3236 Ship Review – The Artemis class, a suitable replacement for the Messenger?
If I was asked to summarise the Messenger class destroyer in one word, I think I'd go with 'ubiquitous'. No other ship, civilian or military, has managed to ingratiate itself into interstellar society with such vigour.
On paper, the Messenger is just a shade better than mediocre. It uses antimatter for both power and propulsion, a now outdated and potentially dangerous system. It's shielding is prone to overloads while being stressed by impacts, and its armour is just a shade more solid than Exiccare’s atmosphere. It carries a bulky missile bombardment system which is so heavily integrated with the other ship systems that you could buy a newer ship for the same cost of removing it.
So why, when a fleet jumps into a system do you see so many bloody Messengers?
The Messenger’s long and faintly ridiculous history began at the Heracles Shipyard in the early 30th century. At the time, SDS Fleet Systems were in crisis: The Mark V Plasma Cannon had failed to set the world alight; literally in this case, due to misfires caused by faulty plasma containment. The mind-bogglingly expensive Deimos class fleet carrier was being roundly trounced in sales by the Avenger class escort carrier, a much cheaper alternative that would outnumber its larger rival five to one. And, to twist the knife a little further, their CEO had been crushed by a falling sensor probe during a tour of the shipyards.
In short, SDS were on the brink. Into this mess of incompetence and enraged shareholders stepped Lysanne Stephenson, formerly lead designer of Canopus Voidtech. The board of SDS had, in a brief moment of lucidity, realised their time was almost up and major changes were needed before they were gone from the galactic stock market. Stephenson was given as much power as needed to turn SDS around and drag them back up to the standard of their past glories.
She immediately set to work on something new, a cheap and lightweight destroyer. The Guardian2
class, designed and manufactured by her former employer, was notorious for being sluggish in combat and lacking atmospheric capability, problems which limited its utility as an escort; but the Guardian was still the best thing on the market. Beat the Guardian and eternal riches shall be bestowed onto ye!
And beat the Guardian she did. The Messenger was truly a revolutionary ship. At the time it was the largest atmosphere capable warship ever built and its legendary agility allowed it to run rings around the Guardian class. The Messenger carries 8 railguns in 4 dual turrets, compared to the Guardian’s 12. This isn’t so much of a disadvantage as it looks, because Stephenson somehow also managed to squeeze a pair of Mark IV plasma cannons into a spinal mount, and the infamous launch system in the rear of the ship. The launch system, originally designed for orbital bombardment, was designed to launch more or less anything: enterprising captains have used it to launch anything from light fighters to rocks and in one case, the ISS Il Postino3
, it was used to launch mail capsules from orbit.
A tale, most like to be apocryphal, is that Stephenson said in her first meeting with the SDS board that she would ’Send a message to Canopus Voidtech and all the other defence conglomerates!’. Whether it’s true or not, the name stuck and the Messenger was born. Orders streamed in and SDS was saved, at least for a time. Eventually the shareholders decided to sell up during a takeover from Canopus, concerned that lightning wouldn’t strike twice. Maybe that was a foolhardy decision, we’ll never know; ultimately the tale ended happily for Lysanne Stephenson. Despite voting against the buyout, she retired with enough money to buy herself a small moon and live there until the end of her days. It was noted that her personal transport was a Messenger4
All of this happened around 300 years ago and while the Messenger was a great ship for its time, it’s now using technology that is, in some areas, comically outdated. Many of the smaller components have been upgraded when better options have become available, such as communications, weaponry and life support, but the fundamentals cannot be changed without an extensive redesign.
Blueprints for the Artemis Mark I
Into these rather large shoes steps the Artemis. While its design certainly takes more than a little inspiration from the Messenger class, it’s packed with all of the latest technologies, including some which have thus far seen only limited deployment, exclusively to small escort vessels and testbeds.
So what’s changed? Firstly: firepower. The Messenger was never much of a gunship, relying on its speed to get it into a position to use its spinally mounted weapons and fending off smaller vessels with its turrets. Its underside was lacking in turrets entirely, so bombers could easily attack from the underneath and cripple it or damage the launch bay. The Artemis removes that vulnerability by adding two turrets, fore and aft.
The frontal firepower has also changed: The spinally mounted plasma cannons are gone, replaced with a pair of X-16 Executioner particle beams, a smaller version of the mighty X-65 Purifier. Naturally, it doesn’t have quite the level of firepower that the Purifier provides, a weapon larger than some capital ships, but it offers a greater range and rate of fire than the venerable plasma cannons it replaced.
