Warp drive and dilithium

Discussion in 'Trek Tech' started by Nebusj, Jun 20, 2014.

  1. Nebusj

    Nebusj Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    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.
     
  2. T'Girl

    T'Girl Vice Admiral Admiral

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

    :)
     
  3. Timo

    Timo Admiral Admiral

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    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
     
  4. Chemahkuu

    Chemahkuu Admiral Admiral

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    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?
     
  5. Timo

    Timo Admiral Admiral

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    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?

    Timo Saloniemi
     
  6. Maxillius

    Maxillius Commander Red Shirt

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    Political prisoners have to do *something* with their time, right?
     
  7. Robert Comsol

    Robert Comsol Commodore Commodore

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    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."


    Bob
     
  8. varek

    varek Commander Red Shirt

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    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.
     
  9. Chemahkuu

    Chemahkuu Admiral Admiral

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    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.
     
  10. blssdwlf

    blssdwlf Commodore Commodore

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    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.​
     
  11. Timo

    Timo Admiral Admiral

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    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.

    Timo Saloniemi
     
  12. jayrath

    jayrath Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    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.
     
  13. Timo

    Timo Admiral Admiral

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    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
     
  14. blssdwlf

    blssdwlf Commodore Commodore

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    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. :)
     
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2014
  15. Timo

    Timo Admiral Admiral

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    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.

    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.

    Timo Saloniemi
     
  16. Robert Comsol

    Robert Comsol Commodore Commodore

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    Didn't we have this same discussion a year ago? The DCCA Scotty pulled out in "The Paradise Syndrome" only contained one dilithium pad.
    In "The Alternative Factor" we saw at least 4 dilithium pads being regenereated or re-amplified or recharged (while the drawers apparently could hold up to 12 of such pads).

    So I think multiple of those pads are in operation during M/AM reaction, but it's not a problem to pull one out for inspection (possibly a spare one takes over, then).

    IIRC, TNG presented in a couple of episodes the amplifying characteristics of the crystals.

    It's worth noting that the predecessor TAS did the same in "The Pirates of Orion".
    The Orion ship notices that the asteroids can't be detonated by their phasers, but a powerful explosive device right on the surface could. Lt. Arex notices that the Orion captain has dilithium crystals with him, but Scotty makes sure these are beamed up to the Enterprise and thus foils the Orions' suicide plan (to take the Enterprise with them).

    IIRC, a major debate point in the earlier discussion had been whether the crystals just store a powerful energy charge or amplify input energy or both.

    I can live with either of these, the only thing I can't live with is this suggestion that they are somewhat impervious to antimatter.

    That's just along the same scientific nonsense presented in ST IV:TVH when Spock "discovered" that dilithium crystals could be re-crystallized by exposing these to gamma radiation - because you get plenty of gamma radiation during nuclear fusion or M/AM annihilation in the reactor chamber. :lol:

    And dilithium crystals are still made up of matter on the atomic level, so any physical contact with antimatter atoms would annihilate the corresponding amount of matter atoms in these crystals.

    Bob
     
  17. blssdwlf

    blssdwlf Commodore Commodore

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    Actually less convoluted than off-screen or parallel active-passive bypass circuits since it doesn't require re-interpreting or ignoring dialogue.

    Follow the dialogue: After the 3 lithium circuits are blown, they are already concerned about the operation of the ship and have to supplement with battery power to maintain full shields on them and Mudd's ship and to operate the transporter.
    SULU: Another lithium circuit. Now supplementing with battery power, sir.
    KIRK: Scotty, how many of them did you get aboard?
    SCOTT: Only one, sir, but we've locked onto three more.
    SPOCK: What's wrong?
    SCOTT: I don't know, sir. With those three lithium crystals gone
    SPOCK: It'll take longer on battery power.
    And second, the bypass circuits were never in operation when the 3 lithium circuits were blown therefore they could not have been lithium circuits (otherwise they'd have spare crystals):
    SCOTT: One lithium crystal left, and that with a hairline split at the base.
    SPOCK: Better rig a bypass circuit.
    SCOTT: Can't. We blew the whole converter assembly.
    The destruction of the converter assembly took the bypass circuit but they are not counted towards the three lost crystal circuits since Spock didn't associate the two.

    Sure it would be difficult. TOS engines you can pull all the dilithium and the matter-antimatter system doesn't have to be shutdown. You can bypass the dilithium with a working converter assembly. You can not do either one of these things with the TNG-style setup. For a TNG-style setup you would have to have a M-AM reaction chamber for each one of the dilithium crystal circuits AND have to be able to pull each and up to all circuits without having to shutdown the M-AM system. That simply isn't possible in the TNG setup (and therefore not a "minor engineering detail", IMHO.)
     
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2014
  18. Ronald Held

    Ronald Held Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Is dilithium a m-a reaction mediator/catalyst versus lithium crystal having an EPS role?
     
  19. Timo

    Timo Admiral Admiral

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    It's not a matter of re-anything, as the technobabble has no inherent meaning.

    What your version does require of us is to believe that a great number of bypass circuits blew after all the excitement was already over.

    Yes, that's when the bypass circuits, aka lithium circuits, were gone. After this, there was no further loss of hardware mentioned.

    Doesn't follow. If there's only one type of circuit, with examples of it typically run in parallel for heavy-load situations (and considered bypasses when applicable), then losing three out of four as described would meet all the dialogue criteria.

    That's not a necessary (re-)interpretation, either. Kirk thinks there are many bypass circuits already extant ("Switch to bypass circuits"), and Scotty agrees, even if Spock speaks of rigging just one.

    So it's valid to interpret the following as follows:

    Spock: "The entire ship's power is feeding through one lithium crystal." = the remaining circuit out of, say, five or six
    Kirk: "Well, switch to bypass circuits." = one of the other lithium circuits that Kirk believes still exists, as he has only heard of the loss of three, and perhaps doesn't believe those were permanent losses, either
    Scotty: "We burned them all out when we superheated."= all the lithium circuits are gone, all the crystals are dust, and thus it's not possible to either select a circuit or to "rig" one

    This never happens in TOS. In "Alternative Factor", the antimatter system is not explicated to remain online with all the crystals drained; in other episodes, only individual crystals or possible microcrystal paddles are extracted when the earlier episodes already established the existence of multiple crystals or paddles in the system.

    This never happens in TOS, either - bypassing categorically fails in "Mudd's Women". We can't tell what could have been achieved had not everything failed.

    Since the condition of being able to pull out everything does not actually apply, a system with multiple dilithium foci can simply be seen as multiple TNG systems side by side, with shared tanks for each type of fuel. A good idea when your dilithium is unreliable, but you can pare it down to a single crystal when you learn to keep your dilithium healthy in situ.

    In this interpretation, dilithium is essential even in bypassing and you can't do warp without it. Doesn't mean other types of drives couldn't do entirely without dilithium. But the entire plot of "Mudd's Women" depends on the drive being incapable of being run without dilithium, come hell or high water - if dilithium-free travel were possible, then the repairs or modifications necessary for that would have been done and Mudd and Childress would have been left to stew in their own juices.

    Timo Saloniemi
     
  20. Mytran

    Mytran Commodore Commodore

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    Time was of the essence in MW however. With the ship running entirely on battery power, it may have taken more hours than they had to rebuild the damaged converter assembly (whether or not such a machine needed crystals). Based on the information the crew had available, the solution of seeking out new crystals was the most sensible one, they just reckoned without the shenanigans of Harry Mudd!
     

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