This is the development and history of warp drive—from the human discovery of subspace up until the launch of the starship Enterprise NX-01, which heralded the beginning of humanity's participation in interstellar affairs.
Scientists, in June of 2048, discovered the existence of the substrate within which our universe exists. A domain outside normal three-dimensional space, they named this place "subspace". They found that certain energetic reactions could create an intrusion of this domain into our own space, locally altering the behavior of all forms of matter and energy within our space-time. They called this intrusion a "subspace displacement field" or simply a "subspace field". With subspace being a continuum with different physical laws than our own, subspace fields had the capability of "warping" the space-time continuum. Subspace was also found to provide an additional electromagnetic polarization plane perpendicular to the planes in normal space which could be used for the transmission of particles. This led scientists all over the world to foresee the advent of faster than light communications.
While a doctoral physics student at California Institute of Technology in January of 2049, Zefram Cochrane studied the theories of physicists Miguel Alcubierre and Richard Obousy and first postulated that a spaceship could use subspace fields projected by a series of coils to warp the fabric of space and that ship could use the warp to propel it faster than light. This drive would work by contracting space-time in front of the ship and expanding space-time behind it. The starship itself would rests in a "warp bubble" between the two space-time distortions. This warped space, together with the region between it, would accelerate off faster than the speed of light and the vessel would then essentially 'surf' on the wave in space-time created by this distortion.
Travel at velocities exceeding the speed of light would be possible in this fashion because the starship would be, strictly speaking, stationary (relative to the space inside the warp bubble) while it is the space-time immediately around the starship that would actually be moving. Since it is spacetime itself that would be moving and the starship would not actually be accelerating, it would experience no time dilation, allowing the passage of time inside the vessel to be the same as that outside it.
In February of 2051, interplanetary probes charting and surveying a variety of geological features on the solar system's outer planets discovered three new minerals, the first two were given the names "polysilicate verterium" and "monocrystal cortenum." The third was a new kind of shocked quartz with a lattice structure similar to lithium. It was found on Jupiter's fifth moon, Amalthea. This new substance was dubbed "dilithium," and samples were sent to the world's leading researchers to analyze it for potential benefits. Once on Earth, it was discovered that this new element has the ability to "transtate" and focus energy. Bids flew in from the scientific community to get their hands on the unique new material. But it was Zefram Cochrane, working in seclusion at his Montana reservation, who made the biggest breakthrough of all.
Dr. Cochrane began experimenting with the properties of dilithium, particularly after witnessing first hand initial experiments by a scientist named Igi Yamora at the University of Tokyo, that proved that dilithium had the ability to resist antimatter bombardment. In 2055, he finally found a way to power his continuum distortion propulsion, or "warp drive," as he had taken to calling it. In his private lab in an abandoned nuclear missile silo near Bozeman, Montana, he came to the conclusion that the only power source known to humans that could power such a drive system was a reactor employing the controlled mixture of matter and antimatter. Such a reaction, when regulated by dilithium crystals, would create a high-energy plasma that fed directly into "warp coils" made of "verterium cortenide", which is a composite material composed of polysilicate verterium and monocrystal cortenum. When this material is energized, it would cause the energy frequencies in the plasma to shift into subspace, generating multilayered subspace fields Cochrane called "warp fields" that would form a "subspace bubble" that envelops a spacecraft. The craft could cross the light-speed barrier by manipulating these fields to warp the geometry of space-time immediately around it.
Most "reputable" scientists dismissed Cochrane's theories as science fiction. A billionaire philanthropist named Micah Brack, however, took great interest in the project. He introduced Cochrane to an astronautical engineer named Lily Sloane in 2058 and the two began to confer on how to design a space vessel equipped with Cochrane's warp drive. In December of 2061, Cochrane and Sloane finished designing their prototype warp ship dubbed the Phoenix. Sloane hoped the warp drive would raise humanity out of the ashes of World War III, so she picked that name. Sloane and Cochrane set out to scrounge for materials to build the Phoenix. Micah Brack secretly arranged for Cochrane and Sloane to get just enough funding to construct a prototype warp ship. He also donated a few high-quality dilithium crystals and a magnetic bottle containing antimatter to the project.
Cochrane and Sloane, along with a growing group of Montanan locals helping with the project, finished assembling the Phoenix using the frame of an old Titan V nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile in February of 2063. They planned to launch the Phoenix in early April. On April 5, 2063, at 11:08 A.M. Zefram Cochrane became the first human to travel faster than light when he engaged the warp drive of the Phoenix. The T'Plana-Hath, a nearby Vulcan survey vessel passing the outer rim of the system detected the warp signature of the Phoenix via subspace monitoring techniques. After much debate and some consultation with the Vulcan High Command, Captain Seval of the T'Plana-Hath ordered the ship to change course and land on Earth.
