Starfleet Command > Technical Manuals > Starfleet > Warp Propulsion Systems

The warp propulsion system (WPS) consists of three major assemblies: the matter/antimatter reaction assemly (M/ARA), power transfer conduits (PTC) and warp engine nacelles. The total system provides energy for its primary application, propelling the starship through space, as well as providing energy for essential high-capacity systems such as the deflector shields, phaser arrays, tractor beam, main deflector and main computer.

Matter/Antimatter Reaction Assembly

The M/ARA is the heart of the WPS. It is also referred to as the warp reactor, warp engine core or main engine core. Energy produced within the core is shared between propulsion of the starship and the starship's power requirements. It is the principal power-generating system because it has an energy output a million times greater than the IPS (Impulse Propulsion System). The M/ARA has four subsystems: reactant injectors, magnetic constriction segments, matter/antimatter reaction chamber and power transfer conduits.

Reactant Injectors

The reactant injectors prepare and supply precisely controlled streams of matter and antimatter into the core. The matter reactant injector (MRI) supplies supercold deuterium from the primary deuterium tank, partially preburned. At the opposite end of the M/ARA is the antimatter reactant injector (ARI). The internal configuration of the ARI is significantly different from the MRI, due to the hazardous nature of antimatter. Every step in manipulation of antimattermust be undertaken with magnetic fields to ensure that the fuel does not touch the starship structure - if it does, a catastrophic annihilation reaction would occur.

Magnetic Constriction Segments

These constitute the central mass of the core, and work to structurally support the matter/antimatter reaction chamber (M/ARC), maintaining the proper core operating environment, and aligning the incoming matter and antimatter streams, so that they both land at the exact centre of the M/ARC. It is at this point that the reaction is mediated by the dilithium crystal, housed in an articulation frame (DCAF).

Matter/Antimatter Reaction Chamber (M/ARC)

This chamber consists of two bell-shaped cavities which contain and redirect the reaction. The chamber is 2.3 m high and has a diameter of 2.5 m. The central band of the chamber houses the DCAF. An armoured hatch allows access by crew members for crystal replacement and adjustment. The DCAF is an EM-isolated cradle, and can hold approximately 1 200 cm3 of crystal. The crystal must be manipulated with six degrees of freedome for corrrect reaction mediation.


Dilithium is the key element in the use of M/A reactions. It is the only material knwon to Federation science to be nonreactive with antimatter when subjected to a high-frequency EM field in the MW range, rendering it 'porous' to antideuterium. It permits the antimatter to pass directly through its crystalline structure without actually touching it, due to the field dynamo effect created in the added iron atoms. The longer form of the crystal name is the forced-matrix formula 2<5>6 dilithium 2<:>1 dialloscilicate 1:9:1 heptoferranide.

Power Transfer Conduits

As the warp engine is started up, the energetic plasma that is generated is split into two streams, at right-angles to the ship's centreline. The PTC are similar to the constrictor segments, in that they magnetically constrain the plasma to the centre of the conduit, and force the plasma toward the warp field nacelles by a peristaltic method. The PTC channels extend from Main Engineering, where they intercept the warp engine support pylons. The interfaces with the reaction chamber are explosive shear-plane joints that can separate within 0.08 seconds in the event that the warp core must be ejected. The joints are set during manufacture and cannot be reused.

Taps for the EPS (electroplasma system) are located at three points along the PTC: 5, 10 and 20 metres aft of the M/ARC. Taps for the PES are available in three types, depending on energy requirements. Type I accept 0.1 capacity flow for high-energy systems; Type II accept 0.01 input for experimental devices; Type III accepts relatively low-power input for energy conserversion applications.

Warp Field Nacelles

The plasma created by the M/ARC passes along the PTC and quickly arrives at the warp engine nacelles, where the active propulsion work is done. Each nacelle consists of several major assmblies, including the warp field coils (WFC), plasma injection system (PIS), emergency separation system (ESS) and maintenance docking port. The ESS would be used in the event that a catastrophic failure occurred in the PIS, or if a nacelle was damaged in combat and could not be retained without a risk to the starship.

