Thursday, 27 December 2018

Progression of NCC registry numbers in Canon vs. Starfleet Museum

If you want to show you're a truly pedantic Trekkie, there's no better way than obsessing over starship registry numbers. Because even a fairly short study of just the NCC range of registries, used by the main Starfleet vessels, reveals two things:
1. There is a logic to the numbering, with later ships tending to have higher registry numbers, as if they were sequential, or something similar.
2. There is complete madness to the numbering, with all sorts of exceptions, anomalies, and persistent typos that mess the whole scheme up beyond useful recognition. I am far from the first to point this out.

Reconciling thing 1 with thing 2 is frustrating, at best. So I've decided to make it more fun for myself by also trying to reconcile the canon NCCs with those used by Starfleet Museum's non-canon designs, as promised in my last post. This actually turns out to be the simpler, quicker thing to resolve, as this graph will illustrate:

(click to embiggen)
Graph of earliest known appearances of Starfleet registry numbers (2160 to 2300)

It initially seemed pretty obvious to me that Okazaki had simply drawn a straight line from an origin in 2161, to the established launch of the Constitution class in 2245, and then used that line as a rough guide for picking when each of his new classes should launch. What he couldn't have known then, nor even known during the run of Star Trek: Enterprise that messed up most of Starfleet Museum's chronology, was the 2009 appearance of the USS Kelvin, with it's obscure dedication plaque. This hints (though I'll admit, doesn't definitely prove) that NCCs were still only in the 500s in the 2220s, and that there was likely a big, sudden growth in Starfleet during the 2230s and 2240s, jumping up the registry by over a thousand new starships in a couple of decades. This gives the S-curves of my rough estimated blue and green lines on that graph.

I did notice, at the last minute, that Okazaki's numbers might also fit an S-curve too, though subtler and starting much earlier. That curve would also seem to fit the right side of the graph better than the straight line too.

We know the early UFP Starfleet didn't start from zero ships, because pre-Federation ships belonging to the Andorians, Earthicans, Tellarites, and Vulcans were folded into the initial formation of Starfleet. We don't know for sure how many of them there were, but we can estimate. On the lowest guess, if we just count the ships seen during ENT, and take it that these represent the exact same size of the fleets at the end of 2160, then it's about 10 ships per fleet, adding to about 30 to 50 to start Starfleet with. On the higher end, we have the evidence of the USS Franklin NX-326, known to be a pre-Federation Earth starship, folded into Starfleet in 2161. And that would seem to imply over 300 starships at the foundation of Starfleet.

That higher estimate would seem to suggest that maybe early Starfleet might have had way too many ships for its initial needs, presumably with many repurposed warships left over from the Earth-Romulus War, and so they wouldn't have felt in a rush to build up their shipyards further for a long while. With hardly any colonies, and all fairly close together, the early Federation wouldn't have needed to push most of its Starfleet too hard, most of the time. We know at least the Daedalus class explorers kept going for a good 35 years, so Starfleet could have put off increasing starship production until around 2200. And that's why the S-curve makes sense. It just seems to have curved up later in history than Starfleet Museum guessed. After 2245, Starfleet Museum's NCCs seem mostly fine again, as the curve settles down.

Related to this, I'd also be willing to take a guess at when the Walker and Crossfield classes might have launched, based on my S-curve, and on the warp limit graphs from my last post. If we assume USS Shenzhou, USS Glenn, and USS Discovery all have low NCCs for their classes (and there's no evidence to say they must), then USS Crossfield (approx. NCC-1000ish) would fit well around the mid-2230s, perhaps as early as the late 2220s, making the class a decade or more older than the Constitution class. The warp limits from the previous post would even support a much earlier launch of the Crossfield class, sometime around 2220, but today's graphs and the launch of the Kelvin suggest that would be too early. (This also hints to me that perhaps there should be a stepped or S-curved line for the warp limits graph too.) I would be comfortable saying the Crossfield class (and thus also USS Discovery, most likely) could have launched between 2230 and 2235.

If the USS Walker (approx. NCC-1200ish) can't be placed on the timeline by its low top warp speed (as discussed last time), then registry number is our only big (if vague) clue for it. We've seen it on screen as far back as 2239, and you can see that's already close to my S-curve. If 1200 comes after 1000, chronologically, then I would guess the Walker class probably launched around 2235, with the USS Shenzhou launching within a few years of that. This would imply that Starfleet grows by 700 ships in the decade from 2225 to 2235, and then grows by a slower 500 new ships in the decade from 2235 to 2245. That makes sense, for an S-curving trend on its way down.

