Hyperdrive Technology

Hyperdrive technology is probably the most essential aspect to the Science Fiction setting’s balance. I’ve always had a rough idea of what I wanted, but it took me a long time to work out the details. In recent weeks, I’ve done just that – and produced a ~15 pages document over the course of my brainstorming.

I think I’ve come to a few conclusions:

  • “Modern” Hyperdrive speed is 2 hours per light-year, plus a jump prep time of 8h, not counting time it takes to charge up capacitor banks. This results in approximate travel times of 84 days from Terra to the Federation border – one way. As an aside, the FN – before the break down of interstellar society – was able to build ships twice as fast.
  • The actual course a ship takes is longer than the point-to-point distance because gravity wells en route need to be avoided.
  • Range: There is no theoretical limit to the distance of a single hyperdrive jump. Longer jumps require better astrogation equipment and better astrogational data, or they become more prone to error over distance. Practical jump distance is still on the order of hundreds of light years, at least, which means there are no fixed, defensible borders.
  • No FTL communication and no FTL detection – this isn’t a new decision of course.
  • Ships in Hyperspace can, in theory, abort a jump prematurely. To do so, however, carries a high risk – the ship is likely to be severely damaged or even destroyed.
  • There is no limitation on entering or leaving hyperspace in a normal gravity well; ample safety margin to any object in real space is advised especially on re-emergence; the margin of error means it’s fairly easy to crash into a planet. Extreme gravity wells (singularities) are a different matter, and could knock a ship back into real space.

As you can see, I opted for the simple approach. For example, I just could not come up with a reasonable way to limit jump range so I eventually decided to just go with the easy default – after all if I can’t justify a limitation before myself, nobody else would believe in it either.

The biggest implication of all this for the setting is that there is no border a nation can easily defend. Important systems will be heavily fortified, scout ships will patrol systems for signs of intruders, but in the end your enemy can jump right past your defenses to your homeworld if they want. Of course, such an invasion might leave their own systems undefended and if their enemy can out-think them what was intended as a surgical surprise attack could end up as a disaster.

These decisions also mean that human space contains a lot of worlds that are simply bypassed – maybe never even visited. In a way, this is good – it means “the frontier” is never far away from a civilized system; but unfortunately there’s really no way to have the players or protagonists stumble across anything they did not intend to visit.

I may yet change my opinion on some of these points… but since I really need to move on with the design, I will only do so with very good reason. And yes, as always, if anybody has feedback or good ideas, I’d love to hear it!

4 thoughts on “Hyperdrive Technology

  1. I was just reading this article about a theoretical real life warp drive. http://www.gizmag.com/warp-drive-bubble-nasa-interstellar/24392/

    Maybe hyperspace is shorthand for the altered space the vessel is traveling in? Anyway It might fuel some ideas for some problems a drive would have to wrestle with. One of the things mentioned was using dark energy to create the warp and having to collect that energy or generate it. Maybe that’s the capacitor bank charge you mentioned? There are dark energy capacitors that have to build up a charge to enter hyperspace. There’s no way to store the dark energy without engaging the drive. As soon as you start collecting dark energy the warp forms and the ship starts moving.

    Maybe there’s a problem with keeping the hyperdrive bubble intact? It would be cool if an engineer could get the ship to travel further/faster based on their skill?

    Anyway, just ideas to throw at you.

  2. Thanks for the feedback Emmett!

    Yeah I have been following development of the Alcubierre warp drive. Of course I really hope that this thing works out – but I am just a little skeptical. We simply know so little about spacetime and the expansion of the universe, this seems like a bit of a stab in the dark. Still, I am glad there are some guys at NASA who want to test for the basic science behind the idea. Maybe the universe will give us a break.

    I’m not too fond of the gizmag article, though, it’s not very well written.

    In my SF setting, hyperspace is fairly traditional – an alternate universe used to “bypass” space. All my settings tie in with each other in that they are parallel universes to each other, and travel between them is possible. The base technology of the hyperdrive is the same as other universes use to to travel to parallel worlds; ironically the SF-Universe scientists don’t realize that their hyperdrives could also reach parallel universes while the other universes haven’t figured out that their parallel worlds gateways could also be modified to build a hyperdrive.

    My hyperdrives use large capacitor banks to store electircal energy, which is then released in an instant to generate huge energy pulses which shift the starship into hyperspace (and at the end of the voyage from hyperspace to real space).

    I did toy with all kinds of reasons why spaceships can only do short jumps, but in the end it doesn’t matter unless I can also force them to enter a system and ideally orbit or land a planet. If I can’t, they will just jump into empty space, recharge their drives or re-do their astrogation calculations, and jump again. About the only thing I could come up with is heat, and if I start to treat heat realistically, well, I will never have capital ship fleets. 🙂

    So yeah. Warp bubbles/jump fields/whatever could be short lived, but by itself, that doesn’t change anything unfortunately 🙁

  3. I remember you sending me a draft of this, but I don’t recall what I said in return. If it was helpful, great. If it wasn’t or if I just didn’t reply, my bad. I like this kind of stuff, but I don’t understand the real science of it enough to know how far it can be bent before it’s just laughable.

  4. There’s really no “real science” of FTL travel, except general relativity (which says it can’t be done) and the Acubierre warp drive (which describes a workaround that might work IF certain speculative things have actual existence; keyword: exotic matter).

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.