In Star Trek: First Contact, the Phoenix reaches a speed of about 47,000,000 mph.

When the ship is seen from the Enterprise, we see no deflector array. In fact, shields are never even mentioned at any time in the movie.

Eventually, the Phoenix does go to warp, however we don't see the front of the ship. But titanium is not going to help you if you hit a piece of dust at 47,000,000 mph. How are the shields on the Phoenix generated?

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  • "Velocity of impact v = 20,000,000 m/s" I thought that as with the Alcubierre drive, star ships do not have translational velocity in spacetime, so isn't your assumption about velocity misguided? The Phoenix is moving relatively slowly within the warp field, and the warp field of Star Trek, translates the region of spacetime local to the starship through subspace to its destination. Hence "in" and "out of warp" rather than "warping" and "slowing down." – Lexible Oct 21 '19 at 2:07

Based on this Paramount-licensed poster from artist Matt Cushman, the ship doesn't have any shields or deflectors. La Forge mentions that the ship's "structural integrity" is holding, but there's no indication that the ship has a structural integrity field.

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For the record, Tom Paris seems pretty confident that Voyager (in VOY: Tattoo) could make a low warp "jump" inside a planetary atmosphere. It would appear that for very short periods, normal metal plating or basic magnetic shielding is sufficient to deal with normal in-system dust or even thin atmospheric conditions as long as you don't mind risking hitting something bigger and dying horribly (see: Why did the Enterprise drop out of warp before reaching Bersallis III?)

KIM: Could we go to low warp under these conditions?

PARIS: The ship might make it without inertial dampers, but we'd all just be stains on the back wall.

VOY: Tattoo

Similarly, the Bajoran light-ships that Sisko recreated in DS9: Explorers happily goes to a low warp factor without anything that looks like shielding or a deflector.

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  • How does this opinion fit with Malcom Reed’s comment in Broken Bow that a speck of dust will blow a fist-sized hole in Enterprise (or something to that effect)? I think canon says dust=bad day – Vogon Poet Oct 20 '19 at 16:49
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    @VogonPoet - Malcolm is, we assume, talking about what happens if you hit a grain-sized object, millions of times larger than the sort of low-energy particles you would expect to run into in a short hop in-system. He's also talking about this happening at warp 4.5, eight thousand times faster than Cochrane's warp 1.0 – Valorum Oct 20 '19 at 16:57
  • I don’t think the context was established in the dialogue. All we know for certain is that reaching warp 5 by Jupiter without shields was bad. Did it become bad at warp1, warp 4, or warp 0.5 was not at all clear. If you are bringing real science into this, then we can safely say that at 45x10^6 mph you won’t survive a piece of dust sitting behind titanium. In canon, Roddenberry himself said a hydrogen atom would be devastating at warp. – Vogon Poet Oct 20 '19 at 18:06

Apparently, the Phoenix doesn't have a navigational deflector at all.

The navigational deflector is a very important part of a starship in Star Trek, its purpose is to generate a kind of force field to, well, deflect dust, small rocks and other minor debris, in order to prevent collisions with the ship, mainly when travelling at warp speed. This system is related but not the same thing as the Deflector Shields, which have a more distinct tactical purpose.

Given its function, it is located in the from part of starships, and it is usually a big and recognizable part of the hull: I think that it is safe to say that, if this device is present, it should be well visible and identifiable.

Anyway, if we look at the Phoenix, no such device is clearly visible. I think that there are two important factors that we must consider here:

  • The Phoenix was not designed and built entirely from scratch, but was a modified tactical missile; more or less, it was nothing more than a missile with a cockpit and the warp engines attached to it. It is unlikely that it had other more complex systems (As an example, very probably it did not even had systems like an Inertial Damper or advanced Life Support, that are instead the norm for more mature ships of subsequent eras).
  • And, the most important thing, it was a prototype, it was literally the first human ship to equip a warp engine. This implies that it was an experimental machine, not one meant to be regularly used.

When you are pioneering a new technology, it is rather difficult to think ahead every detail and every possible implication about its practical usage; the absence of a navigational deflector could simply mean that, at the time, being this a brand new technology, could mean that nobody thought about the risk of a possible collision and how to prevent them, or that they had not the technology or the resources to design a create this device (a warp engine and a deflector are not the same thing and are not based on the same technology, it is perfectly plausible to have one without having the other).

