End Teleport Drive
Tech Level: 18
Open Teleport Drive
Tech Level: 19
Teleport Drive Planet Cracker
Tech Level: 20
Tech Level: 20

Teleportation was one of the great dreams of science fiction; an incredibly neat idea that once seemed to have little real scientific basis. Recent experiments with quantum teleportation in laboratories has shown this may not be the case, however. Wholesale teleportation of objects larger than an atom still seem extremely unlikely at this point, but cannot be ruled out.

Cheap and easy teleportation would have a number of profound effects on human civilization. Among other things, it would make for a means of space travel, depending exactly on how the technology worked.

The matter-to-energy-and-back-to-matter transfer seen in Star Trek wouldn’t work as a drive; there’s the issue of signal degradation that would almost certainly occur over repeated jumps. It wouldn’t be too fun to have only three-quarters of your original molecules show up at the destination point. The same goes with quantum teleportation currently being investigated in the real world; it is limited to the speed of information exchange, and it isn’t really teleporting the orginal; its destroying the original in order to make an exact quantum copy of it ion the other end.

Instead, the type of teleportation most useful to space travelers would perhaps be based on a well known real-life phenomenon: quantum tunneling, also called the tunnel-diode effect. Thanks to a quirk in the way quantum physics works, it’s entirely possible for a particle to disappear in one spot and appear in another almost instantaneously. Its important to understand that the particle doesn’t actually "go" anywhere in between; it simply fades from existence in one position and fades back to existence in another, as if the universe is using it as a variable in a strange kind of existential bookkeeping. This has been seen in the lab many times, and the effect has been integrated into modern electronic components,

including some of the integrated circuits in the computer you're using to read these words.

Teleportation systems in science fiction have also contemplated "shunting" a mass through a parallel continuum where space and distance have very different meanings than they do here. This continuum might be a level of hyperspace, subspace, a pocket universe, or a parallel dimension of some sort. The mass shunted may precipitate naturally back into our own continuum at its destination, or it may need to be "retrieved" by a teleport system receiver station.

Teleport systems come in two broad types: open and closed. Open systems require only a transmitter, while a closed system requires both a transmitter and receiver. Each gives birth to different types of space drives.

Tech Level: 18

Closed systems can be used to create an end-teleport drive.

First proposed by Larry Niven in an essay over two decades ago, this consists of a ship with a transmitter built into its aft and a receiver built into its bow. This drive assumes teleportation is near-instantaneous; both transmitter and receiver execute their functions at almost the exact same instant in time. The ship is built in such a way that everything within it, including the teleport machinery and the receiver, is built over the transmitter. When activated, the transmitter teleports the ship to the receiver, which performs its function in the split-second before it too is teleported along with the rest of the vessel. The craft is therefore teleported exactly one ship-length. By doing this over and over, the vessel can fly through space. By cycling through teleports very quickly, on the order of dozens or hundred of times per second, the ship can match the velocity of most other sublight drives.

It is important to remember that it only seems to accelerate that fast. The craft isn’t accelerating at all; its popping up at one point after another without actually moving in a conventional sense. Its momentum can therefore be independent of its direction of travel. For example, the ship can be constantly accelerating using a rocket motor in a direction opposite the one its end-teleport drive is taking it. Once the ship arrives at its destination, it shuts its teleport drive off and shoots back into the direction from which it came, using all the velocity it independently built up while in FTL flight.

Tech Level: 19

An open teleport drive is similar to the end-teleport drive, but it doesn’t need a receiver in order to work. It simply jumps itself and the surrounding ship to a pre-determined spot. Its range is rather limited, usually somewhere between a few hundred meters and a few kilometers. However, like its cousin, cycling through teleports at many times per second allows it to achieve impressive sublight speeds.

A lot of the characteristics of the end-teleport drive is shared by an open teleport drive with one major difference. An end-teleport drive can only send a ship in one direction: straight ahead. In order to maneuver, it needs to turn off the drive for a few seconds while reorienting itself using conventional sublight thrusters. An open drive has no such limitation. The drive can send the ship anywhere within its range, regardless of direction, with a single jump. Its drive can send it in one direction at apparent translight speed with one jump, then, in a split second, change direction at any angle with no loss of apparent velocity. It can even completely reverse direction instantly.

Needless to say, ships with open teleport drives would be maneuverable on a level most other drives could never match, and might be near impossible to hit in combat.

Tech Level: 20

Teleport drives can be used to build fearsome, planet-cracking weapons. Build a teleport drive around a solid mass, say a small asteroid weighing several hundred tons. Position the weight above a planet so it will fall into the atmosphere, and set the drive to teleport it back into its original position once it falls one teleport-length. The dead weight would constantly fall, as gravity would constantly be affecting it, but wouldn’t move in position. When it achieves the desired velocity, the teleport drive is turned off and the weight shoots at the planet with its new, very deadly speed. After only a few hours of accelerating and teleporting, it would have enough kinetic energy built up to wipe out a county with its impact; after a few days, a medium-sized state. If the attacker were to eventually let it accelerate up to near-light-speed (this could take well over six months) he could blow the entire planet surface to rubble. However, this weapon would need a very rugged and advanced drive system in order to handle the vast kinetic energies constantly being cycled through it.

Tech Level: 20

If an open teleport drive could be made to cycle through its jumps very quickly, say millions of times per second, it could seemingly move faster than a beam of light. Again, its important to note that its not really accelerating in a conventional sense, just teleporting from spot to spot, so by beating a beam of light to its target the ship does not in principle violate general relativity.

This particular kind of open teleport drive is called a Stutterwarp. It was a primary feature in GDW’s late, great hard science fiction RPG 2300 AD. The designers of that game built several limitations into the Stutterwarp, but it should be noted that these were somewhat arbitrary for dramatic and game balance reasons. In the game, the drive wouldn’t work anywhere close to a gravitational mass like a planet or star, and it could only go 7.7 light years before the drive built up a charge of radiation that would be lethal to the crew. In order to discharge the radiation, the ship had to spend a few days in a gravity well, where, of course, the drive couldn’t work, forcing the ship to depend on more conventional sulight drives for maneuvering.

A stutterwarp, if ever made to work, may not have any such limitations, and could prove to be one of the most astoundingly versatile means of getting around interstellar space.


In Print:

2300 AD RPG, et al

"The Theory and Practice of Teleportation" essay, found in the anthology All The Myriad Ways By Larry Niven

On The Net:

Article added 2006