The USS Enterprise and other related starships travel around using fusion engines, and using warp to travel great distances in a short space of time. Thing is, they never actually hit anything (besides from a couple of times, and the obvious exception of the warship in Into Darkness).

One would assume that anything they hit in warp speed would be vaporised, but wouldn't this also cause substantial damage to the ship (assuming no shields are online)? This would certainly be the case if travelling at non-warp speeds!

The Enterprise is far too large to maneuver to avoid small asteroids (or any asteroid when in warp).

So, why doesn't the Enterprise ever actually hit anything?. I'm pointing to TNG here mainly.

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    FWIW, in the real world, an object the size of the Enterprise traveling in a straight line in open space would be extremely unlikely to hit anything much bigger than dust, even over distances of thousands of light years. Granted, the ST universe is a bit different to ours. :-) Commented Aug 6, 2014 at 20:19
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    @HarryJohnston True, but as Himarm answered below, the Enterprise would be destroyed if even a microscopic piece of dust hit it.
    – AStopher
    Commented Aug 6, 2014 at 20:21
  • @HarryJohnston - phys.org/news/2012-03-warp-killer-downside.html
    – Valorum
    Commented Aug 6, 2014 at 20:32
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    "The USS Enterprise and other related starships travel around using fusion engines" -- no, they don't. The alleged technology uses matter-antimatter annihilation.
    – Raphael
    Commented Aug 7, 2014 at 8:25
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    @Damon Fission reactors (the kind I assume you are referring to) are not the only way to create radioactive material. Fusion reactors certainly do, shooting neutrons at stuff will do the job, and matter-antimatter annihilation probably does, too.
    – Raphael
    Commented Aug 7, 2014 at 12:52

5 Answers 5


One of the primary systems that makes prolonged spaceflight possible in the Star Trek universe is the "Navigational Deflector".

The TNG Technical Manual explains the operation of this device in mind-numbing detail but in brief, it projects a series of low level static shields and deflector shields that, when coupled with a deflector-beam (basically a tractor-beam-in-reverse) is able to repulse all but the largest of objects.

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    I have to wonder what a ship in the way would experience. That could be a pretty nasty wake.
    – cHao
    Commented Aug 6, 2014 at 19:54
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    @cHao - I think you just get gently moved aside.
    – Valorum
    Commented Aug 6, 2014 at 19:59
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    The quote is "WORF: Still no response. Captain, they are now locking lasers on us. RIKER: Lasers? WORF: Yes, sir. PICARD: Lasers can't even penetrate our navigation shields. Don't they know that? "
    – Valorum
    Commented Aug 6, 2014 at 20:07
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    @JoeL. - What's interesting is that in the original script, the exchange was less than enlightening: "WORF (overlap) Captain, they have locked phasers. PICARD (somewhat puzzled) Phasers? RIKER (same look) Regulations call for a Yellow Alert.
    – Valorum
    Commented Aug 6, 2014 at 20:31
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    @zyboxinternational Considering "warp speed" isn't an actual physical phenomenon in our universe, you're probably better off opening another question about it here. Commented Aug 6, 2014 at 20:55

There are two pivotal technologies at play. One is the deflector shield, which as you will find well documented in this answer umm... deflects... any potential hazards away. Of course, what isn't very well documented is what the limits are. For example, you would expect this to be used as a military device if it were stronger. So how big of an object can you move with this?

But the deflector shield is really only useful at sub-light speeds. Full impulse is only 1/4 the speed of light. The original Enterprise was able to sustain about 1/2 the speed of light with its impulse engines but nothing approaching the speed of light for obvious reasons.

This is important because the deflector dish must emit its influnce at a speed less than the speed of light. If you are travelling faster than the speed of light, you might expect to be going faster than your deflector dish. This would be bad as you at best merely outrun your deflector dish or at worst it deflects your ship away from itself. All of these scenarios are bad.

Luckily, when it comes to faster than light travel, you don't need to worry about that because you're not travelling through space. With a warp drive, the space around you is itself travelling through space. As you ride along this distortion wave, I can't say for sure what would happen if an object happened to get bumped by your warp field, or if your warp field even exists in dimensions that matter would be able to interact with it. But if all we care about is what happens to our ship, then we don't need to worry because nothing is happening to our ship. As long as it stays within its warp bubble, it will be fine. As you can see here, the warp field appears similar in configuration to the field created by the deflector. However, since it is doing the travelling and we, relative to it, aren't moving at all, the dangers outlined above by the deflector dish are mitigated.

enter image description here

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    Within Star Trek, it is possible to go faster than light without going backwards in time. There are beams that go faster than light. I'm not saying you're wrong, but I think you need to better address why the deflector must be sublight. The part about the warp field itself serving as a sort of deflector is useful, though.
    – trlkly
    Commented Aug 7, 2014 at 5:33
  • I think this answer deviates a bit into more recent real-world theories rather than the theories that were actually employed in the fictional universe.
    – Ellesedil
    Commented Aug 7, 2014 at 14:18
  • @trlkly: Which beams are those? And don't say subspace transmissions, because there's a reason "subspace" is in their name... Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 17:23
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit Tachyon beams, for one. A tachyon is a particle that moves faster than light, by definition. We also see them using scanning devices that get information faster than light speed, giving them information even while in warp from well outside the warp bubble. We've also seen them detect things in real time that would have a bit of delay at the distances given. And we have proof in the episode with the Picard Meaneuver where they were able to analyze gasses in real time. If they were using light speed sensors, they would have been just as useless as visual sensors.
    – trlkly
    Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 5:07
  • @trlkly: Okay granted Commented Jan 22, 2015 at 10:15

The deflector arrays do as they sound, deflect, they were made for travel to deflect particles away from the ship as something microscopic hitting the enterprise at warp would blow the ship up. They are to my understanding similar to the shields just less intensive. I believe the ship itself makes minute corrections in navigation to avoid anything of substantial size.


a ship traveling in a warp bubble is stationary, so I've read. so there would be no momentum and no equal and opposite reaction to surrounding matter so hell if I can tell you what that implies...

extreme pressure on the forward side as occupying matter gets in the way and extreme vacuum to the rear as the space you just occupied is left empty, right? these forces would try to squeeze you out the rear of your bubble like a Tijuana street taco.

But what do I know..

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    Welcome to SFF! Perhaps you could improve your answer by adding some citations. Also, there would be no "pressure" in front of the ship or "extreme vacuum" behind the ship, per se, because space itself is a vacuum (for the most part).
    – user44330
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 22:10

Because space is so damn big that hitting anything is next to improbable. The distances between stars, planets, and asteroids is massive when looking at cosmic scales. It's the same reason why you can zoom around in Space Engine at light speed and not hit anything.

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    Voyager hits an entire swarm of meteors in Year of Hell, Part II
    – Valorum
    Commented Oct 30, 2019 at 22:54

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