The hyperdrive (occasionally called warp drive) was a vital starship engine system that allowed vessels to enter hyperspace to traverse the vast distances of space faster than lightspeed. The hyperdrive was thus a key technology in the foundation of galactic society, trade and war. The construction and working principle of a hyperdrive were based on Hyperdrive Theory. The term described the engine and all components required for its use, such as the hyperdrive motivator or hyperdrive field guide.
In numbers, the hyperdrive allowed travelers to traverse a galaxy spanning over 120,000 light-years in only a few hours or days, the exact travel time depending on a number of factors including destination, point of origin, route, and class of hyperdrive.
The hyperdrive was generally built from a titanium-chromium compound. This compound was specially designed to allow hyperdrives to withstand the continual stress caused by traveling between the dimensions of realspace and hyperspace.
Hyperspace was a dimension of space-time that could only be entered at faster-than-light speeds. The process of entering hyperspace was known as a "jump." The hyperdrive used a trans-physical effect to launch a starship beyond lightspeed and into hyperspace, making use of supralight hypermatter particles to make the hyperspace jump without changing the ship's complex configuration of mass and energy.
To enter hyperspace, the starship's pilot would enter commands via paralight system, a combination of mechanical and electro-optical subsystems that translated the commands into a set of corresponding reactions within the hyperdrive power plants. The process of a hyperspace jump began with the collection of gamma radiation by the hyperdrive field guide. The hyperdrive motivator, the primary lightspeed thrust initiator, built up and modified the collected radiation in a fusion generator through several kilometers of charge planes, effect channels, or looped superconducting wire. To enter hyperspace, the hyperdrive's horizontal boosters would provide energy to the motivator's ionization chamber to begin ignition that would release the radiation through the alluvial dampers. The energy release caused ripples in the space-time matrix, allowing the ship to propel off the ripples into hyperspace.
Upon exiting hyperspace an unknown technology was used to decelerate the starship. Both entrances into and exits from hyperspace created wake rotation and Cronau radiation that produced a detectable signature often used to reconnoiter fleet movements or by planetary customs authorities.
Inertial dampers were used to protect the ship, crew, and cargo from being crushed by the tremendous acceleration of the jump. Once in hyperspace, a null quantum field generator helped stabilize the vessel and kept it from prematurely emerging from the alternate dimension. Shields also protected the ship from fatal collisions with interstellar gas and dark matter particles. To prevent the relativistic passing of time while in hyperspace, starships used stasis fields attuned to hyperdrive levels to keep organic crews or cargoes "in time" with the standard galactic dimension. The alluvial dampers made use of a servo-controlled plate to regulate the flow of ion particles from the hyperdrive, thus controlling the amount of thrust. Other technologies, such as the 4-axial stabilizer and hyperdrive regulator, kept the ship from being ripped apart by the physics of hyperspace travel. To prevent overheating, hyperdrives made use of overheat failsafes, like a hyperspace shunt or transpacitor.
A hyperdrive could only initiate a jump into hyperspace when reasonably free of the gravitational pull of a major celestial body. Sublight engines were used to liberate the starship from a body's gravity well before the ship could jump. Hyperdrives included an automatic failsafe that cut out the hyperdrive when a gravity well was detected in the navigational path. While this prevented a collision in the event of an astrogational error, the failsafe was exploited by engineers to create artificial gravity wells, such as those used on Imperial Immobilizer 418 cruisers or Hapan mass mines, to either pull starships from hyperspace at a specific location or to prevent them from fleeing into hyperspace. This, of course, relied on either knowledge of a starship's travel pattern or being situated along a particularly popular hyperspace route. Some systems allowed an override of the failsafe, but it was known to have disastrous effects.
Possibly the first hyperdrive was the hyperspace tractor beam, used by the Celestials in 1,000,000 BBY. This early hyperdrive demanded massive amounts of power, supplied by gravity wells, although this type of hyperdrive was outdated by hypergates, which functioned on similar principles.
