The transporter is a device capable of almost instantaneously moving an object from one location to another. Transporters are able to dematerialize, transmit and reassemble an object. The act of transporting is often referred to as "beaming."
Transporters have been used by many civilizations throughout history, but the first Human-made transporter was invented by Emory Erickson some time prior to 2139. (ENT: "Daedalus") The Enterprise NX-01 was one of the first Earth Starfleet starships to be equipped with a transporter authorized for transporting biological objects, though it was rarely utilized due to the newness of the technology. Its use became common during Enterprise's search of the Delphic Expanse, mainly due to its usefulness in this dangerous sector of space.
Early transporters were not very reliable, and even after Enterprise's mission, most were authorized for non-biological transports only. Even when transporter use became commonplace, most Humans and other races at a similar stage of technological development preferred traditional methods of travel. With the advent of safer transporters, biological transport became increasingly common, which led to the appearance of the first transporter-related diseases. The best known disease was Transporter psychosis which was diagnosed in 2209. (TNG: "Realm of Fear")
As Starfleet and its successor, the Federation Starfleet, continued their exploration of space, dependence on transporters grew considerably. Transporters could simplify away missions considerably by eliminating the need for a shuttlecraft. In case of emergencies, medical or otherwise, the time saved could mean the difference between life or death. The advent of safer transporters gave Starfleet the ability to respond more quickly to emergencies and made away missions much easier. (ENT: "Strange New World", et al)
Transporters became the most reliable form of short-range transport by the 24th century. Innovations in transporter technology around this time included site-to-site transport, which allowed for transport without the use of a transporter room. The principles behind Federation transporters differed little from those of other species, although they had a distinctive blue color. (See below)
Transporters were used by most spacefaring civilizations for short-range transport of personnel or equipment. The main advantages of this form of transport were twofold: On a planetary scale small vehicles or spacecraft were no longer needed to go from one place to another; someone who lived in San Francisco could beam to Paris in the morning and be home for dinner at the end of the day. Traveling by transporter was almost instantaneous; when beaming from Paris at 16:30 hours one would be home in San Francisco a few seconds later. The sense of time while transporting was almost non-existent. Compare this to 21st century travel when it took roughly 10 to 12 hours to travel from Paris to San Francisco by airplane. Harry Kim transported frequently from Starfleet Academy to visit his parents in South Carolina. (VOY: "Non Sequitur")
In general a Transporter Chief was responsible for the operational readiness of a transporter. He or she performed the actual "beaming" and made sure everything was done according to protocol. Although a transporter chief was present in a transporter room it did not meant that beaming could only take place from within this room. In the 24th century a request for transport could be made via every computer terminal on a starship. Furthermore an emergency transporter armband could be used to remotely active a transporter and it was also possible to use a combadge for the same purpose. Remote activation of a transporter was only done in case of an emergency or when the crew of a vessel was not onboard, like when the crew of a runabout was on an away mission. (TNG: "The Best of Both Worlds; DS9: "The Jem'Hadar")
When the workings of a transporter were in doubt it was the job of the transporter chief to investigate the problem and correct it. This could even mean that every transporter aboard a starship, or station for that matter, needed to be taken offline to perform the necessary diagnostics. (TNG: "Realm of Fear")
A typical transport sequence for the beam-down of a person began with a coordinate lock during which the destination was verified and programmed, via the targeting scanners. Next, the lifeform to be beamed was scanned on the quantum level using a molecular imaging scanner. At this point the Heisenberg compensators take into account the position and direction of all the sub-atomic particles composing the object or individual and create a map of the physical structure being dis-assembled. Simultaneously, the object is converted into transmittable information, or matter stream - the person being beamed is now converted into billions of kiloquads of data, one atom out of place and he or she is never to return.
The matter stream is then transmitted between locations through the system. As with any type of transmission or radiation, scattering and degradation of the signal is to be expected. This process is counter-acted by the addition of an annular confinement beam (ACB) which is essential in maintaining the integrity of the information contained in the beam. The matter stream is briefly stored in a pattern buffer tank while the system compensates for doppler shift to the destination and then transmitted through an emitter pad. Finally, the initial process is reversed and the object or individual is reassembled at the destination.
A person being transported could freely move around, although it was advisable not to move to much while in transport.
