Materials, Energy, and Space/Time

The Nitty-Gritty On Starjump And Power

Sun, Feb 14, 2021 at 9:30 AM


I must apologize. I should have cleaned that emblem/logo file up before sending it. "Stardrifter", as a word, does NOT appear on any ships or anything in the Stardrifter universe. I was working on making a logo for Stardrifter in the same file. The flags off to the right, with the red and black stars and stripes, are what I was referring to. Honestly, you can just ignore that whole file. The designs aren't that good, and they're certainly not important. Sorry for the confusion.

Regarding structural integrity of stations and ships. Design elements are vital, of course, as well the liberal use of inertial compensators throughout; but the thing that really makes this future tick is how materials science has exploded. I mention the steel alloy, polynium, many times in the tales. This is a supermaterial with properties we would consider miraculous in the present time. I dedicated an episode of Voice From The Void, available on my site, to supermaterials, and talk about what polynium is, and how it's made, there. Basically it's a so-called "cold forged" metal, that can be molded into virtually any shape to order at massive automated factories. It can endure the stresses of high gee maneuvers with little or no problem. Space-grade polynium is nearly immune to metal fatigue and other issues that plague us today.

As for design elements, your observation that reaction drives might need to be spaced around very large vessels for the sake of proper control and safe handling is a salient one. The airship comparison is especially on-point, but rather than classic zeppelins, with rigid mounts and propellers pointed in one direction, I think we'd see any external main drive thruster cones mounted upon gimbals, sitting on the end of articulated frames or extending arms. This way they can be aimed in whatever direction is necessary. The engines that accelerate the reaction mass would be internal, feeding the thrust through ducts or piping. When you're talking about vessels of that size, even their small maneuvering thrusters would be huge. And yes, these would also need to be armored, so as to be protected from micrometeorite impacts, since they're external.

One element that would almost certainly be in play is that, despite the presence of large umbilicals, and depending upon its design, truly huge vessels wouldn't necessarily ever need to come to a full stop. Even when loading and unloading, everything could be in relative motion. It could simply assume certain speeds and orbits, rather than actually dock anywhere. Vessels designed like this would dump their cargo boxes into prearranged orbits when they starjump in to the system, and let local cargo-handler swarmcraft take them on to distribution and storage orbits/points. That's just one approach.

Starjump fields are extended by the use of "propagators". Again, I did a VFTV episode on this, but basically, a single field can be extended a very long way by "boosting" the signal. They act like antennas; and like antennas, they come in every conceivable shape and size. Some are composed of fine, gossamer-like elements, some are big and industrial in form. They are fixed upon the exterior of a vessel in key spots, though some can be mounted flush the ship, so that they are effectively invisible. They can also be portable, discrete modules, that are placed by hand (human or robot) on the outsides of vessels that have variable shapes and masses, such as do frame haulers.

They are routinely used this way with supercarriers. Such swarms have several engineering cars containing starjump engines that operate together; they initiate jump at the same time, and the propagators extend the field out to cover the entire compliment of entrained boxes. On the other end of the trip, boxes leave, boxes arrive, and automated drones retrieve and reposition the propagators. Then the process starts all over again. Most maintenance and repairs are done while the supercarrier is in the artificial bubble of subjective time. A ship like this is an anthill: always busy doing something.

I'm assuming that electricity is still a primary energy type in this future time. It can be derived a number of ways, depending upon the design of the vessel. Pretty-much all of the larger vessels use super-efficient fusion or fission reactors. Smaller ones can use commensurately smaller reactors, or even chemical engines, with inexpensive liquid or solid fuels. The idea here is that, as time goes on, and technologies mature, a general trend across industries is that of being able to do more, with less. In other words, rather than requiring the mind-bending amounts of energy of a matter/antimatter engine, such as in Star Trek, Stardrifter vessels have progressed along the lines of efficiency and thrift. Yes, the really big ships need a lot of energy to create a starjump event, but it's more like what you'd need to power a city, rather than a continent or planet. When you have a matter/antimatter explosion in Star Trek, it can imperil an entire planet. That's simply not the case in Stardrifter.

So, electricity is created by the engine, and it's transferred to the power plant, where it gets applied/transformed/converted for use by the rest of the vessel's systems. This includes the starjump engine, which is generally composed of one or more single units that project a field; or it might include a reaction drive, that uses electricity to speed up and eject reaction mass out of the drive nozzles.

