The Drake: Revealed

So let’s talk about the layout of that mainstay of the Imperial fleet, the Drake-class frigate. (The numbers are for deck plans. My own sketches are far too horrible to publish, but… well, there they are.)


Like most starships, one could conveniently divide the Drake-class into a pressure hull and a drive bus. It’s a little harder to spot the connection than it is on many ships (like, say, the Cheneos-class freighter) because of the armor, but it’s still there.

The pressure hull is, essentially, the front half of the ship, a round-fronted, slightly-flattened cylinder, for the most part unbroken in its organic curves except for the few openings (stellarium, gun port, airlocks) mentioned below, for the six geodesic spheres – three on each side, arranged fore-to-aft along the mid-line – clamped to the hull, which contain redundant sensor suites, best not placed inside the armor, the four paired cheek-mounted light mass drivers to for’ard, the ship’s secondary weapons, and an antenna suite projecting from the dorsal pressure hull near its after end.

Behind this, the pressure hull stops, but the armor which covers it continues on past the aftmost pressure bulkhead, broadening the hull to port and starboard even as it narrows into the starship’s stubby “wings”. (Which are of course not wings – they’re the secondary radiators; double-sided radiative striping under transparent light armor, encapsulating more bunker space. These are considered the secondary radiators because they’re designed to carry only the life-support and low-power heat load.) The armor back here serves as a cowl wrapping around the propulsion bus, which is the usual tangle of structural trusses, cryocels (for the ship’s limited supply of afterburner antiprotons), spherical and cylindrical tanks (for deuterium/He3-slush fuel and heat-sink goo), auxiliary machinery, and at the aftmost end of that (such that the bunkerage provides additional shielding for the crew), the fusion torches sticking out the open back of the cowl.

(This is, of course, a weak spot in the starship’s armor, but such would the drives be wherever you put them. In practice, the argument goes, when you’re in the furball – well, million-degree drive plasma provides a poor approach vector even for a kinetic weapon, and when you’re not – well, just watch where you point your kilt, okay?)

The external parts of the primary radiators sit on top of and below the cowl; they’re liquid-metal droplet radiators, which extend perpendicular to the secondaries when in use. They’re intended to support full power-and-some-more on the reactors, such that you can make a fast retreat and chill down your heat sinks at the same time.

The lowest deck extends, squared-off and flat-bottomed, a little below the main body of the pressure hull and extends back some way below the cowl; as the large doors at front and aft would indicate, it’s the landing bay.

The hull itself is gorgeous in shimmering military indigo; naturally, leading edges and other salient points are highlighted in intricate swirls of embedded gold-filigree brightwork, just because the IN can and wishes to emphasize that small point. (Close inspection will also note the apertures of attitude-control system thrusters, especially to outboard for the largest moment arms, and scattered black, glassy domes concealing the point-defense laser grid.)


Internally, the Drake has five decks dorsal-to-ventral. It uses the classic belly-lander arrangement because it’s considered possible to land a frigate planetside, or at least small-planet-side, or operate in atmosphere. (In the latter case, under the “with sufficient thrust, pigs fly just fine” principle.) Frigate captains rarely want to, though.

Despite that, there’s no artificial gravity on a Drake; while in space, the starship operates in microgravity.

Communication between decks is provided by a pair of elevators/shafts running between decks 1 to 4, and a staircase providing access to deck 0, along with various maintenance ladderways and such (especially in engineering). The elevators don’t run under microgravity conditions; they’re only for use under gravity. Rather, the elevator car is open-topped and is locked down on deck 4 in flight, allowing the shafts to be used as any other passageways.

As far as possible, auxiliary machinery, further storage tanks, etc., are wrapped around the outside of the ship, between the decks and the hull, to use as additional protection in the event of an armor-penetrating strike.

Deck 0

Deck 0, “the loft” is the smallest deck, squeezed in between the ceiling of deck 1 and the hull. Fortunately, it contains (for the most part) spaces which will be unmanned at general quarters or higher readiness states.