Safety protocols and components
As with other Starfleet operations the transporter had its own safety protocols to ensure a safe usage. In case of emergency most of these protocols could be turned off or circumvented.
Biofilters were uniformly used on all Federation transporters by the 24th century. These filters were always functional to prevent the boarding of strange biological entities such as viruses and pathogens, as well as some forms of radiation including theta radiation. (VOY: "Macrocosm", "Night")
Biofilters, however were not capable of intercepting the psychic energy of lifeforms and in several instances this has allowed hostile entities to gain access to starships and crew. (TNG: "Lonely Among Us", "Power Play"). Biofilters were also unable to detect living organisms that existed within the phased reality of the transporter but once altered could be used to lock onto such lifeforms. (TNG: "Realm of Fear")
Additionally pattern buffers were used to compensate for relative motion during transport, ensuring that transported matter materialized in the correct location.
Further protocols include prohibitions on beaming while traveling at warp speed and the use of security scans to detect weapons or remat detonators, which could be disabled before re-materialization . (TNG: "The Schizoid Man", et al)
Diagnostic and maintenance tools
- Site-to-site transport interlock
- Targeting scanner
- Pattern buffer
- Phase transition coil
- Primary energizing coils
- Molecular imaging scanner
- Heisenberg compensator
Transporters types varied among the different species of the galaxy. 24th century Federation transporters emit a distinct blue "sparkle" when used, while Klingon transporters show a red/orange sparkle and Romulan transporters a green sparkle. Another difference was the speed by which a transporter operates. Compared to transporters used by the Hunters, a Gamma Quadrant species, in 2369, the Federation transporter was slow. (DS9: "Captive Pursuit") Ferengi transporters were even slower because they used capacitors to build up their beam energy. (TNG:"The Battle")
Furthermore, each type of transporter beam had a distinctive sound pattern associated with it's employment. The sound pattern varied among type of transporter within one race and between types used by different races. Along with differences in "tone", the loudness of the sound also varried. Klingon transporters in the 2260s, for example, were completely silent.
Almost all Starfleet facilities and starships were equipped with transporter devices. The number of transporter devices differ. Certain types of shuttlecraft had one transporter while Galaxy class starships had at least four. When cargo bays were present these would often contain a cargo transporter.
The most commonly used type of transporter was the personnel transporter, designed primarily for personnel.
Personnel transporter rooms usually consisted of a transporter console, a transporter platform with an overhead molecular imaging scanner, primary energizing coils and phase transition coils. A pattern buffer with a biofilter is located on the deck below the room. The outer hull of a starship incorporated a number of emitter pads for the transporter beam. Personnel transporters work on the quantum level and employed Heisenberg compensators to enable secure transport of lifeforms. Biofilters that were built into the transporter systems prevent dangerous microorganisms from boarding the ship.
The personnel transporter was a reliable, but sometimes fragile piece of equipment. The phase coils in particular were vulnerable to feedback patterns and could be severely damaged as result of power surges or low-level phaser fire.
Cargo transporters were larger scale versions of personnel transporters and were optimized for the transport of inanimate objects. In case of an emergency, cargo transporters could be reset to quantum level mode, making lifeform transport possible. These transporters were adapted to handle massive quantities of material. (TNG: "Up the Long Ladder", et al)
Emergency transporters were a special form of transporter, they could only beam someone from a ship or spacestation, not the otherway around. Another advantage was their low power requirement, in case of a shipwide power failure its crew could be evacuated in case of emergency. (TNG Technical Manual)
By the late 24th century emergency transport had been further improved through development of a single-person, single-use, one-way emergency transport unit. The device was small enough to be hand-held and could transport to specified coordinates with a single touch. Because of its extreme limitations this device was not widely deployed and was still considered a prototype in 2379. (Star Trek: Nemesis)
Certain species have experimented with transporters that differ in technology and theory than those used by most species encountered by the Federation.
