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An Exploration of Space Probes

This was the featured article in the May/June 2023 issue.

“Launch a class 1 probe.” How many times has Captain Picard said those words, followed by a deluge of data supplying exactly what the Enterprise needed just in time to save the ship (again)? Probes are a staple of both science and science fiction for gathering information remotely. Whether they are deep space probes such as Voyager-1 (which coincidentally was launched the same year that the original version of Traveller was published in 1977), planetary explorer probes such as the Perseverance or Zhýrůng (祝融) rovers, or deep sea submersibles such as Alvin or Deep Argo, research has been very well served by the many probes scientists have built and deployed over the last decades. Probes in the far future will only become more powerful and useful.

Traveller, however, has spent very little time discussing probe drones. Probe drones are described on pg. 129 of the Cepheus Engine rules as being useful for several activities (surveying planetary surfaces, orbital satellites or derelicts plus use as a communications relay). First edition Mongoose Traveller says essentially the same, and adds a page reference for the ‘probe drone’ that is an armored and hardened version of the personal drone with a few more sensors than the personal drone, 500km range and flies at 300 kph (Mongoose Traveller 1st edition, pg. 95). The Clement Sector rules mention a ‘probe’ that went through the initial wormhole but was never really described. The Traveller wiki does have more information about two probes and their sensors, which includes things like radio range, visual and audio reception, a holographic projector, a mass spectrometer (only in the advanced TL12 probe) and a duration for how long the probe will function. Google also finds the Stardisc class ‘probe’, but it is actually a 10 ton small craft and not really the same thing as a science probe.

GURPS Traveller details several types of probes in the Scout volume First In, each specialized for a one purpose but often with a secondary use. The Biosurvey Rover is an advanced robot optimized for analyzing and capturing small creatures on a new world with the capability of being used as an armed camp guard. The Geosurvey Rover is less computationally advanced than the Biosurvey rover and is intended for collecting rock and mineral specimens on a planet. By supplying appropriate tools and slight reprogramming, it can be used as a mechanic’s assistant. The last detailed robot is the Pelagic Rover and is intended for exploring water worlds. It combines some functions from the Biosurvey and Geosurvey rovers in a unit designed for underwater operation. Finally, scouts have a Stealth Surveillance Drone intended for use in remotely monitoring low tech cultures which is very difficult to find. Unsurprisingly, this drone is also used for covert operations in the security branch.

Star Trek is one of the most detailed fictional universes and contains material from several TV series, movies, and published novels. Much of the content is indexed at memory-beta.fandom.com, and lists a whole series of different types of probes. Class 1 and 2 probes are basically short range sensor probes for collecting local information. Class 3 probes are specially designed to operate under high pressure such as underground or in deeper layers of gas giant atmospheres. Class 4 probes are similar to Class 3 probes, but heat shielded to operate in stellar atmospheres. Class 5 probes are warp capable, and able to be launched from outside a solar system with heavy stealth to limit detection. Class 6 probes have the range of a Class 5 probe but are used as communications links and emergency buoys, so no stealth capability. Class 7 probes are known as cultural observation probes and have a similar purpose to the GURPS stealth surveillance drones. Class 8 probes are long range devices developed from photon torpedoes capable of warp 9.5 with a range of 120 light years. Their sensors were interchangeable, and could even carry a humanoid. Class 9 probes are a slower, longer range class 8 probe with a speed of warp 8 and range of 760 light years.

While Star Trek probes are very capable, many of the ideas behind such units do not fit into a standard Traveller world. For example, small craft are unable to mount jump engines, so having jump capable probes (or torpedoes) is not really appropriate. Personally, I think an engineer ought to be able to build or modify a probe so that it actually has the right sensors for a particular job. This would provide a potentially fun part of the game (Junkyard Wars or BattleBots, anyone?) that Traveller doesn’t cover. I have developed my own set of rules for designing robots and probes (and a whole lot more besides). The probes below are intended to replace the standard ‘space probe’, but the final two options are meant to use the standard missile launcher present on many ships as opposed to the much less common probe launcher.

So what makes a good space probe?

