Riddle Me This! Warp Drive vs. Hyperspace

In our quest to one day explore the universe, technology will surely move from the realm of science fiction into reality.  After all, cell phones share similarities with communicators from Star Trek, but what about the propulsion systems of future spacecraft?  Will spaceships use technology like Star Trek’s warp drive, or will we discover hyperspace like in Star Wars?  What is the best mode of transportation: warp drive or hyperspace?

First, we need to define what warp drive and hyperspace are.  Now, I’m not a physicist, just a fan.  No matter how much research I do, I’ll never completely understand the science behind the technology, but I’m going to do my best to define these two terms for you.

Warp drive is one method of faster-than-light propulsion.  The ship sits in a bubble of normal space as the rest of space “folds” (hence the name “warp”) to allow the ship to travel between two places at a faster rate of speed.  Think of it as a piece of paper with a dot at the top of the page and a dot at the bottom of the page: when the page is flat, there is a certain distance between the two dots; if you accordion-fold the page, the distance is significantly decreased.  In this way, a ship is able to move at a speed faster than the speed of light.

Also, instead of the ship moving extremely fast, the ship remains stationary in its bubble of space as the rest of space moves at a hyper-accelerated speed.

Hyperspace is another method in which a spacecraft can fly at a speed faster than light.  However, hyperspace works in a way very different than warp drive.  Hyperspace is an alternate region of space that co-exists with our own universe that can be used to travel faster than the speed of light.  In the Star Wars universe, hyperspace allows ships to travel extremely fast; however, travel is still constrained by the position of objects in the galaxy.  Pilots have to abide by standard hyperspace routes, otherwise they could fly straight through the middle of a star.

From our good friend Wikipedia:

Generally speaking, the idea of hyperspace relies on the existence of a separate and adjacent dimension. When activated, the hyper drive shunts the starship into this other dimension, where it can cover vast distances in an amount of time greatly reduced from the time it would take in “normal” space. Once it reaches the point in hyperspace that corresponds to its destination in real space, it re-emerges.

Map of the Star Wars galaxy

Unlike warp drive, which is basically limited to Star Trek, hyperspace tends to pop up in many more places than just Star Wars, including Stargate and Babylon 5. In fact, Star Trek uses an alternate region of space called “subspace” as a way to communicate at faster-than-light speeds, however, subspace is not used for travel.

It seems that hyperspace is faster than warp drive. In the Star Wars universe, the trip that the Millennium Falcon took from Tatooine to Alderaan (from the outer rim of the galaxy to the inner core) probably only took a few hours. Compare that to the 70+ year journey that the USS Voyager was facing for a slightly longer cross-galaxy journey.  In this way, hyperspace is superior to warp drive.

Map of the Star Trek galaxy

However, as Han Solo famously said, “hyperspace ain’t like dusting crops”.  It takes complex calculations and planning to pilot a ship through hyperspace without incident.  Warp drive is less risky, allowing ships like the USS Voyager to navigate unknown space in a nearly straight line.

Also, a theoretical warp drive has already been proposed.  The Alcubierre drive, introduced in 1994, is a way to create the “warp bubble” that allows the ship to travel through space without breaking the theory of relativity.  However, there is no known way to create a warp bubble or to dissipate it, so it only remains a hypothetical concept for now.  While we have yet to discover alternate layers of space, we have a working theory of how warp drive could possibly work.  However, this doesn’t mean that hyperspace couldn’t exist, and the idea of alternate dimensions could very well hold some truth.

So what do you think, PoP!ulation?  Will we one day possess a working warp drive?  Will we discover hyperspace?  Are we going to explore the galaxy using another form of propulsion?  Riddle me this!  Warp drive or hyperspace?


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Mary Knize, Captain Painway, "C-Pain", and formerly Mary Staggs, was Panels on Pages' May 2010 Fangirl of the Month and is a former rollergirl. When she's not busy writing, she's probably playing a video game. She also loves Wikipedia and science.