The Sikarians were known to use a folded-space transporter, relying on dimensional shifting rather than matter-to-energy conversion. Similarly, the Iconians perfected their own form of transport known as gateways which were capable of near instantaneous transport over vast distances. (VOY: "Prime Factors", TNG: "Contagion")
- Folded-space transporter
- Multidimensional transporter device
- Sub-quantum teleportation
- Temporal transporter
Altough beaming was quick it had its limits. A person could not stay too long within the matter stream. When this happened his or hers molecular pattern would degrade and the transporter signal would be lost. This signal needed to stay above fifty percent to be able to rematerialize the person. A timeframe of around 90 seconds was about the maximum before that fifty percent signal loss was reached. (TNG:"Realm of Fear")
In general, transporters could not be used while the deflector shield of a ship was active, or a deflector shield was in place over the destination. However, it was possible to take advantage of EM "windows" that were created by the normal rotation of shield frequencies. During these peroids, a hole was opened where a transporter beam could punch through. To use this "window", timing needed to be absolute and usually required substantial computer assistance. This technique was theorized and first practiced in 2367 by USS Enterprise Transporter chief Miles O'Brien. (TNG: "The Wounded")
The limitation of transporters versus shields was not universal, however. The Aldeans were able to pass through their own shielding using transporters, though the shielding was impenetrable to other forms of technology and weapons. Similarly, both the Borg and Dominion used transporter technology that was able to penetrate standard Federation shielding. Some adaptations, including rotating shield frequencies, could inhibit this ability but not eliminate it altogether. (TNG: "Q Who?", DS9: "The Jem'Hadar")
Transporters were not allowed to be used while a ship was at warp speed because of the severe spatial distortions caused by its warp field. (TNG: "The Schizoid Man") Transport at warp was highly dangerous and had been attempted safely only a handful of times. (TNG: "The Best of Both Worlds, Part I", "The Emissary") There were however ways to circumvent this limitation.
- If both ships maintained exact velocity (i.e. the warp field on both vessels must have the same integral value/factor) transport at warp speed was possible. Failure to maintain the same velocities would result in severe loss of the ACB and pattern integrity.
- If the ship was traveling at warp speed and the object to be beamed was stationary, transport was possible by synchronizing the ACB with the warp core frequency. The most difficult part was to get a good pattern lock. The Maquis used this method before. (VOY:"Maneuvers")
Near-warp transport was also possible, but required extensive adjustments to the transport procedure. Persons who had experienced this form of transport remarked that there was a sensation of being merged with an inanimate object briefly before the transporter beam reassembled them. (TNG: "The Schizoid Man")
The 24th century transporter maximum range was about 40,000 km, though a special type of transport, called subspace transport could beam over several lightyears. Many 24th century starships were equipped with an emergency transporter system, but these only had a range of at best ten kilometers. (VOY: "Future's End, Part I").
Although having a maximum range of about 40,000 km, some conditions adversely affect the effective range. In at least one instance - possibly due to damage but not explicitly stated as such - the starship Voyager had to be within 500 km of a planet's surface to use transporters on Kathryn Janeway and the hologram character Leonardo da Vinci. (VOY:"Concerning Flight").
- For context, 500 km above the surface of Earth would place the ship inside the ionosphere.
The maximum range of a transporter differs per species, depending on what kind of technologies they've used to build it. The transporter with the longest known range is that of the Sikarians, with a range of about 40,000 light-years; however this is due to their planet's large quartz mantle which amplifies their transporter signal. Because of this, Sikarian transporter technology works only on their planet. (VOY: "Prime Factors")
Radiation and substances
Some forms of radiation and substances, usually minerals such as kelbonite, prevented transporters from working. In most instances the interference was caused by scattering of the annular confinement beam or sensor interference preventing a transporter lock. Interference could be natural or artificial and usually occured during surface-to-starship transport but might also occur between vessels. Examples of other radiation and substance limitations are:
- Thoron radiation
- Dampening field
- Ionic interference
- Hyperonic radiation
- Electromagnetic storm
Over the centuries numerous devices have been designed to overcome some limitations of transporters, and still others to intentionally interfere with transporters.
