The Quantum Slipstream Drive – An Operations Guide

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Vol. 320, No. 1, Stardate 239104

The Quantum Slipstream Drive – An Operations Guide

Nathan Baker, Atherton Grix, James, Eileen McCleran, Roshanara Rahman, Alexander Richards, and Dueld taJoot

Introduction

The quantum slipstream drive (QSD) is an advanced form of propulsion technology that allows for travel across vast distances far exceeding conventional warp range. First encountered by the USS Voyager in the Delta Quadrant, the quantum slipstream drive is similar in principle to the transwarp corridor technology utilized by the Borg. At least one other Delta Quadrant species, designated by the Borg as "Species 116", had pioneered the technology previously.

Following Voyager’s return from the Delta Quadrant in 2378, the Starfleet Corps of Engineers began analyzing the various new technologies Voyager had encountered in its travels. The Vesta class was the first to include the QSD as its native and primary source of faster-than-light (FTL) propulsion. In 2390, Starfleet Command gave final authorization for quantum slipstream drives to be installed on newly constructed vessels. Older vessels will be called back for refit as befitting their mission and requirements. The primary goals of Starfleet in utilizing the new technology is expanding the reach of the Federation and enabling faster travel in cases of emergency.

Background

Fig. 1. A Starfleet shuttle traveling in the slipstream.

The quantum slipstream drive is perhaps the most exciting development in propulsion theory and starship design since the Great Experiment of the late 23rd century, when the Federation first began experimenting with transwarp technology. Although that particular venture ultimately did not succeed in achieving true transwarp capability, many developments out of that project have proven successful in the field such as a refined understanding of warp field dynamics, advanced power transfer conduit (PTC) design, and the Excelsior class herself.

Yet whereas the transwarp project was in many ways an attempt to push forward the limits of conventional warp theory as far as possible, the quantum slipstream drive represents a radical departure in faster-than-light propulsion development. Fundamentally, a conventional warp drive works by using paired sets of warp coils housed in nacelles to generate a warp field, which distorts (i.e., “warps”) space around the starship, narrowing the space forward of the starship and extending the space behind it, which allows the starship to cover vast distances that would otherwise take years if not decades by sublight speeds to traverse. Many of the basic concepts and core components every engineering cadet takes for granted in a starship’s conventional FTL propulsion system such as warp nacelles, warp coils, and warp field theory and geometry take no part in the quantum slipstream drive.

The quantum slipstream drive operates instead by routing energy from a power source such as the matter/antimatter reaction assembly (M/ARA) through the vessel's navigational deflector, which then focuses a quantum field, allowing the vessel to penetrate the quantum barrier. To maintain the slipstream, the phase variance of the quantum field has to be constantly adjusted or the slipstream will collapse, violently throwing the ship back into normal space.

Components

Fig 2. The quantum slipstream drive core assembly
  • Core
    • Power Source: typically the matter/antimatter reaction assembly (M/ARA), which is also used to power the warp coils of a conventional warp drive, and thus often referred to informally as a “warp core.” As QSDs continue to be installed across the fleet, it is likely that this more informal term will gradually fall into disuse, although the term is popular with non-engineers. The Starfleet Corps of Engineers recommends engineers refer to this vital starship component as the M/ARA instead to encourage proper identification and to avoid confusion with the QSD core.
    • Main Power Leads
    • Quantum Matrix Initiator (tied in to the starship’s main power)
    • Benamite Crystals
    • Core Control Sensors
    • Graviton Particle Actuators (6 columns surrounding core perimeter)
    • Graviton Transfer Conduits
  • Navigational Deflector
    • Slipstream Initiator
    • Slipstream Control Sensors
    • QSD Central Control Matrix (dedicated computer core for attuning and modulating graviton stream)

Performance

The standard Starfleet slipstream drive allows for travel equivalent to a conventional warp factor of 9.99998477, or 300 light years per hour. Though the theoretical maximum speed of this drive is several tens of millions of times the speed of light, actual achieved performance is limited by the current state of industrially produced benamite crystals.

Activating the Drive

During non-QSD travel, the drive is maintained in a power-save mode, using limited energy from the vessel's main power supply for monitoring and diagnostic purposes. When QSD initiation is ordered, energy from the starship’s main power is routed through the power leads into the QSD core’s quantum matrix initiator (QMI). From here, a quantum field forms to surround the benamite crystals, which are the source of the gravitons required for slipstream.

The graviton particle actuators (GPA), the six columns that surround the main drive unit, begin stripping gravitons from the crystals. Through exposure to the quantum field, the gravitons become charged with quantum energy into a uniform flux state. Once enough particles are charged (part of the start-up time), they are fed through graviton transfer conduits (GTC) to the QSD components in the navigational deflector.

Initiating Slipstream

The graviton transfer conduits feed directly into the slipstream initiator located with the QSD components in the navigational deflector. From here, the initiator projects the charged gravitons out in front of the ship through the deflector dish which creates a very narrow subspace field. This splits the subspace domain open for the ship to travel through.

