I will do my best here to give a basic primer on warp drives, by allegory.

This is all for ST-OM take this or leave it as pleases you.

The Metaphor

Warp Drives do not line up allegorically with Internal Combustion engines. But they do line up very well with old fashioned ocean going steam engines.

The reason for this? Well TOS was remarkably unclear about how the Warp Drive worked. But the writers had some prior examples to work from and so they worked what they had.

When Star Trek the Motion Picture came out, this allegory to ocean going steam engines mixed with the work of Robert Forward to make a reasonably clear if very fictional plan for a warp drive.

Steam Engine

The basic parts of the steam engine are:

  • The Fire Box - This is where wood and coal are burned to draw out the heat.
  • The Boiler - This is where the heat from the fire box goes to boil the water to create steam.
  • The Engine - Be it a reciprocating pistons or a turbine, the steam exits the boiler and goes to the system that allows the hot steam to be converted into mechanical rotary motion.
  • The Prop - The mechanical rotary motion turns a propeller that pushes the water and the ship moves forward.

Bdda-bing there's your steam engine. There are lots of subsidiary complications designed to make it work well

Warp Drive

Okay in a warp drive we have a similar set up

  • The Matter/Anti-Matter reaction is the fire box. Energy comes from the annihilation of M/A-M
  • The warp core is the boiler. Deuterium, which is flash boiled to plasma is the steam
  • The plasma conduits are the steam pipes which take the steam where it needs to go to do it's job.
  • The Warp coils are the pistons/props. Each needs to be filled with it's share of steam, and then exhaust the steam in order to function as desired

Warp coils are large donuts of mystery metals and strange alloys which use the energy that the plasma give them to create intense fields of artificially generated gravity and anti-gravity. The Warp coils live in the Nacelles, and are lined up like treads on a tractor.

The Steam (Plasma) all fresh and hot from the boiler (Warp Core) is directed by the "Plasma Injector" (The clever arrangement of valves) to one warp coil and then the next. The Strange gravitational field made by the energized warp coil grabs a chunk of space around the ship. Then the steam (Plasma) is quickly switched to the next coil in sequence. The field generated by the first coil gets handed off to the next coil. One, two, three, four and suddenly you have a moving starship. Like a caterpillar drive, each coil makes a step forward and the ships moves.

How it works dramatically

This is why the ship threatens to blow up when the engines are abused - the boiler can only handle so much pressure, which is carefully monitored. Too much pressure and heat inside and Blooie! it ruptures, ruining everyone's day.

Now when you try to jam too much steam through a piston, you can do several very entertaining things to it.

Warp coils have a window of efficient use. When they are used within this window they stay relatively cool and efficient.

But as more and more plasma is dumped on them faster and faster to make the ship go faster, they use the energy less efficiently and what's left gets translated to heat.

That's why starships can only maintain emergency speed for so long. If they go too fast for too long, the warp coils will melt.

And the harder you push it the faster they'll melt

You could have a plasma conduit blow out, because the pressure and temperature got too high


In ST-OM, Warp Drives are technomagical metaphors for Steam Engines.

If you have an Opinion, I'd love to Hear it

Jayphailey 04:12, January 24, 2010 (UTC)