From the Millennium Falcon to the USS Enterprise, science fiction has shown us a vast array of out-of-this-world spaceships that defy our rules of physics. We’ve rounded up some of your favorite intergalactic crafts from television, film and video games, along with real NASA spacecraft, to compare and speculate who has the fastest ship in the universe.
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We present our findings in either relativistic speed or faster-than-light speed (FTL). Ships travelling at the relativistic speed cannot pass the speed of light barrier because that, of course, would take an infinite amount of energy.
Ships in theStar Wars universe are also equipped with hyperdrive propulsion systems for making the jump to hyperspace (FTL speed), with the notable exception of the TIE Fighter. These hyperdrives are categorized by a class system in which lower numbers are faster. The X-wing has a class 1 rating. The Star Destroyer, which is larger and slower, is a class 2. Han Solo made illegal modifications to make the Millennium Falcon do 0.5 past light speed, but just how fast is this? 25,000 light-years per day or 1,041.66 light-years per hour. That’s a top speed of 2.74 x 1015 meters per second.
In Star Trek, FTL propulsion is achieved with a warp drive. Warp speeds are ranked, with the higher the number meaning the faster the ship. Warp 1 is the speed of light. The standard speed most enterprise ships could travel safely at is warp 8 (1.54 x 1011 m/s), with warp 10 being an unattainable infinite maximum that few ships have been able to travel close to — and not for very long.
The Galactica (BS-75) from Battlestar Galactica uses a FTL drive to achieve a top speed of 4,600 light-years in a day.
Ships from the Alien franchise get faster by an order of their magnitude. The USCSS Prometheus is able to travel at 19 times the speed of light to get to the binary star system Zeta Reticuli, which is 39 light-years from Earth, in two years.
The Trimaxion Drone Ship from Flight of the Navigator went to Phaelon, which is only 560 light-years away, in only 2.2 hours. To achieve this, it would’ve needed 130,000 g of acceleration and therefore had to exceed the speed of light.
The Ark from the Transformers cartoon traveled from Cybertron, in Proxima Centauri, 4.4 light-years to Earth. The Ark was attacked by Megatron upon takeoff and crash-landed on Earth 14 days later (because of a likely two-part episode). We estimate it was travelling 115 times the speed of light.
In Wall-E, when our robot hero first arrives on The Axiom, it is located behind the Horsehead Nebula, which is 1,500 light-years away. Assuming the journey home to Earth took eight hours, the Axiom hit a top speed of 6.57 x 1014 m/s.
Fireball XL5 traveled at “Space Velocity 7,” which we estimate was 24 times the speed of light in order to reach Proxima Centauri, 4 light-years away, in 60 days (a few months).
The Rodger Young from Starship Troopers traveled to Klendathu at the other side of the galaxy, 80,000 light-years away, which took the troopers only a few weeks to get there. It had to have been traveling at 1.3 million times the speed of light.
The Red Dwarf broke light speed after gradually speeding up for 3 million years while its crew was in stasis. The ship went from Saturn to Earth in four years. Red Dwarf would have traveled 1,000 trillion light-years by the time it hit light speed.
Eagle 5 from Spaceballs is said to be going “1,500 light leagues per minute.” A league is the distance a man can walk in a day. If a light league is the distance light can go in a day, Eagle 5 can travel at 90,000 times the speed of light unless Lone Star has a bottle of Liquid Schwartz. Spaceball 1 can attain a new speed definitely faster than light speed. It’s a speed so fast it causes the universe to appear in plaid. After engaging Ludicrous speed for 1 minute and 5 seconds of movie time, Barf says Spaceball One must have overshot the space RV by “a week and a half”. This sets our top speed for the megalithic Spaceball One.
The closest we’ve ever really come to achieving a speed that makes the universe appear in plaid was a planned nuclear propulsion spacecraft known as Project Orion in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. It was projected to hit a maximum velocity of 10,000 kilometers per second, or 3.3% of the speed of light. The Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963 signed between the U.S., U.K. and U.S.S.R. to slow the nuclear arms race and halt excessive release of nuclear fallout eventually ended this project. For the time being, we’ll have to settle for Saturn V, which can achieve a top speed of 64,500 km per hour.
The Moya’s Starburst can achieve speeds that rival the Millennium Falcon. However, she can only stay in Starburst for a few minutes and then must recharge and recalculate. This puts an upper limit of speed at about a thousand light years per day.