TechMemo:Technology Overview

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Star Fleet Engineering
Bureau of Starship and Starcraft Technology

Version 1.00 (5 August 2001)



This is an attempt to bring a lot of information together in a very condensed form, so it is somewhat technical. I have attempted to keep it as simple as possible, however. It is not Star Trek canon, but it is based on an expanded version of it used in the Alt.StarFleet.RPG (ASR) shared-fiction writing and role-playing game. This guide has been written for the ASR as a guide to all of the technologies employed by Federation and known alien races in the year 2412.


Propulsion systems are those systems which move the spacecraft or starship. A spacecraft is a small vessel which can be carried on a starship. Many spacecraft do not have faster-than-light drives. A starship is generally classified as a large faster-than-light capable vessel.

Faster-than-light Drives

Faster-than-light (FTL) drive systems are the glue that holds the Federation and other large interstellar alliances and empires together. Without FTL drives, it would take years to cross between even nearly stars.

warp drives

Warp drives are the most commonly used FTL propulsion system in the part of the Galaxy where the Federation lies. Warp drives work by bending normal space with gravitational fields so that space ahead of the starship is contracted and a ship moving at velocities of less than the speed of light appears to a remote observer to be moving faster than light speed. It does so by making many small jumps across the folds in space many times per second. Since the apparent velocity of the ship is faster than the speed of light, it is invisible to an observer outside of the vessel without special sensors.

hyperspace drives

A somewhat less common FTL technology is the hyperspace drive. This is what the Fedeation has dubbed "dimensional warp." Although both are based in gravitic manipulation, this technology is completely different from normal space warp drives as described above. Rather than warping normal space, a hyperspace drive used a gravitational field to push the ship across the dimensional barrier into a parallel dimension, hyperspace.

Hyperspace is actually a nested series of dimensions, each one with a relative compression greater than the one before. Travelling 10 km in the first hyperspace level, commonly referred to as the alpha band, a ship transitioning back to normal space will find that it has travelled 35 km. If the ship was travelling at 0.5 c (half the speed of light) in hyperspace, it will appear to have travelled at 1.75 c to an observer in normal space clocking the trip.

Much of the physics of hyperspace is not known. There are large gravitational waves and eddies in hyperspace which pose a navigational hazard to starships. Because of these waves and eddies, it is impossible to use normal space warp drive in hyperspace or to use gravitational shields. Long range sensors are also almost useless. Short range and tactical sensors are clouded by the gravimetric interference.

Sublight Drives

Sublight drives are those propulsion systems used to move a ship at subluminal velocities. There are a number of different technologies which are employed for this purpose.

reaction drive systems

Reaction drive systems are those drives that expel mass to create momentum through the law for conservation of momentum of a center of mass. These drives utilize solid propellant rockets, liquid propellant rockets, fusion-powered rockets, etc. The latter are often employed in a class of drive system known as ion drives. These drives include impulse drives and other ion drive systems and photon or light pressure drives.

gravitic drive systems

Gravitic drive systems include many of the faster-than-light drive systems, such as warp drives and hyperspace drives (including dimensional warp systems). This technology may also be applied to sublight propulsion. These drives normally work in one of two ways. First, they may reduce the apparent mass of the ship by unbending the gravity well created by the ship. This system reduced the impulse needed to move the ship but will not move the ship without another drive system. (The Federation Distortion Kinetic drive combines this type of drive system with an impulse drive.)

Second, this type of drive system may create an assymetry in the gravity well around a ship which actually pulls the ship in the desired direction. This type of drive has no exhaust and allows a ship to be extremely maneuverable since acceleration may be applied in any direction. The Dalriadan Alliance and Kzinti Patriarchy use this type of drive.


Sensor systems are the means by which the starship is able to observe the environment around it. Without sensor systems, it is impossible to observe the environment around the ship unless it is close enough to a star and another object for visual observation through a port hole. All "windows" or "portals" on Federation starships are actually view screens which display computer interpretted data from sensors on the hull. Some of these screens may be set to allow direct viewing of the external environment which ambient lighting conditions permit.

