The Pathfinder Starships were the original vanguard of the Odyssey Project. Pathfinder ships are enormous, multi-generational ships built for voyages expected to last centuries. The Pathfinder missions were intended to be one-way, and the ships were never expected to return to their home-worlds once dispatched. These 'Pathfinder Ships' were therefore built to be self-sustaining over multiple generations, and capable of ultimately carrying a crew of tens of thousands.
The development of the Pathfinder Ships followed both the failed Olympic Project and the Treaty of Cooperation in Interstellar Exploration between the colony worlds of Sapphire and Republic beginning around the Solar Year 7000. Both worlds agreed to commit to the Odyssey Project; a long-range exploration of the galaxy to rediscover, re-explore, and regain contact with the other colonies of the former Great Galactic Commonwealth, which had collapsed in the 55th Solar Century. Sapphire had recently gained access to technology capable of accessing and navigating hyperspace while Republic had a database of the probable locations of other colony worlds.
As originally conceived, the Pathfinder Ships would have been 1,000 meters in length with a crew of 1,000 and lightly armed. (If you think this sounds a lot like the subsequent Explorer Class, you win a plush Ground Monster.) (Not really)
Analysis by the Odyssey Project Technical Advisory board raised several issues. Foremost among these was that the proposed design was too small and Spartan to achieve what would probably become a multi-generational mission of exploration. An Analysis from the University of Sapphire at New Cleveland suggested 300 years was the probable minimum time of exploring the galaxy before Earth was rediscovered. The initial design also relied heavily on the ship being resupplied at each colonial stop. The design team thought this was an overly optimistic assumption; that surviving colonies (if there were any) might well be too primitive or too hostile to be reliable sources of supplies. They also thought the ship was undermanned and under-weaponed for the potential dangers that it might encounter.
The revised design vastly increased the size of the ship to over 4,000 meters in length; added two engines; massively upgraded the ship's recycling and environmental support systems; added extensive production facilities for food, consumable goods, tools, and machinery; increased the ship’s complement of Aves shuttlecraft from one to four; and, most controversially, augmented the ship’s armament with 100 Cascade Effect Antimatter Nemesis warheads.
Republic initially balked at the changes, produced an alternate design that doubled the ships’ length, increased its overall size, increased cargo capacity, and augmented the defensive weapons systems without adding Nemesis warheads. But in the end, Sapphire’s larger design, with some modifications, was ultimately built.
Twelve ships were originally contracted, but the tranche was initially reduced to nine because of the withdrawal of financial support from the planet Republic, who, of course, lied about it and claimed their reason was that the Explorer Class ships could do the job better and cheaper and not because a political shift in two of the five houses of governance had eroded support for the program. The tranche was further reduced to seven, with the final two ships completed primarily with Sapphirean financing.
Naming the Ships
Republic wanted each of the Pathfinder Ships to have solely a numerical designation (e.g. Pathfinder-1, Pathfinder-2, and so on) Sapphire insisted that each ship should carry a name. In the spirit of compromise, ships carry both. Sapphire was given the naming honors for the odd-numbered ships, Republic for the even-numbered ships.
In the end, seven Pathfinder Ships were built:
- Pathfinder 1 – Odyssey: Named for the Odyssey Project
- Pathfinder 2 – Olympic: Named in honor of the Olympic Project; the disastrous predecessor to the Odyssey Project. "Olympic" is also a deeply rooted symbolic name in the culture of the planet Republic being the name of the first colony ship to bring colonists to the planet.
- Pathfinder 3 – Pegasus: Named for the Sector/Constellation of Pegasus, wherein is located Sapphire and Republic Colonies
- Pathfinder 4 – Republic: Named for the planet Republic.
- Pathfinder 5 – Sapphire: Named for the planet Sapphire.
- Pathfinder 6 – Lexington Keeler: Republic oddly chose the name of one of the legendary founding fathers of Sapphire for Pathfinder 6 in a political move aimed at spurring more funding for building additional ships. It was originally to be named Orion in honor of the quadrant of the galaxy where Earth was believed to reside.
- Pathfinder 7 – Ark Royal: Named for both Lexington Keeler’s flagship in the Ninth Crusade and for the fictional starship in the enduringly popular Galactic Conquest series of books and action sequences. JoyLAB campaigned extensively in the ‘Name Pathfinder 7’ forum for the adaptation of this name.
Two additional Pathfinder ships had begun construction when Republic ceased funding the project. These were to be named Perseus (after the quadrant of the galaxy where Sapphire and Republic were located) and Ascendance.