First, the overall approach regarding the characteristics of a ‘probe’ should be stated. Under First and Second Edition Mongoose Traveller and Cepheus Engine rules, 5 spacecraft probes take up 1 dton. This suggests each probe is 0.15 to 0.2 dtons apiece to account for equipment and access space similar to hangars. This is rather limiting, however, as many ships don’t have probe launchers and missile launchers are common equipment on many ships. Missiles are about half the size of a space probe at 12 missiles per ton and carrying a few ‘probe missiles’ could extend a ship’s sensor range substantially. While they are probably not as full featured as a larger science probe, they could still be very useful.

Early probes developed before grav technology must have either a very limited range or very long transit times. All human planetary probes so far are limited this way, and waiting decades to reach distant planets does not make for exciting gaming. To avoid this, all of the probes below are built at TL 8 or higher (your rule system of choice may vary) to take advantage of gravitic drives. With this technology, probes can travel at high accelerations for long periods of time making solar system transits in days to weeks as opposed to years for more primitive craft. Probes would almost certainly be disposable, and exploring a planet would be extremely costly in terms of fuel.

Finally, general probes might be useful in most situations but there are always other cases when specialized equipment is essential. Therefore some probes and exploration robots can include uncommitted space for mission-specific modifications. Making modifications could require particular sensors, spare parts, and use skill rolls based on engineering, electronics, robotics, sensors, or mechanics depending upon the situation. This space might also be used to house a sub-probe for collecting additional data in an environment that is not appropriate for the main probe. All of the probes described below can be integrated into any Traveller-compatible universe and used with minimal to no modifications. The probe descriptions are modeled on Cepheus Engine’s descriptive text for starships and vehicles.

TL8 “49er” Prospector

Using a 150 kilogram class B standard Sphere chassis (structure 8, stability 10) with 0 added stability and vacuum environmental protection, the 49er Prospector designed by Intelligent Systems is intended to remotely collect mineral samples and information for preliminary evaluation. The drone uses a Grav drive to move at speed level 3 (150 kph fly). It has an increased-efficiency Closed Fuel Cell powerplant and power level 3, which has an endurance of 26.7 hours using 27 kg of hydrogen fuel at 1.0125 kg per hour. The unit has a dexterity of 6, strength of 9, 2 retractable arm (20% mass), 1 retractable tentacle (25% mass) and a torso (55% mass). There are 3 points of inherent armor with no stealth and no camouflage. 0 weapons are available. The command and control systems of this drone consist of a regional (500 km) radio and Class A (-1 DM) countermeasures. Sensor capabilities include no audio sensors, no touch sensors, no olfactory sensors, basic taste sensors, and fine visual sensors, with the following additions: elemental analyzer, microscopic lens attachment, expanded ultraviolet spectrum, magnetometer and radiation counter. Miscellaneous equipment includes 13.85 kg of cargo space, geologic sampler and 10 kg of uncommitted space. The 49er Prospector costs Cr44,582 and takes 2.1 weeks to build.

TL8 “49er” Prospector Drone System Breakout
System Cost Mass
Chassis with modifications (excludes ammunition, fuel, power packs) Cr4,800 6.00kg
Movement and Power Systems Cr5,652 41.85kg
Appendages (and related systems) Cr10,080 18.00kg
Command, Control, and Countermeasures Cr1,500 3.00kg
Armor Cr0 0.00kg
Sensors Cr7,550 9.30kg
Weapons and related systems Cr0 0.00kg
Cargo and Miscellaneous Cr15,000 71.85kg

The 49er Prospector is a lower tech space probe designed to be used by any society with gravitic technology. Gravitic drives provide such a massive improvement over chemical drives that, as soon as they become available for space travel, all other options are essentially useless. This probe focuses on visual and chemical analysis methods and includes an elemental analyzer (very useful for finding a variety of minerals), magnetometer for detecting magnetic compounds hidden from view, and a radiation counter for finding sources of radioactives which are especially useful for systems still dependent on fission power. Fission use decreases as the more efficient fusion reactors take over, but smaller vehicles or those that must function independently for a long period (see the communications droid below) can still make use of more expensive radioactives for long lasting power. The probe comes with a geologic sampler and cargo space for returning samples of minerals to the launching vessel. This is important because elemental analysis, while useful, does not address how the elements are chemically bonded to one another which will determine the type of processing necessary to obtain pure minerals. Finally, there are 10 kg of uncommitted space that could be used for a small sub-probe, additional sensors, or expanded cargo/fuel space if nothing else.