(As a digression, I was wondering if those growth rates are realistic or not. Apparently, modern day Earth's production of new ocean-going vessels is in the thousands to tens of thousands of new vessels per year. And starships are perhaps bigger and more complex to build, but spread it over more than just one planet's factories, and suddenly a thousand in a decade actually seems pretty slow, though this isn't counting civilian starship construction. As more planets join the UFP, the rate can increase even more, perhaps helping to explain the S-curve further.)

But now I have to mess everything up by reminding you of thing 2: NCCs often make no sense. There are plenty of registry numbers that appear to be illogical and badly out of chronological order, and that's because they are. Writers make shit up, artists make shit up, and even people outside of the official production of any series or movie sometimes have enough influence to get involved, and they make shit up too. But the good news is, after studying this for a while, it's not as bad as I thought. I re-drew my graph for each class, separately, one at a time. And that's slow and boring and I won't waste your time with all of it here. The bottom line is, the outliers are relatively rare for most classes, and can mostly be ignored. And for most of the 24th century outliers, there's often already conflicting information about their registry numbers from other sources. I've stuck with the strictest onscreen Alpha canon to make these graphs, but I'm very happy to retcon silly mistakes away.

The only huge exception is the Constitution class. It's full of anomalous registry numbers:
(click to embiggen)
Green: Known launch dates of Constitution class vessels.
Red: Known service periods of Constitution class vessels (ignoring time travel).
You'll note that easily a third of the Connies have registry numbers lower than NCC-1700, which is widely agreed to be the USS Constitution, even though that's never strictly confirmed on screen. This is probably the single biggest, hardest to ignore piece of evidence that NCC numbers are not strictly and simply chronological, in order of launch/commissioning.

There are two broad conclusions to choose between here: Either NCC is not useful for estimating chronology (and we throw all the work above out the window), or it is useful for that (and we just have to rationalise the Constitution class being full of weird anomalies). I favour the latter. Consider the bigger graph of all known registry numbers with their first appearances:
(click to embiggen)
Graph of earliest known appearances of Starfleet registry numbers (2160 to 2380)

Just adding another 80 years, the known years of the 24th century, seriously changes the graph, with another big S-curve apparent, jumping the Starfleet registry up by seventy thousand ships in about 50 years (averaging around only 1400 new ships per year, which, as discussed above, is actually still pretty low by modern Earth shipbuilding standards). It's a big jump, but an entirely believable one. And the blue diamonds (first appearance of any sort) seem to scatter all over the place, but the red squares and green triangles still paint a nice, clear pattern: When new ships and new classes are launched, their very first appearance, then NCC number is a good predictor of what chronological order they came in. For that reason, I'm inclined to excuse away the contradicting blue diamond anomalies.

So how do we deal with the Constitution class? We could just ignore it. Maybe (in universe) Starfleet went crazy for a couple decades. Maybe (real world) it's a just real-world production-side mess that spoils an otherwise neat, logical pattern. Maybe (in universe) they're re-uses of older ship's registries, in the same way that the Enterprises shared NCC-1701, with -A, -B, -C, -D, and bloody -E tacked on; maybe these are Constitutions named and numbered after earlier vessels, but they're just not showing us the -A or -B on the end, for whatever reason (and after the Federation-Klingon War, there would certainly be plenty of lost vessels to commemorate). Maybe (real world) TOS production values were shit, and everyone just assumed all "starships" were Connies, but retroactively a lot of those should be re-interpreted as vessels of other, older classes.

Or maybe any combination of the above. I'm not sure, and there's no good reason to pick one over the other. But I do tend to favour just ignoring the Constitution anomalies. Pretty graphs are better.

The last thing I'd point out is how the 24th century S-curve flattens out towards the end of the century. The pattern this seems to suggest is that roughly every mid-century (real-world: at the time that each new series is set), Starfleet goes on a big shipbuilding spree, bumping its numbers up by roughly one order of magnitude. If that happens again in the mid-25th century, and the new Picard series is expected to be set in about 2400, then that next big surge shouldn't have been completed yet, and might not really have even begun yet. So, given these assumptions, I'd consider it a mistake if ships in the new Picard series have registries greater than -100000. The -80000 to -90000 range will probably be sufficiently realistic. Of course, it'd be fascinating if there are good reasons to justify higher numbers than that. Perhaps a concerted effort to rebuild and get exploring again, following the Dominion War. Perhaps introducing advanced new technology (via Voyager and other sources) makes the old fleet suddenly very outdated and in need of a large number of replacements (which new construction techniques can spit out way faster than before).

