Location: The fine line between continuity and fanwank.
Re: Excelsior Technical Manual - Revived!
Alright, I've done some rewriting on the first few chapters, and would like some feedback before I carry on.
Chapter One - Background
On the morning of 17 April, 2270, at 1105 hours Earth time, the Sol System was alive with activity. Every ship in the sector gathered for a very special event. Starfleet scouts flew honor formation as the U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC-1701, returned home from her latest and most historic five-year mission, under the command of Captain James T. Kirk. Brass and civilians alike applauded as Enterprise came in under shutug power to Spacedock's Berth Two. The Federation press had dubbed her “Lucky Little Enterprise” because of her penchant for beating the odds. During the course of the past five years, she had become the most famous member of her class and her crew had nearly risen to the status of living legend. After her arrival, Starfleet held a special commemorative ceremony in Enterprise’s main recreation room. Fleet Admiral Heihachiro Nogura, Starfleet's Chief-in-Command, spoke at length and decorated the entire Enterprise senior staff.
Behind the celebration, tucked neatly somewhere between the antimatter fireworks and the Vulcan children’s choir, Starfleet was desperately at work to keep up with the changing times. Starfleet had relied on the Constitution class starship family as its backbone and workhorse since the ships were first commissioned in 2245, before the latest generation of officer to serve on them had even been born. The twenty-third century was a time of unprecedented change in the Alpha Quadrant and growth and evolution for the United Federation of Planets and its Starfleet. Even as the Federation celebrated its Centennial in 2261, it would also experience increased threats from its neighbors, ranging from the increasingly antagonistic Tholians to an uneasy but nonetheless threatening alliance between the Klingons and re-emerged Romulans, all of whom, by all intelligence indications, were developing technologically and building fleets at an alarming rate.
Missions such as that of the Enterprise, while successful, also served to highlight the flaws in Starlfeet’s aging designs. The design had once made historic innovations in all areas, particularly in the introduction of standardized components including bridge modules and warp nacelles. These had rendered the Constitution class an efficient, well-balanced design, but as time passed they began to show their limits. The class’s once-impressive defenses seemed inadequate to meet the increasingly powerful fleets maintained by the Klingons and Romulans. Even after the introduction of state-of-the-art ship-mounted phaser weapons and photon torpedoes to the fleet, it was obvious that the ships’ defenses were somewhat below par compared to the warships being produced by the Federation's enemies. For its part, public confidence in Starfleet had begun to lag, as had interest in Starfleet's exploratory programs. Funding for several major programs had already been threatened by the Federation Council, when Starfleet could least afford to lose it.
For numerous reasons, the Starfleet General Staff did not want to summarily abandon the Constitution class. The Constitution was a proven design, as all but two of the original 2240s production line were still in service, and during their careers had increased the volume of known space by millions of cubic light years, adding detailed maps of hundreds of sectors to Federation star charts. At the ceremony held aboard the Enterprise at her return, Admiral Nogura announced the implementation of a massive fleet-wide modernization program, beginning with the two and a half year upgrade of Enterprise herself. However, Nogura and his colleagues at the General Staff already knew that this would only extend the design life of the Constitutions by four decades at most. Starfleet had already begun designing a replacement for the Constitution that could satisfactorily explore and defend the ever-growing Federation. While the very concept of a true multi-mission explorer-type starship, such as the Ambassador and Galaxy classes, was still nearly eighty years away, the seeds that would ultimately lead to its genesis were about to be sown.
In 2266, Starfleet ordered its Advanced Starship Design Bureau (ASDB) to begin preliminary work on a Constitution replacement. The general design brief issued (labeled SV-20) called for a ship capable of fulfilling the duties of the Constitution class, but surpassing their abilities to do so:
- Provide a mobile platform for Starfleet exploration projects, border patrol, and defense
- Perform starbase resupply and defense of regional interests,
- Supervise and fully execute Federation policy in outlying frontier territories.
