Trekplace   Uncharted Content from the Final Frontier - Since 1999
FAQ   Links   Contact   Updated September 20, 2010

Spaceship of the Rings
by Greg Tyler
March 3, 2004
Updated August 24, 2007

Star Trek premiered on television in September 1966. Since that time fans have witnessed the voyages of a variety of starships named Enterprise. Captain Kirk's five-year mission, seen in the original Star Trek television series (1966-1969) and in the animated series (1973-1975), featured the Constitution-class USS Enterprise NCC-1701. A second Constitution-class starship USS Enterprise, NCC-1701-A, first sought out new life forms and new civilizations at the end of Star Trek: The Voyage Home (1986). Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994) featured Captain Picard's Galaxy-class USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D, which was succeeded by the Sovereign-class USS Enterprise-E in the feature film Star Trek: First Contact (1996). In Star Trek: Enterprise (2001-Present), fans journeyed back to the future with Captain Archer's Enterprise NX-01 of the Earth Starfleet.

Other, less prominent space vessels named Enterprise have included the Ambassador-class USS Enterprise NCC-1701-C from the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Yesterday's Enterprise," and the Excelsior-class USS Enterprise NCC-1701-B from the 1994 feature film Star Trek: Generations.

The futuristic Enterprise about which we know the least was not featured prominently in any Star Trek television episode or feature film. In fact, its first, and for at least 23 years, its only appearance was as part of an illuminated display aboard another space vessel named Enterprise.

In Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Kirk and McCoy watch on a viewscreen in Kirk's quarters, while Commander Decker guides the mechanical Ilia-probe on a tour of the USS Enterprise. While walking in the ship's recreation deck, Decker points out a display of nautical and space vessels, indicating to the Ilia-probe that "all those vessels were called Enterprise."

Image 1 Display of vessels called Enterprise, from the recreation deck of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701 in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Susan Sackett describes each of the ships in the display on pages 93 and 94 of The Making of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

The first illustration (left to right) depicts an actual U.S. Navy sailing frigate of that name; the second shows the World War II carrier U.S.S. Enterprise; the third, NASA's space shuttle Enterprise; since this was 23rd-century art work, the fourth illlustration is of the very first starship U.S.S. Enterprise (never seen on television, but according to Gene Roddenberry, who supplied the sketch, it is a forerunner to the vessel we all know), and the fifth, the starship U.S.S. Enterprise as she appeared before refitting.

Image 2 Set still of ST:TMP rec deck's Enterprise displays.

All but one of the Enterprise vessels were either taken from real-world history, or from the Star Trek television series. The fourth vessel in the display, which Sackett describes as "the very first starship U.S.S. Enterprise," was never seen or heard of in Star Trek circles prior to its appearance in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. This space vessel appears to consist of two rings connected at various points along their circumferences by small struts, and further bound by a sail-shaped pylon that extends inward toward the central axis of the rings, along which runs a thin, roughly cylindrical boom. A presumably rocket-based propulsion system is located at the boom's aft end, and the forward end features an awkwardly shaped pod.

Image 3 Enlargment of "ring ship" from Image 2.

The Star Trek Sketchbook: The Original Series suggests that the basic design of the "ring ship" may have originated during preproduction of the first Star Trek episode, "The Cage," as a possible design for the Enterprise. The Sketchbook has a section entitled "The Search for the Enterprise Exterior." The section, which spans pages 62 through 71, shows "some of the sketches Matt made to design the ship that would warp space and travel to the stars." Page 64 shows two sketches related to the ring ship design. The upper sketch is a perspective drawing of the ring ship, and the lower sketch is a close-up drawing of what appears to be the forward pod of the ring ship.

It is possible, however, even if only remotely, that the ring ship design did not predate the original Star Trek television series. Page 69 features a sketch that almost certainly dates to the late 1970s. Beneath Jefferies' signature on the sketch is the marking "6-77", suggesting that the sketch may have been made in June 1977. This opens the possibility that the ring ship sketches may not predate Star Trek. Another item of circumstantial evidence that the ring ship design might not predate Star Trek is that no design even remotely reminiscent of the ring ship appears among the sketches of early Enterprise concepts in The Making of Star Trek, which was published in 1968.

To summarize, it seems likely that at least the basic design of the ring ship dates to 1960s, prior to the production of "The Cage," but it is also possible that the design did not come about until after the production of the original Star Trek series.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Gene Roddenberry's wife owned and operated Lincoln Enterprises, a company that specialized in the sale of Star Trek and Gene Roddenberry-related merchandise. Two of the items offered in a full-color catalog published at that time featured a futuristic spacecraft that bore a remarkable resemblance to Matt Jefferies' "ring ship" Enterprise from Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Image 4 Listings for "Starship" items from a Lincoln Enterprises catalog published in the late 1980s.
Image 5 Enlargement of "Starship" poster art from Image 4.

