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Old September 20 2013, 10:25 AM   #1
Robert Comsol
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Earth Spacedock and its true purpose?

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”.

Purpose?

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.

Antimatter creation

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 in TNG.

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.

USS Enterprise 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.

Bob
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Old September 20 2013, 12:08 PM   #2
Mytran
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Re: Earth Spacedock and its true purpose?

A good read - given the extremely limited amount of information about the Spacedocks, this makes pretty good sense.
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Old September 20 2013, 03:29 PM   #3
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Re: Earth Spacedock and its true purpose?

Interesting. My first thought about Spacedock being a massive antimatter facility, so huge and over-protected due to the dangerous tons of antimatter--why orbit Earth?

If that much antimatter is dangerous (and in ST, it seems to be) why not put Spacedock out near Jupiter, far away from any danger to Earth? Still being in the solar system would be enough to consider it a "home port" even if it isn't directly in Earth orbit.

Or maybe the risk isn't that great. Today we needn't put nuclear power facilities hundreds of miles away from populated areas. Maybe in ST, antimatter facilities also needn't be placed far away from inhabited areas.

Last edited by SchwEnt; September 20 2013 at 05:07 PM.
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Old September 20 2013, 04:49 PM   #4
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Re: Earth Spacedock and its true purpose?

SpaceDock is like an airport, you don't get to land on Earth which would cause an gigantic chaos, SpaceDock is the central hub for the planet and also, like and airport, will provide security, everyone needs to go through there and will be scanned for bombs, viri and all other potential threats, I guess its so large because Earth is probably quite important so a busy place.
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Old September 20 2013, 07:30 PM   #5
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Re: Earth Spacedock and its true purpose?

Fascinating conclusions, Bob. I like it.

I don't see why SpaceDock can't both be the aforementioned "airport" that many have concluded it to be, and the antimatter production and fueling facility that you speculate. Most seaports contain fuel tanks and the like, so why not Earth's spaceport, too?
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Old September 20 2013, 07:51 PM   #6
C.E. Evans
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Re: Earth Spacedock and its true purpose?

I've always just looked at Spacedock One as being a massive spaceport, a major port of call for ships--both Starfleet and civilian--passing through Sector 001. It has a strong Starfleet presence (and may have levels reserved solely for Starfleet's usage), but I tend to think the majority of its population is civilian and may not be too unlike DS9 in the way it operates with retail shops, restaurants, business offices, entertainment venues, permanent residential areas, etc. In a way, it's an entire city in space, IMO.
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Old September 20 2013, 08:13 PM   #7
Patrickivan
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Re: Earth Spacedock and its true purpose?

plus it looks cool. Ive always loved the spacedock. It was such a grand example of technology that earth has at the time. Think of being a visitor for the first time, showing up at earth and being staged at this monster facility. Quite impressive.
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Old September 20 2013, 08:27 PM   #8
Nob Akimoto
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Re: Earth Spacedock and its true purpose?

I feel like while this is a decent argument, using widescale fusion powerplants to generate the necessary energy to create lots of antimatter feels, to me, to be a massive waste of resources, especially requiring something that has the same overall mass in terms of materiel as a fleet of several thousand starships.

There's a lot more space than around near earth orbit, and we know that the Federation has such simple access to in-system sublight and even FTL travel that they could place all sorts of facilities around a star's orbit without needing it to be concentrated. You could create huge solar energy collectors that would convert deuterium to anti-deuterium in large batches without having to supply anything but the raw materials (and possibly even without that if replicators worked a certain way) and in orbits around Sol that would both be extremely safe and more energy efficient.

I could see the enormous ventral segment being useful as a storage unit for refueling use (and therefore that would also provide the "umbrella"'s useage as protection for ships), but having it be the primary ship refit/construction site AND the primary antimatter generation area seems a bit too much like putting all your eggs in one basket and doing so at the most inefficient way at the same time.
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Old September 20 2013, 10:29 PM   #9
Galileo7
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Re: Earth Spacedock and its true purpose?

