|Utopia Planitia Fleet Yards|
Preparing for the Borg Threat
Project Sovereign was born out of sheer necessity and the stark reality of impending Borg invasion. As the reports and intelligence gathered by the USS Enterprise-D were studied and applied, Starfleet came to the humbling conclusion that its grand fleet may be no match for the massive Borg cubes. While the threat was full of dark portent, Starfleet decided to tackle the problem behind closed doors. Several projects were born or modified due to the threat of an impending Borg attack: Projects Norway and Steamrunner were revamped in large part due to the Borg threat, along with the birth of the now infamous Defiant and Prometheus Projects.
Analysis of the Borg weapons system, particularly the tractor and cutting beams, illustrated the limitations of Starfleet shielding. The fixed-frequency, symmetrical oscillating subspace graviton field common to starships of the Starfleet proved to be a severe limitation in combat against the ever-adapting Borg. Starships had to constantly randomize their shield frequency in order to affect a reliable defense, which in the heat of combat proved to be difficult at best - at least in readings gathered in the Enterprise-D's initial encounter with the Borg. Krups Defense Systems, a manufacturer of photon torpedo casings, proposed a new type of shield system. This shield system would automatically and constantly shift its nutation and frequency based on the frequency of the attacking vessel's weaponry. Each time the enemy attacked the shield, it would shift and match the opposing weapons frequency and nutation, regenerating its power load to the maximum available for defense. This system, known as Project: Valkyrie, was still in the initial design stages when Project Sovereign was launched. So impressed was Starfleet Command that they signed a specialized product development agreement with Krups for a modern shield system based on the prototypes in the Valkyrie project. So successful was the Valkyrie Project that all starships constructed or refit since 2370 have had this technology integrated into their shield systems.
Another advancement in shielding, developed by Seinar Fleet Systems, was the concept of Regenerative Shielding. Designed with the Borg in mind, the newly developed Regenerative Shielding was seen as a major step forward in the development of defensive technologies, given the Borg Threat and the newly recognized Dominion threat. The concept behind Regenerative Shielding was to not only constantly shift the nutation and frequency of the shield while engaged, but also to constantly and completely re-initialize the shield grid, maintaining maximum coverage with maximum protective power during combat situations. This would be accomplished with a redundant system of shield generators - when one particular portion of the grid fell below acceptable levels, back-up generators would immediately activate and strengthen the damaged portion of the grid. When the primary generators rebuilt the shields to standard operating levels, the back-up generators would immediately switch to hot-standby until the shield grid was attacked again. This straightforward concept was never deployed due to the tremendous power requirements to maintain such protection. Seeing the inherent benefit of a starship designed to utilize Regenerative Shielding, Starfleet requested a full grid of generators, 30 shield generators in total, to be constructed for testing by the ASDB. SFS delivered the first thirty shield generators in 2364, where they were stored at Utopia Planitia until completion of the Sovereign hull. Due to space and, of course, power restrictions, only 26 of the original 30 generators were deployed in the original Sovereign hull.
Bio-Neural Gel Pack Computer Technology
Due to the speed at which the shields and phasers would have to retask themselves, a new generation of computing technology was introduced with the Intrepid Class - the Bio-Neural Gel Pack Computer technology. Based on the synaptic firing of neurons within the brain, the Bio-Neural Gel-based system was by far the fastest computer ever devised by Starfleet, giving the ship-board computers unprecedented computing speeds. The heart of the BNG is a packet of neural clusters, grown copies of strands similar to those found in the brains of sentient beings. These clusters give the ship’s computer ‘instinctive’ data processing and routing ability as well as allowing the ship’s computer to utilize ‘fuzzy logic’ to speed up probability calculations much as a living, breathing entity would. Given the tremendous processing needs that the Regenerative and Rotating Shield system required, Project Sovereign decided to utilize the BNGP system for the Sovereign class, a quick upgrade over the standard Isolinear Computer Cores.
The first Sovereign hull, NX-73811, began gamma welding in 2366 with its hull provisioned and prepared for deep space trials by the end of the year. Venerable Earth company, General Electric, was commissioned to create a high-efficiency, ultra-high output warp core for the Sovereign Class. Up until that point, GE had produced warp cores for such workhorse vessels as the Sydney, Oberth and Anteras Class starships, whose warp cores were known for their reliability, low maintenance requirements and ease of repairs. By the end of 2366, GE had a working trail warp core, the Class 6 M/ARA chamber and power distribution system. The M/ARA was loaded and initialized by January 2367, with all systems brought online and successful start-up sequence initiated from Utopia Planitia's Computer Core. In 2367, the U.S.S. Sovereign - escorted by the U.S.S. Appalachia (NCC-52136) and the U.S.S. Firebrand (NCC-68723) left Utopia Planitia for warp trials from the Sol System to Proxima Centauri and back. During the engagement at Wolf 359, Starfleet considered pulling the Sovereign out of drydock, but cooler heads prevailed - the weapons and shielding hadn't been properly tested.
Initial testing of the Warp Drive proved extremely disappointing, with power loads far exceeding the core's rating, the U.S.S. Sovereign achieved a maximum attainable speed of Warp 5, with a cruising speed of only Warp 3. Design Engineers, along with GE Warp Core Specialists determined that the Regenerative Shielding was the primary culprit, along with the new primary Deflector Array, in causing the massive power losses during alert situations. Further, unforeseen flaws in the interaction between the Regenerative Shield System and the new Navigational Deflector Array and its Gravimetric Generators produced unstable phase variations that placed the entire vessel at risk from micro-meteor collisions. The U.S.S. Sovereign returned to Utopia Planitia without having reaching Proxima Centauri under warp power.
