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USS Farragut undergoing a saucer separation in 2257.

Saucer separation was an emergency procedure which could be performed by some types of Federation starships, and involves the complete disconnection of the primary and secondary hulls.

The procedure began to be incorporated into starship classes in the 23rd century, including the Constitution-class, but once the two hulls were disconnected they could only be re-attached through external support by a starbase or shipyard. (TOS episode: "The Apple"; TOS comic: "'Til Death")

By the 23rd century of the Kelvin timeline, Constitution-class starships were able to readily perform saucer separations on their own, with it even being possible to pause the procedure. (TOS comic: "I, Enterprise!, Part 1") The saucer however would not function as its own ship until all connections to the drive section were severed. (TOS movie: Star Trek Beyond)

In the mid-24th century, Starfleet began to experiment with systems that were designed to allow the two sections to be able to reconnect without external support, and implemented it on several Excelsior-class vessels, including the USS Hood. As part of the training for use of the systems, all officers were required to train to perform manual docking should the need arise. (TNG novelization: Encounter at Farpoint, pp. 88-89)

The USS Enterprise-D undergoing a saucer separation in 2364.

The Galaxy-class was one of the first starship classes that were designed for separation with the two hulls having essential facilities which allowed them to operate independently for periods of time. However, with the Galaxy-class the system was designed to allow civilians and non-combatants to remain aboard the saucer section, while the main crew took the secondary hull with the main armaments to meet any threat that a starship could face. (TNG episode & novelization: Encounter at Farpoint) If necessary the saucer could modify the Impulse drive to maintain a warp field for faster than light travel. (ST reference: USS Enterprise Owners' Workshop Manual)

This functionality was later added to the Intrepid-class and the capability was added to USS Voyager as part of its refits upon returning to Earth. (VOY novel: The Eternal Tide)

Odyssey-class starships were also capable of saucer separation, noticeably increasing the agility of the secondary hull. However for unknown reasons this maneuver was mutually exclusive with deployment of their Aquarius-class escort: they could only do one at a time. (ST video game: Star Trek Online)

Examples of saucer separation

Releasing manual clamps between the hulls.

In 2257, aboard the Constitution-class USS Farragut, Lieutenant James T. Kirk worked in zero gravity to decouple the primary and secondary hulls for an emergency saucer separation. Once he manually released a set of clamps at the junction point and primed a series of explosive bolts to detonate, the bolts could be fired remotely from a control room, releasing the primary hull from the rest of the starship. (TOS comic: "Debt of Honor")

In 2259 of the Kelvin timeline, the USS Enterprise unexpectedly became sentient following an encounter with a sentient planet. An unintended side-effect of its evolution involved an aborted saucer separation sequence. (TOS comics: "I, Enterprise!, Part 1", "I, Enterprise!, Part 2") In 2262, while under the influence of interphase psychosis, Montgomery Scott performed a saucer seperation. (TOS comic: "The Tholian Webs, Part 1") In 2263, Captain James T. Kirk ordered a saucer separation after Krall's swarm drones severed the Enterprise's "neck" between the saucer and the stardrive. Nyota Uhura completed the procedure, allowing Kirk to bring the saucer's engines online, but she herself remained trapped in the neck and was captured. The Enterprise's saucer had taken too much damage to escape and violently crashed on Altamid. (TOS movie: Star Trek Beyond)

A separated USS Enterprise in 2267.

In 2267, the USS Enterprise was forced to separate the saucer from the engineering hull when an alien influence had forced the men and women to turn on one another, forcing Captain James T. Kirk to order the women to the saucer and the men to the engineering hull. Following the removal of the alien influence, both sections traveled to Starbase 13 for reconnection. (TOS comic: "'Til Death")

In 2268, to prevent crashing onto a planet's surface while in a time warp, the Enterprise separated its saucer. The strategy failed, however, killing 250 of the crew upon impact. The survivors were stranded 1,170 years in the past and built a city next to their crashed hull. When the Enterprise arrived to investigate the planet in 2268, the crew met their own descendants. By escaping the gravity well of the planet without using a time warp, they prevented the saucer separation and subsequent crash. (TOS comic: "Time's Echo")

USS Confederate

The USS Confederate performed a saucer separation during its first mission testing a new warp accelerator. When the engines began to exceed critical, without the ability to control the reaction, the crew jettisoned the saucer as a lifeboat. The stardrive hull eventually lost momentum in Romulan space, and was scuttled in a daring recovery operation by Starfleet Security. (TOS - Unlimited comic: "None But the Brave")

In 2364, Captain Jean-Luc Picard was forced to order an emergency saucer separation at warp speed following the USS Enterprise-D's first encounter with Q. While the saucer continued on to Deneb IV, the stardrive section confronted Q. The two sections were later reconnected in orbit of Deneb IV. (TNG episode & novelization: Encounter at Farpoint)

Later, Captain Picard again ordered a saucer separation on the advice of Lt. Yar to increase the odds of escaping from an alien creature. (TNG novel: Ghost Ship)

A few months later, Geordi La Forge ordered a saucer separation so that he could return to the planet Minos and rescue Captain Picard and an away team, after the Enterprise had come under attack by the Echo Papa 607 weapons system. (TNG episode: "The Arsenal of Freedom")

In early 2367, the Enterprise separated as part of a tactical maneuver to confuse the Borg and allow a small team to infiltrate the vessel and recover Captain Picard who had been assimilated by them and turned into Locutus. (TNG episode: "The Best of Both Worlds")

The Enterprise-D saucer section about to crash in 2371

Two years later, Lieutenant Commander Data's judgement was impaired by nanotechnology disguised as grain that he had earlier ingested. Believing the Klingon Empire to be behind a plot to conquer the Federation, Data initiated a saucer separation, and took the stardrive section on a course towards Qo'noS. Data was stopped before he could reach Klingon space. (TNG novel: Foreign Foes)

In the 2371, Commander Riker ordered the Enterprise-D to undergo saucer separation after a confrontation with Lursa and B'Etor in orbit of Veridian III resulted in damage to the warp core coolant lines. The crew was evacuated to the saucer and attempted to get to a safe distance, but they were caught in the shockwave from the core breach and crash-landed on the planet, disabling all controls, including helm controls in the saucer. (TNG movie: Generations)