Plasma Injection System

At the terminus of each PTC is the PIS, a series of 18 valved magnetic injectors linked to the warp engine controllers. There is one injector for each field coil, and the injectors are fired in variable sequences, depending on the warp function being performed. Control inputs and feedback are hadnled by 12 redundant links to the ODN. The injector open-close cycle is variable from 25 to 5o ns. Each firing of an injector exposes its corresponding coil to a burst of energy to be converted into the warp field. Between warp factors 1 and 4, the injectors fire at low frequencies: between 30 and 40 Hz. Between warp factors 5 and 7, the frequencies rise to between 40 and 50 Hz, and the injectors remain open for longer periods: 30 to 40 ns. At warp factors 8 to 9.9, the injector firing frequencies rise to 50 Hz, but the injector cycle time tails off, due to residual magnetic charges in the valves, potential conflict with the energy frequencies from the M/ARC and control reliability. The longest safe cycle period for high warp is generally accepted to be 53 ns.

Warp Field Coils

The energy field required to propel a starship is created by the WFC and assisted by the dynamics of the starship's hull. THe coils generate an intense, multilayered field that surrounds the starship, and it is the manipulation of the shape of this field that produces the propulsive effect through and beyond the speed of light.

The coils themselves are split toroids (doughnut-rings) positioned within the nacelles. Each half-segment measures 9.5 x 43 metres, and is constructed from a core of densified tungsten-cobalt-magnesium for structural stiffending, and embedded within a casting of electricallyl densified verterium cortenide. A complete pair measures 21 x 43 metres, with a mass of 43 475 tonnes.

When energised, the verterium cortenide within a pair of coils causes a shift of the energy frequences carried by the plasma deep into the subspace domain. The quanta of subspace field energy form at approximately one third of the distance from the inner surface of the coil to the outer surface, as the verterium cortenide causes changes in the geometry of space at the Planck scale of 3.9 x 10-35 m. The converted field energy exists the outer surface of the oil and raidates away from the nacelle. A certain amoun of field energy recombines at the coil centreline, and appears as a visible light emission.

Warp Propulsion

The propulsive effect is achieved by a number of factors together. First, the field formation is controllable in a fore-to-aft direction. As the plasma injectors fire sequentially, the warp field layers build according to the pulse frequency in the plasma, and press upon each other as previously discussed. The cumulative field layer forces reduce the apparent mass of the starship and give it the necessary velocity. The critical transition point occurs when the spacecraft appears to an outside observer to be travelling faster than c. As the warp field energy reaches 1000 millicochranes, the ship appears driven across the c boundary in less than the Planck time, 1.3 x 10-43 seconds. Warp physics ensures that the ship will never actually be at the speed of light. The three forward coils in each nacelle operate with a slight frequency offset to reinforce the field ahead of teh Bussard ramscoop and envelop the Saucer Module. This helps create the field asymmetry required to drive the ship forward.

A pair of nacelles is used to create two balanced, interacting fields to be able to maneuver the starship. In 2269, experiments using single nacelles and ships with more than two nacelles (Avidyne engines had four nacelles, such as in the U.S.S. Stargazer) yielded quick confirmation that two was the optimum number of nacelles for power generation and starship control.

Antimatter Storage and Transfer

Since its discovery in the 1930s, the concept of a form of matter with the same mass but reversed charge and spin has intruiged scientists and engineers as a means to generate enormous amounts of energy, for use as a method of propulsion. When, for example, and electron and positron (antielectron) are near each other, they annihilate each other, yielding energy in the form of gamma radiation. Spacecraft engineers were particularly interested in the results achieved in reacting deuterium (an isotope of hydrogen) and antideuterium. However, the only acceptable to contain antimatter is using magnetic fields, as if the antimatter comes into contact with normal matter, they will annihilate each other.

As used aboard Starfleet vessels, antimatter is first generated at major Starfleet fueling facilities by solar-fusion charge reversal devices, which process proton and neutron beams into antideuterons, and are joined by a positron beam accelerator to produce antideuterium. Even with the added solar dynamo input, there is a 24% net energy loss, but Starfleet has deemed this acceptable for deep space missions.

Surrounding the antimatter loading port on Deck 42 are thirty antimatter storage pods, each measuring 4 x 8 metres, constructed of polyduranium, with an inner magnetic field layer of ferric quonium. Each pod contains a maximum of 100 cubic metres of antimatter, giving a starship with 30 pods 3000 cubic metres, enough for a normal mission duration of about three years.