I guess we'll have to wait a couple of years and see.

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

Progression of Warp Drive limits in Canon vs. Starfleet Museum

Starfleet Museum is a wonderful creation, and I make great use of it as a source of ideas and images for roleplaying games. Masao Okazaki and company have put a lot of effort into it for years, and I'm glad they did. But they were among the first to acknowledge that Star Trek: Enterprise immediately rendered most of their work moot, as the two contradicted each other heavily. For today, I'd like to restrict myself to looking only at how they differed in terms of maximum warp speeds achieved at various times, by different classes of vessel. I think this will be of future use to me for roleplaying purposes, and I wish I'd done this a year ago, when I was setting up my current campaign. But by luck, I think I've accidentally got things right anyway. I think it may also be useful for making a bit more sense of Star Trek: Discovery's very interesting but sparsely detailed (in the first season) new starship classes.

But mainly, I wanted to kill time making graphs, and these warp speed graphs proved to be much more enlightening and entertaining to me than the ones I've been using to try to make sense of Starfleet's registry number system. I guess that'll be a future post.

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Graph of maximum speeds of starship classes vs. earliest known year for that starship class (2060 to 2260)
(warp speeds in old TOS scale)
It seems to me that Starfleet Museum made one silly mistake when making up the warp speeds for their starships, and it should have been an avoidable mistake (though hindsight helps a lot in this case). In the graph above, it's very clear that Okazaki used an exponential progression in warp maxima, and I'm pretty sure it must have been set between warp 1 in 2063 (the Pheonix) and warp 9ish in 2245 (Constitution class). The orange dots fit that curve very neatly, even with the sudden denser packing in the late 2150s (the Earth-Romulus War).

And the known canon Earth starships before 2145 seem to start off following a pretty similar line. But from 2145, the dark blue line veers up sharply, through the early NX prototypes, the Freedom class, the actual NX class itself, and Beta canon's Columbia/NX-refit class (just to show that a warp 6 example fits the same pattern) These all make a surprisingly straight line right up to the warp 7 Daedalus class of 2161, the first UFP starship. It's so neat that I have to assume it was mostly intentional, with the ENT writers having at least some sort of plan about this in mind, and which the writers of the 13th movie could easily slot their own addition into.

But why is it so different from the Starfleet Museum gentle exponential curve, and why does it make sense? Well, look at the pale blue line, the Vulcan ships. ENT made it clear that the Vulcans were well ahead of the Humans, and had been for centuries. But they didn't invent that; TOS's writers established this technological headstart decades earlier. Okazaki couldn't have guessed that ENT's writers would pick warp 5 and warp 7 as the exact figures for Earth and Vulcan maxima in 2151, but he probably shouldn't have assumed Human engineers would be at the cutting edge of starship design once the Federation was formed. Andorian, Tellarite and Vulcan engineers all had to have had roughly a quarter of the whole pool of Federation astronautics skill, and it's long been established that Vulcans started off with greater than just a quarter share.

We also know that Vulcan progression was described by humans in ENT as "slow", since they'd been developing warp drive since some vague time in the 19th century (probably) and compared with Human progress in the 2140s, that Vulcan development rate must have looked painfully slow. But considering the Human rate before the 2140s didn't look much faster, and the sudden Human jump was definitely helped by Vulcan and other species' assistance, it's probably fair to say that Archer and co. were being unrealistic and damn ungrateful. Earth, left solely to its own devices, probably wouldn't have reached warp 7 any faster than Vulcan did.

Of course, Vulcans do seem to have stagnated a little, with no recorded improvement in their top warp speed in the couple of decades preceding the events of ENT. I'm sure it's fair to say that all parties, including the Vulcans, gained a lot from the combined efforts of the post-2161 UFP engineering pool, sharing knowledge and different specialisations in the way that a monoculture inherently can't. Technological acceleration due to the founding of the Federation seems to have been inevitable. If that's not all intentionally in keeping with Star Trek's inclusive, mutually supportive ideals, then it's a great coincidence to uncover. Once everyone starts working together for the common good, things get great fast.

So, Starfleet Museum forgot to account for Andorian, Tellarite, and especially Vulcan contributions to Earth's starship designs, and that's why the gentle orange curve makes less sense than the sharp blue jags that ENT gave us. But what next, what about the time from TOS to VOY?

