Monthly Archives: August 2019

On the Final Frontier: USS Navigator NCC-1105

USS Navigator NCC-1105

The Federation starship USS Navigator NCC-1105 was a Gemini-class long range exploration ship from the early 23rd Century. Notable for its distinctive twin saucer sections, the Gemini-class was the last gasp of Starfleet’s early period of experimentation with starship configurations that produced the Daedalus-class.

The Federation being composed of several different starfaring races each with their own ideas about how ships should be designed, there was naturally a lot of give and take over design philosophy. Vulcans and Andorians being unwilling to use one another’s ship designs, the human starship design philosophy eventually prevailed as being a compromise everyone could live with, despite the fact that Terran shipbuilding was a couple of generations behind that of the other founding Federation races.

It should not be supposed that the humans of the late 22nd Century were unaware of their technological inferiority compared to, say, the Vulcans. Technology-sharing in this early period, however, was somewhat reluctant, and the effects of ship configuration on warp field geometry were less than fully understood even by more technologically advanced species. In addition, most other races’ research engineers tended to assume the configurations which they were used to, so that Earth-based Starfleet’s Starship Design Bureau could not simply adopt an Andorian or Tellarite warp drive wholesale without re-engineering the whole thing from the ground up to account for Terran configurations.

Accordingly, there was a certain amount of experimentation on the part of Starfleet R&D to find the “best” configuration for efficient warp field geometry, and many of these experiments found their way into production as NX vessels. A few of these proved interesting enough to make it all the way into true Federation starship classes, and the dual saucer Gemini design was one of the most promising of these.

Designed to replace the Daedalus-class in the long-range exploration role, the dual saucer was intended to combine the greater internal volume of the Daedalus with the more optimal warp configuration of the saucer shape. Development began in the early 2180s, but owing to political dynamics within Starfleet R&D the first prototype USS Gemini NX-1100 was not completed until 2197, one year after the decommissioning of the last of the Daedalus-class.

For most of the 2180s, sections of Starfleet’s exploration division were in the grip of a coterie of Daedalus enthusiasts led by Admiral Rafael Cruz. Advocates of the spherical primary hull’s greater internal volume over the now-conventional saucer, they were willing to put up with the lower sustainable warp velocities that a sphere configuration ship could produce, in order to maintain the greater living and working space that they felt was psychologically necessary for long voyages. Admiral Cruz refused to authorise construction of any Starfleet exploration ship that was not designed with a spherical primary hull.

The dual saucer design was developed by Andorian Captain Hyel Tashar of Starfleet R&D, in order to try and work around Admiral Cruz’ stubborn adherence to the sphere design. However it was not until the Admiral’s 2189 retirement that construction of the prototype was ordered.

3-view drawing of the Gemini-class explorer ship USS Navigator
Internal MSD drawing of major ship systems

Following successful builders’ trials an initial flight of six Gemini-class vessels (including the prototype NCC-1100) were ordered by Starfleet exploration division, who were by now desperate for any vessel that could replace the decommissioned Daedaluses in the long-range explorer role.

The Gemini design was a very successful one in terms of its fitness for its role, as the ship’s paired 89m-diameter saucers provided a substantial amount of internal space for a ship so much smaller than classes like the NX and Constitution. This allowed the Gemini­-class to incorporate large amounts of laboratory facilities and crew amenities in quite a small hull footprint, making them highly sought-after vessels by Starfleet captains of explorer ships.

Side view

The Gemini-class’ downfall in terms of ship lineage sprang from the same root as its success. The dual saucer section added a level of complexity that resulted in elongated construction times for the class, and three similarly-sized single-saucer ships could be constructed in the time it took to produce two Geminis. Given the increasing tensions with the Klingon Empire throughout the early 23rd Century, Starfleet was more interested in numbers of hulls as a deterrent to Klingon aggression rather than in the particular qualities of the Gemini design. The class remains the only dual-saucer production design in Starfleet’s history.

Top view

USS Navigator NCC-1105 was the last of the class to be constructed, and commissioned in 2219 according to the Terran calendar. She performed admirably in several three-year long range exploration missions between the 2220s and 2250s, pushing the boundaries of Federation explored space into the Beta Quadrant.

USS Navigator bridge and senior officers.
L-R: Rigelian ship’s doctor, Xindi-Primate communications officer, Andorian helmsman, Human captain, Human first officer/tactical offcer, Human science officer, Tellarite chief engineer

For the time period, USS Navigator had an extremely diverse crew, with humans, Andorians, Tellarites, Xindi and vulcanoid Rigelians among her senior officers and other species including Vulcans and Denobulans among her extended cadre and enlisted crew. Such a mixture was highly unusual, with most Starfleet vessels of the period having much more monolithic complements, and the fractious, at times tempestuous nature of Navigator’s crew gives testament to the reasoning behind it. The Federation was still a relatively new idea and most personnel of the united Starfleet had little experience in ongoing day-to-day cross-species relations. The divergent outlooks and thought processes of the various races frequently resulted in friction as they rubbed up against one another, and most captains sought to minimise such conflicts for the sake of smooth operations. It is undoubtedly thanks to the pioneering work of crews such as that of the USS Navigator, however, that the great experiment of the Federation has been such a success.

