The Nova-class was a type of Federation science vessel and scout starship in service in the 24th century, first entering service in 2368. The class was designed for short-range and limited duration research missions such as planetary or system surveys. Nova-class vessels were also tasked with doing the extensive and in-depth research and analysis on a chosen region after a larger explorer type ship had made the initial analysis.
The name "Nova-class" was coined for a new Starfleet design in the 2360s. At the time of its inception, it was being modeled as the next evolution of the explorer design dynamic of the Galaxy-class. At least four designs were conceptualized for the new class; with a variety of innovative new arrangements, propulsion systems and modular designs proposed. One radical design featured a nacelles-forward central hull that would trail mission modules behind it. Another design maintained a more typical Starfleet arrangement, but distorted to make use of anticipated advances in warp technology to allow greater z-axis warp field compression. A third design also maintained a recognizable silhouette, but proposed variable geometry warp nacelles and a primary hull that was composed of interchangeable modules. The fourth design had entered service by 2370, as evidenced by the USS Aquitaine; like the Nova-class, of another design which had gone into production by 2368, this design featured an angular, almost triangular, primary hull, and was used a small explorer and research vessel.