No probe has the best of everything, however. The “49er” uses a less efficient closed fuel cell power plant which greatly limits its duration to just over 1 day. This means that it would best be used to study a particular promising site on a planet or one asteroid which is relatively close to the surveying ship. As the probe is intended to be reused and return samples to the launching ship, there will be only a short time available for sample collection.

TL8 Class I Probe

Using a 150 kilogram class B streamlined standard Cone chassis (structure 8, stability 8) with 0 added stability and vacuum environmental protection, the Class I Probe designed by Intelligent Systems is intended to provide a minimum base package of options for remote exploration. The drone uses a Grav drive to move at speed level 4 (600 kph fly). It has an increased-efficiency Closed Fuel Cell powerplant and power level 4, which has an endurance of 13.9 hours using 17.55 kg of hydrogen fuel at 1.26562 kg per hour. The unit has a dexterity of 6, strength of 6, 2 retractable arm (16% mass), 1 popup turret (14% mass) and a torso (70% mass). There are 3 points of inherent armor with no stealth and no camouflage. 0 weapons are available. The command and control systems of this drone consist of a continental (5,000 km) radio, Class A (-1 DM) countermeasures and laser communications system. Sensor capabilities include no audio sensors, coarse touch sensors, no olfactory sensors, no taste sensors, and fine visual sensors, with the following additions: contact thermometer, expanded infrared spectrum, microscopic lens attachment, telescopic lens attachment, lidar imager, expanded ultraviolet spectrum, magnetometer and radiation counter. Miscellaneous equipment includes 17 kg of cargo space, inertial locator, rangefinder, spotlight, physical sciences toolkit, space sciences toolkit and 20 kg of uncommitted space. The Class I Probe costs Cr39,853 and takes 2 weeks to build.

TL8 Class I Probe System Breakout
System Cost Mass
Chassis with modifications (excludes ammunition, fuel, power packs) Cr5,700 21.0kg
Movement and Power Systems Cr7,438 36.6kg
Appendages (and related systems) Cr7,695 13.5kg
Command, Control, and Countermeasures Cr8,500 9.0kg
Armor Cr0 0.0kg
Sensors Cr8,100 11.4kg
Weapons and related systems Cr0 0.0kg
Cargo and Miscellaneous Cr2,420 58.5kg

This Class I probe (not directly equivalent to the Star Trek version), is much faster than the 49er probe described previously due to streamlining and more powerful engines, and shares several of the same basic sensors. Streamlining will substantially improve its characteristics in an atmosphere, and the physical sciences toolkit will allow more general experiments to be conducted remotely. Mapping missions, for example, will be significantly better due to the rangefinder and lidar imager built into this unit. It might also be more appropriate than the 49er probe for studying nebulae or space phenomena due to its space science toolkit. It is also the cheapest probe of the 6 variants presented here.

Like the 49er probe, however, the Class I uses a Closed Fuel Cell powerplant and has an even shorter duration than the other probe. For longer missions, however, the 20 kg of uncommitted space might be used for an expanded fuel tank which could double its current endurance. Just as starships and vehicles require balancing priorities, robots and drones cannot include everything in a single do-it-all package (at least for those working on a limited budget or tech level).

TL8 Sensor Probe-8

Using a 160 kilogram class B standard Box chassis (structure 8, stability 7) with 0 added stability and vacuum environmental protection, the Sensor Probe-8 designed by Intelligent Systems is intended to capture basic scientific information acquired using remote sensors. The drone uses a Grav drive to move at speed level 3 (150 kph fly). It has a increased efficiency Closed Fuel Cell powerplant and power level 3, which has an endurance of 24.1 hours using 26 kg of hydrogen fuel at 1.08 kg per hour. The unit has a dexterity of 6, strength of 6, 2 retractable arm (20% mass), 1 popup turret (10% mass) and a torso (70% mass). There are 3 points of inherent armor plus 3 points of titanium steel armor (6 points total) with no stealth and no camouflage. 0 weapons are available. The command and control systems of this drone consist of a regional (500 km) radio, Class A (-1 DM) countermeasures and laser communications system. Sensor capabilities include no audio sensors, coarse touch sensors, coarse olfactory sensors, basic taste sensors, and fine visual sensors, with the following additions: contact thermometer, mass spectrometer, elemental analyser, hydrosampler, expanded infrared spectrum, microscopic lens attachment, telescopic lens attachment, lidar imager, expanded ultraviolet spectrum, magnetometer, metal detector, low power radar, radiation counter and radio direction finder. Miscellaneous equipment includes 8.56 kg of cargo space, inertial locator, spotlight, space sciences toolkit and 15 kg of uncommitted space. The Sensor Probe-8 costs Cr73,282 and takes 3.6 weeks to build.

