In ST:TOS1 even warp factor three was hurrying (“The Squire of Gothos”); but the NCC1701 has been known to run in circles at ten (ST:TOS3, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”), or occasionally exceed fifteen (ST:TOS2, “By Any Other Name”; ST:TOS3, “That Which Survives”).  Warp‐ten as an ultimate limit is a purely ST:TNG conceit.  Is it meant to be a fluke that we count in base ten?

The actual scale is deliberately hazy.  How quick is “warp factor two”, compared to lightspeed, “warp factor eight”, “transwarp”, or ST:TNG “warp‐two”?  Trekkie orthodoxy was always that “warp factor X” equals X cubed times the speed of light.  Thus warp factor one is 1 c (lightspeed); eight is 512 c (ten light years a week, which severely restricts the Federation's radius – see 4.1); and fifteen is a respectable 3375 c (Proxima may be a daytrip but the galactic core is nine years away).  Warp factor 0.1, by the way, translates as a wretched 300 km ⁄ s.  In ST:TNG, though, as transwarp‐capable Excelsior‐class ships do the menial jobs, I presume the scale has been readjusted so the new‐style “warp‐eight” is much faster than the old‐style “warp, factor eight”.

6.1 WARP SPEEDS [see footnotes, postscripts]

Naturally, when actual distance or time figures are given they imply ludicrously high or low speeds.  In “Amok Time” (ST:TOS2) 2.8 light days is a big diversion; in “Obsession” (ST:TOS2) 1000 light years is trivial.  The missiles in “The Changeling” (ST:TOS2) take five seconds or so to travel 90,000 km (so “warp factor fifteen” is 0.06 c!).  Yet in “That Which Survives” (ST:TOS3), Spock describes 990.7 light years as 11.33 hours travel at warp factor 8.4 (766,000 c, or nine light days per second).  I can forgive such anomalies in ST:TOS… but recent stuff is, for all its claims, little better.  Just two examples:

6.2 ALTERNATIVE STARDRIVES [see postscripts]

SF authors have invented a wide range of variably preposterous Faster‐Than‐Light drive rationales, which fans refuse to keep distinct.  In this section, to help show how incoherent warpdrive is, and in the interests of sheer pedantry, I classify them into three separate types.  Note – few of them actually move the ship, as such; they just make it possible for motion to be fast, and should also require rockets or something for propulsion!

6.3 WARPS [see footnotes, postscripts]

Less useful than they sound.  Each creates some kind of envelope of localised distortion (but not a discontinuity: that's teleportation).


Methods of going from A to Z instantly, skipping intervening points; no subjective time passes en route (not very Star Trek).  Teleports vary not so much in their rationales as in their built‐in dramatic limitations:

6.5 HYPERSPACES [see footnotes]

Shortcuts through implausibly convenient “dimensions” (usually sic); the defining characteristic is that travellers experience journey time outside normal space (as shown on screen in Star Wars and few others).

1993 Footnotes

6.1 And how fast is impulse drive – as fast as warpdrive (as in “The Menagerie”, ST:TOS1), or slower than a drifting asteroid (as in “The Paradise Syndrome”, ST:TOS2)?
6.3 Bloater Drive is from “Bill, the Galactic Hero”.  Oh, and don't forget the Douglas Adams Probability‐warp.
6.5 Hyperspace is usually visualised as a mere “alternate universe”; if it was a real extra dimension, it would be a whole continuum of different “universes”.

1997+ Postscripts

6.1 The entire scenario of ST:V hinges on the idea that they can't sustain speeds much over a kilocee.  Compare the forty‐megacee drive they discovered in “Descent” (ST:TNG6)!
6.2 The stardrive in Babylon 5, although referred to as “jump drive”, is in fact a classic hyperspace (apparently a Macrospace).
6.3 “Space‐warps” may have become a fashionable subject for pop‐scientists, but they don't resemble Star Trek's warpdrive in the least.  Note also that wormholes should look spherical, not like tunnels!