, for a while, a belief that you'd see a "starbow," where you'd have red stars in front of you, and orange stars off to the side, and yellow stars.. all the way to violet stars behind you, but since stars aren't all that white to begin with, and yellow stars that redshift would look a lot like red stars that were already around, well, that guess has fallen by the wayside.
posted by Sunburnt at 1:02 PM on June 13 [1 favorite]


However, anything along the path of the metric distortion will accumulate and be released when the bubble stops (collapses?), thereby destroying the destination.

This'll be great for building space highways for space truckers. Judge Doom was an amateur.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:03 PM on June 13


What is this nonexistent "exotic matter" they keep referring to?
Negative mass, and lots of it.

I don't even think that "we need to find something that may not exist" is the biggest stumbling block, though.

The big problem with any faster-than-light travel: paths which are FTL in one reference frame are backwards-in-time in some other reference frames. Combine FTL paths in two different frames and you can break causality.

Alcubierre thinks FTL might be possible anyway due to the "chronology protection conjecture", wherein paradoxes are resolved via quantum effects: some particles trying to travel on a closed timelike curve will "pile up" and thereby generate a high enough energy density to prevent the closed timelike curve from existing (or to make it "explode" or "create a black hole" in Alcubierre's slides...). I'm not sure how this is supposed to work in practice, though. If I try to head to Alpha Centauri for lunch today, does my ship explode if-and-only-if I'm planning to come back yesterday night? If I decide not to do the time travel, but then I notice a distinct lack of explosions, what stops me from changing my mind?
posted by roystgnr at 1:12 PM on June 13 [1 favorite]


The designer in me says, since you are creating a bubble, a warp drive ship should be a big ball. Or, at the very least, saucer-shaped. I mean, if the structure of the ship doesn't really matter much, why not have it take a form somewhat reflective of its function?
posted by Thorzdad at 1:12 PM on June 13 [2 favorites]


This'll be great for building space highways for space truckers.

When I was small being a space trucker was what I wanted to be when I grew up.

Ah how life has failed me.
posted by winna at 1:14 PM on June 13 [5 favorites]


anything along the path of the metric distortion will accumulate and be released when the bubble stops (collapses?), thereby destroying the destination

And somewhere the corpse of E.E. Doc Smith smiles.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:15 PM on June 13 [2 favorites]


Interstellar travel is one of the most frustrating buzzkills of the space age. . . . Science fiction is filled with stories where this annoying limit is avoided by equipping spaceships with warp drives, hyperdrives, and infinite improbability drives. . . . our ship . . . cannot exist except as a property of some form of matter so exotic that it can barely be said to be capable of existing in our universe.


1992: "Math is hard"*
2014: "Physics is annoying."

-----------------------------
* Yes yes I know.
posted by Herodios at 1:22 PM on June 13


Any of these problems could be fixed by reversing the polarity of the dilithium matrix.

You people must have failed quantum mechanics at the academy.
posted by dr_dank at 1:24 PM on June 13 [3 favorites]


I only failed because they called me MAD! MAD I SAY!
posted by physicsmatt at 1:26 PM on June 13 [6 favorites]


This'll be great for building space highways for space truckers.

Based on my experience with Galaxy Trucker, all roads lead to death.
posted by Dark Messiah at 1:31 PM on June 13 [1 favorite]


This'll be great for building space highways for space truckers.

When I was small being a space trucker was what I wanted to be when I grew up.


Well --
We had a lot of luck on Venus
We always had a ball on Mars
Meeting all the groovy people
We've rocked the Milky Way so far
We got music in our solar system
Space truckin' 'round the stars

Come on, come on, come on
Let's go space truckin' . . .

posted by Herodios at 1:37 PM on June 13 [2 favorites]


based on theoretical done by Harold White and NASA

1. It's my understanding that this image isn't part an official NASA project at all. It's not a real design. It's just pictures made for a Star Trek, by artist who has done graphics for Star Trek. Exactly zero NASA engineers were involved.

2. See #1.

3. The ship is very bright. This photo of the Shuttle Enterprise (which never flew in space) and the Shuttle Discover (the shuttle that logged the most miles in space, just under a year total) show how weathered an actual spaceship could get.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:49 PM on June 13 [1 favorite]


Looks like the artist is a fan of a certain Eve Online ship that came out last year.
posted by ceribus peribus at 1:54 PM on June 13


That hull sucks, and your fit is terrible.
/eve-mode: off
posted by aramaic at 1:55 PM on June 13 [3 favorites]


Hey, in the ST universe, have ships ever hit each other while in warp? What happens if two ships moving at warp speed collide with shields up?
posted by Shepherd at 1:56 PM on June 13


And now I return you to your regularly scheduled .

