A Terran Trade Authority writeup
This ship, though one of the most ubiquitous of the spacelanes of Alpha and the Terran Federation, was introduced during an extremely difficult period in the advancement of commercial spaceflight. Indeed, it was arguably the most significant factor in the reversal of fortune of Alpha's Federal shipbuilder, reopening space travel to the general public and becoming a common sight on cargo and passenger routes.
Design work on the Skate began on Alpha as a governmental Project in 2033, three years before contact was established with the Terrans. Alpha's own infant spaceflight industry had recently suffered a severe setback when three new-design interplanetary liners exploded on passenger runs within the space of a month, with a collective loss of over 1000 lives. There was insufficient evidence to determine what had caused any of these accidents and public confidence in commercial spaceflight slumped to an all-time low; bookings with travel operators were a shadow of their former levels and the future prospects painted by industry experts were conservative, to say the least.
The few operators that were making scheduled 'flights' at this point scaled back their services considerably until only a few dozen services would be flown per Alphan year; cargo operations were largely unaffected by these events and continued a slow growth, which was a minor relief to the shipbuilding industry but this alone was unable to staunch its currency haemorrhage for long. The continent-sized shipyards stood mostly silent, only small portions operating and still costing the owners vast sums to maintain. The interplanetary (ultimately to become the interstellar) travel industry was in the midst of a frenzied search to revitalise itself, its own future at stake.
The project was also threatened by the reduction of orders from spaceline operators, but the team fought to allow work to continue, successfully arguing that the design could be adapted to suit the rapidly-changing transport industry. The initial proposal was for a small, fast business craft with a capacity of 30-40 passengers that sacrificed a warp jump capability for luxury and a highly adaptable interior cabin. A very strong but simple stressed design allowed the spaceframe - often the most expensive component of any ship after the drive system - to be manufactured using cheap techniques that would reduce the end cost considerably. The hull was approximately thirty metres long and five metres wide, with cargo pod space available under twin wing-like protrusions at the rear of the fuselage.
In its initial form, the design would have been one of the fastest non-warp-driven ships available; an innovative pulsed hydrogen drive system (not unlike the Terran Charged Ion Drive) could produce up to 60% of warp speed with greater fuel efficiency. However, this drive was very expensive to manufacture and unproven in any kind of regular use, offsetting the low price of the hull and making the design somewhat risky to attempt deploying in the current commercial environment.
The revised design shelved the new propulsion system, replacing it with a basic but faster nuclear/hydrogen ion drive system and lengthening the hull to account for the extra space it occupied. Design work on the luxurious interior was also postponed in favour of more spartan but still functional appointments that increased capacity by approximately twenty per cent.
The results of early prototype flights were quite positive, test pilots reporting that the ship was 'easy and satisfying to fly' under conventional drives. Warp flight, however, was a different story. Severe buffeting and stability problems were encountered at cruising speed during the first warp flights by all prototypes, one of which suffered an emergency drive shutdown and was left drifting helplessly, eventually towed back to the testing yards several days later.
This stalled the project, now facing time and financial pressure to produce a working ship in the face of the economic downturn. After further testing, during which the design team were pleased to see the sturdy spaceframes withstand the punishment they were subjected to, it was discovered that the structural mountings for the warp chamber were not providing sufficient damping against the natural oscillations of the drive system at cruise, transmitting them to the rest of the ship.
This and several other minor problems were rectified after further prototyping and the design approved for commercial use in 2035. An initial production run turned out fifty ships after some tentative interest by several arms of government, but the problem of selling it commercially still remained. Although initial sales pitches received positive responses from spaceflight operators they remained reticent to invest in a new and unproven design during such a conservative period. Further pitches and alternative marketing strategies achieved only limited results and the political pressure was growing for buyers to be found, with threats of mothballing the project on the horizon.
Now under a deadline to field the design or face reassignment, a last-ditch effort was made to turn around the fortunes of a design the company had pinned its reputation on: a management edict mandated that until further notice, all company-subsidised transportation would use Skate ships, all sales models would be flown to their demonstrations by sales staff rather than transported by freighters (an adopted measure of caution for new designs) and pilots on passenger runs were to allow viewings of the craft by the public on request regardless of its impact on schedules.
This had the desired effect. The design had only been seen in specialist media publications at that point and certainly not by the general space-travelling public who were now exposed to it regularly as examples made passenger runs to and from government facilities. The hunched, compact design was very well received. the public impressed with its looks and interior appointments. The spaceline operators, previously impressed with the efficiency the design afforded were now also convinced of its safety and utility now the Alphan government was using it.
Orders from passenger and cargo operators began to grow steadily but the real boon arrived in 2036 when a manned Terran survey ship made contact with a Skate on a passenger run between Alpha 1 and Alpha 3 (named Champen's Run after its pioneer). The subsequent events and exchanges between both species is well-documented but it also resulted in Terran interest in the design as a passenger and cargo carrier. Although Terran travel operators already flew passenger carriers they were large, ponderous and expensive luxury craft that lacked warp capability.
Interest in the Skate from the Terran World Trade Authority (soon to become the Terran Trade Authority) ultimately resulted in its inclusion in the Terra-Alpha Trade Agreement 2039 which included the granting of a license to the TTA to manufacture their own Skate units, with the Alphans receiving a percentage from each sale. This ultimately saved the Alphan shipbuilder and provided a base from which the wider industry was able to rebuild as space travel grew in popularity again, with the discovery of stellar neighbours. This was arguably of equal or greater value to the Alphans as the sharing of warp technology was to humans.
Although the Skate has now been replaced by the Interstellar Queen as the most successful Terran passenger carrier, the ship is still a regular sight in TTA and Alphan space, plying cargo and low-density passenger routes between planetary colonies and space stations across several star systems. The simple design of the Skate has proved exceptionally durable and it is not uncommon to see examples on which the newest component is several years older than the last coat of paint. That said, further iterations of the design have been produced which gave more powerplant options, upgraded the conventional manoeuvring systems and interestingly reintroduced the luxury interior as a buyer option, increasingly viable as space travel grew in popularity.
Several dozen Skate units were also requisitioned by governments early during the Proxima Wars as orbit-to-surface troop transports but they were gradually supplanted by dedicated designs, and those not destroyed were returned to their owners. Many such examples display a common emblem produced unofficially by the now-aged members of the original design team, evidently delighted their baby has weathered the ages so well.
- Nationality: Alpha Centauri
- Classification: Private passenger/cargo cruiser
- Main Drive: Nuclear/hydrogen ion drive
- Secondary Drive: Conventional nuclear/hydrogen navigational jets
- Personnel: 3 crew (Pilot, Navigator, Flight Engineer)
- Capacity: Between 30 and 80 passengers (depending on the variant) or approximately 107,050kg cargo
- Armament: none
- Defense: Anti-radiation and Meteorite Deflector Shield