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Trek Tech Pass me the quantum flux regulator, will you?

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Old February 1 2009, 01:35 AM   #1
shipfisher
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Why place warp cores away from nacelles?

Seems a little inefficient, especially in ship layouts similar to the constitution class, to have those relatively long plasma conduits between the major components of the drive system. There's no obvious staging mechanisms along the conduits in most ship cutaways I've seen.

Do M/AM reactions create some local disturbance that upsets fields around warp coils or the transfer of energy from the plasma to the coils?

Is there some warp coil damaging particle by-product of the M/AM reaction that must be allowed to decay before the plasma reaches the nacelles? (ie. something more than the stream of photons that present days physics predicts as the only product of a 1:1 M/AM reaction)

You'd think that powerplants mounted right in the nacelles would be the way to go (as it may be in some ships, perhaps with different power sources) if there wasn't a functional reason not to.

Any thoughts from the community on this?
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Old February 1 2009, 01:59 AM   #2
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Re: Why place warp cores away from nacelles?

Well, I've been thinking about starting a whole separate thread about this, but it's one of the many things that doesn't make much sense in the treknological continuity. I've always figured that the warp core should be either in the nacelles (where the fuel is delivered to them from the pylons and the engineering section) or in the engineering hull so it can be close to the fuel supply.

Having them in the nacelles would make alot more sense in light of the fact that exploding warp cores is the number one killer of starships (behind that pesky Starboard Power Coupling, of course). But if you only have the one engine that requires a whole lot of babysitting, then the nacelles are really just the impellers where the warp core is the actual power plant.

To be perfectly honest, I wouldn't be surprised if both configurations exist in various ships/races/designs. Some of the smaller shuttlecraft probably have warp cores built into the nacelle cones, and actually I'd be shocked if the Romulan Warbird didn't have that exact configuration.
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Old February 1 2009, 02:26 AM   #3
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Re: Why place warp cores away from nacelles?

IRC, wasn't that the original intent beyond the 1701's design? That the warp-reactor(s) were housed in the nacelles; which were meant to keep the dangerous warp-eingines out and away from the inhabited parts of the ship?
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Old February 1 2009, 05:13 AM   #4
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Re: Why place warp cores away from nacelles?

Well, I believe Jefferies is quoted as saying something like 'I figured if the engines could warp space they needed to be away from the crew' so he put them out on pylons and relatively far away from the hulls. You can see on some of his earlier sketches that the nacelles were relatively close to the hull.

It is rather debatable where he meant for actual power generation to take place. I do recall reading another quote from him where he felt that they didn't need a gigantic engine room set (a feeling which he capitulated to the Powers That Were) which might confirm his belief that the power components would be entirely in the nacelles. Alternatively, it may have just meant he thought the technology would be so sophisticated it wouldn't require constant or direct monitoring.

I think both of these came from the 'Star Trek: Sketchbook.' I'll reread and report.

To more directly answer the OP, I would say that the in-universe reason the warp core is in the hull because it does indeed require such constant adjustment and monitoring. The real world reason is of course that it adds drama, which is also probably why the producers wanted the engine room despite Jefferies finding it unnecessary.
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Old February 1 2009, 05:40 AM   #5
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Re: Why place warp cores away from nacelles?

Well, strictly speaking for dramatic purposes there's no reason why the engine room couldn't simply be a control room tucked between the nacelle pylons next to a transformer or circuit breaker that brings ship's power down from the nacelles to the rest of the ship. In point of fact, most engineering decisions on modern naval vessels are made in the maneuver room or the motor room, not the room where the actual power plant (or reactor on a nuke boat) really are.

On the other hand, the same can be said for the TMP Enterprise. Arguably, the intermix chamber was just a power transfer conduit with the reactor room far below decks, so "Engine Room" in the refit Constitution refit could be anywhere you need it to be.

That gives me a thought. Suppose the warp reactors of the TOS ship really was in the engine nacelles? In that case the gigantic machinery bay on the other side of the chainlink fence might just be a massive energizer array where drive plasma is siphoned downwards from the warp nacelles and then converted into energy.