The design team was convened under the supervision of Doctor Josef Thorndyke of the ASDB, an accomplished engineer and assistant on both the original Constitution class project and the new modernization project. The team convened by Thorndyke included an impressive range of the best of the old and young that the ASDB had to offer, fully confident of their ability to meet Starfleet’s challenge. By 2271, another design requirement would be added: incorporate advances of the new prototypical propulsion form called transwarp drive.
Chapter Two - Transwarp
Transwarp had been a gleam in the eye of Starfleet physicists almost since the founding of the Federation, reaching an almost mystical level in engineering circles as soon as the twenty-third century. While conventional warp drive generates and manipulates a subspace field to distort local space around the ship, defying the laws of physics to travel faster than light, transwarp would entirely throw the laws of physics out the airlock. Though now more of a catchall term for any drive system faster than conventional warp, when originally coined the term "transwarp" referred specifically to a drive designed to utilize the basic warp drive coils-and-nacelles format to push a starship entirely out of normal space, into a theoretical dimension termed "transwarp space." (Precedent existed for such a technology in the hands of such races as the Xindi, who made use of naturally occurring phenomena to create subspace portals for rapid transit.) Full subspace immersion would allow a starship to seem to traverse great distances in a fraction of the time it would take at conventional warp speeds in normal space. An early illustrative analogy compared a person travelling across the curvature of a world (conventional warp) to a person travelling a straight line tunnel through the planet itself (transwarp.) Unfortunately, for years transwarp remained almost entirely theoretical, as engineers were limited by other realities.
When Zefram Cochrane's team developed Earth's first warp drive, scientists had little grasp on whether there were any mathematical limits on how fast a warp engine could be. As humanity expanded into space, they found that most of their neighbors were just as uncertain on the topic. Initially, speed was limited by practical realities such as power and structural integrity. Throughout the early twenty-third century, engineers made great advances in multi-stage and interlinked warp reactors, all the while refining the reaction process itself. The earliest warp reactors were little more than antimatter-enhanced fusion reactors. These reactors were crude, with a matter/antimatter intermix of 40:1 or more. Ideally, for maximum speeds, a 1:1 ratio was needed, but reactions at a higher intermix formula proved difficult to mediate and contain; indeed, even cold starting a warp reactor at a ratio higher than 30:1 threatened implosion, and typical top-of-the-line reactors of the era required nearly an hour to bring up to an operational status from a cold state. Eventually, these obstacles would be overcome, and even supposed velocity limits like the so-called "Time Barrier" were broken. Engineers sought to create ever-faster engines, with transwarp all along their "Holy Grail." By the mid twenty-third century, with Starfleet's various crash technological enhancement programs at work, optimism was at a swell and engineers finally believed they could build a transwarp engine.
With the approval of the Starfleet Admiralty, in 2261 Doctor Eugene Wesley of the ASDB, in collaboration with members of the Daystrom Institute, officially convened what was enigmatically termed the Excelsior Group. They studied all aspects of warp mechanics, from power generation to field coil design to subspace field theory, literally immersing themselves in the subjects. Dr. Wesley was keenly aware that he had acceded to what had been long deemed an impossible task, but remained steadfast to generate results.As power requirements and structural integrity innovations began to fall into place, the team found themselves limited by their profound inability to generate sustained high-level subspace fields even in simulation. Practical tests in controlled environments were disappointing failures. Dr. Wesley concluded that a great deal more research into subspace field manipulation was required.
