The Tech Side #10: Imperial Starships – The Benatar Class Cruisers

As sci-fi fans, we love the starships our favorite characters cruise the cosmos in, don’t we? Star Trek has its various incarnations of the Enterprise, Star Wars has the Millenium Falcon, Battlestar Galactica… well, has itself. Firefly has the Serenity. Buck Rogers had the Searcher, and The Expanse has the Rocinante. We love them for different reasons, don’t we?

In a similar vein, when I wrote the Galaxii Series I envisioned ships of my own design. In order to manage and protect such an enormous amount of space, the Terran Empire has a lot of starships – and the Antares and Mordrake are just two of them.

The series (so far) revolves around the adventures of two sets of characters on two different ships; the I.S.S. Antares and the I.S.S. Mordrake. “Dead Beckoning“, book 3 of Galaxii, brings both crews from both ships together. Both are Benatar class cruisers – and I thought it prudent to take a closer look at these ships.

Cruisers of the Benatar class, like the Antares, typically carry two standard shuttles, and are the largest regular Main Fleet ships frequently seen around the Empire. Adaptable and flexible, they’re large, fast, roomy and well-armed.

A Few Interesting Facts:

  • The prefix “I.S.S.” stands for “Imperial Star Ship”. All Space Fleet starships carry this prefix before their designated names, but also have registry numbers.
  • The Antares’ Space Fleet registry number is AC-247. Mordrake’s is AT-995.
  • Antares is named after a star, Antares, which is found in the constellation Scorpius and is considered the fifteenth-brightest star in the night sky – viewed from Earth, naturally.
  • The Mordrake’s name was inspired by the legend of Edward Mordrake – but then, “Demonspawn” is a horror-thriller.
  • The Antares is often fondly referred to as ‘the Ant-arse’ by its crew. This has more to do with an anagrammatical play on words than the shape of the ship! The literal truth of the matter is that it began with a typo – but I liked it!
  • Benatar class ships have a typical crew capacity varying between 200 and 300, and this includes a platoon of Security Marines (20).
  • Cruisers like Antares & Mordrake are used for a wide variety of roles and purposes and as such need to be flexible and adaptable.
  • Like most ships of the Space Fleet, the Antares is light gray on the outside, in keeping with military or naval tradition.
  • At the time of “Blachart“, the Antares is commanded by the elderly Captain Joel Falconer, on his final mission before his intended retirement. After he dies unexpectedly while in Corsair captivity – Commander Mykl d’Angelo is promoted up to fill the post of Captain.
  • Although the books in the Galaxii Series make no overt mention of it, Captain d’Angelo and his Exo, Commander Ripley Jones remain onboard the Antares together, forsaking any promotions or transfers until they jointly retire many years later.
  • We know the Antares survives its adventures in Galaxii to make the occasional cameo appearance in Quantum, which is set about thirty years later – while the Antares is calling at the colony world Deanna, the present master of the Antares, Captain Horst van der Ku, refers to his predecessor, Mykl d’Angelo.
  • The future of the Mordrake is less certain as it only barely survives the Second Battle of Turtle Island in “Dead Beckoning” and has to be towed back to Tremaine for major repairs.
  • At the time of “Demonspawn“, the Mordrake is under the command of Captain Phillip Wainwright Blaine, who is murdered under mysterious circumstances, leaving the Exo, Commander Joe Lofflin to hold things together. Lofflin is later promoted up to fill the gap – which while not necessarily undeserved may have more to do with the cost-effectiveness of transporting a replacement from elsewhere!

Brief External Schematics:

Diagrams of a typical Benatar class side-view below are labeled for your ease of reference:

What’s Inside?

Now that we’ve had a casual look around the broader descriptions of the Benatar Class ships Antares and Mordrake, let’s take a closer look at the detail.

The Bridge Complex:

The bridge aboard ship is where most of the action happens! In Galaxii, there’s more to the bridge than just the bridge – there’s a few other things linked to it in order to optimize efficiency, as you will discover.

As with many things, so the story goes, there was a call to standardize various different aspects of the ships the Fleet used; from conventional aspects involving where the bridge should be in relation to the rest of the ship, to conventions around the layout of corridors and placement of different important places such as sickbay, maintenance, the mess hall, and so on. After all, it’s no use if new crewmembers arrive on a ship that’s so different to the previous one they were on, that they get lost looking for their duty station!

