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There are many occasions where saucer separation on the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-D) would have come in handy but it was only done a few times.

Is there a reason they did not do it more often? It seemed to take only a few minutes to disconnect and a few minutes more to reconnect.

I am guessing that it was hard on the ship and would require follow up maintenance.

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    Because Picard hated it. – Valorum Dec 7 '15 at 22:22
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    because it was a stupid idea – Himarm Dec 7 '15 at 22:24
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    For exactly the same reason I haven't used 99.9% of the features on my phone since the day I bought it. – Valorum Dec 7 '15 at 22:44
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    I would find the reverse question more interesting: how often is this actually advantageous? You mention "many occasions." Please name some and explain how it would have helped the situation. I think the question is a little vague without that info. – jpmc26 Dec 8 '15 at 1:23
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    So wait, if I'm reading these wikis correctly, this separation essentially dumps all the non-combatants in a giant, unwieldy section of the ship that has no warp capability and presumably limited offensive or defensive capabilities, and then they're told to bugger off back to base? And this is considered tactically advantageous? – user42419 Dec 8 '15 at 12:17
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In-Universe explanations

The TNG Technical Manual (considered a canon source of information about the trek universe) offers several reasons why separations were rare:

The sequence is intended to be used in "emergencies" only

The USS Enterprise consists of two spacecraft systems integrated to form a single functional vessel. Under specific emergency conditions, the two vehicle elements may perform a separation maneuver and continue independent operation. The two elements, the Saucer Module and the Battle Section, are normally joined together by a series of structural docking latches, numerous umbilicals, and turbolift pass-throughs.

Separations actually damage the ship

The latching system has been designed to accept a failure rate of 1.5 latch pairs per ten separations; in the event a single pair fails to seat properly within its passive aperture, the structural loads can be shared adequately among the other latches.

...

Should any key umbilicals or turbo paths show a failure condition at the vehicle interface, the computer will close off the affected elements at the best possible points upstream of the failure. Hardware and software failures will then be dealt with later, once the emergency situation is resolved. Crews on both sides of the vehicle interface monitor the progress of the separation sequence, and are then on standby awaiting reconnection duties.

We also see some reasoning within the show itself:

Separating the ship actually harms the ship's ability to maneuver in close combat.

SHELBY: There's one other recommendation I'd like to make, Commander. Separate the saucer section... assign a skeleton crew to create a diversion...

RIKER: (shakes his head) We may need power from the saucer impulse engines... - TNG: Best of Both Worlds, Pt I

Separating represents a potentially 'mission-ending' hazard

And finally, we see in TNG: Encounter at Farpoint, Pt I the difficulty of rejoining the ship manually. It stands to reason that a computer failure at a critical time (and let's face it, those happen every other episode) could severely damage both halves of the ship, immediately ending their mission and resulting in an embarrassing trip to the nearest Stardock so that the repair crew can laugh at you fix the ship


Out of Universe Explanations

There were several out-of-universe reasons, largely relating to the relative expense of filming sequences, lack of models and the extra storytelling time needed to see the sequence itself and the extra scripting required to explain the rules of how separation occurs:

They only had one (obsolete) model that could actually separate, severely limiting their ability to shoot

Though less favored by Rob Legato and Dan Curry and largely unused since the appearance of its four-foot cousin in season three, the original six-foot Enterprise model had to be hauled out of storage for the ship-separation sequence in the Borg battle, since it was the only version built in two sections. The various battle effects and Borg visuals are motion-picture quality, but again TNG struck out with the Emmys for special effects. Part 2 was nominated, but it won no awards in that category. The episode did snag Emmys for sound editing and for sound mixing, as well as a nomination for art direction. - TNG Companion

It slowed down the plot

Apparently there were a number of attempts by writers to add a ship-separation sequence, all shot down by the producers.

