Design and Reuse of the Orbital Office Complex

The space office was the first piece of hardware Andrew Probert helped design for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. He told Starlog magazine in 1980 that he inherited the basics from Mike Minor, who had done the concept art for the aborted second Star Trek television series, Phase II.

Space office concept art
Phase II concept art by Mike Minor

Richard Taylor, the movie’s first art director, “asked for something that was multi-leveled and complex” Probert remembered, and “was shooting for something logical that would work within the established boundaries of Starfleet technology.”

Probert wrote on his own website that the station was intended to have the capacity of “assembling spaceships from prefabricated elements ‘beamed’ to its location.” It therefore made sense to him that the complex could fabricate additional parts needed to repair or refurbish starships, although it seems that this requirement was either dropped or disregarded given how small the station turned out to be.

“What we ended up with,” said Probert in the Starlog interview, “was, from top to bottom: the dockyard control tower, a hydroponic section, relaxation level, office/domestic level, variable gravity research wheel, factory and power levels. The power level and shaft at the bottom were eventually dropped.”

Probert told Greg Tyler in 2005 that the cylinders protruding from the top of the complex were designed to be “botanical tanks, so you could grow fruits and vegetables without needing soil and that in turn would help supply your oxygen as well as some of the station’s food.”

The travel pods which Probert designed in conjunction with the space office were initially to be “shaped exactly like the office units,” he wrote on his website, “and, when docked, would be indistinguishable from them.” Gene Roddenberry liked to think of them as “flying offices,” an idea that evolved into the smaller craft Scotty steers toward the refit Enterprise in the movie.

Following The Motion Picture, the model was turned upside down and modified to become Regula I in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which had to come in on a tighter budget.

“We were given the task of making it look different,” Steve Gawley, who was the head of ILM’s model shop at the time, told Star Trek: The Magazine in 2002. “We took it apart and put it upside down and then reattached some of the outer pods in a different way.”

Another modification his company made was adding an animated sequence of lights to the hangar bay.

Starting in “The Child”, the miniature was used to represent various starbases, of various sizes, in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. Stations that were meant to be Regula-sized kept the botanical tanks. They were omitted from larger stations, like the enormous Starbase 173 in “The Measure of a Man” and Starbase 375 in Deep Space Nine.