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Warp Drive Evolution

21st Century - Earth's First Steps in the Galaxy

Service: Earth (Privately owned vessel)
Speed: Warp 1
Power Source: Nuclear Fission or Fusion Core
Moderator Element: Unknown or N/A
Power Feed: Deuterium Plasma
Engine Type: 2x Drive Nacelles
Warp Field: Single piece charged Field Coil

Summary: The Phoenix was built during the period shortly after the Third World War when resources of any kind were in great demand, and thus very hard to get hold of. Several months of scrounging for a few metres of Titanium would imply a lack of even basic construction materials, building either a primitive Matter/Antimatter reactor or a Fusion reactor seems highly unlikely. The ICBM would carry its own Nuclear material and provide a power source.

In the novelisation of First Contact the Fission core of the Phoenix is explained in detail and would seem to be the best option. Geordi’s line about an “intermix chamber” does however complicate matters, but it's possible the original core was of Fission design, and was replaced with a newer intermix reactor by the Enterprise for the sake of getting her in the air. Probably a Deuterium/Tritium Plasma Fusion "intermix" reactor (precisely infusing Deuterium and Tritium gas at the right level).
Reference: “Star Trek: First Contact” (film and novel).

Friendship One/Valiant
Service: United Earth Space Probe Agency (Founded circa 2065, possibly by Cochrane himself)
Speed: Warp 1.2 approx.
Power Source: Nuclear Fusion Core?
Moderator Element: Unknown or N/A
Power Feed: Deuterium Plasma
Engine Type: 2x Drive Nacelles
Warp Field: Interlocking mechanism single field coils

Summary: Some time after First Contact, there would have been much progress in developing spaceflight technology, Friendship One only travelled at low warp speeds but sports a pair of nacelles that look very much like those on the Phoenix. This technology, if prevalent after the launch of the Phoenix, would have been used in most Earth launched ships including the Valiant line of ships, of which the multi-rocket engine ship in the opening credits of Enterprise could belong to.

Although there is an inconsistency with Friendship One. The probe was launched very soon after the flight of the Phoenix but contained information on how to construct a planetary power grid using Antimatter, probably Matter/Antimatter generators to provide power. It is unclear how the probe itself was powered, and whether the decimation caused when the planets inhabitants brought the grid online was due to their own error in translating the information, or if the technology was too new for Earth to fully actualise the design in the first place.

Given how new the concept of mass producible Antimatter would have been to Earth over its limited particle accelerator based anti-particle production, and the amount of information dedicated to such methods in Friendship Ones hard drives, there may well have been Antimatter incorporated into the probe. Since Matter/Antimatter reactors had not been created by Earth science yet, it may have simply served as a fuel augmentation for a fusion reactor, where limited anti-particle pellets would be dropped into the heart of the Deuterium fusion reaction.
References: TOS: “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, VOY: “Friendship One”, Star Trek: Enterprise

22nd Century - Warp 2 and Beyond

Service: Unknown
Speed: Warp 1.5 approx.
Power Source: First generation Matter/Antimatter Reactor Core
Moderator Element: Crystalline (Nanotubule engineering) Lithium
Power Feed: Deuterium Plasma
Engine Type: 2x Ring Nacelles
Warp Field: “Di-Coil” Nacelle system

Summary: The so called “Ring Ship” seen in the Enterprise murals of "The Motion Picture" and in the background of the 602 Club. Although never named, the fandom has created many names for this vessel but most fittingly the “Jefferies Class” in honour of its designer Matt Jefferies (Although a semi-canon name lists her as the “USS Enterprise XCV 330”).

