A warp drive to achieve ten times faster-than-light travel, a concept popularised in TV show Star Trek, may not only be possible, but practical as well, says NASA scientist.
A warp drive would manipulate space-time itself to move a starship, taking advantage of a loophole in the laws of physics that prevent anything from moving faster than light.
Physicists say that adjustments can be made to the proposed warp drive that would enable it to run on significantly less energy, potentially bringing the idea back from the realm of science fiction into science.
"There is hope," Harold "Sonny" White of NASA's Johnson Space Center said in Houston at the 100 Year Starship Symposium.
A warp drive would involve a football-shape spacecraft attached to a large ring encircling it.
Potentially made of exotic matter, this ring, would cause space-time to warp around the starship, creating a region of contracted space in front of it and expanded space behind.
The starship itself would stay inside a bubble of flat space-time not being warped at all.
Using the concept, the spacecraft would be able to achieve an effective speed of about 10 times the speed of light, all without breaking the cosmic speed limit.
Previous studies have estimated that the warp drive would require a minimum amount of energy about equal to the mass-energy of the planet Jupiter.
However, White argues that instead of enclosing a space-ship in a space time-bubble, a craft could sit within a 'doughnut' shape.
In that case the warp drive could be powered by a mass the size of a spacecraft like the Voyager 1 probe NASA launched in 1977 - the equivalent size of a small car, he said.
Furthermore, if the intensity of the space warps can be oscillated over time, the energy required is reduced even more, White said.
"The findings I presented today change it from impractical to plausible and worth further investigation," White told the SPACE.com.
"The additional energy reduction realized by oscillating the bubble intensity is an interesting conjecture that we will enjoy looking at in the lab.
Concept for a real-life warp drive was suggested in 1994 by Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre.