- "Okay, so at its base level, a hyperdrive allows you to travel great distances by entering and exiting subspace."
- —Rodney McKay
Hyperdrives are devices which allow ships to break the light-speed barrier, enabling interstellar and in some cases intergalactic travel. They function by taking the vessel into hyperspace, where normal physical laws that would prevent faster-than-light travel do not apply.
A hyperdrive allows a vessel to open a subspace window and move into hyperspace. In this manner, a ship can cross vast distances without experiencing relativity. Hyperdrives vary in their effectiveness from race to race, with some being much faster than others; most hyperdrives are designed to travel within a single galaxy, while more advanced models can travel between galaxies in the same amount of time.
The effectiveness of a hyperdrive depends on two factors: design and power input. Given enough power, a hyperdrive can be made to go far faster than it would normally be capable, such as in the case of the Zero Point Module-powered Odyssey, which can reach speeds more than four times faster than its sister ships. The Odyssey, even with a ZPM, can only manage a fraction the speed of a fully-powered Atlantis' Stardrive (three ZPMs), which can cross the same distance as Odyssey in a fraction of the time. Interestingly, even though the Odyssey is fitted with Asgard hyperdrives it is much slower (approx. 5% the top speed) than Asgard warships using the same technology (the latest version of which was comparable in speed to Atlantis' Stardrive, even though the Asgard ship has no ZPMs at all).
From this we can assume that the design of the ship as a whole affects a hyperdrive's top speed, not just the drive's design. It is not known what ship design factors affect top speed, however increasing overall ship mass does reduce top speed and flight endurance if the ship is more massive than the drive is designed to handle. (SG1: "Grace")
Hyperdrives by cultureEdit
The Ancients were the first race known to develop hyperdrive technology, being able to make intergalactic trips millions of years before human life was ever seeded in the Milky Way and Pegasus galaxies, and possessed two types of hyperdrives. Their intergalactic hyperdrives were capable of making trips between galaxies, but they appear to have been confined to City-ships and their exodus ship. Even without a Zero Point Module, these hyperdrive can cross the massive void between galaxies in the amount of time it would take most hyperdrives to travel moderate interstellar distances; with a full complement of ZPMs, a City-ship is capable of traveling several million light years in only a few hours though requiring and using up considerably more power. (SG1: "The Ark of Truth", ATL: "Rising", "Enemy at the Gate")
All other Ancient ships encountered by the Tau'ri appear to be equipped with a much less powerful interstellar variant. These hyperdrives traversed subspace at a much slower pace than their intergalactic cousins, but were still far superior to every other hyperdrive except those of the Asgard and Ori. The Aurora-class boasted hyperdrives that could be modified to make an intergalactic trip if necessary, though they were usually ill-equipped to make such a journey and it is unknown how fast they would be (but likely far slower than an Asgard or Ori ship). It is likewise unknown if the rest of the Ancient fleet could be modified this way, but it seems probable. (ATL: "Aurora", "The Return, Part 1")
Some success has been had with installing an interstellar hyperdrive on Puddle Jumpers, even though their range is small when compared to vessels equipped with even Goa'uld hyperdrives (albeit much faster) and their effectiveness is limited; using a hyperdrive drains the Jumper's internal battery after one jump unless another power source is interfaced. Also, the drive could possibly burn out after multiple uses, as McKay said the jumper only had a few jumps before the drive burned out.(ATL: "Tao of Rodney", "Lifeline")
Some early Ancient ships use an FTL drive instead of a hyperdrive. This type of engine is capable of intergalactic travel, but its speed relative to intergalactic hyperdrives is unknown. It is still faster than the interstellar hyperdrives of the Wraith and Goa'uld. (SGU: "Air, Part 1")
- Main article: Asgard hyperdrive
Asgard hyperdrives are among the fastest hyperdrives ever created, being able to traverse the distance between close galaxies within hours. If equipped with an Ancient power source, Tau'ri ships equipped with Asgard hyperdrives are capable of traveling between Earth and Pegasus in four days. It is unknown how fast an Asgard ship can travel when using a ZPM, however an O'Neill-class ship vessel using its own power generators has been observed to approximately match the speed of a fully powered City-ship (while the Asgard vessel was towing the Prometheus). While in hyperspace, the weapons systems and defensive shields of a vessel using an Asgard hyperdrive are offline, due to the fact that the full power of the generators is required. As a result, a ship using an Asgard hyperdrive can be destroyed if a nearby vessel in hyperspace self-destructs; however, this occurrence is highly unlikely, as few races, if any, would be able to keep pace with them. Asgard ships have the ability to tow other vessels in their hyperspace field, but this causes the total travel time of the journey to be lengthened greatly. The Asgard later granted the Tau'ri a limited portion of their hyperdrive technology, in thanks for their contributions in the battle against the Replicators. Yet later, when the Asgard decided to destroy themselves and all their technology, they gifted all their technology and knowledge including presumably their latest hyperdrive to the Tau'ri.
The hyperdrives on a standard Ha'tak are capable of reaching speeds of up to 32,000 times the speed of light, but due to the far-flung nature of the Goa'uld Empire a Goa'uld homeworld had to be within less than a year's reach of a planet designated for conquest.
The hyperdrive on Apophis' mothership, designed by Sokar, was considerably faster than a standard Ha'tak's hyperdrive. This is impressive since, unlike Anubis' hyperdrive technology, this was made with purely Goa'uld knowledge.
When Anubis upgraded the Ha'taks of his fleet, the ships became faster by an unknown degree. Many of these ships have since been absorbed by the Lucian Alliance. (SG1: "Within the Serpent's Grasp", "Exodus", "Enemies", "Revelations", "Company of Thieves")
Ori hyperdrives—having been designed with ascended knowledge—are capable of making intergalactic journeys if necessary and are so fast that they have proven capable of nearly keeping pace with the Asgard hyperdrive of the newly upgraded and Zero Point Module-powered Odyssey though they seem to be slightly slower. Despite their incredible speed, the distance between the Ori home galaxy and the Milky Way was so great that a Supergate was required for the Ori crusaders to reach the Milky Way in a period of time acceptable to the Ori. (SG1: "Camelot", "Flesh and Blood", "Dominion", "Unending", "The Ark of Truth")
The Tau'ri initially used Naquadria to power their first viable hyperdrive in the form of a buffered reactor core. Unfortunately, the Naquadria proved to be too unstable for Earth's level of technology, and the reactor required controlled amounts of energy to prevent an overload, which seriously limited the effectiveness of the hyperdrive. Later when the Asgard fixed the faults in the hyperdrive, it acted within par, until the buffer overloaded, stranding the ship on Tagrea. Earth later managed to acquire the hyperdrive of an Al'kesh from Ba'al, which was incorporated. This greatly increased the hyperdrive's effectiveness, but vessels were still forced to make short stops for it to cool down, as this drive was designed for a ship 1/20 of its size. (SG1: "Prometheus", "Memento", "Prometheus Unbound")
The Asgard later granted the Tau'ri their hyperdrive technology in thanks for their assistance in battling the Replicators, which allowed Tau'ri vessels to make intergalactic trips without respite due to their vastly superior nature. (The Prometheus' Asgard hyperdrive is capable of speeds around 150 light-years per hour (Master Sergeant Norman 'Walter' Harriman states that a 50 light-year trip would take 20 minutes), or about a kilo-parsec per day, giving it a speed approximately 2,628,000 times greater than that of light or 833.33 times that of the Goa'uld standard Ha'tak.) (SG1: "Prometheus Unbound") This speed is ~41.67 times slower than later BC-304 class ships when they are in transit between Earth and Atlantis; however as the 50 light year distance was relatively short this may simply be a speed which the drive was not able to sustain indefinitely.
Due to power requirements, a trip between the Milky Way and Pegasus galaxies took up to three weeks (which is still far beyond what every other encountered space-faring race is capable of, apart from the Ancients, Asgard and Ori).
The Travelers have installed hyperdrives on their generational ships; however, they are—as Dr. Radek Zelenka described—somewhat crude. They are composed of mismatched components that seem to require continuous maintenance since—despite their relatively advanced technological state—most Traveler technology is old and likely out-dated. Despite this, they are relatively fast, able to keep up with the rest of the combined Wraith and Tau'ri fleet before the Battle of Asuras and able to beat the Daedalus (although not by much), which had a head start, to M6H-987 even after the Daedalus was partially disabled by Ronon Dex. (ATL: "Travelers", "The Lost Tribe")
The Vanir originally possessed the intergalactic hyperdrives that their Ida galaxy counterparts are famous for, however they were destroyed 10,000 years ago by the Wraith after the majority of Ancients departed for Earth. Due to lack of resources, they are unable to replace them, so they must rely on mere interstellar variants. Vanir hyperdrives are the first witnessed to accurately and safely open a hyperspace window in-atmosphere at their destination. It is unknown exactly how fast they are, though they are likely comparable to the unmodified hyperdrives of Ancient Aurora-class vessels. (ATL: "First Contact", "The Lost Tribe")
Wraith hyperdrives are believed to have been stolen from the Ancients, as Ancient hyperdrives are known to be compatible with those of the Wraith. Wraith hyperdrives are not as effective as that of other known races, since it takes them several weeks to cross distances in even a small galaxy like the Pegasus galaxy. Due in large part to the organic nature of Wraith vessels they must routinely exit hyperspace to prevent a build-up of radiation damage in their hulls, acquired via hyperspace travel, which severely limits their effectiveness. The Lantean scientist Janus developed a weapon called the Attero device, which was capable of destroying Wraith ships upon entering hyperspace. The device emitted a specific frequency that created turbulence in the layer of subspace utilized by Wraith hyperdrives, ripping their ships apart when they entered a hyperspace window. When being powered by a Zero Point Module, Wraith hyperdrives can travel fast enough to cross galactic distances in a much shorter time than normal. (ATL: "No Man's Land", "The Siege, Part 3", "First Contact", "Enemy at the Gate")
The Nakai use intergalactic hyperdrive in their motherships. The Nakai hyperdrive technology—when compared to other hyperspace capable races—appears to be extremely different, in terms of a visual and sound effect it produces while entering/exiting hyperspace. The time it takes also seems slower, as a Nakai managed to send a signal and it took three weeks for two motherships to arrive at the location between galaxies. (SGU: "Space", "Sabotage", "Deliverance") By being inferior to Ancient FTL-Travel it's possible that Nakai ships attempt ballistic travel instead of opening a hyperspace window. It's seen that they leave a large bubble of energy behind them which faints as the ship travels farther away from its initial point in space. This would mean that the ship aims for a point and brings itself to speed until it reaches its destination. Because there is nothing to slow their ships down in the vacuum of space it is likely that Nakai FTL-drive technology also relies on an unseen braking mechanism.
Comparison of Faster-than-Light drivesEdit
Though the time it takes to travel is more for the sake of drama than actually being scientific, it is interesting to consider how fast they actually travel.
Direct Measurements or Statements of operating speedsEdit
- Asgard O'Neill-class with Prometheus being towed: 200 Light Years per Second (6 seconds to travel 1,200 Light Years - directly measured from footage). It is known that Asgard ships are faster when not towing other vessels, but an exact figure is not known. (SG1: "Unnatural Selection")
- Goa'uld Ha'tak: 0.001 Light Years per second (32,000 times the speed of light - stated). This is also consistent with the statement that it would take 125 Years to travel approximately 4 Million Light Years. (SG1: "Exodus")
- Tau'ri BC-303: This class has been stated to be able to traverse 50 light years in 20 minutes, equating to a speed of 150 light-years per hour or 0.416 Light Years per Second. (SG1: "Prometheus Unbound")  (Scene Timings: 5:53 - 5:59).
- Tau'ri BC-304 (with ZPM power): It is often stated this configuration is capable of traveling between the Milky Way and Pegasus in 4 days. This equates to 8.681 light-years per second.
- Tau'ri BC-304: It is known that this class can traverse the distance between the Milkyway and Pegasus in 18 days. This equates to 1.929 light-years per second.
- Wraith Hive: These ships are capable of traversing 50 Light Years in 9 hour jumps (as stated by the Atlantis Expedition) - this combined with requiring a minimum 15 hour long hull regeneration after a maximum length jump equates to 50 Light Years per 24 hours or 0.000578 Light Years per second. This would be 0.00154 Light Years per second without the need for dropping out of hyperspace for hull regeneration.
