The USS Franklin, as seen in Star Trek : Beyond, is something of an oddity. In design terms, it appears to reference the NX class Starship from Enterprise.
The USS Franklin.
The dialogue on this ship is as follows :
|Scotty : ||"This is the USS Franklin sir, can you believe it? The first Earth ship capable of Warp 4. It went missing in the Gagarin radiation belt in the early 2160s!"|
|Kirk : ||"We learned about it in the Academy, Captain Balthazar Edison, one of the first heroes of Starfleet. How the hell did this ship end up here?"|
|Scotty : ||"There's a lot of theories sir. Surrendered to the Romulans, Captured by a giant green space hand. This far, it's got to be a wormhole displacement."|
We also see the ship's dedication plaque, which gives the ship's registry number as the NX-326.
So here's the confusion. The series Enterprise very firmly established that the Enterprise of that show was the first Warp 5 Starship launched by Humanity. It was launched in 2151, and had the registry number NX-01.
We later learn that Captain Edison took command of the ship after his previous organisation, the MACOs, was disbanded and rolled into Starfleet - something which happened after Xindi conflict and the Earth-Romulan war, which he took part in. The Earth-Romulan war is generally dated to have ended in 2160, so that ties in well with the ship being lost in the early 2160s.
But if the USS Franklin was launched in "the early 2160s", how could it be the first Warp 4 starship when Warp 5 Starships had already been in service for more than a decade?
Well, the answer to that much seems obvious - Scotty said the ship was lost
in the early 2160s, but nothing indicates that it was brand new at that point. So the Franklin must have been launched prior to 2151 - preferably a considerable time prior - and then been handed over to Captain Edison as a fairly old ship.
We know from the Enterprise episode "First Flight" that the first Warp 3 flight was made by the NX Delta in 2144, and that construction of the NX-01 began five years after that, in 2149, and was completed in 2151. So the USS Franklin must have been built and launched during that period.
If we were to presume a lunch date of 2147 for the Franklin, it would predate the NX class by some 9 years, and if we suppose Edison took command in 2161 it would be 19 years old at that point. That's long in the tooth for a ship, but not so old as to be implausible.
So in general, then, the ship works.
Dylan Highsmith, one of the lead picture editors on Star Trek : Beyond, has confirmed this version of events :
|Dylan Highsmith : ||"If you want the official explanation on the Franklin and it’s warp factor: it was a M.A.C.O. ship (or a United Earth Starfleet ship that housed M.A.C.O. personnel at times) that predates the NX-01. When the UFP Starfleet is formed, M.A.C.O. was disbanded and the ship was reclassified as a Starfleet ship [with the USS identifier]. The ship is then 'lost' in the early 2160’s. It was important to everyone that the ship, like Edison, predate the Federation; that thematically, the ship mirrored an earlier time in history and served as a bridge in design between then and the NX-01. Doug [Jung] and Simon [Pegg] may have worked up something [on an official launch date], but if they did it never made it to script or screen. Either way it predates the NX-01, and was reclassified after the UFP is formed."|
One issue is troublesome, which is the registry number. In the real world, the Franklin's registry number of 326 is a reference to Leonard Nimoy's birthday, March 26th. That's sweet, I like it. But it doesn't make a lot of sense.
The NX-326 number would indicate that the Franklin was built after the NX-01 rather than before. But that makes no sense if the ship was the first Warp 4 Starships, given that the NX was the first Warp 5 Starship.
Further, even calling it the NX-Anything is an issue. It's made clear in Enterprise that "NX" is the class of ship that Enterprise belongs to, much as later ships would be the Excelsior class or Constitution class. Only ships of the Enterprise type should have any kind of NX class number, and the Franklin, whilst similar in look, is clearly not of that type. It should be the NV-326 or NW-326 or something.
How could we explain this?
Well, we could say that the NX class were so revolutionary that Starfleet changed the numbering system. Perhaps all Earth Starfleet ships had an "NX Number" in the 2100s, but with the advent of Enterprise the powers that be decided to call them and only them the NX class and reset the numbering. This doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me!
I prefer to think that the Franklin was built with some other registry number - an NV or NW or something. But then, after the war, when Earth Starfleet was rolled into the new Federation Starfleet, it was decided to give all Earth ships one continuous number sequence. Since the NX class were the newest and best, every ship got an NX number.
That's still a little bit silly in my opinion, but it's somewhat plausible.
So, suggested events are as follows :
|2147 : ||"The USS Franklin is launched as the first Warp 4 Starship built by Humans. There is some uncertainty in the date, but must be between 2144 and 2151. The registry is something other than 'NX'."|
|2161 : ||"Earth Starfleet and the MACO force are disbanded and rolled into the newly created Federation Starfleet. As part of this process the registry number of all Earth ships is changed to the format 'NX-' followed by a number. Presumably, the NX class keep their existing registries."|
|2161 : ||"The USS Franklin is assigned to Captain Edison for a mission of exploration. Some uncertainty in this date - 'the early 2160s'."|
|2162 : ||"The USS Franklin is lost, cause unknown. Some uncertainty in this date - 'the early 2160s'."|
This would explain all of the issues with the ship, and make it fit rather neatly into the existing timeline.