So you want to build the Enterprise. Don't we all! Well good news: according to some quick, messy, napkin maths, it's possible. Kind of. The bad news? It's going to be stupid expensive. But not unfathomably so! Start scrounging up your space-pennies.
One Little Constraint
Since we can't predict the future, or even come close to gauging the cost of development for revolutionary new inventions or substances like impulse drives and dilithium, we're going to stick to what we know. It might not make us a real Enterprise, but it's about as close as you're going to get.
So Where Do We Start?
First we have to pick our Enterprise. Obviously, with Star Trek: Into Darkness out, we're going to go with the one from that universe. According to some stats we got back when the original Star Trek reboot came out a few years ago, we know the new Enterprise — or as the Star Trek wiki calls it: USS Enterprise (Alternate Reality) — is 725.35m long. So, huge. And while the exact measurements vary, other sources give us a height of 190.5m, and a saucer diameter of 304.8m. She's a big girl.
The closest thing we have to compare this to in the real world is probably a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. The new Gerald R. Ford-class suckers will be bigger and more expensive, but we haven't finished one of those yet, so we'll stick with a Nimitz-class, specifically the George H.W. Bush, the most recent — and last — of the Nimitz breed.
Image: Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nicholas Hall/US Navy
At 332m long, the GHWB comes in at just under half the length of the Enterprise. And with a 76.8m wide flight deck, it's a fair bit thinner. But there's a lot of empty space in the Enterprise, whereas aircraft carriers are more like solid chunks. Getting really specific with a starship's actual volume would involve some annoyingly real maths and measurements we don't have, but we can safely assume it would take about two GHWBs-worth of material to build a suitably sized, Enterprise-shaped brute when you stretch it all out. Make it air-tight and we'll call it a spaceship.
Unlike the Nimitz-class cruisers before it, which cost about $US4.5 billion, the GWHB cost more like $US6.2 billion thanks to modern day perks, and we need two. And we're just getting warmed up.
Running Total: $US12,400,000,000
Some Assembly Required
According to the first JJ Abrams Star Trek film, the specific Enterprise we're talking about here was built in Iowa. We'll assume it's getting the ISS treatment: Build it on Earth as a series of trivially sized modules that get assembled in orbit.
This is where the real cost comes in. If we go by the numbers from SpaceX, the Falcon Heavy can transport stuff to space for the low, low price of about $US1,000 per pound. A GHWB worth of stuff weighs about 103,419 tonnes. So a pair of them are 206 838 tonnes. Multiply that by $US1000 dollars per 0.45kg and... Yeah. We're talking $US456 billion just to get this into orbit, or $US468.4 billion for an Enterprise-shaped space station, total. And that's not including labour.
That's a lot of scary zeros, but really it's not too too bad. This year, the United State's defence expenditure was $US3.803 trillion. So it's not like the cash doesn't exist somewhere.
Construction cost (ex-labour): $456,000,000,000
Running Total: $US468,400,000,000
Tea, Earl Grey, Hot
Now that we've got our big, hulking shell assembled, it's about time that we start filling it up with some awesome tech. One of the (many) iconic technologies in the Star Trek universe is the ubiquitous replicator, making pesky things like staying fed a piece of cake. Sometimes literally. We don't have anything close to the kind of build-anything-from-anything replicators from the series, but we do have something called the Replicator. The Replicator 2, as a matter of fact. Even better.
While MakerBot's Replicator 2 is stellar 3D-printing tech here on Earth, the thought of outfitting our enormous, enormously badass Enterprise with just one seems ludicrously cheap and lame. That being the case, let's set it up with a suite of 50 and just pretend we've got five that are 10 times the size. One MakerBot Replicator 2 retails for a scant $US2200, so we're talking an acquisition cost of (a still scant) $US110,000. We need stuff to print with too, though. Let's say 45kg of plastic, assorted colours. MakerBot plastic is $US48 to the kilo, so that's $US112,160 in printers and ink.
The shipping weight of each Replicator 2 is 16.7kg, or 839kg total, plus our 45kg of plastic which brings us to 884kg. Launch that into space ($US195,000) and now we're talking.
We looked into estimating the cost of something like one of Organovo's crazy Bio-Printers, but they couldn't help us out with any kind of number regarding price or weight, so we had to leave it out.
Total Replicator Cost: $US307,160
Running Total: $US468,400,307,160
Hit The (Holo)Deck
Microsoft has a promising little at-home holodeck on the way with its IllumiRoom tech, but while that'd be great in your living room, we can probably spring for something a little fancier on our Enterprise. How about the CAVE 2, complete with 320 degree, panoramic 3D LCD display?
