In 2083, humanity unlocked the key to the stars with the first theorization of the warp drive. It would take us another 2 decades to work up the courage to actually use it.
The Warp Drive is, essentially, a particle accelerator aimed towards the bow of the carrier it is mounted on. It is surrounded on all sides by large banks of super capacitors to feed the hungry systems of the accelerator. Inside the drive itself rests the “seed” particle, a gravitonic mass suspended by electromagnetic barriers. These barriers hold the gravitonic mass in place by way of weak nuclear forces, which requires them to constantly draw a massive current from the main reactors of the ships they are placed on. Permanent loss of power on a carrier, therefore, means being marooned in deep space. It is for this reason Warp Drives are usually given their own reactor, sealed off from the rest of the vessel.
To travel faster than light, the warp drive “peels off” a graviton from the mass of gravitons, and accelerates it towards the direction of travel. At high energy levels, the graviton distorts the nearby space-time, “warping it”. Gravitons self-act, which causes the particle to keep accelerating forward. The end result is a graviton flying through space at faster than light (FTL) speeds, with the carrier caught in the slipstream. This FTL regime causes the graviton to constantly lose energy in a mechanism similar to hawking radiation – eventually the particle comes out of the FTL regime, and stops carrying the carrier with it. By carefully tuning the energy of the particle, and aiming the accelerator towards the right target, the carrier can traverse interstellar distances rapidly.
However, there are physical drawbacks of the warp drive. First is the massive energy requirement – An FTL drive cannot function without a massive surge to jump-start the accelerator and shoot the seed graviton forward. Second, the accelerator itself has to be aimed absolutely perfectly – a few degrees of imprecision at a few light-years can have disastrous consequences. Finally, the translation process of the graviton has a step cost of energy – the energy needed to separate the graviton and the carrier from the nearby gravitonic influence. This causes a degree of inherent inaccuracy to the warp drive stemming from this step cost – there is no way to calculate the exact escape energy of a carrier at rest. This is the reason why carriers will avoid using the warp drive near other masses (including planets) and will attempt to leave FTL regime before they get near planetary masses.
Of course, then there is the reason why it took us over two decades to colonize an extra-solar planet. The Red Valley Disaster: The expression of a natural consequence of the warp drive construction process. The graviton mass that forms the core of the warp drive requires a very high energy run of a toroidal particle accelerator. Roughly every 2/3 such accelerator forms an unstable gravitonic mass, which decays in a highly destructive event. Because of this physical reality, the manufacture of gravitonic warp drives are done in deep space, and multiple facilities are constructed at once to ensure at least one produces a workable unit.
Because of the energy magnitude needed to maintain a warp drive, and to launch a graviton into FTL regime, warp drives are mounted on large vessels called carriers. These monsters of interstellar travel are the only means by which anyone can travel the star-spanning human civilization. Attempts have been made to turn the accelerator component of the warp drive into an interstellar signal source, but the weak interaction of gravitons and the inherent inaccuracy of the warp drive has made it into an impossibility.