Sci-Fi Space Travel Speeds

This post was just an exercise in comparing how fast starships in different sci-fi franchises can travel, knowing the only correct answer was that fictional starships “travel at the speed of plot” (with apologies to J. Michael Straczynski et. al.). The Traveller role-playing universe by Marc Miller tends to be the slowest FTL, closely followed by the warp speeds of Star Trek. Ships in the far, far away galaxy of Star Wars are, by comparison, insanely fast.

* Close (within 1 km)
* Short (1,000s km)
* Medium (10,000s km)
* Long (100,000s km) … Earth to moon, one light-second (about 300,000 km)
* Distant (millions km) … Sun to Mercury, Venus
* Subsystem (100s millions km) … Sun to Earth, Mars, outer planets
* System (billions km) … Sun to Nepture, Uranus
* Parsec (trillions km, 3.26 light years) … Earth to Alpha Centuri (4.367 light years)
* Subsector (10s light years) … cluster of neighboring systems
* Sector (100s light years) … cluster of neighboring subsectors
* Domain (1,000s light years) … cluster of sectors, or one major space government in Star Trek or Star Wars
* Galactic Arm (10,000s light years) … Earth to center of Milky Way galaxy
* Galaxy (100,000s light years) … width of Milky Way galaxy, distance to both nearby Magellanic Clouds
* Short Intergalactic (millions light years) … distance to Andromeda Galaxy (M31)
* Medium Intergalactic (10s millions light years)
* Long Intergalactic (100s millions light years)
* Distant Intergalactic (billions light years)
* Universe (10s billions light years) … limits of observable universe

How It Works: The ship accelerates in normal space toward light-speed (1c), but in doing so relative velocity causes elapsed time measured onboard to suffer time dilation effects compared to time measured in outside “normal” space. For example, a ship travelling for 1 day at 99.5% the speed of light would find 10 days have passed if returning back to its point of origin.

* 0.0c … 1 ship day = 1 normal space day
* 0.1c … 1 ship day = 1.01 normal space days
* 0.2c … 1 ship day = 1.02 normal space days
* 0.3c … 1 ship day = 1.05 normal space days
* 0.4c … 1 ship day = 1.09 normal space days
* 0.5c … 1 ship day = 1.15 normal space days
* 0.6c … 1 ship day = 1.25 normal space days
* 0.7c … 1 ship day = 1.40 normal space days
* 0.8c … 1 ship day = 1.67 normal space days
* 0.9c … 1 ship day = 2.29 normal space days
* 0.95c … 1 ship day = 3.2 normal space days
* 0.97c … 1 ship day = 4.11 normal space days
* 0.99c … 1 ship day = 7.09 normal space days
* 0.995c … 1 ship day = 10.01 normal space days
* 0.999c … 1 ship day = 22.37 normal space days


Science-fiction “FTL” starships ignore the known limits of mass, light speed, special relativity and time dilation. A common gimmick is the use of “hyperspace” (or “jump space”), an extradimensional state often depicted as a silvery void that exists “outside” normal space. “Warp drive” tech in Star Trek takes the idea of “hyperspace” as an artificially projected bubble around a starship, allowing mass to be ignored and propelling the warp bubble at velocities beyond the speed of light.

How It Works: Starship gets beyond 100 planetary diameters away from a planet (but a local star’s gravity within a system doesn’t matter), then enters hyperspace for one week (168 hours) and exits back into normal space at a point beyond 100 diameters from a planet. The distance from safe jump points to planets must be traveled using slower-than-light maneuver drives. Although the speeds below are listed as light years per day for comparison, Traveller pilots actually only count speeds as parsecs per jump.

* Jump 1 … 0.5 light years per day (1 parsec per jump)
* Jump 2 … 1.0 light years per day (2 parsecs per jump)
* Jump 3 … 1.4 light years per day (3 parsecs per jump)
* Jump 4 … 1.9 light years per day (4 parsecs per jump)
* Jump 5 … 2.3 light years per day (5 parsecs per jump)
* Jump 6 … 2.8 light years per day (6 parsecs per jump)

(Source: Traveller role-playing game, all editions.)

How It Works: Starship projects an artificial “warp bubble” around itself, negating its mass while still being able to monitor normal space in real time. “Transwarp” adds the use of spatical “shortcuts” via conduits or other portals, such as stable wormholes.

* Standard Orbit (synchronous orbit around Earth) … 9,600 kph
* Impulse Power (speed open to a lot of debate, often considered 0.25c)
* Warp Factor 1 (1c) … 0.02 light years per day
* Warp Factor 2 (10c) … 0.03 light years per day
* Warp Factor 3 (39c) … 0.1 light years per day
* Warp Factor 4 (102c) … 0.3 light years per day
* Warp Factor 5 (214c) … 0.6 light years per day
* Warp Factor 6 (392c) … 1.0 light years per day
* Warp Factor 7 (656c) … 1.8 light years per day
* Warp Factor 8 (1024c) … 2.8 light years per day
* Warp Factor 9 (1516c) … 4.1 light years per day
* Warp Factor 9.2 (1649c) … 4.5 light years per day
* Warp Factor 9.6 (1909c) … 5.2 light years per day
* Warp Factor 9.9 (3053c) … 8.4 light years per day
* Subspace Radio, Warp Factor 9.9999 (200,000c) … 547 light years per day
* Transwarp (7912c) … 21.6 light years per day

In the ST:TNG episode “Force of Nature,” evidence of subspace damage caused by warp drives led the Federation to impose a “speed limit” of Warp Factor 6 except for emergency use.

(Source: There have been various “warp factor” scales listed in different “authoritative” guides over the years. This one comes from Star Trek The Next Generation Technical Manual published in 1991, with “Transwarp” added from later series.)

How It Works: Starship enters hyperspace, navigating a plotted route around gravity wells found in normal space. Typically the route uses established “space lanes” known for efficiency and safety. Normal space cannot be monitored while in hyperspace.

* 0.1 past light-speed (The Death Star) … 5,000 light years per day
* 0.2 past light-speed (Imperial Star Destroyer) … 10,000 light years per day
* 0.3 past light-speed (X-Wing starfighter) … 15,000 light years per day
* 0.4 past light-speed (Slave 1) … 20,000 light years per day
* 0.5 past light-speed (Millennium Falcon) … 25,000 light years per day

(Source: Chris Lough’s “How Fast is the Millennium Falcon? A Thought Experiment” posted on in 2014.)