Slipstream (science fiction)

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"Slipstream" is a science fiction term for a fictional method of faster-than-light space travel, similar to hyperspace travel, warp drive, or "transfer points" from David Brin's Uplift series.

Usage in Star Trek[edit]

The starship USS Voyager in quantum slipstream as shown in Star Trek

Quantum slipstream was a starship drive used in two episodes of the science fiction television series Star Trek: Voyager. It first appeared in the season 4 finale, "Hope and Fear". Similar to the Borg transwarp conduits, the slipstream is a narrowly focused, directed field that is initiated by manipulating the fabric of the space-time continuum at the quantum level using the starship's navigational deflector array. This creates a subspace tunnel, which is projected ahead of the vessel. Once a ship has entered this tunnel, the forces inside propel it at incredible speed. To maintain the slipstream, a ship has to constantly modify the quantum field with its deflector dish; however, the calculations involved are too complicated, and the time available too short for 24th-century Starfleet computer technology. When this technology was discovered by the crew of the lost and stranded USS Voyager, it was hoped this could be used to allow the starship to travel at even greater speeds.

However, in the episode "Timeless", the technology proved to be dangerously unstable, resulting in the loss of all hands of the Voyager in an alternate timeline. Due to a phase variance, the slipstream tunnel, produced by a replica slipstream drive of the Voyager, collapsed during the flight and the ship crashed on a planet near the border on the edge of the Delta Quadrant. Harry Kim and Chakotay survived, because they used the Delta Flyer, which flew ahead of the Voyager, and reached the Earth safely. Some years after this event, they used a temporal communication device to change the timeline and rescue the ship and crew.

Quantum slipstream technology was one of the items requested in the "Think Tank" episode, despite Captain Janeway's admission that they never got it to work properly.

Usage in Andromeda[edit]

Slipstream travel is also used in the science fiction television series Andromeda.


Slipstream is a series of "strings" connected between planetary systems by gravity. A gravity field generator drastically reduces the mass of the ship and then a slipstream drive opens a slippoint which the ship enters. The pilot then navigates the series of slipstream "tunnels" until they exit via the desired slip point. Usually one has to enter and exit slipstream several times before reaching their final destination. An A.I. attempting slipstream travel has a 50% chance of selecting the correct route at each intersection encountered. Owing to organic "intuition", a living pilot has a 99.97% chance of guessing the correct route to take.[1]

While travellers approaching light speed will encounter time dilation, slipstream travel does not.[2]

Limits of slipstream[edit]

Due to the complex nature of slipstream probability and difficulty in mapping slipstream, only biological entities are capable of successfully navigating it. Exiting slipstream near the edge of a galaxy or in certain regions of space could be dangerous because it is difficult to find a slippoint in these areas. If a slippoint cannot be found, or a slipstream drive is damaged, the ship is stranded and limited to slower than light speed.

Usage in Doctor Who[edit]

In the episode "World War Three" the Slitheen family from Raxacoricofallapatorius uses a slipstream drive as a form of travel.[citation needed]

Usage in Halo[edit]

In the Microsoft video game series Halo, based in the 26th century, slipspace (also known as slipstream space) is the general method of faster-than-light travel. Both the alliance of alien races known as the Covenant, and their human opponents, the United Nations Space Command forces, use slipspace to travel between systems, with the UNSC using the human-developed Shaw-Fujikawa translight engine.


According to The Halo Library:

This...engine allowed ships to tunnel into...slipspace... Slipspace is a domain with alternate physical laws, allowing faster-than-light travel without relativistic side-effects. Faster-than-light travel is not instantaneous; "short" jumps routinely take up to two months, and "long" jumps can last six months or more. Entire crews of some ships have been reported to disappear with no damage to the ship what so ever.

...scientists noted an odd "flexibility" to temporal flow while inside the Slipstream. Though no human scientist is sure why travel time between stars is not constant, many theorize that there are "eddies" or "currents" within the Slipstream—there is generally a five to ten percent variance in travel times between stars. This temporal inconsistency has given military tacticians and strategists fits—hampering many coordinated attacks.

The Covenant have a very finely tuned version of this technology, and it is far superior to the UNSC's. Instead of simply tearing a hole into Slipspace, it cuts a very fine slit and slips into Slipspace with precision. It exits the same way, and can have pinpoint accuracy. It can even do so to Slipspace within planetary atmospheres, though this is highly damaging to the surface of the planet.

To continue the previous metaphor, the Shaw-Fujikawa drive is described as violently punching a hole through to Slipspace next to the Covenant and Forerunner surgical precision of travel. The possible method behind this precision is shown in Halo: First Strike, when the AI Cortana takes control of a Covenant ship. When attempting to jump inside of the gas giant Threshold's atmosphere, she was able to 'see' the bends and distortions of real space, and 'picked' her way through them into Slipspace.

It has also been stated that slipspace is a misnomer since "there is nothing to slip across, and no space to travel through."

