Designing the Enterprise-C

The design process for the Enterprise-C began two years before the ship appeared on screen.

When Andrew Probert was designing the Enterprise-D, he prepared a design lineage to establish a continuity between Kirk’s ship and Picard’s, which was supposed to be the fifth in the line and almost a century older.

Probert assumed that the Enterprise-B had been an Excelsior-class starship. This wasn’t confirmed until Star Trek Generations, but a relief model of an Excelsior was included in the Enterprise-D’s observation lounge.

To build the relief of the “C”, Probert reasoned the ship would have design elements in common with both. “I wanted there to be evidence of the ‘C’ growing from the Excelsior and then the ‘D’ growing from the ‘C,'” he told Star Trek: The Magazine.

What I did was I took a side profile of the Excelsior and I took a side profile of the Galaxy class. Then I put them in the same scale one above the other and simply drew lines from one to the other at various important points, whether it was the saucer, the impulse engines, the bridge, the engineering hull, whatever. By doing that I came up with a composite which became the Enterprise-C.

Enterprise-C concept art
Concept art by Andrew Probert

Intermediate step

Since Probert left the show after the first season, the task of designing the Enterprise-C fell to Rick Sternbach during Season 3.

His thinking went similar to Probert’s:

The logical starting point for this design was an intermediate step between the Excelsior class and Galaxy class. This little color sketch of Andy’s from the first season looked like it would be great to start with. The nacelles were a bit different. I assumed from the sketch that it had more of a round saucer. It had a very Excelsior-looking neck.

Sternback took some of the ideas and threw up a top view and a side view in ortho.

I showed those to the producers and made the case that this would be an intermediate step and could very well be the Ambassador class.


Sternbach had to be more practical than Probert in that his design needed to be less curved. “I remember making the cross section of the engineering hull circular, simply because it would make fabrication go faster,” he recalled.

Enterprise-C concept art
Concept art by Rick Sternbach

They also had to compromise on the shape of the saucer, as Michael Okuda recalled in 2008:

Round is indeed more expensive to build than sharp and square, but elliptical can be a lot more expensive than both. This was a big deal for a model that had to be built on a very tight schedule for an episode that was already very expensive.

Okuda and Sternbach quickly agreed to make the Enterprise-C’s saucer circular as well.

Rick will be the first to admit that the resulting design wasn’t as elegant as the original concept, but I think he did a great job of preserving as much as possible of Andy Probert’s vision while keeping the cost low enough that our producers wouldn’t be forced to reuse the Excelsior or the movie Enterprise.

Because they had little time to build the model, Greg Jein delegated the secondary hull to Ed Miarecki and fabrication of the warp nacelles — which Sternbach had intentionally oversized compared to the Enterprise-D’s — to David Merriman.

Following its introduction in “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” Jein modified the model to appear as different Ambassador-class starships in later episodes of The Next Generation.


Probert and Sternbach may have thought the C was a transition between the Excelsior and the D, but to my eye — and what I like best about the C — is how the C looks like a kluge of the D and the original series Enterprise. The C’s saucer/secondary hull/engines proportions are a lot like the original 1701’s. But the saucer and engines are definitely D-inspired.

In some ways — especially thanks to the red bussard collectors — this looks like more of a modern update of the original series Enterprise than even the motion picture version. The round saucer may not have been their first choice, but in the end it was the best choice.

DesiluTrek (Apr 19, 2013)

I agree that the Sternbach design for the Enterprise-C looks like a link between the original series Enterprise and the next generation Enterprise-D (here is a thread that contains an illustration.

The one thing I do not understand is why nobody thought about going to the conference lounge studio set for orientation what the Enterprise-C was supposed to look like. The sculpture wall featured the Probert Enterprise-C throughout the first four seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Frank Bitterhof (Jun 18, 2014)

That was just because they had limited time to build a scale model of the Enterprise-C and Probert’s design was more complicated to build. For that reason they advised Rick to design an easier to build version based on Probert’s design. It was a decision made for budget/time reasons, not carelessness.

Cal B. (Mar 5, 2017)

Probert’s design is much more elegant and I like that one so much better. Too much sentimentality for the 1701 and 1701-A. That’s why it was called TNG. Gene wanted it that way.

RioBrvo006 (Nov 5, 2014)

I think the clunky C was better than the more sleek one giving the D much greater distance design wise in the future. So the one that finally made it on the screen, however, it may have happened was the best choice and now it’s part of Star Trek history.

Ken S. (Nov 6, 2016)

I enjoyed this posting, but a few details aren’t quite correct. Andy Probert did the original concept for the Ent-C specifically for one of the sculpture display ships in the conference lounge set. When “Yesterday’s Enterprise” came around, Rick Sternbach knew exactly what that Andy’s sketch was for, and he wanted to develop a plan that preserved as much of Andy’s concept as possible. However, he was concerned that an elliptical saucer – which was part of Andy’s original notion – would be prohibitively time-consuming, and therefore prohibitively expensive. I suggested that he should make the saucer round, and I think that made the difference in getting a new ship model for “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” rather than simply recycling the Excelsior or the Enterprise-A.

Michael Okuda (Feb 19, 2019)

Thank you so much for your comment, and for clarifying! I’ll revise the article, so it’s accurate.

Hope you enjoy the website!

Round saucer is fine to me, but the egregious thing was going with a completely round TOS-style engineering hull. That really was a fail. Probert’s painting and the observation lounge model could easily be read as having a round saucer, but the secondary hull absolutely doesn’t fit.

Sean Robertson (Dec 27, 2021)

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