Because of the Vulcan Warp Ring design of Enterprise it is possible the Jefferies Class uses a similar system to produce propulsion, an early prototype system of Warp Coils, in this case two rather large ones before any refinement or progress was made to reduce their size and increase their mass. Riker states that the 22nd century saw the invention of Warp Coils, the Jefferies Class would fit this time period.
References: “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” (TMP), TNG: “A Matter of Time”, ENT: “First Flight”

ESC (J/Y-Class)
Service: ECS (Earth Cargo Service) ECA (Earth Cargo Authority)
Speed: Warp 1.8 (J-Class) Warp 2 (Y-Class) Capable of being modified illegally to produce much higher but also much more dangerous warp speeds causing the ship’s modular structure to break away.
Power Source: Bulk Matter/Antimatter Reactor
Moderator Element: Crystalline Lithium
Power Feed: Deuterium Plasma
Engine Type: 2x Drive Nacelles
Warp Field: Prototype heavy alloy Warp “Coils” acting in linear series

Summary: A number of large cargo carrying vessels introduced in The Original Series and shown further in Enterprise. The ships are stated as travelling close to the Warp 2 mark and are known to be “generation ships” not so much as their primary function, but because the long warp flights mean children are often born during the journey.
References: TOS: “Mudd’s Women”, ENT: “Fortunate Son”, “Horizon” and “Borderland”

* Creation of the Starfleet, shipyards and facilities produced to begin production of a fleet of Warp capable ships.

NX Prototype Series
Service: Early Starfleet?
Speed: Warp 2.2 (NX Alpha) Warp 2.5 (NX Beta) Warp 2.8? (NX Gamma) Warp 3 (NX Delta)
Power Source: Prototype (Small Scale) Matter/Antimatter "Gravimetric Field Displacement Manifold"
Moderator Element: Dilithium
Power Feed: Deuterium Plasma
Engine Type: 2x Drive Nacelles
Warp Field: Refined heavy alloy Warp “Coils” acting in linear series

Summary: Earth's attempt to create a full scale starship class to meet its exploration and perhaps necessary military needs by developing test ships that would eventually give all the design information needed to produce a high Warp vessel while constructing several Warp 2 series ships to meet its immediate needs (see below).

Since the NX Alpha broke the Warp 2 barrier it places the production of the NX prototypes before the Intrepid and Neptune types, both of which regularly use Warp 2 unless the NX program lead to the two receiving upgrades to Warp 2 engines. Presumably there was an NX Gamma, but it was never mentioned.
References: ENT: “Broken Bow” and “First Flight”

Intrepid/Neptune Type
Service: Unknown (2140’s until 2150) United Earth Starfleet (2150 Onwards)
Speed: Warp 2
Power Source: Warp 2 Matter/Antimatter "Gravimetric Field Displacement Manifold"
Moderator Element: Dilithium
Power Feed: Deuterium Plasma
Engine Type: 2x Drive Nacelles
Warp Field: Refined heavy alloy Warp “Coils” acting in linear series

Summary: The Intrepid and Neptune “Type” ships are the distinctly similar but smaller Starfleet vessels aiding the NX Class throughout the later two seasons of Enterprise. Though only the smaller wing shaped vessel has been named as the “Intrepid” and speculation places the name of “Neptune” on the second, neither has been given a Class name in canon. The Neptune if correctly identified as the larger of the two implies that both are Warp 2 capable survey or tactical support vessels.

An interesting problem is that the Neptune is stated as being in service years prior to the NX Prototypes meaning these ships started out as Warp 1.5 vessels before receiving an upgrade to Warp 2 engines. Why Starfleet did not use the NX Delta technology to allow them to have Warp 3 engines in uncertain, perhaps their space frames simply could not handle speeds above Warp 2.
References: ENT: “The Expanse”, “Twilight” and “Storm Front Part 2”

NX Class
Service: United Earth Starfleet (2150-2161)
Speed: Warp 4.5 (Cruise) Warp 5.06 (“Top”) Warp 5.2 (Critical)
Power Source: “Warp 5 Engine” Full Scale Matter/Antimatter Reactor "Gravimetric Field Displacement Manifold"
Moderator Element: Dilithium
Power Feed: Deuterium Plasma
Engine Type: 2x Drive Nacelles
Warp Field: Early Ultra-density alloy Warp “Coils” acting in linear series, Additional Warp Field Governor Module

