Love for the Launch
Ladies and gentlemen please turn your attention to that unsung little hero of space commerce: the launch!
Weighing in at 20 dTons with an acceleration of one gee, launches are often dismissed entirely in any discussion of shipping. Consider though that a launch comes in at a piddling 5.75 Mega credits. A Miner or Courier nearly seven times that. A Frontier Trader runs sixteen times as much! The Frontier Trader also moves at 2 gees, not much faster.
For all these ships, assuming a mortgage, what makes more business sense? Have your ship docked in an orbital element being seen to while you negotiate your next round of speculation cargo and secure freight and passengers, or having it spend several hours or days landing cargo at various destinations and picking up shipments?
Besides free traders, many frontier systems eagerly seek to exploit their asteroids and worlds. The launch can easily supply outposts and stations up to five A.U.s away (a week's travel at one gee). While they are built to TL 9 standards launches can easily be maintained by TL 7 or even TL 6 worlds. Any Level C port can conduct repairs. Worlds of Tech level 6 to 8 can't support any local star flight but are already looking for easily accessed minerals and orbital factories to reduce polluting industries on their planet.
So what does hiring a launch run?
Your average 2-man launch runs about 5.5-5.75 MCr. Assuming a forty year mortgage the monthly costs are:
33,118 Cr.Cost per month
Days in use per year
Days in use per month @ 21
8 hours flight per day
200 Cr. per hour
200 per hour
So given about four weeks per month, flights five days a week (with two weeks downtime for maintenance) and eight hours flying a day, about 21 days a month, 168 hours per month. Long flights mean several days flying time, but we still bill them for eight hours a day to give them break on booking long flights. I get about 200 Cr. an hour to break even. A 25% mark up is not an unreasonable profit.
The mark ups are not reasonable in practice. Shipping cargo runs 100 Cr. per ton. That's 800 Cr. for a loaded launch. So that rate stands for trips of three hours or less.
A passenger would take up one ton of cargo space and be charged a like amount. It'd include up to 100 kilos of luggage.
>3 hour cruise... 100 Cr.
4-8 hours 250 Cr.
24 hours 350 Cr.
Per day 300 Cr.
Note that passengers are normally only carried for durations of 8 hours or less, unless they're in low berths. then they're figured as cargo +100 Cr.
Gifting characters a launch
Normally characters will start out with a Scout (that could be repossessed during an emergency) or a freighter (mortgaged to the hilt). Using ship shares (about .5 to .8 MCr. each) might let a party own a launch outright. Modifying the cargo hold into staterooms will allow the launch to carry four more party members. Consider, it doesn't have FTL but carrying it as cargo would cost 20,000 Credits. Six middle passage tickets cost 48,000 Cr. Low berths are cheaper but... you know. Once in a new system, the characters can find all manner of odd jobs to occupy themselves, earning money for transport to the next system. They might want to invest some money in a few missile racks or throw in with a convoy to other planets in a system.
Not having a ready jump drive also means te characters can't outrun their mistakes as easily. You need a friendly ship with 20 tons of cargo to get out of Dodge.This may -dare I say it- cause parties to mind their manners.
The downside is tiny living space, and if you convert cargo to staterooms, you are denying yourself a revenue stream. You pretty much have to hang out in a bar looking for an odd job or two. Freelance crews (freelaunch crews) should have a wide array of skills to entice possible patrons (oh a lot of worlds have the Paytron app for your personal computer, if you don't drink.) Another problem is a missile rack and a single turret will run .95 MCr or twenty percent the cost of your ship! With the tiny power plant it's just not feasible to mount energy weapons and you need to stock out on ammunition.
The numbers above deal with a mortgaged launch. If through the use of shares, discounts, and such a party owns a launch outright the operating cost goes down to 10-12 KCr a month. At this point the star system is yours (possibly the Universe if you can afford transport.
Other Business Ventures
Ever wonder what happens to pirates who screw up a boarding action? Well they often get a long walk out a short airlock. Not always. They may have a bounty or be wanted by the authorities to
beat question. Similarly hijackers and other criminals may be discovered on a ship. Running crooks from a ship eager to be quit of them can mean a nice payout for a few hours flying time.
Space stations and orbital ports are odd ducks. Often they are privately owned and very antsy about allowing a ship full of heavily armed combatants to dock (law level be damned!) In cases like this the ship's crew in question will often hand their weapons over to a third party for safekeeping until the business there is concluded.
Search and rescue is a noble profession. It is also very lucrative. A skilled crew of first responders can usually find work at a starport.
Convert part of the cargo hold into a lab. This does require four tons and about 1 MCr. After that you can get decent money prospecting and assessing various for different businesses. They usually turn a blind eye to a few tons of nearly pure ore in your hold.