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Jump drive

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A jump drive is a speculative method of traveling faster than light (FTL) in science fiction. Related superluminal concepts are hyperdrive, warp drive and interstellar teleporter. The key characteristic of a jump drive (as the term is usually used) is that it allows a starship to be instantaneously teleported between two points. A jump drive is supposed to make a spaceship (or any matter) go from one point in space to another point, which may be several light years away, in a single instant. Like time travel, a jump drive is often taken for granted in science fiction, but very few science fiction works talk about the mechanics behind a jump drive. There are vague indications of the involvement of tachyons and the space-time continuum in some works.

Science fiction literature[edit]

Jump drives were used in many science fiction universes for space vehicle movement, initially suggested in The Foundation Series of novels by Isaac Asimov from 1942.[1] In Heinlein's Starman Jones (1953), the characters use a "Horst Transition" to travel instantaneously between spaces that are "flat"; that is, do not have the warping associated with gravity.[2] (Heinlein's Friday novel, published in 1982, uses the same form of jump drive with the same kind of starship.[3])

Jump drive next appears in the Deathworld 2 novel by Harry Harrison in the 1964 trilogy by the same name,[4] and Frank Herbert's Dune. The CoDominium series by Jerry Pournelle which begun publication in 1973 features the Alderson jump drive. However, their popularity exploded only over a decade later with the Alliance-Union universe series by C. J. Cherryh from 1976. The Traveller role playing game (by Game Designers' Workshop, first edition in 1977) uses something called "jump drives", but they're actually a kind of hyperdrive, with ships using it traveling through "jump space" (the game's term for hyperspace) for about a week, regardless of distance travelled, before re-emerging into normal space.[5]

In the novel The Forever Man (1984) by Gordon R. Dickson, starships use a jump-drive that makes the vehicle omnipresent for an instant before repositioning the ship in a pre-determined location. Several jumps are needed, because farther triangulations require more time to calculate, therefore a journey across the galaxy may take a few centuries to calculate all at once.

In the novel Johnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London by Keith Mansfield, various species described as "Owlein" (such as Plicans) fold space allowing for a form of jump drive. This Folding cannot exceed certain (unspecified) distances without damaging the structure of space-time.

In most fictional universes, the total distance per jump is limited and multiple jumps may be needed to reach the final destination. Jump drives often require significant power and many universes require time to "re-energize" the jump drive after a jump, thereby limiting the frequency at which jumps can be executed.

These factors can allow writers to build dramatic tension by showing characters struggling to reach a jump point, or to recharge their drive, before their foes reach them.

The Nights Dawn Trilogy novels by Peter F. Hamilton published in the 1990s, used it under the name ZTT (Zero Temporal Transit) Drive. It is worth noting that with ZTT, momentum is conserved, so a ship might spend days synchronizing its normal-space relative velocity with its destination before or after jumping - a concept first used in E.E. 'Doc' Smith's Lensman series (1937–1948), albeit in connection with 'inertialess' FTL drives rather than jump drives, where it is referred to as "matching intrinsics".

The novel Hyperdrive by Tim Parise featured a kind of jump drive that operated by altering the coordinates of a ship or object within the framework of space-time, causing it to move instantly between two points. This form of jump drive was unusual in science fiction in that the change was effected by a pilot interfacing directly with the structure of the universe rather than by a machine or computer.[6]

Jump drives are also used in the Battletech series of games and literature. In the literature the drive is called the "Kearny-Fuchida Drive", or K-F drive. Named for the physicists that developed the equations needed for the drive to work. The jump takes only a few seconds, but is limited to a max distance 30 lys. There is a variable amount of time required between jumps to recharge the energy for jumping. Recharging is done by solar sails, or in developed systems there may be a recharge station. In rare cases, such as for Warships, a ship may have a "Lithium-Fusion" battery which stores extra power for an additional jump without the normal recharge time. When a solar sail is used for recharging the type of star determines how long a recharge takes.