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Graph of maximum speeds of starship classes vs. earliest known year for that starship class (2060 to 2380)
The same graph, extended 120 years further, shows the massive warp speed increases from TNG onwards. The orange curve for Starfleet Museum is roughly headed that way, though it's apparent that MS Excel and Okazaki disagree on the just how steep the curve should be at the right end.

Canon information about starship performance between TOS and TNG gets sparse, as the TOS movies were generally pretty vague about technical details. There's a whole lost century to fill in there. The same is true between 2160 and 2240, by the way, if you exclude all the orange dots. These are the two big empty periods in Star Trek history generally, and not just for starship stats.

It looks like warp 9 on the new TNG scale (a little more than double warp 9 on the old TOS scale, which would be nearly warp 11.5, not warp 18) should have been achieved around the mid-2300s, but I don't think there's any clear evidence for exactly when this would have happened. To give at least a rough sense of how things might have changed over time, I connected the dark red line between only known canon classes with exact first launch dates, and which are known to have been the fastest of their time. That doesn't give a lot of data points to connect, but at least it looks roughly like a neat curve of some sort.

Are the last two Starfleet Museum classes (the Furious and Spectre classes) feasibly positioned on this graph? Yeah, sure. I don't have clear data to argue with them, as I do with the earlier ENT stuff. It looks to me like Okazaki has in that case simply drawn a straight line between the Constitution and Galaxy classes, and I can't reasonably call that a mistake. My dark red curve is just as much a guess.

One other possibility, which makes reasonable sense, but still doesn't have much supporting data, is that we do know that warp power requirements jump up fiercely at each higher warp factor (and that's why the warp factor numbers are set at those specific integers), and this could be reflected in warp drive development timelines too. Perhaps it's easy to get from a warp 7 design to a warp 7.1 design and a 7.2 design and a 7.3 design, and then 7.5 is trickier, and 7.8 is a pain, and 8 is a huge extra effort, but then the first 8.1 design is (comparatively) piss easy again, etc. With recurring challenges like that, I'd expect to see a stepped graph, mirroring the steps of the warp power graph. This could explain the slow progress of pre-Federation Vulcan warp development. It would also imply that the neat straight line of Human warp drives between factors 2 and 7 was definitely artificially boosted.

I'll also note the only two DISCO designs with known (although not mentioned on screen yet) warp maxima. The little green triangle below and left of the Constitution class square represents the earliest known date for the warp 6 Walker class (specifically, the USS Shenzhou), and the green triangle just to the right of that is the warp 8 Crossfield class (specifically, the USS Glenn and USS Discovery).

It's been pretty common in all Trek series for the main hero ship to be the fastest in the fleet (at least at first), with most other ships running a fair bit slower. So it doesn't seem unreasonable that the Walker class is below where the fastest Vulcan ships were a century earlier; it's just not designed for missions that require maximum possible warp speed, even when it was brand new. And so it can't easily fit in just about anywhere on my graph. I have thoughts about its registry number and what that implies about when it was built, but that's another post.

The Crossfield class is more complicated in a few messy ways, but warp 8 is basically about right for a fastest ship preceding the Constitution. The very low registry number (lower even than the Shenzhou's registry) of the two known Crossfields has thrown a lot of people off, and it does complicate trying to work out how all these things fit together. I'm sure the show will provide more evidence about this eventually, but for now, my personal headcanon is this:

The initial preview trailers for DISCO showed an earlier version of the Crossfield class, with a solid saucer section, much shorter nacelles, and a few other differences. We know, in the real world, that the redesign to the Discovery that's actually seen in the series is a simple artistic style change, plus a way to show some moving parts for the magic mushroom drive that are distinct from the traditional warp drive components. But, in universe, I reckon for now that the earlier design represents what the actual Crossfield class was originally built as (probably in the 2230s, perhaps before the Walker class was launched). Only the two experimental magic mushroom drive ships (Glenn and Discovery) were refitted to the 2256 design, with elongated nacelles and a rebuilt, divided-up, rotating saucer section, cut from the natural hull divisions of the original design. The reason USS Discovery is described as "new" in 2256 is because of the major rebuild.

So I would guess that the USS Crossfield probably didn't originally launch with a maximum warp of 8, it was probably closer to warp 7.5ish, and it may never have been upgraded to match the Glenn refit that gave Discovery its top warp 8.

Of course, a lot of this is also dependent on finding a logical system underneath the mess of NCC numbers, which I said I'd leave til another day. But just looking at the warp factor, I think we can take it as pretty damn certain that USS Discovery probably isn't totally brand new as late as 2256.