The prototype of this class was the USS Excelsior (NX-2000) was initially fitted with an experimental transwarp drive and was proclaimed as "the Great Experiment". (TOS movie: Star Trek III: The Search for Spock)
Despite the ignoble start, tests continued to be ran on the Excelsior but the transwarp drive continued to prove unreliable and was declared a failure. However, the Excelsior's spaceframe proved to be very stable and reliable and it was decided to replace the transwarp engines with standard warp drive and continued with production of further starships. A further Mark I Excelsior-class starship, the USS Proxima was built and she underwent shakedown trials in 2288 (reference stardate 2/2400). Two Mark II Excelsior-class vessels, the USS Columbia and USS Galacta were also launched in the same year for shakedown trials. (TOS roleplay module: Federation Ship Recognition Manual)Several years later, a new variant of the Excelsior-class design entered service with added modifications to the basic hull design. The first ship to be constructed to these specifications was the USS Enterprise-B which was launched in 2293. (TNG movie: Star Trek Generations) Although some Excelsior-class vessels were built to these specifications, many new vessels used the original design. (Star Trek: The Next Generation; Star Trek: Deep Space Nine; ST video game: Legacy; DS9 episode: "Paradise Lost")
The production run of the Excelsior-class ran well into the 24th century which highlighted the adaptability and soundness of the basic design. However by the early 2330s, construction on new Excelsior-class vessels was down to just two a year, as new starship classes such as the Ambassador-class came into service. Although the Excelsior's were often relegated to secondary duties by the 2360s, large numbers remained in service. (ST short story: "Hour of Fire"; TNG episode: "Tin Man"; VOY episode: "Endgame"; DS9 episode: "What You Leave Behind")
During the 2370s, the Excelsior's served in the bulk of engagements against the Borg and the Dominion, although there was a high attrition rate in combat missions. Due to this, at least one Excelsior-class, the USS Lakota, was refitted with more advanced weaponry, such as quantum torpedoes.
The Excelsior fires photon torpedoesThe initial Mark I design of the Excelsior-class included 16 phaser banks (8 FH-11's, 8 FH-5's) and 4 photon torpedo launchers. The two varied phaser types was to make sure that all weapons arcs were covered by both long-range and short-range weapons. However, the evaluation teams decided to replace the 8 FH-5 banks and replaced them with two further FH-11 banks, which meant that the Excelsior's only had ten phaser banks, but the field of fire overlapped more effectively.
The improvement in torpedo launchers technology allowed two further launchers to be incorporated into the Mark II design and remained in place through further models. (TOS roleplay module: Federation Ship Recognition Manual)
By the 2370s, the Excelsior design had been outfitted with improved phaser emplacements, quantum torpedoes and other tactical improvements which brought it into line with later starship designs and proved necessary during the conflicts with the Borg and the Dominion. (DS9 episode: "Paradise Lost")
The deflector shields of the Excelsior-class were an improved version of the quadri-transducer shield that was in use in the late 23rd century, and was found to deliver more deflective power. (TOS roleplay module: Federation Ship Recognition Manual)
By the mid-24th century, Starfleet began to allow civilians to travel aboard Federation starships and allow an officer to have their families with them as they traveled. While the newest starship designs such as the Galaxy-class and Nebula-class were built to accomodate civilians, the older Excelsior-class ships weren't designed to carry them.
However, minor refits allowed for some accomodation of families. The presence of civilians also made their safety a top priority, as the larger Gala'xy-class vessels were equipped with a facility to separate the saucer section and allow civilians to escape from a field of battle. With this procedure in mind, several Excelsior-class vessels, such as the USS Yorktown and USS Hood were equipped with the same ability to separate the saucer. (TNG novelization: Encounter at Farpoint; TNG novel: Ghost Ship)
- The RPG The Dominion War Sourcebook: The Fires of Armageddon, published by Last Unicorn Games after they had lost their Star Trek licence listed several other Excelsior-class starships: USS Caldos (NCC-32628), USS Kolno (NCC-41069), USS Carpathia (NCC-43118), USS Blackeagle (NCC-46200), USS Vasidrun (NCC-47936), USS Apache (NCC-57924), USS Tyr (NCC-58314), USS Sunchaser (NCC-63185) and the USS Bolsetu (NCC-63744).
- The RPG Ship Recognition Manual, Volume 2: Starships of The Original Series Era, published by Last Unicorn Games after they had lost their Star Trek licence listed two other Excelsior-class starships: USS Valorous (NCC-2053) and USS Retribution (NCC-2017).