I am cynical about a report on Gizmodo that NASA is developing Warp Drive. This was trending on Google Plus tonight and gathering a bit of attention.


Working at NASA Eagleworks—a skunkworks operation deep at NASA's Johnson Space Center—Dr. White's team is trying to find proof of those loopholes. They have "initiated an interferometer test bed that will try to generate and detect a microscopic instance of a little warp bubble" using an instrument called the White-Juday Warp Field Interferometer....

By creating one of these warp bubbles, the spaceship's engine will compress the space ahead and expand the space behind, moving it to another place without actually moving, and carrying none of the adverse effects of other travel methods. According to Dr. White, "by harnessing the physics of cosmic inflation, future spaceships crafted to satisfy the laws of these mathematical equations may actually be able to get somewhere unthinkably fast—and without adverse effects."

He says that, if everything is confirmed in these practical experiments, we would be able to create an engine that will get us to Alpha Centauri "in two weeks as measured by clocks here on Earth." The time will be the same in the spaceship and on Earth, he claims, and there will not be "tidal forces inside the bubble, no undue issues, and the proper acceleration is zero. When you turn the field on, everybody doesn't go slamming against the bulkhead, which would be a very short and sad trip."

Warp drive seems a bit speculative compared to the vast list of more practical projects NASA could or does sponsor. Is NASA devoting serious resources to such a project? Could these project reports perhaps be a wee bit exaggerated?

After all, as Scotty would say: "Ye cannae change the laws of physics."

EDIT: See also Slate's article, Warp Speed? Not so fast.


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Dr. White is a member of Icarus Interstellar, "a nonprofit foundation dedicated to achieving interstellar flight by 2100":

Dr. White holds a Ph.D. in Physics from Rice University, a Master’s of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Wichita State University, and a Bachelors of Science in Mechanical Engineering from University of South Alabama. Dr. White has accumulated over 15 years of experience working in the aerospace industry with Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and NASA. He currently serves as the Advanced Propulsion Theme Lead for the NASA Engineering Directorate and is the JSC representative to the Nuclear Systems Working Group. In his role, Dr. White is serving to help the Agency incorporate high TRL advanced power and propulsion technologies into near and mid-term human exploration architectures. He is also pursuing theoretical and laboratory research on developing lower TRL advanced propulsion and power technologies in the advanced propulsion physics laboratory known as Eagleworks that is located at the Johnson Space Center. Over the past 15 years, Dr. White has worked with members of academia, industry, and government to further grow this area of research resulting in many published papers, presentations, development and study of physics models, engineering tools, and the implementation and execution of multiple high fidelity experimental efforts.

*TRL = Technology Readiness Level

According to this paper (PDF), the "Eagleworks" lab for "Advanced Propulsion Physics Research" has been created to

pursue propulsion technologies necessary to enable human exploration of the solar system over the next 50 years, and enabling interstellar spaceflight by the end of the century. This work directly supports the "Breakthrough Propulsion" objectives detailed in the NASA OCT TA02 In-space Propulsion Roadmap, and aligns with the #10 Top Technical Challenge identified in the report".

In a paper titled "Warp Field Mechanics 101" (PDF), Dr.White explains the theoretical basis for the "White-Juday Warp Field Interferometer". The abstract reads as follows:

This paper will begin with a short review of the Alcubierre warp drive metric and describes how the phenomenon might work based on the original paper. The canonical form of the metric was developed and published in [6] which provided key insight into the field potential and boost for the field which remedied a critical paradox in the original Alcubierre concept of operations. A modified concept of operations based on the canonical form of the metric that remedies the paradox is presented and discussed. The idea of a warp drive in higher dimensional space-time (manifold) will then be briefly considered by comparing the null-like geodesics of the Alcubierre metric to the Chung-Freese metric to illustrate the mathematical role of hyperspace coordinates. The net effect of using a warp drive “technology” coupled with conventional propulsion systems on an exploration mission will be discussed using the nomenclature of early mission planning. Finally, an overview of the warp field interferometer test bed being implemented in the Advanced Propulsion Physics Laboratory: Eagleworks (APPL:E) at the Johnson Space Center will be detailed. While warp field mechanics has not had a “Chicago Pile” moment, the tools necessary to detect a modest instance of the phenomenon are near at hand.

Lastly, the efforts of the Eagleworks labs are recognised in the July edition of a periodical titled Roundup (PDF) released by the Johnson Space Center:

“The math would allow you to go to Alpha Centauri in two weeks as measured by clocks here on Earth,” White said. “So somebody’s clock onboard the spacecraft has the same rate of time as somebody in mission control here in Houston might have. There are no tidal forces, no undue issues, and the proper acceleration is zero. When you turn the field on, everybody doesn’t go slamming against the bulkhead, (which) would be a very short and sad trip.”

When you think space warp, imagine raisins baking in bread.

“When you put dough in a pan there’s little raisins in the bread. As you cook the bread, the bread rises and those raisins move relative to one another,” White said. “That’s the concept of inflation in a terrestrial perspective, except in astrophysics it’s just the actual physical space itself that’s changing characteristics.”

So, yes, the research has official status and an entire laboratory has been formed for such initiatives at the Johnson Space Center.

  • Note that, as far as I can tell, this is still all theory until it can be tested out -- but apparently the science seems promising enough to warrant the resources a test is going to take. Commented Apr 13, 2014 at 14:15
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    It's been a few months since I looked into this, but yes, this guy is a legitimate PhD looking into warp drive with a small group at NASA. With that being said, very little of what they are putting out is being peer reviewed. Instead, when I last checked they were putting a lot of their results directly to some internet forums. This raised some serious red flags. Some of their early results that they published were not well received by the scientific community. So I would interpret many internet sources such as gizmodo as...overly optimistic about this stuff.
    – KAI
    Commented Dec 15, 2015 at 19:46

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