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

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Old June 20 2014, 05:21 PM   #1
Nebusj
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Warp drive and dilithium

So, do all warp drives rely on dilithium?

Early on in the Original Series, dilithium seems primarily a power-regulating material, but I'm wondering if it's grown into something unavoidably intertwined to generating warp fields at this point.
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Old June 20 2014, 06:05 PM   #2
Elvira
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Re: Warp drive and dilithium

While not impossible, I think it unlikely that Cochrane's test ship had dilithium.

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Old June 20 2014, 08:26 PM   #3
Timo
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Re: Warp drive and dilithium

We have also heard of ships powered with (the help of) "paralithium" or "lithium" crystals, so there's already some variety there. (I gather that "lithium crystals" is a catchall name for all the variants, and the TOS ship was a flexi-fuel design for frontier use...)

But no, we have never had a character outright state that a specific warp vessel would operate completely without dilithium or related substances.

The Romulan artificial quantum singularity drive is certainly a candidate, but modern Romulans are still known to mine dilithium on Remus...

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Old June 20 2014, 08:28 PM   #4
Chemahkuu
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Re: Warp drive and dilithium

Timo wrote: View Post
We have also heard of ships powered with (the help of) "paralithium" or "lithium" crystals, so there's already some variety there. (I gather that "lithium crystals" is a catchall name for all the variants, and the TOS ship was a flexi-fuel design for frontier use...)

But no, we have never had a character outright state that a specific warp vessel would operate completely without dilithium or related substances.

The Romulan artificial quantum singularity drive is certainly a candidate, but modern Romulans are still known to mine dilithium on Remus...

Timo Saloniemi
Other races use it, so if Romulan space is rich in it, why not exploit it and make smaller worlds not yet alligned with the UFP ally with the Star Empire instead?
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Old June 20 2014, 08:31 PM   #5
Timo
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Re: Warp drive and dilithium

Makes sense. Although if the Feds can essentially replicate their dilithium (or regenerate it or whatnot), surely the Romulans can as well - so why bother with the mining? Why not sell factory-made dilithium instead?

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Old June 20 2014, 09:40 PM   #6
Maxillius
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Re: Warp drive and dilithium

Timo wrote: View Post
Makes sense. Although if the Feds can essentially replicate their dilithium (or regenerate it or whatnot), surely the Romulans can as well - so why bother with the mining? Why not sell factory-made dilithium instead?

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Old June 20 2014, 10:48 PM   #7
Robert Comsol
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Re: Warp drive and dilithium

Nebusj wrote: View Post
So, do all warp drives rely on dilithium?

Early on in the Original Series, dilithium seems primarily a power-regulating material, but I'm wondering if it's grown into something unavoidably intertwined to generating warp fields at this point.
I never had the impression that you need dilithium to generate warp fields but instead the energy required to generate a warp field.

What I get from all the references in TOS and TAS (e.g. "Pirates of Orion") is that dilithium somehow amplifies the energy you channel through it.

The Halkans from "Mirror, Mirror" were concerned for dilithium use in weapons:

"Our dilithium crystals represent awesome power. Wrongful use of that power, even to the extent of the taking of one life, would violate our history of total peace."

"We are ethically compelled to deny your demand for our dilithium crystals, for you would use their power to destroy."


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Old June 21 2014, 01:31 PM   #8
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Re: Warp drive and dilithium

I don't think the dilithium powers the warp drive, it only helps to control the matter-antimatter reaction and resulting plasma energy flow.
Also, I think other races used various other technology, to achieve their warp or transwarp drives.
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Old June 21 2014, 02:37 PM   #9
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Re: Warp drive and dilithium

It's been described in later Trek manuals as the only safe substance where matter and antimatter can both meet, and channel the resulting high energy gamma photons into a ring of plasma similar to our current ideas of plasma fusion.

In TNG Geordi states that the M/AM reaction energy boosts plasma in the reaction chamber to "the terawatt level" before being sent to the nacelles/EPS.