The ship’s complement of six shuttles – two Type A warp-capable shuttles and four older-style short-range shuttlepods – were named after rocket engineers and developers: the Korolev and the Wheeler were the two warp shuttles, and the shuttlepods were the Von Braun, the Goddard, the Tsilkovsky and the Shawyer.

Specifications:

  • Length: 222.25m
  • Beam: 94.3m
  • Height: 48.6m
  • Decks: 15
  • Complement: 280 officers, crew and researchers
  • Inservice Date: 2197-2244
  • Speed (old scale): Warp 5.8 (cruising)
    • Warp 7.2 (maximum safe speed)
  • Weaponry: 8 single-emitter phaser turrets
    • 1 forward photon torpedo tube
  • Defences: Deflector shield
  • Auxiliary craft: 2 Type A shuttlecraft
    • 4 short-range shuttlepods

~~~

And so we come to Federation ship design.

Given that most of my favourite fan-designed ships are the weird ones which totally shuffle the usual Federation ship-design deck, it’s probably inevitable that any design of mine will not be a completely standard Starfleet model. I confess to feeling somewhat straitjacketed by the standard Federation design philosophy; after a while I have to throw my hands in the air going “Arrgh! They all look like the Enterprise!”.

I’ve chosen the pre-TOS, pre-Discovery era in which to place this ship, because it makes sense to me that any weirdly divergent configuration would belong to either that era or the late-Voyager Prometheus/Steamrunner/Saber time period. And I cordially hate all of those ships I just named. Yes, including the USS Prometheus with its silly cool-when-you’re-six “multi-vector attack mode” that I just can’t take seriously. I don’t even much care for the Akira-class; as far as I’m concerned it’s an okay ship, but the NX-01 improved and fixed the design and made it great. Also placed in that earlier time period because Enterprise was probably my favourite incarnation of Star Trek (even if no other Trek fan seems to give it the time of day. What gives, people? Enterprise was cool!).

These are the voyagers of the starship Navigator…

The dual saucer design makes a lot of sense to me, and I really like the way this has turned out. It’d be a superb ship for extended-duration missions and exploration, and it looks so much better than Discovery (in my admittedly biased opinion) that it’s not even funny. I’d command one of these quite gladly.

In fact, that’s where the USS Navigator comes in. I figure she’s my ship in the Star Trek universe. From the time period before the Voyager-era “point the tricorder at it and say the technobabble incantation” approach to problem-solving, because latent realism.

Naming the class was easy. Gemini was fairly obvious for a sort of conjoined-twin ship (though it was almost the Lewis and Clark-class after the American Western explorers, until I decided there were already way too many US-centric references in Starfleet nomenclature). Naming my ship was much harder, because most of the good names either sounded too warlike (Trafalgar, Lionheart, Black Prince) or were already taken (Atlantis, Excalibur, Argonaut, Neptune), or just didn’t seem quite right for my ship (Patrick Moore, Francis Crick, Mwenemutapa). A search of Memory Alpha (Trek’s canon wiki) and Memory Beta (Trek’s non-canon wiki) revealed no USS Navigator, however, so that’s what she’s called.

The shuttlecraft are named after: Russian chief rocket designer Sergei Korolev, British rocket engineer Roy Wheeler, American rocket inventor Robert Goddard, German rocket scientist Werner Von Braun, Russian rocketry pioneer Konstantin Tsilkovsky and British electromagnetic propulsion (=RL impulse drive) inventor Roger Shawyer. Because coolness. And a Black Arrow reference.

I’ve got a nicely diverse crew because that makes things interesting; the Starfleet ships we’ve seen have really been unfeasibly dominated by humans. I’ve yet to see a Starfleet guest ship commanded by an Andorian or a Tellarite, for instance. In the bridge model, I have an Andorian helmsman (how I wish there was a proper Andorian hairpiece element with the antennae!), a Xindi-Primate communications officer and a Rigelian ship’s doctor (front left). The Rigelians (not to be confused with the reptilian Rigellians) are vulcanoid inhabitants of Beta Rigel V, a lot like the Vulcans except they don’t practice the suppression of emotion. It seemed a good justification for that elf hairpiece – obviously something vulcanoid, but Vulcans themselves wouldn’t do anything so illogical as to dye their hair purple. And the Chief Engineer (other side front) is my take on a Tellarite with LEGO elements.

TLG aren’t going to do it any time soon, obviously, but I’d love to see a whole Star Trek theme some time.

Having created a nonstandard design for that early a period in Trek internal history, though, I had to explain why such a logical development for extended-duration missions never got put into more extended production. After toying with the idea of a structural defect caused by the cumulative effects of warp on the second saucer arrangement, I decided I didn’t want to afflict my ship with something like that and cast around for an alternative explanation.

