Starfleet technology is rather abundant in the Union. As such, it was thought that a bit of a crash course on how it operates might be helpful. So, here goes.
Please note that this does NOT include other star nations - all assume Federation technology. The Federation itself is a star nation of over 200 planets, which functions as a cohesive government, although humans are the founders that brought the first few members together, and they are the most influential individual species, which is highlighted by the abundance of important Starfleet and governmental assets, offices and headquarters on Earth.
There are three different time periods you really need to "care" about - Enterprise (the Enterprise TV series), TOS (60's series, first six movies), and TNG (Next Generation, DS9, Voyager, movies 7-10). Of these, TNG is the one you will run into the most. Most of the ships on MCM are from this, and it is the last chronologically. It is also the one in which the majority of shows are set. This does NOT cover tech from movie 11, though much is probably similar (although on a much bigger scale).
Basic Tech Concepts
- Warp Drive - the FTL drive. Operates by matter-antimatter reaction, which is controlled by a substance known as dilithium. Causes reality to distort from the nacelles (the large things sticking out of the ships, usually growing blue or attached to large grills) Spatial distortion output is measured in "cochranes," though only techies really care about that.
- Impulse Drive - Sublight drive, powered by fusion.
- Phasers - directed energy weapons, more powerful than lasers. On ships, come in three types - banks (which are sets of turrets), arrays (long strips of small units that work together to fire from anywhere on the strip) and pulse cannons.
- Photon Torpedoes - Antimatter warheads.
- Quantum Torpedoes - Warheads that use a photon torpedo to trigger their main explosive sequence, the creation of a "pinch" in reality that taps tremendous energies. Much rarer than photon torpedoes due to rare materials it uses, but often worth the boost.
- Tricobalt Warheads - Rare. Ridiculously powerful. Measured in how much reality is warped by the detonation.
- Transporters - matter dematerialization/rematerialization technology. Very complicated technology. The most important things to know are that you can't beam through shields unless the shields are matched in terms of frequency with YOUR ship's shields, you can't do it at warp except for very special circumstances, and in theory people can go splat (which has probably been markedly decreased by the Balancing Effect, otherwise it would be too damned easy to use transporters as assassination weapons).
- Tractor beams - gravity beams used to tow large masses.
- Warp core - the matter-antimatter device that powers the warp drive, and usually the ship. Usually takes the form of an elongated tube. For some inexplicable reason most ships only have one of these. A "warp core breach" is when this thing goes kaboom, which will almost always result in destroying the ship. Ejection systems do exist, but you will note that they frequently go offline.
- Primary hull - The front part of the ship, usually the saucer. Usually contains main command systems, living quarters, labs, main computers, and backup power generation. Usually contains the forward armaments of the ship.
- Secondary hull - The back part of the ship, usually whatever isn't the saucer. Usually houses the warp drive, main impulse drive, and the remaining ship armaments (sometimes most of them). For this reason the secondary hull is often called the "stardrive section" or the "battle section," as it can hypothetically separate from the saucer to fight, protecting the majority of the ship's compliment.
- Saucer separation - when the ship's saucer splits off from the rest of this. Just about every ship with a saucer supports this, but not all of them can reconnect without external help.
- Cloaking devices - devices that render ships and objects porous to EM interaction, making them invisible. They have limits, particularly that one cannot raise shields or fire with it on, leaving them easily crippled or destroyed if attacked while cloaked. There are a few of these that can raise shields or fire while cloaked, but these are usually plot devices that are thwarted in the same movie/ep/etc. they're introduced in. Illegal by Federation law, even for their own government ships, due to treaty. On MCM it is HIGHLY likely that this has been relaxed, but Starfleet ships are still generally not optimized with a cloak, so even if fitted with one it won't be optimal.
- Starfleet - the military/scientific component of the executive branch of the government. Consists primarily of people who try to convince themselves they are scientist until a good third of them are killed reminding them that the galaxy wants to kill them and take their stuff and enslave their children every few decades. Most fanon versions have it much more militarized, including directly military branches (e.g. Starfleet marines).