To circumvent just such problems from arising, the people in charge of the Space Fleet laid out a requirement for all future ship designs to be laid out internally in such a way as to be similar – and familiar to their crews. Part of this approach to standardized layout, is the standardized bridge complex. Now before I continue, I should explain exactly what the bridge complex is.

The bridge naturally is the control center of a ship – everything critical to the control and direction of the ship is located there, but there are also other critical systems that the Fleet’s chiefs wanted located in the same immediate vicinity of the bridge itself to both connect it to the rest of the ship, as well as to facilitate the enhanced functioning of the bridge.

Let’s start off by looking at the Antares’ bridge first:

The Bridge

The bridge is the control center of the ship; the bridge is normally situated somewhere in front or on top of a Terran starship. Everything on the ship can normally be controlled from the systems and control consoles on the bridge.

The Antares has such a standardized bridge complex – which consists of the Bridge, Captain’s Flat, the Captain’s office, a briefing room, waiting area, and of course, ablution facilities for crew on duty.

And now, the rest of the bridge complex:

The Captain’s Flat

Being Captain of a starship isn’t about luxury, but command does have several privileges – not the least of which is having the largest apartment on the ship! I also moved the Captain’s apartment close to the bridge for the same reason, and if you look at the layout in the accompanying diagrams, you’ll see how it connects both to the bridge and conference room via the Captain’s office – where he or she would also handle various administrative duties while not actually on the bridge.

The Captain’s Flat or apartment is generally private, and off-limits to other crew members, unless by specific invitation. When the Captain isn’t on the bridge, he or she might be inspecting parts of the ship, or catching up on reports or admin in the office – where the Captain is also usually expected to see crew members on official matters, such as relating to discipline or regarding their careers!

The Captain’s Office

The Captain’s Office is reachable via the Alcove adjoining the Foyer outside the bridge, and privately from inside the Captain’s apartment. The Captain’s apartment also has a “front door” through the lounge, which opens into a private portion of the corridor leading to the rest of the deck. The reason for this privacy is to allow the Captain to not be bothered during down-time by busy crew.

The Alcove

The Alcove serves as a waiting area, for those waiting to see the Captain in their office, or to be called into a briefing or meeting in the adjoining Conference Room. It’s purpose is to enhance privacy in terms of both uses, also to ensure that the bridge crew remain undisturbed in their efforts to run the ship.

The Conference Room

This is pretty standard fare for a conference room – containing a table long enough to seat the Captain, Exo and all the ship’s heads of department and a few extra seats. There are all the multimedia features one would expect, including holographic projectors, and few tasteful decor items arranged in shelves along the sides. In the event of courts martial, the room can be rearranged accordingly. Conference rooms feature prominently in the following stories: “Blachart” and “Dead Beckoning“.

The Foyer

The Foyer has several entrances, the largest of which is the main archway (sometimes closed off with a transparent partition or doorway for increased security or privacy), followed by the entrance to the Alcove, an entrance to the adjoining bathroom opposite that for bridge crew on duty, and beside that, a corridor leading to the rest of the deck, and in the center opposite the archway leading into the bridge, two elevators leading to lower decks on the ship. A pair of security marines is usually on duty in the Alcove, standing at ease and awaiting instructions or for an incident to occur that requires their involvement. Between the two elevator entrances, there is usually a display panel used to display miscellaneous information, like a digital notice board.

The Bathroom

I’ve often found it strange that sci-fi shows never seem to consider the worth of a well-placed bathroom. I mean, imagine for a moment that some poor sap on the bridge develops a stomach ailment while on duty and has to run down half a mile of corridors to find a loo? Could get messy!

Although pretty straightforward, this feature enables crew on duty to quickly refresh and be back at their stations in a matter of minutes. Aside from several unisex stalls, this room also has a few luxuries such as mirrors, basins and driers and so on. The bathroom is also the location of an emergency first aid station. Just like the old saying about guns – I’d rather have one handy and not need it, than need one and not have it!

The Elevators

These travel the height of the ship, from the topmost deck, right to the very bottom. Although these aren’t the only two , or sometimes more elevators onboard – depending on the size and class of ship of course – they are the two primary ones.

The Med-plex:

Sickbays on Space Fleet ships all come equipped with an airlock at the main entrance which is handy in times of threatening epidemics for decontamination ‘baths’ using sanitizing energy blasts which has been described as ‘a disco-light show’ by crews in the past. For the rest of the time, this airlock remains open and unused and quite unobtrusive.

