quantum drive in progress

The quantum drive is the main propulsion system of Planetary Union spaceships, including the USS Orville.

The Union's quantum drive technology is a realized form of an Alcubierre warp drive, which compresses in front and expands space in the back, creating folds in the fabric of space that a ship simply flies through.[1]

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.[2] In the words of John LaMarr, quantum drive technology advanced "a hell of a lot" in the 20 years up to 2421,[3] and the current drive engine makes "a thousand trillion independent calculations every millisecond."[4]

Faster-than-light travel by use of a quantum drive is called quantum speed[5] or simply quantum.[6] A vessel travelling at quantum speed is said to be within quantum space.[7][8]

Schematics Edit

Quantum Drive

The quantum drive allows 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 can bend the fabric of space into folds. The front of the quantum drive compresses space and its back expands space back to the original position.

The quantum drive is built as several torii around the ship, called quantum rings.[9] The torii come together as a point in the front of the ship in order to compress space, and fray away from each other in the back to expand space; a feature lending to the Union ships' distinctive "ring"-architecture. A ship controls the output of its quantum drive through the navigational array. Information input by the ship's navigator is sent by the array through navigational relays, which gives the helmsman at the bridge control over the ship's course.

Though people often think of the ships as accelerating at speeds faster than light,[n 1] in reality the ships create folds and simply travel through the folds as nominal speeds.[n 2] Engineers refer to this as "quantum speed."[n 3] The result is that the ship progresses distances of light years in breadth.

Union quantum reactors burn a "clean" energy that glows blue.[10]

Dysonium tank

Dysonium Processing Stack symbols on the dysonium tanks show each tank's magnetic configuration.[11]

Energy for the quantum drive is produced by dysonium crystals, a material capable of producing the intense quantity of energy required to manipulate space, which are refined into an extremely dense metal.[11] Dysonium is stored in dysonium tanks when not in use. The ship is protected from the dysonium by containment regulators,[12] which safely hold dysonium via magnetism and ensure no physical contact between the ship and the fuel.

When ready for use in the drive, dysonium is processed in Dysonium Processing Stacks where it is heated and ionized prior to injection into the ship's quantum engines (or quantum rings). [11] A quantum engine in each torus lassos ships like the Orville. Each engine compresses and expands space by using a pair of phase inducers, one for compression and one for expansion. Thus, the Orville's quantum drive consists of three quantum engines and six phase inducers.

Additionally, a quantum engine contains a photon manifold of unknown purpose, which engineers must periodically purge.[13]

The quantum drive enables the Orville to travel distances greater than 10 light years apart every hour.[14] For instance, at maximum speed, the Orville would take precisely 2.78 hours to cross a distance of 30 light years.[15]

Other Union ships Edit

Quantum injection fluid Isaac Firestorm

A crate of quantum injection fluid.

Historically, battleships such as the BCV Burton sported only a single quantum engine to propel the ship.[16]

Many modern Union vessels use three quantum engines, including Leviathan-class heavy cruisers. However, smaller Science-class vessels use only two engines and transporters have a single engine in the rear of the ship. It is unknown to what extent these differences affect their rate of travel.

Krill ships Edit

Krill drive plasma

Krill drive plasma, responsible for the quantum drive's green color.

Krill ships use a split-quantum drive with a quantum reactor that is markedly less efficient than their Union counterparts.[17]

Krill ships use "drive plasma,"[18] or simply plasma,[3] stored in the quantum reactor that gives Krill ships their characteristic greenish hue, but plasma's exact use is unknown.[10]

Other uses Edit

The term quantum drive also refers to the state of travel using the drive, prompting phrases such as "drop out of quantum drive."[19]

Production Edit

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.[20]

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).[21]
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.[22]

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."[11] 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.[11]
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 of known speed. Compared to Star Trek's USS Voyager, that needs around a century to travel 70,000 light years, or 2.739 light years a day, the Orville can travel ten light years a hour, or 240 light years a day, a factor of almost 88.
  • The quantum drive must operate in three-dimensional space. Travel through two-dimensional space will "knock the quantum engine out of alignment."[19]

Appearances Edit

Use of the quantum drive is ubiquitous throughout the show. Below are listed only explicit examinations and discussions of the drive itself.

Notes Edit

  1. Ed Mercer says the Orville travels at speeds in excess of 10 light years per hour. Episode 1x05: Pria
  2. John LaMarr acknowledges that the quantum drive creates "quantum bubbles" to travel in Episode 1x11: New Dimensions.
  3. John LaMarr in Episode 1x11: New Dimensions

References Edit

  1. Andre Bormanis in "6 Takeaways From A Set Visit To ‘The Orville’" by Anthony Pascale. Aug. 31, 2017.
  2. See the BCV Burton in Episode 1.5x02: New Beginnings, Pt. 2, which dates to around 2320.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Episode 2x10: Blood of Patriots
  4. Episode 2x06: A Happy Refrain
  5. Episode 2x09: Identity, Pt. 2
  6. Ed Mercer: "Jump into quantum." Episode 2x14: The Road Not Taken
  7. Episode 1x11: New Dimensions
  8. Episode 2x09: Identity, Pt. 2
  9. "The Orville Fan Podcast w/ The Visual Effects Team". Planetary Union Network. May 23, 2018.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 @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.
  12. Episode 1x10: Firestorm
  13. Episode 2x08: Identity, Pt. 1
  14. Episode 1x05: Pria
  15. Episode 1.5x04: The Word of Avis, Pt. 2
  16. Episode 1.5x02: New Beginnings, Pt. 2
  17. According to digital effects supervisor Brandon Fayette. See "The Orville Fan Podcast w/ The Visual Effects Team", Planetary Union Network (May 23, 2018).
  18. Episode 2x04: Nothing Left on Earth Excepting Fishes
  19. 19.0 19.1 Episode 11: New Dimensions
  20. "The Orville Fan Podcast “THINK”sgiving Episode w/ André Bormanis". Planetary Union Network. Nov. 21, 2017.
  21. Mahon, Chris. "Aliens and AI: André Bormanis Explores the Science Behind 'The Orville'". Outer Place. Sept. 20, 2017.
  22. "The Science Of THE ORVILLE: Quantum Drive | Season 1 | THE ORVILLE". The Orville. Oct. 10, 2017.
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