Designed and built at the same time as the larger and more famous Galaxy-class explorer, the Nebula-class heavy cruiser is a more compact vessel that in its nearly forty years of service has become one of Starfleet’s most reliable workhorses, surpassing the Excelsior-class as the ship-of-choice for most mission profiles. Notable for its interchangeable mission module, the Nebula-class is a highly versatile ship that will be in Starfleet service for at least another four decades.
Exploration and Science
Like the Galaxy-class, the Nebula-class has long bands of lateral sensor arrays on both the primary and secondary hulls. These bands have hundreds of attachment points for discrete sensor pallets, allowing them to carry both generalized, mission-specific, and single-use sensors, which makes them one of the most effective scanning platforms in Starfleet. With the addition of a sensor pod, the Nebula-class can read a newspaper on Cardassia from Bajor, at least according to the Starfleet Corps of Engineers.
The ship has a very large science department, with multiple scientific assignments conducted by both visiting scientists and the ship’s normal crew ongoing at any given time. The Nebula has a research potential of 150% of the Excelsior-class that she replaced, due to her large amounts of mission-configurable lab space. In addition, a full 15% of her internal volume is left empty at launch to be configured for anything that might be necessary during the course of her service, leading to several vessels of this class to sport science departments that rival starbases.
Where the Nebula-class falls behind true explorers is her endurance; the lack of an interconnecting dorsal and thus a smaller deuterium fuel tank and fewer bays for stores means that the ship is limited to three years maximum without support from a starbase with a standard crew complement, versus the ten that a Galaxy-class starship can manage. A select few of these ships have been equipped with additional fuel tanks in place of some of their labs to increase their endurance, but this has a deleterious impact on her oversized science departments.
The Nebula-class is one of the most commonly-used starships for diplomatic purposes, as it has extensive guest quarters, conference spaces, and recreational amenities to entertain dignitaries of any species. In addition, the large number of holodecks aboard further increases their ability to conduct diplomacy. Due to their combat strength, the Nebula-class is considered a significant display of force for ‘show the flag’ patrols along the Federation’s borders, reassuring colonies and deterring enemies, and thus conducting diplomacy through indirect means.
Nebula-class ships are fully capable of conducting first contact operations, and many have done so on their extended deep-space missions outside of Federation space.
While the original configuration of this class had more marked differences from the Galaxy-class, a redesign in the late 2360s has resulted in them sharing over 90% of their components. The primary difference between the two classes is that the Nebula-class lacks an interconnecting dorsal hull between its elliptical saucer section and rounded engineering hull. The nacelles they use are identical, but they are inverted on the Nebula class, hanging under the ship’s superstructure rather than over it. In addition, the distinctive mission pod of this class gives it a significantly different profile.
The class-seven warp drive aboard the Nebula gives the ship solid and impressive cruising speeds, though she does not have the same sprinting abilities that the Galaxy has, due to a slightly smaller warp core. The impulse engine systems are significantly different, as the Nebula uses exhaust diffusers to protect the pod’s superstructure from super-heated plasma. Instead, the ship relies entirely on its subspace driver coils and thrusters to maneuver at sublight.
This class uses standard isolinear computing systems, with two computer cores in the primary hull and a third in the secondary hull. There are provisions for a fourth core that is occupied by an inert ballast opposite the third core, but few Nebula-class ships have ever been equipped with them, and even then only for extremely special circumstances.
The Nebula-class has extensive cargo transport abilities and small craft hangers, with a large shuttle bay complex under the bridge, and another on the stern of the ship. In addition, there are cargo bays in the undercut of the secondary hull and on the lower levels of the primary hull, all with direct access through hatches to space.
Like the Galaxy-class, the Nebula-class is capable of separating the primary and secondary hulls and reattaching them without starbase support. This functionality is intended to allow the saucer to take the majority of the ship’s company out of danger in an emergency, but some captains have used it in tactical situations as well. Given that the impulse engines are located in the saucer, the stardrive section must rely on thrusters and the warp engines configured to generate a subspace field akin to what the impulse engines’ subspace drivers coils do to sustain sublight flight. This is not particularly efficient and so it is rare for these vessels to separate.