TL8 Sensor Probe-8 System Breakout
System Cost Mass
Chassis with modifications (excludes ammunition, fuel, power packs) Cr4,160 6.40kg
Movement and Power Systems Cr6,026 41.84kg
Appendages (and related systems) Cr5,616 14.40kg
Command, Control, and Countermeasures Cr4,500 5.00kg
Armor Cr960 8.00kg
Sensors Cr50,800 49.80kg
Weapons and related systems Cr0 0.00kg
Cargo and Miscellaneous Cr1,220 34.56kg

The Sensor Probe-8 takes a somewhat different approach than the previous two probes for collecting data. It has the visual sensors and the closed fuel cell powerplant of the previous probes, but it adds a fair amount of armor to allow it to enter more potentially hostile areas. Its armor is limited to titanium steel armor, but that is related to the tech level of the probe; it uses the best armor available. It also expands upon the remote sensing options with a mass spectrometer, metal detector, radar, and radio direction finder. This probe can be used in areas where potential hostiles exist, and might be most suited for searching a planet for lost equipment or collecting water samples from an uninhabited planet with unknown life forms. It might also be better able to tolerate dangerous space environments than a Class I probe due to its armor, allowing mapping missions with less risk to the somewhat expensive probe.


All three of the above probes were designed at TL8, the minimum technology level for gravitic propulsion (at least in some systems). This represents the low technology end of what space societies are likely to have. While chemical rockets are available at lower tech levels, even the most simple space probes require massive budgets, usually months of travel, and many failures just to obtain one successful mission. As societies develop more advanced technology, however, probes can also advance. Consider the following higher-technology options:

TL11 Biosphere Probe

Using a 160 kilogram class B standard Cylinder chassis (structure 8, stability 7) with 0 added stability and vacuum environmental protection, the Biosphere Probe designed by StellarMech is intended to clandestinely collect biological and chemical information and samples from a life bearing planet. The drone uses a Grav drive sealed for submarine use to move at speed level 3 (150 kph fly, 30 kph underwater) with a dive depth of 600m and crush depth of 1,800m. It has a standard-efficiency Fission powerplant and power level 3, which has an endurance of 2.3 weeks using 1 kg of radioactives fuel at 0.00256 kg per hour. The unit has a dexterity of 9, strength of 6, 1 popup turret (16% mass), 1 retractable arm (20% mass) and a torso (64% mass). There are 4 points of inherent armor with regular stealth, digital camouflage and EMP protection. 2 weapons are available: a internal stunner with 2 powerpack(s) and a internal stunstaff with 2 powerpack(s). The command and control systems of this drone consist of a regional (500 km) radio and meson communications grid. Sensor capabilities include extra fine audio sensors, standard touch sensors, basic olfactory sensors, basic taste sensors, and extra fine visual sensors, with the following additions: expanded infrared spectrum, microscopic lens attachment, expanded ultraviolet spectrum, densitometer and radiation counter. Miscellaneous equipment includes 24.66 kg of cargo space, inertial locator, puff emitter, life sciences toolkit, medical toolkit, voder speaker and 10 kg of uncommitted space. The Biosphere Probe costs Cr104,308 and takes 5 weeks to build.