- LCARS - Library Computer Access and Retrieval System. The OS that Starfleet computers use. Noteworthy for being ridiculously easy to use, as well as ridiculously easy to hack into.
- Shuttlepod - a small, usually badly armed ship with impulse drive. Usually ends up destroyed.
- Shuttlecraft - more common than a shuttle pod, larger, has really crummy warp drive in TNG, but serves the same purpose as the pod.
- Deflector dish - the large dish in the front of the ship. Extremely powerful energy emitter. Used to clear the way of a ship while at warp. Location of the long-range sensors. Not all ships have deflectors, and their duties are handled by other systems (e.g. the regular shields). Can be modified to do a wide variety of things and can be something of a do-anything device. One in particular is its use as a super-weapon, which cripples the ship but can inflict mass destruction.
- Bussard ramscoops or ramscoops - things on the front of the nacelles. Usually red. Aids in fuel collection from the interstellar medium (sucks in space dirt to burn). Sometimes used in reverse to emit particles.
- Shields - standard sci-fi shields. Sometime highly reliant on the warp core to function.
- Dilithium - a key element used for warp drive. This crystal is kept inside the warp core, and regulates the antimatter reaction.
- Nacelle - large things that stick out from the ship. These generate the warp field (output of the warp core). Usually attached to the secondary hull if there is one.
- Phasers - several different generations. TOS-era phasers are like guns, and split into two pieces, a tiny one that's like a TV remote, and a large gun unit that the tiny one plugs into for extra omph. TNG-era phasers are either like the remote (without a gun extension), or a "cobrahead" device. Settings vary between stun, damage, vaporize, and large-scale disintegrate. Rifle versions available. Also known for making dandy grenades when set to overload.
- Tricorders - personal handheld sensor devices. Think along the lines of a PDA with a whole lab attached to it.
- PADD - Personal Access Display Device. Think of it as akin to an iPad, except usually more directly tied into the computer.
- Communicators - small, dedicated, handheld voice communication units, operated mostly by voice.
- Comm badges - Starfleet-shaped badges that are operated mostly by voice, usually by tapping the badge center to "notify" it to turn on. Despite being a badge, these are issued to personnel that are not Starfleet due to their utility, although it is possible that a "lesser" version is available for this purpose (though if this is the case, it has only been seen once).
- Palm Beacon - a fancy way of saying "flashlight."
- Medkit - small emergency medical kit. Contains a few hyposprays, small amounts of several important drugs, bandages, a medical tricorder, and lots of other things that are quite helpful. Has the supplies needed to conduct emergency surgery.
Ships for Starfleet are numerous, varied, and often somewhat preposterous. There are two main configurations and numerous variants.
Saucer-engineering configuration - These ships have a distinct "secondary hull," connected to the saucer section, where the deflector is held, and often the shuttlecraft, as well as engineering functions (especially the warp drive). Think along the lines of the classic Enterprise.
Classes of this type include…
- NX class - a rust bucket. The first really decent starship produced by Earth. Only seen in Enterprise. The ship in Enterprise is named Enterprise, but is not typically counted in the numbering of the other Enterprises. If this confuses you, just ignore it, and know that this is from a Really Long Time Ago and will probably only matter if we ever get someone from this show. Does not have "true" shields and only extremely limited transporters.
- Constitution class - old, old, old. The Enterprise from TOS, and its immediate successor (the original was destroyed in the third movie, its successor was used for 4-6). Has many different variants and two entirely separate generations of technology. Robust, dependable, and rusty. Probably a death trap unless you're Kirk, in which case, were a massive fleet of vastly superior and modern ships sent against you, the extremely few maimed survivors among your enemy fleet would spend the rest of their days gibbering mad in an asylum being kept from eating their own hands long after you'd flown the Enterprise away from the smoldering wreckage of what was once a proud, massive and vastly technologically superior fleet in pursuit of green booty.
- Excelsior class - successor to the Constitution class. Much "sleeker" and "longer." Looks a little odd. Originally slated to be an extremely high powered warp drive. This failed, but the construction was excellent otherwise. Once refitted with a standard warp drive, they became the backbone of the Federation fleet for fifty years, and are still very common. A very small number have been upgraded to the extent that they can fight on the level of higher-powered modern ships.