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Comments (31)

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  1. ELI says:

    The more we learn about quantum entanglement the more likely (still not very, at all) we are to end up with Stargate style stable wormholes. Of course getting the exit point to where we want it will take a while…

  2. Jason Knize says:

    I vote hyperspace….on shrooms.

  3. Nick Brammer says:

    I think Warp Drive is faster. Star Wars takes place in one galaxy, while Trek takes place in multiple galaxies. I believe Andor and the worlds around there are in Alpha Centauri.

    Also are we talking Next Gen or TOS warp speeds? Because they are two different things.

    • Mary Staggs says:

      See, that’s what I was wondering. I couldn’t really get a sense of how the two really compare. Maybe they’re closer in speed than I was originally thinking. Still, it seems to me that because of the physics of warp drive, it would be relatively slow. I mean, how much can you really bend space?

      And I’m totally throwing out TOS warp speeds. As far as I’m concerned, the warp system used from Next Gen on is the standard.

      • Nick Brammer says:

        If it’s Next Gen speeds, we need to figure out how parsecs compare to lightyears, and go from there lol.

        I really like this article because it is something that if we get the info we can actually scientifically test. Kudos Mary.

        • ELI says:

          1 Parsec = 3.26163626 light years

          Unfortunately neither universe is so dedicated to accuracy that they don’t travel at the speed of plot.

          • Jason Kerouac says:

            This is fun:

            “In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, a boastful Han Solo claims that his spaceship made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs. This is odd because he says parsec like it is a unit of time, but it really is a unit of distance.

            The thing to keep in mind about Solo’s claim of doing the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs is that the Kessel Run is through the Maw. Event Horizons around black holes are dependent on the speed at which you are traveling. A standard ship has to do the run in 18 parsecs because to cut the route any closer, the ship would get sucked in. The Falcon, however, is fast enough to straighten the route and cut over 6 parsecs off the distance traveled. This makes sense, since the Falcon’s hyperdrive is often rated as a x0.5 faster than a x1 standard (i.e. hyperspeed x1.5), potentially making it 50% faster than standard ships. While this argument may all be after-the-fact justification for an actual scriptwriting error, the logic does hold, although Solo could have just been boasting to his potential clients. “

            • summoner2100 says:

              Let me correct a couple of points here:

              1. Star Trek does take place in a single galaxy. It is all inside our Milky Way. Split into the four quadrants. From memory, I believe Star Wars was the same too.

              2. Star Trek is actually the faster speed of the two. The Millenium Falcon is the fastest ship in the galaxy – and during episode 4 – Han states that he’s proud of the fact that it will make point five past lightspeed.
              This would put the fastest travel in Star Wars at just over Warp Factor One.

              The only reason that the Falcon can make journeys quickly, is due to plot restrictions. The length of the movie restricts what they can do.

              Whether or not this is a bad thing, but even with the Clone Wars series doing the same passage of time. It is because they were stuck to using the same as what they used previously in the movies.

              • Warf jr says:

                point 5 get a life.

                • summoner2100 says:

                  Ok, first of all. Learn to count! I put TWO, how did you get to point 5?? Learn to count!

                  Second, it is a discussion you moron! Don’t have a go at me for putting in my thoughts. That’s what a discussion is!

                  • Jason Kerouac says:

                    And so it begins… kids… play nice or don’t play at all. Warf Jr… it’s “Worf” first of all, and second, don’t come to a nerd culture website and insult someone for being a nerd. And fifth of all, Summoner2100, no name calling. I know “He started it!” but still, rise above, good sir. I’d hate to have to start banning IPs just cause we can’t be civil.

                    • summoner2100 says:

                      Ok, point taken. I shouldn’t have succumbed. Sorry, I’ll think about the post before posting next time. 🙂

              • jb33sva says:

                Wrong. The Falcon has a hyperdrive, like any Star Wars interstellar ship. Once the ship enters hyperspace the alternate dimension has physics quite different from the physics of real space allowing you to break the law of nothing traveling faster than the speed of light. The falcon can fly at 0.4 past lightspeed while in real space, and when flying at the same speed while in hyperspace, it can traverse great distances in insanely short amount of time.