The Excelsior Group's fortunes changed in late 2267. On Stardate 5693, the Starship Enterprise discovered the missing U.S.S. Defiant, NCC-1764, near Tholian space. Defiant was trapped in a subspace rift, its crew having murdered one another due to madness caused by prolonged subspace exposure. The phenomenon was termed “spatial interphase” by Enterprise science officer Spock. Spatial interphase was described as a temporary overlap of two dimensions, specifically space and subspace, which resulted in a type of trans-dimensional rift. The interphase produced a level of subspace distortion heretofore unencountered by Federation science. While the Defiant herself was hopelessly lost, apparently trapped in limbo between dimensions, sensor readings accumulated by Enterprise proved invaluable to the Group’s work. These logs helped Dr. Wesley and his fellow scientists understand why the previous efforts to create a high-energy warp field using available power sources had failed. The sad fate of Defiant gave Wesley and his colleagues what they needed to make a breakthrough.
With the Defiant data, simulations were far more successful and a prototypical engine design was soon complete. A linear intermix chamber, specced to run at faster reaction rate than on other contemporary vessels, would power twin nacelles to achieve conventional and transwarp speeds. The ship's more energetic warp field could more deeply imbed the vessel within subspace and more efficiently provide all conventional warp velocity through the transwarp drive. The team was able to mitigate the intermix formula issue and raise the reaction ratio by essentially cheating. This was effected by positioning a secondary "supercharger" reaction assembly just ahead of the power transfer lines to the nacelles, wherein additional antimatter would be fed into the main plasma manifold, essentially double-reacting the drive plasma while avoiding a single, difficult-to-contain high ratio reaction. In turn, this supercharged warp plasma would power a second layer of the warp coils, which would push the ship across the transwarp threshold. Coordinated with a tunneling tachyon beam emmitted from the main deflector dish, as well as an increase in the vessel's structural integrity and inertial damping fields, the ship would generate a transwarp corridor ahead of it and continue to accelerate exponentially into full subspace immersion. The vessel's crew would theoretically experience a brief state of disorientation as the transwarp threshold was crossed, and this would render precise computer control of the transwarp drive system essential.
While many in Starfleet remained skeptical of transwarp’s virtues, Admiral Randolph Harrison “Harry” Morrow emerged as its champion. The young, charismatic Morrow had held a fascination with transwarp development since he served as a supervisor at the ASDB, and long followed Dr. Wesley’s efforts. The young maverick, mentored by Admiral Nogura himself, worked his growing influence to bring around his fellows in the Admiralty, and Starfleet finally ordered transwarp included as part of the SV-20 project. The Transwarp Development Project was officially born. The project soon came to be known among inner Starfleet circles as “The Great Experiment,” which would be made a household phrase by Federation news outlets. New work began on SV-20, in tandem with the development of transwarp drive.
Chapter Three - Design
Design work for the class evolved greatly from the original configuration conceived in the late 2260s. The first design brief of 2266 called for a ship “superior in every way imaginable to the Constitution class." The original Starfleet specifications called for a ship at least 350 meters long by 150 meters abeam by 60 meters deep. Obviously, SV-20 needed to be bigger and faster than Constitution, but this in itself posed a serious dilemma. Faster speeds required more power, which required larger ships, which in turn required greater structural integrity, which in turn required more power. Finding a balance was always quite a dilemma, no less so here due to the impatience of this particular design initiative. As such, the scale of the designs changed several times. Further, the ASDB's understanding of warp streamlining, the arrangement of design components in a manner conducive to smooth warp field flow and manipulation, was rapidly changing, prompting the design team to consider some very unconventional component arrangements and proportions.
Design SV-20A was the initial concept completed in 2268 before the transwarp mandate was added. Quite unconventional in design, it featured a saucer-shaped primary hull in line with a flattened, stepped engineering section. A horizontal “wing” supported four twin warp nacelles, two mounted above and two mounted below each at the end of the wing. Warp power would have been provided by a fully horizontal intermix chamber. Impulse engines were mounted aft, between warp nacelle pylons. The warp nacelles were of a radically different design, but were nearly the same size as those that would be installed aboard the refit Enterprise. The ship also featured an unconventional navigation deflector “pod” mounted on the ventral side of the engineering hull.