- Ambassador class - A step up from the Excelsior. Probably a lot of these running around but not seen too often on screen.
- Galaxy class - A high-end capital ship. There aren't many of these but those that do exist are quite huge. Very powerful in combat and fairly fast. One of the largest ships. This is the kind of the fifth Enterprise, from the TNG TV series. Has a variety of particularly useful capabilities, including three shuttlebays (one very huge), and a very pronounced saucer separation/reattachment capability. Variants exist, including one equipped with three nacelles and a massive "lance" phaser cannon, though these are rare.
- Sovereign class - The strongest of the Federation fleet. Rare and extremely powerful. The type of the sixth Enterprise (the ship in Star Trek 8-10).
- Intrepid class - Small, compact, science-oriented. The type of ship used with Voyager. Particularly known for landing, as well as being extremely fast. Able to do a variety of unusual things with their warp engines. The Union probably has a number of these purposed as general multi-purpose "spares." Can land on a planet.
- Prometheus class - experimental class. High speed, high power, and pretty WTF. Can split into three distinct battle units. Fan favorite even if it's a bit silly. Star Trek Online version does not do the separation bit.
- Nova class - small science vessel. Successor to the Oberth class.
- Oberth class - one of the oldest classes around. Only barely fits into this category. Science oriented and ridiculously frail, but they do their job well. Just don't ask them to fight anything stronger than a shuttlecraft.
- Luna class - small science-oriented class, very new.
Sacuer-nacelles configuration - these ships tend to be saucers with the nacelles bolted on. Often these are versions of larger ships on a tight budget.
Classes of this type include…
- Miranda class - technological child of the second-generation Constitution class. Low budget, decent performance, still in use (and possibly production) 80 years after their introduction. Noteworthy for the "rollbar," which is typically the main torpedo launcher but can be swapped out with mission-specialized equipment.
- Soyuz class - the Miranda class's little brother. Does not have the roll bar and generally sucks more.
- Nebula class - technological child of the Galaxy class. Has an engineering section underslung. Efficient. Has a large back-mounted module that can add a variety of functions, including larger-scale weapons and sensor platforms.
- Defiant class - small, highly powerful warship. Think along the lines of something with Galaxy class weapons and power stuck into something in a ship about one-sixth of the size it should be to support it. The first ship of the class (Sisko's Defiant) is the most upgraded and also has the only legal cloaking device (by canon) in the entire Federation. Has high level armor and is high speed, but is cramped, has very limited carrying capacity, and probably has other limits (quite probably has very limited time away from a base, on the order of weeks or months, as opposed to other classes that can spend years or decades unsupported) Supposedly can land on a planet, but has never been seen on-screen. May suffer from certain instabilities, though most of these have been fixed with redesign after field use.
- Constellation class - four-nacelle ship. Relatively small, keeps the nacelles at the very back of the ship. Particularly rustic today. Picard cut his command teeth on one of these. May be a distant relative of the Miranda class.
Other configuration - These are the oddballs, and are there ever a LOT of them.
Classes of this type include…
- Too many to list. Lots of freakish ships put together on the floor of the studio from spares of other class types (literally).
- Oberth and Defiant - arguably here, even though they are listed in other categories.
- Runabout - halfway between a shuttlecraft and a "real" starship. Small, but well equipped and decently armed for it's size. The Union probably has a LOT of these. Not terribly fast.
Warp speed is a tricky and strange thing in Star Trek. It does not fit a steady slope, and worse yet, there are two curves.
- Warp 1 in both scales is equal to just over lightspeed.
- Old scale - velocity = N to the third power, where N is the warp factor.
- New scale - From Gene Roddenberry's fever dreams. Warp 10 is "infinite speed." As a result, ships are continuing to add warp 9.9 as they get faster, e.g. warp 9.9, warp 9.99, warp 9.999… and so forth. These additional 9's are NOT tiny improvements, but reflect much higher levels of speed.
