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In the Next Generation episode “Where No One Has Gone Before” the Enterprise is catapulted to another galaxy, roughly 2.7 million light years away. From that location Data says it will take just over 52 years for a subspace message to reach Starfleet, and LaForge calculated it would take over 300 years for the Enterprise to return at maximum speed.

LAFORGE: Well, sir, according to these calculations, we’ve not only left our own galaxy, but passed through two others, ending up on the far side of Triangulum. The galaxy known as M Thirty Three.
PICARD: That’s not possible. Data, what distance have we traveled?
DATA: Two million seven hundred thousand light years.

PICARD: I can’t accept that.
DATA: You must, sir. Our comparisons show it to be completely accurate.
LAFORGE: And I calculate that at maximum warp, sir it would take over three hundred years to get home.

[...]
LAFORGE: Message on this has been transmitted to Starfleet, sir.
DATA: Which, traveling subspace, they should receive in fifty-one years, ten months, nine weeks, sixteen days

PICARD: Mister Data!
emphasis mine

Data’s odd notation of time not withstanding, that breaks down to about 52,000 light years per year for the subspace message and 7,700 light years per year for the Enterprise (presumably not accounting for refueling, repairing or exploration).

Now from Voyager’s premier, “Caretaker”, Kim states that Voyager is over 70,000 light years from their previous location, and Janeway says that at maximum speeds it would take over 75 years to return to Federation space.

KIM: Captain, if these sensors are working, we’re over seventy thousand light years from where we were. We’re on the other side of the galaxy.
[...]
JANEWAY: We’re alone in an uncharted part of the galaxy. We have already made some friends here, and some enemies. We have no idea of the dangers we’re going to face, but one thing is clear. Both crews are going to have to work together if we’re to survive. That’s why Commander Chakotay and I have agreed that this should be one crew. A Starfleet crew. And as the only Starfleet vessel assigned to the Delta Quadrant, we’ll continue to follow our directive to seek out new worlds and explore space. But our primary goal is clear. Even at maximum speeds, it would take seventy five years to reach the Federation, but I’m not willing to settle for that. There’s another entity like the Caretaker out there somewhere who has the ability to get us there a lot faster. We’ll be looking for her, and we’ll be looking for wormholes, spatial rifts, or new technologies to help us. Somewhere along this journey, we’ll find a way back. Mister Paris, set a course for home.
emphasis mine

Using these values Voyager can travel between 900 and 1000 light years per year at maximum speeds (again assuming no considerations for maintenance or exploration).

These numbers suggest a large disparity between the capabilities of the Enterprise and Voyager. Had the Enterprise been sent to the Delta Quadrant they presumably could have been home in about 10 years, not to mention that they could have messaged Starfleet and had their message received in about 15 months.

Was Voyager really that much slower than the Enterprise?

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    Nice math; and that was the somewhat older galaxy-class ship... not even the fancy new sovereign-class! – eidylon Jan 6 '15 at 3:24
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    Most probably, it’s because Star Trek authors never care about consistency. But you could explain it by saying that travelling the empty space between galaxies can be done significantly faster than travelling the star filled space inside a galaxy. – Holger Jan 6 '15 at 10:16
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    @ControlAltDel TV show? I thought these were historical documents. – Xantec Jan 6 '15 at 17:44
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    @Jim As noted in my answer, the mention of warp 13 was decades in the future. Recalibrations of the warp scale have been known to happen, and that could explain both the warp 13 mention in All Good Things and (assuming a recalibration on a smaller scale) Voyager's discrepancy. As for why it's reasonable to point out and be puzzled by minute discrepancies in a sci-fi show... it's the point of the site and we enjoy it. If it's not your thing, please freely enjoy the rest of human existence. – Schwern Jan 7 '15 at 17:40
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    @Michael: TNG was written by Wesley Crusher? That explains so much. – jwodder Jan 7 '15 at 22:43

10 Answers 10

75

2,700,000 light years in 300 years is 9000 times the speed of light. Depending on what source you go by, this is either a bit over warp 9.99 (the Voyager technical guide) or significantly less than warp 9.99 (Voyager in "The 37s") or a whole lot less than warp 8.4 (TOS "That Which Survives"). Clearly there's a problem.

Out of universe, the writers just can't do math and ignore all the carefully prepared technical guides. In universe, I'm not willing to accept that both Data and LaForge screwed up. So let's make this work.