Long Range Sensors

Long range sensors are used to observe phenomena well beyond visual range, when the travel time of electromagnetic radiation (the speed of light) is slow relative to the distance to be travelled. This is normally considered to be a distance of greater than 1 light-second or 300,000 km. These sensors can determine mass an velocity from the gravitational distortions created by the presence of mass.

Short Range Sensors

Short range sensors read the electromagnetic spectrum to provide infomation about the immediate surroundings.

Countermeasure Systems

Countermeasure systems interfere with sensor readins or provide false sensor echoes intended to devieve the scanning vessel. There are a number of types of countermeasures.


Jamming blocks electromagnetic sensors by clouding the readings with noise. This prevents accurate readings, but the source of the jamming is obvious, so this sort of countermeasure does not help to hide the vessel.


Sensor decoys are probes which mimic the sensor profile of the mother ship. They are most useful at long range since a sensor probe bears little resemblance to a starship on visual sensors.


Stealth attempts to hide the ship by stopping all external emissions. This means no drive so that the ship coasts at a constant velocity and no active sensors or communications. The vessel is still able to use passive sensors, those which recieve signals without any output, but these have greatly reduced resolution compared to normal sensors.


Cloaking devices completely mask the sensor signature of the ship by one of two methods. Gravitic cloaks (as those used by the Romulans and Klingons) bend sensor beams around the vessel so that there is no sensor return from the ship. Such cloaks can be detected by passive sensors, but their emission levels are very low and so they are extremely difficult to detect. Because of power requirements, it is not possible to fire weapons while cloaked.

Phase cloaks actually move the ship out of temporal phase with the rest of reality. They can be detected because of the temporal phase differential, but the ship scanning for a phased vessel needs to know precisely what it is looking for in order to detect it. Since a ship in phase is out of temporal sync with the rest of reality, it is impossible to launch shuttlecraft or fire weapons while cloaked. Anything in contact with the hull is also phased, so it is not possible to launch rockets or other missile type weapons attached to the hull. Without the phase cloaking device on the ship, such objects would be lost in temporal limbo after launch and would not return to unphased space.


Environmental systems make keep a starship, spacecraft, or starbase habitable. Without them, it would be impossible to live in space.

Life-support Systems

Life-support systems maintain the air, graivty, and temperature in the ship. They also reduce the effects of acceleration on the vessel's inhabitants in order to prevent them from being turned into bloody smears by the large forces involved in pushing a vessel to high velocities in a short period of time.

atmospheric generation

The internal atmosphere is carried to the ship in compressed oxygen and nitrogen tanks (for class M environments). Thereafter, it is maintained by filters and carbon dioxide scrubbers. When the ship suffers a hull breach and loses atmosphere, atmospheric storage tanks can restore atmosphere and pressure once the hull breach is sealed by bulkheads or force fields.

gravity generation

Gravity generators make life aboard a starship similar to life on a planet and are important in maintaining health and fitness in the crew. Without gravity generators, the ship would have only microgravity and occupants would suffer muscle and bone atrophy during long voyages.

temperature control

Heating and cooling systems maintain the temperature of the living environment on the ship. They use the plasma conduits to heat and liquid nitrogen cooling loops to cool the vessel. These are the same systems that balance the temperature of the reactor system. Excess heat is radiated through the skin of the vessel.

inertial compensation

The Inertial Dampening Field (IDF) generators allow the crew to survice the huge accelerations available from the propulsion system. Without the IDF generators, a ship could only accelerate at about 100 m/s^2 (meters per second squared, about 10 Terran-standard gravities). With the IDF some craft (combat shuttles) can reach accelerations as large as 250 km/s^2 (kilometers per second squared or 25,000 g's).

Food-generation systems

While some space fairing races still store food in refrigerated areas or in freeze-dried form for later reconstitution, most use these methods only for luxuries. Most food is created from simple protiens by a replication system. For some ships, the power requirements of the system are such that simple nutrional material is provided. More elaborate systems actually allow synthesis of prepared dishes.