Warp pathways - a fan theory that makes sense, stating that distortions in time-space allow warp drives to be much more efficient. Considering there are episodes where ships fly between star systems in an hour while going at a warp speed that should translate to around ~ 1500 times lightspeed (where it should take several days to get between most star systems), this makes a lot of sense, and probably suggests that these are prolific.
There is actual extracanonical evidence for this - basically a variety of factors makes a mathematical factor which results in a multiplication of the base speed generated by a warp drive. So for instance, if this was 1000 (as it supposedly is in the Federation, on average), it would make warp 1 fly not at lightspeed, but 1000 times lightspeed.
Identifications and registry numbers
The exact reason for the USS prefix is not known other than analogs to the RL US Navy.
Registry numbers have one of two prefixes - NCC and NX.
- NCC - Standard ships. Most ships have an NCC prefix.
- NX - Experimental ships. Probably (retroactively, thanks to Enterprise being the most recent series in RL chronology, with its NX class) a reference to the NX class (the very first Enterprise was NX-01). These are usually pathfinder ships, after which classes are named.
Registry numbers do not seem to show any particular rhyme or reason. A few guidelines:
- They tend to go up. A ship with a number of 75000 is likely much newer than a ship along the lines of 2000.
- They are only rarely reused. The most commonly known reuse of registry numbers are the Enterprises after TOS, which reuse NCC-1701 with an alphabet suffix.
- Most TNG era ships are in the 70000 range. Post-TNG era ships are in the 80000 range and beyond.
- TOS ships, strictly speaking, will top out around 2000 (which is the registry number of the Excelsior, the pathfinder for the Excelsior class).
- Runabouts have their own registry number, but shuttles do not.
- There are no two ships with the same registry number. The prefix of the prototype can change from NX to NCC when a ship goes into full production.
- Endurance - Starfleet ships can last for an extended period without assistance. Even those that are ill-equipped have existed for years with no Starfleet help.
- Life support - basic life support systems are good enough such that if there's any way possible, the life support systems will continue to function.
- Transporters - The transporters are quite good. They can evacuate thousands of people per hour, provided they can fit on the ship. Ships can have a very high population density in emergencies. Related technologies include the highly versatile holodecks and replicators.
- Computer power - Starfleet computers, while arguably being bad for security, have immense computational and storage power, and considerable intelligence.
- Phasers - Starfleet phasers, especially of the strip or pulse cannon variety, are quite powerful. In particular, larger ships such as the Galaxy class, are capable of firing several different beams from high-powered phaser emitters on a single target. In a best-case scenario, a Galaxy class can have up to six phaser emitters simultaneously firing on a single target. A noteworthy drawback is that, while ship phasers are capable of handling fighter-like opponents, most do not have true point-defense systems.
- Science - even combat-oriented Starfleet ships have at least some scientific capabilities, including the Defiant class, which is basically a warship and has gone on some pretty important scientific missions.
- Shields - Starfleet shields tend to be pretty powerful and rather versatile.
Star Trek tech ships have a variety of weaknesses. These include…
- Slow - Star Trek ships are a lot slower than some universes (e.g. Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica), although with TNG this is somewhat better. That said, they are able to keep up their flight for a LONG time (years), unlike jump drive ships, which allow them to give chase over very long distances at a decent clip. This varies greatly by local conditions, where they may be able to keep up with the faster ships.
- Shields - ships tend to be overly reliant on shields. Very few are known to have armor. The only canonly heavily armored ship is the Defiant. Other ships that are likely armored include Sovereign class, Prometheus class, and the Galaxy class (at least in its refit, which was probably considerably upgraded for wartime conditions). Some older ships may have lighter armor, e.g. the Excelsior class and Constitution class.
- Size - Star Trek ships are not huge. The Galaxy class is the largest yet seen in canon on a regular basis (save for one far-future ship which was Star Destroyer sized), and regularly carries 1,014 crewmembers, and can without modification can hold 6,000 individuals in regular accommodations at once, though this has never been seen on screen and is probably very rare.
- Not numerous - This is mostly due to very bizarre interpretations of canon that are largely ignored by fanon and canon itself later in the TNG era. If you are going by strict canon (as in 'the word of Gene Roddenberry'), in addition to being suicidally frail to make an obscure philosophical statement, there aren't very many of them. As stated, this has merrily been ignored, and MCM ignores it as well.