There is a string of medical security precautions that protect a starship’s sickbay from the rest of the ship – and conversely, the rest of the ship from sickbay! This includes an array of biohazard filters on air supply and recycling – in fact, the sickbay runs on its own sealed sub-system (when the airlock at the entrance is activated). The life-support system and medical instruments run directly off the emergency reserves and are unaffected if the rest of the ship is plunged into darkness if the main power goes offline for any reason.

Beyond the entrance to sickbay, is a row of treatment beds which varies in context of the size of the ship, the crew and consequently, the sickbay itself.

With most medical procedures at this time being bloodless and non-invasive, an operating theater for surgeries has long since faded into medical history – but there is a corner of every sickbay set aside for physical interventions and critical treatment of trauma. For the most part, medical treatments are administered to patients either while consulting the C-Med in the office, a nursing assistant, or in one of the beds in sickbay. Seriously ill or injured patients are kept in the sickbay, while routine patients are given bedrest in their quarters. A small bathroom is situated beside the sickbay for use of staff, visitors and patients, and includes a shower and real bath facility.

The complex includes a small well-equipped laboratory area for analyzing medical samples and developing treatments right down to the genetic level. Understandably, as a precaution, this lab as well as the quarantine ward beside it are treated as a potential biohazard and is kept closed and sealed at all times. The lab is equipped with a disintegrator booth (called an ‘autoclave’) about the size of a microwave oven, which is used to destroy hazardous biological materials within the lab, i.e. in a petri-dish or sample case.

Also, for various reasons, it has been deemed prudent for a direct tie-in to the ships’ security system to be available via the sickbay’s computers, with appropriate access protocols and security measures to ensure it is used only when justified.

In order to ensure that the Chief Medical Officer (or C-Med) is close at hand near the sickbay, the Med-Plex also includes the doctor’s modest accommodations, which also adjoin an office.

A Few Technical Features:

Transmatters:

The transmatter – or transporters, teleporters or matter transmitters, as readers may know them by different sources, is a pretty nifty way of getting around in our sci-fi future! Although the characters in Galaxii (or Quantum) wouldn’t be caught dead saying “beam me up, Scotty”, the transmatter in my series has become a mainstay form of fast inter-ship transportation. Shuttles or docking stations in planetary orbit are still the preferred means of arrival in this sci-fi universe however, and so most transmatter systems are relatively short range – being considered safe at a range of just a few kilometers distance!

You may be wondering why I opted to include teleportation in my series, and I can tell you right away, because it’s a fascinating way to travel, and it makes a lot of sense… that is, if you can get past making up pseudo-scientific explanations of how these things are supposed to work in a way that sounds scientifically plausible – without getting eviscerated by avid sci-fi fans who also keep abreast of current scientific theory and studies! I discuss the science behind how these fascinating devices work here.

In Galaxii and my other series as well, the transmatter is a teleportation device in general use on starships, space stations, loderunners and even onboard luxury space liners! Their use is not restricted to the military, even though they have their strategic advantages!

Typically the crew of the Antares uses these devices to teleport from their ships to other ships without having to use a shuttle, or to spacewalk between ships while wearing viro-suits!

Onboard a starship like the Antares, the compartment in which the transmatter is located is commonly referred to as a “transmatter chamber“, or just a “transmatter”. Although there are many configurations, the most common, typical layout is the one demonstrated in the diagrams below. The scale is approximate, but the size of the device and its carrying capacity are generally dictated by its specific application, and the size of the ship and crew compliment etc. as well as how much power is available at any specific time it is needed.

A commercial space liner might use one to teleport its passengers to and from the surface of a planet being visited, so it would likely have a larger jump platform than those aboard a Terran warship for example. I’m sure the risks posed by such a device would create an entirely new sub-department in most insurance firms!

The Antares uses the typical arrangement shown here, which saves space. The general layout is applicable across the board; in that transmatters consist of primarily a raised platform (referred to as a “jump platform“) which contains most of the working components of the transmatter device.

A short distance away from the alcove or jump platform, there is a control desk from where the device is operated, positioned in order for the operator to have a good view of the people either leaving or arriving, and for ease of communication with them.

Gravity Systems:

The I.S.S. Antares uses a form of artificial gravity generator – which is essentially a connected network of small units connected to the ship’s power and control circuits. These devices emit gravitons in a directional flow away from themselves. 

There are thousands of these individual devices installed on the Antares! In the diagrams below, you will see that basically for each square meter of deck space, there would be roughly 4 individual units to ensure there is gravity on that square meter! The units (in purple) are installed in the ceiling, above the floor or walkway, since the force they emit repels objects – so they press downward against everything in range to keep the crew’s feet firmly planted on the deck!