Design SV-20B was produced in 2270, largely a refinement and expansion of SV-20A. The new concept was similar to SV-20A, yet even more unconventional. The overall design was more flat and stretched out, an exercise in warp streamlining. It would also be equipped with four warp nacelles, but each nacelle was approximately 30% larger than those of the previous design. The impulse engines returned to the saucer section, in separate housings on either side of the engineering hull connection point. The impulse deck itself was mounted atop the dorsal spine, between the engines, with a domed, exposed deflection crystal assembly akin to that of the newly designed refit Enterprise. Most interestingly, the ship would have utilized variable geometry warp pylons and nacelles, a feature that did not see practical application until the Intrepid class one hundred years later.
Design SV-20C, created in 2272, was the first SV-20 design intended to incorporate transwarp drive, and with the inclusion of the Transwarp Development Project, was the first to bear the code-name Excelsior. It was essentially a two-nacelle version of SV-20B, with refinements to the nacelle pylons, impulse systems, and the addition of a distinctive, isolated transwarp housing at the ship’s aft. A re-examination of flight data from the refit Enterprise's ongoing testing, as well as the historic data from members of the Constitution class, would prompt designers to abandon their more radical warp streamlining approach and pursue a more conventional route.
Design SV-20D, created in 2273, very much resembled a futuristic Constitution. She had a slightly bulbous saucer mounted atop an elongated, curved engineering hull by a thickened, grilled interconnecting dorsal. The design mounted two pairs of fore and aft torpedo launchers, and radial phaser banks on the dorsal and ventral of the primary hull (akin to the Enterprise refit designs). Her transwarp nacelles were 40% larger than the warp nacelles of the Enterprise, mounted to the dorsal engineering hull spine by inwardly curved pylons. The intermix chamber and matter/antimatter injectors were moved to a vertical/horizontal hybrid orientation. The SV-20D gained a great deal of praise and performed admirably in field flow simulations.
In the same year, more members of Starfleet Command came around to support Admiral Morrow’s modernization initiatives, due in no small part to the V’Ger Crisis, in which even the refit Enterprise was helpless to defend Earth from a massively powerful sentient Threat Vehicle called V'Ger. Bureaucrats used to sitting behind their desks had been given the rare opportunity to practice taking refuge beneath them, and none liked it. Skeptics and militarization opponents pointed out that the crisis was resolved through diplomacy rather than force, but many were still quick to throw their full support behind the SV-20 project as a result of the incident, and their willingness for the SV-20.
With streamlining and other modifications, SV-20E was born and gained final approval by late 2274. The ship’s overall shape was extremely curvilinear, with surfaces either curved or flattened as defined by transwarp field analysis and the transwarp nacelles were increased in overall length by a third from SV-20D. System design briefs were sent to various facilities throughout the Federation as the design team undertook the charge to turn SV-20E into reality. Armament and impulse drive design elements were soon delivered. Crew requirements were pinned down at a maximum comfortable compliment of 900 and a standard operational crew of 750, with a maximum evacuation capacity of 1,500. By the end of the year, the spaceframe design was approved for construction. Many felt that the team had created a beautiful ship, giving the design a distinctly elegant Japanese design flair. A few skeptics criticized the design as bulbous and resembling a "pregnant guppy."
During the design finalization process, engineers arriveed at a remarkable breakthrough in starship structural integrity. Previously, starships had been build in hull pressure compartments, modular sections constructed seperately and then assembled in drydock, with the outer hull then built over them. Where two compartments met, a double hull was formed, and at the ship's exterior a similar double hull was achieved where the outer hull covered the pressure compartment hull. While starships built this way were far more durable than their ancestors, starship longevity was nowhere near where designers wanted. Further, hull pressure compartments could greatly limit the way a starship had to be internally arranged. For Excelsior, designers made use of recent advances in structural field generation to completely redesign the overall structure. Incorporating structural integrity field generators directly into a skeletal frame onto which the monocoque hull and loadbearing members would be mated, the design could completely negate the need for pressure compartments, rendering almost the entire interior of the ship fairly modular and adaptable. If successful, it would revolutionize Federation starship design, and theoretically extend the ship's useable lifetime greatly.