Well, this particular guy's claim might not hold up, but I find it heartening that, as you say, the basic concept is at least not completely impossible under our current understanding of the universe. Maybe it requires some pretty exotic things to happen, but I'll take "not impossible but extremely unlikely" over "as far as we know this can't be done at all".
posted by Sangermaine at 1:59 PM on June 13


Interstellar travel is a pure sci-fi dream, anyway. There's enough resources in the solar system, in terms of raw material and energy output of the sun, to support the equivalent habitat of thousands of Earths, if we're willing to build it. More worlds than you've ever seen in all of Star Trek could one day fill our solar system, with only a few months or weeks of travel separating them at the most. I think the popular science fiction trope of interstellar travel just comes from a strong lack of imagination, or true appreciation of the scale of the solar system.

I think interstellar travel is probably inevitable, assuming civilization survives that long. But it'll be done in generational ships, or by intelligences for whom a thousand years isn't really that much time.
posted by heathkit at 1:59 PM on June 13 [6 favorites]


There's enough resources in the solar system, in terms of raw material and energy output of the sun, to support the equivalent habitat of thousands of Earths, if we're willing to build it.

Completely misses the point. My little village can do just fine by itself. But what's over that hill? And when we pass it and eventually come to the sea, what's beyond that?

It's not a lack of imagination, it's the ancient desire to explore the unknown.

I can imagine someone 500 years ago saying the exact same thing about their country.
posted by Sangermaine at 2:09 PM on June 13 [1 favorite]


I don't think we (as humans exist) would ever have the intersteller travel ... the scale is entirely wrong for us.

We are likely to destroy ourselves, but if we are lucky, there could be humanoids spread all over ...but it would be the way ants are all over earth. The species will spread and change and evolve so that there are millions of species all over, millions of years to populate the galaxy, spreading slowly from star to star over generations, moving around on ships which obey the laws of physics - a directions less, guided by luck spread, similar to ants travelling on logs floating in water.

the discussion of the exotic star ships and FTL is kinda exciting but I am sure mankind has been imagining instantaneous travel since the time we saw food on the other side of canyon.
posted by TheLittlePrince at 2:12 PM on June 13 [2 favorites]


*sigh* yet another ship model from an artist who doesn't grasp the fact that there is no up and down in space, and so spacecraft that look like naval ships are kinda naff.

And oh look, they tied it to the Alcuberre sillyness to try to make people think it's a realistic concept. Joy.

I'm gonna go over to Atomic Rockets and sulk.
posted by happyroach at 2:14 PM on June 13 [7 favorites]


But what's over that hill? And when we pass it and eventually come to the sea, what's beyond that?

It's not a lack of imagination, it's the ancient desire to explore the unknown.


Well, we have telescopes, so it's not exactly like that.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 2:23 PM on June 13 [1 favorite]


I'm sure it'll be a long road, gettin' from there to here.

i am so, so sorry
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:27 PM on June 13 [2 favorites]


> *sigh* yet another ship model from an artist who doesn't grasp the fact that there is no up and down in space, and so spacecraft that look like naval ships are kinda naff.

Unfortunately, there is up and down ingrained into the human brain, at least for people born and raised with the pull of gravity (which is all of us, so far), and humans do prefer visual cues and interior spaces that are suggestive of up and down; we also experience stress when facing and talking to people whose faces are oriented upside-down (relatively), and don't pick up what they're saying as well because of subconscious lip-reading that we do.

As it happens, any given room would be well served by having an up so that crew can orient themselves in a common fashion, but it doesn't have to be the same "up" shipwide.
posted by Sunburnt at 2:28 PM on June 13 [2 favorites]


If we're talking reality, here's a long duration ship design done by the Technology Applications Assessment Team of NASA, the Nautilus-X. It's designed for anything approaching warp speed, but rather the long trip from Earth to Mars and maybe the asteroid belt. Here's a concept video done by a non NASA guy.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:43 PM on June 13 [2 favorites]


Sunburnt, I think happyroach was obliquely advocating for the "flying skyscraper" school of spacecraft design more than an abolition of "up and down" entirely. Orient your ship's up/down axis in the direction of thrust.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 2:55 PM on June 13 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the whole space trucker gig worked out great for the crew of the Nostomo.
posted by valkane at 3:10 PM on June 13 [1 favorite]


Adorable humans! There are living trees on your planet many times older than your science. Patience: all will be revealed.
posted by absentian at 3:18 PM on June 13 [2 favorites]


However, no known material has the negative energy conditions needed.