Devices that were specifically designed to block transporter signals or to interfere with them were usually deployed under hostile conditions. Thus making use of a transporter impossible or very dangerous and hampering maneuverability of personnel or material. Some of these devices were:
In 2375, Vedek Fala, gave a small crystal to Colonel Kira, as a gift. The device, of unknown origin and design, was actually a transporter tag, which instantly transported her to Empok Nor several light years distant. (DS9: "Covenant")
Although someone with minor injuries could be transported, this was not possible when the injuries were extensive. When the brain stem was damaged and autonomic functions were failing, transport was only possible if a volunteer controlled the persons autonomic functions. This was done by placing a neural pad at the base of the skull of both individuals and then connect both persons via a medical tricorder. This way autonomic functions could be stabilized for a short period of time and made transport possible. (TNG:"Transfigurations")
Disabling active weapons
By the 24th century, the transporter had the capability to disable any active weapon during transport. This could be accomplished by removing the discharged energy from the transporter signal, or by "deactivating" the weapon itself. (TNG:"The Most Toys")
Connecting two transporters
When necessary transporters could be bridged - Federation vessels could activate other Federation vessels transporters by remote. This meant that two transporters could be connected to each other in the event beaming was not possible due to ionic or some other type of interference. The transport duration was twice as long and the sequence differed from a normal transport. First a remote link to the other transporter had to be established, then the system interlock needed to be engaged and the pattern buffers of both transporters were synchronized. When the phase transition coils were in stand-by mode energizing could commence. A side-effect of this form of transport might be that the person who was beamed might feel a slight tingling due to static. (TNG:"Realm of Fear")
The earliest example of site-to-site transport was in 2286, a Klingon vessel stolen by the crew of the late starship Enterprise had site to site transporter capabilities. (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home)
By 2364, limitations in pattern buffer and targeting scanner technology had been sufficiently overcome that it was now possible to transport from one location directly to another without the need to re-materialize the subject in between. This operation was enabled and controlled by the site-to-site transport interlocks. (TNG: "Brothers") Site to site transport holds the matter stream in the pattern buffer while the ACB was re-targeted. Afterwards, the matter stream was redirected to the new location and normal re-materialzation was carried out. This procedure was particularly useful in emergency medical situations where time is of the essence. Subjects could be beamed directly to sickbay where treatment could be carried out quickly. (Star Trek: First Contact) Using this technique, any computer terminal with access to the main transporter sub-systems, or any applicable sub-routine, could be used to control transporter operations, including bridge terminals. (Star Trek: Nemesis) This technique could only be utilized when sufficient energy was available to the transporters, all normal transporter limitations would still apply. Even given this technique, the transporter rooms were still an important staging and reception area with the greatest amount of override and emergency operations available. Transporter rooms were maintained and manned during all normal duty cycles.
A transporter trace was a stored copy of a subject's molecular pattern as scanned during a normal transporter cycle. While it is usually stored for security purposes, in extreme situations the transporter could be modified to use an older trace pattern in place of the latest scan for the purpose of re-configuring the matter stream during molecular conversion, effectively replacing a subject with an younger version of itself during matter re-construction. This technique was devised by Chief Miles O'Brien and Lieutenant Geordi La Forge during a mission to the Darwin Genetic Research Station in 2365. The transporter trace itself would be stored for the duration of the persons tour of duty, when reassigned the trace would be deleted. (TNG:"Unnatural Selection")
Deflecting the transporter beam
A transporter beam could be deflected to different coordinates by a tractor beam and so rematerialize the objects transported somewere else as where they were supposed to be. This could only be detected by examining the transporter log. An unusual amount of antigraviton particles would be present in the emitter coil, as they do not occur naturally but are used by tractor beams. Locating the coordinates where the rematerialization took place was not possible, however it was possible to calculate the point of origin of the tractor beam itself. (TNG:"Attached")
Single person transport
A transporter could be programmed to only allow one particular person to be transported to and from the transporter pad. When done so, no other persons could use the transporter. If the use of the transporter was further prohibited, by use of an unknown access code, using the transporter was almost impossible. The only way to circumvent this lock-out was to use the transporter trace from the person who re-programmed the transporter and to input this into the transporter while it was in its testing mode. - When in testing mode a transporter would accept simulated inputs. When the main computer could not be used, several tricorders could be networked together to control the transporter. To circumvent the lock-out, access codes from a few bridge officers were necessary to force it in a recall loop. So, everyone who would beam down would be seen by the transporter as the person who re-programmed it in the first place. (TNG:"Brothers")
Faking a transporter accident
A transporter accident could be faked in such a way that a transporter chief would think a person died during transport. This could be done by adjusting the carrier wave of a second transporter to the carrier wave of the first. The person would then be beamed of the transporter pad of the first transporter while simultaneously a small amount of genetically identical material, similar to the person, was deposited on the transporter pad. Only a Doctor could determine if this material was really the person in question. Even then it could only be found because the DNA base pair sequence had a discrepancy and the material itself had numerous single-bit errors, because it was replicated. The transporter trace could be used to compare the material with that of the persons DNA. Romulan transporters were capable of this because they operated on almost the same subspace frequency as Federation transporters.