This isn't exactly a retail product, so we'll have to piece together the cost (and weight) in broad strokes. The awesome curved, 3D TV we saw at CES has recently been priced at around $US14,000 and we'll need 72 for a total of $US1,008,000 in TVs. We also need 36 "high performance PCs" that are maybe $US3,000 a piece? And also a setup of 10 motion tracking cameras that we'll just say costs about $US10,000. We wind up at $US1,126,000 for procurement.
After a little black magic involving shipping weights and wild estimation, we can guess that this rig weighs somewhere around 5,378 pounds. As for software development, well, you're you're going to have to program you own games. Sorry.
Holodeck cost: $US6,504,000
Running Total: $US468,406,811,160
Fire Photon Torpedoes!
But really that's only half the battle. Or really it's none of the battle; this thing can't shoot yet. The GHWB already had some armaments that are theoretically on our Enterprise now, but they are pansy Earth-weapons. We need photon torpedos and phaser arrays.
When it comes to photon torpedos — well, we don't have photon torpedos. But tactical nukes seem pretty close, preferably in missile form. The UGM-133 Trident II is a modern-day ballistic missile that can rock a nuclear warhead. And, it can be launched from a submarine which means it's pretty much a torpedo, right? Kinda? Sorta? Regardless, it seems like it could be strapped to — and fired from — a spaceship just fine.
Photo: US Department of Defense
It's pretty unclear how many photon torpedoes the Enterprise — specifically the reboot Enterprise — has, but we know the USS Voyager was designed specifically for scientific missions and had 38, so that seems like a fair bare minimum. Each Trident II costs $US30.9 million to make, and weighs 58,513kg. So that means the cost of buying one "photon torpedo" and getting it into space is $US159,900,000. The whole kit of 38 will cost us $US6,076,200,000.
Photon Torpedo Cost: $6,076,200,000
Running Total: $US474,483,011,160
Don't Phase Me, Bro
The Navy's LaWS system cost $US40 million to develop and build, so we'll peg the sticker price at maybe $US15 million per unit, for a total cost of $US90 million for all six. The Navy's been tight-lipped about how much they weigh though, so we'll have to pull something really iffy out of the air and say each is about as heavy as a radar-guided Phalanx machine-gun bank just because that looks kind of similar-ish. So that's 13,600 pounds each, or 81,600 pounds of gear (total) to blast into space.
Phaser Bank Cost: $171,600,000
Running Total: $US474,654,611,160
And what good is any of this if the ship is a ghost town? While it's technically not a cost of building the Enterprise per se, we'd be remiss if we didn't at least briefly consider the cost of manning this beast. Who knows exactly how many people man the Enterprise, including all the (hundreds of?) low-level nobodies, so we'll just set it up with a skeleton command crew.
Going by a list of notable crew members, we can figure we need — at minimum — 11 people on this thing. Luckily for us, a recent agreement between NASA and Russia pinpoints the cost of flight-training a 'naut and shooting him/her into the great void at $US70.7 million. So assuming our cadets already know how to do their jobs, and only need a little space-training, that gives us a transportation cost of $US777,700,000
Of course, you also have to pay these guys and keep them alive. Recent estimates put the cost of keeping a soldier in Iraq for a year at between $US850,000 and $US1.4 million, so let's go with the higher end of that spectrum since we're talking exclusively about officiers and they are also going to space. That nets us a $US15,400,000 additional personnel cost.
Lastly, they've got to be fed and watered and whatnot. In 2008, NASA awarded a roughly $3.5 billion dollar contract to SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp to perform that very same job of ferrying cargo, except to the ISS. That seems like a perfect estimate so let's just steal that wholesale as our supply cost.
Personnel and supply cost: $US4,293,100,000
Running Total: $US478,947,711,160
To Boldly Go ...Nowhere
Now that our Enterprise can defend itself, the only think left is to make it move. Unfortunately, that's pretty impossible under even the vaguest realism constraint. Warp drives, while they are being researched, aren't close to existing. And impulse drives — essentially fusion rockets — aren't much closer; we almost had a fission rocket once, but it got mothballed.
More recently, there's also been discussion of an impulse drive that could actually run on something stunningly like dilithium crystals: deuterium (a stable isotope of hydrogen) and Li6 (a stable isotope of lithium). This engine doesn't exist yet though. And it'd likely require some very delicate orbital-construction that we can't really hack yet.
That being said, we're going to have to call it quits here, with our weaponised, Enterprise-shaped space-station, which is pretty damn cool in its own right.
Grand Total: $US478,947,711,160
(Or: 12.59 per cent of 2013 US defence expenditure)