Water-generation systems

Virtually all water used aboard the starship is recycled through a system of filters. When needed, fresh water can be created from stored oxygen and hydrogen.

Waste reclaimation systems

Very little that is disposed of on a starship actually becomes waste which must be disposed of. Most materials are able to be reclaimed by being broken down into compotnent elements by a replicator systems. Only a few complex molecules are not able to be processed by the replication system and must be disposed of.


Various sorts of weapons systems are used by starships, spacecraft, and starbases to defend themselves and/or to attack other ships, craft, and bases.

Beam Weapon Systems

One of the most common and versitile and common classes of weapons is the beam weapon. They are limited in range because of the limited ability to maintain beam focus and they are also power intensive.

particle beam

The particle beam is a generic term for any energy weapons which operates by exciting the state of some sort of particle, be it a wave-particle of the electromagnetic spectrum or some other fundamental particle. This broad class includes phasers and many other weapon types.


A maser is a device for amplifying electrical impulses by stimulated emission of radiation. m(icrowave) a(mplification by) s(timulated) e(mission of) r(adiation). The maser is a type of laser operating outside the visible light range. In Earth history, the maser is the direct predecessor to the laser.


The laser is a based on the same principle as the maser, but generally operates in or near the visible spectrum of light. They fire beams of coherent electromagnetic radiation. Power ranges on these devices range widely. Primitive lasers cannot penetrate a starship's shields, but much move powerful versions have also been encountered which have output in the same range as phasers.

The laser's "color" can be modified to any part of the electromagnetic spectrum. This allow a ship to fire an "invisible" shot because it is not in the visual part of the spectrum which could be used in a "surprise" attack. However, sensors can still detect the beam.

Weapons in this class are generally useful only for cutting and burning.


Phasers (PHASed Energy Rectifiers) carefully modulate wavelength and amplitude to produce the most versitile type of beam weapon. This careful modulation can produce effects from bioelectric shock which will stun most organic targets to heat to sub-atomic disruption which can vaporize or explode targets.


Disruptors are another form of directed-energy weapon. They operated on a sub-atomic level to destabilize the strong force binding protons and neutrons together in the nucleaus of the atom. These weapons leave a residual anti-proton signature. Because of their nature, disruptors are much less versitile than phaser weapons.


A graser is a device for amplifying gamma rays by stimulated emission of radiation. g(amma) r(ay) a(mplification by) s(timulated) e(mission of) r(adiation). The resulting beam is, essentially a form of maser which operates on electromagnetic radiation with far shorter wavelengths than the visible range of light.

graviton cannon

A graviton cannon is a device for amplifying gravitons by stimulated emission of radiation. The resulting beam is a focused gravitational field which warps materials beyond their failure point.

ion cannon

Ion cannons fire a stream of charged particles at a target. This is a generic term for any particle beam for which the particles are also charge carriers.

plasma cannon

The plasma cannon is a type of ion cannon. It operates by exciting the atoms of a gas to the point where they spontaneously ionize. While the range of these weapons are relatively limited, they have great destructive potential and can both burn through matter and short out electrical systems.

tractor/pressor beam

A, typically, non-destructive implementation of the graser concept, tractor and pressor beams are used to manipulate objects from a distance using focused gravitational fields.

Missile Weapon Systems

Another general classification of weapon are missile weapons. Generally, these weapons have much greater effective ranges than energy weapons. Missile weapons are characterized by solid projectiles which may be launch from a vessel by means of internal propoulsion within the missile, by means of an accelerator carried aboard the launch ship, or by a combination of the two.


The most basic type of missile weapon is the rocket. It is, generally, self propelled and has limited or no guidance ability after launch. This type of weapon is generally not seen on modern starships. However, they may be used in planetary operations where area saturation may be more important than precision.


The term missle generally refers to any missile weapon which may be guided after launch. This typically means that the missile itself has some propulsion system aboard it, though it may be self-launch or accelerated by a ship-side linear accelerator.