An indication to such a ruse could be a temporary increase into the matter to energy ratio while transport was in progress. Altough this increase could still be in the operational parameters of a Federation transporter. Investigating the transporter logs was necessary to find evidence of a second transporter signal. (TNG:"Data's Day")
Though transporters were a quite safe way to get from one point to another there were still cases of transporter accidents:
On stardate 1672.1, in 2266, a strange ore had altered the function of the transporter, causing the most bizarre transporter accident on record in which Captain James T. Kirk was split into two: One embodied all of Kirk's so-called positive qualities and the other part that was evil. It was some time before the mishap was discovered, and the malignant version of Kirk roamed the ship, stealing liquor, assaulting crewmen, and even attempting to rape Yeoman Rand. When he was cornered, and finally captured in the engine room, his errant phaser shot damaged the transporter further. Scotty and Spock isolated and repaired all the damage. Their repairs were confirmed when a test animal, previously split, was sent through the transporter in an attmept to reintegrate the two creatures. Upon reintegrating, it rematerialized dead. Crippled with indecision, Kirk was able, barely, to make the trip, and his two halves were reintegrated once again. (TOS: "The Enemy Within")
On 2267, an ion storm caused a transporter accident. After failing to persuade the Halkan Council to allow the Federation to mine dilithium in on their planet, a USS Enterprise landing party, expecting to beam back on to their ship, were beamed aboard the unfamiliar Enterprise in the Mirror Universe. Upon beaming aboard, they discovered that the peace-loving United Federation of Planets had been replaced with a brutal Terran Empire, and that they had their own "mirror" counterparts. (TOS: "Mirror, Mirror")
In 2361, on Nervala IV, the USS Potemkin was conducting an evacuation of the science outpost on the planet. Lieutenant Riker was part of the away team at the time. An unusual distortion field meant the Potemkin had difficulty beaming up Riker. A second confinement beam was initiated to overcome these difficulties, with the intent of reintegrating the two beams in the transporter buffer. This was unnecessary as only one beam was successful at transporting Riker, the modulation of the distortion caused the second beam to be reflected back down to the surface, materializing two Rikers, one on the ship, and one on the planet's surface. The Potemkin left orbit, unknowingly abandoning the duplicate Riker. After eight years, this accident was discovered by the Enterprise-D who revisisted the planet, found Lieutenant Riker and brought him back to the ship. (TNG: "Second Chances")
In 2371, Benjamin Sisko, Julian Bashir and Jadzia Dax were accidently transported to the year 2024, by an explosion in a microscopic singularity while passing through the solar system at the time of the beam-out. Fortunately, Miles O'Brien was able to devise a way to send Kira Nerys and himself to different periods of Earth's history to try and find out where the away team was sent, and then bring them back home. However, while in the 21st century, Sisko accidentally caused the death of Gabriel Bell, forcing him to assume the identity of this historical figure. As a result, Sisko is actually in all the historical photos of Bell. (DS9: "Past Tense, Part I")
In 2372, the patterns of Sisko, Kira, Worf, Dax, and Miles O'Brien were temporarily stored in the computer core of Deep Space 9, to prevent their patterns from degrading because of an explosion on their runabout at the time of beam-out. They were integrated into a holoprogram run by Julian Bashir, and each took on one of the holographic roles in the program. Eventually, Michael Eddington was able to restore the crewmembers back to normal. (DS9: "Our Man Bashir")
Lysosomal enzymes of an alien orchid were the cause of another accident in that same year. Tuvok and Neelix were temporarily merged into one being during transport with the orchid. Tuvix, as he named himself (or themselves), was a complete mixture of the talents of both crewmembers. After discovering how to separate the two patterns and retrieve both Tuvok and Neelix, Tuvix protested but the procedure was undertaken anyway. (VOY: "Tuvix")
Other transporter accidents
- Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Behind the scenes
The transporter was developed by the production staff of the original series as a solution of how to get crewmen off a planet quickly. The only alternative was to either land a massive ship each week, or use shuttles for landings, both of which would have wreaked havoc on the production budget.