At 7:43 that night, the T'Plana-Hath landed near the missile complex in Montana and a small contingent of Humans and Vulcans came together to exchange greetings, resulting in humanity's first official contact with an extraterrestrial civilization. The next day, the governments of Earth went into an uproar with the revelation that an alien ship landed in the United States. It was demanded that the Vulcan crew meet with the New United Nation's Security Council. Commander Seval addressed the Security Council at the organization's headquarters in Glasgow on April 8. He described his people as a peaceful and logical race and vowed to help Earth as it emerges as a new member of the interstellar community.
The Vulcan High Command was not enthusiastic about Seval's address to the Humans. They had reviewed the historical records of Earth's Third World War and were concerned about the repercussions of letting such an "aggressive" species loose upon the galaxy. A decision was made to monitor and control the progress of Human space exploration and expansion. The Sol System was so richly endowed with dilithium on the crystalline outer planets that it was one contributing and secret factor as to why the Vulcans became so interested in Earth affairs. Soon Earth and Vulcan became firm affiliates in trade and commerce. Artificial gravity technology was the first thing to be collectively bought from the Vulcans by the governments of Earth.
Among several scientific revelations the Vulcans soon shared with humanity was the concept of "warp factors", a non-linear measure of the speed of a starship or signal using a warp drive. The Vulcans told them that warp factors are, in terms of their light speed equivalents, not absolute, but only relative figures. Depending on the local properties of space and subspace, the multiples are only minimum/average values under "normal" conditions. The actual values of warp speed are dependent upon interstellar conditions like gas density, electric and magnetic fields and fluctuations in the subspace domain as well as energy penalties resulting from quantum drag forces and power oscillation inefficiencies.
The Vulcans revealed that there are regions of space where a starship can travel at speeds significantly higher than normal. These regions can consist of broad areas encompassing a number of whole star systems, or narrow corridors that can extend for many thousands of light years. Human scientists nicknamed these places "warp highways". The effect of warp highways is to multiply the speed associated with any given warp factor. They allow the journey time across known space to be cut from years or even decades down to a matter of days. The Vulcans also revealed that whilst some regions of space have a speed multiplier, there are also regions where the speed value is decreased. These regions, which are commonly nicknamed "warp shallows", are generally more common than warp highways and tend to cover a larger area. Warp shallows can be caused by a variety of phenomena.
On August 15, the space agencies that survived the Third World War combined to form the United Earth Space Probe Agency. The organization's mandate from the start was to explore and chart the more promising star systems close to Earth with the intention of investigating colonization potential. Zefram Cochrane was named to the Board of Directors. Due to the spectacular success of Cochrane's use of dilithium ore, the Deep Space Mining Corps was established in 2064. Its mission was to oversee the mining of the precious dilithium from the outer planets.
A year after the Mining Corps was formed; the UESPA launched the SS Valiant. The ship's warp drive was designed and built by Zefram Cochrane.
Two years after that, the UESPA, deciding to attempt to contact distant civilizations, launched the warp-powered space probe Friendship One. The probe was loaded with a message of peace; instructions on how to create antimatter technology and how to build a warp drive along with an open invitation to visit Earth. The Vulcans were opposed to the launch, saying that it was extremely reckless. That same year, the UESPA launched the SS Conestoga from Earth to colonize a planet 20 light years away from Earth dubbed Terra Nova. The Conestoga's warp engine was designed and built by Zefram Cochrane.
In the fall of 2068, the Valiant, after wandering in space for three years, fell through an unstable wormhole. UESPA controllers on Earth lost contact with the ship, and the Vulcans were unwilling to send an expedition to locate the Valiant.
In 2078, the Conestoga arrived at Terra Nova, where its colonists began to settle the planet. The Conestoga herself was dismantled to construct the habitats for the colonists. After the colonists had been there for five years, the UESPA planned on sending another 200 colonists to Terra Nova, but the colonists objected. There were a few angry messages sent back and forth until one day contact was mysteriously lost. Due to the fact that a trip there would take nine years there and nine years back, the UESPA decided not to send a vessel to find out what happened. Although a Vulcan ship could have made the journey in far less time, the space agency did not ask them for help because it was thought that asking favors of the Vulcans usually ended up carrying too high a price.
Cochrane successfully tested the Warp 1.5 engine on his test ship Phoenix II on March 17, 2090. The engine well surpassed his expectations by traveling at Warp 1.8. This meant that humanity was close to breaking Warp 2, a velocity that according to the Vulcans was a milestone in warp travel for most species. It took the Vulcans themselves a century to break the so-called "Warp 2 Barrier." Cochrane later led an expedition to Alpha Centauri in 2094. He would eventually take up residence there.
The Earth Cargo Authority was chartered on December 13, 2095 to facilitate trade ships leaving Earth for the outer colonies and the new alien worlds that had made contact with Earth. The crew of these ships would eventually spend years traveling from one planet to another with whole generations of these "space boomers" growing up in space, and the ownership of ships would often be passed down family lines.
