We are now seven episodes into the Orville. So far, we’ve gotten some interesting peeks into every day, not-so-normal life aboard a Union ship. From the crew and their mission to the intricacies of cross-species boning, the show has done a lot to set up this new universe. This is especially true for all the hot, new technology we get to witness in action: holograms, automatic doors, toilets… okay, most of this we have seen before.
The show has actually been a bit slow on the techobabble front. This has been particularly difficult for me and my upcoming book, A Layman’s Guide to the Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Functional Systems of a Planetary Union Mid-Level Exploratory Space Vessel: Annotated. I can’t even tell you how the waste processing system interacts with matter synthesizers (they are in space, they have to eat their own poop), which is page 87 of 2364 in LGPSTFSPUMLESSA.
Despite the lack of pointless-yet-orgasmic tech talk, we did get one nugget of knowledge that had me flipping out of my chair. Captain Mercer, while impressing his fellow (but treacherous) Captain Pria, explained the USS Orville was capable of traveling 10 light years per hour. I should specify, it’s not clear if this is just the usual or top speed, but it’s a number. Numbers lead to knowledge, or so I am told.
Getting Around in Space
Honestly, I can’t tell you if 10 light years is fast or not. I know it’s faster than my Toyota Prius, but then again, most things are faster than that. The Millennium Falcon made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, but I’ve been told that I’m an idiot for thinking that is a measurement of speed/time (thanks Mom). Getting anywhere in Elite Dangerous is so mind-numbingly long that it makes me give up and revert to playing Grand Theft Auto, and I don’t even play Grand Theft Auto.
A part of the issue is the scale of space itself. 10 light years, according to people smarter than I, isn’t that long. The nearest star system is less than 5 light years away, so we can take a half hour road trip on the Orville and then bum on the beaches of Alpha Centauri Prime. The galaxy is roughly 100,000 light years, so zipping around from one end to another like Luke dashing to Bespin is out of the question. The Andromeda galaxy is 2.5 million light years away, so anyone planning on joining my “Mass Effect: Andromeda Sightseeing Adventure” will have to wait a while.
Thankfully, without a lot of complicated math, we can already see that the Orville is slower than some ships from other sci-fi series. But how does it compare to the ships of the very show from which it will forever be trying to separate itself like a rebellious, misguided teenager? How fast is the Orville compared to Federation starships?
Thinking About Warp Speed
Let me warn you right now: to write this next section, I needed a calculator. Not just a normal calculator, no… a damn graphing calculator. I promised myself I would never pick up a calculator I couldn’t write 58008 on without accidentally graphic quadratic functions, but here I am: me, my calculator, and the time to think about this stuff instead of doing something more productive like starting a family. If you’d like some explanation of how I mathed all of the following, feel free to refer to this light read on the mathematics of warp drive. You can also play around with this handy warp speed calculator that roughly fits with the speeds the show’s creators described.
Beyond the logical connections, The Orville has to Star Trek, comparing speeds between these two universes is actually pretty productive. Gene Roddenberry and the other writers throughout the years actually took the time to explain how warp drive works and at what speeds. Starting with The Next Generation, they introduced the scale of warp drive factors most people scream before slamming down the gas pedal when a traffic light turns green. Thankfully, Michael Okuda, the lead graphic designer for shows like The Next Generation and Voyager, produced a handy chart to help the writers understand what was happening when Picard commanded, “Warp 6, engage!”
Warp speed is straightforward on paper: ships travel between a factor of 1-10. Like good, unobtainable movie sex, things start off easy and slowly with Warp 1 being the speed of light. Then things get complicated the faster we go, much like real sex. Warp 2 isn’t twice the speed, Warp 3 isn’t three times, etc. Hell, Warp 10 isn’t even an actual speed. That’s the barrier of infinity where a ship traveling at that speed would simultaneously exist everywhere in the universe and you would somehow turn into a lizard and mate with your captain. So… yeah, things get weird.
Warp speed increases exponentially. Instead of describing this in painful detail, let me just show you this handy, properly cited image I stole from people who know how to make informationally complex graphics:
Things get really interesting at Warp 9 and above, which is where you will find the top speeds of many notable Federation ships like the Enterprise-D, Enterprise-E, Voyager, etc. At this level, the difference of a tenth or hundredth could equal the difference of hundreds or thousands the times of lightspeed. For example, the good old Enterprise-D tops out at 9.2, which is roughly 1,649 times the speed of light. Voyager, at 9.9, would crank that up to 3,053. If you want to get anywhere in the galaxy, you need to push up the engines to as close to Warp 10 as possible without turning into a reptile.
So how does the Orville compare?
Warp Speed and the Orville
Before I get letters about how the Orville doesn’t use warp drive and I should be shot for even comparing the two, let me just say that I’ve set aside some space on my desk to thoroughly read through all of the well-articulated complaints at a later date. Let them come!
How does the Orville match up against the likes of an Enterprise or Voyager? Let’s look at it in terms of how Captain Mercer described the speed of the Orville. Compared to a ship that handles 10 light years per hour, typical Federation ships can cover:
USS Enterprise-D: .19 lightyears at 9.2
USS Voyager: .58 lightyears at 9.975
We are talking fractions of the speed of the Orville. Depending on the true size of the Planetary Union, this ship probably has no problem getting around to make sure yet another needlessly undefended colony isn’t obliterated by a single Krill ship.
For brownie points, we can also put a warp factor to the Orville’s speed. Admittedly, I’m using the warp calculator I linked above since my graphing calculator told me to get a life before walking out on me, but the results match up with the charts produced by the writers/designers of Star Trek. The magic number?
In a drag race, the Orville would smoke any Federation starship not using magical “spore-based technology” to cheat. Granted, it’s not as fast as the Borg transwarp technology that flung Voyager 30,000 light years in the span of several minutes, but that’s the Borg for you.
So there you have it… the Orville is a squid-like hot rod in space. It takes it mere hours to get around adjoining star systems or a couple days to cover some real ground. But it’s unclear whether this is typical for the series.
As a mid-level science exploratory vessel, the Orville might be on the faster end just to speed up that exploratory part. For smaller ships, maybe that 10 light years/hour mark is slow. Perhaps the Orville herself is capable of much more but they are restricted by an ever-present Union speed limit. Who knows?
This figure gives us a pretty good idea of how fast these ships are traveling when we see something like the Orville jump to the rescue. At the very least, you now have another option to pick the next time your friend challenges you to a hypothetical race of sci-fi ships… but no hyperdrive… that’s the Oddjob of hypothetical starship races… Steve…
Short shameless plug: be on the lookout for my upcoming book, A Layman’s Guide to the Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Functional Systems of a Planetary Union Mid-Level Exploratory Space Vessel: Annotated, hitting bookshelves sometime in the next couple of decades!