I'm not a physicist but I understand handwavium's properties fit all these requirements.
posted by ersatz at 4:10 PM on June 13


...show how weathered an actual spaceship could get.

To be fair, though, the shuttles weathered primarily due to their atmospheric operations...lift-off and re-entry...which beat the craft all to hell. A ship that never touches atmosphere would probably remain pretty darned pristine, barring any accidental collisions or phaser fire.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:20 PM on June 13


This'll be great for building space highways for space truckers.

When I was small being a space trucker was what I wanted to be when I grew up.

Ah how life has failed me.


Elite: Dangerous.

Unfortunately It'll be years before I can afford a PC that can run it
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 4:54 PM on June 13


> Sunburnt, I think happyroach was obliquely advocating for the "flying skyscraper" school of spacecraft design more than an abolition of "up and down" entirely. Orient your ship's up/down axis in the direction of thrust.

Ah, good point. The advantages of that case include the fact that the largest volume in the skyscraper is still only as wide as the skyscraper.

It also depends on the shape of the interior power/drive components and how you intend to service them. Is it better to deal with them as long horizontal volumes (like in the Titanic engine room, or the recent Star Trek movies), or a substantial vertical thing (ST:TNG). If it turned out that you need a 3-story-tall reactor or a 100 feet of special magic drive shaft, you don't necessarily want to sacrifice space on 10 decks because you need an engine component running through the middle of them. "Hey, reactor's venting radioactive steam on level 08-- Kindergarten-deck. That sounds bad."

I guess as long as nobody builds it so that someone can fall to their death inside the ship when the engines kick on, I'm okay with it.
posted by Sunburnt at 5:11 PM on June 13 [1 favorite]


Unfortunately It'll be years before I can afford a PC that can run it

At $150 to buy into the beta, it'll be a few years before I think about buying the game.
posted by Apoch at 5:15 PM on June 13


Whoops, I meant that as a disadvantage of flying skyscraper.

As a KSP player, though, I always go with the skyscraper, but the Kerbals are simple, and don't have need of space, or life support, or any contact whatsoever with other Kerbals if you leave them in orbit around the sun for several years in just a spacesuit. Whoops.
posted by Sunburnt at 5:18 PM on June 13 [1 favorite]


Such a ship must utilize a Vigoda Coil. It's a part that seemingly lasts forever.
posted by juiceCake at 5:36 PM on June 13 [1 favorite]


Catblack: "Why have aerodynamic curves on a space ship?"

At ten times the speed of light the interstellar hydrogen flows like water.
posted by Mitheral at 5:58 PM on June 13


Neat.
posted by homunculus at 7:36 PM on June 13


Project Orion always appealed to me more than chasing after FTL rainbows. Make a 8 million ton ship out of submarine steel, pop a whole mess of H-bombs behind the pusher plate, and see your great^100-grandchildren in the Alpha Centauri system in 2000 years.

What could go wrong?
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:44 PM on June 13


So, not invisible then. Bummer.
posted by wobh at 7:59 PM on June 13


The cloaking system will come later. Baby steps.
posted by homunculus at 8:10 PM on June 13


Perhaps Atmospherium is the material you seek.
posted by boilermonster at 10:07 PM on June 13


I don't think a real interplanetary spaceship would look like "a rough tangle of struts and cylinders". If you want to get anywhere fast-ish, you need to accelerate at 1g or more. If you don't have Star Trek force fields or "structural integrity fields", that means you have the same sort of constraints on strength as a building on Earth. A real spaceship would therefore probably be structured like a skyscraper on Earth: a solid core above the drive unit, with the rest of the spaceship hanging off that core by metal girders.

The frail NASA designs with modules connected by thin struts are possible because puny chemical rockets don't give you much acceleration.