On the other hand, the same could be said for the TMP Enterprise. There's certainly nothing in canon that suggests the intermix chamber MUST feed towards the nacelles and not the other way around. It's entirely possible the drive plasma is produced in the warp nacelles (where the bussard collectors are) and channeled down to the so-called "Engine Room" where it's converted to electrical energy or channeled into the impulse engines high above or the main deflector far below.

The only thing that doesn't fit this theory is 24th century technology, but then there's no reason to assume the 24th century equivalent isn't vastly more advanced than the engine designs of a century earlier, appearances aside (like the difference between a piston-driven aircraft and its jet-powered counterpart).
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Old February 1 2009, 08:40 AM   #6
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Re: Why place warp cores away from nacelles?

This seems to be a variation on a very old argument regarding the nature of the 1701's power source. Lines from the show can be interpreted to mean either power generation in the nacelles or in a central reactor. For my money, I interpret them to mean that there are three reactors, one in each nacelle as a more or less dedicated power source for each warp engine and a central one which powers mostly the ship but is somehow critical to keeping the other two operational. So why would this be so only on the TOS Enterprise but not the later (and for that matter, earlier(NX-01)) ships?

Simple. The engines of the NX-01 did not require near the energy as later engines since it wasn't as powerful. The warp technology could of outpaced the reactor technology making 1701's engines huge power hogs (after all, warp 8 is 512c while warp 5 is 125c; about 1/4 the power). But if the reactor only got twice as good then obviously a single power source would not have been sufficient for such big engines. Eventually (TMP) breakthroughs in reactor technology did catch up and the centralized reactor came back into vogue.

To the original question as to why the core is so far from the engines, recall that this "warp core" is merely the giant D-cell that powers the ship, warp drive included. It's not simply a dedicated system for just the engines, even though, doubtlessly, there is no single system that uses more of the power it produces. It makes sense to put it as near the engines as it is, but there's no reason it has to be right up there with them.
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Old February 1 2009, 07:17 PM   #7
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Re: Why place warp cores away from nacelles?

newtype_alpha wrote: View Post
Well, strictly speaking for dramatic purposes there's no reason why the engine room couldn't simply be a control room tucked between the nacelle pylons next to a transformer or circuit breaker that brings ship's power down from the nacelles to the rest of the ship. In point of fact, most engineering decisions on modern naval vessels are made in the maneuver room or the motor room, not the room where the actual power plant (or reactor on a nuke boat) really are.
Which I think was more Jefferies' intention when he first designed the set, until it was 'opened up' with the second level and the matter/antimatter whatsis in the center of the room.

On the other hand, the same can be said for the TMP Enterprise. Arguably, the intermix chamber was just a power transfer conduit with the reactor room far below decks, so "Engine Room" in the refit Constitution refit could be anywhere you need it to be.
You know, I'd never considered how likely that indeed is, especially when you take into account that the dilithium is off to one side like it is. The reaction takes place off to the side, basically, and then the intermix chamber is just a big transfer conduit that keeps it energized.

That gives me a thought. Suppose the warp reactors of the TOS ship really was in the engine nacelles? In that case the gigantic machinery bay on the other side of the chainlink fence might just be a massive energizer array where drive plasma is siphoned downwards from the warp nacelles and then converted into energy.
I tend to agree with this, even if it seems like a divergence.

On the other hand, the same could be said for the TMP Enterprise. There's certainly nothing in canon that suggests the intermix chamber MUST feed towards the nacelles and not the other way around. It's entirely possible the drive plasma is produced in the warp nacelles (where the bussard collectors are) and channeled down to the so-called "Engine Room" where it's converted to electrical energy or channeled into the impulse engines high above or the main deflector far below.
I don't see why not, especially since it's not 'centralized' in the way 24th century tech is.

The only thing that doesn't fit this theory is 24th century technology, but then there's no reason to assume the 24th century equivalent isn't vastly more advanced than the engine designs of a century earlier, appearances aside (like the difference between a piston-driven aircraft and its jet-powered counterpart).
I agree. In fact, it's my personal pet theory that the Excelsior project was what resulted in the 'modern' 24th century setup, since in Star Trek VI we see the 'centralized' TNG warp core used for both ships.