The United Earth Government was officially chartered in San Francisco on January 4 of 2113. Almost every nation on Earth joined the new global government, except for Australia, who abstained from joining. The United Earth Space Probe Agency, formerly a private organization, agreed to become a government entity in exchange for the added funding. Although there was talk of creating a United Earth space-based military, Vulcan opposition to the proposal ended the possibility.
In April of 2119, the UESPA opened the Warp Five Complex on Earth to develop a faster means of propulsion. Zefram Cochrane was on hand for the dedication, stating that the starships that would be developed there would allow humanity "to go boldly where no man has gone before." Later that year Cochrane left his home at the Alpha Centauri colony aboard his ship Phoenix III and disappeared in space soon after, with official records listing him as missing and presumed dead.
On October 9, 2134, the United Earth Government, in an attempt to broaden the powers of their space forces, created an organization called Starfleet. Using a massive complex in San Francisco as headquarters, Starfleet maintained the UESPA's mission of exploration, but took on the added duty of patrolling Earth trade routes and colonies. Starfleet wasn't exactly a military; it was designed to be more like a space-based version of the old United States Coast Guard. The UESPA became an ancillary arm of Starfleet, usually operating only research vessels and probes.
Starfleet, in cooperation with the Warp Five Complex, began the NX-Project in 2142. The goal was to test out the Warp 5 engine designed by the late Dr. Henry Archer. Eventually, the working Warp 5 engine would be used on Earth's first "starship" to be dubbed Enterprise, at the request of the late Zefram Cochrane.
On March 9, 2143, Starfleet Commander A.G. Robinson piloted the NX-Alpha past Warp 2 and peaked at Warp 2.2 before the test ship broke apart. Robinson became the first human to travel at that speed in a human-built spacecraft and the first human to eject in an escape pod at warp. In an unauthorized flight on March 11, Commander Robinson and Commander Jonathan Archer piloted NX-Beta up to Warp 2.5. The spacecraft held together and returned to Earth. Under strong recommendation from the Vulcan High Command, Starfleet Command ordered all the NX prototypes to be grounded until further tests could be run. Robinson and Archer were grounded for three months.
With the NX-Project on indefinite hold, Starfleet opted to begin work on an interim class of ship on October 12 of that year. The first ship of the NC-class, dubbed Saratoga, was due to launch in four years.
In 2144, the Vulcan Science Directorate finally admitted that Henry Archer's engine design would work and the NX-Project resumed on June 4 of that year. Commander Hector Ramirez piloted NX-Gamma to Warp 2.5 on June 11 to duplicate Robinson and Archer's flight before work was started to go past Warp 3. Commander Duvall broke Warp 3 in the NX-Delta test ship on December 19. Convinced that Henry Archer's design would work in a full-scale ship, Starfleet and the Vulcans authorized the construction of Enterprise NX-01.
Starfleet launched the Saratoga under the command of Captain Brody on March 21, 2147. The NC-class ship had many design features that would be used and improved upon in the much larger NX-class. The ship was capable of traveling past Warp 3. The next two ships, Intrepid and Republic, were scheduled for launch before Enterprise.
After decades of holding out, the nation of Australia finally joined the United Earth Government in the summer of 2150. That year, on September 19 Starfleet selected Captain Jonathan Archer to command Enterprise. There were several accusations of nepotism in selecting the son of Henry Archer to command the ship powered by his engine, but Starfleet Command said that Archer's record made him the ideal choice.
While en-route back to the Klingon Empire in April of 2151, a courier named Klaang noticed that a Suliban cell ship was following him. He plotted a course towards Earth's solar system to lose the Suliban, however the Suliban pursuit ship forced down Klaang's ship. He crashed in Broken Bow, Oklahoma on Earth, where he managed to kill the two Suliban that chased him, but was seriously wounded by a local farmer's plasma weapon. Jonathan Archer persuaded Starfleet and the Vulcans to allow the almost completed Enterprise to take Klaang back to Qo'noS. The Vulcans ordered that Subcommander T'Pol accompany Enterprise as both a science officer and an observer in exchange for star charts. Dr. Phlox, a Denobulan, joined the crew as the ship's medical officer.
On April 13, 2151, the Enterprise NX-01 was launched from Earth orbit under the command of Captain Jonathan Archer. After several detours, Enterprise arrived at Qo'noS on April 20 to deliver Klaang. The Enterprise took advantage of a warp highway that allowed the ship to reach Qo'noS in only a few solar days and it was the Vulcans' star charts that showed Enterprise the whereabouts of this shortcut.
Captain Archer's ship then officially began her pioneering mission of several years to explore deep space. The Enterprise's revolutionary new engine put humanity within reach of thousands of inhabited worlds, compared to the small handful at lower speeds.