This was an opportunity to utilize those often ignored shipboard families that Shearer initially pitched to Fontana, and it was this story that helped win her a spot on the writing staff. A subplot [in TNG: When the Bough Breaks] involving ship separation and the saucer being held hostage was phased out to focus on the main story. TNG Companion

Ironically, this tendency for the separation sequence to eat up time was actually helpful in the pilot episode in extending it to feature-length

According to Justman, both the ship separation sequence and a touching scene in which an aged Admiral McCoy meets Data were a help in filling out what Fontana had intended to be a ninety-minute script. TNG Companion

Because of the time and expense involved

Notably, the Battle Bridge set was quite expensive to build and the studio preferred not to create sets when they could avoid it.

During the first few episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, saucer separation was intended to be a standard maneuver in combat situations, but was rarely done because of the costs for visual effects and for rebuilding the Battle Bridge; also, it was felt that it slowed down story-telling too much. - TNG Encyclopedia

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    Useful (as always), but I think the wording of the question suggests a preference for an in universe answer. (Notes about occasions where it would be "handy" and wear and tear on the ship itself are in universe considerations.) – jpmc26 Dec 8 '15 at 1:25
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    I was hoping for an in universe answer but I still gave this answer a +1 for being full of interesting info. – HighInBC Dec 8 '15 at 3:07
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    @jpmc26 - I've found some in-universe reasons too – Valorum Dec 8 '15 at 22:03
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    @NathanK.Campbell - youtube.com/watch?v=ItUECpFi9_s – Valorum Dec 8 '15 at 22:04
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    @Paul - I put it down to "pilot episode wackiness". Sometimes abilities/plots are written into a pilot that don't make it into the main show. Riker's ability to communicate telepathically with Troi also disappeared. – Valorum Oct 2 '16 at 13:56
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In-universe, on many occasions the Enterprise came upon dangerous situations by surprise, so even a few minutes may be too long.

Additionally, the saucer is more vulnerable when separate, as it lacks warp capability (so if separated in a danger zone, it cannot escape danger except by hoping that nobody takes a pot-shot at it while it limps away) and loses access to the main engineering power stores (though obviously it has other sources of power) so its weapon and shield capability would most likely be decreased.

When the Enterprise crew knows ahead of time that they're heading into danger, it's a little harder to make the case, but there are still some justifications:

  • Reduced medical rooms and staff due to being split between the two.

  • The standard shape for most Federation ships is due to this being the "most efficient" for the warp bubble; presumably having the saucer gone will make the warp drive less efficient, reducing either speed or final power reserves. Both speed and power can be critical to mission success.

  • Cramped quarters for battle crew due to most of the living quarters being in the saucer. This doesn't matter too much for short fights but could be problematic for longer missions or even just if travel time between the "safe zone" where the saucer is left and the mission target is more than a day or so. It'd be quite problematic if your crew is no longer battle-ready by the time you get there.

  • I'm reasonably certain that the stardrive section was more efficient in terms of speed and longevity. – Valorum Dec 8 '15 at 8:57
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    I think the saucer being vulnerable on its own is a very good in-universe explanation. Splitting up would result in two targets for an enemy to attack; one effectively defenseless and dead-in-space, the other tactically tied to the former. Overall, not a good situation to be in. I am sure that Starfleet designers would have thought of that before actually building the Enterprise that way... as opposed to, say, directors on the lookout for eye candy. ;-) – DevSolar Dec 8 '15 at 9:32
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    @DevSolar They eventually figured out the right way to do it, what with the Prometheus having THREE warp- and battle-capable sections. And being controllable by the EMH in a pinch. – JAB Dec 8 '15 at 16:48
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    Because it's also a sitting duck, with no warp capability - you can threaten it and force an unfavourable engagement. Or leave it and move the fight away from it. Two ships of equal capability would be tactically advantageous. Splitting your firepower, and leaving some of it behind on something that can't keep up with the fight considerably less so. – Sobrique Dec 8 '15 at 21:43
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    @DevSolar not exactly defenseless; see here – Often Right Dec 9 '15 at 8:23

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