The Excelsior-class heavy cruiser was arguably the most important and iconic design used by the Federation Starfleet across the entirety of the 24th century. Initially dubbed “The Great Experiment,” the class revolutionized shipbuilding and introduced a number of technological advancements that led directly to the change in the official warp scale in the year 2300. They have served as dedicated workhorses, capable of almost any mission within Federation space, even proving their worth as combat vessels in conflicts as late as the Dominion War. Built until the 2350s, they now serve on as capable multi-mission starships, mostly restricted to the core, though their numbers are shrinking as more of them hit the ends of their service lives.
Science and Exploration
Excelsior-class starships have been used both as frontline explorers and as scientific platforms for use within Federation space. In their day, they were the most capable explorers Starfleet had, but their scientific facilities in the 2390s lag far behind more modern ships. One advantage they have over smaller, more modern ships is ample space for mission-configurable labs and sensors. It is rare to have an Excelsior-class ship posted on a true exploratory mission in the present era, but they’re often dispatched on scientific surveys to follow up on discoveries made by more modern ships. They remain relatively fast and as fewer of them are devoted to front-line duties, they make excellent transports for scientific expeditions in areas where a science vessel might be more vulnerable.
Excelsior-class ships have long been used as transports for flag officers and ambassadors, thanks to their good speed and tactical abilities, though they have fallen out of favor in recent decades. They continue to be used for this purpose with smaller crews, however, especially by flag officers who prefer not to tie up a more modern asset. They have long served as a symbol of the Federation and have an instantly-recognizable silhouette, and their relative economy makes them preferable to larger ships for lower-tier negotiations.
These ships have several onboard conference lounges but are inferior to their successor classes in terms of space to host diplomatic entourages.
This class is a refinement of the general geometry at work in the Constitution-class, with two long, slender nacelles and a stretched secondary hull that gives this ship the appearance of speed, while still retaining the obvious and immediate impression that it is absolutely a Federation starship. She would eventually prove to be the inspiration for the later Sovereign-class.
This class was initially developed to test the efficacy of what was then-dubbed transwarp drive, an engine design that went far beyond the speeds of “standard” warp drives, which used symmetrical semi-toroidal warp nacelles to create a more complex warp field geometry that would achieve greater efficiency than the various other configurations which had been tried. Projections for this were that the ship would be able to achieve speeds up to ten times greater than the Constitution-class. While it did provide substantial gains in speed, the Excelsior-class ended up being only three times as fast as her predecessor, and this was only after extensive calibrations and experimentation. Still, this led to the end of the Cochrane Warp Scale and the introduction of the Revised Warp Scale.
These ships have seen service for so long that their design characteristics are very well-known, which has eased maintenance needs as they have aged. They are still more intensive than more modern ships of their size, but their minimum crew requirements have been reduced from 380 to 200 (in terms of engineering personnel) with more automation. This was beneficial during the Dominion War, as it allowed them to pare down their crew sizes to help man ships coming off the assembly line and out of the mothball yards.
These ships contain three shuttle bays, one forward in the neck which also connects to secondary cargo bays, one aft which is the primary facility for small craft launch and retrieval, and a larger bay in the undercut of the secondary hull that also connects to the main cargo bays.
Excelsior-class ships have received incremental upgrades over the years to nearly every system, which has led to considerable internal variation among the vessels of this class.
The Excelsior-class starship was the first vessel to be equipped with the Type-VIII phaser ball turrets, which offered a considerable improvement over the earlier Type-VII banks in use aboard the Constitution. These were mounted in ten double banks on the dorsal and ventral surfaces of the saucer, as opposed to just six on the Constitution, as well as four single banks on the ventral surface of the engineering hull. In addition to this, there are six torpedo launchers, two standard mounts fore, and aft, as well as two retractable mounts in the forward shuttle bay.
The ship was also initially built with the most powerful shielding available, which made her one of the most powerful ships in the quadrant, more than a match for a comparable Klingon or Romulan design. As they were upgraded over the years, they remained a sturdy cruiser for large fleet engagements, though a number of them were destroyed.
By 2399, most of these vessels have received the upgrades developed for the USS Lakota, including phasers that have been upgraded to Type-X standards mounted in the same position as emitter banks as the original ball turrets. They also have the ability to fire quantum torpedoes, though they seldom carry them.
Excelsior-class ships are often used for pirate interdiction, customs inspection, and general patrol duties.
Though she has proved venerable in service, the Excelsior-class is still an old-style starship and has more cramped interiors than other more modern vessels. As her crew requirements have lessened, some improvements have been made to their accommodation standard, but enlisted personnel still generally sleep in bunk rooms and ensigns and junior lieutenants share quarters. They have been retrofitted with holodecks and other modern conveniences, but lack the shipwide holographic projectors common to other ships.
Excelsior-class medical facilities are well-equipped, which makes them suited for humanitarian missions. They also have ample cargo space, which can be used as emergency triaging facilities or to transport cargo in bulk. Because of this, these ships are often sent on transport or mercy missions, and their crews don’t see a lot of combat.
Officers aboard these vessels tend to be quite junior, as it’s not a particularly important posting. Some captains are brand new and some have been aboard their ships for 20 or 30 years, however, as the sentimental attraction to these vessels is great.
Dubbed the Great Experiment, the Excelsior-class was meant to revolutionize space travel, which it did but not to the degree that Starfleet had hoped. The new engine designs used aboard this craft led to speeds up to triple those of previous heavy cruisers, but this fell far short of the projections of speeds coming ten or twenty times that. Excelsior herself was used as a testbed for several years as kinks were worked out, but this work eventually led to the development of the Revised Warp Scale which placed Warp 10 as unlimited speed, rather than continuing to add warp factors to the previous Cochrane Scale.
These ships immediately proved to be such a marked improvement over the Constitution that many Constitution-class ships were retired well before their end-of-life date had been reached. Some of the advancements were applied to contemporary classes like the Miranda-class, but the new heavy cruiser design, the Constellation was a ground-up reconfiguration of Constitution-class components that was thought a better use of resources than continuing to refit the Constitution, so two generations of technology continued in production together for several years.
Originally designated officially as a super-heavy cruiser (to avoid the distinction of ‘battleship’), this class became the standard for showing the Federation flag for over seventy years, participating in exploratory missions and combat missions to great acclaim. Several generations of Starfleet officers cut their teeth on these ships, which has led to considerable emotional attachment to the class.
The Excelsior-class was dominant in a period of Starfleet’s history where the Federation was largely at peace, so they were rarely tested in their combat roles in any serious way, until the Cardassian Wars in the 2350s, and then later the Borg conflict, and the Dominion War, where a significant portion of them were lost.
This class was succeeded in production by the Nebula-class in the 2360s. With modernizations, they continue into service in the present day, though only in a fraction of the numbers they once had. It is envisioned that by 2410, this class will be fully decommissioned, as the youngest members of this class will be pushing 60 years at that point.