The Constellation-class began service as early as 2285, when at least one such ship, the USS Hathaway, was constructed by Yoyodyne Propulsion Systems at the Copernicus Ship Yards on Luna. (USS Hathaway dedication plaque)
Nearly a decade after the launch of the Hathaway, the prototype for the class, the USS Constellation, was still undergoing certification trials. (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country Operation Retrieve chart)
By the mid-2360s, this class of "old-style" star cruiser was on the fringe of being phased out of the fleet. Those that had been decommissioned, including the eighty-year-old Hathaway, were stripped of their offensive systems and rendered "warp inactive," which included the removal of all antimatter. (TNG: "Peak Performance")
Those that remained in service were typically relegated to transport duties. (TNG: "Elementary, Dear Data") Constellation-class starships were also used in second-line service, including the hastily-organized Federation blockade during the Klingon Civil War. (TNG: "Redemption II")
In 2369, commander of the Galaxy-class USS Enterprise-D, Captain Jean-Luc Picard, regarded his former command, the Constellation-class USS Stargazer as being "an overworked, underpowered vessel that was always on the verge of flying apart at the seams," adding, "in every measurable way, my Enterprise is a superior ship." However, he did admit that there were days when he would've done anything to be back aboard the Stargazer. (TNG: "Relics")
One notable feature of the Constellation-class was that it was one of the few classes in use mounted with four warp nacelles. This unique arrangement in a starship design was later found in one of the Nebula-class variants, as well as the Cheyenne-class and Prometheus-classes. (TNG: "The Best of Both Worlds, Part II"; VOY: "Message in a Bottle") The Constellation-class had a maximum speed of warp 9. (TNG: "The Battle")
During their original construction, Constellation-class starships employed Avidyne engines. By the latter 24th century these had been replaced with more effective engines. (TNG: "Peak Performance") These starships had at least two impulse reactors. (TNG: "The Battle", remastered)
Although the layout of the main bridge of the Constellation-class of starships could be described as "standard" in terms of how Federation starship bridges are designed, the Constellation-class appeared to have two prominently different bridge types. These variations can be recognized between the USS Hathaway, launched in 2285, and the USS Stargazer, last active in 2355.
The Hathaway-type bridge had an unusual arrangement, with front of the bridge relatively wide open and the primary stations cramped in the rear of the bridge.
The helm and navigation stations were located on the extreme port and starboard sides of the ship with the captain's chair near the center of the bridge. This gave the captain an unobstructed view of the viewscreen located at the front of the bridge. Next to the captain's chair, set less than a meter back and off to the right, was the first officer's chair with console.
Directly behind the command chairs was the tactical station, with the engineering station to the far rear (on the port side) and science station to the far rear (starboard side). In front of the engineering station was an entryway to the bridge entryway. (TNG: "Peak Performance")
Described as a "cramped little bridge" by Picard, the Stargazer-type was actually less cluttered than the Hathaway-type, with a design more reminiscent of the refit Constitution-class or Ambassador-class bridge. (TNG: "Relics")
In the front was the viewscreen, with side-by-side helm and navigator consoles, a feature that noticeably contrasts that of the Hathaway-type. The captain's chair was directly aft the aforementioned stations; no accommodations were present for the first officer in this type.
At the rear of the bridge, a tactical station was found on the far left with monitors along the back wall behind the captain's chair, with a second primary station located on the opposite side of the bridge. The primary stations were attached to the rear wall of the bridge; support railing partially enclosed that section from the front of the bridge. On either side of the rear wall monitors and between either primary station were two turbolifts. Along the port wall, directly to the left of the captain's chair and between the tactical station and the viewscreen, was the entryway to the captain's ready room. (TNG: "The Battle")
The first Constellation-class ship seen, the Stargazer, was originally planned to be a Constitution-class ship, allowing the visual effects staff of Star Trek: The Next Generation to make use of the existing movie USS Enterprise-A model.
- see main article: Constellation class model
An Starfleet Technical Database-article appearing in Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 3, Issue 9 that was later written by designer-creator Rick Sternbach stated that this class of ship had fifteen decks and a crew complement of 535 and that the class consisted of eight vessels (including the USS Gettysburg and USS Magellan). In addition to the aforementioned, the article also stated that a USS Valkyrie (NCC 2590) and a USS Gihlan (NCC-9761) existed, the latter named after an admiral who oversaw the development of Constellation-class starships. The class's mission statements were: long-range sensor analysis within threat territories, communications, intelligence gathering, deployment and retrieval of cargo and stealth shuttles, general science and patrol duties.