- Carrier - There is little in the way of Federation carriers. There are a few very small ships that may be fighter types, though much of their information is based on fanon or obscure references. No ship actually seen on screen is very suited for carrier duty as-is, although the Galaxy's main shuttlebay can make do in a pinch.
A typical starship bridge has three different types of controls and usually seats at least 6 officers, though not all stations must be manned at once. Theses are command stations, control stations, and miscellaneous stations. Bridges can vary radically between ships, even in the same class.
- Command Stations - These are the captain's chair and any support chairs. The captain's chair, as well as the first officer/counselor/"guest" chair (if present) typically have priority access consoles and status displays. In particular, modern versions of the captain's chair have controls attached or immediately nearby that are the highest-priority system terminals on the entire ship. These terminals are capable of overriding any other control on the ship, and have priority voice command, to the extent that on-screen evidence suggests that if one is the only one on the bridge and wants to fly anywhere, they sit here, not at any other apparently more useful station. Other command stations tend to have secondary control systems similar to those in the captain's chair. In theory, whoever is in the captain's chair can essentially operate the ship themselves in terms of at least basic operation (e.g. flight, weapon and shield control, etc.)
- Control Stations - Control stations are large consoles, usually free-standing, that control primary ship movement and weapons. There are two styles - old style and new style.
- Old style - These are split between Helm and Navigation. They do the basic flight controls and also control weapons. These are more reliant on auxiliary stations for advance operations, such as advanced sensor sweeps, but are still rather capable.
- New style - These are split between three consoles - Conn, Ops and Tactical. Conn controls all flight operations, including piloting, auto-pilot, and navigational procedures. Tactical controls weapons, certain sensor systems, some communications, shields, and the tractor beam. Ops (not to be confused with 'Ops,' the control room on Deep Space 9) is the "do anything" station. This is the operations manager and typically controls all mission operations, as well as sensors, communications, computer access, shuttle operations, and just about anything else. It is noteworthy that most weapons controls tend to be centralized, though ships with higher military power can have multiple tactical consoles, allowing weapon operation to be spread between the officers.
- Miscellaneous Stations - These control just about everything and anything else . There are a wide variety of these that are possible. Typically these will include stations such as Engineering (advanced engineering controls, often capable of similar actions as the main controls in the engine room), Science (advanced sensor controls and computer input), Operations (an auxiliary console to Ops), Communications (control of communication function, especially older ships), and so forth.
It is important to note that the main consoles can often be reconfigured to do anything necessary, e.g. flying the ship from tactical is probably possible. Ops is particularly suited to taking over for any other station. Furthermore, with the new ships, reconfigurability is key, so much so that you could probably configure the ship to be flown by someone walking down a hallway with a portable terminal. However, the bridge often has specialized equipment, such as extra armor, dedicated computer functions and sensor access, and similar capabilities and protections.
Typically, bridges are located on top of the primary hull (saucer). This is in theory because it would give it better protection through direct shield defense as well as easy upgradability through plug-in bridge modules. Typically, the ship also has at least one secondary command center called "auxiliary control." Others have entire secondary bridges, particularly those that support reconnectable separation (typically the secondary bridge is called the "battle bridge," because the non-saucer part typically has the main power and weapon systems, making it the main weapon). Last-resort control can be attained from the engine room.
The new continuity (Star Trek XI) has a lot of similarities, but a lot of differences, as well. The most noteworthy is the Constitution class, which is considerably larger than the other universe's version. These ships also seem to be much more versatile with phasers ("beam spam" is a good way to put it).
All Starfleet ships are equipped with powerful auto-destruct systems, making the ships highly powerful bombs when need be. The primary method of detonation is a deliberate overload of the warp core combined with a release of ALL antimatter on the ship, causing a massive explosion. If the warp core is unavailable or the system will otherwise not function, a secondary system exists in the form of a number of photon torpedo warheads embedded directly into the ship, which will detonate when ordered.
