A Few Details on Runabouts

A Danube Class starship was seen to be carried around by the Enterprise-D as an auxiliary vessel in "Timescape"[TNG7]. Used by a few bridge crew officers to attend a conference, the vessel appeared no different than any other Danube.

In the episode, a temporal anomaly causes time to move signficantly faster for the starboard warp systems . . . the runabout comes to a dead stop because the starboard engine fails. It's soon discovered that the failure is a result of the starboard engine running out of fuel . . . the starboard antimatter pod is found to be empty. The temporal anomaly meant that the starboard nacelle had been in continuous operation for 47 days.

This implies a few odd things. For one, it suggests that there is a dual-core system in place on runabouts. After all, for starboard antimatter to be empty and for the nacelle to have functioned for 47 days, there must have been a core which was operating to produce power for that amount of time. Otherwise 47 days worth of antimatter would've had to have been fairly suddenly run through a single warp core which was not functioning at that rate. This would be akin to putting an entire tank's-worth of gas in your car's engine cylinders all at once. However, it's likely that other discussions on runabout warp cores may suggest that there is just one, so perhaps another explanation must exist.

More importantly for our purposes, though, this gives us a figure for the endurance of the runabout. It is not known if the runabout's tanks were full or near-empty when it departed the Enterprise-D, nor is the speed of the vessel known, but a vessel endurance of 47 days at warp velocity is established here. At warp one this would give a range of 0.129 light-years. But the runabout was attempting to locate the missing Enterprise, suggesting higher speeds in use.

In "Dax"[DSN1] a well-prepared group must make an escape from the station. Kira points out that they probably have a vessel capable of outrunning a runabout handy. Sisko orders Kira to determine which ships docked at the station have a high warp capability ... her search includes ships capable of "warp five or more", suggesting that the runabouts are capable of at or near warp five, maximum.

Looking at some other examples of runabout velocities:

"Vortex"[DSN1] . . . Sisko makes first contact with the Rakhari in the Gamma Quadrant. In orbit of the world in a runabout, Sisko is asked to return a Rakhari citizen to the planet without delay. He informs the Rakhari that they should "expect him to return in a vessel just like this one within 52 hours". In "Emissary"[DSN1], upon emerging from the newly-discovered wormhole, Dax reports that the closest star system is "just under five light-years away." The computer identifies this star system as Idran, and per Dax it is an uninteresting place . . . no M-Class planets. Even if we assume that Sisko could somehow communicate with the station and order a runabout to depart immediately, this still requires a trip of at least five light-years within 52 hours. That's just under 0.1 light-years per hour, or 842c. Of course, what actually happened is that Sisko returned to DS9 and, in his office, ordered Odo to escort the Rakhari to his world in a runabout. So instead of the unrealistic one-way trip, we're actually talking about a 52 hour round-trip. That requires a ship capable of only warp five to make just under .2 ly/hr, or 1684c.

"Whispers"[DSN2] . . . A faux-O'Brien takes a runabout through the wormhole, then sets course for the Parada system in the Gamma Quadrant. He orders maximum warp, then asks the computer for the ETA. "One hour, fourteen minutes" the computer reports. In "Emissary"[DSN1], upon emerging from the newly-discovered wormhole, Dax reports that the closest star system is "just under five light-years away." The computer identifies this star system as Idran, and per Dax it is an uninteresting place . . . no M-Class planets. So, this is at least five light-years within 74 minutes. That's a warp five ship making 4.054 ly/hr, 97.3 ly/day, or 35,513c.

For our purposes we're going to ignore that last example, since it's outside the usual ballpark of warp five velocity. Numerous examples from Enterprise (as mentioned here and here) show that warp five is usually in the 1500c range, a value in keeping with "Vortex".

Now just for kicks:

So if we were to take the 47 days and assume a speed of 1500c, we would get a range of 193 light-years for the runabout. On the other hand, if we assume 47 days and 100c, then the range is 12.9 light-years.

These are neither upper nor lower limits, nor even valid numbers ... it is only a possibility. After all, we do not know the velocity of the runabout, and hence cannot know details of the fuel consumption rate. And again, we don't know how much fuel the vessel had aboard to start with.

