Redesigning the Kelvin Timeline Enterprise from J.J. Abrams Movies

Source: Star Trek, 2009

A better-designed Enterprise wouldn't have solved all the problems introduced by J.J. Abrams' Star Trek movies alongside the "Kelvin-verse" timeline, but it might have been a good start.

In 2009, audiences were introduced to what has become known as the “Kelvin-verse”, an alternate timeline from the original Star Trek universe triggered by the attack on the USS Kelvin. It was invented for the purpose of J.J. Abrams' movie reboot of the franchise. Over the three films Star Trek (2009), Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), and Star Trek Beyond (2016), we were introduced to a universe with different variations of Kirk, Spock, and company. With them cam a new fleet of starships, starting with a brand-new USS Enterprise.

USS Enterprise docked at Star Base. Source: Star Trek, 2009
USS Enterprise docked at Star Base. Source: Star Trek, 2009

However, the problem was apparent from the beginning: even past the lazy writing and unlikeable Kirk, the Enterprise herself was, to put things mildly, “a piece of junk.”

Unlike the Enterprise 1701-E from Star Trek: First Contact and other movies, which was design by John Eaves to look good from every camera angle, the Kelvin Enterprise NCC-1701 only looks good from a couple of angles at best. It is an ugly ship at times, and the upgrades it received with each film didn't help one iota.

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A Pain In The Neck

The Kelvin Enterprise was designed by Ryan Church, with a further slight redesign by Sean Hargreaves for Star Trek Beyond. The ship appears to be a composite of design aspects from previous franchise ships, with elements from both the original Matt Jefferies Enterprise from the original TV series and Andrew Probert's refit 1701 from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Despite evidence to the contrary, the official line puts the size of the ship at around 725 meters long as opposed to the original ship's 288 meters, meaning this Enterprise is even bigger than the Galaxy-class vessel from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Cutaway schematics of USS Enterprise 1701-A from Star Trek Beyond. Source: Popular Mechanics.
Cutaway schematics of USS Enterprise 1701-A from Star Trek Beyond. Source: Popular Mechanics.

Perhaps the most immediately controversial segment of the ship is the neck that connects the saucer section and the secondary hull. This is an obvious issue as soon as you see the profile of the ship and was one of the main things critics of the design complained about when it was first revealed.

The neck of the Enterprise is blended into the hull from the tip of the aft shuttle bay but stops about a quarter of the way before the front of the hull and the dish. This immediately makes the ship look incredibly imbalanced and gives the forward hull the appearance of jutting out like a boat propeller. It also means less structural integrity in that section because it's not connected to the neck like the rest of the hull.

The clear solution to fixing the problem is to move the neck forward and reduce the aft curvature, so it looks less like a car designed in a wind tunnel. Some of this was done by Hargreaves for the Enterprise 1701-A at the end of Star Trek Beyond, but it still looks less than aesthetically pleasing.

Voyage To The Bottom Of The Barrel

Among other things, the Enterprise had a vastly oversized shuttle bay. Source: Star Trek, 2009
Among other things, the Enterprise had a vastly oversized shuttle bay. Source: Star Trek, 2009

The nacelles are problematic in a couple of ways, mainly because they look imbalanced. The design makes them front heavy, and they always look like they're ready to topple the ship backwards. A bunch of cowling was added on the upper and lower sections, so it looks like someone at Starfleet decided to add bits from a 1950's jet fighter.

To fix the nacelles, you would have to remove the cowling and streamline them, while also strengthening up the pylons, which got thinner with each film. Although Hargreaves did admit that the skinny arms were due to story purposes, particularly for the scene where the ship was destroyed.

But it's not just the outside of the ship that needs work. There are also some major problems inside the Enterprise. Let's start with having an actual window at the front of the bridge instead of the traditional viewscreen.

The only reason why you would have the ship’s command center exposed like that when you have access to all kinds of viewing technology available is for it making a spectacular shot when it breaks. Then again, this is from the ship that can apparently handle the amount of pressure needed to keep itself underwater before rising up from the sea and flying back into space.

The engineering section is also an ugly part of the ship. I understand what the production designers were going for, and that they wanted it to look like an engineering room never before seen. But maybe they could have dressed up the Van Nuys Budweiser brewery a bit more, unless the Enterprise somehow runs on hydroelectric power.

USS Enterprise 1701-A, which is only slightly improved compared to the original. Source: Star Trek Beyond, 2016.
USS Enterprise 1701-A, which is only slightly improved compared to the previous version. Source: Star Trek Beyond, 2016.

My God, That's A Big Ship

From the outside, the Enterprise doesn’t appear to be much bigger than the refit version from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Some of the deck layout even matches, including the windows. However, the huge double-level shuttle bay, the engineering section, and the official size means the ship has been scaled up to twice the size it should have been. This is ludicrous! A much more sensible size is 366 meters in length, as decided by Ex Astris Scientia.

To be honest, the best way to fix the Kelvin Enterprise is to just copy the Enterprise from Star Trek: Discovery. That ship is aesthetically lovely, isn’t massively oversized, and does not look like it has random bits bolted on – or that its neck positioning was decided using the Starfleet equivalent to pin the tail on the donkey. It probably doesn't go underwater either.

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Contributing Editor

Charlie Brigden has been obsessed with spaceships, horror films, and film music since a young age and can usually be found across the internet writing about one of those three. He lives in South Wales UK with his family, cats, dogs, and tarantulas.