C.E. Evans wrote: View Post
I've always just looked at Spacedock One as being a massive spaceport, a major port of call for ships--both Starfleet and civilian--passing through Sector 001. It has a strong Starfleet presence (and may have levels reserved solely for Starfleet's usage), but I tend to think the majority of its population is civilian and may not be too unlike DS9 in the way it operates with retail shops, restaurants, business offices, entertainment venues, permanent residential areas, etc. In a way, it's an entire city in space, IMO.
Agree.


Patrickivan wrote: View Post
plus it looks cool. Ive always loved the spacedock. It was such a grand example of technology that earth has at the time. Think of being a visitor for the first time, showing up at earth and being staged at this monster facility. Quite impressive.
Agree.
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Old September 20 2013, 11:58 PM   #10
Robert Comsol
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Re: Earth Spacedock and its true purpose?

Thanks for the feedback everyone.

Personally I have no problems whatsoever that the facility could serve as a spaceport (after all, there is plenty of space) but fact is that the structure is referred to as "Earth Spacedock" and not "Earth Spaceport" which would be a much more appropriate term if that was the main function, not to mention that this would help immensely to differentiate from the spacedocks we had seen in the previous movies.

Add to this Captain Styles' astonishment "How can you have a yellow alert in spacedock?"
If the facility would also allow the arrival of non-Starfleet vessels I'm sure there would always be a chance for something happening that's outside Starfleet's control and could be reason for a yellow alert.

And according to ST VI a "dockmaster" is in charge of the facility, not a "portmaster".

Bob
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Old September 21 2013, 01:21 AM   #11
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Re: Earth Spacedock and its true purpose?

One thing for certain - there must be a very logical reason to enclose the damn thing.
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Old September 21 2013, 01:35 AM   #12
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Re: Earth Spacedock and its true purpose?

Praetor wrote: View Post
One thing for certain - there must be a very logical reason to enclose the damn thing.
I've often wondered if it's actually pressurized in the bay to allow engineers and maintenance personnel to work without the encumbrance of environmental suits. It might in fact be a compromise between the zero-g drydocks like in TMP and the "building on the surface of a world" type thing in ST09. A large, controllable environment that can be zero-G but pressurized for work on starship repair/maintenance might be a very useful feature.
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Old September 21 2013, 11:00 AM   #13
Robert Comsol
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Re: Earth Spacedock and its true purpose?

An interesting concept. However, that would require a large volume of air for pressurization and de-pressurization. And during the performance of such repair and maintenance works no other vessels could enter or leave the main section of Earth Spacedock.

Bob
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Old September 21 2013, 11:52 AM   #14
C.E. Evans
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Re: Earth Spacedock and its true purpose?

Robert Comsol wrote: View Post
Thanks for the feedback everyone.

Personally I have no problems whatsoever that the facility could serve as a spaceport (after all, there is plenty of space) but fact is that the structure is referred to as "Earth Spacedock" and not "Earth Spaceport" which would be a much more appropriate term if that was the main function, not to mention that this would help immensely to differentiate from the spacedocks we had seen in the previous movies.
That's totally splitting hairs, because the terms "dock" and "port" have always been used interchangeably throughout history to describe any place where ships are moored.
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Old September 21 2013, 12:29 PM   #15
Robert Comsol
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Re: Earth Spacedock and its true purpose?

C.E. Evans wrote: View Post
That's totally splitting hairs, because the terms "dock" and "port" have always been used interchangeably throughout history to describe any place where ships are moored.
I'd say Wikipedia suggests otherwise, i.e. that a dock can be part of a port but a port is not the "lesser" part of a dock. "Spaceport" wouldn't exclude a dock, but "Spacedock" apparently excludes a port.

Another thought that came to me was wondering from where the raw parts for the construction of Starfleet vessels came from. Probably mined in the asteroid belt, Earth Spacedock could function as a storehouse from which the drydocks get their building materials.

Bob
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