With force fields, go nuts, nobody knows how they would work anyway. Maybe forcefields only work with shapes with cool aerodynamic-looking wings and whatever else you like.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 11:25 PM on June 13 [1 favorite]


I'm still holding out for the U.S.S. Cygnus--ominous abandoned Victorian greenhouse on a Brunel scale--but as technology goes, we're as likely to get a ship that looks like an upended Italian restaurant as we are to get these supposedly plausible things any time soon.

Now be a dear and toy with that breadstick, because we're running late.
posted by sonascope at 5:10 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]


Baby steps, folks. Glad they're conceiving a FTL propulsion system and thinking through the physics, though the rendering is fanciful. Orion is a thing, though. (my daughter has seen it)
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:14 AM on June 14


What could go wrong?

Alpha Centauri turns out to be an uninhabitable shithole of dead rocks and gas planets. Nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there.
posted by pashdown at 9:34 AM on June 14


Everyone already knows that the optimal configuration of a starship is in the shape of a police call box.
posted by Muddler at 11:30 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]


If it's energetically expensive to create the bubble, why not fill the space? Wouldn't the optimal shape be a cylinder, rather than some aerodynamic thing inside the rings? And why not a thin but long one?
posted by Mokusatsu at 11:38 AM on June 14


Concerning all the commentary on the pointlessness of aerodynamic streamlining - isn't the curvature of the ship actually dictated by the curvature of the "flat spacetime" area at the center of the warp bubble? Anything extending past that flat area would be ripped off when the field kicked in. I wonder if a thick saucer might be the optimal volume for the crewed section inside the field generation rings?
posted by Enron Hubbard at 12:18 PM on June 14


In 1716, Emanuel Swedenborg
wrote: "It seems easier to talk of such a machine than to put it into actuality, for it requires greater force and less weight than exists in a human body. The science of mechanics might perhaps suggest a means, namely, a strong spiral spring. If these advantages and requisites are observed, perhaps in time to come some one might know how better to utilize our sketch and cause some addition to be made so as to accomplish that which we can only suggest." The Editor of the Royal Aeronautical Society journal wrote in 1910 that Swedenborg's design was "…the first rational proposal for a flying machine of the aeroplance [heavier-than-air] type…"
Right now it feels like we're in the same spot with respect to plausible interstellar travel. But there's no way of knowing now whether future engineering and physics will furnish what is needed, or whether our current speculation will have as much resemblance to the thing as "a strong spiral spring" does to a jet engine or even a turboprop.

Reading passages like this, also from wikipedia, makes me wonder what things are known today as "curiosities" but have some practical use we are totally overlooking:
Jet engines can be dated back to the invention of the aeolipile around 150 BCE. This device used steam power directed through two nozzles so as to cause a sphere to spin rapidly on its axis. So far as is known, it was not used for supplying mechanical power, and the potential practical applications of this invention were not recognized. It was simply considered a curiosity.
posted by jepler at 12:46 PM on June 14


I think one of the reasons I was almost fanatical in my love of the spaceborne Okie cities in James Blish's Cities In Flight books, other than the brain-tickling gorgeousness of whole cities taking to the sky, was the logic in how they'd look, as opposed to the sort of pointy-finned nacelle-laden struts-and-white-globes visions of futurists.

They looked like a big sprawling city that had been cut out of the ground with a perfectly spherical spindizzy field, without the prog rock album cover dangly inverted mountain vibe, and they flew whole cities because spindizzies worked best when horking huge masses around. Too much of speculative spaceship design is just derivative of longstanding fanboy gee-whizzy tropes, from the shit-glued-all-over-the-outside Star Wars transport to the hand-wavey "we put the engines out here because they're dangerous" Trek thing, right down to the we-have-CGI-and-all-alien-ships-are-now-biological look.
posted by sonascope at 2:45 PM on June 14


I'm not a genius or anything, but if the ship destroys anything in front of it when it stops, then just don't stop it so anything is in front of it. Stop it on the far side of the system facing away from the center. You'll just destroy some iceballs. Then use conventional drives to explore the system.
posted by runcibleshaw at 10:22 AM on June 15


Also, am I wrong, or isn't this not just theoretical? I thought the one scientist was actually working on finding micro-scale evidence of warp bubbles.
posted by runcibleshaw at 10:25 AM on June 15


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White%E2%80%93Juday_warp-field_interferometer
posted by runcibleshaw at 10:29 AM on June 15


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