Torpedoes generally refer to a missile which is launched by a ship-side linear accelerator and has limited on board propulsion.


The term "warhead" refers to the type of ordinance carried by the missile weapon.


The most common type of warhead is the explosive warhead. It may carry a chemical explosive; however, the most common type of modern explosive warhead carries an anti-matter charge in a magnetic bottle. The bottle is released by a proximity fuse and the anti-matter anihilates part of the matter of the weapon casing, releasing an energetic wave which damages even shielded objection within the radius of effect may be several dozen kilometers for shielded objects and several hundred kilometers for unshielded objects.


Lasing warheads explode at a relatively large distance to their targets and do not do damage by their explosion. A large bomb at the heard of the lasing warhead is used to pump, that is provide energy for, a direct-energy weapon focusing unit within the warhead. Because this process occurs far from the launching ship, radiationing poisoning of the crew is not an issue and the lasing process can use much more energy than could be safely contained aboard a starship, station, or planet. The resulting beam is, therefore, much more powerful than any conventional energy weapon. The targetting of this sort of weapon must be very precise. A small error in targetting can mean that the energy blast misses the target completely. For this reason, most lasing warheads carry advanced guidance systems and missiles with these warheads are configured to precision maneuvering.


A jamming warhead is not intended to do any damage to the target. Instead, its systems are intended to confuse the electronic countermeasure systems of the target ship. By so doing, such a warhead renders the countermeasures less effective against other incoming missiles and their warheads, allowing a greater number of explosive and lasing warheads to find their mark.


There are four principle ways in which a starship avoids damage in combat. Shielding systems, point defense systems, and electronic countermeasures all attempt to make the enemy units weapon systems miss their target. Armor allows a ship to absorb more damage than an unarmored hull.

Shielding systems

The shielding systems of almost all starships in known space consist of a series of graviton polarity generators. These systems create small space-time distortions which alter the trajectory of incoming matter and energy in order to make it entirely miss, or at least glance off, the hull.

navigational shielding

Navigational shielding, usually referred to as navigational deflectors, are low-powered, forward-facing shield emitters that are intended to push small particles out of the flight path of the ship. As a ship moves through space at high velocities, even the smallest object can result in a deadly collision if it is allowed to impact the hull. The navigational defelctor is not capable of as high a sustained output as the defensive shielding intended for combat; however, it is capable of simultaneously moving many small objects out of the flight path.

defensive shielding

Defensive shielding refers to those systems intended to prevent incoming fire from beam or missile weapons from impacting the hull. It typically consists of a network of high-powered graviton emitters

structural integrity fields

Structural integrity fields are force fields which assist in maintaining hull integrity under the stresses associated with theoperation of the ship.

Point Defense Systems

Point defense systems are used by several races to supplement the capabilities of their shields. Point defense systems can physically intercept missiles with either energy or missile weapons of its own.

point defense beams

Point defense beams are clusters of lasers or other low-power beam weapons which are used to physically intercept incoming missile and torpedo fire. These systems have extremely small tracking times, but the velocity of the incoming projectile does impact system effectiveness. They system has very limited use against incoming beam weapon fire.

point defense drones

Point defense drones work by spoofing weapon targetting sensors. They project electronic noise and/or images of the ship in order to confuse targetting sensors. In the distances of space-combat, even a slight misalignment will result in a clear miss. In some cases, point defense drones are used to physically intercept incoming missile fire.

Electronic Countermeasures

Electronic countermeasure system effect targetting sensor systems in an effort to disrupt the direction of incoming fire or to overcome that disruption.

electronic countermeasures (ECM)

ECM systems disrupt targetting sensors with noise, misleading sensor echos, and various other techniques in order to prevent the enemy from obtaining a positive weapons lock on the actual target. Even a very small misdirection can result in a clean miss due to the large distances involved in space combat.

electronic counter-countermeasures (ECCM)

ECCM systems attempt to cut through the disruption of ECM systems in order to allow targetting sensors to lock onto the desired target normally and without interference.