Dilithium apparently cannot be replicated as stated above, only regenerated when it starts to break down, something they could only start doing into the 24th century. (Voyage Home)

But since more ships are made, more stations, more of it needed, the Federation needs it to be mined out for use in all of these. And we know in Voyager, for a long while, they used holograms to physically do so, presumably humans before that. Even devoting Excelsior class starships to protect the mining facilities, implying the likes of the Orion Syndicate still attempt to steal it.
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Old June 21 2014, 02:48 PM   #10
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Re: Warp drive and dilithium

Back in TOS, lithium/dilithium is what primarily powered the Enterprise like a modern day lithium-ion battery powers a laptop.
It was continuously charged by typically the matter/antimatter and discharged usable energy. From the dialogue, the charged crystals appear to allow the ship to buffer up more power than just being on matter-antimatter alone and regenerate additional fuel like antimatter for infinite range.

As long as the Dilithium Crystal Converter Assembly was undamaged then in an emergency, you can fly around at some warp with emergency circuits that bypass the lithium/dilithium (that means that ships in TOS could warp without lithium/dilithium and it was not used to regulate the matter/antimatter reaction.) This also allowed the lithium/dilithium crystals to be pulled out and examined in "The Paradise Syndrome" without shutting down the matter/antimatter system and having to do a long cold restart.

In TNG and later series, the premise was changed and dilithium became a power regulator and critical to the operation of warp drive. (You couldn't look at the crystals without having to power down the warp core.)

"The Alternative Factor" - power source
MASTERS: Report on the dilithium crystals, Captain.
KIRK: Yes.
MASTERS: Whatever that phenomenon was, it drained almost all of our crystals completely. It could mean trouble.
KIRK: You have a talent for understatement, Lieutenant. Without full crystal power, our orbit will begin to decay in ten hours. Re-amplify immediately.
...
LAZARUS: That's very bad, Captain. If he comes through at a time of his own choosing. But I think if we hurry and you will
help me, he can yet still be stopped. There's little time left. He meant to come through. When you accidentally passed through, it drained his crystals. It'll take him about ten minutes to re-energise with the equipment aboard his ship. That should give us enough time.
"Mudd's Women" - bypass circuits
SPOCK: The entire ship's power is feeding through one lithium crystal.
KIRK: Well, switch to bypass circuits.
SCOTT: We burned them all out when we super-heated. That jackass Walsh not only wrecked his vessel, but in saving his skin
KIRK: If it makes you feel better, Engineer, that's one jackass we're going to see skinned.
SCOTT: But it's frustrating. Almost a million gross tons of vessel depending on a hunk of crystal the size of my fist.
SPOCK: And that crystal won't hold up, not pulling all our power through it.
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Old June 21 2014, 10:35 PM   #11
Timo
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Re: Warp drive and dilithium

In "Alternative Factor", as demonstrated by the dialogue, the ships obtain energy from somewhere and put that into the dilithium crystals that are starved of it - so the crystals themselves are not a source of energy. At most they are a temporary storage medium. But not the primary storage medium in use aboard starships, because that medium is clearly being used for restoring energy to the drained crystals!

It could be much like the transistor: the crystal needs to be energized with a tiny amount of energy in order to efficiently channel much greater amounts of energy from the storage medium (TNG says it's antimatter tanks; TOS stays mum) to the propulsive bits of the warp engines. Drained crystals block the flow of energy, energized ones merely control it.

As for "Mudd's Women", it's proof that multiple crystals simultaneously are supposed to carry the load in normal circumstances, and one can do it in an emergency - so it should be possible to yank individual crystals out for inspection one at a time without losing main power, even if the flow of main power is completely dependent on there being dilithium in the loop.

That is, the "bypass circuits" Kirk mention might refer to the other, normally idled crystals in the system, and Scotty is telling Kirk that he burned them all out while saving Mudd, just as the audience hears happen. After all, Kirk doesn't hear it happen! Sulu tells his captain the ship is losing "circuits" one after another, but he never tells Kirk how many are left. Only the dialogue between Spock and Scotty involves explicit mention of the number of circuits lost ("three"), and that dialogue takes place in the transporter room where Kirk isn't present. So Kirk could plausibly think there are further crystals, that is, further bypass circuits, available - until Scotty tells him the sobering truth.

This would merely presume the ship has more than four crystals in place in a normal situation, so the three losses Kirk (and the audience) hears Sulu mention would not yet leave the ship dependent on a single crystal/circuit. A fourth loss out of five, or fifth out of six, taking place off screen, would match the dialogue and the known facts. This, plus the fact that Kirk's ship again can afford to lose four crystals in "Alternative Factor" and still retain main power.