Specifically, at the fore end, there’s (1) the captain’s cabin, including a small office and private ‘fresher, from which a central corridor runs aft past (2) and (3), VIP staterooms which include the ‘fresher but not the office, ending at (4) the auxiliary sensory and communications room (approximately beneath the antenna suite mentioned above. Outside this room, a foldaway spiral staircase (i.e. serving as a microgravity shaft in flight) descends to the main corridor of deck 1.

Deck 1

Deck 1 is the first of the three “main” decks of the pressure hull.

Starting from the for’ard end, we begin with (5) the stellarium, which is literally the only room on the ship with windows, of which it has a continuous strip around the periphery and overhead. It also, being intended to entertain visitors and provide somewhere to get away from inside for a moment, comes with comfortable microgravity-adaptive seating, a few potted plants, and a wet bar.

More important for military purposes, while the windows are tough, they aren’t that tough, and as such the armor layer passes comfortably behind it, and access is through a sequential pair of spacetight doors. Naturally, it’s unmanned at general quarters or higher.

Behind this, another central corridor runs aft past (6), a conference lounge to port, and (7) an office for ship’s business – usually the Flight Administrator’s domain – to starboard, reaching the for’ard entrance to (8) the bridge/CIC, which takes up the full width of the ship in the center of the deck.

The aft entrance to the bridge/CIC opens into a second central corridor, this time passing (9), the server room containing the ship’s primary “dumb” servers and avionics systems to port, and (10), the ship’s AI’s cogence core and primary mentality substrate to starboard, terminating in a five-way junction containing the access to deck 0. To port and starboard, a cross-corridor terminates at the elevators/shafts, each with a ‘fresher located adjacent; aft, a door provides access to (11) the maneuvering room, in the form of a well-insulated gallery overlooking (12) the engineering space, which spans all three main decks.

(Secure backups for the cogence core and the substrate also exist buried in the middle of the propulsion bus section.)

Deck 2

Deck 2 is the central deck of the ship, and to a large extent is divided into two non-communicating parts. As a frigate, the Drake-class is built around its main gun, which occupies the axis of the ship and thus the center of the deck. While access is possible to the mass driver chamber (which can even be pressurized, with the gun port in the bow closed, for maintenance), it’s normally kept evacuated and is not, in any case, a very comfortable place to be.

The mass driver runs down the center of the deck from the gun port at the bow to (13) its “breech”, which sits directly against the engineering space bulkhead. Straddling it on either side are (14), the magazines for its k-slugs, which are also kept evacuated under normal conditions for ease of autoloader operation.

Starting this time from the aft end of the ship, at far port and starboard against the engineering bulkhead are the elevators/shafts and the associated adjacent ‘freshers, and the accesses directly to the engineering space. Corridors lead forward from these against the inner hull until they pass the magazines, at which point they turn inwards to reach, and proceed to the bow against, the central mass driver (for ease of accessing the driver coils for maintenance from these corridors).

On the port side, the majority of the space for’ard of this corridor is given over to (15) the medical bay, and at its for’ard end (16), the nano/cryostorage unit, used both for patients in need of return to fuller hospital facilities and doubling as the ship’s brig.

(It should be noted that the medical facilities are quite limited; the nature of the space combat environment is such that the window between “fine” and “chunky salsa” is quite narrow, and as such the medical bay is oriented more toward treating illness and minor injuries among the crew than it is to handling massive combat casualties.)

On the starboard side, the equivalent space is used for (17), a combined laboratory, workshop, and engineering support area.

The remainder of the space for’ard of these, behind the avionics area at the bow, contains the equivalent of two small rooms on either side (18, 19, 20, 21), connected by double spacetight doors; this is the modular function area. With sufficient engineering support and at a yard, these independently-encapsulated areas are designed to be disconnected from the ship’s infrastructure and framework, pulled out as a whole – along with their associated outer-hull plate and armor – and replaced with other modular capsules of equivalent specification. This feature permits the Drake-class to be customized for special functions – such as the electromagnetic radiation shielding we saw at the Battle of Eye-of-Night – much more flexibly than would otherwise be possible.