Controlling and Maintaining the Slipstream

Once the ship has crossed the slipstream threshold, it is extremely important to maintain a stable field in front of the ship. This requires precise calculations to avoid destabilizing the slipstream and violently throwing the vehicle back into normal space. If the phase variance of the field goes beyond 0.42, the field will collapse and there will be a catastrophic failure in the ship’s attitude control.

As part of the QSD components of the navigational deflector, the slipstream control sensors (SCS) and QSD central control matrix (CCM) are integral in maintaining a stable field. The central control matrix acts as an independent computer system which utilizes the data fed from the slipstream control sensors to constantly modulate, attune, and vector the outgoing gravitons through the slipstream initiator. To change course, the graviton stream is routed to the proper direction until the ship is on the proper heading. Once achieved, the stream is projected directly ahead to maintain the course.

As a fail-safe, if the central control matrix detects a fluctuation in subspace or any major shipboard malfunction, it will automatically cease the graviton pulse which takes the ship back into normal space.

Deactivating Slipstream

On orders from the Bridge, Main Engineering or QSD Control, the graviton stream is disengaged once the ship has reached its destination. The vehicle will then coast back into normal space for conventional propulsion to take over.

Once the drive is deactivated, it cannot be reactivated until at least 36 hours has passed (longer depending on the state of the drive). The benamite crystals require a cool-down cycle due to exposure to the quantum field. Any attempt to warm-up the drive before the cool-down cycle has completed could result in an unstable slipstream or severe damage to the drive itself.

Fail-Safe System

In the event of main power failure or an exterior impact on the hull (weapons fire, foreign body, etc.), the QSD will automatically begin shutdown procedures and switch the navigational deflector to conventional propulsion configuration.

Operations

  • Warm Up
    • Run Level 5 Diagnostic of all Slipstream Components.
    • Route main power into QSD components.
    • Activate Quantum Matrix Initiator.
    • Check quantum field and benamite crystal status.
    • Activate Graviton Particle Actuators: begin charging gravitons with quantum energy.
    • Begin graviton transfer once sufficient number of gravitons are charged.
  • Initiation
    • Charge Slipstream Initiator.
    • Align navigational deflector for graviton projection.
  • Projection
    • Activate Slipstream Initiator.
    • Project gravitons through navigational deflector.
    • Once Slipstream is initiated, monitor QSD Control Matrix to ensure phase variance is stable.
    • Monitor all changes in subspace field stress or orders to change course.
  • Shutdown
    • Disengage Slipstream Initiator.
    • Return navigational deflector to conventional propulsion configuration.
  • Cool Down
    • Deactivate Graviton Particle Actuators.
    • Disengage quantum field and cut main power leads.
    • Run Level 4 Diagnostic of all QSD systems.
    • Return to power-save mode.
    • Monitor benamite crystals during cool down: report any irregularities.

Refit/Upgrade Cycle

As the technology rolls out to the fleet, it will be necessary for ships to return to spacedock, on average, once every two years for a minor refit and hull inspection to ensure that the slipstream drives are not compromising the long-term integrity of the fleet.

Hull Geometry Concerns

Fig. 3. The Vesta class was the first Starfleet design to incorporate the quantum slipstream drive as its main propulsion drive.

Certain starship classes, particularly those above a certain size such as the Galaxy class, have yielded disappointing results in both simulation and field tests. Starfleet engineers continue to work on finding ways to adapt these classes, but such venerable designs may ultimately prove incompatible with the technology.

Due to the QSD’s unique tunnelling method, spacecraft designs that are smaller and/or more streamlined have proven more capable of utilizing slipstream without concern for hull stresses. Consequently, ship designers are taking these findings into account to ensure QSD effectiveness in future spaceframes.

Long-Term Effects

The consequences of long-term use of the QSD, and in particular effects on the vehicle, crew complement, and the space-time continuum, are currently unknown. Zefram Cochane’s historic warp flight took place in 2063, yet it was not discovered until 2370 that conventional warp drive could cause damage to the fabric of subspace. Seen most dramatically in the Hekaras Corridor, this revelation ultimately resulted in redesigned warp engines that lessened the harmful effects of warp travel to subspace.

The Federation Science Council, unwilling of a repeat of similar issues, will actively monitor subspace in areas most travelled by QSD-enabled vessels to determine if similar damage is being done. The Starfleet Corps of Engineers will use the two year refit cycle to test starship hull integrity, component stresses, and check for any particles that may have accumulated on the ship’s external areas (similar to baryon particle build-up on ship hulls as a result of conventional warp drive use). Starfleet Medical plans to gather medical data on personnel who serve on vessels equipped with the QSD for signs of any biological effects.

Conclusion

While there still remain many unknowns regarding quantum slipstream technology, the expanded opportunities for transportation, commerce, and security enabled through the quantum slipstream drive are clearly evident. Through prudent and careful use of the drive and continued research into furthering its development, these early days of quantum slipstream travel may prove to usher in a new age of exploration not seen since Cochrane’s first flight over three centuries ago.

Acknowledgements

Starfleet Science & Starfleet Corps of Engineers - StarBase 118 Division:

References

  • Memory Alpha
  • Star Trek: Renaissance