In 2911 FTL (faster-than-light) travel is primarily accomplished using a combination of technologies, the most important of which is simply called Stardrive. It is based on the space-warping theories of the 20th century physicist Miguel Alcubierre. Physics aside, most stardrives are only sustaining and initiation systems medium to large ships to use while using a Stargate. Only the largest ships can create the field themselves and they have some navigation issues as well. Stargates all also used to facilitate standard FTL communications and augment the highspeed T-Com network overseen by the Esper Guild.
How a StarGate Works
A Stargate is a series of vast energy coils usually found at a LaGrange point or other stable orbit away from deep gravity wells (you couldn’t have one in low-orbit for instance). By passing through these coils, a warp bubble is created around the ship seemingly allowing the ship to move faster than light. In fact, the ship doesn’t move at all once it exits the coils and is on its way, the space around it moves. Speeds of up to a parsec a day have been achieved by ever energetic and optimized fields away from gravity wells. When in-system speeds of 1 AU every 8 minutes is standard. Higher speeds are very dangerous. For all types of gates, the receiving stargate strips the field away from the ship upon arrival, returning it to normal space. The field generally cannot be turned off without a stargate or a huge power supply (certain capital ships, etc); though certain emergency procedures exist should a gate fail. Also, FTL combat is unknown and considered nearly impossible. Combat, when it happens, occurs in normal space. Note: A large gravity well can disrupt the field though it usually ends up very messy.
These are uncommon in most systems, Sol being the main user (few other systems have more than one colony or world anyway). However, at Sol they are the norm. The Earth orbital itself has five stargates, one at each L-Point (2 primary and 3 secondary). With the exception of Mercury, each planet has at least one. Users of these gates can be sent to anywhere in the system with a gate or sent to an Inner Sphere gateway destination.
Every official settled human colony has a stargate (usually at least two if it has been settled for any real length of time). There are no exceptions. Each gate is controlled by Earthgov Stargate Agency or ESA, though the Spacer worlds have nominal control over theirs. A gate cannot be easily powered down due to the vast energy running through it, and starting it up again takes days. Most outsystem routes use well laid out gates and transfer points.
Usually travel between stargates is either facilitated by the Guild-trained Esper Directors (Astrogators, E-Navs), or less often dedicated computers (Nav-Com) for the more common routes. Since the distance travelled is vast, Directors help a ship set its course by employing their pre-cognative and clairsentient abilities, sometimes in concert with another Director at the destination using the T-Com. The Director need not be on the ship to do this, only at the stargate facility. Highly advanced computer systems can do the same job if all the variables are known (and used to be the only way). These are nowhere near as flexible and take significantly longer to make their calculations for Outsystem flights; but work fine and quickly enough for Insystem regular traffic. Note: If a ship employs a skilled Director on board in sync with a top Nav-com, it is possible to change course mid-flight to another stargate . Dangerous, but possible.
Without a Stargate
It used to be that the first explorer ships to enter a system in the past were limited to lightspeed. It took years, or even decades to reach their destinations, build a stargate and then come back to Earth within weeks or months. Now, technology has advanced to the point that non-stargate using vessels (Starships vs Gateships) can travel at speeds approaching half the speed of regular Outsystem gate traffic. Faster is possible but not recommended without a Director on board and one at the destination, and if that is the case, you may as well use a gate. Generally only military capital ships, and the vast explorer ships use full blown stand-alone drive systems due to the vast space the power systems require. Technology has improved to a degree, but medium-sized Starships are likely decades away, but rumors abound about military ‘skunk works’ designs that may have broken the power barrier; but with limitations…
Of note is one thing. On at least two occasions it has been documented that certain superhumans have shown the ability to generate their own warp bubble. One has been certified to be alien tech still not deciphered by top scientists and the other is thought to be a pure mutation. There may be more instances of this, but it has so far baffled the scientific community.