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Propulsion

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Propulsion is the means of creating force that leads to movement. A propulsion system has a source of power and some means of using that power to generate propulsive force.

Slower-than-light propulsion

DY 100 painting
A nuclear-powered DY-100 class ship lifting off with solid rocket boosters

Some of the extremely rudimentary forms of propulsion include riding on horses, pedal-driven vehicles like bicycles, sailing ships that utilize the wind, steam-powered trains and other various land, sea and air vehicles powered by some form of internal combustion engine. (Star Trek Generations; Star Trek: First Contact; ENT: "Storm Front, Part II"; VOY: "The 37's")

For interplanetary spaceflight a variety of other technologies have been invented. Rockets were a very basic way of achieving orbit and traveling from one planet to another within a star system. Solar sails and ion drives have also been used for interplanetary travel. In addition of its use on submarines and aircraft carriers, basic nuclear power was also used as a power source on early interplanetary craft such as the DY-100 class ships. (ENT: "First Flight" production art; TOS: "Space Seed"; DS9: "Explorers"; VOY: "One Small Step"; Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home)

Type 02 fusion propulsion could only accelerate an interplanetary vessel to a speed of .02 times the speed of light. (TNG: "The Outrageous Okona", production art [1]) On impulse ships, the impulse engines utilized subspace driver coils that allowed the ship to reach speeds much closer to the speed of light and made interplanetary travel more practical. (DS9: "Shadows and Symbols"; VOY: "Tattoo", "Drive"; Star Trek: The Motion Picture) Microfusion provided power for smaller thrusters, but these engines were mostly used for short range maneuvering only. (TNG: "The Outcast")

Faster-than-light propulsion

USS Enterprise (alternate reality) at warp
Warp drive, the most common means of faster-than-light propulsion

A means of faster-than-light speed propulsion was one of the most crucial components of a starship. Without it, species would be unable to traverse the vast distances between star systems, making interstellar trade, commerce and exploration impossible.

Subspace-based propulsion

Warp drive was one of the most common forms of faster-than-light propulsion. Warp drive was based on the generation of a subspace field that warps the space around the vessel, allowing it to ride on the subspace distortion at the speed of light and many times faster. These speeds were measured in warp factors. (ENT: "Cold Front")

Subspace vortex
Transit via a subspace vortex

Warp drive was not the only subspace-based means of travel. Another method included utilizing naturally formed subspace corridors for interstellar transit. With these natural phenomena only impulse drive was needed to utilize them. (ENT: ""; VOY: "Dragon's Teeth") It was also possible to artificially generate a subspace vortex with a phase deflector pulse, through which a starship can cross vast distances. (ENT: "The Shipment", "Stratagem")

Other technologies have been tested in the late 24th century such as generating subspace displacement in the form of a soliton wave, along which a starship could ride. (TNG: "New Ground") The version of the transwarp drive designed by the United Federation of Planets utilized higher warp frequencies than the standard warp drive could generate to achieve infinite velocity. (VOY: "Threshold")

Some forms of transporter technology, that utilize subspace to transmit the subject in the form of a matter stream, could be used as a form of instantaneous faster-than-light transit, such as the subspace transporter and transwarp beaming. (TNG: "Bloodlines"; Star Trek) In a larger scale, these types of transporters could even transport entire starships hundreds of light years away, such as the Kalandan molecular transporter system. (TOS: "That Which Survives")

Tachyon-based propulsion

Tachyons are subatomic particle that exist naturally at faster-than-light velocities. Ancient Bajoran lightships used their solar sails to catch naturally occuring tachyon eddies to travel at superluminal speeds. (DS9: "Explorers")

Borg conduit drive
The generation of a transwarp conduit

Tachyons could also be produced artificially. The Borg transwarp conduit method of propulsion was based on this technology. Tachyon bursts were emitted on a high-energy band into space at a resonant transwarp frequency level. The conduit would then begin to form in front of the ship allowing it to ride along the matter stream at transwarp velocities. (VOY: "Day of Honor")

Some methods of time travel, like the chrono deflector produced large ammounts of tachyokinetic energy to generate a tachyon pulse to produce a temporal rift. While the main purpose of these rifts was to move starships through time, a rift like this could also take the ship anywhere in the galaxy. (VOY: "Endgame")