To put it another way, if I run an engine at 1000 RPM with a quarter tank of fuel I might go 100 miles. If I run the same engine at 4000 RPM I might not make it as far, though I be going somewhat faster.

Alas, we can't know everything.


  1. I believe it would make the most sense if we take the last known distance traveled and at what speed from the series to obtain a 'final' speed. Then again, I'm begining to believe that different ships operate on different warp scales. Especially in the federation.

    Perhaps warpspeed is also relative to defelctor power and maps... this also helps us account for voyager, in uncharted space, she would be far slower... and there is a lot from voyager to support such a theory.

  2. I don't think we have any evidence that Galaxy class starships usually carry runabouts. We do know that they have the capability of holding a runabout but that ship they were travelling on could have been just a temporary assignment to get them to the Enterprise (them having been dropped off at the conference by the Enterprise which then left for other things while they were at the conference) and then be taken away next starbase visit.

    Ships move as fast as the plot requires. If the plot requires Warp 5 to be 5c then Warp 5 is 5c while if the plot requires a ship that can only do Warp 5 to cross a galaxy in a day then Warp 5 becomes 36.5e6c.

    To be honest I like the idea that the variation in warp factors depends on the navigational deflector even less than the classical warp highways idea. Deflector power does to an extent determine velocity and it might be that some ships are deflector limited but that doesn't mean the scale should be different for each ship.

  3. It mostly would be dependent on the ability of the ship to push objects out of the way. This allows two things:

    Faster warp in general for a ship.

    With good sensor data you can shaves, litterally, years off your trip.

    btw: Didn't the enterprise drop off runabouts for DS9?

  4. Still, it seems a bit of a bad idea to have different ships use different warp scales. It would just be asking for trouble if you've got an older ship for which Warp 9 is 1000c and a new one for which Warp 9 is 2000c and the person commanding the fleet decides to order Warp 9. That would really only make sense if Warp 9 for every ship was the same speed.

    Yes, the Biggest E did drop runabouts off at DS9.

  5. Different warp scales could work, if we're dealing with older/newer warp engines, since there are upgrades every so often, but I'm not sure just how much of a difference there would be.

  6. The non-canon backstage charts made up by Okuda and Sternbach for TNG was done with exactly with the idea that there was a modification at some point between the TOS and TNG-eras in the warp scales where from warp 3 above, there is a substantial increase in the TNG-era speeds as compared to the TOS ones. However, except for the idea that warp 10 = infinite speed (as mentioned in VOY's "Threshold"), as well as TNG speeds seem equal to or greater than TOS-era velocities past warp 9, there is almost nothing to distingush the two systems apart. The only difference is that ENT and TOS era ships cannot reach the high warp factors that TNG ships can, at least not on a routine basis anyway.

    As Trinyoa has pointed out and has been mentioned previously here and in other forums, Voyager's journey back from the Delta quadrent is not so much a matter of how fast the ship can go, it's more about knowing the "lay of the land" so to speak that has to be traversed. The more you know, the faster you can go because you know what hazards are in front of you, and you have a more efficent route to get you home more directly. Most of the super-high warp speed velocities, like TNG's "The Chase", are mentioned as occuring in reasonably well-charted territory.

  7. The backstage info is that the scales were only the same at Warp 1 which was 1c.

    The warp highways hypothesis would also explain why Voyager was so slow and why ships were able to travel at different speeds at the same warp factors in different episodes while requiring that different ships have the same scale if they are in the same region. Anything in which some ships Warp 8 were different to others in a fleet must be discarded as useless.

  8. Honestly, there's a lot more in DS9 about FTL speeds than most people give credit. Lots of fast short-haul speeds, you just have to dig for them; overall, I'd say DS9 references are typically second-fastest, right next to TOS.

    For example, in "The Alternate," Odo takes a six-light year haul with passengers in critical medical conditions on board. One dies on the way... but he can't have taken very long to travel back to DS9.

