Challenger is an NX-class starship, the third warp five-capable vessel constructed by United Earth in the latter half of the 22nd century. After nine months of delays, it was launched from Earth under the command of Captain Elias Medeiros on April 5th, 2156.
Originally, the NX-03 was scheduled to launch in 2155, less than a year after Columbia. At the urging of Captain Jefferies, the launch was delayed until 2156 in order to fix excessive subspace emissions in the impulse engine manifold, and to address a perceived ineffectiveness in combat performance against hostile Klingon vessels.
The pulsed phase cannons used on Columbia had reduced power consumption and thermal profiles significantly compared to the initial designs used on Enterprise, inspiring the Jupiter Station engineering team to try a more aggressive approach when designing Challenger's defensive systems.
Enterprise's experience in the field directly influenced several modifications, such as tying the cannons directly into the impulse reactors for increased firepower, and improving the gravity plating's shock absorption capabilities in order to mitigate damage from overloads. As a direct result of the experiments with the gravity plating, the team managed to coax more efficiency from the hull polarization relays, improving performance over Columbia by another four percent, a sixteen percent increase over Enterprise.
In addition to receiving these upgrades, ten new phase cannon hardpoints were added for superior firing arc coverage; two in front of the bridge module, two on each side of the dorsal saucer section, and two on each nacelle housing. This was done to provide better performance in the lateral and forward quarters, and to cover blind spots that existed behind the nacelles and the secondary impulse engines on the primary hull.
As a consequence of these design choices, the increased power draw from the weapons systems limited Challenger to seventy percent of the top combat speed of its predecessors. Additionally, the number of crew quarters was reduced in order to accommodate the new weapons systems, limiting the ship's maximum crew complement to seventy-four.
Also of note was the removal of two launch bays in order to add a specialized small craft storage and maintenance bay.
After an extra nine months in drydock, Challenger launched on the 93rd anniversary of First Contact Day, which somewhat overshadowed the pomp and circumstance of humanity's third warp five ship venturing into deep space.
Two months after departing Earth, Challenger was assigned to ferry Administrator T'Pau and Ambassador Soval from Vulcan to an interspecies diplomatic forum on Earth. The conference ratified the Coalition of Planets charter, formalizing the alliance between Earth, Tellar Prime, Vulcan, and Andoria.
Shortly after the formation of the Coalition of Planets, several Earth Cargo Service freighters operating in the Beta Quadrant were attacked, their crews forcibly detained by Romulan vessels for violating unmarked borders. Challenger assisted Enterprise and Columbia in rescuing the imprisoned crews, leading to a formal declaration of war by the Romulan Star Empire.
The Romulan War
Challenger's enhanced combat systems got a lot of use over the next few years, proving vital in the defense of Vega Colony, Alpha Centauri, Earth's colony in the Berengarius system, and an attempted Romulan invasion of Andorian space at Weytahn, thwarting their attempt to gain a foothold in Coalition space. The actions of Challenger and Enterprise in the defense of Weytahn were pivotal in convincing the Andorian Empire to join the war effort. The Vulcan High Command followed soon after, with some convincing from Jonathan Archer and Commander T'Pol.
In 2159, the Vulcan ship D'kyr recovered an intact data storage module from the debris of a Bird of Prey. While the information was corrupted and heavily fragmented, they were able to salvage logs that suggested a Great House within the Klingon Empire was supplying the Romulans with military support, such as high-grade disruptors and torpedo warheads. A stardate and coordinates were also recovered, suggesting a possible rendezvous in the Khitomer system.
Starfleet saw this as an opportunity to bring the Klingons into the war, which would break the stalemate between the Coalition and the Romulan Star Empire and potentially win the war. Unwilling to commit a large number of ships to avoid antagonizing the Klingons, Starfleet sent Challenger on a one-ship reconnaissance mission to investigate the lead.
The ship departed for its mission on May 1st, 2159 and was never heard from again. Starfleet classified Challenger as missing in action, presumed destroyed, and the war continued in its absence.
Transition to the 25th Century
After traveling at warp 5.2 for 22 hours to arrive on time, Challenger made it to the Khitomer system. This pushed the engines well beyond their intended design limits, forcing the crew to vent plasma from the nacelles to cool off the warp reactor, which made the ship extremely easy to detect. Challenger's crew attempted to use the masking properties from a solar flare to slip in quietly, but just as Klingon warp signatures appeared on its long-range sensors, two Romulan vessels decloaked. Left with little choice but to retreat, Challenger was pursued out of the system at warp speed under heavy fire.
With amazing technical skill and the power of prayer, the crew managed to push Challenger to warp 5.3 and pull away from the Romulans. But before they could get away, a lucky shot to the starboard nacelle compounded existing thermal damage from their trip to Khitomer and fused the injector assembly, preventing the ship from slowing down.
Maintaining speed wasn't an option. The antimatter stream was erratic, and the reactor temperature was at critical levels. With less than five minutes until a reactor breach, the crew had to act quickly. Medeiros came up with an ingenious, if extremely dangerous idea of slingshotting the ship around a nearby red giant, using the gravity well of the star to create a drag on the warp field that would pull the ship out of warp.
Thanks to precision piloting, the maneuver was successful, slowing the ship to impulse. Unbeknownst to the crew, however, they had experienced relativistic time dilation during their rapid deceleration, causing Challenger to reappear in Klingon space in 2421.
The ship's reappearance in the 25th century has sparked renewed interest in the Romulan War. Historians and 22nd century enthusiasts have been eager to contact the crew and tour the ship for educational purposes. Parties outside the Federation have even begun to solicit funds to create a new documentary about the conflict, with Challenger's crew featuring heavily for their unique perspective about the events.
Romulan ships of the time were comparable in firepower, speed, and maneuverability, but outclassed Starfleet's defensive systems with advanced deflector shields and cloaking technology. Starfleet engineers placed a greater emphasis on improving engine efficiency to overcome this disadvantage, as shield technology was still a ways off. Redundant hardpoints that were added in the Challenger design were seen as a hindrance to their goals, drawing too much energy away from the impulse engines. As such, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour were built to be considerably faster, at the expense of superior firing arc coverage.
In 2161, beginning with the NX-02, NX-class starships that survived the war underwent a significant refit to the new Columbia-class design. A secondary hull was added, increasing internal space and power generation capabilities significantly, allowing for the re-incorporation of Challenger's hardpoint layout without most of the drawbacks.
Renewed Debate About Temporal Ethics
Challenger's crew has sparked controversy by unanimously expressing interest in returning to the 22nd century, as the Temporal Prime Directive prohibits interference in the timeline. However, it is important to note that Challenger is from a time before these laws were created. The ship's unusual circumstances have prompted heated debate among the media and the Federation Council ethics committee.
In response, the Department of Temporal Investigations issued a statement to Starfleet Command standing by its findings that the ship's presence in the 25th century is a natural progression of events, and that it shouldn't be allowed to return to its native time period.