Hyperspace, colloquially known as Witch-space or Witch space, is a higher-dimensional region in which travel between star systems is possible at superluminal speeds. Over the centuries hyperspace technology has been refined through several iterations, but as of 3300, only ships fitted with a Frame Shift Drive (also commonly referred to as a FSD) are able to initiate a hyperspace jump on their own.
Hyperspace jumps rely on the properties of quantum mechanics. Before a jump can be made, the destination must be known, and a discrete amount of energy must be input. The amount of energy needed is dependent on the mass of the jumping ship, the distance to the destination, and the specifications of the ship's FSD. Precisely how it works remains something of a mystery.
Hyperspace technology originated in the early 22nd Century, but it wasn't until the 2800s that consumer ships began to take advantage of it.
Faraway Jump (Type 0), Circa 2800 Edit
The first commercially available hyperspace system was known as the Faraway Jump. The Faraway system was far from perfect, however, depending on a complex network of monitoring satellites, branch lines, stop points and rescue stations – which took hundreds of years to establish – to operate smoothly.
It was around this time the phrase 'witch-space' first appeared, reflecting the inherent dangers of early hyperspace technology and the strange 'corridor' a ship travelled through during a hyperspace jump. Some even believed witch-space was haunted by 'ghosts of ships that went into Faraway and didn't come out again'. It is certainly true that a number of ships never reached their destinations.
Quirium Drive (Type 1), Circa 3125 Edit
Eventually, the Faraway system was retired in favor of more conventional autonomous mechanisms that could be triggered aboard a ship with no external assistance. Invented by Li Qing Jao, these original hyperdrives were powered by a fuel known as Quirium, an exclusive invention by the Galactic Cooperative. At the time, hyperspace jumps were limited to a 7 light-year maximum in any particular direction, requiring multiple jumps for even relatively short hops between systems. The mechanism had its own unique fuelling system, independent from other ship systems.
The secret formula for the manufacturing of this high energy substance was lost in the collapse of the Galactic Cooperative and the Quirium hyperspace technology became obsolete as a result. Rumours abound that Quirium fuel was reverse engineered from captured Thargoid vessels.
When this formula was lost, the hyperspace industry suffered a major setback. A number of different drives strove to fill the void left by the Quirium Drives, but it was the Type 2b that proved most popular.
Cloud Drive (Type 2b), Circa 3200 Edit
The Type 2b drives were noticeably more pedestrian in performance compared to previous Hyperspace technology.
Fuelled by common hydrogen, these jump systems often took many days to transfer ships between two points, sometimes up to an entire week. Pilots, crew and passengers were fortunately able to take advantage of the 'StarDreamer' technology introduced in 3145 to remove the tedium of long term spaceflight. StarDreamer compressed time from the perspective of an individual, by slowing their metabolism, giving them the impression that time was passing far more quickly than it actually was.
These hyperdrive mechanisms were also bulky, requiring many tonnes of shipboard space to be consumed during installation. Various sizes (or classes) of drive were available, but ship size still limited their installation. Jump range was proportional to the size of the drive and inversely proportional to the mass of the ship. Hyperdrives ranged in size from the class 1 at 6 tonnes, to the enormous class 8 at 600 tonnes.
Ships also needed large reserves of hydrogen fuel to power the drives. This could be stored in the conventional cargo space, rather than the specialized fuel tanks previously required.
A variation on the Type 2 Cloud Drive technology was the 'Military Drive'. This provided a vastly improved jump range per unit of installed equipment, but with two major trade-offs: the equipment was very expensive and required a specialized fuel tank and, the fuelling process itself generated a byproduct in the form of radioactive waste that was costly to dispense of.
A major disadvantage to all Type 2b drives was that the ship involved in the jump would leave behind a conspicuously visible hyperspace 'cloud' of which it was named, at both the entry and exit point from hyperspace. With appropriate technology these clouds could be analysed and the destination or arrival point inferred. This gave the opportunity for faster ships to arrive at the destination earlier and ambush the slower vessel as it arrived.
This technology did have one advantage over the previous types however, as jump ranges were extendable by class of drive, far exceeding the previous 7 light-year limit. Ships were capable to travel dozens of light-years in a single bound.
Research into better forms of hyperdrive technology were underway throughout this period. One event stands out as particularly poignant. The Antares was a starliner fitted with a prototype fast hyperspace drive. It launched on its maiden voyage in 3251, but was lost on its inaugural hyperspace jump. The loss of the ship, the resultant investigations and the application of safety recommendations as a result, delayed the introduction of this hyperspace technology for many years.
Frame Shift Drive (Type 3), Circa 3290 Edit
In the late 33rd century a fast hyperspace mechanism was perfected that immediately made the Type 2b systems obsolete. Jump times were restored to mere seconds, but the advantages of longer range jumps retained. This was based on the, previously discredited, fast jump system developed for the ill-fated starship Antares. This new type 3 drive was also remarkably compact, allowing for installation on vessels that had never been able to mount a hyperdrive system before, even small vessels such as Sidewinders and Eagles were now able to jump independently. By 3300 virtually all of the type 2b drives had been decommissioned, with the loss of a number of ship classes that could not be retrofitted with the new systems due to design constraints.
These new drives required large quantities of the element Tantalum as a raw material in their manufacturing process, causing something of a Tantalum rush in the closing years of the century. This precipitated a number of hostile land grabs in systems where Tantalum was discovered or known to exist, including the well documented reclamation of the Prism system by Lady Kahina Tijani Loren.
Jump ranges greater than 50 light-years are now possible, and transit times remain mere seconds. The result is that the galaxy has been dramatically opened up to explorers at much lower cost than before. The Frontier has been pushed back, and systems that used to be on the fringes of civilization have found themselves in the suburbs of the Core Worlds once again. Trips that were hitherto considered impossible have now been achieved in relatively modest vessels. Notable journeys have included visits to the Sagittarius A black-hole and crossings to the far side of the galaxy itself. This technology has caused significant upheaval in the Core Worlds and the major powers, as the tactical situation with respect to the ability to deploy ships has dramatically changed.
In recent years it has been discovered that the Frame Shift Drive can be significantly enhanced by the injection of rare materials – a technique provided by various engineers located around the Core Worlds. They can also be 'supercharged' by strategically entering close proximity to the fierce emission cones of White Dwarf and Neutron stars. Many organisations are researching frame shift technology. One such company, Meta-Drive, was recently acquired by Sirius Corp after financial irregularities. Many believe that type 3 technology still has considerable development potential ahead of it.
The Unknown Edit
Despite overwhelming popularity and regular usage throughout the last five centuries, Hyperspace is still not well understood. Some Commanders have claimed to see inexplicable lights and structures within witch-space. It seems hyperspace may yet hold its mysteries and allure for centuries to come. Perhaps witch-space really is haunted.