The quantum drive array (or simply the quantum drive) was the main propulsion system of Planetary Union spaceships, including the USS Orville, the Krill, and likely many other space-flight capable species.
The Union's quantum drive technology was a realized form of an Alcubierre warp drive, which compressed space in front and expanded space in the rear, creating folds in the fabric of space that a ship simply flies through.
The modern quantum drive evolved from simpler quantum reactor technology of the early 24th century, which featured a single quantum ring and a different engine. In the words of John LaMarr, quantum drive technology had advanced "a hell of a lot" in the 20 years up to 2421, and the current drive engine made "a thousand trillion independent calculations every millisecond."
Faster-than-light travel by use of a quantum drive was called quantum speed or simply quantum. A vessel traveling at quantum speed was said to be within quantum space, which was another way of referring to travel through compressed space folded by the quantum drive.
The quantum drive allowed manipulation of the fabric of space allowing faster than light travel. Space, at the deepest level, is quantized, and intense energy output produced by the quantum drive could bend the fabric of space into folds. The front of the quantum drive compressed space and its back expanded space back to the original position.
The quantum drive was built as several torii around the ship called quantum rings. The torii met at a single point in the front of the ship in order to compress space and frayed away from each other in the back to expand space; a feature lending to the Union ships' distinctive "ring"-architecture. A ship controlled the output of its quantum drive through the navigational array. Information input by the ship's navigator was sent by the array through navigational relays, which gave the helmsman at the bridge control over the ship's course.
Though people often found it easier to think of the ships as accelerating at speeds faster than light,[n 1] in reality the ships created folds and simply traveled through the folds as nominal speeds.[n 2] Engineers referred to this as "quantum speed."[n 3] The result was that the ship progressed distances of light years in breadth.
Energy for the quantum drive was produced from dysonium crystals, a material capable of producing the intense quantity of energy required to manipulate space, which were refined into an extremely dense metal. Dysonium was stored in dysonium tanks when not in use. The ship was protected from the dysonium by containment regulators, which safely held dysonium via magnetism and ensured no physical contact between the ship and the fuel.
When ready for use in the drive, dysonium was processed in Dysonium Processing Stacks where it was heated and ionized prior to injection into the ship's quantum engines (or quantum rings).  A quantum engine in each torus lassoed ships like the Orville. Each engine compressed and expanded space by using a pair of phase inducers, one for compression and one for expansion. Thus, the Orville's quantum drive consisted of three quantum engines and six phase inducers.
Additionally, a quantum engine contained a photon manifold of unknown purpose, which engineers had to periodically purge.
The quantum drive enabled the Orville to travel distances greater than 10 light years apart every hour. For instance, at maximum speed, the Orville would take precisely 2.78 hours to cross a distance of 30 light years.
Other Union ships
Many modern Union vessels used three quantum engines, including Leviathan-class heavy cruisers. However, smaller Science-class vessels used only two engines and transporters have a single engine in the rear of the ship. It is unknown to what extent these differences affected their rate of travel.
Krill ships used a split-quantum drive with a quantum reactor that was markedly less efficient than their Union counterparts.
- The term quantum drive also referred to the state of travel using the drive, prompting phrases such as "drop out of quantum drive."
- The Alibar successfully built a Quantum Shifter, complete with a quantum engine, to transport the Alibar system to a new universe.
The concept of a device that allows a vessel to exceed the speed of light is a staple of science fiction writing, but the idea of the quantum drive proper was developed in The Orville's writing room. Science consultant and supervising producer André Bormanis sketched how faster-than-light travel could be possible to the writers; that space-time probably arises as an emergent property from quantum level processes between particles so that "the sum is greater than the whole." Following Bormanis's lead, the Orville's method of travel would turn on quantum entanglement and, for that reason, creator Seth MacFarlane decided to name the device a "quantum" drive.
Bormanis first discussed specifics of the quantum drive in September 20, 2017, ten days after the show premiered:
We have a faster-than-light drive system, which we call quantum drive as opposed to warp drive (the idea being that space, at the deepest level, is quantized, like the energy levels in atoms, and if someday we understand how this works we might be able to manipulate the fabric of space to travel faster than light).
