Ship Focus : Mansa Musa Class
Type: Multirole transport ship.
Original manufacturer: African space communes, later Moon Communes.
Current pattern status: open-source.
Propulsion: nuclear thermal engines.
FTL capable: yes.
Length: 100 meters.
Payload : 15,000 tons.
Crew: up to 15, generally unmanned.
Also known as the Tube Freighter; the Moon Tube; Tubular Turntables.
Named after a famous African emperor, the venerable Mansa Musa was the first FTL-capable spaceship to be solely designed for the long-range transport of goods. It is a very old design that almost borders on archeotech as it comes from pre-Low Age NASA designs, revised and adapted to the interstellar era. One hundred meters in length and capable of carrying up to 15,000 metric tons in cargo, the Mansa Musa uses a nuclear thermal reactor for orbital manoeuvers and velocity matching burns. Albeit the first prototypes of the class were not capable of FTL travel, the modern variety of Mansa Musa is equipped with a standard geometry drive. The Mansa Musa pattern is now open-source, though the original copyright holder, the Moon Communes, still produces proprietary models with custom characteristics.
The Mansa Musa is not a great ship. Though perfectly adequate for orbital manoeuvers, its engines lack the punch of fusion drives, limiting the ship's effective FTL range. Though a few communes tried to mount a fusion engine on their Mansa Musa, the frankly pitiful heat dissipation capabilities of the ship greatly limit its adaptability. The cargo capacity is adequate yet not impressive and the feeble on-board computing power means that interstellar translations require third party assistance, typically from a space station. Finally, the engine design itself follows a very "dawn of the interstellar age" logic and creates a massive radiation shadow that requires containers to be individually shielded.
None of these flaws, however, prevents the Tube Freighter from being a nigh-ubiquitous sight in settled space, an omnipresence that it owes to the sheer simplicity of its design. Indeed, the radius of a Mansa Musa is the same as that of a Kenya Standard Tank or KST, the first modular space container ever designed, and the standard by which the majority of human space abides. The Mansa Musa can thus be considered as the universal cargo ship: it can and will carry anything that fits inside a KST, and it may also be repaired or even assembled from discarded KSTs. There isn't a single settlement in human space that can't use a Mansa Musa, no matter how small or isolated.
If someone had retained rights on the Mansa Musa pattern, they would be the richest person in human history.
Illustration courtesy of Lilly Harper, who writes most excellent sci-fi prose on the Beacons in the Dark blog.
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