    Never forget that 5 light years is far and away the minimum distance. As much as I detest seeing people go on about minimums, that's most of what we have in DS9.

    As with ENT speeds, it's a problem when a warp five vessel breaks Voyager's speed records...

  9. I have no clue about what Jedi Master Spock is talking about with regards to "a warp five vessel breaks Voyager's speed records...".

    The NX-01's top speed, as has been discussed here and elsewhere numerous times, is somewhere around 1,500 to 2,500c ("Horizon", "Cease Fire", ect). By contrast, Voyager in "Maneuvers" [VOY2] was stated to be managing 2 billion kilometers a second according to Ensign Kim, or around 6,700c (no stated warp factor given). In "The 37's"[VOY2], Paris says that Voyager can manage 4 billion miles per second at warp 9.9, which is 21,400c. I see no issues here. Voyager is clear and away the faster of the two ships.

  10. Runabouts are warp five vessels... that's my point. We can firmly clock them at faster than anything we've even heard of Voyager itself managing (35,000c or higher). Granted, the Equinox got up to 260,000 c with ghosts in the gas tank, which looks fine against anything in DS9 and ENT.

    The problem with the NX-01 is similar. Perhaps it's not as bad... but:

    Typical NX-01 speeds are higher than typical Voyager speeds. We usually clock the NX-01 in a hurry as (just as you said) in the general neighborhood of 2,000 c, while Voyager tends to limp around. Slowly. For example, in "Hunters," Voyager is scripted to travel 3.8 light years at "high warp," which was hardly unusual in Voyager.

    True, aside from cheating by using the real Rigel's location in "Broken Bow," which would give 76,000-100,000c, we can't get firmly past Paris's quote, but there are a few that exceed normal Voyager clock speeds.

    Personally, I get 3,000-10,000c with "Horizon" (30 LY each way, much time waiting around), and clock a firm 15,500 c in "Singularity." Half a light year (maybe a bit more, given path curvature) in 17 minutes.

    While not quite up to Voyager's highest stated speeds, that is faster than most of Voyager's clocked speeds (even while hurrying), which is a problem. Voyager should be clocking more than 130% of the NX-01's in-system speed out in the open, and should be able to regularly exceed that while in a hurry, which they conspicuously fail to do in, say, "Scorpion."

    The 2 minute 0.3 light year intercept the Klingons are up to in "The Augments" is also something of a problem for Voyager, but that's not a warp five vessel. IIRC, the 22nd century Klingons can get warp 6 or maybe even 7.

  11. Note re: "Hunters": 3.8 LY in two days of [not so] "high" warp. IIRC.

  12. I just checked the episode "Hunters", Voyager sets a course for the Hirogen relay station, the warp speed is never specified, so "high warp" could be anything relative. Further, along the journey two interesting things happen that make this a questionable at best example to use: First the ship encounters strong gravimetric forces from the relay at a distance of 2 ly, and then they encounter a derelict starship, which they stop to investigate for an undetermined period of time, as well as examine one of the dead crew.

    The Rigel example from "Broken Bow" is no good because it is not even Rigel the B8 la supergiant, but Rigel *Ten*. Rigel X is clearly stated as being 15 ly distant from where the NX-01 was in it's journey to Qo'nos, and we know that it probably took several days to a week to get there across that distance. About 1500 to 2,500c is the best possible speed to get from the journey to Rigel X.

    Voyager on the other hand, rarely travels very fast at all on it's journey to the Alpha quadrent, in "Distant Origin" [VOY3], the ship is stated to be make it's way at a stately warp 6.2. If this is the standard warp velocity for Voyager, then warp 6.2 would be at least 1,071c, if we were to go by this indicator.

    In "Scorpion, Part I", the Borg cube fleet Voyager first encounters is stated to have been terminated at 5.2 ly away, Janeway then orders a course set at a rather paltry warp two. It would take the ship 237 days to reach there, if we go by the non-canon backstage charts, yet their is no indication that more than a few days went by, suggesting at least 949-1,900c. Given that Voyager reached the battle zone in time to find that one S8472 warrior was still in the midst of a boarding action on one of the wrecked cubeships, it suggests far, far higher speeds.