The Nebula-class is a solid ship-of-the-line with powerful shielding and large phaser arrays. With both forward and aft torpedo launchers in her stock configuration, she is a major threat to other ships of her size. This power can further be augmented by a mission pod, mounting additional torpedo bays or phaser arrays. During the Dominion War period, nearly all of these vessels were equipped with tactical pods that brought their combat potential to or beyond the Galaxy-class explorer, but the long-range sensor pods have also proven useful in combat for ECM and ECCM duties.
Given her smaller profile than her larger cousin, the Nebula is highly maneuverable at sublight, but her firing arcs are more limited. Due to the position of the nacelles, certain angles from the primary phasers are restricted, and the Nebula lacks arrays that can fire directly aft. Nebula-class captains are trained to favor head-on attacks and strafing runs, rather than relying on extensive phaser coverage through multiple arcs.
The Nebula-class has several different module options, ranging from a long-range sensor pod, to a tactical pod containing extra torpedo launchers, to hospital pods, to colony pods, and scientific laboratory pods. The limit of this system is generally left to the imagination of her captains, though it can take several days to install a new pod correctly at a starbase, and several weeks for an entirely new pod to be fabricated in the first place.
Standard pods currently available are:
- A long-range sensor pod that significantly increases the ship’s scanning range, but which lacks any extra defenses.
- A tactical pod containing six forward-firing torpedo launchers and an additional two aft-firing launchers with 200 photon torpedoes.
- A colony pod that can detach from the ship and land on a planet’s surface with two-hundred colonists and enough supplies to build a rudimentary colony.
- A medical pod with a 100-bed hospital and supplies to construct a further four field hospitals.
- A hanger pod, with a forward-aft through-bay that can carry up to eight runabouts or sixteen fighters.
The Nebula-class is a comfortable, modern ship with all of the amenities one would expect from a ship of her size and age. With substantial recreational facilities and holodecks, there’s always something to do when off duty aboard a ship of this class. While an older vessel, it is still considered a prestigious assignment. It is especially popular among scientific personnel, as it offers a larger science department than even dedicated science vessels. While not sent on as long of missions as the large explorers, crews can still expect to be together for years on charting and survey missions, which leads to a strong sense of camaraderie for those on board.
Because this is a very common ship, crews tend to go out of their way to make things unique by naming lounges, altering color schemes, and otherwise prizing the tiny differences between a class with over 300 members, which leads to cross-ship rivalries. This increases performance to a degree but sometimes can lead to integration difficulties when crewmembers transfer between ships of this class or join the midway through a mission.
Captains of Nebula-class ships run the gamut from those fresh out of Command School to experienced veterans. In particular, many of the captains of ships of this class are former Excelsior-class captains, who have elected to continue in Starfleet following their original ship being decommissioned.
Though the venerable Miranda and Excelsior classes of starships had been serving Starfleet’s needs well, and the Ambassador class has provided Starfleet with an incredible long-range exploratory platform in the 2330’s, fleet modernization was on the admiralty’s mind by the early 2340’s. Based on innovations made through the Ambassador project, the Advanced Starship Design Bureau proposed several new designs to take Starfleet into the second half of the 24th Century. Four of these designs (the Springfield, Cheyenne, Challenger, and New Orleans) were slated to begin construction in the 2340’s and 2350’s, to serve as test-beds of the technologies that would be showcased in the Nebula and Galaxy-class explorers to be constructed in the late 2350’s, and they would eventually become companion vessels to their larger cousins.
