In service by the 2280s, the Oberth class was designed and used almost exclusively for the study of astronomical phenomena, including data gathering missions on stars and planets, well into the 2360s. (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock; Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country; TNG: "The Naked Now", "Hero Worship", "Realm of Fear") By the latter half of the 2360s, these vessels also served in a number of other capacities, such as transports and supply ships. (TNG: "The Drumhead", "The Game", "A Fistful of Datas")
In 2358, the Oberth-class USS Pegasus served as a prototype for testing advanced starship technologies. The Pegasus was outfitted with an experimental engine and new weapon systems, some of which were used in the designs for Galaxy-class starships. In addition to this, the Pegasus was the test bed for an illegal Federation cloaking device. (TNG: "The Pegasus")
The Oberth-class was still in service by 2374 during the Dominion War, but did not see large scale deployments in major engagements as the vessel was never designed for combat. (DS9: "In the Pale Moonlight")
The Oberth class had a standard crew complement of eighty, but was capable of operating with a minimum crew complement of five. (ENT: "These Are the Voyages..."; TNG: "The Naked Now", "Realm of Fear")
The Oberth-class design was atypical among Federation starships of the time. The outboard plan of the Oberth's design incorporated a unique split hull design, with an upper primary hull that was composed mainly of the saucer section, which was mounted onto a rear extension that mounted the impulse drive, and warp drive nacelles to either side to the saucer. The secondary hull was connected to the primary hull at the nacelles by reinforced pylons. The secondary hull itself was oblong in shape. (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, etc.) In all, the Oberth contained thirteen decks. (TNG: "Hero Worship")
More suited for science missions than combat missions, the Oberth-class had minimal defensive systems. They were tactically inferior to such enemy vessels as the Klingon Bird-of-Prey and the Borg cube. (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock; DS9: "Emissary"; Star Trek: First Contact)
As a science vessel, the Oberth-class was designed with specialized shields, which allowed them to push through gravitational wavefronts. In conjunction with this feature, the interior bulkheads were composed of victurium alloy to better facilitate shielding. (TNG: "Hero Worship")
Oberth-class starships were equipped with escape pods, stowing a minimum complement of two on board a vessel with a crew of five. These escape pods were capable of transporting at least nine personnel at once. (TNG: "Realm of Fear", "The Pegasus")
Located on Deck 1 of the saucer section, the bridge housed the ship's command center.
Located in the front was the viewscreen, with side-by-side navigator and helm consoles, which were positioned opposite to the arrangement found aboard Constitution-class starships. The captain's chair was directly aft of the aforementioned stations.
At the rear of the bridge was a single turbolift entryway. The primary stations, which were located at either side of the captain's chair, included a primary science station to port with secondary stations trailing along the wall towards the back of the bridge. Along the starboard side of the bridge was the communications station. (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock)
The bridge layout during the 24th century included an emergency hatch set in the bulkhead, which could be used to escape from the bridge, into space, during an emergency situation. (TNG: "The Naked Now")
Because of its small size, many of the corridors doubled as auxiliary access points to various parts of the ship.
Science and service sections
One section, located on deck 4 in the saucer section, was a corridor-like chamber that contained a couple of science consoles and adjacent monitors against the wall. Access to the computer core could be interfaced via an ODN junction located below the science consoles. The computer core itself was located on deck 13, inside the secondary hull. (TNG: "Hero Worship")
Crew quarters found aboard the Oberth-class were not unlike those found aboard other Federation starships. They included a main living area with an attached bedroom and adjacent bathroom. (TNG: "The Naked Now")
- USS Biko
- USS Bonestell (NCC-31600)
- USS Cochrane (NCC-59318)
- USS Copernicus (NCC-640)
- USS Grissom (NCC-638)
- USS Oberth (NCC-602) (prototype)
- USS Pegasus (NCC-53847)
- SS Tsiolkovsky (NCC-53911)
- SS Vico (NAR-18834)
- USS Yosemite (NCC-19002)
Production sources dating back to Star Trek III established an overall length for the Oberth-class at 395 feet (120 meters), a length also adopted by Andrew Probert during the early production phase of TNG Season 1. 
In the first issue of the Star Trek: Ongoing story arc The Q Gambit set in the alternate reality, the USS Enterprise receives a distress call from the Oberth-class civilian ship SS Smallwood in the Menzies 216 system, supposedly a place where no Federation ship had been before. The Smallwood was under attack from a pair of Klingon Birds-of-Prey near Menzies 216 V. The Enterprise intercepts the Klingons to rescue the Smallwood when another Bird-of-Prey uncloaks. Moments before the Enterprise is overwhelmed and destroyed, communications officer Nyota Uhura realizes that "Smallwood" translates to "Kobayashi" in the Japanese language. The entire assault is then revealed to be an illusion created by Q and was deliberately based on Starfleet's Kobayashi Maru scenario.