Section 3.0 - Interstellar Propulsion Systems
3.1 - Overview
Since the Warp 5 engine developed by Doctors Archer and Cochrane in the 22nd century, there really haven’t been many large leaps in the advancement of interstellar travel. Speeds of vessels slowly inched their way up to incredible heights, going thousands of times the speed of light. With the Sovereign Class, Starfleet realized that they had reached the practical limit of warp speeds with that ship’s then-mind-numbing Warp 9.99.
When the USS Voyager returned from its seven-year trek across the galaxy, it returned with several advanced technologies it had acquired during its journey. Perhaps the most remarkable of these was the Quantum Slipstream Drive. Voyager’s crew had easily traveled one seventh of their entire journey home on this drive, but almost didn’t arrive at all because of it. It was fast, but highly unstable. It took Starfleet R&D over fifteen years to reach a state where the drive was practical, and even then it was still imperfect. Even though Starfleet ASDB has already installed the drives on brand-new starships, research continues to develop a safer version of the drive.
3.2 - Slipstream Drive
The Quantum Slipstream Drive is the first truly revolutionary leap in interstellar drives since the Warp 5 engine in the mid-22nd Century. It works by literally tunneling through the depths of subspace. The process starts with the slipstream initiator, a double feature of the navigational deflector, which projects a very narrow subspace field carrying high-energy plasma of a uniform quantum flux state out in front of the ship. This splits the subspace domain open for the ship to travel through. The deflector is an array of small hexagonal dishes, rather than a single large dish (or three medium-sized dishes on the Intrepid and some later designs), allowing the ship to alter course while in slipstream. It also provides immense redundancy, allowing the nav deflector system to continue to function even if sixty percent of the array has been rendered inoperable.
The second part of the slipstream drive is the requirement of holding the split in subspace open for the ship to travel through. This is attained by shaping the warp field of the ship in a very narrow, almost needle-like shape. The front end of the warp field is located a few kilometers in front of the ship, mere nanometers from the point of fission the slipstream initiator creates. The field also extends an equal distance backwards behind the ship to provide a seamless re-fusion of the subspace domain behind the ship. Without this, subspace would become severely disrupted much like how a seafaring vessel leaves a turbulent wake behind it.
The theoretical maximum speed of this drive is several tens of millions of times the speed of light. However, the maximum attained speed of the Phoenix-class has only been approximately 120,000 times the speed of light. This figure was achieved by the USS Leviathan on her maiden voyage, and was cut short from going any faster because the slipstream initiator burned out and the ship had to coast to a stop. In comparison, the maximum practical warp speed of the Phoenix-class is Warp 9.99, or 7,912 times the speed of light.
3.3 - Warp Drive
The quantum slipstream drive is capable of propelling the Phoenix at incredible speeds. However, slipstream is still a very new technology, and carries with it some measure of risk. Outside of urgent missions and combat situations, warp drive remains the preferred method of propulsion for the time being.
The Phoenix Project designers originally considered installing two separate drive systems, but this avenue proved far too inefficient in terms of vessel displacement versus available power, and required two pairs of nacelles of different configuration. This method, however, caused an asymetrical instability of the warp field which increased to dangerous levels at higher warp factors. Designers at Utopia Planitia are still attempting to solve these problems; however, it is expected that slipstream travel will more likely become the primary -- even sole -- means of interstellar travel before such a configuration becomes practical.
The ultimate solution, while requiring an increased level of complexity in the propulsion support systems, allows a reasonable range of flexibility and rapid switchover between the slipstream and standard warp drives -- essentially, a hybrid drive. The transition from warp to slipstream (or vice versa) involves a physical realignment of the subspace coils inside the warp nacelles to create the differently-shaped subspace fields, and also a reconfiguring of the navigational deflector array for slipstream entry and transit, or for clearing microscopic interstellar debris at warp. The switchover process takes approximately 1.5 minutes, but can vary by as much as 35 seconds depending on the existing alignment of the subspace field coils and the configuration of the deflector.
