Travelling faster than the speed of light using warp engines may still not be a reality, but definitely has made the move from science fiction to real scientific research. Although still in the experimental stage, NASA engineer and physicist Harold White is working on a potentially ground-breaking idea based on the Alcubierre drive which can allow space travel faster than the speed of light.
The idea now has visuals behind it, Mark Rademaker who has teamed up with White has created the blueprint for the "warp ship". The prototype is called the IXS Enterprise.
"We wanted to have a decent image of a theory conforming Warp ship to motivate young people to pursue a STEM career," Rademaker wrote to Washington Post. "It does have some Sci-Fi features that might never transfer to a possible final design, unless we really want to."
The idea behind this "warp ship" is to travel to interstellar space in in the short timespan of weeks and not lifetimes. The science that makes it possible lies in exploiting a "loophole" in Albert Einstein's theory of relativity which allows travel faster than the speed of light by expanding space-time behind the object and contracting space-time front of it. Io9 report explains:
"Essentially, the empty space behind a starship would be made to expand rapidly, pushing the craft in a forward direction — passengers would perceive it as movement despite the complete lack of acceleration.
White speculates that such a drive could result in "speeds" that could take a spacecraft to Alpha Centauri in a mere two weeks — even though the system is 4.3 light-years away."
White has managed to make all of this possible using lesser energy by using large rings to surround the "warp ship" which helps warp space-time around the spacecraft making it more efficient than what was originally proposed by Miguel Alcubierre.
"The rings are most important as they will form the Warp bubble," Rademaker told Washington Post in an e-mail. "The way they are designed now will reduce the energy requirement needed to form the bubble. (By quite a large factor.) Also we tried to fill up as much space within the rings, it's expensive to leave that open or unused"
NASA's Eagleworks Labs with White's supervision is now working to create a "proof of concept" for this idea.