In service as early as 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 would serve in a number of limited 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 Template:ShipClass starships. In addition to this, the Pegasus was the test bed for an illegal Federation cloaking device. (TNG: "The Pegasus")
The Oberth was present in several major Federation engagements including the Borg invasion of 2366-2367, where it participated at the Battle of Wolf 359, as well as the Battle of Sector 001 in 2373. (DS9: "Emissary"; Star Trek: First Contact)
The Oberth-class had an 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 mounts 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; it was armed with at least one phaser bank and one photon torpedo launcher for defense. (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Star Trek: First Contact)
As a science vessel, the Oberth-class was designed with specialized shields, which allow 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 compliment 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. In general, the Oberth-class had a fairly standard Federation starship floor plan.
Located in the front was the viewscreen, with side-by-side navigator and helm consoles, which are in contrast positioned opposite to the arrangement found aboard Template:ShipClass starships. The captain's chair is 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 (pictured, below left) with secondary stations trailing along the wall towards the back of the bridge. Along the starboard side of the bridge was the communications station (pictured, below center). (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.
Engineering was located in the center of the ship, it was where the ship's power systems were controlled and home of the ship's antimatter warp drive chamber and impulse engine controls. (TNG: "The Pegasus")
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 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 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. 
For The Search for Spock, a unique approach to designing was adopted, not seen before or after in the Star Trek franchise. Instead of the traditional way of thinking out a design, devising a design, coming up with detailed drawings to be approved of by visual effects supervisors and building models from blueprints, this time visual artists David Carson and Nilo Rodis-Jamero of Industrial Light & Magic produced their pre-visualization artwork and handed it over to model makers Steve Gawley, Bill George and their team to be translated into study models, in essence inviting them to use their own imagination to finish up on the design. Very much a collaborative effort, Carson later remembered,"We'd churn out quite a few sketches. Then the ones that were most promising we might polish up a little in color for presentation. It wasn't uncommon for me to do a drawing that would inspire Nilo, who would then turn it into his own drawing that would be much more impressive! He would often inspire me."(Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 3, Issue 8, p. 48) Once turned over to the model makers the resulting study models were presented to producer Harve Bennett and/or director Leonard Nimoy for appraisal or as supervising model maker Gawley put it,"You had all these models sitting on a table so that the director could really get a feel for what we were talking about. It just made everything easier to understand, and insured that everybody was on the same page. It also made it easier to give cost estimates."(Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 3, Issue 8, p. 20) Director of Photography Kenneth Ralston elaborated further,"From the beginning, once Nilo Rodis, one of the visual effects art directors, had done a sketch and they got an idea of what direction to go, the model people all built prototypes. The space dock had four or five small prototypes. The Bird of Prey, I think, had only two because we all knew this one design would work and we were selling that one. The Merchant Man and the Grissom also had several designs. When Leonard and Harve and Ralph Winter came to meetings we presented them with three dimensional models. It really is a lot better doing it that way because they can physically see how different angles would work."(American Cinematographer, August/September 1984, p. 62)
The Valiant study model
One of the study models Ralston referred to was labeled as the Valiant, and was featured in the 2002 documentary, "Space Docks and Birds of Prey", disc 2 from the Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (Special Edition) DVD, already very close to the final design.
|The Valiant study model|
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Photo documents reportedly taken around the time of the filming of Star Trek Generations of this Oberth-class model has led to some speculation that it was this model that was used in the evacuation scene of Veridian III. However, screencap analysis shows that the lay-out of the impulse deflector crystals as well as the lay-out of the impulse engine exhausts/transporter emitters on the nacelle deck does not correspond with the lay-out as shown on the study model. It is also highly unlikely that a study model was outfitted with an internal lighting system. It can therefore be surmised that it was in fact the original physical studio model, still wearing the USS Pegasus decals.
Physical studio models
The original studio model for the Oberth-class, built at ILM by Gawley's team, measured an overall length of 28 inches. The model first appeared in Star Trek III as the USS Grissom, and was subsequently relabeled to represent other vessels of the class (the last time for TNG: "The Pegasus" as the USS Pegasus, subsequent appearances shot in such a way that the decals could not be discerned). Very little further modification, save for some paint touch-ups (possibly to repair some minor damage after Jein took molds from it) was ever performed on the model besides relabeling. The last appearance of the model was in the Veridian III evacuation scene in Star Trek Generations. The model, still labeled as the USS Pegasus, was auctioned off as Lot #706 on 7 October 2006, being part of the 40 Years of Star Trek: The Collection auction. The estimated price for the model was $4,000 – $6,000; it sold for $18,000 ($21,600 with premium). The model was added to the ScienceFictionArchives.com collection
A second physical model was later created at Gregory Jein Inc. for TNG: "Hero Worship" to depict the severely damaged SS Vico. At the time considered too valuable to cut up the original ILM model for showcasing the damaged Vico, Jein took molds from the model and from them cast the parts to construct a new model. Co-worker Bruce MacRae helped out with detail construction and painting. Jein later gave away the molds to John Eaves who actually used them to cast a solid resin model and had it gold-plated. It, along with other starship models, was intended for use as a display piece in the glass cabinets in the observation lounge of the USS Enterprise-E in Star Trek Nemesis. However that fell through as Eaves delivered the models too late for use. The Vico model itself, having escaped the 40 Years of Star Trek: The Collection and It's A Wrap! sale and auction auctions, is still in the possession of Paramount Pictures and has been on tour displays such as Star Trek World Tour, Star Trek: The Adventure and Star Trek The Exhibition as late as 2011.
The last appearance of the Oberth-class was in Star Trek: First Contact in the Battle of Sector 001 scene. With the exception of the Borg cube, Borg sphere, the unnamed Nebula-class starship and the USS Enterprise-E all other ships were done as CGI models, including the at least three Oberth-class starships. Never meant to be seen up close but rather as deep background elements, the model was built at ILM by modelers Larry Tan and Paul Theren at a fairly low resolution and at a low detail level. Noteworthy was that this was the first and only time that viewers could see an Oberth-class vessel discharge it weapons. Established as an older design, the model was never used again nor was its CGI-counterpart upgraded for later appearances and the class, with the exception of the use of the physical model for DS9: "Emissary", has not been seen (though referenced to) in either Star Trek: Deep Space Nine or Star Trek: Voyager.