Graviton-based propulsion

Gravitons are the subatomic particles that transmit the force of gravity. Some lifeforms, such as the dikironium cloud creature, were known to use gravitational fields for faster-than-light propulsion. (TOS: "Obsession")

Graviton catapult
A graviton catapult

A graviton catapult was also an application of gravity for transit. A massive graviton surge was locked on to a starship through an array of projectors and sent the ship nearly instantaneously to its destination hundreds or even thousands of light years away through null space. (VOY: "The Voyager Conspiracy")

A highly charged graviton field can also create a severe bias in the subspace continuum. Entering such a graviton field can propel a starship half way across the galaxy. (TNG: "The Nth Degree")

Graviton beams could be used as a method of propulsion. A graviton beam in the form of a tractor beam could be used to drag a vessel into faster-than-light speeds by another ship. A slower ship could also hold onto a faster ship with a tractor beam to achieve greater speed. (TAS: "The Counter-Clock Incident") A graviton beam could also be utilized as a repulsor beam, to repel a starship from the source of the beam. A sufficiently strong repulsor beam could instantaneously push starships through significant interstellar distances, such as those used by the Aldeans. (TNG: "When The Bough Breaks")

Spacetime manipulation

Shuttle going to coaxial warp
A shuttlecraft folding space

The spacetime continuum itself can be distorted in various ways as a means of propulsion. One method was the coaxial induction drive, also known as the coaxial warp drive, that had the capability of folding the fabric of space, allowing a ship to cross vast distances instantaneously. It functioned by drawing in subatomic particles and reconfiguring their internal geometries. (VOY: "Vis à Vis")

Folded-space transporters could achieve a similar effect. The Sikarian spatial trajector utilized a neutrino envelope and an antineutrino catalyst to fold space. To move starships, the power system needed to be compatible and the field needed to be amplified by the quartz mantle of the Sikarian homeworld. (VOY: "Prime Factors")

Quantum slipstream
Transit via a quantum slipstream

In the quantum slipstream drive, a starship projected and focused a quantum field with its navigational deflector. Using the field, the ship penetrated the quantum barrier and entered a slipstream. At slipstream velocities a ship could travel across the galaxy in a matter of months. (VOY: "Hope and Fear")

Wormholes were the most common natural phenomena that distorted space to link distant parts together as a shortcut. Natural wormhole-like phenomenon, such as a spatial vortex, an interspatial flexure and the Möbius Inversion in the Delta Quadrant have been used as a form of transit by starships to cross vast distances. (VOY: "Night", "Counterpoint", "Drive")

While wormhole-like phenomenon occurred in nature, they could also be artificially created for travel and communication purposes. While the Federation had some success in experimenting with the creation of both, only the extra-dimensional lifeforms known as the Prophets were known to posses the ability to form a completely stable wormhole with verterons. (DS9: "In the Hands of the Prophets", "Rejoined"; VOY: "Pathfinder")

Spatial flexure
A spatial flexure

In the smaller scale spatial distortion fields could be used to transport individuals light years away, such as with the Nyrian translocator technology. In the larger scale, spatial rifts could be used as shortcuts in space by starships. Such rifts as spatial flexures could be artificially produced by a navigational deflector, though only the Q were known to understand the process. (VOY: "Displaced", "Caretaker", "Q2")

According to a scetch of the 29th century timeship USS Relativity, the ship was powered by a temporal warp core and its nav deflector functioned as a temporal rift emitter. [2]

In the 31st century, time travel pods no longer utilized any forms of traditional propulsion. They were powered by a temporal displacement drive that utilized temporal radiation. This was an advanced propulsion technology that moved the spacecraft through space and time. (ENT: "Future Tense")

List of propulsion methods

Slower-than-light

Bajoran lightship (aft)
Bajoran lightships utilized solar sails for propulsion

Faster-than-light

Eymorg starship remastered
The Eymorg utilized advanced ion propulsion for faster-than-light transit
Suliban cell ship open
The Suliban cell ships utilized a tricyclic plasma drive to achieve warp speeds

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