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Propulsion Systems

Starships are, at their most basic level, vehicles. Their amazing propulsion systems, particularly the warp drive, are what make the Federation, and indeed every interstellar civilization, possible.

For information pertaining to Faster than Warp Engines available to Starfleet, the uses, and technology go here.

Warp Propulsion System

The heart of any starship is its matter/antimatter reaction (M/AMR) engine, more commonly known as its warp propulsion system or warp drive. Put simply, a warp propulsion system works by annihilating antimatter with matter in a dilithium-controlled reaction, which is channeled for power. A Warp propulsion system has three main parts: the matter/antimatter reaction assembly (M/ARA); the power transfer conduits; and the warp nacelles.

There are several types of advanced and alternate configuration that exist as well, some are required to compliment faster-then-warp (FTW) engine designs, not just standard superluminal faster-than-light- designs. Some have generated and evolved over trial in time in the conflicts of the 2370’s and the previous PDD (Perimeter Defense Directives) of the latter 2360’s that paved the way for many of this new advanced technology. Starfleet has further upgraded it’s warp systems to allow them not to pollute subspace as did vessels designed previously to 2370, and that of other space-faring cultures still use.

Tetryon-plasma Matter/Antimatter Reaction Assembly

Pioneered on the late Yorktown-C and the Yorktown-D, the T-M/ARA or Tetryon Plasma Warp system was created based on lost Tymoidian technology and SCOE and ASDB design teams. Running on a specific Mix of tritium isotope reactions traveling through an advanced synthesized dilithium crystal matrix, The Tetryon plasma matrix is fed into the nacelles, generating the warp field. tetryon plasma radiates at high EM wavelengths, and can produces Sub-space/Gamma ray reaction allowing the ship to further avoid damaging the spatial time continuum and more efficiently distribute power to the ships systems. Instead of Standard Starship EPS conduits, the TPS conduits of the Frontier class are based in ablative sheaths and increase the overall power efficiency of the vessel to that of 135% over that of a Frontier class equipped with a Standard MARA drive

(Tetryon plasma warp systems cost no additional SU’s. They require Isomagnetic conduits for the EPS/TPS system to shield the crew from deadly tetryon radiation leakage which is provided for by the extra insulation and shielding of the isomagnetic conduits, and have a required additional power transfer limit starting at +500. T-M/ARA engines provide +50 power to each core configured.)

Toroidial M/ARA Matrix Core

In a further attempt to modularize a ships main warp propulsion drive, the Camarilla-class of Starship and the Rogue-class of courier took a tip from Dominion/Jem’Hadar ship design in the Torodial warp core. The design is an integrated matrix of class A basic warp cores; aligned in a toroid fashion along the vertical axis of the standard M/ARA.  The MRI and ARI magnetic constriction conduits feed the matter/antimatter fuel into the main housing assembly and distributes it amongst the aligned cores, and the PTC use the combined power output of the tandem M/ARAs. This provides an extraordinary gain in power output for a starship of nearly any size. The largest designed to date was included into the Ascendant class design, which utilizes 10 T-M/ARA class A warp cores.

(Toroidial warp core design costs the combined sum of the class 1/A warp cores used. Starships size 2-4 (Danube-Oberth) and below can use up to 4 cores in their configuration. Size 5-7 (Defiant to Prometheus) can use up to 6 cores. Size 8-10  (Galaxy-Romulan D’Derridex Warbird) can use up to 8 cores. Size 11 and above can use up to 10 cores. They are compatible with T-M/ARA technology, adding a +50 power to each core and require isomagnetic EPS conduits.)

Warp Speeds

The amount of power required to create a warp field rises as the warp factor (velocity) generated by the field rises. By the time Warp 10 is approached, the amounts have increased to near-infinite levels. If, theoretically, a ship could generate the infinite power needed to reach Warp 10, it would travel infinitely fast, and thus, occupy all points in the universe simultaneously (therefore, a Warp 10-capable drive would also have to possess some means to sense the proper point to ‘stop’ at, thus allowing the ships occupant to ‘travel’ there). In 2375, the limit on warp travel was Warp 9.982. As of 2380, the limit is Warp 9.992, and the maximum conventional subspace radio speed is warp 9.9999. The maximum speed a starship can reach is a function of the type and efficiency of its warp drive.

