The Fireball class was created as an experimental cruiser type that was intended to test new technologies and new warp field configurations. In early Engineers speculated that dividing a spacecraft’s enveloping warp field into a smaller forward “penetrating” lobe and a larger trailing lobe would decrease subspace resistance and increase warp efficiency. The Fireball class was designed with the innovative feature of a small command hull separated by a thin neck from the larger engineering hull to test this theory. Another change from most recent designs of the era was that the Warp nacelles were raised above the hull, this was again in an effort to boost warp efficiency.
The Fireball class used the new FFTL-2A warp drive system. This drive as much power as the old EFTL-5, but at less than half the mass, this allowed the Fireball class to be far smaller than the previous generation of cruisers. The Fireball and her sister ship Rocket had originally been planned to just be technology demonstrators, but the design was to successful that an armed variant was ordered in late 2158, this became the Comet class.
These two ships continued to be as test beds in the development of the second-generation of M/AM-powered ships. In 2165, at the conclusion of their research careers they were allocated to Starfleet and served as couriers until 2193.
USS Fireball is now on display at the Starfleet Museum.
The Experimental NG (New Generation) engines and shield systems were redesignated as part of the Federation Designation System in 2161.