An upgraded version of the bombardment system is installed. Instead of being fixed into a forward firing arc, it’s been designed to cover 110 degrees either side of the ship. Once again, it can launch more or less anything and the launch tubes have a 40% larger diameter, enough to fire out a heavy fighter if needs be. To that end the docking bay is larger and better equipped for fighter operations, although transferring the fighters to the launch tubes is logistically challenging, thus relegating the Artemis to an auxiliary carrier role at best5
Whereas earlier ships like the Aurora and Falcon class used a Si/AM hybrid drive system, with power generated by a singularity and small stores of antimatter for thrust, the Artemis uses a fully singularity based power and drive system6
. This is a development at the bleeding edge of starship design, but the gains from the removal of antimatter cannot be understated. A singularity can generate 20% more power for the same volume as an antimatter reaction for only a 4% increase in mass. There is also no risk of AM containment failure and not being tied to antimatter production stations offers an increase in ship range.
The Artemis carries marginally thicker armour than the Messenger. The outer layer is Mark II Arifium plates with a carbon nanotubule under-layer providing reinforcement. Thickness is up to 2.5 metres in the bow section, with the bridge having a similar level of protection. As per every Canopus ship produced in the last 60 years, liquid hull sealant is installed as standard, enough to block moderately sized hull breaches until repairs can be made. The structure is standard HHI7
Of course, all of these wonderful additions have their own problems. Given that the drive system is cutting edge, it is to be expected that there will be teething problems. The faults8
that occurred with the Centurion class have already been ironed out and it is suspected that we will see a dearth of fully singularity powered ships, especially capital ships, being constructed using the same techniques within the next twenty years. Ultimately, the Artemis’ biggest flaw is more fundamental: size and cost.
Firstly the Artemis is about 5% longer than the Messenger, not a hugely noticeable difference. However, it is nearly 30% wider, giving it much stronger, muscular looking appearance, for those who care, but also a correspondingly large increase in mass and target profile. Admittedly, given the new drive system, performance is only a slight step backwards, but it would still run rings around a Guardian.
Secondly, the price tag. The Messenger class was reasonably cheap considering its capabilities and the Artemis class is nearly double the cost, a quite unpleasant pill to swallow for those considering replacing their escorts. It depends on whether an investor leans towards quality or quantity, given that simulations and war games have suggested a group of fourteen Messengers facing five Artemis will almost always end in a Pyrrhic victory, with a 70% win rate to the Artemis. That said, prices for singularity drives will come down once more facilities are available to produce such systems and finally, perhaps, antimatter will be consigned to history.
The Artemis prototype, orbiting Trident
Upon the announcement of the Artemis, CV’s share price soared upwards by 8.2% and continues to rise slowly. It is understood that the Imperial, Republican and Confederate space navies have all expressed interest and placed orders, though numbers are of course classified. It is unknown at this time if any independent interests will be making purchases, but we suspect the Artemis class will be made available to secondary buyers as production is ramped up. We see the first orders shipping within two standard years.
The performance of the Artemis will set a precedent for the adoption of wholly singularity based ships. What Canopus Voidtech have done is improve on a classic, bringing it into the modern day, but have retained the essence of what made the Messenger great. Yes, the price tag is currently prohibitive, but it will not stay like that forever. CV’s competitors will be undoubtedly taking note of what transpired in the ultra-secret design centre at Poseidon Shipyards and coming up with their own advanced designs.
Watch this space: a revolution in starship design has begun.
Written by Adam Yang, former captain of the Velvet Veil and industry analyst
Siblings going to war
1. Battlefleet Arcadia's 4th Destroyer Group, just prior the battle of Sassura. Only two of those ships returned home.
2. Unaffectionately known as 'The Pig' to its crews.
3. Heavily damaged during the Regency Wars while serving as IWS Mercury, Il Postino was retired from frontline service and bought by private investors. First as a gimmick to boost civilian morale after the war ended, but later providing courier services to isolated worlds. As of today she still serves alongside 8 other ships.
4. The ship, registered as CSS Harvey, still survives as a museum ship. Speculation is that it was named after someone from Lysanne Stephenson's past.
5. While the main hangar is large and well equipped, any ships due to be launched using the bombardment system would likely need to be prepared before battle due to the distance between the two.
6. A slight simplification; the singularity is used to project a gravity/antigravity field to move the ship. The fins at the back are a sure sign of a singularity drive.
7. Hephaestus Heavy Industries.
8. Discussed in more detail within the 3231 review.