The conversion from warp factor to speed is inconsistent from series to series and even within series. One explanation is as starship technology changes, warp factor has been recalibrated several times, in particular between TOS and TNG. In TOS, warp 10 is just faster than warp 9 and slower than warp 11. In TNG and after, warp 10 is infinitely fast. But even TNG violates this with the Enterprise D going "warp 13" in All Good Things leading to speculation that with starships regularly going fractions of warp 9 another recalibration was necessary.

Another explanation is that warp factor is not a measure of speed but an engine setting, like running an engine at a certain RPM. Integer factors were typically more efficient on fuel and engine wear which is why captains would call for them. I have problems with this as it implies that all engines have 9 efficient settings which just seems a bit too neat and tidy, but maybe it's just a fundamental constant.

Finally, warp factor conversions to velocity may be dependent on the medium being traveled through and the presence of gravity wells, an idea put forth in the ST:TNG Technical Manual. The Enterprise may be able to move much faster through the very sparse intergalactic medium than Voyager can through the interstellar medium. This raises the question why Voyager decided to move through the galaxy rather than over it. Presumably they needed supply stops, and Janeway's insistence on prioritizing exploration over getting home.

Mix all that up, and you can come out with an in-universe explanation.

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    Point #3 fits very nicely in the canon. You can travel different speeds through different kinds of space. You might also want to consider that traveling from outside the galaxy inwards would give you a nice gravity boost. – Valorum Jan 6 '15 at 12:04
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    I gave LaForge the benefit of the doubt and rounded up to 350 years from his "over 300 years" figure to get my 7700 number. But a good answer nonetheless. – Xantec Jan 6 '15 at 14:24
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    How did you manage to write "writers just can't do math" without making a TVTropes link? – KSmarts Jan 6 '15 at 16:42
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    The recalibration of warp numbers in TNG is well-known and well-understood. Okuda described it in detail in the ST:TNG Technical Manual, along with a comprehensive rationale. – Robert Harvey Jan 6 '15 at 18:11
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    @KSmarts because he loves us enough to spare us the link. Personally, I have no problem ignoring tvtropes links and never get stuck spending hours and hours diving into the next link. Never happens. Ever. At least, hasn't in the last few hours. – corsiKa Jan 6 '15 at 19:11
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A logical answer is simply that the Enterprise can handle maximum warp speed longer than Voyager can.

Maximum sustainable warp for 10 minutes as opposed to say 10 hours at a time would significantly decrease the time span of a trip over that large of a distance. The captains and crews would know their ship better than anyone else so it's assumed that both captains are correct in their math.

The logistics of the ships are different as well. Refueling the Enterprise may take 2 hours with all the shuttles and personnel at its command while refueling Voyager could take weeks or months.

  • Do you have a source or are you speculating? – Null Jan 6 '15 at 6:26
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    @Null its speculation but valid speculation based upon the information available – revenant Jan 6 '15 at 7:35
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    That's a perfectly logical answer, and intuitively right -- but wrong by what's shown in TNG "The Chase". At the end of the episode, the enterprise needs a couple of days of repairs after making only a few 4-5 hour trips at high warp (warp 8 classifying as "high"). Warp figures are simply bollocks, they are just what the episode writer needed at that particular time. Kirk travels "over a thousand light years" in 20 or so hours in that TOS episode with the crimson vampire cloud. If I remember right, they're not going over "sol 5" doing so (Scotty saying the engine couldn't support more). – Damon Jan 6 '15 at 11:27
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    He's not speculating so far off as you might think: as far back as TOS, warp engines overhead if driven hard for hours (TOS: The Arena). – Joshua Jan 6 '15 at 17:08
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    I think this is the most "in universe" answer other than "they recalibrated warp speeds" or similar. Voyager was specifically stated as being fast, I doubt they'd say that if it was slower than the Galaxy. If Voyager can't hold as much fuel, and takes longer to refuel, it may also need to travel at a lower cruise speed. There's also the question of whether Voyager has a faster burst speed than the Galaxy class but a lower cruise speed: eg the Galaxy's larger size allows it to hold equipment to maintain higher speed, or redundant equipment which would have to be taken offline in Voy for repair – Jon Story Jan 7 '15 at 14:45
23

