Explorer Class

Specialist Exploration craft that generally reach a target star before other vessels

Explorer Class .
Image from Steve Bowers
A First Federation Explorer Class ship approaching Lambda Aurigae A IV

The first Explorer Class ships were long range, rugged and reliable self-repairing exploration vessels constructed during the First Federation period. These craft were controlled by fully-sophont autonomous AI, and at this stage in history they carried no colonists or biological material to avoid cross-contamination. These craft were accelerated from their home systems by boostbeam, but used magbrakes and antimatter drive to decelerate.

In the late Federation period and Age of Expansion, Explorer Class vessels were mostly powered by Conversion-drive, and generally carried a specialised transapient-level entity to make detailed observations and on-the-spot policy decisions.

Explorer Class ship Torcello
Image from Steve Bowers
The Torcello, a Halo Drive reactionless Explorer Class ship, approaches Matar
In the Current Era, Explorer Class vessels use Reactionless drive and are usually crewed by at least one transapient-level explorer (note that archailects are too large to move at interstellar speeds).

Of course, every exploration mission is preceded by long periods of observation using astronomical telescopes of immense resolving power, and the exploration craft are already aware of most significant data about the target systems. However, there are often many new and surprising things to discover.
Image from Steve Bowers and Artbreeder AI
A modosophont explorer/observer surveys a new planet
Modern exploration ships often carry with them a small contingent of modosophont-level observers, who are considered to give valuable subjective insights while observing. Although these observers are stored as data during the journey, they are often downloaded into suitable incarnations on arrival.

However there are rumours that a significant number of exploration missions are carried out by void-ships at high fractions of the speed of light, but no reliable information about these journeys ever reaches down to modosophont level.
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Development Notes
Text by M. Alan Kazlev
Additional material by Steve Bowers and Todd Drashner
Initially published on 24 October 2001.