Summary: Although the NX-01 features many of the common components seen throughout later Starfleet ships, it should be noted the NX, Intrepid and Neptune are probably the first Earth ships to have this. Dilithium in a holding matrix is mentioned but at this stage the crystals would be crude and much less effective than the refined units of later ships. The engines of the NX Class are proportionally small compared to the nacelles of older ships, which were almost as long as the ship itself, the interior mechanisms must be more compact, coils with high density alloys would reduce the amount of room taken up.

The NX Class can travel 3 full warp factors faster than the other Starfleet ships of the time and make use of subspace lanes to travel longer distances even faster as witnessed in the pilot, it's possible it may take warp speeds in excess of WF 3 or 4 (old scale) to use them.
References: ENT: “Broken Bow”, “The Catwalk”, “First Flight”, “The Augments”, “Babel One”, “Affliction” and “Divergence”

Daedalus Class
Service: Starfleet (UFP)
Speed: Warp 7
Power Source: “Warp 7 Series” Matter/Antimatter Warp Core
Moderator Element: Dilithium (Newer shaped crystalline unit)
Power Feed: Deuterium Plasma
Engine Type: 2x Drive Nacelles
Warp Field: Newer Ultra-density Coil Series, integrated Warp Field Governor reducing aesthetics, increasing functionality

Summary: Established by name in The Next Generation which behind the scenes was linked to a piece of artwork that became a model on a desk in DS9, the Daedalus has never made an actual appearance. But she was the first ship built by Earth to rival the Warp 7 speeds of the Vulcans, caused the retirement of the NX Class and was the mainstay vessel of the new Federation Starfleet after its formation in 2161. Bulky and considered by many to be unattractive in terms of aesthetics, the Daedalus was the first mass produced starship of the Federation, warping entire crews across the galaxy at speeds never before achieved by Humanity.
References: TOS: “Return of the Archons” and “Fridays Child”, TNG: “Power Play”, DS9: “The Nagus” and “Progress”, ENT: “These Are The Voyages”

* Inauguration of the United Federation of Planets leads to the premature retirement of the Warp 5 series in favour of the newer Warp 7 series which goes into mass production (Which we assume to be the Daedalus Class from 2161-2196).
References: TNG: “The Outcast” , ENT: “Zero Hour” and “These Are The Voyages”

23rd Century - The Original Series Era: The Kirk Era

Humanity seems to have made leap forward during the 22nd century compared to the 23rd. But from the Enterprise series we get the impression that it is only due to the recently united Earth government creating greater organisation planet wide, allowing them to focus all their efforts on going faster, a very sudden shift towards a much bigger and more concerted effort.

Then making the advance to Warp 2 and 3 because of the NX Program, then to Warp 5 through the ceaseless work and devotion of Zefram Cochrane and Henry Archer. Achieving Warp 7 a decade later would have been due to the cooperation of the Vulcans and Andorians, had one species not given Earth technology, the other would, meaning it was a better idea for them all to work together.

Bonaventure Class
Service: Starfleet (UFP)
Speed: Warp 8
Power Source: Unknown Matter/Antimatter Reactor
Moderator Element: Nanotubule Engineered Cracked Lithium
Power Feed: Deuterium Plasma
Engine Type: 2x Drive Nacelles
Warp Field: 2x Coil series

Summary: Shown only in the Starships of the Line Calendar publication, the Bonaventure is a small starship similar in construction to the NX Class, but looking very much like a TOS era ship, with the NCC of 1000 she was likely built as the Warp 8 propulsion test starship sometime around 2200 or the 2210’s.

Not canon, but a likely stepping stone from the NX to Constitution and clearly a testbed vessel with no overall reason to omit it from the timeline. Explaining how some of the research in to all the TOS era technology and the Constitution Class was carried out.

