From Star Trek Online Geekipedia
A warp factor is a unit of velocity achieved by forming a bubble around a starship that allows a starship to travel faster than the speed of light, or faster than light (FTL). Without this bubble the Theory of Relativity, which states nothing can move faster than the speed of light, would take effect rendering anything that approaches the speed of light to effectively stop. Warp speeds do not, in essence, actually move the object faster than the speed of light, but actually warp space in such a way that time and distance are shortened dramatically. This creates a bubble around the object that is left in real time while the space in front of the object shrinks and the space behind the object expands, thus the universe itself is moving while the object in question is staying still, relatively speaking.
Warp factors are not a uniformly increases in speed either. Warp factors represent an ever increasing number in multipliers of the speed of light, where warp factor one is equal to the speed of light while warp factor five is equal to 214 times the speed of light. This number exponentially grows by each factor or decimal there of, however, the warp barrier is warp factor ten. Achieving warp ten is a theoretical impossibility as warp ten by all the mathematical numbers state that the speed is infinite allowing an object going so fast to be everywhere and anywhere at once and instantly.
- There is one recorded incident of a ship achieving warp factor ten on stardate 49373.4. However, the findings of that incident have been classified and official reports state that any future attempts to achieve such a warp factor are to be discontinued due to issues and concerns raised by the event.
...the warp scaling snafu
One thing many people will bring up is the disparity of warp speeds from The Original Series and the early episodes of The Next Generation. The warp scale has actually changed multiple times in Star Trek. In The Original Series, the warp scale was actually an exponential increase in speed based on the warp value at hand. The exact figure was the warp value to the second power in fact. Thus Warp 1 is 1 times the speed of light, while warp 5 is 25 times the speed of light and warp 10 is 100 times the speed of light. So anyone that quotes the episodes where in The Original Series the Enterprise went up to Warp 15 will probably be disappointed to learn the Enterprise was only moving at 225 times the speed of light, or the equivalent of warp factor 5 in late TNG era Star Trek. Thus the new movie with the top warp of the Enterprise being Warp Factor 4 and Warp 5 is pushing their luck, is actually quite accurate to The Original Series.
In The Next Generation, the early seasons had the Enterprise going over warp ten on a few occassions. The warp scale had been retooled, but it still wasn't where the final warp scale is today. There still wasn't a view of Warp 10 equals infinite speed. Thus, when it comes to older episodes discussing warp speed values, take those values with a grain of salt. When the warp scale is taken into account what was used in Voyager and Enterprise and the new movie is the accurate warp scale today. See, JJ and crew did their homework after all.
Most vessels have a set specific cruising speed at warp. This is a speed that is both efficient on time and fuel consumption for the vessels particular warp core. This cruise speed can vary depending on the age of the starship in question such as late 23rd century starships having a cruising speed of warp factor three while late 24th century starships have a cruising speed of warp factor seven. Though all starships have a top speed rating at a given warp factor, exceeding the cruise speed for anything short of an emergency results in more refueling of anti-matter and replacement of dilithium, and such inefficient use of Federation vessels can result in a review and removal of its captain from command if sufficient proof is not given of an officer doing nothing but wasting resources for his own personal amusement.
- On stardate 47314.5 the Federation Council issued a directive that Starfleet vessels, unless authorized by Starfleet command or an emergency dictates it, are not allowed to exceed warp factor five due to environmental concerns created by warp fields causing damage to subspace, which could result in subspace tears forming. Research went into examining warp drives that were more environmentally friendly to subspace which resulted in the variable warp nacelle design found on the Intrepid-class starship as well as the warp nacelle design on the Sovereign-class starships. Future starships are being equipped with such additions, with current starships being slowly refitted with new warp nacelle designs.
Multiple Ships and One Warp Field
Starships are capable of extending their warp fields around other targets and bring them along in the protectiveness of their own warp field. However, extending the warp bubble requires more power and thus a starship doing such a thing cuts their top warp speed down as they would not have enough power to be able to achieve it. Extending the warp bubble around a smaller ship can cut a starships maximum potential warp down by a quarter, while a starship of equal size can reduce the maximum to half, while a ship of larger size can reduce it to a third. If a ship is too large, then the warp bubble cannot potentially be extended around it for warp travel without resulting in tearing the other ship apart. In this case it would take multiple ships all synchronizing their warp fields to envelope another ship, like tug boats.
