The name Shelley is a fairly common fan designation for the class, and comes from Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein - presumably a reference to the ships kit bashed nature. The reference is what led me to collectively nickname all the recent kit bashed ships "The Frankenstein Fleet".
The Shelley has what appears to be a standard Excelsior class saucer and engineering hull, but there the relationship to that class ends. Attached to the port and starboard edges of the saucer are a pair of Constitution refit nacelles. The saucer itself attaches to the engineering hull well to the stern, freeing up a large flat space on the forward dorsal surface of the engineering hull. This has a second shuttle bay mounted onto it, mirroring the normal bay at the rear of the engineering hull.
The method of attachment between saucer and engineering hull is uncertain - my assumption is that the standard Excelsior neck is still used.
Many fans consider that the Shelley must be a fighter carrier, but personally I think this is wishful thinking. The Peregrine variants commonly used as fighters in Trek appear perfectly capable of travelling over at least short range interstellar distances, and as such don't really seem to require a carrier to support them. And since almost any large Federation ship should be able to sustain a fighter wing - the Galaxy class has a main hangar deck alone which covers 4,800 m2, easily enough to cope with a couple of dozen fighters - then the advantages of fielding a dedicated carrier would seem minimal.
Looking at the Shelley, I am strongly reminded of the Ptolemy class shown in the TOS Technical Manual. That ship is a constitution saucer with a pair of nacelles attached to it, plus a connecting neck which can have any of several types of modular cargo or personnel containers attached to it. My take on the Shelley is that the saucer, nacelles and neck are a single unit, while the hull can be detached and replaced as needed.
The use of Constitution nacelles gives an important clue to the dating of this class. The original transwarp experiment failed sometime around 2287, but that class was refitted with standard warp drive and continued in service. The refitted Excelsior has nacelles which are identical to the original - my feeling is that the modifications involved replacing the transwarp versions of warp coils with more normal models - a theory supported by Voyagers "Dark Frontier" which mentions that transwarp coils are used in a transwarp drive.
So, there would presumably be some gap between Starfleets acceptance that transwarp was a failure and their refitting of the Excelsior's with new coils. I think that with the Shelley, they decided that it wasn't worth the expense (in time and resources) waiting for the new coils for a glorified cargo ship, and so instead of waiting they just stuck some older generation nacelles onto it and went with that.
This would date the Shelley as going into service in 2287, which would presumably mean the design was initiated around 2282 - 2285 - I don't think rearranging existing hull designs can involve anything like as lengthy or complex a design process as designing the Excelsior from scratch must have taken.
Okay, as to the "cargo hull" we see in "A Time to Stand". Two shuttle bays indicate that (a) there must be a lot of traffic in and out of the hull, and/or (b) the hull is expected to perform under conditions where transporters are not all that effective. My take on this is that the hull is an "amphibious" one, carrying ground troops and their weapons and supplies. The Excelsior can carry up to 9,000+ people in an emergency, according to the DS9 TM. For the Shelley this number is pulled in opposite directions - on the one hand you would expect most of those people to be carried in the saucer section of the standard Excelsior, so the engineering hulls evac. capacity would be much reduced. If the Shelley is a cargo hauler we would also expect most of the saucer sections accommodation to be replaced with extra cargo bays. And of course troops need a lot more space than evacuees since they must carry weapons and suchlike.
But on the other hand a cargo type engineering hull would not need the normal matter and antimatter fuel, warp core, power transfer conduits, etc. so a good deal of space would be freed up. And we know that there is a big cargo bay in the base of the standard Excelsior's engineering hull, so there is a lot of space there. And the troops support equipment and weapons could be carried in those extra Saucer cargo bays. Overall I think that a figure of around 4 - 6,000 troops seems reasonable.
The name USS Curry and NCC number 45617 for the "Time to Stand" ship
comes from a posting on RAST by Brian Barjenbruch.
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