Self-destruct is typically ordered from the bridge or engineering, and requires two to three officers. Usually this must be the captain and first officer, but lesser officers can sometimes suffice if these are not available. The exact specifics of the system have changed over the years, with some ships having very stupid requirements (the Galaxy class, for instance, might or might not require the officers - who should be on the BRIDGE - to gather in engineering, which is 36 decks below the bridge). Although common sense and the technical manuals suggest that auto-destruct is very difficult to disable, it has seemed frail in recent productions. Auto-destruct can be terminated by the two to three highest ranking available officers (it is not known whether or not a "substitute" can be provided over those that started the destruct sequence, e.g. if the first officer dies, if the second officer can therefore stop an auto-destruct the first officer helped to start).
Emergency Medical Holographic program
This section is going to be a lot more detailed, as the EMH has been in heavy use on MCM since day 1 in the Union medbay.
The EMH devices are artificially-intelligent physicians with holographic bodies. Most ships are equipped with them. They may or may not be sentient to begin with but very quickly attain sentience after minimal experience with the world. The "oldest" and most developed is the Mark I EMH on Voyager, which was active for at least seven years before the ship returned home. This unit will be referred to as the Doctor from now on.
Although the Doctor was a huge success, he developed many of his abilities after extensive active time. Other Mark I units were used for manual labor after they were considered sub-optimal, likely in no small part due to their poor bedside manner. However, the UAF has acquired these Mark I's as physicians. Starfleet likely has been required to emancipate all active EMH units as living citizens, although the programming of an EMH will likely incline them to remain on duty.
The Doctor acquired, during his time on Voyager, a portable holo-emitter which was "borrowed" from the future. This device allowed him to go anywhere he wanted, no longer bound by the confines of the holodeck, sick bay, and other areas equipped with emitters. As the UAF has vastly superior technology, the original one has been upgraded heavily and mass-produced, so they are standard equipment for all EMH units.
Although all ships with the necessary hardware are equipped with fully-functional EMH units, the units are generally not activated until there is an actual need. Originally this was due to no need for them as well as the EMH units having a limited endurance in terms of memory and neural net complexity. However, with the technology upgraded (basically by doubling the specialized hardware, especially available memory), this is no longer a concern, but each time an EMH is activated for the first time it becomes a sentient being; as such, someone new is "born" each time a brand new copy of the EMH is booted up. This does not normally stop individuals from activating the EMH when necessary, although some captains opt to dump their EMH on the UAF after the mission is complete and upload a fresh copy to their computer systems to reduce the complexities that a holographic doctor might cause.
EMH units used by the UAF are mostly Mark I's, which, despite no longer being produced by Starfleet, are occasionally produced by the UAF, and slightly favored above other units. Although the typical EMH Mark I has a poor bedside manner, he is highly intelligent and efficient, and quickly grows in terms of personality. EMH units are capable of administering to most organic beings, and have been versed in more exotic Multiversal species, including at least some ability to assist exotic creatures such as the undead and magical beings. The EMH requires the use of "real" tools, even though his holographic body "feels" the same as regular matter. As such, he cannot sprout a tricorder or hypospray. Some particularly advanced units are also equipped with the ECH (Emergency Command Hologram) program. This allows them to take command in a crisis situation and act more independently, though like many things, it usually takes a bit of getting used to, and as such is only given to particularly ambitious units who have been "alive" for several years.
It is noteworthy that an EMH is NOT a "doctor in a can." He was originally designed to be an emergency stopgap measure. While an EMH with more life and professional experience has similar skills to a "real" doctor, initially units require a great deal of experience and training. After the initial batch, EMH units admitted into the UAF (or private practice) are generally given additional training and may spend a few years in a situation similar to a med student, simply getting experience by just being alive, as well as helping other doctors and EMH units treat patients.
- Small Comparison Chart - Compares various starships from science fiction series.
- Medium Comparison Chart - Companion to the small chart.
- Large Comparison Chart - Companion to the small and medium charts.
- Memory Alpha, a major Star Trek wiki, which is influential enough that it has had been involved with decent-sized academic research, at least as a source.
- Runabout Specs - A bunch of Runabout specifications and diagrams of a wide variety of configurations. Note the capabilities and particularly how versatile a Runabout can be.