Though various power generation techniques exist, most Federation and nearly all Earth starships collide streams of ionized deuterium in a reactor core, with annihilation products being directed into a meson moderator (typically dilithium, though other materials are sometimes used). Fundamentally, the main drive system of the ship depends on a working fluid, typically gaseous mercury or phosphate. This gas, known as "warp plasma" functions as a conductor of charged relativistic pions, which gives the warp plasma a strong negative electrical charge.
In a warp core, a stream of ionized deuterium is collided at high energy with a stream of antiprotons, producing relativistic pions and gamma ray photons, and also ejecting electrons from the steam at high energy. The gamma ray photon and relativistic pion is absorbed and fused in the dilithium matrix and then re-emitted as a charged relativistic pion, which is transferred to the warp plasma and carried to the warp nacelles.
The strong charge of the drive plasma is used for electrical power production aboard the ship using Hall-type MHD turbines (older ships called these "energizers," or the Galaxy class' EPS power taps that actually bleed a small portion of the plasma into a secondary loop for power production. Beyond that, the drive plasma is passed through the ship's warp coils
, which are made of verterium cortenide or some other ferrogravitic material (the gravitational equivalent of a natural magnet). When relativistic pions pass through the gravitational field, they decay spontaneously into graviton and antigravition pairs, both of which are focussed and transmitted from the nacelle.
Warp plasma is passed through the drive coils in pulses, with each pulse producing a dipole gravitational field all around the ship. The firing pattern of the warp coils is timed by the computer to produce an interference pattern so that the highest concentration of negative gravity is directly behind the ship with positive gravity in front of the ship, propelling it forward in space.
Note that an imbalance in matter/antimatter reactions within the warp engines may result in the production of neutral pions in the warp plasma. Neutral pions decay into gravitons only
, which would result in a very steep gravity well in front of the ship with a disproportionately small gravity hill behind it. If the gravity well becomes intense enough it will collapse into its own swartzchild radius and the warp field will decay into a wormhole (specifically, a wormhole that lacks a terminus; the starship will continue to fall into the wormhole forever as its internal clock slows down asymptotically towards zero).
Warp factor is a unit of warp field distortion that indicates the total gravitic distortion, positive and negative, given as the square of one cochrane of subspace distortion. Exactly how fast a ship will travel under such and such a warp factor depends on many things, primarily the graviton flux density of nearby space in which the warp field forms.