Chapter Four - Construction
In 2275, construction orders for NX-2000 were issued, and given the name Excelsior by Morrow both after the transwarp group’s name and after another Federation starship of the same name that had been lost. Estimates suggested that testing and construction would take around a decade. The ASDB simultaneously commenced with the design and construction of small scale test engines to collect data to assist in the construction of the Excelsior's engines. These small engines were to be installed first on unmanned and then on manned test vehicles, following on the heels of test engines constructed in the lab. Meanwhile, for his involvement in making transwarp and the Excelsior project a reality, now-Fleet Admiral Morrow was appointed Starfleet CinC. Using the Excelsior project as leverage, Morrow appeared to have maneuvered himself into the perfect position to ascend as his former mentor's replacement.
Later that year, Excelsior’s first keel plate was laid at a special ceremony on Earth at Construction Building Five in San Francisco. A smiling Admiral Morrow made the first gamma-weld on the piece of tritanium that would frame the secondary hull strongback. In Earth orbit, a massive new dry dock facility was being built for the assembly of Excelsior’s components. Morrow and his Starfleet colleagues were thoroughly pleased with the positive PR that was coming from the new Excelsior’s construction. The Federation press left messages almost daily at the respective offices of Morrow and Thorndyke asking about the Excelsior project. Both remained coy as to the exact nature of the project.
Construction proceeded at a feverish pace. By 2277, the hull spaceframe had begun to take shape in the recently completed Dry Dock Seven facility. Morrow and Thorndyke reportedly mused together at the “Lucky Seven” designation the new dry dock was given. Several design flaws in late simulations meanwhile led to complete redesign of several key systems. As these refinements to the ship’s about-to-be-installed systems were made, the public and the Federation press grew more and more curious, to Morrow's eager delight.
In 2278, the refit Enterprise was about to return from her second five-year mission under James T. Kirk. Commander Montgomery Scott’s aid was solicited for Excelsior. Dr. Thorndyke sought to have him added to the design and construction that was underway. Dr. Wesley was very hesitant of seeking Scott’s counsel, but Thorndyke overruled him. Mr. Scott was invited to examine the Transwarp Development Team’s work and offer recommendations, in the hope that he would want to join the project. By all accounts, Scott earnestly reviewed their work, though his recommendations were less than encouraging. Having seen firsthand the effects of interphase-level subspace distortion aboard Enterprise firsthand, Scott was skeptical of what he termed the team’s “trying to break the laws of physics.” From his own official report, regarding his opinion of the Transwarp Development Project:
“It is my professional opinion that the Transwarp Development Project is moving too quickly. At this time we do not possess… full understanding of subspace field interaction to comprehend what effects this level of warp field will produce on a vessel, its occupants, and indeed the fabric of space itself. Extensive testing must be undertaken to fully understand the forces that are currently being dealt with before moving forward, and charging on blindly will doom this effort to failure.”
Some of Scott's other remarks were even less flattering, doing all but accusing those in charge of being willfully negligent and irresponsible. He had thus succinctly declined a position on the team while casting serious doubts on the project's chances of success, backed by years of unquestionable field experience. Dr. Wesley was both furious and disheartened. He was sure Scott was shortsighted in his views, but also knew that Scott’s opinion represented the opinion of many Starfleet engineers and admirals. Scott continued aboard Enterprise, remaining with her after the ship returned from her five year mission and entered service as a training ship attached to Starfleet Academy. His opinions were gone, but not forgotten. Scott was not the only one in Starfleet to be skeptical of Excelsior in one way or another. Some agreed with Scott regarding the nature of transwarp, while others felt that the various elements of the design were too radical in one way or another.
