Roadmap for Lab Experiments for Warp Drive

Joseph Agnew, undergrad and research assistant from the University of Alabama in Huntsville’s Propulsion Research Center (PRC), presented the results of his study “An Examination of Warp Theory and Technology to Determine the State of the Art and Feasibility“. This was part of a session at The Future of Nuclear and Breakthrough Propulsion”.

The detection of gravity waves indicates the effect is real. We can work to experiments to study it and then to optimize the efficiency of producing the desired effects.

Brian Wang has been covering the warp theory work since Alcubierre published his work. The original Alcubierre work needed a Jupiter-mass of exotic material. Harold White’s work on warp bubble configuration and bubble thickness brought the theoretical power requirements to 500 kilograms (the mass of Voyager 1.) The work and attempts and experiments in 2014 had a gap between sensors and laser and magnet generation of effects at about 1 million times. We can boost sensor sensitivity several times. We can boost the effect generation. The point of the Agnew summaries is that there is a roadmap to closing the gap for experiments with the generation of detectable effects. Then we work on optimizing sensor and increasing the effect size. Any stable warping effect would magnify the capabilities of other propulsion. The LIGO (gravity wave) observatory detected gravity waves from colliding black holes and neutron stars. That work confirms physics related to Alcubierre warp propulsion.

In 2018, University of Rochester researchers have succeeded in creating negative mass particles in an atomically thin semiconductor, by causing it to interact with confined light in an optical microcavity.

What if we can replace exotic matter with something that has similar properties to solve the problem once and for all? From 2006 to 2016, researchers were trying to use a toroidal positive energy density to create a spherical negative-pressure region and thus eliminate the need for exotic matter. Unfortunately, although they have already made some progresses in this field, these progresses have been criticized to be mere measurement error caused by the interference of people walking outside the room. They are trying to increase sensitivity up to one-hundredth of a wavelength and implement the oscillating field in order to get definite results.Duke University paper.

Producing and replicating even a very tiny human-made wave in a laboratory would be a groundbreaking event akin to LIGO, Agnew says. The LIGO discovery proved that the necessary technologies are evolving.

Quantum sensing could double the sensitivity of the LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory).

Nextbigfuture reviewed all of the proposals for improved gravity wave detectors beyond LIGO. Most architectural design changes would not be applicable to warp field lab tests. The sensor improvements would be applicable.

“It’s really only now becoming a potential laboratory experiment because the technologies have now grown to the extent that they will support that level,” Agnew says. “We’re limited now by the sensitivity of the measurement instruments and by the level of power required to do the experiment.”

Supplying power is becoming more feasible as bigger magnetic generators come online. A Tesla is a unit used to measure magnetic fields. In 2004, it was estimated that 20 Teslas of energy would be required for the experiment. Since then, generators producing as many as 49 Teslas have been built.

“That’s where, from the classical side of things, we are looking at large amounts of energy required to create even a very little reaction,” Agnew says. Higher power would produce a larger and more easily measured effect.

On the measurement side of the experiment, Agnew says, “Of all the ideas out there, the one that appears to me to be more plausible is the interferometer.”

In 2014, a paper indicated that we needed interferometry that was one million times more sensitive to detect the amount of spacetime warping we could generate in a lab experiment.

Applying superconductors and metamaterials could greatly improve the detectors. Superconductors, magnets and lasers advancements can enhance the amount of the spacetime warping effect.

Increasing sensitivity and increased effects could close the gap to a detectable warping experiment.

Even a very small but reliable space-time warp could be coupled with nuclear propulsion to provide a significant boost to speed, some theorists suggest. “One of the effects of being in the bubble is that it reduces the apparent mass of what’s inside,” Agnew says. “In that case, even a marginal effect may increase the efficiency of other forms of propulsion.”

Full copy of An Examination of Warp Theory and Technology to Determine the State of the Art and Feasibility.


Sonny White and Eagleworks Lab Previously Made Orders of Magnitude Improvement from 2011 through 2014

In 2011 and 2012 during the 100 Year Starship Symposium, Dr. Harold “Sonny” White improved Alcubierre work to vastly reduce the energy requirements. Nextbigfuture covered White’s at Eaglework. White varied the ship geometry and the warp bubble thickness to drastically reduce the theoretical power requirements for faster than light travel.

