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Impulse drive
Plot element from the Star Trek franchise
First appearanceStar Trek: The Original Series
Created byGene Roddenberry
GenreScience fiction
In-story information
TypePropulsion system
FunctionAllows slower than light interplanetary travel

In the fictional Star Trek universe, the impulse drive is the method of propulsion that starships and other spacecraft use when they are travelling below the speed of light.[1] Typically powered by deuterium fusion reactors, impulse engines let ships travel interplanetary distances readily. Unlike the warp engines, impulse engines work on principles used in today's rocketry, throwing mass out the back as fast as possible to drive the ship forward.

Practical challenges

There are three practical challenges surrounding impulse drive design: acceleration, time dilation and conservation of energy. In the show, inertial dampers compensate for acceleration. These hypothetical devices would have to be set so that the propellant retained its inertia after leaving the craft otherwise the drive would be ineffective.[2] Time dilation would become noticeable at appreciable fractions of the speed of light. Regarding energy conservation, the television series and books offer two explanations:

See also


  1. ^ Lawrence Krauss (20 April 1996), "Illogical Captain...", New Scientist (2026): 24
  2. ^ Marc G. Millis (2007), Energy Considerations of Hypothetical Space Drives (PDF), American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, p. 3