TL11 Biosphere Probe System Breakout
System Cost Mass
Chassis with modifications (excludes ammunition, fuel, power packs) Cr8,000 16.00kg
Movement and Power Systems Cr6,888 20.04kg
Appendages (and related systems) Cr16,800 17.60kg
Command, Control, and Countermeasures Cr21,000 10.00kg
Armor Cr16,800 19.20kg
Sensors Cr30,800 10.80kg
Weapons and related systems Cr1,300 10.00kg
Cargo and Miscellaneous Cr2,720 56.36kg

The Biosphere probe is somewhat similar in concept to the biosurvey rover in GURPS Traveller. Unlike the lower tech probes, this unit has a fission power source which will allow the probe to operate for more than 2 weeks. It is optimized for analyzing the living world and includes both life sciences and medical toolkits as well as a puff emitter (for releasing a tranquilizing gas), and 2 different nonlethal weapons for immobilizing subjects. Unlike lower tech probes, it has a full range of human senses (if at the basic level). It also has several technologies for avoiding detection, such as a regular stealth coating, digital camouflage, and using a meson communicator instead of standard radio. This unit should be able to operate on a lower tech or lower population world without disturbing the planet or its people and be able to clandestinely study the nature of a planet’s organisms on land or sea.

The probe does have its drawbacks, however. First off, it costs more than twice as much as either the 49er or Class I probes. In addition, it is far more focused on collecting and studying living creatures rather than minerals or chemical phenomena. The probe lacks any advanced robotics component as a cost control method, and thus requires a control vessel to direct its actions. This lack of immediate decision making could be catastrophic in time critical situations. Finally, some societies might not approve of taking living organisms (or small beings) out of their natural environment. Capturing a sentient or pre-sentient being might put back efforts to make peaceful first contact by generations.

TL11 Communications Droid

Using a 160 kilogram class B heavy Box chassis (structure 10, stability 7) with 0 added stability and vacuum environmental protection, the Communications Droid designed by StellarMech is intended to initiate and improve communications between two species. The robot uses a Grav drive sealed for submarine use to move at speed level 3 (150 kph fly, 30 kph underwater) with a dive depth of 660m and crush depth of 1,980m. It has a standard efficiency Fission powerplant and power level 3, which has an endurance of 5.5 weeks using 2.36 kg of radioactives fuel at 0.00256 kg per hour. The unit has a dexterity of 12, strength of 12, 2 retractable arm (24% mass) and a torso (76% mass). There are 4 points of inherent armor plus 8 points of crystaliron armor (12 points total) with no stealth, digital camouflage and EMP protection. 0 weapons are available. The command and control systems of this robot consist of a Model 3 computer, a regional (500 km) radio, Class B (-2 DM) countermeasures and meson communications grid, with the skills recon-0, carouse-1, linguistics-2, flying-0, emotion-2, interaction-0, command-1, hierarchy-1, 0 robotic skill points left and 0 general skill points left. Sensor capabilities include extra fine audio sensors, basic touch sensors, no olfactory sensors, no taste sensors, and fine visual sensors, with the following additions: subsonic extension, ultrasonic extension, expanded infrared spectrum, expanded ultraviolet spectrum and densitometer. Miscellaneous equipment includes display screen, holographic projector, inertial locator, life sciences toolkit, voder speaker and 20 kg of uncommitted space. The Communications Droid costs Cr172,518 and takes 8.3 weeks to build.

TL11 Communications Droid System Breakout
System Cost Mass
Chassis with modifications (excludes ammunition, fuel, power packs) Cr9,600 24.0kg
Movement and Power Systems Cr8,248 21.4kg
Appendages (and related systems) Cr53,280 32.0kg
Command, Control, and Countermeasures Cr61,100 13.0kg
Armor Cr12,320 28.8kg
Sensors Cr25,700 8.8kg
Weapons and related systems Cr0 0.0kg
Cargo and Miscellaneous Cr2,270 32.0kg

Unlike the stealth nature of the biosphere probe, the communications droid is intended to make contact with other sentient life forms and communicate with them using audio and visual methods. While the decision of live vs remote first contact has never been conclusively answered, many feel that a clearly mechanical (if advanced) device will be less traumatic and less dangerous than a face to face conversation with an advanced alien. It is reasonably well protected with crystaliron armor, and is designed to escape rather than fight if the contact goes poorly. It is equipped with a long duration radioactive power supply, and can go more than 5 weeks before needing to be refueled. These advanced robotics systems are not cheap, though, and one communications droid costs over Cr172,000.