Albertese wrote: View Post
This seems to be a variation on a very old argument regarding the nature of the 1701's power source. Lines from the show can be interpreted to mean either power generation in the nacelles or in a central reactor. For my money, I interpret them to mean that there are three reactors, one in each nacelle as a more or less dedicated power source for each warp engine and a central one which powers mostly the ship but is somehow critical to keeping the other two operational. So why would this be so only on the TOS Enterprise but not the later (and for that matter, earlier(NX-01)) ships?

Simple. The engines of the NX-01 did not require near the energy as later engines since it wasn't as powerful. The warp technology could of outpaced the reactor technology making 1701's engines huge power hogs (after all, warp 8 is 512c while warp 5 is 125c; about 1/4 the power). But if the reactor only got twice as good then obviously a single power source would not have been sufficient for such big engines. Eventually (TMP) breakthroughs in reactor technology did catch up and the centralized reactor came back into vogue.
Stop reading my mind!!!!

I've held more or less that theory for a while now too. I had thought that the TOS engine setup would feature three interlinked ENT size reactors originally, but perhaps instead there are two 'main' reactors (one per nacelle) and a third smaller reactor in the hull that re-energizes the plasma for use by the ship's power systems (explaining the presence of the small, apparently critical dilithium crystal there)? I think it's rather debateable whether the TMP setup was a new layout, or just an expansion of the TOS setup for greater centralization. newtype_alpha's suggestion that the TMP setup wasn't really that different is very tantalizing, especially since that setup isn't that clearly centralized like the TNG core.

To the original question as to why the core is so far from the engines, recall that this "warp core" is merely the giant D-cell that powers the ship, warp drive included. It's not simply a dedicated system for just the engines, even though, doubtlessly, there is no single system that uses more of the power it produces. It makes sense to put it as near the engines as it is, but there's no reason it has to be right up there with them.
Well said.
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Old February 1 2009, 08:11 PM   #8
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Re: Why place warp cores away from nacelles?

newtype_alpha wrote: View Post
On the other hand, the same could be said for the TMP Enterprise. There's certainly nothing in canon that suggests the intermix chamber MUST feed towards the nacelles and not the other way around. It's entirely possible the drive plasma is produced in the warp nacelles (where the bussard collectors are) and channeled down to the so-called "Engine Room" where it's converted to electrical energy or channeled into the impulse engines high above or the main deflector far below.
I've long thought about this possibility -- that the TMP ship's nacelles might have contained the matter/antimatter reactor, and the energy shafts seen in the engine room might be little more than power feeds leading from the nacelles to the rest of the ship.
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Old February 1 2009, 09:44 PM   #9
shipfisher
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Re: Why place warp cores away from nacelles?

Some well thought out reasoning here, on everyone's part, for actual power generation happening in the nacelles.

I don't think it was ever more than an assumption that the M/AM intermix chamber was below the deck/floor in the TOS engineering section, based on the location of the dilithium crystal receptacles in the assembly mounted in the middle of the room.

I'd always assumed those rows of canted risers in the cage at the back of the TOS engineering section were feeding plasma to the nacelles, but the opposite might make even more sense. They cant in at the top, not out towards where you'd expect the nacelles to be in relation to that area, though by many depictions the risers would be sitting in the shuttlebay if they were lined up with the nacelle pylons anyway. The inward cant might indicate a more convoluted heat/energy exchanger system for plasma coming down from the nacelles to supply power to the rest of the ship, instead of the more direct route that would be expected for high energy plasma on its way to the engines.

It seems that things got further away from Matt Jeffries' functional simplicity over the years as more "chefs got in the kitchen" and decided what made a cool looking set instead of workable ship layout.
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Old February 2 2009, 08:27 AM   #10
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Re: Why place warp cores away from nacelles?