In the event of loss of magnetic containment, this assembly can be ejected by microfusion initiators at a velocity of 30 m/sec, pushing it clear of the ship before the fields decary and the antimatter has had a chance to react with the walls of the pod. Refuelling while in interstellar space is possible through Starfleet tanker craft. Tankers run considerable risks, not so much from hardware problems, but because refined antimatter is a vaulable commodity, and vunerable to attack by threat forces.

WPS Fuel Supply

The fuel supply for the WPS is contained in the PDT (Primary Deuterium Tank), which also feeds the IPS. It is normally loaded with slush deuterium at a temperature of 13.8 K (-259 °C). The total internal volume, which is compartmentalised against losses due to structural damage is 63 200 cubic metres, but the normal deuterium load is only 62 5oo cubic metres. As with the volume of antimatter loaded, this volume of deuterium is expected to last about three years.

In the event that a deuterium tanker cannot reach a Starfleet vessel, starships have the capability to pull low-grade matter in from space using a series of specialised high-eneregy magnetic coils known as the Bussard Ramscoop. Named for the twentieth century physicist and mathematician Robert W. Bussard, the ramscoop emanates a magnetic field shaped to attract and compress gas found within the galaxy. From this gas, which has an average density of one atom per cubic centimetre, small amounts of deuterium may be distilled. At high relativisti speeds, this gas acuumulation can be appreciable, although travel at this speed is not reccommended for long periods due to time-dilation effects, as discussed earlier. While at warp speed, however, extended supplies can be gathered. Although antimatter cannot be gathered from space in this manner, there exists onboard a method to generate tiny amounts of antimatter.

Antimatter Generation

There exists the ability to generate relativelly small amounts of antimatter during potential emergency situations. THe process is incredibly power and matter intensive, and may not be advantageous under all operating conditiosn, but it may provide critical fuel supplies in an emergency situation. The generator measures 7.6 x 13.7 metres, and masses 1 400 tonnes - it is one of the heaviest components, second only to the warp field coils. This is necessary to produce the power amplification required to hold collections of subatomic particles, reverse their charges and spins and collect the antimatter for storage in nearby antimatter pods.

Engineering Operations and Safety

All WPS hardware is maintained according to Starfleet mean time between failures (MTBF) monitoring and changeout shedules. Owing to the high usage rate of the M/ARA, al of its main components have been designed for maximum reliability and high MTBF values. Standard in-flight maintenance is not possible on the PTCs and the core, which can only be serviced at a Starfleet yard or starbase equipped for Class 5 engineering repairs.

While the WPS is shut down, the matter and antimatter injectors can be entered by crew members for component inspection and replacement. Within the warp engine nacelles, most sensors hard ware and control hardlines are accessible for inspections and replacement. With the core shut down and plasma vented overboard, the interior of the warp coils is acceeibls by crew members and remote devices.

Emergency Shutdown Procedures

Operational safety in running the WPS is strictly observed. Limits in power levels and running times at overloaded levels could easily be reached and exceeded. The system is protewcted by computer intervention. Starfleet human-factors exdperts desinged the WPS software to make overprotective decisions in the matter of the health of the warp engine. Command overrides are possible at reduced action levels, but not at alert status. The normal shutdown of the WPS involves valving off the plasma to the field coils, closing reactant injectors and venting remaining gases overboard (the IPS would continue to provide power for the starship). A cold shutdown condition can be reached in under ten minutes.

Catastrphic Emergency Procedures

Undewr certain conditions, the WPS may sustain various degrees of damage, usually from external sources. Complete irreparable failure of one or more WPS omponents constitutes a catastrophic failire. Standard procedures for dealing with major damage applyl to WPS destruction and include but are not limited to safing any systems that pose a potential threat to the rest of the vessel, asessing PWS damage and damage to ship structures and systems, and sealing hull breaches and other areas of the ship that are no longer inhabitable. In some cases, damaged hardware is jettisoned, although security considerations require the retention of the equipment whenever possible. In the event that all normal emergency procedures fail to contain massive WPS damage, including a multilayer safety forcefield around the core, two final actions are possible. Both involve ejection of the core, with the added possibility of ejection of the antimatter pod assemblies as well. The first option is deliberate manual activation, and the second is automatic computer activation.


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