Ship Focus : Mansa Musa Class
Type: Multirole transport ship.
Original manufacturer: African space communes, later Moon Communes.
Current pattern status: public domain.
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 the medieval emperor of Mali, the Mansa Musa was the first FTL-capable cargo ship. A very old design, it borders on archeotech. Its lineage can be traced back to industrial age NASA designs (the defunct 1971 moon tug program) which then became interplanetary tugs of the late Low Age and, in due time, interstellar designs. A hundred meters in length, with a cargo capacity of 15,000 metric tons, the Mansa Musa is at the low end of modern cargo designs, though it was a heavyweight when first introduced. It is propelled by a fission drive, most often a solid-core nuclear thermal engine, albeit newer models may employ a liquid or gas-core reactor. The geometry drive comes standard and is installed between the drive assembly and cargo section. As the construction pattern is more than fifty years old, it has fallen into the public domain, though the original manufacturer, the Moon Communes, still produces proprietary models with custom loadouts.
The Mansa Musa is not a great ship. Though adequate for orbital transfers, its engines do not have enough delta-v for most interstellar velocity matching burns, requiring the assistance of a ferry ship, often a Farseer Transporter. Though a few deep space communes run fusion-powered Mansa Musa, the pitiful heat dissipation capabilities of the spaceship greatly limit its adaptability. In general, the design has reached the edge of its operational envelope and is nigh-impossible to markedly improve -- in the modern era, its cargo capacity remains adequate yet not impressive, and the feeble mainframe makes third party assistance all but mandatory for mid-range translations and beyond.
None of these flaws prevent the Mansa Musa from remaining a nigh-ubiquitous sight in settled space. The Mansa Musa's radius 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. It is thus the universal cargo ship: it carries anything that's designed to fit in a KST, and it can 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 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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