    • jb33sva says:

      Nope, warp drive is considerably slower than hyperdrive. It’s only one galaxy in either of the two franchises, both galaxies are pretty much the same size. In Star Trek it would take hundreds of years to travel between the furthest points in the Milky Way Galaxy, where as in the Star Wars Galaxy it would take at most, a day or so. Alpha Centauri is a star system within the Milky Way Galaxy and not another Galaxy itself. It’s actually quite close as interstellar distances go. Intergalactic travel in both star trek and star wars is just as impossible in their respective universes as it is ours.

  4. Jason Kerouac says:

    To me, the most likely answer is something halfway between the two, something like what Eli’s saying (I think).

    I don’t know enough about what we know as a people to think we’d ever find another dimension per se. But I also feel like the specifics of warp technology would never work.

    That being said, the ability to “pinch” space and create a bridge between the two pinch points seems the most likely to me. It means we’d have to find a different way to comprehend spatial relations and find a shorter distance between two points than a straight line (or, conversely, prove that the way we travel is NOT a straight line). Basically, it would be a combination of the two theories. We’d be warping space and navigating a path through that warp effect.

    I’d like to thank you, Mary, for making our site a little nerdier with this RMT =D

  5. DOUG says:

    Of all the methods Star Trek’s Warp Drive is the more accurate. The Article misstated when they said subspace was not used for travel.

    Star Trek’s method of travel works like this.

    Using Anti-Matter (protons have a negative charge instead of positive) and matter to create a powerful reaction, plasma is created and focused by a set of crystals (called Di-lithium in the show). The “Warp Plasma” is directed to the Warp Nacelles and fed through a set of Electromagnetic Field Coils. The Coils are made of a substance called Cortinide which is a special Cobalt/Iron alloy. The The coils focused the ionized gas (plasma) and create a Subspace field.

    The field unlike a gravitational field actually lowers the apparent mass of the vessel. When the field lowers the mass enough that it is lower than a photon it achieves Warp Factor 1 which is the speed of light. (The factor for light speed is represented by the letter c.)

    Instead of a gravity well the Subspace Warp Drive creates a spacial wave and the ship sits on top of it. The taller the subspace wave the higher the speed of light is. At Warp factor 9 the relative velocity of light (C) is 465,000,000 miles per second instead of 186,000 miles per second. The ship actually has a negative mass and the more negative the mass the higher he speed of light is.

    In this way the ship never exceeds light speed, within the warp bubble light is faster.

    • DOUG says:

      The technical term for nerd is “future billionaire”

      I am taking applications for Supermodel concubines….

  6. Lee says:

    Either one works for me, however the Warp drive, or something similar, seems more likely.

    Keep in mind that two hundred years ago Skype would have seemed “Impossible”. A hundred years ago space flight was thought to be “impossible”.

    Who knows?

  7. Chuck says:

    I agree with Doug, warp drive would be more practical, and we could probably achieve it sooner than hyper drive.

  8. Pedro says:

    What about both? warp inside hyperspace? why can’t you fold hyperspace? I’m being too heretical? Btw, I like the Babylon 5 idea of hyperspace.

    • Rapier says:

      Actually, this was the idea behind the “Transwarp Drive” that Captain Styles of the Excelsior was bragging about in Star Trek 3. Even after Scott’s sabotage was repaired the technology was never viable

    • Icknael says:

      Fusing the drives together may be impossible, I personally prefer to have least an emergency FTL system in case my primary fails or can’t be used so I have a secondary FTL drive that works on different principles. Hyper drive vs warp drive, i say primary should be the faster drive but have the other drive as secondary. And as long as our future starships don’t look like Star Trek or stargate ships I don’t care.

  9. omnimoeish says:

    Finding a way to adjust your mass to be negative seems pretty outlandish, but much more likely then somehow being able to pinch space or moving temporarily into another dimension like hyperspace. The energy needed to do that would take probably every bit of energy in the galaxy. We know that tachyons move faster than light due to their negative mass so it’s possible if just found out how to do it. Unfortunately I don’t know if we are even close to finding anything that could do that.