Previously the literature has quoted Jupiter amounts of exotic matter/negative pressure necessary to implement a “useful” warp bubble, making the idea mostly of academic interest at best. Sensitivity analysis started by White in 2011 and completed in 2012 has shown that the energy requirements can be greatly reduced by first optimizing the warp bubble thickness, and further by oscillating the bubble intensity to reduce the stiffness of space-time. They yielded a reduction from Jupiter amount of exotic matter to an amount smaller than the Voyager 1 spacecraft (500kg) for a 10-meter bubble with an effective velocity of 10 times light speed.

The Eagleworks Q-thruster experiment attempts to utilize applied scientific research in the fields of quantum vacuum, gravitation, the nature of space-time, and other fundamental phenomena to realize the possibility of an ultra-high Isp propulsion solution. Through these underpinnings, it is mathematically possible to employ the vacuum particle/anti-particle “sea” and utilize it as propellant reaction mass. Previous QVPT tests have generated possible thrust signals in the milli-Newton range and hinted at Isp’s on the order of 10^12 seconds. This iteration aims to validate or refute the present evidence in order to push forward in pursuit of breakthrough propulsion physics. For the exhibit, they will present a conceptual visualization of these effects, and provide a summary of present data and future plans.

The NASA Ames Director’s Colloquium Summer Series was presented by the Office of the Chief Scientist as part of the Center’s 75th anniversary celebration.


Modifying Alcubierre warping with thicker warping would make it easier

SOURCES- Agnew, White Papers, University of Alabama, NASA Eagleworks, Wikipedia
Written by Brian Wang,

44 thoughts on “Roadmap for Lab Experiments for Warp Drive”

  1. Oh yeah! Great paper, I’d been meaning to read it again to see if my understanding of the physics involved has changed, so thanks for the link. Alas, nope. xD I don’t understand all the abstract, because, well, not scientist (yet lol). But I’ve been following their project since I think 2015. Excited for any positive movement, there.

  2. As a general principal I’ve always thought it a good idea to invest time effort and (most importantly money) in proportion to the its likelihood of success. Hence my rather limited investment in lotteries. So yes Dr White and his team might be looking for unicorns but given what appears to be the rather limited budget involved, does it matter?
    No one is going to transfer NASA’s entire budget to White’s project on the basis of his theories and experimental results to date? So what harm does it do to drop a few pennies into fringe physics.

  3. Hi Doctorpat. Let me know what you think is the issue with the presentation? Yes, Warping space to get a useful capability a longshot? Should it be a significant part of a portfolio of development research? No. It would be for a pure science program.

  4. We don’t need real particles, but we do need real negative mass. What we’ve got in this case is positive mass particles interacting in such a way that some of them behave as though they had negative mass. But the total mass of the system is unchanged, and that’s what matters.

  5. Do we need “real particles” or we need something simulating these particles?

    If you can get something simulating the effects of these particles and then the effects can be used to generate a warp field extending outside the simulation, who cares these are just “virtual” particles?

    I wonder what would be the interactions between an Alcubierre Warp Drive and a MEGA drive and if they are just different ways to use the same phenomenons.

  6. Basic premise:

    “Artificial Inducement of Space Warp In order to alleviate these problems, the authors introduce an artificial inducement of local space warp, based on naturally occurring phenomena, from heretofore unexplained cases in aviation. After researching reports of pilots flying through thunderstorms, several cases indicated that pilots experienced a linear displacement in terrestrial space (MacGregor & Gernon, 2005) and (Pares, 2010). The total linear displacement varied from 100 to 300 miles. Forensic weather studies for these cases indicate that very large thunderstorms produce copious amounts of energy and antimatter which might explain the pilot reports (Pares, 2010).”

  7. Its good to see your recognition of the {Δv = 2/k} criterion for propellant-less free-standing acceleration mechanisms delivering more kinetic energy to the apparatus underway than the energy invested into acceleration. 

    ‘k’ is N/W. I’ve done the derivation here some years back. 

