Alcubierre Drive
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Basic Information

The Alcubierre Drive is a theoretical and speculative concept for a Stardrive, proposed by Physicist Miguel Alcubierre. The Technology to make such a device function is unknown, but the math explaining the end goal of such an engine exists.

The Alcubierre Drive would form a Warp Bubble around the spacecraft. It would then stretch space to move the ship. The space ahead of the ship would contract, and the space behind it would expand. The ship itself would never travel faster than light locally, but the area just outside the warp bubble would distort to make the distance shorter. There would be no Time Dilation experienced by the traveler, and also no inertial effects. It's believed that this method of travel would very much resemble the Warp Drive of Star Trek.

There are of course, several complications to make this "realistic" stardrive less perfect than we might imagine. In addition the the current technological gap that prevents us from bending space, other possible complications are:

  • Some versions of the math require Tachyons or Exotic Matter to function, neither of which has been proven to exist.
  • If there are no such materials, the only way to build a Alcubierre Drive would involve creating "rails" - that is, a series of masses in motion along the path you intend for this drive to travel. As with the Krasnikov Tube, this version of the Alcubierre Drive could not be used for your initial trip to a distant star. The first voyage would have to take place at more normal speeds, and lay the rails for later faster-than-light travel. Unlike the Krasnikov Tube, this wouldn't allow you travel back in time to before you left, the first FTL ships wouldn't be able to show up until a time at which both ends of the "track" were in place.
  • Some of the later math on this topic suggests the rails too would have to be placed at speeds faster than light. In other words, you can't build an Alcubierre Drive unless you already have a functioning Alcubierre Drive or available other form of FTL Travel. Which probably means the Alcubierre Drive can never be built. Alternately, such an FTL Railroad might be a more energy-efficient, or safer, form of FTL than other methods. So brave pioneers might travel through hyperspace to explore a distant star, and then build an Alcubierre "Rail" to facilitate later visits or supply shipments.
  • Some versions of the math take more energy (to power it up for a short trip) than is believed to exist in the universe.



Game and Story Use

  • It's possible that Exotic Matter exists in some limited (and precious) quantity in the universe. In such a case, a single Alcubierre Drive might be designed to work in two different modes. If you've got fuel and money to burn, you can use up Exotic Matter to travel freely in any direction. If you need to conserve energy, fuel, or money, however, you'll stick to the established "railways".
    • This opens up the possibility of plotlines involving various interstellar megacorps competing to build valuable tracks, a la the Transcontinental Railroad.
    • PCs would have the option of leaving the tracks in an emergency, or if they struck it rich. Most of the time, you'd stay on the rails - exceptions would be exploring, going somewhere exotic, or fearing an ambush.
    • A minor colony might be situated a short distance off a major rail. You then have three options: Burn a bunch of exotic matter to get to the rails quickly, burn even more exotic matter to ignore the rails completely, or take months or years to get to the rails without FTL.
  • Since the drive is creating a warp bubble around you, and all the space within that bubble is being transported, other things can be brought with.
    • Two ships in the same bubble could engage in combat, but with a very limited maneuvering possibilities, and maybe at what amounted to point-blank range.
      • Marooning a smaller vessel might be an option. So might ramming your bubble into them to distort their space, dilate their time, etc.
    • Space Tugboats could be built, that create a bubble large enough to surround other ships that don't have an Alcubierre Drive.
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