Michael and Denise Okuda describe the "ring ship" Enterprise on page 137 of the second edition of the Star Trek Encyclopedia:

This ship was designed by Matt Jefferies for a television series project developed by Gene Roddenberry after the run of the original Star Trek. Unfortunately, the series was never produced, and this remains the only appearance of the design.

Although the ring ship design may have predated Star Trek's debut in 1966, the poster artwork sold through Lincoln Enterprises, and used as the basis by Jefferies or perhaps another artist for ST:TMP's "ring ship Enterprise," would seem to date to some point in the 1970s. It seems likely that the "Starship" project was not based on Star Trek, since Roddenberry created a number of non-Trek science-fiction television productions in the 1970s, and since his primary focus with respect to Star Trek at that time seemed to be a revival of the original television series, rather than a totally new concept with a radically different starship Enterprise.

An issue of Star Trek Communicator magazine from the late 1990s or early 2000s featured what is perhaps fans' best look at the artwork of the "ring ship" Enterprise from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Based on Matt Jefferies' painting, restored by Michael Okuda, the image has been described as being based on an enlarged portion of a set photo of the display area of the recreation deck from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The photo was retouched, with middle tones restored in order to better distinguish the ship from the background. Although some of the thin, white, longitudinal lines on the rings were restored, most of the detail was part of the original artwork, including the lettering and most of the dark background texture. Since the original artwork from Star Trek: The Motion Picture seems to have been lost, Michael Okuda's restoration is perhaps fans' best peek at that ship.

It is believed that the original transparency featured on the recreation deck set may have been made from a high-contrast, black-and-white photo print of Matt Jefferies' painting, with some additional, painted texture.

Note that the "ring ship" Enterprise is identified in the image as USS ENTERPRISE XCV 330. Jefferies -- or whoever created the ST:TMP artwork based on Jefferies' design -- may have created the alphabetical portion of the "XCV 330" markings at random. It may be no concidence that the letters X, C, and V are adjacent to one another on QWERTY-style typewriters. Samuel A. Falvo II offers this alternative, very reasonable explanation, that...

...Starfleet branched out from the United States Navy, in the same manner that the U.S. Air Force branched out from the Army.

Consider that the ranking system used by Starfleet is a naval system. Roddenberry himself was a Navy enlistee, if memory serves me correctly. It seems likely, therefore, that he'd use the ranking system he's most familiar with. This is why the Federation has Commodores instead of Lt. Colonels, and Admirals instead of Generals.

As further evidence, we find that the registry of the USS Enterprise in the Navy was none other than CV-6 during World War II, with later refits to CVA-6 and CVS-6. A whole new class of nuclear-powered ships were later released, with Enterprise being badged CVN-65. (http://www.cv6.org/1946/1946.htm)

Therefore, I can say with 90% or more confidence that XCV is the US Navy's space-borne ship designation system, and that XCV-330 (for eXtra-terrestrial Carrier Vessel) happened to be the number assigned to the Ringship Enterprise.

Image 6 Enhanced image of "ring ship" Enterprise as it appeared in Star Trek Communicator.

The following sketches by Matt Jefferies seem to be among Jefferies' earliest sketches of the ring ship design. Thus, they date to either the mid-1960s, as part of preproduction for Star Trek, or perhaps to the 1970s, possibly created for Gene Roddenberry's "Starship" project.

Image 7 Sketch by Matt Jefferies of a "ring ship" similar to the Enterprise
Image 8 Sketch from Image 7 with handwritten callouts in more legible print
Image 9 Sketches by Matt Jefferies of a "ring ship" similar to the Enterprise

Page 112 of Stan Goldstein & Fred Goldstein's Star Trek Spaceflight Chronology (Pocket Books, 1980) describes the "ring ship" Enterprise as follows:

WARP 3.2 STARLINER

USS ENTERPRISE
DECLARATION CLASS 2123-2165

This original Enterprise was the first spaceliner built specifically for the major Federation space lanes (such as Earth - Alpha Centauri). The travel demand that blossomed in the 22nd century resulted in 957 of these Declaration class ships being commissioned. The Enterprise's name lives on in the current refitted heavy cruiser (Constitution-II class).