I think it's just an inconsistency. For Voyager, a "technical manual" was written as a reference for the writers (unlike the Next Generation Technical Manual, it never made it to published form), you can read it online here--note in particular this page which contains a chart showing the time to various destinations at different warp factors. The chart indicates that to travel to a nearby galaxy 2 million light years away (just slightly under the distance in the quote from the TNG episode), at warp 9.6 it would take 1048 years, at warp 9.975 it would take 655 years, and at warp 9.99 it would take 253 years. And this page says the 75 year figure for Voyager to make it home was based on the idealization that it could travel at warp 9.6 the whole time, "which we know will not be possible". Meanwhile, page 1 of the Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual indicates that maximum warp for the Enterprise-D was also warp 9.6, under "Propulsion" it says "Sustainable cruise velocity of Warp Factor 9.2. Ability to maintain speeds of up to Warp 9.6 for periods of up to twelve hours." Likewise, p. 57 says of the "revised specifications" for the design of Galaxy class ships that "These specifications required the Galaxy class to sustain a maximum 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."

As pointed out in Schwern's answer, though, the TNG Technical Manual does suggest some wiggle room with how warp factors related to speeds--on p. 54-55 it says:

The cochrane is the unit use to measure subspace field stress ... Note that the cochrane value for a given warp factor corresponds to the apparent velocity of a spacecraft traveling at that warp factor. For example, a ship traveling at Warp Factor 3 is maintaining a warp field of at least 39 cochranes and is therefore traveling at 39 times c, the speed of light. Approximate values for the integer warp factors are:

Warp Factor 1 = 1 cochrane

Warp Factor 2 = 10 cochranes

Warp Factor 3 = 39 cochranes

Warp Factor 4 = 102 cochranes

Warp Factor 5 = 214 cochranes

Warp Factor 6 = 392 cochranes

Warp Factor 7 = 656 cochranes

Warp Factor 8 = 1024 cochranes

Warp Factor 9 = 1516 cochranes

The actual values are dependent upon interstellar conditions, e.g., gas density, electric and magnetic fields within the different regions of the Milky Way galaxy, and fluctuations in the subspace domain. Starships routinely travel at multiples of c, but they suffer from energy penalties resulting from quantum drag forces and motive power oscillation inefficiencies.

I'd speculate they included that last paragraph as a fudge factor to explain away inconsistent use of warp factors by the writers...

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    Don't we see the Enterprise-D doing 9.8? I guess 9.6 is what it says on the spec sheet, but Geordi's never been afraid to void the warranty. – hobbs Jan 7 '15 at 6:03
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    @hobbs - In Encounter at Farpoint, Data did say this: "Projection, sir. We may be able to match hostile's nine point eight, sir. But at extreme risk." However, they were never seen to go above 9.5, and chose saucer separation instead of trying to go higher. And in Q Who?, when they were trying to evade the Borg cube, the best Geordi managed to do was get them up to 9.65, after that he said "You've got all we can give you." – Hypnosifl Jan 7 '15 at 6:08
6

Could it be simply that in TNG, their estimate was purely how long it would take going at a constant speed and in Voyager, they take into account that stops will be required to make relevant adjustments, search for food, etc. (as mentioned by AcePl) After all, they are further in the future. It's like the difference between google maps when it first started to now, which takes into account road conditions, works, etc.

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    Add to that, Voyager has more reason to bother with calculating a practical answer because they actually have some hope of getting home within some of the crew's lifetimes, whereas Enterprise does not. – Random832 Jan 7 '15 at 21:08
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Unfortunately there is no consistency on that across the instances of the ST Universe. There were attempts to correct it - mentioned recalibrations of the Warp scale, like the one between TOS and TNG - but they were really inconsistent. Had the writers stick to the distance measurements in time @ warp factor there would be no issue, but every once in a while someone wanted to sound scientific and/or impressive and the result is... as seen on TV. ;)

Warp is "bubble technology", not "reality shift" so course corrections are necessary (like avoiding stars and planets), also stops for refuels, supplies, repair etc. That's a serious factor for ETA calculations, which would easily double Janeway's ETA estimate.

As to calculating time for VOY to return... What Janeway in "The Caretaker" said, translates to requirement of 2.5 LY/day ruler-straight trip at max. Kind of fits into available scales, but on the other hand yes - according to manuals/fact sheets/available info TNG is twice as fast as VOY, while VOY bit faster than TOS. But in VOY it was also mentioned max speed is about 60 LY/day ("the 37's"), 4.4 LY/day and 8 LY/day, so... all bets are off. And that way we circle back to bad creative consultants with inadequate attention to detail.