    Many an argument has been made that propellant-less drives don’t violate conservation of momentum OR energy in their own frame, just “seemingly so” externally, in our observer’s reference plane. It is a convenient line of argument. 

    I’d be more strident in trusting Physics-as-we-understand-it in keeping CoM and CoE secure in the observer’s frame… except for one long-nagging fact: one rarely observed kind of UFO, that Air Force interceptors see accelerating with wickedly high G’s, without apparent means (“holes”) for emissions. These UFOs would be trivially explained if propellant-less thrusting is real, and if the ‘k’ (N/W) achieves a high value. Like ‘100’ or so. 

    Nominally I eschew UFO talk. But here, it fits. If ‘k’ gets to any comfortably high value, then limitless energy can be tapped as well. Certainly more than enough to endlessly power the even larger proplellantless thruster at meganewton levels. Without emissions.

    And of course, even if not FTL (which This Old Goat holds as the Universe’s most well conserved limit), interstellar travel is definitely ‘much easier’ to ‘trivial’.

    Just saying,
    GoatGuy ✓

  8. To all the armchair physicists who took 101 back in the day and fancies themselves an expert, it’s not the actual existence of negative mass quasiparticles that is germane but the emergent phenomenon it represents. where would we be as a species be if we heed every dilettante decrying scientific inquiry.

  9. Even worse, what happens if the warp field relies on superconducting electro magnets and they experience a significant quench event?

    I can’t imagine what warp whiplash would be like!

  10. I would he remiss if I didn’t mention Space Warp Dynamics who purportedly have had several working test models that were shown to warp the fabric of space, and their project is ongoing. They spoke at an AIAA conference last year and have written a paper on their experiments, as well. I’m curious as to what the people with science backgrounds here have to say about it, for or against their findings, since a lot of the science is foreign to me.

  11. A few notes:
    1. A warp drive doesn’t necessarily imply FTL. There could be subluminal warps, depending on the parameters of the warp bubble. Those are probably much easier (but still hugely difficult), since they avoid all sorts of causality and control problems.
    2. Absolutely no guarantee that a warp bubble would remain stable beyond the field that generates it. So even with FTL warp bubbles, we may not get long distance FTL communication unless we can make the bubble large enough and the generator small enough to send messenger probes.
    3. Warping stuff to the same point is also unlikely. More likely, the front wall of the bubble will collect (and deflect?) whatever it runs into. Or if gentle enough to let it through, the stuff inside will undergo regular collisions with whatever enters.
    4. If you have the tech to generate a warp bubble, you could probably do fusion and nano-back-holes without a warp bubble.

  12. (this post is addressed to everyone in this sub-thread)

    While I agree with your sentiment, I think you may have it backwards. They’re not jumping from the (proposed) phenomena to FTL – they’re “jumping” from (the desire for) FTL to the (proposed) phenomena.

    Right now, as technically improbable as it is, a warp drive is more or less the only remotely plausible method that MIGHT eventually allow us to go FTL. It was initially proposed precisely and explicitly for that purpose. So I think it’s reasonable to discuss it within that context.

    But that said, it is also important to remember just how far it is from practical FTL (if that’s even possible at all), as you and others here have pointed out. And that should be part of the discussion.

    But even if this particular line of investigation doesn’t give us FTL, we may still learn something useful. And who knows – maybe it’ll give us new ideas that will lead to FTL in some other form.

  13. Nothing wrong looking into this idea, maybe there could be something found that will help us go to other stars in our lifetimes, i also think if it is even remotely possible it should be studied. it would be nice to colonize other worlds. a lot of social problems could be addressed this way, since white people are now hated today by every collage professor and their students white people could leave Earth to build a new life on a new world and not bother the haters.

  14. Hi Brian,

    Just to note (as I run out the door to catch the last post) but I’m not criticising your reporting here. I’m criticising the presentation your are reporting on.

    A subtle difference, but one I hope is clear. 🙂

  15. it ‘behaves as if it has negative mass’, does not mean it DOES ! There are no negative mass particles and never will be. Same for any fictional ‘exotic matter’.