When a vessel pulls in to a new station or port, one of the things it take on is reaction mass. This mass can take a variety of forms, depending upon the design and function of the vessels, and may or may not be exotic and/or expensive, depending upon where you are in the galaxy. It ranges from distilled water (for smaller vessels like personal boats, yachts, and dronecraft), up to super-dense metal loads. These last would be compressed and held in storage containers under very high artificial gravity fields aboard (for the sake of volume containment and potential kinetic energy density), so they may be vaporized inside plasma hazes held within magnetic fields, and ejected at incredible speeds out of the drive cones.

And, of course, it's still not unheard of for vessels to be powered by actual rockets, utilizing chemical fuels that also act as the reaction load. Defensive missiles, such as the kind that Ejoq fires in space battles, still follow this design, but so do quite a number of vehicles that people ride in. It's old tech, perhaps, though still far in advance of anything we have today. Look hard enough, and you'll invariably find designs that are considered old-fashioned, or obsolete by the majority of space-goers, which still have practical applications somewhere.

Regarding the velocity/momentum of vessels entering and exiting jump space, the vessels carry over these things upon entering. Since there is a time differential between the artificial and real universes, the vessels have the opportunity to alter their speed while inside. From the POV of anyone within the vessel during starjump, it will simply look like it's firing its thrusters to no avail, since the jump field bubble is centered on the ship itself, and nothing exists outside the bubble. Trajectory of the exit is one of the factors determined by the navigator of the vessel (human or AI): the ship can come out of starjump at any angle, and in any direction desired. Therefore, in star systems where the ship needs to be traveling at a slower speed than that of where they last departed, it can exit jump space backwards, and begin slowing down immediately; though, again, they might have already set their velocity while inside of the jump bubble.

In settled star systems, sending out drones and the like ahead of a vessel -- even a large one like a supercarrier -- is unnecessary, due to the proliferation of navigation buoys emplaced by AIN Fleet (this is one of their stated mandates). A settled system gets an entire fleet of these things, each of them networked with the rest. The buoys use a wide array of traffic sensors to track the state of objects in the area of space around them, and the data is sent out to all incoming and outgoing vessels. The incomings use the latest data to set proper courses. The outgoings propagate this data upon exiting into other star systems, so that any vessels heading to that previous system have the latest data. Remember, starjump voyages occur in zero time within the real universe, so this data is usually current.

In settled star systems, all legal entrances and exits from starjump must take place in designated orbits, somewhere in and around the jump point. Heavily trafficked star systems have wide designated bands in this zone, with very specific orbital "lanes" assigned, where entrance, and then exit is allowed. All flight plans must be logged with Orbital Control (OC) well in advance of the exit transition, so that there is time for outgoing vessels to jump ahead with this data. On the other side of the voyage, OC gets this data, reserves an orbit, time, and trajectory for the flight plan so scheduled, and relays this back via vessels heading in the previous direction. In busy systems, with lots of traffic, all of this might only take a few minutes, real time. In a place like Choryll Prime, where the planet Barlow is located, you might not get any current data.

For most vessels in this situation, even though they're jumping in "blind", as it were, the odds of actually hitting anything upon exit are exceedingly small. Do it often enough, though, and an accident could happen, I'd imagine. Small particulate matter in the actual space/time transition zone (that is, the space that the ship actually comes to occupy upon exit) is pretty-much immaterial: the artificial universe is carried over into the real universe for a few microseconds, appearing as a single point in our universe and expanding outward. This has the effect of "pushing aside" real space to make room for it, and matter goes along for the ride. Larger objects are either moved aside harmlessly, or folded back on themselves. When this last thing happens, it usually causes a misjump, and the exiting ship is bumped back into jumpspace, entirely out of control. Transition misjumps can be extremely serious, and often result in the complete loss of the vessel. There aren't usually any serious consequences for the objects in real space where this happens, though rumor has it that Fleet has been looking for ways to weaponize this phenomenon.

Regarding Lantern Guns, in my mind, they are oval or lozenge-shaped, with glass-like lenses, but honestly, they can look like anything you want.

Regarding Dame Minnie, the Bechel class gunboat from Motherload: in my mind it was roundish, and angular. Probably ugly. It would have had moderate armor on it, for the sake of high-velocity travel, and skirmishes with pirates. All of Ejoq's weaponry would have been retractable or flush with the hull line. Size-wise, I think of it as being about as big as the construction vehicle in this photo, though not necessarily this thing's shape:

Large Construction Vehicle

The actual living and working space inside the boat would be very small in comparison; the rest would be machinery.

I hope at least some of this helps. Remember that it's all nonsense and entirely made up, so anything goes!