As mentioned, main access to the (12) engineering space is on this deck, although catwalks lead up and down to the lower level and to the maneuvering room gallery. The nearer part of the engineering deck contains a variety machinery, although also housing to port and starboard the two auxiliary fusion plants used to provide power to the starship when the drive is shut down. Beyond it, a half-octagon wraps around the bulk of the vector-control core and the reaction wheels, containing in their own sections the (22) life support systems to port, and the (23) robot hotels for the ship’s mechanicals to starboard.

Amidships between these, a small airlock and external robot hotel provides access to an unpressurized maintenance crawlway running through the propulsion bus. Normally, this is only used by robots or for occasional yard maintenance; radiation levels are unhealthy back there with the drive running, to say the least, but access may be necessary in emergencies.

Deck 3

Deck 3 is primarily the crew deck. At the for’ard end, along the centerline, is the (24) mindcast receiving room, allowing visitors received as infomorphs to borrow one of the ship’s spare bodies for the duration of their visit; aft of that, a cross-corridor links the (25) port and (26) starboard airlocks, each of which is accompanied by a small conning station (usually disabled) for use while docking.

Aft of that, another small room serves as a quarterdeck/reception area and security post. From there, a central corridor leads aft through the (27) crew quarters – the corridor itself is lined with access hatches to what are, in effect, double-sized personnel capsules – to the (28) comfortably furnished mess deck, which incorporates a (29) standing galley to port, and the (30) ship’s locker to starboard. Beyond the mess deck, hatches to port and starboard – a design choice permitting a large screen to be mounted on the mess deck’s after bulkhead – lead through inner-hull-hugging corridors past the (31) accumulator room to port, and the (32) auxiliary control room and (33) a small gymnasium to starboard, to another cross-corridor against the engineering bulkhead, providing access to the elevators/shafts and the ‘freshers on this level. However, there is no routine access to the engineering space on this deck.

Deck 4

Deck four, slung beneath the ship, is primarily its (33) landing bay; one large space, extending fore to aft. Space is reserved at port for the (34) armory, used to equip shore parties if necessary, and at starboard for a (35) second workshop space. These are each located for’ard of the elevators/shafts which open into a small hallway offering access both to these, and to an airlock opening into the landing bay. There are no associated ‘freshers on this deck.

A Drake-class frigate is typically equipped with a single cutter, an interface vehicle, or both; the relatively large landing bay permits it to also store the frigate’s complement of drones, and to serve as a cargo bay to such extent as space permits. Overhead manipulators permit vehicles to be moved to engage with either the fore or aft mass catapult for launching, reshuffling of the cargo, or retasking of the cutter, as desired.

Flight operations are handled from the bridge/CIC. The bay can be pressurized with both doors closed, but at general quarters or higher readiness states operates unpressurized to expedite operations and avoid unnecessary risks.

(For those paying attention to the implications: yes, the very same vector control tech that lets you make kinetic barriers lets you make nice air curtains that would hold air in even with the door open, while still letting you fly in and out. [Well, mostly: for molecular statistical reasons, they leak, but it’s manageable.] Some civilian ships use those for the convenience. Military ships prefer not to have unexpected depressurization incidents when someone gets a lucky shot in on the emitters when they don’t have to. Sure, it’s a pain to have to wear a skinsuit all the time, but you’re in the Navy now! Also, you’re less likely to get brained by a flying spanner if there were to be a curtain oops.)

6 thoughts on “The Drake: Revealed

  1. This description could, without a lot of changes, be used to describe a large nuclear powered submarine. You have that in mind when you wrote it, or just an coincidence because of the similar requirements?


    • It wasn’t deliberate as I wrote it, but nuclear submarines are something I did do research on in the past because of those similar requirements, so I wouldn’t be surprised if some of it seeped through.


  2. I gather that storage of consumables for the crew is in the external tankage, on the theory that a penetrating strike is a kill and thus there’s no point protecting stuff for survivors to use to survive/repair the ship?

    What are the limits on the ability of the frigate to recycle stuff? What’s the general cruise duration & actual maximum limit?

    How much time does one of these spent in maintenance – is it a 3-for-1 rotation, where one is in dock refitting, one is working up for deployment with its crew, and one is deployed; or are matters such as refitting and crew training accelerated by high tech capabilities?


  3. Pingback: Drake-class Frigate: Post-Hoc Modifications | The Eldraeverse

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