Though the Columi developed interstellar travel nearly 100,000 years before the Battle of Yavin, it is not known if they developed a true hyperdrive; what is known is that the fragile race soon gave up their interstellar travels to focus on other scientific and mental pursuits. The first interstellar space drive known to make use of hyperspace was developed by the Rakata, who built their Infinite Empire around technology using the dark side of the Force to travel through hyperspace.
Humans developed sleeper ships to first explore the stars, and later hyperspace cannons that boosted ships into hyperspace, before they in turn developed the hyperdrive. At a similar time, the Devaronians and Gossam devised the tumble hyperdrive to explore the galaxy.
Around 25,053 BBY, almost two hundred years after the fall of the Infinite Empire, the peoples of the planets Corellia and Duro finally discovered ways of working around the Force-attuned components of the Rakata technology and produced their own version of the hyperdrive; the Duros also independently created such workarounds. Within twenty years, the technology had stabilized to the point of general use, and the Corellians began to sell hyperdrives to nearby star systems (though some considered the trade practices of the Corellians during this era to be exploitation). The earliest hyperdrives would be considered slow by the standards of the early third decade ABY. Limited in range and often unreliable, hyperdrives gradually advanced to allow increasingly large ships to travel increasingly longer distances with greater safety, ease and speed.
The development of the hyperdrive was not limited to the Core Worlds. The Tionese of the Tion Cluster developed their own version of the hyperdrive by fusing bits of Rakatan technology with fixed-position hyperspace beacons, which allowed travel within a defined area but was dangerous when venturing outside the "lighthouse" network. This kept the Tionese isolated from the rest of the galaxy for millennia, though they occasionally encountered the growing Hutt Empire.
Thus the Expansionist Era, an age of colonization, exploration and unification, began; the seeds of the Galactic Republic were sown between the Core Worlds of Coruscant, Alderaan, Corellia, Duro, and Chandrila. As the Republic expanded, new members were granted access to the hyperdrive technology made available by the earliest starship manufacturers like Alderaan Royal Engineers, Core Galaxy Systems, Corellian Engineering Corporation and Rendili StarDrive.
Explorers began to test the realm of hyperspace while prospectors attempted to gain rights to what they anticipated would be profitable routes. Hyperspace exploration was a risky but profitable business. The development of the Perlemian Trade Route and the Corellian Run established the earliest stable system of hyperlane travel. Astrogation maps became valuable commodities as scouts explored new planets, species and regions.
As the Republic began to process the incredible inflow of new information, the Republic Spacelane Bureau was formed, and Coruscant became the navigational center of the Republic with the coordinates zero-zero-zero. The Spacelane Bureau fought to end private control of information regarding hyperlanes and established a protected set of beacons for major pathways to liberate them from the control of privately held charts. The technology allowed for a galactic economy to form fueled by standardized currency and the Core language of Basic. At the same time, the arrival of hyperdrive technology to warring worlds, such as Ando, produced disastrous results. The development of navigational computers to handle complex astrogation calculations did away with the need for hyperspace beacons and jump gates, and ended the reliance on established routes; as long as a pilot knew where he was going, the NavCom could take him there.
Over time, the hyperdrive became increasingly commonplace. Beyond the early foundation of the Republic, the Great Hyperspace War and subsequent expansion, hyperdrives allowed for many terrible wars and periods of tremendous prosperity. From the founding of the Republic forward, hyperdrive technology continued to be one of the driving features of galactic society.
Despite rapid advances in hyperdrive technology, the systems were too large to be practical for most small spacefaring vessels. Even by the last century of the Republic, many starfighters made use of hyperdrive rings and hyperdrive sleds to achieve superluminal travel. By the end of the Clone Wars, it was more common for starfighters and freighters to make use of onboard hyperdrives. During the establishment of Palpatine's New Order, hyperdrive-enabled ships commonly carried backup hyperdrives with a usual capacity of 10 lightyears. Few spaceworthy vessels relied upon larger, hyperdrive-enabled starships for transport.