Jump drives are used as one of the methods for FTL travel in the universe of the Lost Fleet book series by Jack Campbell. The uses of jump drives are limited to a few key points in a solar system and has a limited range. Once a portal to jump space has been opened by the flagship, it is left open for the rest of the fleet to follow through. The technical details of the jump drive are never discussed, except that it allows spaceships to travel in another space-time continuum that cannot be explored and that only allows the transmission of simple data between ships of the same fleet. Jump drives can also be dangerous; an overload in the jump core can be catastrophic, destroying any ships within the blast radius. If used for too long the ships may become lost in jump space due to the constant change in physical characteristics. John Geary (the main character of the series) mentions cheesy zombie motion pictures of his time, in which an entire crew become zombies after remaining in jump space too long. Jump space may also cause side effects to humans, including itchy skin, nausea and headache.

Computer games[edit]

There are two main variants of jump drives commonly portrayed in computer games. The first requires a ship to travel through normal space to a specific jump point. Once at that point, the jump drive is used to move to another jump point. In some examples, such as the Capsule Drive in the computer game Independence War, the ship can travel to any other jump point. Others, such as the Wing Commander series, only allow transit from one jump point to a corresponding exit point (which may or may not allow travel in the opposite direction). The second variant allows a ship to execute a jump from anywhere in normal space and move directly to any other location. This variant is frequently subject to other limitations such as distance from strong gravity wells. Battletech uses this style of jump drive in its jumpships.

With the appearance of computer games, many have used jump drives, including:

  • The pioneering Elite series uses "hyperspace" jump drives for travel between systems. These incorporate features of both listed types; a hyperspace jump can be initiated almost anywhere in-system so long as it is a certain minimum distance from a docking station, planet, etc., but will eject transported ships at roughly the same outer-system location each time, leaving it vulnerable to pirates lurking nearby. Jumps are not absolutely instantaneous, but only take a few seconds each, which must be considered literal as the series makes few other concessions to the vast distances and travel times of deep space (e.g. for sub-light intrasystem travel, Frontier merely provides a low-multiplier "fast forward" option). Elite: Dangerous also features a low-power version of the warp drive allowing to travel at speeds up to a few hundreds of times the speed of light.
  • The Eve Online MMORPG, where it allows capital ships, black ops battleships, and advanced freighters to travel instantaneously to any beacon deployed by structures or allied ships in a radius of a few light-years, at the cost of fuel and most of the ship's energy. Some of these ships can open jump portals to be used by other ships. By jumping, characters accumulate jump fatigue that increases the recovery period between each jump. Fatigue and fuel consumption are proportional to the distance jumped.
  • Homeworld, released on September 28, 1999. Jump drive is here called Hyperspace drive. Later, it was mentioned in its successors: Homeworld Cataclysm and Homeworld 2.
  • The Microsoft game "Allegiance" that features jump drive like ripcord technology.
  • Darkstar One, a computer game released June 16, 2006 in the UK.
  • Battlestar Galactica, which specifically references the term FTL
  • Wing Commander series of computer games, movie and novels
  • The FreeSpace computer game series, worth noting here that ships can use their own jump drives to perform FTL travel within a star system, but need to use "Jump Nodes" to travel the vast distances between stars
  • Battletech series of games and novels
  • Endless Sky is an open-world space commerce and combat game. In Endless Sky, a jump drive is said to hold matter inside a containment field in a state that cannot exist in the universe. The jump drive, like a standard hyperspace jump in the game, takes 1 day, as opposed to the instantaneous jumps present in other works and games.
  • Heavy Gear series of games
  • In the game Starmade, the jump drive block allows for a ship to travel to any coordinates within 8 sectors of the drive in 2 seconds flat. No gravity well limitations.
  • Starlancer PC and Dreamcast video game, which presents a quick jump to another part of a solar system
  • DarkSpace, an online-only PC game.
  • The Space-fold Drive of the Macross universe.
  • The jump drive in the X series of video games.
  • Unreal Tournament 2004, where starships usually use "jumpgates" to travel in space, but a prototype "jumpship", that is capable of creating its own temporary, small jumpgates, is created.
  • Mass Effect series supplement relatively slow warp drive-style ship drives with massive ancient "mass relays" providing near-instantaneous travel.
  • Outer Empires, where a Jump Drive allows players to move in between systems.
  • FTL: Faster Than Light, where the player's ship is equipped with a jump drive that allows it to jump between "beacons".
  • Space Engineers update 01.090 adds a jump drive that allows instantaneous travel over relatively large distances- a single unit allows 2000 km, interplanetary distance is roughly that value as well.
  • Starbound, where player's ship is equipped with the jump drive that will allow travel through the various stars in the game.
  • Astrogalaxy, where you get an FTL drive module that enables interplanetary travel, and a wormhole generator drive that enables interstellar travel.
  • Stellaris, Jump Drives function by allowing fleets equipped with jump drives to instantly travel to another star system, without regard for hyperlane access, provided the target system is in range. However, after the jump, the fleet's combat capability and sublight speed are reduced by 50% for 200 days after the jump. Additionally, using jump drives carries a risk of causing an extra-dimensional species to invade the galaxy.
  • Aurora, one has an ability to jump to jump points without certain restrictions that normally would occur.