The impulse engines proved to be on the shining successes of Project Sovereign. Given the propensity of the Borg to engage targets at sublight speeds, Project Sovereign called upon the propulsion firm known as Terminal Velocity, to design her Impulse Engine system. The requirements were steep - a set of impulse engines that could effectively propel the vessel at maximum impulse maneuverability with a 50% loss of propulsion. Several designs, including doubling up the number of impulse plants from stock designs - such as those produced by HighMPact Propulsion - resulted in reduced maneuverability and, worse than that, decreased power for systems that drew upon the Impulse engine's fusion plants for power. Terminal Velocity had built several impulse power plants for Starfleet, including those used aboard the Constellation Class, Freedom Class, and based on the success of the Sovereign class, would be used by Project Prometheus. Testing of the Impulse Engine system showed that, for a large vessel, the Sovereign class was surprisingly nimble without the tendency of over steer as seen in much smaller vessels such as the Norway class - a small victory that, unfortunately, was lost in the failure of the GE Warp propulsion system.
A New Solution
In search for a solution for failings in their Warp Core and M/ARA power system, Team Sovereign attempted to integrate other warp core designs, including Consolidated Fusion's Type VII Core (then used in Ambassador and Merced-class starships) and the latest designs from the Theoretical Propulsion Group's M/ARA chamber (used in Galaxy, Nebula and New Orleans-class starships), but each proved lacking in raw power. The only successes Team Sovereign was able to produce was actually removing the specialized shield generators and replacing them with standard Galaxy class generators, while also removing the specialized deflector and sensor array suites, replacing them with decommissioned Ambassador class arrays and generators. By the end of 2367, the U.S.S. Sovereign was able to maintain a more reasonable Warp 9.8 maximum attainable speed. While this proved the viability of the design at high warp speeds, she lacked the advancements that Starfleet demanded of the hull.
Further, because of the looming possibility of open hostilities with the Dominion, a total redesign of the Regenerative Shielding system with the express purpose of deploying the new system aboard every Federation starship was called for and, a year later, tested aboard another anti-Borg prototype starship - U.S.S. Prometheus NX-74913. The same shield generators originally developed by SFS for the U.S.S. Sovereign were delivered to Project Prometheus for space trials. Despite losing the vessel temporarily to Romulan threat forces, the vessel was recaptured and - unexpectedly - had its shields tested under true combat conditions. The regenerative shield system proved to work admirably with standard deflector systems, and a request for additional testing on existing spaceframes was called for by Starfleet Command.
General Electric went back to the drawing boards on their Class 6 Warp Core. Noting the severe loss of power thanks to the system power requirements of the Sovereign class, GE Propulsion designed an entirely new M/ARA chamber for the Sovereign class. As the Class 6 was based on existing designs, notably those used in the Olympic class, GE scrapped the design and built one from the ground up. Assigning two teams to develop the Core, GE hoped that friendly competition between the two teams would produce a more efficient and aggressive design than previously conceived. Their design teams did not disappoint; design team two, dubbed the Class 8 Core team, finished their project first and initial testing and simulations were extremely promising. Designed to be used exclusively with Bio-Neural Gel Pack based computers, their new design relied on the speed and computing power of these new systems to maintain maximum operational efficiency. After over a year of design and preproduction, the new M/ARA - named the Class 8, was delivered to Utopia Planitia for final integration. The Type 7 would go on to see deployment in the Defiant Project.
By this time, however, Starfleet issued an order for two Sovereign-class starships, using more conventional systems, to be produced. As the U.S.S. Sovereign continued to serve as a design reference and test-bed for these new systems, two hulls were laid - the U.S.S. Ark Royal and her sister ship, the U.S.S. Monarchy. Construction of these vessels began in 2369, with both hulls being produced at San Francisco Fleet Yards, using conventional materials and equipment. With the successful testing and deployment of Ablative Hull components aboard the Defiant Class in 2370, Starfleet Command requested the addition of these protective elements to the Sovereign Class hull. This third layer of protection would secure the Sovereign class would be leading the first line of defense against the Borg in any further incursions, and would push the launch of the Sovereign class back by a year to 2373.
The first Sovereign-class starship commissioned, originally U.S.S. Ark Royal with registry number NCC-75633, was decommissioned and then commissioned U.S.S. Enterprise with the registry NCC-1701-E after the loss of the U.S.S. Enterprise (NCC-1701-D) in the Veridian system, and launched in 2373. By the time the Enterprise was launched, a newer and more powerful warp core has been developed and field tested by General Electric, the Class 8, which lifted the power restrictions of the old Class 6 core that was originally developed for the U.S.S. Sovereign (see above). Her sister ship, the U.S.S. Monarchy, was launched three months later and has served with distinction with the 5th Fleet through the duration of the Dominion conflict. Currently, all Sovereign-class starships utilize all technologies originally developed during and for Project Sovereign.
The most continued disappointment with the Sovereign class continues to be its highest sustainable speed. The Sovereign hull, space-frame, and warp drive system rates a maximum speed of Warp 9.7, which is relatively slow when compared to the other front-line ships of the fleet. While the new Class 8 warp core did provide more than enough power to maintain the vessels, and being extremely reliable and - compared to other vessels of its size - low maintenance, the core did lack high-end power. GE engineers believe this to be a result of the tremendous power requirements of the Sovereign class.
There are currently a limited number of Sovereign-class starships in service, with more in production at a a select few fleet yards. At present, one Sovereign-class vessel is nearing completion at the San Francisco Fleet Yards, Earth.
- Black-and-white ship illustrations by Tim Davies. Used with permission. All other images are copyright to their respective owners.
- Black-and-white ship illustrations by Tim Davies. Used with permission. All other images are copyright to their respective owners.
|REV SD 239111.27|