Designing the USS Equinox NCC-72381 - By Rick Sternbach.
Captain Ransom's Nova-class ship, the U.S.S. Equinox NCC-72381, was a small scientific vessel that was ill-equipped for the Delta Quadrant, but the design has links far tougher ship - a prototype version of the U.S.S. Defiant NX-74205.

The Nova-class made it's first appearance in the Voyager fifth season finale with the USS Equinox NCC-72381. The design was similar to the Defiant Pathfinder seen in the Deep Space Nine Technical Manual. Rick Sternbach, Star Trek: Voyager's senior illustrator, explains that it was no accident in the Star Trek Magazine article. The script for "Equinox" called for a small Starfleet science ship that was also lost in the Delta Quadrant after being pulled across the galaxy by the Caretaker. Rick Sternbach decided to create a new starship because nothing suitable had been suitable for a modern science vessel had been previously created for Star Trek.

Sternbach states, "I began roughing out shapes for a ship that was at least as old as Voyager (as oppose to a new ship like the
Prometheus-class), and perhaps a couple years older. The Oberth-class came to mind as a starting point, but that one was at least 80 years old. While I was drawing I was thinking, 'Small Starfleet ship ... smaller ship ... what small ships can I study? Hmm...' And then it dawned on me that I already had one that I had never used before." The Defiant Pathfinder was the ship Sternbach was talking about which he wanted to create a backstory for while writing the DS9 Tech Manual. He had designed the Pathfinder from Jim Martin's final Defiant design to look like a prototype a little more closely related to conventional Starfleet vessels. "I kept some of the shapes, like the two rows of circular widgets behind the bridge, the bridge area itself, and the forward curve of the hull just behind the nose extension. My intent was to imagine that the admirals running the Advanced Starship Design Bureau [ASDB] needed a fast torpedo ship, something akin to the 'Borg Buster' we heard the writers were looking for at one time.

"I theorized that plans were drawn up at the ASDB, but somewhere along the way the mission requirements changed. The basic specs were sound, but modifications were needed to protect the ship from massive weapons fire, hence the tucked-in look of the nacelles and the big shells around them on the finished USS Defiant NX-74205. All the normally 'vulnerable' parts of a starship were plated over." Since the Pathfinder had never been seen on-screen, and it was a small ship it seemed ideal to become the Equinox. Sternbach made a photocopy of the Pathfinder and compared it with the top-view of Voyager in scale to show to supervising producer Peter Lauritson who gave the go-aheard. Although the Equinox was similar to the Pathfinder, Sternbach had to make a few changes for it to become a science vessel instead of warship. The six torpedo launchers were replaced with large sensor arrays. The one thing that stayed the same was the recessed bridge.

When Sternbach had created the Pathfinder he only drew a top-view so when creating the Equinox he had to design a bottom and side views. "I decided to continue the trend of giving some Starfleet ships a large shuttle-like embedded craft, such as the captain's yatch on the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D and USS Enterprise NCC-1701-E, and the Aeroshuttle on Voyager. The arrow-shaped craft on the Equinox's underside is a hyper-sonic 'waverider' shuttle, a highly fuel-efficient vehicle at Mach 5 and above."

When Sternbach had finished his revisions the new Equinox was sent to Digital Muse, who would build the computer-generated model. He states that, "Orthographic views were definitely needed in order to build a CG model of the ship, so I worked those up on tracing vellum. All of the typical Starfleet hull parts were called out, and colors and lighting specs were furnished to visual effects. Eddie Robinson from Digital Muse built the model based on my drawings, and after a couple of over-the-shoulder sessions, and discussions on colors and markings, the ship came out of LightWave almost exactly as drafted." Because the script for "Equinox" called for having the ship been attacked for a long time once the CG model was complete they had to destroy the ship, using 3D art programs the Equinox was heavily damaged. "The CG model was initially built pristine, and then the textures were altered to look burnt and broken. From what I've seen in LightWave, you can subdivide a group of polygons where, say, you want to make it appear that a phaser hit has smashed away bits of the hull plating, and remove or distort those polygons until they look twisted, vaporized, and so on. Some of the digital modeling tools are quite remarkable," says Sternbach.

Sternbach had created a backstory to explain the reason why the Equinox was similar to the Pathfinder by stating "To my way of thinking, Starfleet looked at a number of possibilties for the Nova-class science vessel, and dug out the Defiant Pathfinder design, which had never been built. The ASDB decided that the original Pathfinder could be adapted for use as a science ship, replacing the torp launchers with sensor platforms, etc." Sternbach further explains, "Both the Nova and Defiant classes could have been in work at least two years (and maybe more like four) before the Defiant first appeared on DS9, so a finished Nova-class vessel could have run through the yard build in plenty of time for Captain Ransom to have taken command and gotten yanked into the Delta Quadrant."