In the 2370’s, Starfleet began to create advanced forms of special dilithium that remain stable at much higher subspace EM wavelengths than other crystals. Such crystals as were developed for the Tetryon plasma warp systems. Starfleet vessels were finally able to break the transwarp barrier. However, it was discovered that doing so had deleterious effect on humanoids, causing pilots of these early transwarp flights to mutate into hyper-evolved hybrids according to their genome. The effect could be reversed, eventually, but Starfleet realized any further attempts in these faster-than-warp technologies would have to overcome this significant problem.

Advanced Nacelle Configurations

A few ships have nacelles, which retract, either for protection or to give the ship a more aerodynamic or defensible profile. Some ships have variable geometry nacelles—nacelles on pylons which raise and lower, allowing the ship to move the nacelles into the most optimal position for establishing a warp field or for other ship operations (such as entering an atmosphere). On some ships, such as the Cardassian Galor-class vessels; Klingon K’Vort-class Warships, and Starfleet vessels such as the Arion-class Fighter and the Talon-class scout ship, the warp nacelles are embedded—fully contained within the starships hull. This makes the warp field slightly less efficient, but makes the shields stronger because the shield radius becomes smaller. Starfleet has only recently been designing ships to take advantage of this, starting with trials of the Defiant-class, Steamrunner-class, and Saber-class vessels and evolving into fully integrated designs. Some vessels have nacelles, which can be detached—removed from the spaceframe by specialized systems within the pylons due to damage or other such occurrences—and have auxiliary nacelles to back up the ships warp system. The Camarilla-class is an example of this.

(Detachable nacelles cost 2x size in SU’s, and require a set of back-up nacelles within the spaceframe.)

Impulse Drives

Starships use impulse propulsion systems (IPSs) to move slower than the speed of light, which is required for travel within a stars gravity, through solar systems, in starship combat, and similar situations. Impulse drives use fusion reactors to generate standard thrust via a standard Netownian reaction—the trust ‘pushes’ the ship forward through space using a plasma based ion vectored ejection. Starships usually drop to impulse when they encounter another ship to facilitate contact (or combat).

A main impulse propulsion engine (MIE) capable pf propelling a starship consists of four linked impulse engines. These engines may be grouped together, or divided into two groups of two to provide balanced thrust for structures such as separated saucer sections. An impulse engine is rated for the amount velocity it can provide, expressed as a percentage of c (the speed of light). Thus, an impulse engine might be said to provide .5c thrust, meaning it can propel a vehicle at half the speed of light. Regardless of an engine’s maximum sublight speed, Starfleet generally limits impulse travels to .25c (paradoxically referred to as ‘full impulse’) to minimize the time-dilation effects problems, which occur as a ship approaches the speed of light travel. Only in starship combat situations do starships commonly move at impulse velocities in excess of .25c. The maximum sustainable speed for any Starfleet impulse engine is .95c, which is usually only equipped to the most advanced starships, and, until recently, smaller craft such as fighters of a size in excess of 30 meters long.

Acceleration upratings

Standard impulse engines accelerate at half their rated maximum impulse speed per every 5 seconds (a round and/or ‘post’). Some vessels are equipped with uprated impulse systems, which can accelerate more quickly than this.

The ratings go from class Alpha, Beta, and Gamma, represented by the following table.




Rate of Acceleration

Class Alpha



66% (two-thirds) of maximum impulse speed per round

Class Beta



75% (three-quarters) of maximum impulse speed per round

Class Gamma



100% of maximum impulse speed per round

Reaction Control System

The Reaction Control System (RCS), colloquially known as ‘thrusters’. Is used to move the ship while entering or leaving Spacedock, or in other situations where precise control of the ship’s motion is necessary. RCS system, for the most delicate of operations, a RCS system can propel the ship at .025c alone. It can double this speed with additional power, up to .05c. If a ship has no RCS, or if it is damaged, it can try to use its impulse engines as thrusting, though this is significantly more difficult a procedure. RCS engines are located at appropriate points on the body of a ship. They consist of a gas-fusion reaction chamber, magneto hydrodynamic (MHD) energy field trap, and vectored-thrust nozzles. Some ships have an auxiliary RCS system, which functions to supplement the main engines, or, improve ship maneuverability.

Impulse Thrusters

Ships can make use and install impulse thrusters, a special type of thruster, which improves a ships speed and maneuverability. They add +. 1c to a ships impulse speed (a maximum of .95c). They are usually installed on smaller craft, such as fighters, shuttles, and runabouts, in single housing engines or in smaller clusters of vectored-thrust advanced impulse-retro thruster (IRT) nozzles. They can also be installed on larger vessels, usually in IRT clusters at certain points along the hull to supplement standard RCS systems or, replace them and optional auxiliary RCS engines all together.