The Vesta-class is currently the fastest ship in Starfleet, and serves as a bleeding-edge technological testbed for some of the most advanced spaceborne systems ever developed. Rare and extremely prized by their captains, these ships are reserved almost solely for prestigious exploratory missions and are rarely seen in the Federation’s core.
While no vessel can beat a Century-class when it comes to comprehensive scientific capabilities or overall capabilities as an explorer, the Vesta is built for even longer range missions with a more narrow scope: a Century surveys a wide area of space, while the Vesta hits areas of special interest like an arrow, thanks to her incredible top speed. Much more of the space aboard the Vesta is devoted to navigational and engineering support systems, which limits the number of labs it can have total, but the trade off for this is being able to get to its exploratory zones faster. So, in this sense, a Vesta might be sent to explore a very specific, far-off star system or nebula and then return samples or intelligence back home, while a Century would be better able to examine entire sectors of space independently, with the lab space onboard to handle the vast majority of the discoveries it makes. Unlike a Galaxy or Century-class ship, the majority of the labs aboard a Vesta are allocated to the primary mission of the day, rather than independent side missions.
The Vesta-class has a dedicated runabout pad on the stern of the ship, which supports a complement of scout vessels and runabouts that is significantly greater than other ships of her size. These vessels are used during exploratory missions to speed up scientific surveys, with these auxiliary craft serving as an extremely effective force multiplier.
Computer systems aboard the Vesta are the most advanced version of bio-neural circuitry currently in production, making her one of the most effective spaceborne computing platforms in service. In practice, a significant amount of this computing power is devoted to her advanced navigational sensors, which help the ship perform effectively at her extremely high top speeds. Starfleet’s goal with this system, however, has been to eventually solve the computational imitations that have prevented the full development of slipstream technology. These systems are extremely maintenance intensive, both in terms of person-hours spent on calibrations and diagnostics, but also in specialized components that are either energy-intensive to replicate or which must be sourced from production facilities in the Federation’s core, which limits this ship’s endurance significantly.
Like all explorers, the Vesta is intended to engage in first contact missions. As such, she has a comfortable suite of diplomatic quarters and facilities, capable of adaptation to any K, L, or M-class environment. With her high top speed, she makes a very effective diplomatic courier, but she is rarely assigned to such duties, given her utility as an explorer. These ships rarely host multiparty talks, but they do have sufficient accommodations to perform approximately as effectively as the tactically-oriented Sovereign can, lagging behind the Galaxy and quite far behind the Odyssey in this regard.
In many respects, Starfleet would prefer to keep the Vesta away from most diplomatic situations, to avoid giving potential threat powers further opportunities to examine this very advanced vessel up close, given that close to 80% of her systems are highly classified. On the same token, however, they are often deployed on domestic diplomatic missions during their rare visits home to Federation space, where they serve as an example of just how advanced Federation shipbuilding has become. A visit from one of these vessels is often seen as a sign of great respect from Starfleet and the Federation to even founding members like the Vulcans and Andorians.
Nearly everything onboard the Vesta is still highly experimental by 2399, which means that it’s an extremely maintenance-intensive ship. Engineering crews here are kept busy making sure that the bleeding-edge technology at work here is kept in running order. This is especially true of her advanced Class-10 warp drive system, as she is the first vessel to employ it outside of testbed scenarios. The warp core spans the height of the ship, powering two massive warp nacelles, which gives the ship the highest top speed in the fleet.
The ship is quite long at 672 meters long, though comparatively narrow at just 192 meters wide, giving her a very slender appearance, especially on profile. This narrow forward profile is necessary to maintain very high speeds. While it does have distinct primary and secondary hulls, these two structures are joined completely, as with the Intrepid-class. The main and secondary deflector dishes are both oversized compared to peer classes, and the vessel manages to look like it’s going fast even when it’s standing still.
Given that they are often weeks, months, or even years beyond reinforcements, the Vesta was defined with the teeth to be able to protect itself from nearly any threat, rivaling the Sovereign-class in this regard. All-around Type-XII phaser coverage is provided, along with two forward and two aft burst-fire torpedo launchers. Rather unusually for a large starship, she is also equipped with two forward-firing pulse phaser cannons, which can be used to great effect against clumsier vessels during combat. Considering that they are often so far from support, a Vesta-class ship must often be prepared not just to wound an enemy and then escape but to inflict sufficient damage to discourage further pursuit, though when she does manage to escape, there are nearly no threat vessels that could catch her.
Unlike a Sovereign, a Vesta is not meant to lead a column of starships into battle; her tactical abilities are geared towards self-defense and long-term sustainability, and so these vessels are rarely deployed in fleet engagements. As such, they have few to no command and control systems, apart from those necessary to control her small fleet of runabouts for exploratory missions. As such, she is still primarily an explorer, rather than a deep space tactical vessel, despite her armaments.
Assignment to a Vesta-class ship is something highly sought by ambitious officers, as it is only granted to the absolute best in every area. While their missions might be shorter, these ships are sent to areas which Starfleet is interested in examining quickly and effectively with little external support, so they have to be prepared for anything. As such, this leads to a sense among Vesta crews that they are elite units, leading to both positive displays of comradeship as well as sometimes exclusionary and cliquish practices which make it difficult for new crewmembers to integrate, especially if a crew has already been deployed in the field.
Recreational facilities aboard a Vesta are quite comprehensive, though the ship’s size and shape keep her from having quite the luxury of a Galaxy or Odyssey-class ship. Holodecks, holosuites, and recreational lounges are plentiful and most crew members have their own quarters.
Department head roles aboard this class are often seen as direct stepping stones towards the command track on other explorers, with a tour on one of these ships being enough to catapult many officers up to executive officer positions. On that token, however, these assignments are so popular that crews will often stay together for many years.
The Vesta-class starship development began with the return of the starship Voyager in 2378, with the goal of using the advances that ship had discovered to create a new, purpose-built explorer that could break all previous speed records. The long-term goal was to develop a vessel capable of implementing the failed slipstream drive project started by Seven of Nine and B’Elanna Torres during Voyager’s journey home, though the engineering requirements for this were still well beyond what Starfleet was capable of in the late 2370s.
The design process continued apace, though resources were diverted to other projects in the mid-2380s during the Federation’s attempted evacuation of Romulus, so it wasn’t until 2393 that the Vesta finally left spacedock. Following a year-long shakedown operation close to home, she was sent on her first long-range mission while her sisters were under construction. Performance was rated extremely highly, but the maintenance demands meant that this class could never be built in large numbers, so as of 2399 they remain a rare and highly advanced vessel in Starfleet.
- While all of the ‘big three’ explorers (Sovereign, Century, and Odyssey) are very advanced, the Vesta is a whole step out in front of them in terms of the advanced technologies built into her spaceframe. She’s one of the most complicated vessels in Starfleet history, which means she needs a highly trained engineering team, but she makes up for that by being a full third faster than even the Century at all out sprint speeds. She is currently the rarest of the explorer-type vessels, and is only sent on the most urgent and important long-range exploratory missions.
- This is an incredibly desirable command for nearly any captain, especially given how few of these vessels there are currently in service. In 2399, the main way an officer would be assigned to command a ship like this would have been to be in command of a lesser vessel, or executive officer of an explorer for an extended period of time.
- Encountering this vessel as an NPC would be extremely unusual; this isn’t a vessel you’d see as a ‘ship of the week’ with any sort of regularity, given that they’re designed to spend years out of contact.