Variations of jump drive technology in film and television[edit]

The Stargate film and television series utilizes two different types of jump drive. Many space craft featured in the franchise have a type of "hyperspace" technology, while the stargates themselves employ a "wormhole" technology which is used for almost instantaneous travel from one point to another across many light years (including intergalactic travel). Similar wormhole technology was also explored in the season finale of Stargate: Atlantis as an alternative to Atlantis's hyperdrive, allowing the entire city to move from the outer edge of the Milky Way Galaxy to Earth in a matter of seconds. In the Stargate Universe series, the ancient spaceship Destiny uses a previously unknown type of faster-than-light-travel, simply referred to as FTL by characters in the television series.

The Babylon 5 television series describes jump drives as a way to jump to hyperspace through a jumpgate. While interstellar travel is not instantaneous, it is much faster than the speed of light.

The reimagined Battlestar Galactica television series utilizes a jump drive known as an FTL Drive. The technology allows a ship to instantaneously jump from one point in space to another, though the mechanics behind the drive are never explained beyond describing preparing the drive as "spooling up".

The film Event Horizon features the eponymous ship using a jump drive. Harnessing the power of an artificial black hole, the drive was designed to project a focused beam of gravitons, folding space and allowing the ship to pass through and arrive immediately at the new location. The drive malfunctioned and opened a rift, sending the ship through a dimensional gateway to hell, a place of pure chaos.

The television series Eureka uses an FTL drive as a method of travel to the moon Titan. By opening and going through a wormhole then instantaneously arrive on the other side (No limit was mentioned). It was first introduced as a method of delivery for large amounts of data from deep space.

The television series Dark Matter employs a jump drive known as a blink drive to teleport to desired locations in the galaxy.

The TBS animated series Final Space shows a type of jump drive in every spacecraft known as a “lightfold core” that allows the vehicle to immediately teleport across vast distances to any specified destination at the whim of its pilot.

See also[edit]

  • Faster-than-light
  • Holtzman effect
  • Warp drive
  • Hyperspace
  • Teleportation


  1. Isaac Asimov, Part I, Psychohistorians, Foundation, 1951
  2. Heinlein, Robert A. (1953). Starman Jones. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  3. Heinlein, Robert A. (1982). Friday. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  4. Harry Harrison, Deathworld 2, Chapter 3
  5. p.43, Loren K. Wiseman, Book 0, Introduction to Traveller, Game Designer's Workshop, 1981
  6. Parise, Tim (2013). Hyperdrive. The Maui Company. pp. 26–28. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png

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