Because the Phoenix class spaceframe was already designed with extreme speeds in mind, the subspace-dynamic shape of the hull allows a level of speed rarely achieved by other Starfleet vessels, even at warp. A combination of greater power generation capabilities, stronger warp coil design, and the high-efficiency hull shape allowed the USS Phoenix to achieve Warp 9.9905 for thirty-six hours, a speed equivalent to 17,526 times the speed of light.
3.4 - Quantum Induction Core
The Quantum Induction Core is the latest leap in producing large quantities of power. The QIC works on the concept of Zero-Point Energy (henceforth called ZPE), or the potential energy that occupies the space of the universe itself. A Quantum Induction is self-sustaining, using the energy it taps into to perpetuate itself. The induction, however, requires an initial matter/antimatter reaction to start.
The heart of the QIC comprises of two components: An eleven-dimensional special fold membrane, and a benamyte crystal, a derivative of dilithium. When the membrane is energized, it has a tendency to adhere to the benamyte crystal, and so does the ZPE that travels out of the membrane. As long as the crystal isn’t damaged, the membrane is rendered inert, and the reaction is contained. A simple forcefield is required around the center of the core to contain harmful radiation.
The crystal and membrane stand suspended between two subspace field attenuator coils (for safety redundancy), which control how much energy is released from the induction. Beyond the attenuator coils are magnetic constrictors, used in channeling a matter/antimatter reaction into the Benamyte crystal, providing the initial reaction needed to begin quantum induction.
Eight ZPE taps are located within the containment forcefield, and draw out energy for conversion into useful high-energy plasma. This plasma has a uniform quantum flux state, which is the one major requirement for quantum slipstream drives that a conventional matter/antimatter reactor can’t fulfill.
In the event that the spatial membrane spontaneously closes up, the Quantum Induction Core can be rearranged into a conventional M/A reactor so that the ship can return to a place where it can get a new membrane. Spontaneous closure has happened only once before in the prototype QIC made at Jupiter Research Station, much to the chagrin of the engineers testing the core.
The EPS design on the Phoenix Class was borrowed from the Romulan Star Empire through a technology exchange program. The Romulans have already had considerable experience with superhigh-power reactor systems (namely their quantum singularity reactors), so their ships’ EPS grids could handle considerably more power than the format that Starfleet vessels used. Starfleet engineers, however, doesn’t have quite the same amount of experience that the Romulan Navy’s engineers have with the design, and have often had to consult their Romulan counterparts for technical advice.
3.5 - Impulse Drive
The impulse drive on the Phoenix Class starship provides it with the fastest acceleration rate ever achieved in the 2 to 3 million-ton mass bracket, clocking in at 7,600 km/s^2. It achieves this extremely high rate of acceleration by mixing in increased amounts of antimatter fuel additive into the fusion engines driving the impulse drive. This leads to a 40% increase in propulsive power from the powerplant, but also results in quicker wear-and-tear on the drive. Antimatter fuel additives are usually kept at a minimum unless maximum power is required from the drive, either for propulsive or for shipboard use.
3.6 - Emergency Procedures
The Quantum Induction Core requires token amounts of antimatter, mainly for initializing the induction process. However, there are still quantities of the volatile fuel stored on board. The age-old process of storing antimatter inside specialized ejectable containment pods is still practiced, but the pods are heavily reinforced. They have their own SIF, fusion micro-reactor, and armor coverings for maximum protection from damage. A Phoenix Class vessel requires only six pods, as opposed to the usual twenty to thirty required by ships that have M/A reactors as main powerplants. This antimatter is mainly used by other systems, such as a fuel additive for the impulse drive, as fuel for torpedoes, and as fuel for shuttlecraft.
In the event that the vessel cannot safely retain its QIC, the core and the lower attenuator can be ejected. The QIC can be left alone so the induction slowly fizzles out, or the attenuator can be remotely commanded to open the membrane to its fullest, resulting in a buildup to an uncontrolled explosion.
In the event that the slipstream initiator fails while in slipstream transit, the needle shape of the warp field provides enough fissuring force in the subspace domain to let the ship come to a controlled stop and exit slipstream. The effects of failure of the warp field while in slipstream are highly catastrophic. The ship is subjected to the massive void left by the warp field’s collapse that subspace rapidly fills, and is literally torn apart by the stress. It is believed that this is how the USS Phoenix met its grisly demise during its initial field tests.