Shuttle one

Shuttle two

The Challenger is far too large to attempt planetary landings, so it was fitted with a specially-modified shuttlecraft. This is a common J-40E Kreck'kt UPF Hull-size 2 military atmospheric shuttle, parasitically launched. It is affectionately mispronounced by spacers as the "Cricket". The Cricket has a docking station mounted on Deck Four. It is powered by a chemical drive that can propel it at one G of acceleration sustained, and bursts of up to three G's when escaping orbit of a planet. The range of this shuttle is limited to in-system flights by its small fuel load, but this is adequate for its purpose.

The shuttle can seat thirty in its passenger compartment including the pilot, but with both the primary and back up life support units running, it can support sixty crew long enough to make landfall on the nearest planet. It is capable of VTOL thanks to its four lifting thrusters. Landing skids extend fore and aft from the wingtips and the shuttle lands on these skids. This requires a fairly large landing area, but creates a very stable base while saving weight that would otherwise have to be spent on landing gear retraction mechanisms.

The crew exits via an airlock and ladder to the ground. Also included in the design are two auxiliary jet engines that can propel the shuttle through most atmospheres while using far less fuel than the Main Booster Rocket. This extends flight time in atmosphere to triple the time it would have with rocket propulsion, making searches for landing sites and planetary surveys much more efficient.

The shuttle has only a reflective hull for defense and would be a sitting duck to enemy space vessels, but it does have a small turret with one heavy laser and one recoilless rifle for defense against hostile aircars or natives. It also has a locker for arms and screens for the landing party. The shuttle is capable of landing on any world with a gravity of one point seven G's or less and returning to orbit, but the higher the gravity, the more fuel is burned.

Once landed, the shuttle serves as a base of operations for ground missions and comes equipped with its own all-terrain Explorer vehicle. The Explorer is lowered from the shuttle by winch and the wheels are folded down and locked in place, then the Explorer is free to roam across the surface of the planet. This vehicle is powered by a type four parabattery with a range of one thousand kilometers at its cruise speed of fifty KPH and has a top speed in excess of ninety-five KPH.

The Explorer seats seven, can operate in an airless environment, has its own airlock, computer, and a weapons mount around the top hatch that can mount all standard UPF heavy weapons. In its weapons locker it has a sonic devastator, heavy laser, recoilless rifle, and machine gun. Only one heavy weapon can be mounted on the vehicle at a time, but the arms locker contains several tripods for use with the rest. All smaller weapons and screens can be stored here as well as a grenade mortar.

The computer in the back of the explorer has a level four analysis, level three information storage, level six language, and level one life support programs and can download and upload data to the Challenger's far more complex computer. Between the Shuttlecraft and the Explorer, the Challenger's mission teams are capable of handling all of the missions required of them during the eventful years ahead.