    • grazr says:

      I know this post was made 8 months ago but i felt inclined to add to your hypothesis regarding energy usage. Star ships usage “deflector arrays” to deflect micro-meteors and space dust, etc so that it doesn’t take kinetic damage from small obstacles during flight.

      I remember doing some work on physics back in college and our tutor went over a calculation that anticipated the amount of energy required to deflect a single atom at FTL speeds exceeded the ‘out put’ in relation to its mass. I don’t recall exact figures, but a vessel the size and mass of the USS Enterprise would require the equivilant energy of a billion stars in that split second alone to directly deflect it.

      But perhaps merely bending space will cause vector changes in space that naturally deflects obstacles rather than applying a direct force.

  10. Paul Morgan says:

    Warp drive is probably easier to achieve based on what Earthlings know. And Star Wars takes place in a different galaxy which based on the maps shown here, appears to be smaller than the Milky Way. I say that because the core looks a lot larger in comparison to the rest of the galaxy, which probably means it is more condensed, rather than spread out like the MW.

    • Ryan Stredny says:

      True, that is a good observation. However, the size of one galaxy to the next is irrelevant because space-time must be assumed to remain constant throughout the universe.

      * So, I have to agree with you and Summoner that Warp drive speed is the faster.

  11. Galiant says:

    Ok, so what if subspace, for which hyperdrives are required, are somehow based around a natural curve of gravity, dark matter or something along those lines. Like the layers we have that make up the earth, e.g. core, mantle, crust. After all, if it is “sub”space what are we getting deeper towards, and what does that mean exactly? And this is also assuming that we can drop in and out of subspace instantly like in Star Wars, with no traveling time to go “up and down”. so I will hypothesize that there is an ultimate core to subspace, and that the deeper we go the less distance we will have to travel to reach the destination, which cuts down on time, right?

    Now take warp drives. The basic principle that I understand is that it is effectively folding space and time to make your start and end points closer together. So the ultimate warp drive could possibly be labeled a wormhole, like in Stargate, because the ultimate folding of all that space would be to have the two points right next to each other. Now I believe that even in Star Trek their warp drives arent sophisticated enough to achieve that, but instead they can fold space accordion style enough to drastically cut down the distance. And the way I see it, each new factor of Warp speed is increasing how many folds there are, ultimately bringing the two points closer and closer, cutting down on travel time.

    Lets say that for some reason folding space-time to make a man-made wormhole is physically impossible. The true winner of this debate would be variable depending on how many folds/how deep in subspace we can go. And it would also depend on what speeds we could achieve while traveling in these shortcuts (with limitations being arbitrary but necessary to my POV to account for unknown variables). E.g. Using arbitrary numbers to get my point across, lets say that warp drive can cut the distance in half traveling at a “superfast” speed of 1, whereas going through subspace only cuts the distance down to 3/4 but we can achieve a speed of 2… its 50% more distance but at twice the “speed”, which means its technically more time efficient.

    Those are my thoughts on which of the two would be better, though if man-made wormholes are physically possible, then that would ultimately win, of course. lol Unless…. sudden thought… if you could get so deep in subspace to basically reach the very center (barring any cosmic disasters that could occur lol) it would be a simple “step” to reach wherever your destination is. Much like in the US, the four corner states. From a birds eye view, the intersection is like the deepest part of subspace. If you are 25 miles away (in normal space) from that point and had to travel in a perfect arc (representing real space) that would eventually lead back to where you started, it would take some time to get to another one of the four states. But if you could get to that deepest point of subspace, aka the intersection of states, all you need to do is take a step into the state you want to be in… a sort of subspace wormhole?

  12. Shawn says:

    Star Wars hyperspace may be much slower than Star Trek’s warp drive, but Stargate’s hyperspace travel is MUCH faster and then there is always Andromeda’s slipstream.

  13. jay says:

    Why bother with either of them when you can fold space and instantly travel across any distance? Forget visiting the other side of our galaxy, with that technology the star trek folks may be able to visit the star wars galaxy however far far away it is.

  14. Kevin wood says:

    Remember in the multiverse all of this already exist.
    Might just be science fiction to this verse.

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