Even subsequent experimental ships don't seem to have this kind of equipment: the NX-Alpha and NX-Beta, two experimental ships belonging to the NX Program (that will eventually lead to the NX-Class starships), in example, don't seem to have a deflector as well (and they look a lot like the old Phoenix, they seem to be a direct evolution):



If we have a look at the NX Class, we can see that at this point in history, this kind of device was finally implemented as a standard equipment of the ships:


It must be noted that prior to the NX Program, Earth starships were capable to travel at maximum at Warp 2, only the culmination of the project with the NX-Class made them capable to reach Warp 5.

It is possible that with the relatively slower speeds prior to the NX Program, minor debris were not considered to be a problem (there were relatively few ships flying around at that time, we are still talking about a pioneer era), and that only with Warp 5 a new deflector system used to protect the ship from this kind of hazard was developed.

As an example from real world, have a look at some of the first automobiles, like Benz Patent-Motorwagen or Ford Model T: they are not equipped with all the devices and sub-systems of a modern car, they don't even have the looks of modern cars; most of the technology that improved them form those early days to our time, was developed and introduced gradually. By analogy, even systems on Star Trek ships can be considered as product of a, ongoing development and refinement of technologies.

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    And while this answer is certainly well referenced, it fails to take into account that we've seen multiple later-model ships such as the Miranda Class, Constellation class, Franklin Class, etc etc etc that have no obvious deflector dish; memory-alpha.fandom.com/wiki/Miranda_class?file=USS_Reliant.jpg / memory-alpha.fandom.com/wiki/… / memory-alpha.fandom.com/wiki/USS_Franklin?file=USS_Franklin.jpg – Valorum Oct 20 '19 at 21:20
  • There is a lot of deductive reasoning in here however we have to contend with the fact that in universe Reed did say cosmic dust would be a big problem. Even at the “slow” 20,000kps a small and realistic dust grain of 0.0000001 gram will hit with the same energy as a 60-ton M1 tank traveling 19kph, all that energy focused on a point much smaller than the tip of a pin. Titanium won’t help you. – Vogon Poet Oct 20 '19 at 22:18
  • The later vessels were hundreds of years later. This ship launched in 2061 - only 40 years from now – Vogon Poet Oct 20 '19 at 22:19
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    We have no idea how the Star Trek warp actually works. There could be a minor repulsive effect at the front of the warp field ("slipstream") at low warp that is dwarfed at high warp. Of course, out of universe, the writers are not scientists and absolute full internal consistency is not paramount in most sci fi shows. I still think the rationalization for a writing slip up works though in-universe. Also in-universe, all humans had at first was warp -- the other tech (shields, deflectors, etc.) came from the Vulcans at first and other species over time (plus some later Earth R&D). – madscientist159 Oct 20 '19 at 23:14
  • @madscientist159 - did we get shields from Vulcans? I was looking for anything aliens contributed to us. Is there a reference? – Vogon Poet Oct 21 '19 at 0:43

47,000,000 mph is far less than the speed of light (about 7%). Nevertheless, even tiny particles of dust impacting at that speed could do a lot of damage. In-universe, it was an adequate test of the necessary technology to achieve interstellar travel, and sufficient to get the attention of the Vulcans. As to the core of the question, we could look to real-world research into the Alcubierre drive. Speculation is that as matter passes through the warp field from outside and enters the space contained within the field, its velocity changes so that it won't actually have a very high relative velocity anyway; it would depend on the particle's original velocity in normal space and the spacecraft's motion within the space contained inside the warp field. The need for a deflector may come from a faster ship actually attaining higher real velocities within its warp bubble and therefore having to deal with matter arriving at higher relative velocities. That would also address the matter of inertial dampers; if the spacecraft isn't accelerating much withing its warp bubble, there isn't much need of such a measure.

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  • As far as Alcubierre drive is concerned, bubble would cut ship out of anything around it AFAIK (nothing would enter or leave). – Mithoron Oct 20 '19 at 21:44
  • @Mithoron I'll have to see if I can find where I saw this point discussed. I may have misinterpreted or misremembered. – Anthony X Oct 20 '19 at 22:40
  • I tried making this point and I think the conclusion is that ST doesn't work the way an Alcubierre warp is supposed to. – Vogon Poet Oct 21 '19 at 12:53

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