Armor is a passive defensive system. It dissipates energy from incoming fire as it ablates. This reduces the damage done by a beam or missile that strikes the hull of a ship.


Because of the large distances involved in space travel, communication systems are very important.


Electromagnetic communication is seldom used by advanced space-faring races. These forms of communication include radio and microwave communication systems. All share the trait that they are limited by the speed of light and, therefore, efficient for communicating only over short distances.


The most common type of faster-than-light communication is the subspace radio. This system creates a narrow spacial compression wave that allows an electromagnetic signal to travel at elevated speeds in its wake. For efficient operation, the signal needs to be regularly boosted and the compression wave strengthened. If not, the signal loses speed. Most major powers have networks of boosting stations throughout their territories.


Hyperspace/hyperwave radio systems push communication signals across the dimensional barrier into hyperspace and through a number of trasitions. Theses signals are then capable of travelling at speeds much faster than those attainable by subspace radio. In order to receive the signals, the receiving station must either be in hyperspace or have a platform anchored in hyperspace to receive the signal and generate a transition point into normal space through which the signal may pass.


In many ways, the computer systems are the heart of the starship. They allow the efficient operation of all systems aboard the ship. Moreover, many system cannot be operated without computer support.

Centralized Processing, Unified Core

One system architecture which is not generally used by more advanced races is the centralized processing with a unified core scheme. In general, the multi-tasking needs of a large space craft are not well suited to a centralized processor system. The unified core refers to a centralized data storage system.

Centralized Processing, Distributed Core

A small step away from centralized processing with a single centralized data core is a system with centralized processing, but data distributed through a number of systems around the ship.

Distributed Processing, Unified Core

One of the most common computer system architectures is to have processing distributed through various computers throughout the starship but to have a large number of files concentrated in large data storage modules. This is the architecture utilized by most space going powers. Often the unified core has one or more fully redundant backups.

Distributed Processing, Distributed Core

This model for computing offers the most flexibility and redundancy. Processing is done at different computers or nodes throughout the ship and data is stored at thse or other nodes. There is often a higher degree of overlap and redundancy in these systems. The Federation has recently been experimenting with implementing these systems in starships.


Reactor systems provide the massive amounts of power needed by space-going craft. A variety of forms of reactor are used by different races, but the most common are fission, fusion, matter-antimatter, and quantum singularity systems.

Atomic (Fission) Reactors

Fission reactors work by splitting atomic nuclei in order to produce energy. They have the side effect of producing radioactive waste and require a nuclear pile in order to function. However, they require no other fuel and do not require frequent replinishment of the core. These plants are particularly useful in smaller craft that cannot carry large fuel reserves. The Dalriadan Alliance is the only known modern power to make extensive use of fission power in its small craft. This greatly extends the range of these craft compared with small craft of other powers.

Fusion Reactors

Fusion reactors work by combining atomic nuclei to form heavier nuclei. They do not produce radioactive waste, but they do require large amounts of fuel. Virtually all starships and starbases use fusion reactors in some matter, either for primary or secondary power production.

Matter-Antimatter Reactors

Matter-antimatter reactors work by colliding matter and antimatter particles in a controlled manner. The collision results in the annihilation of the particles and the production of energy in accordance with the Einstein relation E=mc^2. Most space-faring races use this type of system.

Quantum Singularities

Quantum singularity power plants produce energy by harnessing the enormous gravity potential differences available in a very small, artificial black hole. The Romulan Star Empire is one of the few powers to use such a reactor.

Star Trek, Star Fleet, and the Star Fleet Logo are all © copyrighted by Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved. All other material © copyright by the Star Fleet Engineering Staff: Jeffrey Jenkins and Edward Bell or retired SFE Staff: Jason Bostjancic, Jeffrey Finocchiaro, Mark Fox, Paul Gilbertson, Kristopher Kolman, D'Maris Coffman, Alton Reich, and Scott Freligh unless otherwise noted. SFE Credits