Like many sci-fi fans, I take great interest in astronomy and the goings on of the world's various space agencies. Thanks to a link on the Stars Without Number Facebook Page (here is the link), I'm changing a key element of not only my sci-fi setting, but also the rules that I'm working on. Essentially, NASA could very well be on their way to creating a "warp drive." The current work is based on a paper written in 1994 by physicist Miguel Alcubierre. By creating a bubble in space/time behind a starcraft and a space/time sink in front of the craft, a starship can be propelled through space fast faster than the speed of light, but since the space around the starcraft is unchanged it is not breaking the speed of light itself and therefore not meeting with a very messy end. The idea was scrapped as unfeasible due to the mass energy needed to subject enough force on space/time would be equal to that found in Jupiter. However, further research shows that with some tweaks to the Alcubierre Drive, the mass energy needed may only be around 1600 pounds of mass energy.
If this research yields practical results in testing, this means that we could travel the 4.3 light years to Alpha Centauri in weeks rather than entire generations living and dying on the journey. Day trips to Mars (or anywhere else in the solar system for that matter) would become feasible. We could easily harvest resources from the asteroids, moons, and planets throughout the solar system and beyond. Seeing how quick new technology can develop (as stated in the article, we went from only being able to generate 5 Watts of power via nuclear fission to 4 Megawatts in a year), if the practical tests yield the desired results, we could be traversing the stars before we know it. Just thinking of the economic, political, sociological, and even theological (should we happen to find proof that life exists elsewhere in the galaxy, that is) ramifications begins to blow my mind. Sure, this tech is all theoretical now, but the very idea that such travel is at least mathematically possible is exciting in the extreme.
If the Alcubierre Drive becomes reality, it's just another in a long line of technological advances that have been predicted by Star Trek (at least in some small way). Those shows continually show that they were ahead of their time.
What does all of this mean to my setting and system? Well, I'm scrapping the idea of Drillspace and the Elder Relays. Warp Drives are now the principle means of transportation throughout the galaxy. I may still use Relays, but they will be an invention of the current species roaming the galaxy other than some unknown ancient species. This means I need to go back and re-write some aspects of the setting background, since the Elder Relays were an integral part of the setting. Plus, the removing of the limitations of travel via Drillspace will have significant ramifications on the setting as well. That's not to say that I won't have limits to what speeds an Alcubierre Drive can attain, but space travel will be a lot more straight-forward, safer, and simpler.
We truly do live in an exciting age!