    In "Unimatrix Zero, Part I", Voyager responds to an asteroid-based colony's distress call, traveling across 2 ly in 2 hours at an unspecified warp speed for an average of about 9000c.

    Again, there are far more examples of Voyager managing faster speeds, even under extreme conditions as compared to the NX-01. So again, I don't see much of an issue here.

  13. Right. Voyager's usual "clock" speeds are 1000c, with occasional higher and lower references. Total average clock, counting all the strange and unusual methods Voyager has used to travel, is 10,000c. Granted, I have been a bit harsh on Voyager, reviewing the evidence.

    In any particular case, what Voyager cruises at should (from what we know, e.g., "Distant Origin," etc) be higher than maximum full throttle for our warp 5 limited vessels.

    Unfortunately, maximum full throttle for runabouts seems to be higher than Voyager ever travels (35,000+ c) and NX-01 pushes past 1,000 c as well. Sometimes even past "Voyager in a hurry," as in "Unimatrix Zero" (one of the faster clock speeds for Voyager @ ~9,000c) vs "Singularity" (15,000+c). Sure, Voyager tends to be a bit faster - but very unfortunately, not much.

    If I include all the speed references I'm aware of for both series, here are my samples:

    13c from "Minefield."
    86c from "Broken Bow" (Neptune and back in 6 minutes).
    100c from "Broken Bow" (30 million km/s).
    400c from "The Xindi."
    487c from "Damage."
    1450c from "Cease Fire."
    1600c from "Broken Bow" (Rigel X 15 LY trip).
    2191+c from "Doctor's Orders."
    3,000-10,000c from "Horizon."
    15,500c from "Singularity."

    Taking these figures (including the very broad range for "Horizon), the arithmatic mean is 2500-3200c, the geometric mean is 590-665c, the median is 968.5c, and to be fair, this includes "slow" references to warp 2 and 3 speeds (namely "Minefield," which is talking about warp 2 and puts it as pretty slow).

    Now, similarly for Voyager under its own power, I'm aware of:

    170c from "Dreadnaught." (Cruise)
    430c from "Counterpoint."
    ~500c from "Timeless."
    693c from "Hunters."
    933c from "Caretaker."
    950c from "The Gift."
    1150c from "Night."
    1320c from "One."
    1333c from "Dark Frontier."
    1666c from "The Voyager Conspiracy."
    1700c from "Dreadnaught." (Sprint)
    2740c from "Hope and Fear."
    2922c from "Scorpion."
    3070c from "Inside Man."
    3600c from "Gravity."
    8766c from "Unimatrix Zero."
    10,750c from "Maneuvers."
    21,400c from "The 37s."

    Arithmatic mean 3370c, geometric mean 774c, median 1333c.

    Compare, then:
    Mean (A): 3370 vs 2500-3200
    Mean (G): 774 vs 590-665
    Median: 1333 vs 968

    Sure, lots of these are minimums or (in the case of "Dreadnaught" and "The Voyager Conspiracy") maximums, many are cruising speed references or slow speed references... but you can see where the spreads are. While Voyager in general shows ships moving slightly faster than the NX-01, there's a lot of overlap in the spread, and there's not that much of a speed difference. That becomes even more clear when I start to propagate more uncertainties, which are certainly present in most of these references.

    I'm aware of only one case in which Voyager, under its own power with normal warp drive, goes faster than the NX-01 did in "Singularity." I'm aware of no cases in which Voyager similarly passes the runabout speeds seen in DS9, or approaches the speed of many non-human ships seen in ENT (e.g., early Klingon battlecruisers, Xindi ships, etc.)

    The NX-01 can't break warp 5; its "sprint" speeds should be well below Voyager's "cruise" speeds. Likewise with the runabouts, according to "Dax." See what I mean?

  14. The way I understand the non-canon stuff like the technical manuals is that the warp factor number doesn't correspond with a velocity, but rather with the subspace field strength created using the warp nacelles, with is also measurable in Cochrans. The tech manuals even say that the values given are approximations and that actual speed may very, as shown in the shows.