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What are the limiting factors on Star Trek warp travels for amount of distance / time in one step? E.g., could the Voyager have travelled the whole distance of 70,000 light years in one time if they had enough Deuterium / Antideuterium and Dilithium crystals, or are there technical or regulatory limitations to how long one they can be in Warp?

I am specifically asking for technical and regulatory or best-practice limitations to warp travels. e.g. I would welcome an answer stating that there are no known technical limitations if enough material is on board, but best practice states that a stop every 48h must be taken in order to check the Warp Drive, and Starfleet Regulations states a maximum of 72h in Warp is allowed.

Should the Warp Drive have to be shut down in order to refill it with Deuterium / Antideuterium / Dilithium? How long (in distance or time) does one charge last? If the answers should be vastly different, I'd like to know for TOS, TNG, Enterprise, and Voyager.

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    10,000 hours max recommended; scifi.stackexchange.com/a/53228/20774 – Valorum Nov 6 '19 at 11:41
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    When talking about sci-fi FTL propulsion, the term "jump" is used when vessels either move from one dimension to another for travel (Star Wars, Stargate other than SGU's Destiny, Honor Harrington) or literally jump over the space in between (Battlestar Galactica). Star Trek vessels are present and detectable in realspace while at FTL - they do not jump. – T.J.L. Nov 6 '19 at 13:27
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    From Memory Alpha article on Warp Drive: The process of going to warp was described as a warp jump. (ENT: "Horizon"; TNG: "Peak Performance", et al.). I wasn't sure either, why I checked. – Shade Nov 6 '19 at 13:49
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    We know how much fuel the Enterprise holds and how long it can fly for without stopping. That's almost everything needed to put together an answer. I vote to reopen – Valorum Nov 6 '19 at 15:34
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    @NKCampbell The phrase "Jump to warp" / "jumped to warp" is used several times in the show to describe the process of engaging Warp Speed. I presume this was because, unlike a supersonic aircraft, there does not appear to be a ramp-up in speed or normal acceleration curve from sub-Warp to Warp Speed. That said, the entire journey itself is rarely described as a "jump", except for short bursts such as the Picard Manoeuver (like how short flights in a plane are sometimes called "hops") – Chronocidal Nov 6 '19 at 17:12
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As you've rightly stated, the primary limitation on a ship's capacity to travel a straight-line distance from Earth to infinity (and beyond) is the amount of deuterium and anti-matter fuel it carries. The Enterprise-D, for example, was designed, according to the TNG Technical Manual, to travel at warp 6 continuously until it runs out of fuel. At speeds higher than this, other technical issues will require the ship's engines to be shut down sooner.

Further computer modeling efforts by members of the structural, systems, and propulsion working groups resulted in revised specifications being sent to the Utopia Planitia designers on 24 December 2344. These specifications required the Galaxy class to sustain a normal cruising speed of Warp 6 until fuel exhaustion, a maximum cruising speed of Warp 9.2, and a maximum top speed of Warp 9.6 for twelve hours.

We also learn that the Enterprise carries sufficient fuel for normal "multi-mission" operations for three years.

The total internal volume, which is compartmentalized against losses due to structural damage, is 63,200m3, though the normal total deuterium load is 62,500m3. As with the volume of antimatter loaded for a typical multimission segment, a full load of deuterium is rated to last approximately three years.

While there's no indication what a "typical multimission segment" consists of, if we presume that it's normal for the Enterprise-D to spend a day in orbit of a planet/starbase for every 10 days of travel, then the ship has sufficient fuel to cruse at warp 6 (500 x lightspeed) for just under three years or a total straight-line distance of 1400(ish) light years before it needs to refuel.

If the ship can rendezvous with a tanker to take on more fuel, presumably while still at warp for some reason, despite the obvious dangers involved, other factors will eventually cause the ship to need to shut down for vital repairs and servicing.

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  • The three year supply of fuel also factors in time that they are not in warp which could be assumed will be a larger percentage of the time. Also that they don't normally go up to warp 6 when traveling. Because of this I don't think you can make a guess based on this number. – Joe W Nov 6 '19 at 18:10
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    @JoeW - We can certainly set an upper bound. The don't often seem to travel at low warp and higher warp factors are for use when they need to hurry somewhere. We don't really know how much of the year is spent going from a-to-b (and then stopping at b before going back to a) but a reasonable chunk of their time seems to be just traveling. If we assume it's a ratio of 50:50, then the straight-line distance would be 1000 light years. If it's 20:1, the straight-line would be closer to 1490ly – Valorum Nov 6 '19 at 18:16
  • @Valorum That "until fuel exhaustion" line is the one I was remembering. :) – T.J.L. Nov 6 '19 at 21:24
  • While you could set an upper bound for limits based on fuel supply I don't think that is in the spirit of the question to me is more about how long could you keep going regardless of fuel. So the part of the answer about warp 6 until fuel exhaustion would mean no real limitations there fuel/wear and tear on the engines and there is a 12 hour limit on warp 9.6 for safety reasons. – Joe W Nov 6 '19 at 23:28
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    @JoeW - We know that the ship needs servicing every 5-ish years but I was assuming OP just means how far (and by extension how long) can the ship go before it turns into a pumpkin – Valorum Nov 6 '19 at 23:44

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