Slipspace has a strange property where the special relativity becomes an incomplete concept. Space-time disintegrates into two separate groups. Spatial dimensions distant from an observer in close proximity of the slipspace source appear to be randomly erratic, whereas dimensions close to the observer appear to be constant at all points in time. The same effect can be said for time. A clock, also distant from the observer, appears to be running at randomly erratic rates and even temporal direction, whereas a clock close to the observer appear to be always constant. The effect on time is more pronounced than for spatial dimensions moreover, the effect on dimensions are reversible and will disappear when they are brought back to the observer. The effect on time however, is not completely reversible - The rate of the clock will synchronize, but the difference between the observer's clock and the synchronized clock will remain. A prime example of erraticity of time can be seen in Section 4: Gambit of the novel Halo: First Strike, when the Covenant fleet opens fire, and the plasma behaves erratically - doing loops, curving, teleporting, etc. The erraticity of the dimensions and time is a measure of the stability of the encapsulating slipspace. If the field becomes erratic enough, the slipspace collapses. The conclusion of this is that definitions of space and time become arbitrary and somewhat meaningless, hence the speed of light also becomes meaningless.


The workings of the drive are described in more detail in Halo: Ghosts of Onyx, on page 53.

"Shaw-Fujikawa engines allowed UNSC ships to leave normal space and plow through a dimensional subdomain colloquially known as "Slipstream space." ... The drive used particle accelerators to rip apart normal space-time by generating micro black holes. Those holes evaporated via Hawking radiation in a nanosecond. The real quantum mechanical "magic" of the drive was how it manipulated those holes in space-time, squeezing a hundred-thousand-ton cruiser into Slipspace."


As aforementioned, slipspace travel is, when measured by faster-than-light standards, slow. It can take weeks or months to travel from system to system, the inefficiencies of the Shaw-Fujikawa engine compounding the problems. A craft that travels through slipspace appears to travel faster than light to an outside observer, however, relative to the slipspace field, the velocity is mathematically indeterminate. This being a consequence of the complicated definition of space-time within the slipspace field. The craft does not travel through normal space, but around it.

The Shaw-Fujikawa drive also requires ships to enter and exit slipspace as far away from other masses as possible, as even the gravity of another ship can make slipspace calculations impossible. Because of this, an organized fleet of ships entering slipstream will exit into normal space haphazardly. The Covenant also seem able to read the slipstream currents better than the United Nations Space Command(UNSC), allowing them to move faster, more precisely, and within a gravity well. This also allows them to move their entire fleets in battle-ready formations, giving them an advantage in conflicts against the UNSC. However, the UNSC's post-war flagship, the UNSC Infinity, is capable of precision slipspace maneuvers and exiting near large mass due to her Mark X Macedon/Z-PROTOTYPE #78720HDS, which was built with Forerunner technology. This ability was demonstrated at the Second Battle of Requiem where the Infinity dropped out of slipspace and immediately rammed a Covenant Capital Warship, while sustaining negligible damage.

The slipspace ruptures caused by large ships, such as Covenant Assault Carriers create a massive detonation if used inside an atmosphere, due to the annihilation of antimatter produced by the rupture closing. One of these detonations is the one that damaged New Mombasa and caused an EMP that shut down the ODST drop pods at the beginning of Halo 3: ODST.

Another limitation of slipspace travel as stated in the Halo universe, is that whenever a ship carrying plutonium for use in nuclear weapons enters normal space a large amount of Cherenkov Radiation is released which can alert any nearby forces of the slipspace re-entry.

Ships in slipspace are not immune to detection from vessels in the normal plane, as hinted at by Cortana at the start of Halo 2; she informs Lord Hood, OC the MAC Platform Cairo, that "whispers" had been detected near Io, immediately before the confirmed arrival of a small Covenant battlegroup. If the battlegroup made no detour before arrival, no kind of signal, not even "whispers" traversing outside slipspace, could have been detected before the battlegroup's arrival, as it would be subject to the speed of light. (This was later found out that in Halo 2 annerversary terminals that the Covenant left slipspace at IO.) As well as humans are able to send "drones" into slip space to loosely monitor currents and objects traveling through them, obtaining rough, and often unrecognizable images (as mentioned in the books). Though this may be explained not by monitoring it from normal space, but because the Covenant's tactics often involved periodically dropping out of slipspace for an unknown reason(shown in Halo:Fall of Reach), possibly to observe the enemy before choosing to attack, and they dropped out by the UNSC base on Io.

By the year 2553 however, the UNSC had reverse-engineered numerous Forerunner and Covenant technologies for their own advancement, including vast improvements in slipspace drives. Before 2553, the standard estimates for space travel times for crossing the galaxy were led by the Forerunner, who were able to make such a trip in mere days or even minutes, while Covenant ships would take many months, and human ships years. Post 2553, with the addition of the UNSC Infinity and other technologies throughout the fleets, humanity is now at least level with Covenant speeds. Perhaps human innovativeness and natural ability with Forerunner tech will allow humanity to develop advanced slipspace travel similar to that of the Forerunner and the Ancient Human Empire speeds. As previously stated, this will allow travelers to reach any point within the Milky Way in less than two days.

Neither Human nor Covenant ship mounted weapons are of any use in slipspace nor are there any weapons they possess that are capable of attacking vessels in slipspace. (Although there are now a few notable exceptions.) The only such weapons known were developed by the Forerunner in the form of the defensive line installations designed to prevent flood-infected ships from penetrating protected Forerunner space. One of these installations was encountered when Covenant ships were shot out of slipspace along with a trailing UNSC ship. An exception to the vessel-mounted weapons was when a commandeered Covenant vessel entered a strange form of relativistic slipspace in which they could still engage and be engaged by enemy ships. Additionally, during the Second Battle of Requiem (2557), the UNSC Infinity was secured to the planet by a slipspace connection acting as anchor, with Dr. Halsey stating there are many things that they do not yet understand about the nature of slipspace.