It’s very easy to say that something is “impossible” when talking about technologies that appear to be more at home in science fiction storylines. And when it comes to warp drives — the staple of Star Trek propulsion systems — there’s no shortage of critics.

Being critical of advanced concepts is no bad thing, however. Indeed, it is a very healthy part of the scientific process, but singling out the impracticalities of faster than light-speed travel could be considered to be a little premature to say the least.

Yesterday, I wrote an article about William Edelstein’s concern that a warpship could vaporize when traveling close to the speed of light. Let’s face it, it doesn’t sound good when a scientist points out that the ambient gas between the stars could turn into “death rays” with as much energy as a beam of protons in the Large Hadron Collider operating at full pelt.

To counter this argument, advanced propulsion expert Richard Obousy is concerned that citing problems with a theoretical futuristic warp drive is a little shortsighted at best. At worst, it could distract from these advanced theories ever being tested.

The warpship concept

“Of course, a warp drive is a purely theoretical device at this stage, and no evidence exists that indicates that a warp drive could actually be built,” Dr. Obousy told Discovery News. “There are, however, some research papers which lay down a mathematical and physical framework for how such a device might function, given the convenient caveat of a ‘sufficiently advanced technology.’”

In June 2009, Dr. Obousy gave Discovery News an exclusive look at his “warpship” concept (a piece of ‘sufficiently advanced technology’ itself), a spaceship that could generate its own warp “bubble,” compressing spacetime in the front of the vehicle and expanding it from the rear.

Inside the bubble would be a region of “stationary” spacetime. The warpship would carry this region of spacetime with it, allowing the vehicle to zip around the universe at unlimited velocities.

However, as highlighted in our interview, he pointed out that the warpship, although physically accurate, only operated according to our current assumptions of the nature of our universe.

For example, to warp spacetime, the warp drive would need to manipulate the “dark energy” that is theorized to pervade all space. (This mystery force must be there if we are to explain the accelerated expansion of the universe.) Also, microscopic extra dimensions as predicted by superstring theory would need to exist.

Assuming these theories stand the test of time, then perhaps Obousy’s warp drive could be a reality in the distant future.

Manipulating dark energy to warp spacetime

Addressing Edelstein’s concern about warpships converting interstellar gas into deadly radiation, irradiating our future interstellar travelers, Obousy presents a novel solution as to how this problem could be mitigated.

“I’m fairly sure some kind of shielding would be required [when traveling at warp speed],” he said. “I’m quite interested in doing some more research into the ‘cloaking device’ that’s been in the news recently using metamaterials that bend radiation around objects. I don’t know enough about this field yet, but it’s an obvious place to start.”

Using metamaterials on the hull of our futuristic spaceships could conceivably act as a shield against electromagnetic radiation generated as a consequence of traveling faster than the speed of light. Metamaterials have some very promising characteristics that redirect photons around objects, “cloaking” them from view.

Metamaterials are a technology that’s being developed now, having been used in the lab to simulate the properties of black holes and to improve ultrasound techniques.

As Obousy suggests, perhaps the voracious energy predicted by Edelstein could be deflected by metamaterials. But this is just one solution to this scenario; who knows what other ‘sufficiently advanced technologies’ we’ll have should warp drive propulsion become a reality?

It’s apparent to me that a lot of people seem to want to prove why a technology is