A starship was any manned spacecraft that was capable of viable interstellar travel, i.e. any manned spacecraft that had the ability to transport and support a crew across interstellar distances. Most starships accomplished this via the employment of some form of faster-than-light spacecraft propulsion technology, such as warp drive.
In the Federation during the 22nd and 23rd centuries, spacecraft, such as those of the Starship-class, were identified almost exclusively as vessels operated by Starfleet, or as stated by R.M. Merik, "a very special vessel and crew." (TOS: "Bread and Circuses")
Within the Federation, starships were viewed as having the role of protector within the civilian community, as starship captains were given a certain level of authority in the region they patrolled. (TOS: "Mudd's Women", "The Conscience of the King", "The Trouble with Tribbles")
Generally limited to the roles of exploration and defense, starships did not generally transport cargo, unless in the case of an emergency, where they could take on any role. (TOS: "The Cloud Minders")
By the mid-24th century, though, the exclusivity of the term "starship" had essentially fallen out of use, and was redefined as a term interchangeable with "spaceship" and "spacecraft". (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager)
When the Ferengi Marauder Kreechta was about to target the USS Enterprise-D, after interfering with the battle simulation Operation Lovely Angel, the Ferengi ship's sensor codes were overridden and it was fooled to believe there was "another Federation ship" closing. When it was further revealed that the Federation ship was in fact "a starship," the Ferengi feared that they had been outmaneuvered and quickly retreated. (TNG: "Peak Performance")
- Galactic starship design
- Starship classification
- List of classifications
- List of starships
- List of starship classes
In The Original Series, the term "starship" was seemingly synonymous with Starship-class, if not any reference made to any other Starfleet vessels. In at least two instances, the term was applied to two other non-Constitution-class vessels, namely the "old Class J starship" in "The Menagerie, Part I", and the D7 class in "Elaan of Troyius". Contrarily, at least two other alien ships were specifically said not to be starships, the Orion scout ship in "Journey to Babel", and the Orion vessel in "The Pirates of Orion".