Last August I wrote a "trektise" analyzing the design and possible function of Earth Spacedock and its cousins.
The latest "Mining antimatter" thread seemed a good occasion to mention my trektise and since zDarby and Praetor encouraged me to publish it, here we go. Enjoy!
After the battle scars inflicted on USS Enterprise
by Khan’s abuse of USS Reliant
in STAR TREK II, Kirk’s Enterprise was in need of repair but didn’t return to the dry dock we had seen in the previous films but instead to an orbital station (“Earth Spacedock”), newly designed and built for the third STAR TREK motion picture by the model makers of ILM.
The design wasn’t really that original because its top resembled quite a lot the Cloud City of Bespin from THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK – where Han Solo was seeking a safe haven to repair his Millennium Falcon
(…) – four years earlier.
But the sheer size of Earth Spacedock raised a couple of eye brows.
The corresponding article
at “Ex Astris Scientia” observed “Just for fun, the estimated volume of my "small" 3.8km wide station
(i.e. ST movies, width taken from ILM size comparison chart figure 2.37 miles) would be around 7km^3. If the average deck height is 6m, there would be 740 decks altogether, and this would yield a total area of roughly 1200km^2. If we take into account that most of the upper section is hollow, and that much of the lower section might be dedicated to tanks or other uninhabitable room, the useful volume and useful area would have to be reduced to about a fourth, but this would be still more than enough to sustain a crew of hundreds of thousands. While this is already a lot, I wonder what a still much larger station
(i.e. TNG’s Starbase 74) could be useful for.”
According to the San Francisco footage of the 23rd Century overpopulation didn’t seem to be an issue, the same applies for San Francisco and Paris (France) in the 24th Century. Of course both cities could be restricted strategic zones, but neither did Picard’s trip to his hometown of La Barre in France and its picturesque landscape
(in a very mild climate zone of Earth) suggest any kind of overpopulation to be a problem.
According to my knowledge, no further consideration was given to explain – from a pseudoscientific or “treknological” point of view – why the structure is so vast and big and in particular the purpose of the “stem”.
Indeed, one should ask what purpose such an incredible large station serves, and the author of the EAS article provided a hint.
Given the obvious resemblance to STAR WARS’ Cloud City of Bespin and undeniable allusions to the Death Star, add to this the CGI artwork of Robert Wilde
, who deliberately used Death Star model construction details for his version of the spacedock in construction, my suggestion would be to start looking for answers there.
The Death Star (diameter 100 miles) was first and foremost a large facility for the production and storage of antimatter (or “hypermatter”) to destroy planets thousands of times larger than itself.
The Cloud ‘City’ was a mining facility to extract, process and store the “rare anti-gravitational” (The Art of The Empire Strikes Back)
Tibanna gas from Bespin’s atmosphere for export.
The STAR TREK movies’ Earth Spacedock(s) and TNG’s much larger starbases are undoubtedly repair facilities, but they probably also – if not foremost - serve to refuel Federation starships with what these require and cannot collect through the Bussard ramscoops – antimatter
Although already the second original series’ pilot “Where No Man Has Gone Before” suggested the use of nuclear fusion in the world of STAR TREK (cracked lithium is an essential component for the operation of nuclear fusion reactors according to our current understanding), we haven’t seen or become consciously aware of a ST facility that creates and/or stores antimatter.
The creation of antimatter
requires rather incredible amounts of energy which has been accomplished on a tiny scale with large accelerator rings (e.g. Fermilab and CERN). The amount of energy required for the creation of antimatter fuel for starships, would probably require several dozens or hundreds of nuclear fusion reactors.
The incredible amount of energy you get from matter-antimatter annihilation is basically the amount of the energy you put into its creation in the first place (“You can’t change the laws of physics”).
It stands to reason that not only the machinery to do this may still need a lot of space in the 23rd Century but in addition the tanks for the nuclear fusion reactor fuel, ideally extracted from the upper atmosphere of nearby gaseous planets (like Neptune), and hopefully next to Starbase 74
Given the volatile nature of antimatter and its handling difficulties still in the 24th Century (“core breach” i.e. failure of magnetic containment), it doesn’t seem to be a good idea to produce or store it on any planetary surface, not to mention the hazardous task of transporting it from the surface to an orbiting vessel (at least a starship has the ability to instantly jettison the warp or antimatter core into deep space, a planetary facility has not).
Better to have such an antimatter production facility in space, but transporting antimatter from there to the relatively safer containment of the starship itself still carries risk. Antimatter could have such a significant value that remote facilities without constant protection would often be targets of raids: hand it over or you perish with it.
Thus, to have a closed and fortified structure where to produce antimatter and get it into a starship as safely as possible, and being in control every single step of the way seems the optimal solution – and that’s why Spacedock is so vast and has such a large stem, in my humble opinion.
Not to mention that the storage of valued dilihium crystals as the other essential component for warp drive could equally justify such a fortified structure.
Is Earth "Spacedock" essentially an antimatter production facility?
The antimatter storage may be located in the larger “bulb” below the main (or “saucer”) section of the space station; antimatter pods are elevated through the tubular interconnecting section up to the antimatter loading ports of the starships above.
This may also explain an oddity I never quite understood before: Operating the space station would only require regular personnel in standard uniforms
(like seen in ST IV during the approach of the alien probe), yet in ST III the first shot featuring station personnel are two members of engineering wearing radiation suits
We usually only see such personnel and suits in the engineering section of a starship, not too far from the antimatter pods. Apparently these two engineers have just visually monitored the loading of antimatter into the Excelsior
(which could also explain Excelsior
’s presence inside Earth Spacedock rather than her presence in a space drydock outside).
Also note how much the internal pipelines resemble the interior reactor chamber of the second Death Star, seen a year earlier in the third STAR WARS film. Spacedock looks indeed like the ST version of it, but of course built with the totally opposite intention in mind…
The hollow main section of Earth Spacedock suggests it serves as a cover and protection for the starships parked inside. Protection from what?
The radiation of our sun is mild compared to other stars (and no issue for a 23rd Century starship), Earth isn’t constantly showered by asteroid swarms, and in case of an alien attack the main section is trapping the starships inside (which was graphically visualized in ST IV!
), quite a strategic disadvantage just as the harbor of Brest had been for the Napoleonic fleet during the British siege.
was refitted in an openly exposed drydock, so why such a fortress like design that must have consumed a considerable amount of building materials and time?
The design doesn’t really make sense, unless it is to protect the inhabitants of nearby Earth
from the lethal radiation that would erupt from an antimatter accident inside.
Thus the main section design is probably based on the idea of containment and protection for the people on Earth - and not for the starships inside…
The umbrella roof of the main section could serve two purposes. In the unlikely case of any antimatter confinement loss in the trunk, the entire trunk section would most likely be accelerated away from the main section, yet an explosion would offset lethal radiation, but the main section could still act to some extent as a blast shield.
Under normal operation it prevents the cooling systems of the stem section to become pointless due to the heat radiation of the sun - and thus could be literally acting as a parasol.
This concludes my trektise. Thanx for listening.