The Nebula design was authorized in 2343, along with the Galaxy design, and the design process continued in tandem until both designs were completed in 2350. The Nebula-class starships were intended to be the more pragmatic sister of the Galaxy, with a more compact design, and provisions to install a mission-specific module on a large pylon. This would give the class the ability to serve in a number of roles. While it also had the mission-specific configurable spaces within the hull, the changeover period was much better than the Galaxy, while providing an external configurable space that the other class did not; tactical and sensor systems, for example, were more easily added in a pod than inside the ship’s hull.
In their base configurations, the Galaxy is the superior tactical platform, as the Nebula class lacks in all-around phaser coverage, due to the position of the pod. This armament limitation was deemed an acceptable trade-off for mission versatility. In addition, the Nebula would have very similar but not identical hull components, with a narrower secondary hull and a primary hull that traded crew quarters and other support systems for extensive cargo bays around the perimeter of the hull.
Construction on the prototype began in mid-2350 at the Beta Antares Fleet Yards. A further 15 units were authorized, for an initial production run of 16. Construction completed in 2356 on Nebula, with Honshu following closely behind her. Shakedown operations ran successfully through 2358, with the class fully-commissioned and in regular service starting in the spring of 2359. By 2363, all 16 units had been completed, with a further 20 ordered, at a rate of five per year. They were popular with their crews, and served with distinction in many capacities. Despite this, the Battle of Wolf 359 dealt the fleet a devastating blow, and Starfleet scrambled to find ways to improve the fleet’s tactical readiness.
In 2367, all of the Nebula-class ships on active duty were recalled to starbase for refit. In studies of the class’ performance over the years, it was discovered that the bifurcated pylon structure that held the mission modules was lacking in stability. All units were modified, instead to use a larger, more robust pylon that was better-designed to withstand warp and combat stresses. This new pylon blocked direct access to the main shuttlebay from the stern, so new approach and departure protocols were developed. The impulse systems were redesigned, with covers installed over the exhaust systems to mask their ion trails and to protect the superstructure from superheated plasma. This refit was completed in record time, thanks to the fervor in the fleet after the Borg invasion, by 2369.
Furthermore, it was decided to standardize the Nebula and Galaxy-class production lines, with additional Galaxy-class ships now being ordered. As such, Nebula-class ships built after 2367 have a secondary hull without the narrow undercuts that the original model did, as well as a saucer identical to the Galaxy-class other than the impulse engine mounts. Further modules were developed, with the most heavily-deployed version being the new Tactical Pod It combined some of the sensor ability of the old sensor pod, with eight forward-firing torpedo launchers, and two rear torpedo launchers, that made the Nebula-class capable of being outfitted as a gunship, while retaining the ability to explore.
At the start of the Dominion War, there were 52 Nebula-class ships in the fleet,. The class served primarily in combat roles, though some units were equipped with medical or troop pods to support the war effort. Several were destroyed and others were heavily damaged, but the vessels served with remarkable combat performance, especially compared to their Excelsior-class cousins. Following the war, they remained in service, with the majority of the Nebula fleet transitioned back to exploratory roles.
Upgrades were scheduled to be completed for the class by the end of 2390, with twenty more units ordered to bring the fleet up to a round 100 units by 2395, making the Nebula class a Starfleet mainstay well into the 25th Century, with every sign of being just as venerable as the Excelsior-class ships that she replaced.
- The Nebula-class is a robust ship of the line. Even after the Galaxy-class stopped production, this remained in service and is essentially the Excelsior-class of the 25th century. With a large crew complement and well-rounded systems, she is fit for most missions.
- Being a common sight in Starfleet, this makes a good NPC ship when you need reinforcements or a rescue. Alternatively, you could be the one escorting them.
- The mission pods are a major selling point of this class, as they allow the ship to take on the role of a specialist ship with only a few days of change-over. This can allow you to run a game with wildly different missions from episode to episode, with the right amount of planning.
- A Nebula-class ship is a large and serious threat to many other vessels in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants, but it is not as threatening as the large explorers. For some, this will be an advantage as it will mean that they can avoid being seen as a threat, but for others not being seen as a threat may lead to combat.