Specifications

Length: 300 m
Diameter: 210 m
Living Section Width: 28.7 m
Mass: 52.7 million kg

Ship's Complement

Crew and Service Personnel: 100
Passenger Capacity: 850
Standard Ship's Complement: 950

Performance

Range: Standard: 350 light-years, Maximum: 1,200 light-years
Cruising Speed: Warp 3.2 (32.8c)
Voyage Duration: Standard: 3 months, Maximum: 2.5 years

Systems Overview

Navigation: Celestial Warp Reader
Communication: Subspace Radio
Recreation: Null-grav gymnasium, 5 dining rooms, 3 theaters, 3 nightclubs, Forward and Rear stellar observatories
Life-Support: Gravity: .2 - 1.2g, Atmosphere: : 20% 02; 11% humidity
Sustenance Duration: Up to 40 years if outfitted for long-duration exploration

Engineering and Science

Advaced (sic) 2nd Generation Warp Drive
Fuel: 10:1 matter to antimatter
Separated engine and living sections for improved efficiency

Improvements and innovations

First class of ship equipped with subspace radio
Most popular passenger carrier of its time

As imaginative as the Goldsteins' speculative description of the Enterprise "ring ship" is, it seems unlikely that the Enterprise would be a practical passenger carrier. If its length is truly 300 m, then its habitable volume would seem to be far too low to comfortably accommodate 950 people, much less house the recreation facilities mentioned in the description.

The role of the "ring ship" USS Enterprise XCV 330 within the Star Trek universe is unclear. It is evident that the ship predates the USS Enterprise NCC-1701, which was launched in 2245, according to the Star Trek Chronology. The USS Enterprise NCC-1701 has been described as the first starship of the Starfleet of the United Federation of Planets to bear the name Enterprise. If this is so, then the XCV 330 cannot be a vessel of the Federation Starfleet.

The television series Star Trek: Enterprise (2001-Present) features a vessel named Enterprise, registry number NX-01, an NX-class starship of the Earth Starfleet, launched in 2151 and in service during at least the early years of the 2150s. If the XCV 330 is a vessel of the Earth Starfleet, then it is likely that the XCV 330 predates or postdates the NX-01. Since the United Federation of Planets is said to have been founded in 2161, only ten years after the launch of the NX-01, it seems unlikely that the XCV 330 was launched subsequent to the launch of the NX-01. On the other hand, the XCV 330 may not be a vessel of the Earth Starfleet. If this is the case, then it could have been launched at any time prior to the launch of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701. It could even be in service as a contemporary of the Enterprise NX-01.

The Star Trek: Enterprise episode "First Flight" features a wall painting that is very reminiscent of the display from the USS Enterprise NCC-1701's recreation deck in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The painting appears in a lounge called the 602 Club, in a scene that takes place roughly a decade prior to the main events of the episode, set in March 2153. This author has seen the "First Flight" painting in some detail, and can confirm that it is directly inspired by the ST:TMP image. The ship's configuration matches that of the USS Enterprise XCV 330. Most interestingly the ship has markings which read "XCV 330," with the "V" mostly obscured, as it is in the image from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. On the other hand, the "First Flight" ship is not labeled "USS ENTERPRISE" as is the ship in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. It is possible that this was done to slip an item of Star Trek continuity onto fans' television screens beneath the radar of some of the people in charge of the series Star Trek: Enterprise. This line of reasoning is entirely speculative, however, with no supporting or refuting evidence.

If the ship from "First Flight" is intended to be the Enterprise XCV 330 from the display in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, then we might conclude that the "ring ship" Enterprise was launched in the early 22nd century, some eight or more years prior to the 2151 launch of the NX-01. As seen in the television series Star Trek: Enterprise, many Vulcan starships have a basic configuration similar to the XCV 330. One might speculate that the Enterprise XCV 330 was a test vehicle constructed by humans and inspired by Vulcan technology. Since the Enterprise XCV 330 is the only known human-designed ring ship, it is possible that humans decided not to pursue the ring ship configuration in most of their "production" starships. They might have chosen instead to continue to use the configuration of a main body with warp engine nacelles, as pioneered by Zephram Cochrane's Phoenix in 2063 (Star Trek: First Contact), evolving to what would be used some nine decades later in the design of the Enterprise NX-01. Nonetheless, test data obtained from flights of the XCV 330 might have led to significant advances in human-designed spacecraft systems, giving the USS Enterprise XCV 330 a historical significance similar to the real-world space shuttle orbiter Enterprise OV-101.

The following is a purely speculative history of the USS Enterprise XCV 330.

The author wishes to thank Mark Meece for loaning his copy of the Star Trek Spaceflight Chronology for the purpose of researching for this article.



Content © by Greg Tyler unless otherwise noted. This web site is a fan-produced, not-for-profit endeavor. Use of other parties' copyrighted works is done either with permission or under the terms of Fair Use. Works owned by other parties will be removed at the request of the copyright holder.

Opinions expressed by interviewees are their own, and they do not necessarily represent the opinions of the authors of this web site. The authors of this web site cannot always verify and are not responsible for the accuracy of claims made by interviewees.