Challenger (NX-03) was the third NX-class to be launched by the United Earth’s Starfleet. The ship was launched on February 8th, 2155 from the orbital facilities above Earth. She was named after the ill-fated space shuttle craft Challenger. The ship’s motto was Ad utilitatem omnium which was Latin for To the benefit of all.
Construction on Challenger had begun at the start of 2153, one month after the launch of Columbia (NX-02). As Starfleet engineers were well aware of previous technical issues from the construction of the first two NX-class ships, Challenger’s construction took half the time compared to its older brothers. Construction of the ship went without a hitch and she performed exceptionally well in tests and her trial runs.Project Management was giving to Captain Rani Karim, its designated commanding officer when the ship launched. Sadly though, Karim would not see the christening of Challenger, her and her chief science officer and second officer (Lieutenant Commander Alec Rossi) were killed in a shuttlecraft accident days before the ship was to be launched. Instead Starfleet gave command of the ship to the only other person who knew it so well, Karim’s presumptive first officer and chief armoury officer: Commander Lloyd Burton. Rear Admiral Samuel Gardner would given Burton a promotion to Captain and at the official launching ceremony would hand him command of the third warp five capable ship.
The crew of Challenger would take some time to adjust to the changes in its command crew, as Burton had lost a few other senior staff who were unable to remain on the ship after Karim and Rossi’s death. It was not a reflection on his ability to lead the ship, but many of them had worked closely with Karim on previous assignments and felt they couldn’t stay. Before the ship’s launch, Burton had to find a number of new officers, including a first officer. He was fortunate enough to be able to pull in a few favours and before he had received the ship’s first set of orders, he had full staffed his new ship.
Challenger’s first mission was to lead a convoy of allied ships (Vulcan, Andorian and Tellarite) to Denobula to convince the Denobulan government in joining the Coalition of Planets. On board leading the delegates would be Earth’s Foreign Secretary, Madilyn Campbell. The convoy was attacked by the Orions and some of the crew (along with other delegates) were captured by them to be sold on the Orion Slave Market. Burton led the efforts to rescue those kidnapped and showed the Orion Syndicate (who were actually being paid by the Romulans to undertake such aggression) exactly what the Coalition could achieve when they worked together.
When the ship arrived in orbit of Denobula, they worked with the delegates to convince the Denobulan government and its public to join the Coalition without reservation. In fact the crew become extremely popular with the general population, especially Captain Burton who was returning to the planet after saving a number of their citizens during a previous assignment. The crew’s efforts though were ruined when the Romulan Star Empire attacked Coridan Prime. The Denobulan government’s referendum in joining the Coalition Compact was withdrawn in fear of a similar attack taking place against them, something they wanted to avoid.
At the end of February 2155, Challenger led Starfleet’s efforts to defend the new colony on Archer IV when the Romulans attempted to destroy the planet through the use of nuclear warheads. Starfleet was successful and forced the Romulans to retreat from the system. Burton and his crew would rescue the colonists and help begin the setup process. At the start of the next month, Challenger would return to Earth to witness the signing of the Coalition Compact between Earth, Vulcan, Andoria and Tellar.
By April 2155, the ship had continued its original exploration of mission. The crew had scanned and catalogued more space than Enterprise and Columbia did in their first fifty day. They were later ordered to Andoria on a diplomatic mission to meet with the new Andorian leader. During this meeting an Andorian colony is attacked by a joint Malurian-Nausicaan invasion force. Under the terms set out by the Coalition Compact, Captain Burton responds to the attack by joining the Andorian fleet responding to the invasion. Unfortunately the Andorian fleet is heavily damaged during their initial rescue attempt and Captain Burton is made an honouree Commander within the Imperial Guard. He is giving command of the remnants of the task force and is temporarily made a Commodore by the President of the United Earth Commonwealth. With this power he and his crew work to remove the Malurian–Nausicaan invasion force from the colony. By the end of the mission they uncover that the Romulans funded and supported the attack. Both governments of Maluria and Nausicaa release a statement each denying any official involvement in the fight and it is recorded that those that attacked the Andorians were hired mercenaries.
Over a month later and Challenger is ordered to make official first contact with the Delta Union. With the possibility of more conflict with the Romulans, the Coalition of Planets is keen to make more allies and expand their influence. Challenger is once again pulled into a local conflict, one between the Deltans and the Carreons. Attempting to escape from the fight, Challenger is repeatedly attacked by the Carreons. Eventually Captain Burton orders a majority of the crew to abandon ship. Those who escape take refugee on a planet inhabited by a pre-warp civilisation. The humanoid civilisation call themselves the Ardanans and they have impressive technology that allows rich and powerful members of their society to live on “cloud cities”. After they are rescued by Commander Anthi and the Andorian crew of the Avenkerev, the crew return to the ship and make their way home. Sadly though the conflict between the Deltans and Carreons ends with both sides inflicting heavy damage to one another. Again Challenger discovers that the Romulans are involved in destabilising relations between the two races. Challenger returns to Earth for extensive repairs and upgrades.