In late 2279, Morrow finally issued an explanation of the Excelsior project to the public. He announced that U.S.S. Excelsior was the first of a bold new line of starships that would fulfill the needs of an ever-changing universe, and serve as a revolutionary new platform for exploration and defense, and would be the first starship in the known universe to break the transwarp barrier. The majority of the public was enthralled. Some were very excited by the possibilities this new transwarp drive could present, while others were cautious to embrace this new ship. For their parts, the Klingons and Romulans instantly launched secret intelligence campaigns dedicated to unlocking the secrets of the Federation’s new supership. Both their efforts would prove surprisingly unsuccessful.
In early 2284, James T. Kirk returned from a premature retirement from Starfleet, possibly with the intention of commanding another mission of exploration, possibly aboard the Enterprise. Admiral Morrow was very conscious of Enterprise’s potential to overshadow Excelsior, and lobbied to make sure Enterprise remain a training ship. As the foremost member of the Constitution class, Enterprise could, in a prominent position, pose the most serious threat to the success of the new class; as a trainer, she could quietly and gradually slip from the limelight into mothballs without the public outcry of being broken up.
Meanwhile, Starfleet's efforts to conduct manned test flights of a small scale transwarp engine continued to be unsuccessful. The Shuttlecraft Infinity had been built with her own transwarp drive, under the auspices of Dr. Wesley and the direct supervision of fellow Excelsior Group scientist Dr. Nilani Khan and her husband, test pilot Torias Dax. The project had stalled several times, as miniaturizing the engine design had proven nearly as difficult as designing the full size engine had in the first place. Several prototype engines were tested, each unsuccessful. A final new test engine was constructed and installed in 2284. Tragically, Dax was killed when the shuttle broke apart before crossing the transwarp barrier. Regardless, the Excelsior herself was almost complete. and Admiral Morrow ordered the project to continue. For his part, Dr. Wesley was deeply disheartened by the loss of his friend and colleague, and the effect his loss had on Dr. Kahn. Dr. Wesley feared that Mr. Scott's warnings were beginning to prove valid after all.
The Admiralty would soon face the daunting process of selecting a first commander for their new supership. If she fulfilled her promise, Excelsior was going to be at the forefront of executing Starfleet policy, so her Captain not only needed to be a skilled master and leader, but also a skilled diplomat. Starfleet soon found their perfect candidate in the form of Commander Hikaru Sulu, one of the Fleet's most decorated officers who had distinguished himself in service aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise. Now serving as executive officer of the Starship Exeter, Sulu had long followed the Excelsior and Transwarp Development Projects with enthusiasm. When offered command of Excelsior, he eagerly accepted. Sulu was a perfect fit.
By 2285, Excelsior was mostly finished, slightly ahead of schedule. She was launched on thruster power for her space-worthiness testing with an ASDB flight test crew. Initial test results were complete, and all ship systems passed Level Four review tests on the Earth-Jupiter run, except for transwarp drive. The transwarp intermix chamber was brought to full power, but there were unusual electromagnetic and thermal fluctuations detected in the magnetic constriction assemblies. These fluctuations had not appeared in ground or unmanned tests, but precariously echoed the tragic loss of Dax and Infinity. However, after extensive analysis the fluctuations seemed to be unique to this particular iteration of chamber design. Morrow, Thorndyke, and Wesley were privately a bit unnerved, but publicly remained optimistic, and hoped that given more time the ship’s initial transwarp difficulties would be ironed out. The ambitious individuals largely responsible for the project's momentum pushed onward. Excelsior returned to dry dock for final fitting out, including thermocoat painting and striping, to be followed by her commissioning ceremony.
I look forward to your feedback.
"If you can't take a little bloody nose, maybe you ought to go back home and crawl under your bed. It's not safe out here. It's wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross; but it's not for the timid." - Q