Extrapolated operating speedsEdit
- Asgard Bilskirnir-class: It is possible this class has traversed approximately 4 Million Light Years (distance between the Milky Way and Ida) within a matter of hours. This is based on the assumption that Thor departed for Cimmeria from the Ida Galaxy only after receiving the request for help through the Hall of Thor's Might; and that the delay between the request being sent to Thor and him arriving was less than one day (as they both occurred while the sun was out). Assuming Cimmeria has a day that is relatively similar in length to Earth (not unreasonable given other events on that planet), it is highly unlikely that this time interval exceeds 12 hours. Additionally, the delay was at least the time required to walk from the Hall of Thor's Might back to the Goa'uld landing site, presumably a few hours. Assuming a middle ground of 8 hours, the Bilskirnir class would be capable of 139 Light Years per Second. (SG1: "Thor's Chariot")
- Lantean City-Ship Wormhole Drive: Observed to traverse at most 100,000 Light Years (diameter of the Milky Way) in seconds but there is no particular stated limitation on the distance if power is not a concern. Likely this is comparable to other wormhole travel and therefore outrageously fast compared to other ship-based FTL travel. It is worth noting this is not a mature technology and it is not known whether it could be refined into a practical means of starship travel.
- Lantean City-Ship Stardrive: At least a few hours to travel 3 Million Light Years (distance between the Milky Way and Pegasus galaxies). Assuming that this figure is approximately 4 hours the Stardrive is capable of approximately 200 Light Years per Second. The 4 hour time interval is based on the events in the final episode of Stargate Atlantis (ATL: "Enemy at the Gate"). Note that these figures are based on Atlantis's drive performance, which could be degraded due to accumulated damage, lack of operator understanding (as the ship was being operated by the Tau'ri rather than the Lanteans) or simple age.
- Ori Mothership: It is known that this class can keep up with a Tau'ri BC-304 with ZPM power; thus it's top speed is at least 8.681 Light Years per second. While they may possibly be considerably faster, there are not enough comparisons available to figure out a higher figure. While it was designed with knowledge given by Ascended beings, it was ultimately constructed by a civilization without much technological infrastructure which may explain this figure compared to Asgard and Ancient designs. This figure is also compatible with the fact that super gates were used in order to have an acceptable arrival time in the Milky way (though it is possible there is simply too vast a distance for reasonable travel even with much faster drives).
- Wraith Hive (with ZPM power): This ship is known to have traversed the distance between the Milkyway and Pegasus in no more than 2 days, likely considerably less (ATL: "Enemy at the Gate"). This is the overall trip time including a mid trip stop for regeneration and a fight, if these are disregarded (as they may not have been necessary once full ZPM integration was achieved) the total in hyperspace time seems likely to not exceed 24 hours. If we assume a minimal, but not impossible, 8 hour total hyperspace time then this class was capable of 100 Light Years per second. Unlike other ship classes it is possible that the ship must perform regular drop outs to repair hull damage, thus limiting it's top speed.
Given the above, and using the best assumptions extrapolated, this list presents a ranking based on speed. This disregards power efficiency or mass of ship moved.
This list is incomplete.
- 1. Lantean City-Ship Wormhole Drive: At least thousands of Light Years per second.
- 2. Asgard O'Neill-class: 200 Light Years per second (known to be faster if not towing another vessel)
- 3. Lantean City-Ship Stardrive: 200 Light Years per second
- 4. Asgard Bilskirnir-class: 139 Light Years per second
- 5. Wraith Hive (with ZPM power): 100 Light Years per second
- 6. Tau'ri BC-304-class (with ZPM power): ~8.68055 Light Years per second
- 7. Ori Mothership: ~8.68055 Light Years per second (may be higher)
- 8. Tau'ri BC-304-class: ~1.73611 Light Years per second
- 9. Tau'ri BC-303-class: ~0.04167 Light Years per second
- 10. Wraith Hive: 0.00154 Light Years per second (the average would be less than half the speed, if drop outs for healing are considered)
- 11. Goa'uld Ha'tak: 0.001 Light Years per second
An interesting conclusion from these figures is that FTL systems seem to vary widely in top speed and generally even advanced designs such as Asgard and Ancient drives are severely limited if fitted to ships with inadequate power, mismatched design or if they are built by a society that doesn't match the technological level of the design.