TL14 Deepspace Planetary Explorer

Using a 170 kilogram class B heavy Sphere chassis (structure 11, stability 11) with 0 added stability and insidious environmental protection, the Deepspace Planetary Explorer designed by StellarMech is intended to explore any planet and return with samples and detailed information. The drone uses a Advanced Grav drive sealed for submarine use to move at speed level 3 (300 kph fly, 60 kph underwater) with a dive depth of 2,200m and crush depth of 6,600m. It has an increased-efficiency Fission powerplant and power level 3, which has an endurance of 3.7 weeks using 1.53 kg of radioactives fuel at 0.002448 kg per hour. The unit has a dexterity of 15, strength of 12, 2 retractable arm (20% mass) and a torso (80% mass). There are 6 points of inherent armor with no stealth, no camouflage and EMP protection. 0 weapons are available. The command and control systems of this drone consist of a regional (500 km) radio, Class C (-3 DM) countermeasures and meson communications grid. Sensor capabilities include extra fine audio sensors, fine touch sensors, fine olfactory sensors, standard taste sensors, and extra fine visual sensors, with the following additions: chemosensor, hydrosampler, expanded infrared spectrum, microscopic lens attachment, telescopic lens attachment, expanded ultraviolet spectrum, densitometer, neural activity sensor and radiation counter. Miscellaneous equipment includes 17 kg of cargo space, voder speaker and 20 kg of uncommitted space. The Deepspace Planetary Explorer costs Cr256,454 and takes 12.3 weeks to build.

TL14 Deepspace Planetary Explorer System Breakout
System Cost Mass
Chassis with modifications (excludes ammunition, fuel, power packs) Cr20,400 32.3kg
Movement and Power Systems Cr10,914 20.1kg
Appendages (and related systems) Cr113,220 34.0kg
Command, Control, and Countermeasures Cr26,000 13.0kg
Armor Cr3,400 3.4kg
Sensors Cr82,500 30.0kg
Weapons and related systems Cr0 0.0kg
Cargo and Miscellaneous Cr20 37.2kg

The deepspace planetary explorer is the most technologically advanced science probe presented here. It is designed to tackle any type of planet, from gas giant to unexplored garden world to frozen worlds with an insidious atmosphere and corrosive liquid surface. It is a drone, however, and does not include an advanced robotic brain for local decision making. This probe is therefore probably best used on a world without known sentient life, although the neural activity sensor could be incredibly useful for searching out shipwreck survivors on very inhospitable worlds. The chemosensor, hydrosampler, and densitometer can provide very detailed analyses of the chemical nature of the world and hopefully protect sentients from risking a dangerous environment when the value of the planet is still in question. These high tech sensors do come at a steep price, however. Even without a robot brain, this unit costs over a quarter million credits and requires a controller somewhere within meson contact range.

Using Missiles as Probes

Probe launchers are a very specific type of system that is only found on science oriented vessels. Missile launchers, however, are found as a primary weapon system on many space vessels. Missiles are about one half the size of science probes at ~80 kg each (12 per ton). As a secondary capability, missile sized probes could provide a useful option to a large number of ships with only a very slight diminution of their combat staying power. They may not have the full capabilities as a standard probes, but having a minimally capable asset in system is usually more important than having the ideal device a week's jump away.

TL8 Remote Missile Probe

Using a 80 kilogram class B streamlined standard Cone chassis (structure 4, stability 8) with 0 added stability and vacuum environmental protection, the Remote Missile Probe designed by Intelligent Systems is intended to collect information on chemical phenomena and radio back to the launching ship. The drone uses a Grav drive to move at speed level 2 (300 kph fly). It has a standard-efficiency Fission powerplant and power level 2, which has an endurance of 8.8 weeks using 1.42 kg of radioactives fuel at 0.00096 kg per hour. The unit has a dexterity of 8, strength of 9, 1 popup turret (18% mass), 3 retractable arm (21% mass) and a torso (61% mass). There are 3 points of inherent armor with no stealth and no camouflage. 0 weapons are available. The command and control systems of this drone consist of a regional (500 km) radio and Class A (-1 DM) countermeasures. Sensor capabilities include fine audio sensors, no touch sensors, coarse olfactory sensors, no taste sensors, and fine visual sensors, with the following additions: subsonic extension, ultrasonic extension, mass spectrometer, expanded infrared spectrum, microscopic lens attachment, telescopic lens attachment, expanded ultraviolet spectrum, magnetometer, low power radar, radiation counter and radio direction finder. Miscellaneous equipment includes inertial locator, spotlight and physical sciences toolkit. The Remote Missile Probe costs Cr63,874 and takes 3.1 weeks to build.

