Science and Exploration
The Challenger-class was never intended for sustained independent exploratory missions outside of Federation space, but rather is more suited for scouting missions relatively close to the border. Thanks to her high top speed even for a vessel over 40 years old by present Starfleet standards, she can take basic scans of numerous systems quickly to help Starfleet decide where to send its more adept scientific platforms. These vessels are equipped with a relatively large complement of probes and observation drones which can be left to linger in systems that they’ve scouted to gather more data. In addition, the stellar cartography and astrometrics divisions on these ships are larger than other ships of their size, due to their role as a forward scout.
One of the primary duties for Challenger-class starships is to serve as diplomatic couriers, and as such, they are very adept at transporting and hosting dignitaries. They are used both to transport Federation envoys and for serving as transports for races who do not have adequate interstellar transportation of their own. These ships can transport delegations of over one-hundred people quite easily and in comfort, which makes them ideal for supporting extended negotiations requiring larger staffs of assistants and aides. While they do also have their own conference facilities aboard, but more often their purpose is to take diplomats to negotiations, rather than to host those negotiations onboard.
Very unusual for Starfleet ships, the Challenger-class has its nacelles arranged vertically rather than horizontally. In addition, these nacelles are slightly off-center from one another, which makes them more efficient at higher speeds than other ships, though inefficient at lower speeds. These warp nacelles are also over-sized and can propel the ship at speeds similar to their much larger contemporaries, the Galaxy and Nebula-classes. Impulse power is provided by a pair of engines located on either side of the saucer adjacent to the long, thin secondary hull which contains the warp core arranged in a horizontal fashion. Ejection of the core and antimatter pods can be accomplished directly from the rear of the vessel.
Maintenance needs for this class of ship are above average for a vessel of her size, balanced between engines that need constant fine-tuning and other primary systems that are less complicated.
The shuttle bay is contained in a “hump” under the dorsal warp nacelle pylon, with space for several large shuttlecraft in addition to the captain’s yacht under the primary hull, a feature that was introduced on this class of starship.
The Challenger-class has Type-X phaser arrays and two aft firing torpedo tubes, but her primary directive in combat situations whether serving as a scout or as a courier is to run. When forced to fight, she will use her great speed and maneuverability to lob torpedoes at an enemy as she jumps to warp. In fleet engagement, she is restricted to a point defense or picket role but is generally wasted in these situations.
Life aboard Challenger-class ships is comfortable and generally without much excitement. They have similar accommodations to Galaxy-class ships, given their role as a first impression for the Federation in diplomatic situations, which means access to holodecks and other recreational facilities. Most of them have been retrofitted with shipwide holographic projectors and their medical facilities are oversized and more capable than other small ships. Crews aboard these vessels tend to be relatively junior, especially their captains, as they’re not often sent on assignments without direct supervision by a senior diplomat or admiral.
In addition to their diplomatic role, they are often chosen by flag officers as transports within Federation space, when it is assumed that they will not need to engage in any command and control responsibilities. They are often also assigned as support ships to larger starbases, given their low crew requirements and lack of utility for exploratory missions.
82 six-person escape pods give this ship an upper safe capacity of 492 passengers and crew, though they usually operate with much smaller numbers.
As the fleet modernization in the 2340s and 2350s continued, the development towards the large Galaxy and Nebula-class starships required testing of a number of their components. The Challenger-class was initially developed as a testbed for the new warp coils that would be used both aboard these classes and the New Orleans-class frigate. As the design evolved, Starfleet opted for a spaceframe that could also be used as a diplomatic courier or scout vessel, though it wasn’t intended that many would be ordered.
The Challenger-class was also seen as an opportunity for experimentation, given that they weren’t a critical production line, which led to their unusual vertical engine orientation, a design that had fewer benefits than first envisioned. Production of these vessels was given low priority and only a handful of them were built alongside their larger cousins initially, though a steady production run continued after they proved themselves useful as a fast transport for ambassadors and admirals.
One of these vessels, the Buran, was lost at Wolf 359, but the class has otherwise served without notoriety.