Constitution Class (Original Series Configuration 2265-2270)
Service: Starfleet (UFP)
Speed: Warp 8 (Cruise) Warp 9 (Rated Max) Warp 14 (Critical)
Power Source: Horizontal Matter/Antimatter Warp Reactor
Moderator Element:
1. Nanotubule Engineered Cracked Lithium
2. Shaped and charged Dilithium Units
Power Feed: Deuterium Plasma
Engine Type: 2x Drive Nacelles
Warp Field: 2x Coil series

Summary: A starship that signalled the beginning of an era of even bigger and more complex ships, the Constitution Class was the first ever depiction of warp drive in the Trekverse. Unique in that the run of 12 vessels were built in the San Francisco Bay, their mighty Warp 9 engines held aloft over the ground that the Federation Constitution had been singed upon nearly a century before.

As such, back in the real world of 1964, the understanding of space and faster than light physics was new, so much wasn’t known, the depiction was often irregular, incorrect or used vague terms and explained very little. A relief from the obscene amount of technobabble of later series, this also presents a problem when trying to figure out anything behind her propulsion system.

Lithium was a known compound and therefore its properties understood, we were expected to believe they had found some new property that we could not quantise today. This is partly true, nano-tubule chemistry is relatively new and unheard of even a decade ago, involving precise engineering of Lithium, Sodium and other smaller metals into “cage” versions of themselves that form large corridors or tubes that other matter can travel within, making the crystalline material porous to matter, especially when a small electrical charge is applied.

Although why we see in one episode, not a camera view inside an Antimatter flow, by an open view port showing Antimatter racing along a conduit, the stream in clear sight, that alone is baffling enough. It's possible the constant arcing across the gap was a very powerful electrical field keeping the aperture sealed from touching the outside but still.

Scotty being able to just lift the Lithium/Dilithium out of the reactor (which wasn’t always shown either) at any point with no problem yet in the films having to have that one device sealed behind its own radiation proof room and a warp core now present, means the consistency with which even the major components of the reaction assembly was never constant or accurate.

However, Matter and Antimatter were used, reacted, and provided power safely when regulated by this cracked crystalline Lithium construct, and became the main power source in the Trekverse from then on.

The engines were stated to be saturated with Positive Energy, whether that means plasma with a heavy positive charge from having all electrons stripped away or if they mean that Negative Energy (that made up the entire Galactic Barrier at the edge of the Galaxy) is something that is negative relative to all energy levels we know, is uncertain. Just that the two go boom when introduced to each other, maybe applying a large electron dose to positively charged plasma results in an explosion, its uncertain what was meant by this. I prefer to assume that Spock meant the engines were charged with regular plasma like all the other series and that the Barrier is made from some freakish form of energy not yet known to our physics more akin to Dark Matter only reactive (explosively) with normal matter.

Often volatile, and after already being out to space 20 years when we first see her under the command of Captain Kirk, the Enterprise gives the crew a constant headache keeping her engines from exploding every week and chewing through so many Lithium and Dilithium crystals the crew could have opened a souvenir shop when the expended ones. Never really able to go past Warp 8 yet having several aliens of the week racing her across the cosmos at unbelievable speeds just by “reconfiguring” what was already there. Matter and Antimatter running rampant as if no physical constraints existed, the entire class being so close to flying apart every episode and mothballing every few years, you have to wonder why anyone would build such a dangerous assembly and probably explains the Excelsior class taking over for the next hundred years.

A ship that could seemingly make any manoeuvre she wanted while at warp, from axial spins, hard turns left and right, up and down tilting, even going backwards or swinging around entirely, able to dog fight at high warp.

Yet, the warp drive held for 40 years, even after severe punishment, wormholes, epic space battles, alternative realities, warping backwards, the ship being reduced to a model on a desk at least twice, speeding across the void between galaxies at Slipstream level speed and an 18 month redefinition of the term cosmetic surgery.

(Theory by Chemahkuu)

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