These units are all connected together to form a network – which is what I refer to in Galaxii, as a “gravity net”. The gravity net is controllable and variable – that’s to say, able to be increased or decreased according to specific requirements – however it’s more than likely that the “normal” setting would be 1g (or 1 Earth gravity, or in other words, the same as we would experience on Earth). This also comes in useful in cities or outposts built on lower gravity worlds, such as Luna or Mars for example.

Armament:

Defensive

Benatar class ships are equipped with a variety of different types of energy shields that form an invisible bubble around the ship to protect it from different types of harmful energies as well as physical threats such as projectiles, meteorites, torpedoes etc. These can all be deployed separately or at once in a sort of layered defensive structure.

Offensive

Most Space Fleet ships are armed with slamtorpedoes and ion canon. Most of the older ships have undergone numerous upgrades to include changes and improvements to various different technologies and systems, and weapons are no exception.

Ion cannon

Ion canon is a subcategory of energy weapon which can include everything from lasers to plasma weapons.

Slamtorpedoes

A slamtorpedo is a self-propelled guided missile roughly the size of a small sedan. It’s streamlined in appearance and is able to carry a range of payloads.

Each slamtorpedo consists of three modules – beginning at the front end, the payload/warhead, in the center, the avionics package, and at the back the drive module. Below, a separated, color-coded diagram:

Slamtorpedoes are armed with an array of choices – each of which is preselected by the weapons operator on the ship’s bridge according to the nature of the mission and/or the type or classification of the target. Choices include the rather ordinary HE (High Explosive) option, followed by more exotic fare like AM (Anti-Matter), TN (Tactical Nuke), TP (Thermite Plasma) – and an adaptable variety of others.

The lightweight avionics package handles the mechanical control of the entire torpedo from activation to target. This sophisticated computer effectively turns the torpedo into a ‘smart bomb’, which multiplies it’s useful applications tenfold. Not only can it operate as a simple, basic ship-to-target missile, but using its instruments and sensors, can also independently follow, track, trace, strategize and attack its designated target. 

The propulsion system of the slamtorpedo consists of three stern EM thrusters and a number of graviton thrusters for attitude adjustment. Although the torpedo is launched  from an EM catapult, which launches it at an already high speed, the EM drive takes over to maintain that speed, accelerate or change course, depending on the sort of guidance directives set into its computer.

Weapons Hubs

Benatar class ships carry two weapons hubs which house both slamtorpedoes and ion cannon – and mostly these are aligned vertically on the ship’s axis; dorsal (above) and ventral (below). The Antares conforms to this doctrine.

In brief, the dorsal and ventral weapons hubs on the Antares contain launchers for slamtorpedoes, laser cannons and other weapons typically carried on a warship. Weapons hubs in a sense resemble the turrets on seaborne battleships of old, although all their gear is stored inboard, and weapons hubs can have several separate platforms, rotating around the same central axis, and sometimes smaller independent axes in order to get the selected weapon on target while in motion, or to select multiple targets wherever their position on the clock.

The role played by placing these all on two central weapons platforms improves both aiming, firing and supply of torpedoes, rather than having to mount static launchers at fore, midship and aft positions, each with their own individual weapons and added complications.

What’s the point of the weapons hub? Well, in simple terms, it’s to assist the targeting computer in getting as many shots fired (torpedo or energy beam weapons) as quickly as possible and as accurately as possible – without having to first guide them around the curvature of the ship’s hull for example. The platform rotates along the horizontal axis, and there are several of each weapon type arranged around the circular platform opposite each other in banks. As the hub rotates to bring the most appropriate (or selected) weapon round or closer to the target, it shortens the distance (and time) from firing to delivery – and can fire multiple repeat shots of the same.

The weapons hub system really comes into its own when the ship is engaged by multiple targets, and since there are two hubs, both cover the ship together and provide a 360 degree coverage (at medium to long range). The targeting computer can now target and fire on multiple targets virtually simultaneously, whereas before it first had to fire at one target, and then wait for the torpedo launcher to reload before engaging the next target.

The advantage of the new system over the old then, could be compared to the difference between a semi-automatic pistol and a machine-gun with an integral RPG launcher.

Schematic

As visible in the diagram above, a Benatar Class cruiser like the Antares has two weapons hubs – one underneath, and one above. The ideal location for the torpedo production plant would be somewhere between the two, since it will supply torpedoes to both hubs. This supply chain consists of a number of drive or conveyor belts which ensure a reliable, efficient supply of slamtorpedoes to the torpedo launchers in both weapons hubs. In this example, the general location of the torpedo production plant (TPP) is indicated by the demarcated area amidships.