  16. If you can’t come up with a plausible plan based on existing entities, don’t bother. My plan involves condensed dark energy, squeezed into a 4D spheroid, with a nanometer layer of dark matter on the surface with a density 10% greater than a neutron stars core. The calculations show this generates anti-gravity, and with a strong rope I can pull this spheroid behind my starcraft, enabling FTL speeds.

  17. I agree that there are many more useful projects for improving space propulsion which are not at the edge or beyond the edge of the possible. They are covered in many other articles here. Getting to 10% to 40% of lightspeed using laser propulsion.

    Completing the reusable rocket revolution where rockets can be safely used thousands of times to bring costs to nearly commercial aviation levels.

    Getting airbreathing rockets. Boosting rocket payloads and other factors by 5 times.

    Megawatt to gigawatt laser beamed power to lithium ion engines.


  18. And the most annoying thing of all is that you don’t need that level of google scaling (I mean google the number (10^100), not the company) to produce fancy science fiction.

    Scale the system up enough to warp drive an subatomic particle and you’ve already got future bending SF tech.

    For one thing, you can now use multiple C velocity electron streams to communicate over interstellar distances. Which Einstein says means time travel anyway (but I don’t have a good enough grasp on relativity to understand that aspect.)

    Be able to warp drive protons by a nanometre and you can probably fuse them together.

    Warp drive a number of sub atomic particles to the same point and you might make a nano-black hole.

    SF concepts just pour out of any warp drive ability. There is no need to add another 30 orders of magnitude to get a good old fashioned 1930s style FTL spaceship.

  19. I know… Its just flogging crazy. Let’s use our science heads:

    Harnessing gigatesla magnetics = (10⁸)² = 10¹⁶ energy
    Stepping up volume = 100/(10⁻⁹)³ m
    Increasing effect 100,000× 

    So that would be in reverse 100,000 × 10¹⁶ × 10²⁹ = 10⁵⁰ ‘more’.


    Which turns out to be a pretty large number. I suppose if somehow we can harness those kinds of scalings … well, going back to the original idea of a Jupiter’s Worth of energy to zip along a hundred cubic meter spaceship (recalling that one STILL needs to take oxygen, food, other energy-stuff, wait… what creates the warp? How is IT powered? … Arrgghhhh!!!)

    A really large number.
    Just saying,
    GoatGuy ✓

  20. As a non scientist, Im presuming here that other concepts that appear to have created negative mass like rubidium in super chilled condensate only ‘behaves’ as negative mass but that in itself is not enough?

    “He and his colleagues created the conditions for negative mass by cooling rubidium atoms to just a hair above absolute zero, creating what is known as a Bose-Einstein condensate. In this state, predicted by Satyendra Nath Bose and Albert Einstein, particles move extremely slowly and, following the principles of quantum mechanics, behave like waves. They also synchronize and move in unison as what is known as a superfluid, which flows without losing energy.
    Led by Peter Engels, WSU professor of physics and astronomy, researchers on the sixth floor of Webster Hall created these conditions by using lasers to slow the particles, making them colder, and allowing hot, high energy particles to escape like steam, cooling the material further.
    The lasers trapped the atoms as if they were in a bowl measuring less than a hundred microns across. At this point, the rubidium superfluid has regular mass. Breaking the bowl will allow the rubidium to rush out, expanding as the rubidium in the center pushes outward.
    To create negative mass, the researchers applied a second set of lasers that kicked the atoms back and forth and changed the way they spin. Now when the rubidium rushes out fast enough, if behaves as if it has negative mass.

  21. I think that the wave example is flawed. The craft is embedded in the wave, and what ever happens to the wave happens to the craft. Space-time becomes distorted, and everything within it becomes distorted. Imperceptibly from the perspective of the viewer. If the scale is changed, you will change with it. So- even were it possible to bend space, it will avail you nothing.

  22. What makes me cynical is jumping straight to FTL flight from phenomena which are barely detectable with the most delicate instruments if they are even real.

    I mean, come on: Build something that could be used for a station keeping thruster on a satellite before jumping to interstellar flight!