- Many instances of this taking place have been presented in Star Trek. The Enterprise-D tugging the Stargazer is one example. In Star Trek Insurrection and Star Trek Nemesis, the Enterprise-E would of had to have been towed back to a starbase as a lack of a warp core would of made warp travel impossible in Insurrection and the extent of damage to the Enterprise in Nemesis made it using it's own power impossible. An instance in the novel Star Trek: Titan Red King shows several Romulan ships extending their warp bubble around a kilometer long space station to tow it back to the Beta quadrant showing the potential of mass tug boating.
Starfleet has attempted and continues to experiment with the possibilities of transwarp drive, however such efforts have met with futility. Either because of or in spite of Captain Montgomery Scott's efforts on stardate 8210.3, the Great Experiment, as it was dubbed, met with complete and total failure when the USS Excelsior's transwarp drive was sabotaged in the theft of the USS Enterprise. Since then, efforts towards transwarp drive have not improved.
Lately, however, a new approach to transwarp has been reached and as such transwarp is once again seemingly possible thanks to research done on Borg transwarp hubs, wormholes and the slipstream device brought back from the Delta Quadrant by the USS Voyager. Essentially, what is believed is that transwarp is closer to basically just warping in subspace. Subspace speed is closest to going warp 9.9999 in warp factors, where as transwarp is essentially going at warp speeds in subspace, thus your base speed at factor one would be equivalent to warp factor 9.9999.
Transwarp hubs allow an object to connect to two points, or gates, and enter sub-space through two stable points, much like a wormhole. This creates a essentially a gate system providing a entrance and an exit with known vectors and coordinates, reducing the danger of entering subspace due to distortions making accurate calculations exceptionally difficult. Slipstream drives essentially send a ship into subspace, not requiring the use of a hub point or an exit point, however, because of precision needed to enter into subspace it is very difficult to do as the computations needed are still beyond the capabilities of most computers and pilots in the speeds required to accurately pilot through subspace otherwise the exit vector can be totally random and the subspace distortions can tear a ship apart. Research still continues into slipstream drive, and many in Starfleet are hopeful on the possibilities that slipstream may be possible soon.
- In the episode "All Good Things..." the Enterprise goes warp 13. It is the view of this author that warp 13 was not exceeding the warp barrier, but essentially a decimal factor of warp 9. Basically it would be easier to say warp 13 than saying warp 9.9999 or whatever decimal value would of been to achieve the speed stated.
Warp Factor Chart
This chart shows the FTL multiplier as well as the time it would take for a starship to travel a specific distance at specified warp factor. All factors are approximations, not exact figures.
|FTL multiplier||5 light years||20 light years||10,000 light years||Nearby Galaxy||NOTES|
|Standard Orbit||<0.00001 (9600 kph)||558,335 years||2 million years||1 billion years||223 billion years||synchronous orbit around a Class-M planet|
|Full Impulse||0.25||20 years||80 years||40,000 years||8 million years||normal maximum impulse speeds for efficiency and avoid severe effects of relativity|
|Warp Factor 1||1||5 years||20 years||10,000 years||2 million years||Warp 1 = Speed of Light|
|Warp Factor 2||10||6 months||3 years||992 years||198,425 years|
|Warp Factor 3||39||2 months||1 year||257 years||51,360 years||Cruising speed of late 23rd century vessels|
|Warp Factor 4||102||18 days||2 months||98 years||19,686 years|
|Warp Factor 5||214||9 days||1 month||47 years||9,357 years||Maximum speeds of starships without authorization or proper warp drives as of stardate 47314.5|
|Warp Factor 6||392||5 days||19 days||25 years||5,096 years||Cruising speed of mid 24th century starships|
|Warp Factor 7||656||3 days||11 days||15 years||3,048 years||Typical cruising speed of late 24th century starship designs|
|Warp Factor 8||1,024||2 days||7 days||10 years||1,953 years|
|Warp Factor 9||1,516||1 day||5 days||7 years||1,319 years|
|Warp Factor 9.2||1,816||1 day||4 days||6 years||1,101 years||normal maximum speed of Federation starships|
|Warp Factor 9.6||2,949||15 hours||3 days||4 years||678 years|
|Warp Factor 9.9||6,555||7 hours||1 day||2 years||305 years|
|Warp Factor 9.99||21,451||2 hours||8 hours||6 months||93 years|
|Warp Factor 10||<INFINITE>||0||0||0||0||Warp 10 unattainable|