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Old June 22 2014, 01:04 AM   #12
jayrath
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Re: Warp drive and dilithium

blssdwlf wrote: View Post
"Mudd's Women" - bypass circuits
SPOCK: The entire ship's power is feeding through one lithium crystal.
KIRK: Well, switch to bypass circuits.
SCOTT: We burned them all out when we super-heated. That jackass Walsh not only wrecked his vessel, but in saving his skin
KIRK: If it makes you feel better, Engineer, that's one jackass we're going to see skinned.
SCOTT: But it's frustrating. Almost a million gross tons of vessel depending on a hunk of crystal the size of my fist.
SPOCK: And that crystal won't hold up, not pulling all our power through it.
Incidentally, I like to think that Enterprise had BOTH lithium and dilithium crystals. We heard about the lithium crystals only in this episode, where they acted like giant fuses --nothing like the "real" use of similarly-named dilithium crystals.
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Old June 22 2014, 09:31 AM   #13
Timo
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Re: Warp drive and dilithium

Cool enough an idea! Although I don't quite see what was different about their behavior here. Them getting knocked out of action was always the reason why the ship could not bring main power to bear, and dialogue suggests that them being "drained" was an unusual calamity compared with them being lost some other way such as the frying witnessed in "Mudd's Women".

Timo Saloniemi
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Old June 22 2014, 03:52 PM   #14
blssdwlf
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Re: Warp drive and dilithium

Timo wrote: View Post
This would merely presume the ship has more than four crystals in place in a normal situation, so the three losses Kirk (and the audience) hears Sulu mention would not yet leave the ship dependent on a single crystal/circuit. A fourth loss out of five, or fifth out of six, taking place off screen, would match the dialogue and the known facts. This, plus the fact that Kirk's ship again can afford to lose four crystals in "Alternative Factor" and still retain main power.
If you look just at "Mudd's Women" they work with 4 circuits. Lose 4 circuits and you'll need to cutover to the bypass circuits to retain main power. That matches the dialogue and known facts. In "The Alternative Factor" it's a different system with paddles instead of crystals. It's likely it still has 4 crystal circuits and a bypass. Still it's an unknown on how many bypass circuits there are or whether they use lithium/dilithium in either case. In both cases it's pretty clear it is not like TNG where the crystals are used to regulate the matter-antimatter reaction though.

The transistor analogy is very similar to the laptop battery. If you think of how a laptop works, the main power source that regenerates the lithium-ion battery (lithium/dilithium) is the electric power grid. It's not the main power source, but it is the heart of the power system.
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Last edited by blssdwlf; June 22 2014 at 04:11 PM. Reason: Regulate the matter-antimatter reaction
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Old June 22 2014, 07:07 PM   #15
Timo
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Re: Warp drive and dilithium

If you look just at "Mudd's Women" they work with 4 circuits. Lose 4 circuits and you'll need to cutover to the bypass circuits to retain main power.
That's one interpretation - but it's actually a somewhat convoluted one. Think about it: the dialogue confirms loss of three dilithium circuits, leaving one, and then Scotty says all the bypass circuits were blown. We never heard that happen! Not unless the dilithium circuit is the very same thing as the bypass circuit.

If we define a circuit as always featuring a dilithium focus (one that needs to be energized in order to work but may be destroyed by an overload), then sometimes such things can assume a "bypass" role relative to others; most of the time, the circuits might work in just two roles, active-in-parallel and idled.

In both cases it's pretty clear it is not like TNG where the crystals are used to regulate the matter-antimatter reaction though.
I wouldn't say "clear". At most, we can semantically tackle the use of "circuit" which is fine for a closed power loop (say, of the electric sort), but sort of nonsensical for any power feed that does not physically need to loop back. The fuel system of an automobile is not a loop or a "circuit" of any sort; the antimatter system of a TNG style ship supposedly doesn't feature any looping back, either.

it wouldn't be difficult to argue that TOS, TNG and ENT systems are basically identical save for minor engineering details, such as whether single or multiple parallel "circuits" of antimatter feed are in use.

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