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    they also said "maximum sustainable cruising speed warp 9.97" in the pilot of VOY. i have no idea how fast that is. – ths Jan 7 '15 at 11:11
  • @ths - look up Warp Factor on Memory Alpha. Great site. – AcePL Jan 7 '15 at 11:38
0

You are assuming that the entire way is one long stretch to get from point A to point B, which might not be the case. Perhaps there is a shortcut in between somewhere, like a wormhole. From how Voyager returned home in the end for instance, and various other instances, we do know such phenomena exists in Star Trek universe, so, it might just be that LaForge and Data knew there was such a wormhole on their path.

Or, as others noted: perhaps authors really werent good at math.

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    Technically this is an answer, but it reads more like a comment. – James Sheridan Jan 7 '15 at 9:21
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In universe, the Enterprise was built for long duration missions. So much so it is pretty much a flying town. There are families and children on board.

The Voyager in contrast is a patrol boat. Short duration mission that last months at most. In the same series, we even see another star fleet vessel with even less endurance that was drag into the delta quadrant and her crew was even more desperate than the Voyager crew.

So my guess, Enterprise has greater endurance than the Voyager. Enterprise could probably maintain maximum warp longer than Voyager. Although I think (if I am not mistaken) Voyager has a higher maximum warp than Enterprise.

ie the difference between a nuclear carrier vs a patrol boat.

Out of world... year... writers inconsistency.

0

The place where TNG landed was different, different coordinates, different obstacles, different changes in direction and changes in speed to get home, maybe different wormholes (or not). But it’s totally possible there is more matter between the delta quadrant and alpha quadrant for voyager to get home than wherever TNG was dropped off. A straight line would get there sooner than zigging and zagging across the universe. That would totally explain the 7x difference wouldn’t it?

Recalibrated warp measurements would also suffice. Of course we could just blame the writers for being idiots but that’s no fun, and these little series are kind of modern day masterpieces so I’d rather we find an explanation.

  • 1
    Welcome to Stack Exchange! Just FYI, this site is rather strictly devoted to answerable questions and supportable answers, not discussion - you can learn more about how this works in the tour and help centre. I've taken the liberty of editing out the more 'discussiony' part of your answer which wasn't really relevant to the question. – Rand al'Thor Sep 23 '18 at 10:30
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Simple answer: the writers messed up badly. As far as I can tell, if the 'just over 300 years' line is accurate for the Enterprise D at Warp 9.2 to travel through 2.7 million light-years... that amounts to about 41.2 Ly's per 25 and a half hours (or just under 1 day in Trek universe - they have a 26 hour day then).

If we take this as an estimate of how fast Warp 9.2 actually is in the late 24th century (which DOES make sense btw), and if we take into account that per Trek itself, after warp 9, each point (or every 0.1 increase) would yield exponential increase in speed, and past Warp 9.9, the closer you get to TW threshold (Warp 10), again, exponential increases ensue with every (0.01) addition. So, theoretically:

Warp 9.2 = 41.2 Ly's in just under a day.

Warp 9.3 = 82.4 Ly's in just under a day.

Warp 9.4 = 164.8 Ly's in just under a day.

Warp 9.5 = 329.6 Ly's -//-

Warp 9.6 = 659.2 Ly's -//-

Warp 9.7 = 1318.4 Ly's -//-

Warp 9.8 = 2636.8 Ly's -//-

Warp 9.9 = 5273.6 Ly's -//-

Warp 9.91 = 10547.2 Ly's -//-

Warp 9.92 = 21094.4 Ly's -//-

Warp 9.93 = 42188.8 Ly's -//-

Warp 9.94 = 84377.6 Ly's -//-

Warp 9.95 = 168755.2 Ly's -//-

Warp 9.96 = 337510.4 Ly's -//-

Warp 9.97 = 675020.8 Ly's -//-

Voyager's 'top cruising speed' was stated to be Warp 9.975 Top cruising speeds indicate a sustainable velocity an engine can take without refuelling or stops. For Voyager, Warp 9.98 or 9.99 for example would be 'sustainable for only 12 hours'.

But hey, even if 9.975 was sustainable for only 12 hours... Voyager would traverse 75 000 Ly's in about 2 and a half hours at that speed. And if that messup of 'Threshold' episode is taken into account, Voyager cannot even approach 9.975 before beginning to fall apart. Chakotay ordered a reduction to 9.5 0 which would still mean Voyager would need about 9 to 10 months to get back to Earth.

Mind, you, if Warp factors double past Warp 9.9 for each incremental increase (0.01), that would mean that Voyager at Warp 9.97 would cross through about 5273.6 Ly's in just under 1 day (probably closer to, or exceeding 6000 Ly's per day when you factor in the small 0.1 increases I didn't take into account). So, Voyager would need about 14 and a half days to get back to Federation space with 5273.6 Ly's crossed each day... and about 12.5 days if its 6000 Ly's per day.