TL8 Remote Missile Probe System Breakout
System Cost Mass
Chassis with modifications (excludes ammunition, fuel, power packs) Cr3,040 11.2kg
Movement and Power Systems Cr3,420 8.3kg
Appendages (and related systems) Cr10,944 12.8kg
Command, Control, and Countermeasures Cr1,500 3.0kg
Armor Cr0 0.0kg
Sensors Cr43,750 33.7kg
Weapons and related systems Cr0 0.0kg
Cargo and Miscellaneous Cr1,220 11.0kg

The remote missile probe has many basic sensors for analyzing planets or potentially dangerous areas of planets. Because of its long duration fission power plant and relatively low cost, these probes may be deployed over several regions of a planet at once and allowed to explore an area in detail over time. The controlling vessel could either remain in orbit and explore a large area of a planet, or land a mobile base and explore a smaller area in extensive detail. The unit does not have a remote brain, so it must remain in relatively constant contact. A higher end probe with a robot brain could potentially be left on station for 2 months while the deploying vessel explores other parts of the system or even jumps to another system. A more extensive computer brain, however, would substantially increase the price of the probe and one or more sensor packages might have to be removed.

TL14 Stealth Observation Missile

Using a 80 kilogram class B standard Cylinder chassis (structure 4, stability 8) with 0 added stability and vacuum environmental protection, the Stealth Observation Missile designed by StellarMech is intended to clandestinely scan a planet or asteroid belt region and record data for later collection. The robot uses an Advanced Grav drive to move at speed level 3 (300 kph fly). It has an increased-efficiency Fission powerplant and power level 3, which has an endurance of 14.3 weeks using 2.76 kg of radioactives fuel at 0.001152 kg per hour. The unit has a dexterity of 15, strength of 9, a torso (100% mass). There are 6 points of inherent armor plus 6 points of bonded superdense armor (12 points total) with improved stealth, digital camouflage, EMP protection and psionic shield. 0 weapons are available. The command and control systems of this robot consist of a Model 6 computer, a regional (500 km) radio, Class C (-3 DM) countermeasures and meson communications grid, with the skills recon-0, comms-1, linguistics-0, flying-0 (grav-1), sensors-0 (instrumentation-2), interaction-0, command-2, hierarchy-2, 3 robotic skill points left and 0 general skill points left. Sensor capabilities include no audio sensors, no touch sensors, no olfactory sensors, no taste sensors, and extra fine visual sensors, with the following additions: telescopic lens attachment, densitometer, neural activity sensor and radio direction finder. Miscellaneous equipment includes inertial locator. The Stealth Observation Missile costs Cr223,964 and takes 10.7 weeks to build.

TL14 Stealth Observation Missile System Breakout
System Cost Mass
Chassis with modifications (excludes ammunition, fuel, power packs) Cr2,080 3.2kg
Movement and Power Systems Cr7,176 11.5kg
Appendages (and related systems) Cr10,608 15.2kg
Command, Control, and Countermeasures Cr83,000 14.0kg
Armor Cr60,400 16.5kg
Sensors Cr60,500 19.1kg
Weapons and related systems Cr0 0.0kg
Cargo and Miscellaneous Cr200 0.5kg

The stealth observation missile is a very high tech observatory intended to monitor a potentially hostile system or planet for an extended period of time. It is especially useful for approaching and covertly monitoring a station or base and escaping undetected. The densitometer and neural activity sensor can monitor and record from moderately large bases, and is protected against most forms of detection using advanced stealth, EMP, and psionic shielding. As it is able to be deployed by any vessel with a standard missile launcher, even a low tech freighter would be able to deploy the observation probe with no one being the wiser. Naval intelligence, corporate spies, or potentially hostile neighbors might all be interested in the transmissions and the assorted comings and goings from a high profile base.

Now It’s Your Turn

These science probes and missile probes all have very similar formats and overlapping equipment. Each design has different advantages or drawbacks, and the current models are not necessarily optimal. I’m sure others have ideas that are probably better than what I’ve presented here. Over the years I have developed a set of rules for designing general purpose robots and drones, which are freely available online. The design rules are built into a javascript-based web page for building a robot or drone following these rules. All of the robots and drones on the site are available through the OGL; feel free to use any part of the rules, probes or ideas presented here in your own campaign. It’s your game, after all. The robot designs are stored in a searchable database and may be identified by a variety of characteristics such as tonnage, name, control type, or even fuel type. Any designs you create will be incorporated into the database so others can use them, and the more people who contribute to the database, the more options there are for the rest of us.