A Pathfinder Ship is 4,200 Meters Long from nose to tail and 1,400 meters wide across the tips of its wingblades. It is an elegant shape with a large forward section that connects to a superstructure at the rear. There are 101 decks at the highest point in the Command Tower above Deck Zero -- the ship's midline and central gravitational nexus --- and 121 decks below Deck Zero at its lowest point.
The Command Tower rises above the Primary Hull and contains the ship's operational areas, including the Primary Command Deck, Tactical Command Areas, Telemetry Laboratories, and Flight Operations. A smaller secondary tower rises next to it, containing auxiliary operational areas for the Technical Core, Environmental Controls, and Crew Functions.
Also known as the 'Main Bridge,' or 'PC-1,' is located on Deck 100, and is the location for all of the ship's command functions.
The Central Artificial Intelligence Repository is called the BrainCore, a semi-circular array of intelligence engines extending through three decks. The intelligence itself is contained within a bio-electronic nexus created out of material cloned from the Caliph probe.
A Pathfinder Ship contains four Graviton Engines, which provide for the ship's propulsion in normal space. The combined effect of these engines is capable of propelling the ship at a velocity of 0.9c. However, their primary use is to accelerate the ship to .55c, at which velocity, the Transition Engines can carry the ship into HyperSpace. Within Hyperspace, the ship is propelled by a system of five-dimensional energy sails, which channel the raw energy currents of hyperspace into a stream capable of propelling the ship at multiples of the speed of light.
Four Hangar Bays located in the ships aft sections house and provide the maintenance and support environment for the four Flight Groups of Aves each ship carries. Aves are maintained in the Hangars, and their crews embark on them at the docks contained within. They are launched on a system of electro-magnetic railguns from the front of the ship. However, if rapid acceleration is not necessary, they can also be launch under their own power through the rear of the ship.
On Deck 23, between the Habitation Zones and the Command Towers is a three-tiered space of recreational facilities that form the informal "Town Square" of the ship. A variety of eating establishments, taverns, and other shops are located in the Amenities Nexus, along with aporting and gaming facilities.
Residential Space for the Pathfinder Crew is provided beneath the clear dome that extends from the base of the Command Towers forward toward the Missile Hatcheries in the Ship's Forward Section. The residences were designed in blocks arranges around walkways lined with trees, grass, and flowers, to maximize crew comfort on long voyages. The average space allotment per crew member is 400 square meters, with additional space for families. Forward of the Residential decks are garden parks and athletic fields that provide recreation for the crew and support the ship's air purification systems. Only 20% of the Habitable Area was used at launch as the ship's population was expected to grow over the course of the multi-generation mission. Adjacent cargo areas were designed for conversion to living spaces as the population increased.
4,200 meters is a long hike. The pathfinder ships are equipped with "tubeways" that connect all major sections of the ship. The tubeways carry transport pods, which are MagLev-based vehicles, that whisk passengers among the transport docks in each major section. Transport pods travel both horizontally and vertically. The Transport Pod and Tubeway System is supplemented by vertical lifts in the command towers. Elsewhere, there are corridors and ladders to connect the various decks.
On the forward part of the ship, the ship's primary offensive and defensive weaponry is contained in an arrangement of missile hatches connected to the Nemesis and Hammerhead missiles stored forward. The hatcheries can move them to Launch-Ready in tenths of a second.
The UnderDecks are located below the Primary Tri-Keel, and comprises nearly 60 per cent of the ship's volume. All four of the ship's engines extend into the Underdecks. Vast cargo facilities contain provisions sufficient to support a crew of ten thousand for thirty years without replenishment. Raw materials are stored in cargo bins and fed to "artifactories," which are flexible fabrication units capable of creating food, clothing, medicine, tools, weapons, and whatever else the crew may need from templates stored in the braincore. Additionally, the UnderDecks contain water refineries, fuel storage, quantum power and fusion generators, air purification systems, environmental systems, and most of the ship's other utilities.
Deck Zero is the center deck of Pathfinder, Explorer, and Defender Class starships. Deck Zero is the location of the ship’s pseudo-gravity grid, which creates artificial gravity within its area of influence.
Decks above Deck Zero are numbered positively. (Deck +1 through Deck +100 on Pathfinder ships, Deck +1 through Deck +45 on Explorer/Defender Class ships.) Decks below Deck Zero are numbered negatively. (Deck -1 through Deck -121 on Pathfinder ships, Deck -1 through Deck -15 on Explorer/Defender Class ships.) Because of the gravitational orientation, persons walking on a negatively numbered deck seem upside relative to a person on a positively numbered deck.