Later, he explained that the quantum drive's principles derive from the work of Miguel Alcubierre and the Alcubierre drive. Both drives operate by creating an energy-density field lower than that of a vacuum (negative mass); essentially compressing space and allowing the Orville to traverse vast distances relative to bystanders, but only a short distance relative to the ship. Provided that material with negative mass is obtained, the ship can compress space at rates far exceeding the speed of light.
Bormanis decided that, as an energy source, the quantum drive would use a fictional transuranic element Dysonium, composed of protons, neutrons, and "a shell of negative matter in their nuclei that helps render them stable." Bormanis continues:
In our quantum drive core we liberate and manipulate that negative matter, enabling the ship to enter and travel through 'quantum space,' a higher dimensional realm that exponentially reduces the distance needed to travel between star systems.
To maintain consistency episode-by-episode, Bormanis penned a "Bible" for the show's writers to reference. The document outlines the theoretical science behind the ship's quantum drive.
- The drive's setup can be compared with other science fiction drives such as the quantum slipstream drive from the show Star Trek: Voyager. The conventional warp drive equipped abroad the USS Voyager requires around 75 years to travel 70,000 light years, or 2.739 light years a day, while the Orville can travel ten light years a hour, or 240 light years a day, a factor of almost 88.
- The quantum drive had to operate in three-dimensional space as travel through two-dimensional space would "knock the quantum engine out of alignment."
Use of the quantum drive is ubiquitous throughout the show. Below are listed only explicit examinations and discussions of the drive itself.
- Ed Mercer says the Orville travels at speeds in excess of 10 light years per hour. Episode 1x05: Pria
- John LaMarr acknowledges that the quantum drive creates "quantum bubbles" to travel in Episode 1x11: New Dimensions.
- John LaMarr in Episode 1x11: New Dimensions
- Andre Bormanis in "6 Takeaways From A Set Visit To ‘The Orville’" by Anthony Pascale. TrekMovie.com. Aug. 31, 2017.
- See the BCV Burton in Episode 1.5x02: New Beginnings, Pt. 2, which dates to around 2320.
- Episode 2x10: Blood of Patriots Cite error: Invalid
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- Episode 2x06: A Happy Refrain
- Episode 2x09: Identity, Pt. 2
- Ed Mercer: "Jump into quantum." Episode 2x14: The Road Not Taken
- Episode 1x11: New Dimensions
- Episode 2x09: Identity, Pt. 2
- "The Orville Fan Podcast w/ The Visual Effects Team". Planetary Union Network. May 23, 2018.
- Vineyard, Jennifer. "EMMY CONTENDER: HOW THE ORVILLE'S VFX TEAM FOUGHT A SPACE BATTLE AND SETH MACFARLANE BROKE A SHIP". SyFy. Aug. 28, 2019.
- @TomCostantino. "From the mind of our own Andre Bormanis and the design of Doug Drexler. A little @TheOrville 👽 “science” for y’all. #TheOrville @hulu @planetary_union @NASA @JackatNasa @On2Mars_Kayla". Twitter. Oct. 11, 2019.
- Episode 1x10: Firestorm
- Episode 2x08: Identity, Pt. 1
- Episode 1x05: Pria
- Episode 1.5x04: The Word of Avis, Pt. 2
- Episode 1.5x02: New Beginnings, Pt. 2
- According to digital effects supervisor Brandon Fayette. See "The Orville Fan Podcast w/ The Visual Effects Team", Planetary Union Network (May 23, 2018).
- Episode 2x04: Nothing Left on Earth Excepting Fishes
- Episode 11: New Dimensions
- Episode 2.5x02: Launch Day, Pt. 2
- "The Orville Fan Podcast “THINK”sgiving Episode w/ André Bormanis". Planetary Union Network. Nov. 21, 2017.
- Mahon, Chris. "Aliens and AI: André Bormanis Explores the Science Behind 'The Orville'". Outer Place. Sept. 20, 2017.
- "The Science Of THE ORVILLE: Quantum Drive | Season 1 | THE ORVILLE". The Orville. Oct. 10, 2017.