Science probes offer players and referees an opportunity to remotely explore a dangerous or unstable environment without risking life or limb. Today’s science probes have yielded amazing amounts of information about the natural world. By extending their usefulness to Travellers of all stripes, probes can collect meaningful and critical intelligence to help players evaluate a situation and make better preparations before putting their butts on the line in a dangerous rescue mission. After all, heroic characters are used to making calm, carefully evaluated decisions based on all the facts, right? Right?

Adventure Seeds

Needle in a Haystack

Required: ship with missile rack or probe launcher

Reward: Cr10,000 for finding the Shiny Needle, 30,000 credits for recovering it (mostly) intact

Players’ Information:

The Shiny Needle, a free trader bound for the small class C starport in the Gnoutnad system, Hozinler subsector, suffered a misjump and crash landed on the neighboring uninhabited planet. Initial radio contact suggested they survived the landing, but then contact was lost. The planet is 96% covered by water and has a corrosive atmosphere and magnetic interference, making rescue operations extremely dangerous. The system is sparsely populated with only 17,000 individuals and has only minimal resources available. A freighter was immediately dispatched to the naval base at Vityene to request assistance, but a two week turnaround might be too long for the damaged trader. The player ship has the minimum equipment to begin searching for the Needle, and Jous Theeler, the prefect in charge of the system, is willing to pay you 10,000 credits if you can find it and 30,000 credits to retrieve it intact. The class C starport has few resources, but does have probes you can use to carry out the mission. They must be modified and protected from the corrosive atmosphere before they can be used.

Referee Information:

  1. Jous Theeler is desperate to recover the ship because his secret girlfriend was returning aboard the Needle.
  2. While Theeler wants to recover the ship and its cargo of mining drones, portmaster Raven Kalenter wants it to stay lost as it contains a shipment of illicit drugs being smuggled in for her.
  3. The ship is partially underwater near a reef, but is unable to contact anyone beyond a few kilometers due to the antennas being fully degraded. The hull is being slowly corroded away and they require a new flux capacitor for their maneuver drive.
  4. As 3, but the Needle actually crashed because several of the crew mutinied and took over the ship. They have disposed of the Captain and 2 loyal crew, and need to pretend nothing of the sort happened.
  5. The ship’s integrity is failing, and the crew must be rescued ASAP. The one airlock is holding, but engineering has been compromised and they don’t have any hazardous environment suits for conducting repairs. Soon the internal damage will be too massive for any hope of repair.
  6. Strong winds and acid clouds make accessing the Needle even more difficult. Escorting probes can help a small craft rescue vessel navigate the deadly atmosphere.

Riches for the Taking

Required: mining or scout vessel with probes and lab facilities

Reward: Cr20,000 per month for 2 months + bonus

Players’ Information:

Dantot-e is an asteroid belt in an unpopulated system in the Ertan subsector. You have been contracted by Celestial Resources to evaluate the quality of the ores present and determine if it is worth pursuing.

They are willing to pay you Cr20,000 credits a month for a 3-month exploration contract, plus a Cr1,000 bonus for each large marked deposit.

Referee Information:

  1. There are several asteroids with high quality metals present, but radioactive interference makes local sensor readings inaccurate, disrupts ship computer activity, and makes drone control difficult (-2 DM).
  2. There are plenty of high quality metals present, but there is also a team from Aaergian Refining in the system. They offer you Cr50,000 to report the belt is not worth pursuing.
  3. The belt is basically a bust, but there is a derelict mining ship which offers potential salvage.
  4. The belt is a bust, but a team from Aaergian Refining is also in system and offer you Cr50,000 to file a false report of excellent opportunities.
  5. As 3, but several times ships jump in to refuel at Dantot-c, the local gas giant. They are pirates, and want to keep their activity here secret by eliminating any witnesses.
  6. As 1, but an exploration vessel from Lenhie Metals is damaged and exposed to a radioactive deposit which is slowly killing them.