Technical question – launching a shuttle

Ok, this may be out of left field a little, but, can a shuttle be launched while in warp ?

I’ve been going through and watching TOS with my daughters. The other night we watched the one with them going up against a planet destroying and consuming super robot. The deranged admiral launched a shuttle and flew it into the maw of the robot. However, if I was watching it correctly, the Enterprise was in impulse power and not in warp.

That got me thinking, are they able to launch shuttles, and recover them, while the main ship is moving at warp speeds ?

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I don’t have an episode reference to hand, but I’m fairly sure this happened a few times on TNG and VOY. Don’t recall enough of TOS to know for sure. I’d probably make that a Conn task to try, though. I’m sure Starfleeters could rise to the challenge.


I would think it’s possible, especially when you consider Trek Science of Warp - the creation of a Warp Bubble around the ship. The shuttle launches from the shuttle bay, then as it moves outside the range of the bubble it “drops” out of Warp. But that’s the technonerd coming out in me.

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My inner technonerd thought of engineering checks to make interfacing of the warp bubbles (which would be necessary for the task, I suppose) possible.

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As far as I know, that is not possible.

TOS shuttles are impulse only, so I would say in the TOS era: no.

Some TNG era shuttles are capable of low warp, so at those speeds it’s probably possible.

Torpedoes are capable of being fired ad warp and travel at warp speed. Thus, in principle, it should be possible to detach an object at warp speed that travels forth at warpspeed, itself.

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Point of order:

TOS had warp-capable shuttles. In “The Menagerie,” Spock has the hijacked Enterprise en route to Talis IV at warp. A shuttle carrying Kirk and Mendez is pursuing them from Starbase 11 and clearly keeping up. Couldn’t do that without at least limited warp capability.

There are other examples.


Thanks for the replies

With them, and as I though more about it I’m starting to change my mind

I know one should never use real world physics in sci fi but … I started looking at it like it being kin to trying to launch a paper air plane or a toy remote plane out of a car window. sure it will fly just fine in the car (in the warp bubble) but once it goes out of the window (leaves the bubble) bad things happens.

Then I remembered reading a safety brief in the Air Force. a pilot flying at or just above a missile’s max safe launch speed. It launched. wobbled) for a little bit (as it and the AC were traveling at the save speed, but then as the rocket sped up it took off more stably and flew safely. Of course it was YEARS ago when I read the brief so I may be glossing over some stuff.

With that , and in light that you all pointed out there are instances in even TOS of shuttles having warp, then I can see that it is possible to launch at warp.

However, I’d say with safety etc it is best to be in impulse speed (require no roll unless there are other things in play), then there is safe warp speed for the launch ( ??? warp 2, 4 ??? say at least a step down from normal warp travel speed) which requires a simple roll with a difficulty of 1, and then anything above that safe warp launch speed the difficulty goes up significantly as the speed increases.

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You didn’t ask if it was a good idea…you asked if it was possible. And it is, so yay!

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Starfleet officers are well-known for making the impossible possible. So, yeah, go for it and challenge the characters to make it happen. There’s a reason we have a “So Crazy It Might Just Work!” sidebar in the CRB (page 80). :slight_smile:


Again thanks for the replies

Rgr on making the impossible possible & “So crazy it might just work” . I’ll have to keep that in my hip pocket

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Considering they’re able to separate the saucer section while at warp in ‘Encounter at Farpoint’ – though not without some obvious concern on the part of Data, as there was “no margin for error” – it seems like it should be within the realm of possibility for a warp capable shuttle to do so, generating it’s own static warp bubble that it maintains as it exists that of the primary ship.

Blockquote Ok, this may be out of left field a little, but, can a shuttle be launched while in warp ?

Anytime I have a Treknical question like this I go to the Star Trek “Memory Alpha” Wiki page. Its a great resource for missions and Treknobabble. :vulcan_salute:

Blockquote TOS had warp-capable shuttles. In “The Menagerie,” Spock has the hijacked Enterprise en route to Talis IV at warp. A shuttle carrying Kirk and Mendez is pursuing them from Starbase 11 and clearly keeping up. Couldn’t do that without at least limited warp capability.

…yet in STVI ? when leaving Nimbus III Enterprise couldn’t go to warp until they recovered the shuttle.

…and in The Menagerie there’s no evidence the shuttle goes to warp, merely that it chases Enterprise. Showing Spock that they are willing to die, by traveling far enough that the shuttle can’t get back, forces Spock to return for them.

There might be a slight maximum speed issue - it’s usually assumed shuttles max out at around 1.2 or 2 - whereas standard cruising speed for a vessel will be in excess of warp 3.

I assume that in both instances the scene involved some kind of atmosphere?

The reason why bad things happen to the papercraft when exiting the car’s window is that there’s a jet of air moving fast around the car that, in the moment of exiting the car, the papercraft is hit by. This would not happen if the force propelling the papercraft forward was so big and/or the “flying abilities” (for lack of a better word) of that papercraft were so ideal that the force hitting it in its flank would make no difference.

Imagine you don’t throw a papercraft out of your window, but instead shoot a gun.

In space, there’s no atmosphere. And even at Warp, ships actually move at sublight-speed (since Einstein’s theories of relativity are still applicable in Star Trek) and the FTL effect is only in relativity as space is so heavily warped.

So, I think it should not be a big deal (at least for Starfleet Officers).

If the shuttle is warp-capable, and able to match speed with the ship, then yes, the shuttle should be able to land. I’d say that it’d be tricky to do so, but no more so than the trick where the NX-01 Enterprise and the NX-02 Columbia merged warp fields so they could transfer personnel between ships (ENT: S4E16, Divergence).

Departing… photon torpedoes have a ‘warp sustainer’, a set of field coils that can maintain an existing warp field acting upon them for a short time, but which cannot generate a new field by themselves, which allows a torpedo to be fired at warp. It seems reasonable to suggest that a similar technology could be fitted to small craft and even escape pods to allow a safe departure from a vessel at warp - the field sustainer allowing them to decelerate out of warp in a controlled manner rather than just dropping back to sublight velocities the moment they leave the main ship’s warp field.


Also lets remember the first saucer separation depicted on screen occurred at warp, and that saucer section had no warp capability.

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On the other hand, the Galaxy-class saucer section is explicitly designed to “coast” the collapsing warp bubble into normal space (according to the TNG Technical Manual). I think that’s the same source as for the torpedo sustainer coils.

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