Voyager's writers placed its Warp 9.975 top cruising speed to equate the Warp scale of Kirk's era it would seem. There is a solution to this particular issue: It could have been explained that the Caretaker's pull into the DQ damaged the warp drive to such a degree where the crew had to 'redefine' the Warp scale themselves to the previous Warp scale until such a time came when they could repair the engines. Each new year of the series could have began with the crew making series of repairs that increased their top sustainable Warp speed. They could have done that so that the ship would return to Federation space under its own power in 7 years without external help or shortcuts of any kind.

Small note: Federation ships in the 24th century are equipped with plethora of tecnologies that would allow them to be completely self sufficient. For instance: Voyager could have stopped in any un-inhabited star system, and used solar power to power its replicators. Since replicators convert energy into matter, they could have easily replicated parts of industrial grade replicators and even antimatter (since they wouldn't be drawing from the ship itself), or they could have used this energy input to synthesize omicron particles which could have been used to boost antimatter reserves, and subsequently build more torpedoes. Transporters could have been used to dematerialize large chunks of asteroids and re-arrange their molecular structure into what was needed. Remember that all matter in the universe incorporates base materials, and asteroids are chock-full of raw matter. Just play about with the molecular bonds until you create what you need. We already do it in real life and its actually automated, for the Feds in the 24th century, that kind of tinkering would be automated and perfected to such a degree that they would be way past that.

And seeing how Voyager could have been said to have been the ONLY ship in the fleet to sport these new engines (thanks to it being state of the art and all), there's your issue of them being unable to get support from the Federation any time soon. That still leaves the problem of subspace communications being much faster... in which case, a message would get back home in about 14 months... but I guess a delay of that kind would have been acceptable for this series (wouldn't do them too much good because they couldn't expect SF to send any ships with retrofitted engines to their aid until after they initially got the message - so that would still leave the ship unsupported for at least the first year and a few months time).

Tons of ideas and missed opportunities could have been used. Mind you, I do like Voyager, but I felt it was too dumbed down in various areas for a technologically advanced civilization that is supposedly way past us. For the love of Humanity, even back in 1995 when Voyager first aired, we had the technological abilities that would put a shame to a lot of what Trek did by then.

  • Your answer seems to be based on the (false) assumption that increasing warp factor is a smooth exponential rise in speed. We know from in-universe sources that that simply isn't the case. – Valorum Apr 25 '15 at 20:00
  • That wasn't an assumption. Its taken directly from Trek universe and how Warp engines were described to work in the first place. The reason on why this isn't (most of the time) the case in-universe is because the writers don't know, couldn't care, or just don't have the time or patience to work things out in such detail (this is also why their figures seem to be all over the place in other technical area). Granted, while time constraints are a problem, you could easily write a story if you had a pre-made table of calculations which you'd use for reference sake to gain accurate results. – Deks Apr 25 '15 at 21:20
-3

Writers just mess it up sadly :(.

That being said, I think that c might be per hour for the old TOS.

Warp 1 = 1 c an hour. In one day you get 24 c.

Warp 2 = 8 c an hour.

Warp 3 = 27 c an hour.

Warp 4 = 64 c an hour.

Warp 5 = 125 c an hour

Warp 6 = 216 c an hour

Warp 7 = 343 c an hour

Warp 8 = 512 c an hour

Warp 9 = 729 c an hour and so on. Even a day would be a lot faster.

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    What is the source for these #s? – DVK-on-Ahch-To Apr 23 '15 at 22:12
  • "c per hour" doesn't make any sense. – Junuxx Apr 24 '15 at 7:21
  • Since c is the speed of light, which Wikipedia tells me is just about 186000 miles per second, scaled up to an hour, this would make Warp 1 roughly 671m mph. Compared to the New Horizons probe, you'd make it to Pluto in seven hours :-) – maguirenumber6 Apr 24 '15 at 12:07
  • I am suggesting that perhaps the ships multiplies its speed per hour. If it were at warp 1 in one hour you could be at 2 c and in 3 hours 3 c. It is not too likely I admit but I think it has a "chance". – mozartmario10 Apr 25 '15 at 3:52
  • What he means is c an hour would be a measurement of acceleration, as c already includes time. You just mean c, 8c, 27c, etc. – Robert Grant Sep 1 '15 at 9:44

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