FTL Drive: Questions Answered

Good morning and welcome to Global News.

With the return of our first interstellar FTL probes to the Sol System, and the discovery of several worlds suitable to colonization, Space Fever is gripping Earth. According to statistics, the volunteer rate for off-planet emigration has jumped by some 17,000 percent. Seven-teen-thousand. This number alone proves that the public now firmly sees the future of the human race among the stars.

With me is Mr. John Jones of the Colonial Authority, and we will be discussing some questions our viewers have been asking us lately. Mr. Jones, thank you for joining us.

Jones: It’s my pleasure.

Host: Mr Jones, can you give us a quick rundown of what projects we can expect as our next steps into space?

Jones: Certainly. As you know, we are about to launch our first manned expedition to Alpha Centauri in August. The ship was just christened three days ago. The Columbia was named after command module of the Apollo 11 mission – the first spaceship to carry humans that would land on another celestial body.

Host: Some say that this name is unfairly nationalistic considering the mission is clearly an international effort, and run by the Colonial Authority.

Jones: The name for the ship was chosen exclusively for historic significance, but Columbia is not just the personification of the United States, it stands for all of the Americas. However, let me add a personal remark. The United States carried 40% of the Authority’s budget until recently, and funded the Hyperdrive project almost exclusively until we worked out a first prototype. Without this money, we probably would not have a hyperdrive now. I think that is something to be thankful for, and thus playing politics with the naming of a spaceship should really not be our concern as we look into that bright future ahead of us.

Host: Indeed, indeed. The hyperdrive is based on whole new physics and allows us to travel faster than the speed of light, something most people didn’t think was actually possible. In layman’s terms, could you give us an overview of how that works?

Jones: It’s actually based on theories we had for over two hundred years. Back in the late 20th Century, physicists working in Cosmology came up with something called String Theory. To work, they needed to assume that there were 10 dimensions; nine spatial plus time. Eventually, they discovered that an 11th dimension was needed to make the theory work. This became known as Edward Witten’s M-Theory. What is most relevant for our purposes is that it assumes an 11-dimensions multiverse.

It is impossible for us to ever travel to any of those other universes that we know exist. They have radically different laws of nature, and even if we could travel there we’d instantly cease to exist. But what we can do, and use the hyperdrive for, is to slip in between those universes – basically travel through the structure of the multiverse itself in a bubble of spacetime with our own physical laws.

Host: So instead of going to an alternate universe, we stop half-way there?

Jones: Precisely. We do not actually travel faster than light. We cheat – we take a shortcut. And there’s another thing: Accelerating a mass to the speed of light takes a large amount of energy. Because we cheat, we get away expending much less energy – and no reaction mass at all. This is probably even more significant than breaking the light barrier. It also enables us to efficiently travel inside a system, within certain limits.

Host: What limits are those?

Jones: You can’t get too close to a gravity well within Hyperspace. Roughly, gravity leaks out of our universe and into the multiverse – it’s the reason gravity is so weak, much of its energy gets “lost” outside our universe. If your ship smashes into a gravity well of sufficient strength, it gets ripped apart. So you still have to travel conventionally to approach a planet, but you get to avoid the months and months of travel in between.

Host: How fast and far can a ship travel with Hyperdrive propulsion?

Jones: Speed depends on local gravity, so it’s slower in a system than interstellar space. Currently, state-of-the art technology logs thirty days to the light year – twelve times light speed. So a trip to Alpha Centauri takes over four months.

Host: Long trip.

Jones: Long trip, but that used to get us to Mars. And it took Columbus a month to get to the New World. Even so, the technology will mature. Current predictions say that 100 times light speed is feasible. That would cut that same trip down to three weeks. And that’s probably not the end to it. The real limit seems to be distance.

Host: Distance?

Jones: Distance. This is one aspect of hyperdrive technology we do not understand, but experiments have showed that there is a hard limit of 7.7 light years that a ship can travel in hyperspace. A charge builds up on the drive coils, and at 7.7 light years it begins to break down the coils into subatomic particles – you can imagine that this unleashes enough energy to rip the ship apart. Unfortunately, we can’t get rid of that charge except in a gravity well. We really do not understand why this happens, it’s a property of Hyperspace the theories do not predict. So you see how young that field really is.

Host: Surely we can work that out eventually.

Jones: Naturally, we always do. In the meantime it means a ship can only travel to another star system if it’s within 7.7 light years of the ship’s current position, because it needs a gravity well at the destination. Until we find a solution to that problem this organizes space into “lanes” or “arms”, and it means some systems will be cut off forever for us.

Host: So how far can we go?

Jones: We do not have very reliable star data for great distances. We can definitely get out of a 100 light year radius at several points, so it’s likely we’ll be able to access most of the Milky Way, even if we can’t visit all systems. A trip outside that 100 light years sphere is going to take decades at current travel speeds, so we have a lot of time to improve our drive technology and hyperdrive theory.

Host: Thank you Mr Jones. We will take a break here and return later, when we continue our interview with John Jones of the Colonial Authority to talk about the near future of interstellar colonialism and about the renewed interest in SETI.

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