Torpedo Production Plant (TPP)

Once transmatter and replication technologies became refined enough, starships came fitted with onboard torpedo production plants. In simplified terms, this device uses transmatter technology to create an endless supply of flawless copies of slamtorpedoes based on a variety of templates stored in memory, as needed. The newly created torpedo is then routed to the appropriate weapons hub via a bilateral coupling and a system of belts which feeds torpedoes to both hubs. A more in-depth explanation is provided here. This system can operate at a fairly high speed, considerably higher than the previous canonical layout of having fixed torpedo launchers at the front of the ship, and perhaps a few along the sides and stern. In fact, as well as appearing as original equipment in new ships, it’s been so effective that it’s been retro-fitted to older ships as well.

Weapons Hubs (simplified outline)

As there are two weapons hubs on each vessel, both are to be mirror-images of each other, and this can be seen clearly in the next diagrams:

Although the Terran Empire isn’t a war-like entity, it has long-ago learned the wisdom in the old adage “it’s better to be safe than sorry”. Weapons hubs dramatically increased a single warship’s firing rate for both slamtorpedoes and ion canon, even simultaneously and without putting much of a greater strain on ship’s energy resources – although an increase in generated power was later made across the board to compensate.

A single cruiser like the Antares can now very much achieve strategically what it previously took ten, perhaps more Terran warships to do in an engagement. The addition of this capability has made Terran warships fearsome to any adversary, and what better deterrent is there to anyone thinking of war with the Terrans than counting what it would end up costing them?

The Engineering Complex:

Terran starships of all kinds, from loderunners to imperial warships, use a faster than light drive system colloquially referred to as the ‘stardrive’ or a ‘warp drive’ or even a ‘hyperdrive’. Antares and Mordrake are no exceptions. Stardrives are a variation of warp engine, and in common parlance, traveling faster than light-speed is referred to as ‘warp speed’, with degrees of measurement specified as ‘warp 1’, ‘warp 2’ etc. At warp speed, the stars outside the ship are invisible due to it traveling faster than the speed of light, and so from inside the ship, through viewports and on the main view screen, space looks dark.

Stardrives, since they are a sort of thruster, are conventionally positioned at the back end of most ships, but in some cases, they’re encased in pods at the end of pylons to the side of the ship. Benatar cruisers have a standardized Engineering Complex (designed along the same principle as the the standardized bridge complex mentioned earlier), and their engines are located at the back (or stern) of the ship. 

This class of starship uses a replication device based on transmatter technology similar to the one used in the Torpedo Production Plant (TPP) to manufacture matter/anti-matter fuel on demand, as the engines run. This eliminates the need to carry vast amounts of unstable and dangerous anti-matter in a special storage cell, making interstellar travel much safer. 

This in effect means that a starship can travel for as long as there’s fuel, or to be more exact, until something prevents it from making more fuel, like for example, a breakdown.

Like the Bridge Complex, starships of the Terran Space Fleet also come with an Engineering Complex, which consists of the Engine Room (naturally), an office and control station, an ablution facility, a first aid station, various types of workshop facility, as well as the Chief Entech’s cabin- which is really more generously appointed than it sounds.

To ensure that the Chief Entech is situated close to their main duty station, they have the use of a modest apartment right beside the engine room, which is accessible through an office and control station where all engine functions are monitored. The aim of that is to ensure the proximity of key engineering personnel as much as possible, so that even when off-shift, the Chief is handy to address emergencies.

The engine room itself is probably one of the largest chambers on a starship, typically around fifty meters long, oval-shaped, three decks high inside. The core – often referred to as the Reflex Furnace – that powers the stardrive, is situated at the center of it. That item alone dominates the engine room, reaching from top to bottom, and connected to the engine banks by means of conduits. Catwalks and covered ladders allow access to various parts of the machinery which are laid out at different levels of the engine room. A massive shield behind the stern wall of the engine room protects the crew and the rest of the ship from radiation, heat and destruction should anything go badly wrong!

Further reading:

In Closing

That about covers it! I hope I’ve explained everything in a way that’s easily understood! I really enjoyed translating my original hand-drawn sketches into digital blueprint diagrams for this article, and I think they look pretty neat that way!

Feel free to email or message me via Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn if you have any comments or questions!

Until next time,

Cheers! 🙂


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