The superluminal speed of a hyperdrive was rated on an inverse scale: the faster the hyperdrive, the lower the rating. These ratings, generally called "Classes," provided a quick, although often inconsistent or inaccurate, idea of a ship's hyperdrive speed. The hyperdrive class acted as a multiplier for a given base travel time. Thus, a Class 2 hyperdrive took twice the base time to travel a given route, while the Millennium Falcon's Class 0.5 took only half the base time.
By the end of the Clone Wars, most military starships were using Class 3 or Class 2. During the Galactic Civil War, military capital ships and starfighters were generally equipped with faster Class 1 or Class 2 drives, industrial freighters and haulers with Class 3 or Class 4, and civilian starships with Class 5 or above. Many vessels mounted backup hyperdrives of much higher—that is, slower—class than their primary hyperdrive.
Some starships, such as the Millennium Falcon and Dash Rendar's Outrider, underwent aftermarket modifications to achieve their ratings (Class 0.5 and Class 0.75, respectively), although tampering with the generally stable technology of a hyperdrive was considered dangerous. Boba Fett's Slave I had a class 0.7 hyperdrive. Hyperdrives built by those outside the sphere of the Galactic Republic, Galactic Empire and New Republic, such as the Hapan Froond-class hyperdrive, were not classed in the standard system, as controlled comparisons were difficult to attain. Some Zonama Sekotan ships were able to achieve a Class 0.4 by combining high-class hyperdrives with organic technology, as did the Bes'uliik starfighter via fusion of Verpine and Mandalorian technology.
Sometimes, the hyperdrive malfunctioned while in operation. Many things could result; however, most consequences are unknown and usually fatal.
Still, some malfunctions did not have such grim conclusions. Faulty relativistic shielding could expose passengers to the altered space-time continuum, causing a journey which seemed a few hours to actually take centuries in the real world. Bosbit Matarcher was known to have experienced this phenomenon. Some hyperdrives have also rattled out of their casings, destroying the engines, if not the entire ship.
Around 5000 BBY Jedi Master Relin Druur sabotaged the hyperdrive aboard the Sith Dreadnaught Harbinger. But instead of disabling the hyperdrive, he merely damaged it. Normally the ship's safety features would have prevented it from jumping to hyperspace with a damaged hyperdrive. However, due to extensive damage to Harbinger's bridge, the safety features did not engage, and the ship traveled through space and time, arriving in 41 ABY.
During the Sky Battle of Quell, Ahsoka Tano, Aayla Secura and the clone troopers with them were trying to dock with the Resolute so Anakin Skywalker could receive medical attention. The ship started taking damage, and the hyperdrive was activated, causing them travel through hyperspace close to a star. Luckily, they were able to stop the ship by cutting all power and forcing a system restart.
The Thorsen field driver was also a component that could fail. Although its failure did not stop a ship from entering hyperspace, it could cause physical damage to the ship and the crew when reaching lightspeed.
Behind the scenes
While the majority of Star Wars Legends material uses the classification system described above, The Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn uses an opposite system: the lower the rating, the slower the hyperdrive.
The TIE Defender has a Class 2 hyperdrive despite the speed chart in The New Essential Guide to Vehicles and Vessels indicating otherwise. The guide seems to have accidentally copied the TIE Interceptor stats for the TIE Defender.
Notes and references
- Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game, p. 54–58
- Star Wars 25
- The Clone Wars: The Smuggler's Code
- Millennium Falcon Owner's Workshop Manual
- Battle for the Golden Sun
- Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game
- Star Wars Roleplaying Game
- Death Star Owner's Technical Manual
- Rogue Planet
- Legacy of the Force: Sacrifice
- Jedi Crash
- Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game, p. 60