The dual saucer is going to add complexity to the design and make the class take longer to build, and that gives me a decent explanation. In fact, it’s the same explanation for why I hate the Prometheus: unnecessary complexity. For the same amount of resources and time I could build you six smaller ships, each one at least as capably as any of the silly Prometheus section-ships, without the need for them to combine. I could then send a squadron of four against each of your Prometheus-class ships and still retain two for other duties.

With respect, though, I submit that the dual saucer is way more logical than a ship that splits into three. It’s just a matter of wiring in all those extra rooms and labs, not a major engineering challenge on a par with building a paper bridge to span the Grand Canyon. Also, the dual saucer actually has a real use and purpose, whereas I’m of the opinion that a ship that splits into three doesn’t really. Just send a squadron of normal ships!

I’m sure some hardcore Trek nerd is going to whine that “this isn’t how the Federation do things”, or even more probably, that I’m playing fast and loose with established canon history. I’m okay with this; please, tell me everything that’s wrong with it as a design. I think it works. It’s surprisingly balanced, it looks like it fits within the established tech base and stylistic preferences (even if it pushes the boundaries of accepted style) and I think it’s a reasonable development in the period where Starfleet were still settling on their default ship design. I figure the Daedalus-class came after the NX-01 (not before, as most Trek fans seemed to think when Enterprise aired the “first saucer”). There’s no reason it should be a case of “Right then, saucers only from here on out” after the introduction of the NX-01; with humans so far behind the Vulcans and Andorians technologically, they’re going to try a few different things while they figure out what works best, even after the formation of the Federation.

It even obeys Roddenberry’s Rules of Starship Design in a way that an awful lot of more recent Trek ships don’t (Defiant, Magee, etc): paired nacelles, at least 50% line-of-sight from nacelle to nacelle, front of nacelles visible from the front aspect of the ship, bridge on top of the saucer section. Even despite that being a silly location for a ship’s bridge.

She’s still something of a work-in-progress as I work her up from a cool design sketch to a LEGO model to a fully fleshed-out design, but what do you think of my ship?

Miss Scarlet in the Library with the Spanner

Miss Scarlet in the Library with the Spanner. Wrench. Whatever.

August brings the biannual DFWLUG 1:1 build contest, which I dislike and am no good at. You’re supposed to build a life-size LEGO replica of something or other, and everyone else brings these really creative cameras and boom boxes and lightbulbs and whatnot.

Last time I brought an R2-D2 PEZ dispenser. Not my best showing in a LUG contest, but I just have little to no inspiration for this kind of build.

This time, again I’m casting around looking for ideas and coming up with zilch. I could reprise my cockatiel build, but I’m sort of uninspired for that. And I honestly can’t think of anything else.

One week to go and still no inspiration for anything at all, much less a contest-winning build, I decided they could stuff it. Politely. I don’t want to build a 1:1 creation. The peasants are revolting.

Now, normally, me being me, that line would be followed by “Let them eat Space!”, but not this time. Most of my grey is in use on my Martian Fighting Machine and a slew of Star Trek builds, and my son’s using a lot of our blue on a giant Nerf logo. Besides, what inspired me all of a sudden was Cluedo. Or Clue, as it’s called in the US.

My elder daughter is a big fan of the game, but I’m afraid the set we have has dispensed with all the formal titles and made them look like teenagers (No more Colonel Mustard or Reverend Green or Lady Peacock), and it has one of the weird updated boards that’s more like a modern house than the 1920s-ish Agatha Christie mystery-esque original layout. Gone are the Conservatory, Billiard Room, Ballroom and Library, in are the Garage, Bedroom, Bathroom and Courtyard. More accessible to a modern kid, I suppose, but the old period floor plan makes much more sense as a murder mystery location. Weirder still, there’s an entirely new alternate board on the back of the slightly conventional one, depicting an entirely new seaside promenade location.

Mmm, interesting idea, but no. It does beg the question of possible franchise tie-in boards like Monopoly has, though. You could easily do a Hogwarts-based one (Hermione Granger in the Room of Requirement with the Cursed Necklace”?), or a Star Wars one with different planets and locations (“Boba Fett on Naboo with the Lightsaber”).

Anyway, for this build we’re using the traditional board and the proper titles of the characters.

So, Miss Scarlet in the Library with the Spanner. We can flex as far as “Wrench”, seeing as how it’s always been that in the American edition, but none of this modern teenage house party nonsense.