The Next Generation had shown that Star Trek was not dependent on characters. Deep Space Nine had shown that it was not dependent on a ship. What else could be removed from the equation? How about the known universe?
That was Star Trek: Voyager‘s point of departure. With the fourth Star Trek series — and by now there were no adjectives left to describe the unlikely process of spinning off a third series from an original almost thirty years old — a ship was brought back into the mix but virtually nothing else came with it. The side of the galaxy the Voyager traveled through did not provide the comfort of the Federation, the security of Starfleet, or the familiarity of any of the established Star Trek aliens and cultures built up over three decades. All the show offered was a small crew, only some of whom were bound by the Star Trek ideals upon which the Federation was founded. And to no one’s surprise, that was enough.
The earliest concepts for the new Star Trek came in September 1993, during the last season of The Next Generation and the second season of Deep Space Nine. Star Trek producers had already begun to plan for a new series set on a smaller starship than the Enterprise-D but instead of waiting for more clarification, Rick Sternbach immediately started making sketches of this unnamed vessel.
Sternbach’s early sketches had Voyager as a streamlined, dart like primary hull, with a flattened, enlongated engineering hull, sporting swept back runabout like warp pylons.
Later on, it was decided that Voyager would be able to land on a planetary surface, requiring deployable landing gear and other arrangements of resting on hull components were sketched out.
Variations filled more paper as the proportions of different parts changed, pieces were added and subtracted and hull contours, both gently curved and angular, were explored in perspective. Even in the rough sketches, a lot of design ideas got worked out, concerning placement of familiar items like impulse engines and phasers. Not surprisingly, this exercise would be repeated in greater detail with each new approved version of the hull. Preliminary hull cross sections were drawn in blue pencil to check different internal deck heights, total number of decks, and possibly overall ship length.
During April and May of 1994, the first real sense of the new starship emerged. The slightly angular dart front was smoothed off and nestled into the engineering sections, still assuming a separation capability, and sweeping pylons ended in a set of long nacelles. Doors on the nacelles could open, exposing the warp coils for some new kind of energy jump. Impulse thrusters were buried underneath, as in the runabout, and a large traingular wedge sat atop the ship, possibly acting as a scout scraft or long range sensor array.
In this design, all of the familiar Starfleet parts were added, in type and location, much the way they eventually were. A few cut and paste variations were assembled, along with a sleeker version that left out the long range sensor pod and combined a few shape ideas from the runabout and the Excelsior class. Here, a few more details crept in, notably the large forward sensor cutout and a stepped engineering hull that supported a ring of large cargo bays and impulse engines. This particular varient received additional approval from the producers and proceeded to the initial blueprint and study model stages. Sternbach scaled up a top plan view sketch of the ship to a length of forty-eight inches — the presumed size of the motion control model at the time. From the top view, Sternbach derived bottom, side, fore, and aft views. The side elevation (and resulting cross section) showed fourteen decks and that the ship was about a thousand feet long—the same size as the upgraded Enterprise from Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
There seemed to be no insurmountable problems from the design standpoint in giving it all the proper fictional starship systems or of building and filming the miniature. The set designs could be matched in shape and color. This version of Voyager looked fast, with a hint of solid engine hardware showing on the outside.
Just as Sternbach was about to produce a final set of modelmaker’s blueprints, the producers asked if he could make Voyager a bit more blended, more curvier. Just as a phsyical model of the USS Voyager had been completed, the producers called for softening the hull contours. Sternbach also still worked on the nacelle placement, mounting them on pylons like on the Enterprise-D, or downturned like on a runabout and horizontal pylons that evolved into wings.
Following the Starfleet standard, Sternbach reserved spaces for the bridge on Deck 1 and a variety of placeholder windows on the hull, which would be built into standing sets. Windows are an important design factor because of the coordination necessary between various studio departments and an outside modelmaker over continuity of the exterior of the ship and the interior. Since Voyager would be smaller, structures like windows would be proportionately larger and more visible, requiring more modeldetails matching the stage sets.
The large windows that appear on the upperside of the Voyager model were designed by Rick Sternbach to accommodate the living quarters of the starship’s senior officers, the five windows located underneath the officers’ mess on the forside of the ship being allocated to the captain’s quarters. For all quarters, the same set was used on the show with removable wall segments being used to make it either a two-, three-, or four-window quarter (presumabaly the fifth window of the captain’s quarters serviced its bathroom).