A major challenge with the Gen1 Enterprise is that the radiators get very big due to having gigawatts of waste heat. To keep the of the radiators to a manageable size, engine power must be kept low which slows travel times around the solar system. A new thought is this: Why not just make the radiators completely remote like shown in the picture above? They could be towed far behind the Enterprise using long cables and pipes. The waste heat could be transferred to the radiators by circulating fluid through the pipes, and the Enterprise would retain its conventional look.
But, if you think a remote radiator is viable and acceptable, this leads to another idea. Once you have a giant set of panels of some type towed behind the Enterprise – why not make them solar panels instead of radiator panels? I have said before that a solar-powered Enterprise is not viable because solar panels mounted on the Enterprise would be too big. But once the solar panels are remote to the Enterprise – they can be as big as needed to achieve the 2.5 gigawatts of electrical power needed by the Enterprise.
Having remote solar panels would also allow them to be always oriented toward the sun. If they are mounted on the Enterprise instead, having all solar panels always facing the sun is more difficult.
Some people may object to the the idea of a big array of anything being towed behind the Gen1 Enterprise. But the solar panels could be say a mile behind the ship and nearly out of sight and also beyond where any of high temperature propellant being expelled from the ship’s main engines would bother them.
Furthermore, we may need to get used to the idea of big arrays of various types being towed through space behind future gigawatt-class spaceships. For ships traveling through interstellar space that one day leave the solar system, like a Gen3 Enterprise, there is a valuable commodity residing in interstellar space. Interstellar space is not simply a vacuum. Instead, there are typically a few million scattered atoms per cubic meter of volume. This is mostly hydrogen, and hydrogen can be used by spacecraft for many things including as propellant of the ship’s main engines. Thus it makes sense to be constantly collecting these random atoms during spaceflights through interstellar space, and large scoops of some type will be needed to do the job. Think of these scoops as being needed to help create a maximally self-sustaining spacecraft.
If you believe that future large spacecraft will be routinely collecting atoms in interstellar space, then you can imagine big scoops being used to do this. The Bussard ramjet is one proposed ship with a big scoop. Whatever the ship type, in essence the ship’s scoop will serve to perform a 24/7 mining operation to collect stray atoms in space.
So for towing a big array of solar cells behind the Enterprise, some questions to ponder are: (1) Can it be made to look okay? (2) Is this a better way to go, or should we stay nuclear? (3) Can the panels really avoid the propellant exhaust?