I don't have too much trouble with the idea that you need the rows of coils set off from the ship to create the most efficient pulsing, asymmetrical two-lobed field possible. The Cardassians or anyone else who puts the coils within the structure of the ship are making a tradeoff, as some Federation ships do to various degrees (e.g., Defiant). If the deflector shields are the primary protection for the ship, the structural headaches of having them out there on pylons become secondary for most mission profiles, so I can buy it.

As to where exactly the M/A reactions were taking place on 1701: OH NO NOT AGAIN RUN
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Old February 2 2009, 08:54 AM   #11
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Re: Why place warp cores away from nacelles?

Well, the M/AM reactor not only provides power to the warp nacelles, but for the rest of the ship as well. Also, it IS safely away from most of the crew and living spaces - that's the whole point of having a secondary hull.
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Old February 2 2009, 10:08 AM   #12
Captain Robert April
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Re: Why place warp cores away from nacelles?

Of all the engine components, the main reactor would need to be the most accessible if something went wonky. How'd you like to be the poor shlub who has to crawl all the way up those damn pylons to cut off the power flow or the ship is gonna blow up in five minutes....and it takes twenty minutes to crawl up that pylon? And maybe have to do the same thing with the other pylon? As opposed to twenty seconds to get to the other side of the engine room and throw a couple of switches?

The truth of the matter is that they probaby didn't think through that aspect of the ship's power setup completely (hence, the contradictory references from episode to episode, sometimes from scene to scene), but in keeping with Jefferies' stated philosophy of keeping the stuff you need to get at in as accessible a position as possible, you'd definitely NOT want your main power source in the most inaccessible part of the ship, you'd want it where you can get at it as fast as freaking possible. You also don't want your main power source in a location that's just begging to be shot off by some smartass Klingon who's a really good marksman with a disruptor cannon.

As for the nacelles, it's not the power that makes them so dangerous, it's what they do with that power that requires them to be held out away from the main hull. In function, a M/AMRC is simpler than a fusion reactor, i.e., instead of having to induce a fusion reactor on some poor unsuspecting hydrogen atoms, which is pretty power intensive to begin with, with a matter/antimatter reaction, you just feed in protons and antiprotons from either end and they pretty much do the power generation all on their own, with the big trick being the containment part and channeling all that high energy plasma to the warp engines and wherever else it's needed.
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Old February 2 2009, 11:04 AM   #13
shipfisher
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Re: Why place warp cores away from nacelles?

Strong arguments here for a "traditional" warp core in the secondary hull. I'm now inclined to believe that fed ship lineages included a mix of power core locations as various drive and powerplant technologies matured. This would cut the writers and other creative types the most slack. JNG's final comment leads me to believe this topic has previously met with some debate here.
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Old February 2 2009, 12:13 PM   #14
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Re: Why place warp cores away from nacelles?

On the subject of why the warp engines have to be so far away from the power-generating reactor in the interpretation where the engines themselves aren't power-generating potential bombs...

Perhaps it's in some ways analogous to the relationship with seagoing ship powerplants and propellers again? Those generally aren't in the same place due to concerns about the center of gravity: the long propeller shafts (or the long hydraulic leads, in case the props are on rotating pods) are there to allow the massive power systems, and to some degree their fuel stores, to be placed close to ship centerpoint.

In the Star Trek case, it could be that the reactor isn't particularly massive yet the fuel sources still are. The nacelles have to be in an outlying position for the same reason the propellers are: their function calls for exposure. But a stability concern of some sort, perhaps relating to impulse drive, calls for the fuel tanks to be at the very center of the ship. That's where their constantly changing (that is, decreasing) mass will have the least effect on stability, at any rate.

Once that's decided, the accessibility issues are in synch with the need to have the reactor close to the fuel in its volatile antimatter form; the leads of the less dangerous plasma can be made longer to compensate.

Not that all known starship designs would conform. But we don't have blatant counterexamples of the fuel being far away from the reactor, either - except perhaps in the Oberth class, in the model that has the reactor up in the primary hull and the fuel down in the pod. (And that's not the model that the Okudagrams support, to be sure.)

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Old February 2 2009, 06:10 PM   #15
Captain Robert April
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Re: Why place warp cores away from nacelles?

Who do we blame for the Oberth? Somebody at ILM?
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