When Dmitri Alkaev’s parents emigrated from the Soviet Union during the height of the Soft War, mankind’s space programs were in still their infancy. The Great War-era British and German rocket programs proved that manmade objects can escape Earth’s gravity, but these rockets were built as crude weapons and not scientific instruments. The next few decades would see the Americans launch the first man into orbit, the Soviets land on the Moon and the Germans create the first space station and land on Mars.
Final victory in the so-called “space race” belonged to the Americans, as Alkaev, an engineer working for the Imperial Space Administration (ISA), made a breakthrough. On July 8th, 2057, he managed to engineer a superluminal engine. Although he was not the first to invent superluminal drives, that honor belonging ten years prior to the gravity drive, he was the first to invent one that was safe and reliable.
The drive works on the principle of “realspace encapsulation.” A “bubble” of space-time surrounds a spacecraft, which have to be somewhat arrow-shaped due to the nature of encapsulation, by three or more particle accelerators generating miniature black holes. This “bubble” is separate from the space around it, and so for all intents and purposes the spacecraft inside no longer exists. This bubble can be accelerated faster than the speed of light, while the spacecraft itself is stationary within the bubble. This allows spacecraft to sidestep the effects of relativistic travel. However, Alkaev engines have one major flaw, and that they require massive amounts of power. This led to early human spacecraft being mostly fusion reactors by mass, and more power and particle accelerators are required the more massive a ship is. An Alkaev engine running out of power before a spacecraft reaches its destination is disastrous, as the realspace bubble will collapse and more likely than not strand the spacecraft in interstellar space. Given the sheer size of space, distress signals could take years to reach the nearest ship, and pinpointing the ship’s location is nearly impossible. Modern Alkaev engines still have this flaw, severely limiting a ship’s range and making refueling points highly valuable, especially in times of war.
The Alkaev engine, as it was known from then on, was first tested on OV-077 John Quincy Adams, where it traveled to Proxima Centauri from the edge of the Sol System and back in six months. Shortly afterwards, Germany and the Soviet Union developed their own Alkaev engines and sent out their own missions. The next two centuries saw massive advances in spacecraft technology, and man spread from Earth throughout the stars until the beginning of the Collapse.
Alkaev engines are by far one of the most important pieces of technology a modern state can have, second only to nuclear weapons and energy shielding, but their complexity and power requirements mean that only more advanced states can have Alkaev-equipped vessels in mass quantities. Consequently, more than 91% of all interstellar spacecraft are owned by or registered under the superpowers, with more than 98% of all warships belonging to the superpowers’ navies. Most ships are merchant vessels, no more advanced than the first interstellar starships. Only the superpowers have the logistical ability to truly wage a naval war, and so many states, especially on planetary or sub-planetary levels, rent ships from the superpowers whenever they get into interplanetary or interstellar disputes. Currently, the Coalition of Western Republics Navy is the largest galactic navy, with the Conseil People’s Armada and the United Technocracies Space Force not far behind.
Gravity drives are another form of human superluminal technology. Although older than Alkaev engines, gravity drives are much less popular and knowledge of their existence was lost during the Collapse until the mid-2600s, and their existence was classified until after the Conseil general retreat from the Coalition's systems during the early stages of the Galactic War. Gravity drives were invented in the 2040s by a joint team of American and German scientists trying to get ahead of Soviet relativistic vehicles. In 2047, the German spacecraft Ereignishorizont was equipped with a gravity drive and sent to Alpha Centauri. According to available records, it never returned, but rumors among sailors and merchants that this was part of a conspiracy. Professional historians, the Department of State Security and the Navy dismiss these stories as nothing more than tall tales.
In many ways, gravity drives are merely a cruder, faster, less accurate version of Alkaev engines. Instead of using black holes to create a bubble of realspace, gravity drives punch through realspace and allow the ship to exit existence altogether, allowing for instantaneous travel between any two points in space. Although this method is much faster than Alkaev engines, precise navigation is almost impossible and its effects on humans have been described as “adverse.”
When Coalition scientists rediscovered gravity drive technology, they saw it as an alternative to bypass Conseil defenses and allow ships to bombard Karl-Marx-Welt in the event of war. Several tests, conducted by the Bureau of Special Scientific Affairs, with gravity drives concluded that only machinery and non-sapient organisms could travel safely via gravity drive. There is as of now no scientific explanation for this, but it has allowed the Navy and SSA to have fully automated fleets. The government has denied that these fleets have ever seen use aside from cutting Conseil supply lines during the Galactic War, but rumors persist that the SSA is working with various independent parties on something relating to this ancient technology.