Quantum Slipstream Drive
Quantum Slipstream Drive is a subspace technology that enables space travel at faster-than-light speeds well beyond conventional warp drive. It does this by manipulating the curvature of subspace around the warp bubble, contracting it in front and expanding it behind via the Alcubierre metric. This has a multiplicative effect on the warp factor, enabling starships to operate at speeds well in excess of Warp 9.975. While QSD enables greater speeds, current Starfleet implementations of slipstream can only be maintained for brief intervals of time at a range of approximately 40 light years per hour for a maximum of 10 hours before the benamite matrix needs to cooldown for 16 hours to prevent it from breaking down.
Conventional warp drive works by surrounding a ship in a warp bubble that rides a subspace distortion at faster-than-light velocities. Quantum slipstream leverages the Alcubierre metric to warp the shape of subspace, contracting subspace in front of the ship and expanding it behind to multiplicatively increase the speed at which the ship travels through subspace. In effect, warp drive propels a ship through subspace, while quantum slipstream technology pulls subspace towards the ship.
To create the Alcubierre effect, a negative energy density is necessary along the outer edge of the warp bubble. Quantum slipstream capable vessels in Starfleet produce the necessary mass negative particles, known as exotic particles, via a Quantum Reaction Chamber (QRC). The flow of these particles is then mediated via a benamite matrix before being projected by the deflector towards the outer boundary of the warp bubble. Due to subspace variances created by the warping of subspace, a Quantum Slipstream Dedicated Subprocessor is also necessary to perform the calculations necessary to adjust the slipstream on the fly.
Because the Alcubierre metric specifies that the amount of negative energy necessary is directly proportional to the square of the speed, there exists an upper bound on the acceleration that can be achieved through quantum slipstream. This bound is defined based on the capacity of the Quantum Reaction Chamber and the fact that the benamite crystal matrix decays after a certain flow of exotic particles across it.
An additional operating constraint of the Alcubierre metric is that large scale course corrections cannot be made while in slipstream. In order to make a course correction, the ship must be brought back to warp or impulse and the benamite matrix given a cooling off period before quantum slipstream can be initiated again.
In practice, the operational maximum for quantum slipstream is 40 light years per hour. When slipstream is engaged at this operational maximum, the benamite matrix will last approximately ten hours before it needs to cooldown, enabling a vessel to travel 400 light years in 10 hours before a 16 hour cooldown. When these guidelines are followed, the benamite matrix will last for a total of 1600 light years of travel. If these parameters are exceeded, the benamite matrix will last significantly less time.
Quantum slipstream technology was first encountered by the USS Voyager in 2374 when it came across an alien vessel masquerading as the USS Dauntless. Based on they learned aboard the Dauntless, the crew of the Voyager attempted to modify Voyager for quantum slipstream travel. Unfortunately, their attempted flight ended in nearly catastrophic failure, and the modifications were dismantled.
In 2378, when the USS Voyager returned to the Federation, Starfleet R&D began a quantum slipstream program based on Voyager's modifications and finding. The following four years yielded many results, but no successful slipstream trips.
The constraints quantum slipstream placed on a range of systems from warp drive and EPS to deflector and computer cores led Starfleet eventually to commission a new class specifically tailored around slipstream, and so, in 2382, the Vesta-class project began.
Central to the project was the development of the Quantum Reaction Chamber (QRC), a unit which produced exotic particles projected by the deflector towards the edge of the warp bubble to manipulate the curvature of subspace around the warp bubble. Where a dilithium matrix had long been used to mediate the flow of antimatter at high energy, Starfleet needed a similar matrix to mediate the flow of exotic particles at high negative energy as produced by the QRC. After several months of trials, it was discovered that a benamite crystals would do the trick. They could mediate the flow of enough high negative energy particles to enable about 500 light years of slipstream travel before breaking down. This half-life and the rarity of benamite crystals, only known to exist in several systems throughout the Federation, were understood to be a major limiter for quantum slipstream travel, but they allowed the project to continue.
Besides the Quantum Reaction Chamber, slipstream also required a whole series of other new developments. Starfleet R&D had to increase the energy output of the warp core, reinforcing it and all EPS relays between the core and the QRC to support the higher throughput. Further, major modifications had to be made to the deflector to properly emit exotic mass negative particles across the warp bubble. Initial tests showed promise, but a phase variance caused the testbed to fall out of slipstream within seconds. This led Starfleet R&D to develop a Quantum Slipstream Dedicated Subprocessor (QSDS) specifically designed for the computations necessary to counteract the variance and avoid the slipstream collapsing.
After several years of development and system testing, the USS Vesta was finally ready for a field test. In preparation, Starfleet picked a location approximately 300 light years away from the shipyard and sent 3 ships, the USS Lincoln (Akira Class), USS Montgomery (Akira Class) and the USS Tesla (Nebula Class), to the destination at maximum warp. The Montgomery and Tesla belonged to the Starfleet Corp of Engineers and carried multiple replacements parts, while the USS Lincoln would serve as headquarters for the small task group. Between the two SCE ships, it was basically a portable drydock, which could completely overhaul any systems, in case any damage was sustained.
The Task Group, dubbed the Quantum Mission Group (QMG), aimed for the point known to the group as the Quantum Destination. Under warp power, the USS Vesta travelled to Tellar. From there, the Quantum Destination was located 300 light years away at a position approximately 40 light years from the Ratarian Republic. It would take the QMG around 60 days to reach the destination, and they set out weeks before the Vesta got underway to Tellar. Along the way, they laid subspace communication buoys as necessary, due to the remoteness of the destination, so as to maintain contact with Starfleet.
The Vesta launched from Tellar, and the QMG awaited their arrival. The ten hour deadline passed, and then after another four hours, they alerted Starfleet that the Vesta had not arrived. Starfleet checked in with several starships along the projected course of the Vesta, but none reported any signs of the Vesta.
Eighteen hours after the Vesta launched from Tellar, just as Starfleet was about to begin a concerted search for the test ship, the QMG received a delayed subspace communique from the Vesta: it turned out that they had miscalculated the slipstream's curvature-warping effects and the Vesta had traveled approximately 400 light years from its initial point of origin. The Vesta had sustained damage to their warp core, which was a result of some under calibrating the power transfer system, so they were stuck at impulse speeds but was in otherwise good health. The QMG received their coordinates and proceeded to their location, which would take around 24 days. After they rendezvoused with the Vesta, repairs took a few more days, and then they headed back to Utopia Planitia for a total mission time of nearly 80 days. Nonetheless, the slipstream drive was declared a success and preparations were made to correct the issues detected and begin to retrofit the QSD into other classes.
Selective Refit Program
The refit process was anything but easy. Smaller ships had smaller warp bubbles, which meant a reduced load of exotic particles flooding across the benamite matrix and navigational deflector, but they also lacked space for many of the necessary systems. Meanwhile, large ships had the exact opposite problem. This led to a piecemeal effort to refit starships throughout the Fleet with priority given to those ships serving on deep space missions and the front lines.
In 2389, the first quantum slipstream capable starship refits were delivered to the Fourth Fleet. On average, each refit took approximately five months. It involved adding a Quantum Reaction Chamber, benamite matrices and storage, and a Quantum Slipstream Dedicated Subprocessor, as well as replacing the deflector with one capable mass negative field projection, reinforcing the warp core for the output necessary to power the Quantum Reaction Chamber and completely overhauling the EPS and other supporting systems. Once these changes were made, ships with the refit would be capable of quantum slipstream trips of up to approximately four hundred light years in ten hours, followed by a sixteen hour cooldown period for the benamite matrix before another slipstream trip can be attempted.