  23. Maybe one way to think about it is by analogy to wave surfing. The surfer doesn’t move much relative to the wave, but if you look at the water on the surface of the wave, it does move at a non-zero speed relative to surfer (and vice versa). In this analogy, the surfer is the ship, the wave is the warp bubble, and the water is space-time.

  24. I’ve gone through the presentations several times and thought about this exact point. I believe what is proposed to happen is that the bubble constantly “reforms” and the >zero velocity inside of the bubble is what actually propels the craft “forward”. That’s actually not quite correct but the whole thing is very weird so it’s difficult to properly describe.

  25. Brett Bellmore makes a keen (and uptick-worthy) observation regarding quasiparticles not being REAL in any way or means.

    On a different angle … the problem is that macroscopic AD/SW requires unattainable materials, today and in the foreseeable future.  

    For instance, now 40 Tesla electromagnets exist, whereas 20 T was State of the Art 20 years ago. So… 80 T tomorrow? 160 after that?

    Non-physicists tend to underestimate physical limits, current handling, and heat in materials comprising the massive (superconducting — or not) electromagnets. Seriously so.

    What is an electromagnet?
    → Wind a coil
    → → Send a large DC current thru it
    → → → Voilá
    → → → → An electromagnet.  

    But really high fields require REALLY HIGH current. Each ‘turn’ REPELS neighboring turns. To keep EMs from flying apart, the windings are tightly ‘bound together’ thru fibrous meshes, epoxies, mechanical frames, and so on. Every increase in field INCREASES the repulsion, and increases demands placed on the restraints. Even if the coils could take higher current without burning up, above some level, the magnets self-destuct.

    So, the researchers, armed with colorful graphs, great projections of 10 C apparent space flight, magic yew wands and plenty of Oz-level wish-away-the-problem thinking, make their presentations. Money asks. For the research. To Oz.

    Call me both skeptical AND cynical on this one, Goats. 
    “Far fetched” would be charitable. 

    Just saying,
    GoatGuy ✓

  26. First, I discourage the term “reactionless”, as it implies there’s no momentum exchange. That breaks momentum conservation by definition. I prefer the term “propellantless”, as in without throwing propellant out the back. We know propellantless drives can work if there’s momentum exchange by other means – solar sails are an example.

    Second, I expect any real-world propellantless drive will have some physical limitations that would ensure both energy and momentum are still conserved. If some of them do allow over-unity, as has been repeatedly claimed, I expect they could work if and only if they tap into some new energy source. In that case, they’d be a new energy generator technology.

    I agree that our understanding of such drives and the physics around them is incomplete, but I expect the new understanding will be more of an addendum (<– edit: used wrong word) than a rewrite.

    Finally, I wouldn’t necessarily group warp drives with “more conventional” propellantless drives, for two reasons:
    1. Warp drives act by manipulating space-time, while the ship typically remains stationary within the bubble. The other drives attempt to accelerate the ship through space-time, more akin to conventional rockets. Those are fundamentally different processes.
    2. We’re pretty sure that any warp drive will require huge energy input, so things like over-unity are (I think) unlikely with a warp drive. The other propellantless drive proposals all seem to require much more modest energy inputs.

  27. Exotic matter requirements even by exotic matter standards, i.e. very real but exotic hypernuclei and various kinds of antimatter. Broadcasting a total lack of any experimental results. Star Trek confused with real life, confused even by Star Trek standards that did not require matter to be more exotic than antimatter.

    People, life is short! Like, blink, and you are old; think about that, and you are dead. So wasting time chasing unicorn’s fart in the wind is, well, not smart. Look at what SpaceX is doing: crude and ugly, but fast and productive. Musk dreams of dying on Mars. It is achievable. Other dream of living in terran orbit, taking in the views while the world burns down there. Reality is tastier, prettier, more interesting and satisfying than fiction.

  28. I’m not saying that it can’t work. I’m “just” saying that, if it does work, we’re going to be massively revising our understanding of physics on a fundamental level, because some fundamentals of physics DO say that it can’t work.

    Of course, we’ve already massively revised our understanding of physics a couple of times within living memory, so I wouldn’t totally discount the possibility. I’m just trying to be clear on the fact that warp drives or reactionless drives actually working would not be a minor tweak to physics as we currently think we understand things.

    I think the advocates of this tend to understate that aspect of the thing.

  29. Also it doesn’t seem like Dr. White achieved much in a any practical field, except some robotic tools for Space Shuttle thermal protection system inspection. Inspection mind you, not fixing or anything. It really looks like Dr. White’s strength does not lie in any practical applications.

  30. > Would the reaction mass need to pass through the bubble boundary to achieve thrust in the outside frame, is that feasible?

    Below light speed there shouldn’t be any casual disconnection, so I would expect the reaction mass should be able to pass (especially if the bubble is oscillated as proposed). Once outside, the reaction mass should regain its full apparent mass, so the net effect is you’re ejecting normal reaction mass against and reduced-apparent-mass spacecraft. That might be part of the explanation, or another way to look at it. (But see my reply to Brett for some caveats.)

  31. My very partial understanding is they think the warp gives a boost effect in the sense that whatever speed you obtain inside the bubble is multiplied by some factor when viewed from the outside.

    But I would indeed expect the bubble to move with the ship, so I’m not quite sure how would one even go about getting a non-zero speed inside the bubble…

  32. When you say “the effective mass is reduced inside the bubble”, you have to remember that the inside and outside isn’t quite the same reference frame. You’d need to apply general relativity to get the right answer, which isn’t trivial. Otherwise you run into problems similar to how you get the twin paradox if you apply special relativity incorrectly.

    Also keep in mind that it takes energy to generate (and likely maintain) the bubble. So there is definitely some energy flow going on there.

    Per White’s proposal, the bubble is also oscillated to reduce the energy requirements. I would expect, when the bubble is oscillated towards zero amplitude, the energy that was previously invested in it has to dissipate somewhere. And one of the places it might go is towards changing the momentum of the ship.

    But bottom line is that even the experts don’t fully understand how a warp drive would work. Let alone us. So there’s a lot of speculation and hand waving in this for now.

  33. No mention of electron beam interferometry. I don’t know how applicable it is to these experiments, but electron beam wavelength is 1000 times smaller than optical.

    Also, the talk about Q-thrusters at the end is a separate and different drive concept, IIRC.

  34. I suppose the idea is that you get your ship moving in a particular direction, use the “warp field” to reduce its effective inertial mass, and it assumes a higher effective velocity to conform to conservation of momentum.

    Doesn’t actually make sense, though, because conservation of momentum conserves M*V, while conservation of energy conserves (M*V^2)/2, and in order for both to be satisfied at the same time, you’d have to either expend energy to change the speed while conserving momentum, or transfer momentum to conserve energy. You can’t avoid both at the same time and have anything change.

    A lot of the talk about “warp drives” and “boost” tends to ignore this. If warp drives work (As proposed.), you’re going to break conservation of momentum and/or conservation of energy. Of course reactionless drives have the same sort of problem.

    A lot of people just want this stuff to work so much that they avert their gaze from fundamental conservation laws and their implications.

  35. “In 2018, University of Rochester researchers have succeeded in creating negative mass particles in an atomically thin semiconductor”

    Please don’t do this sort of thing, Brian. People have enough of a tendency to confuse quasi-particles with real ones, it shouldn’t be encouraged.

    Just because you can set up conditions within some object so that some unrelated phenomenon is coaxed into simulating the presence of negative mass particles, doesn’t mean that you have actually created negative mass particles. It’s just setting up a clever analog computation.

  36. Can someone help me understand that combination of a weak warp & classical propulsion, they say reduces the mass of the craft… If I recall correctly, the momentum imparted to the crafy by the reaction mass is m * v. For one, wouldn’t the reaction mass of the rocket exhaust correspondingly be reduced, negating the advantage of reduced spacecraft mass? And then I can’t figure out how that expelled reaction mass interacts with the warp bubble, would the spacecraft moving inside the bubble’s frame of ref. by means of reactive propulsion cause the whole bubble to move in the outside universe’s frame or just destabilize the bubble? Would the reaction mass need to pass through the bubble boundary to achieve thrust in the outside frame, is that feasible?
    Sorry for the silly questions, it’s been years since my last physics book 🙂

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