Tag Archives: FTL

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!

Ross 154 and Lacialle 8760

Together with Barnard’s Star and Lacialle 8760, the Ross 154 system is an absolutely vital link for Earth: With the 7.7 light-years limit of current Jump drive technology, these three systems are Earth’s only link to the rest of the galaxy. This also means that, should it prove impossible to extend said limit, mankind will be trapped on Earth once any one of these stars moves too far away from its ‘neighbors’. While this won’t happen for at least hundreds of thousands of years, it is a long-term concern to the think-tanks that worry about such things. It is also remarkable, at least to some cosmologists and to some philosophers, that mankind developed the technology to travel to the stars during an age when a great number of solar systems are available to it.

Some SETI scientists have proposed such a potential isolation as one solution to the Fermi paradox, however if an alien civilization is truly separated from other stars by a jump drive “chasm”, we will likely never know about it.

Ross 154

Ross 154 is 5.53 light-years from Barnard’s Star. The voyage from Earth to Ross 154 is a total of 11.49 light years due to the detour via Barnard’s Star, Ross is only 9,68 light years from Earth. This nicely illustrates the “inefficiency” inherent in Jump drive technology. And at 30 days to a light-year, it took the first interstellar probe almost a year to reach Ross 154 – 345 days – of pure travel time. The probe had been launched soon after the return of “Hope” from Alpha Centauri, in February of 2173, and it returned to Terra in April 2175.

The Ross 154 system was a disappointment after the exciting planetary discoveries made previously, but nobody had expected Ross 154 to contain any habitable worlds.

  1. Desert World (0.03 AU): 6000km diameter, density 0.4, Gravity 0.2. Thin atmosphere, no water, 2 moons.
  2. Rock ball (0.07 AU): 4000km diameter, density 0.8, Gravity 0.27. Very Thin atmosphere, ice crystal deposits at the poles.
  3. Ice Ball (0.13 AU): 3000km diameter, density 0.3 Gravity 0.08. No atmosphere, 20% surface ice.
  4. Failed Core (0.21 AU): 7000km diameter, density 0.4 Gravity 0.23. Thin atmosphere, 70% surface ice, two moons.
  5. Ice Ball (0.45 AU): 1000km diameter, density 0.2 Gravity 0.02. No atmosphere, 40% surface ice. Three tiny moons.
  6. Failed Core (0.98 AU): 6000km diameter, density 0.6 Gravity 0.3. Thin atmosphere, 40% surface ice, 3 moons.
  7. Failed Core (1.97 AU): 6000km diameter, density 1.3 Gravity 0.65. Standard atmosphere, 80% surface ice.

Even though the system offers no obvious choices for a settlement, the Colonial Authority and the star-faring nations are likely to set up outposts throughout the system to service and refuel starships. Likely candidates are the Failed Core world in Orbit 7, due to its relatively high gravity which will cause fewer health problems in humans, as well as the tiny ice ball world #5 and the moons of the Failed Core in orbit #4; in the later two cases because the low gravity makes landing and take-off of spacecraft fairly low energy affairs.

Lacialle 8760

Lacialle 8760 is 7.36 from Ross 154. From this system, four other systems can be reached: Lacialle 9352, Epsilon Indi, Gliese 832, and 2MASS J18450541-6357475. While Lacialle 8760 is 12,87 light years from Earth, a ship must travel 18.85 light years to get there, 566 days of travel-time not counting any pauses. And that is only counting one way. The first probe to visit the system was launched together with the one targeting Ross 154, and indeed both probes traveled “in tandem” – one of the secondary objectives was to test synchronization of the arrival of the probes, and the Ross 154 probe recorded departure data for its sister ship as it continued its voyage to Lacialle 8760. It took the Lacialle 8760 probe until April 2176 to return to Earth.

Interestingly, all worlds orbiting Lacialle 8760 are located in the star’s “outer” zone; the habitable zone and inner zone are completely empty.

  1. Ice Ball (0.3 AU): 11000km diameter, density 0.1, Gravity 0.09. Very Thin atmosphere, 40% surface ice, 1 moon.
  2. Ice Ball (0.57 AU): 9000km diameter, density 0.1, Gravity 0.08. Very Thin atmosphere, 40% surface ice, No moons.
  3. Failed Core (0.8 AU): 14000km diameter, density 0.2, Gravity 0.23. Standard atmosphere, 10% surface ice, 2 moons.
  4. Ice Ball (1.36 AU): 6000km diameter, density 0.1, Gravity 0.05. Standard atmosphere, 30% surface ice, 1 moon.
  5. Rock (2.44 AU): 2000km diameter, density 0.7, Gravity 0.12. No atmosphere, Ice crystals, 1 tiny moon.
  6. Rock (5.13 AU): 3000km diameter, density 0.6, Gravity 0.15. No atmosphere, Ice crystals.

The Colonial Authority and various nations are also planning to set up bases in the Lacialle 8760 system. Prime candidate is world #4, because it possesses ice and a low surface gravity.

FTL Drive: Questions Answered

Good morning and welcome to Global News.

With the return of our first interstellar FTL probes to the Sol System, and the discovery of several worlds suitable to colonization, Space Fever is gripping Earth. According to statistics, the volunteer rate for off-planet emigration has jumped by some 17,000 percent. Seven-teen-thousand. This number alone proves that the public now firmly sees the future of the human race among the stars.

With me is Mr. John Jones of the Colonial Authority, and we will be discussing some questions our viewers have been asking us lately. Mr. Jones, thank you for joining us.

Jones: It’s my pleasure.

Host: Mr Jones, can you give us a quick rundown of what projects we can expect as our next steps into space?

Jones: Certainly. As you know, we are about to launch our first manned expedition to Alpha Centauri in August. The ship was just christened three days ago. The Columbia was named after command module of the Apollo 11 mission – the first spaceship to carry humans that would land on another celestial body.

Host: Some say that this name is unfairly nationalistic considering the mission is clearly an international effort, and run by the Colonial Authority.

Jones: The name for the ship was chosen exclusively for historic significance, but Columbia is not just the personification of the United States, it stands for all of the Americas. However, let me add a personal remark. The United States carried 40% of the Authority’s budget until recently, and funded the Hyperdrive project almost exclusively until we worked out a first prototype. Without this money, we probably would not have a hyperdrive now. I think that is something to be thankful for, and thus playing politics with the naming of a spaceship should really not be our concern as we look into that bright future ahead of us.

Host: Indeed, indeed. The hyperdrive is based on whole new physics and allows us to travel faster than the speed of light, something most people didn’t think was actually possible. In layman’s terms, could you give us an overview of how that works?

Jones: It’s actually based on theories we had for over two hundred years. Back in the late 20th Century, physicists working in Cosmology came up with something called String Theory. To work, they needed to assume that there were 10 dimensions; nine spatial plus time. Eventually, they discovered that an 11th dimension was needed to make the theory work. This became known as Edward Witten’s M-Theory. What is most relevant for our purposes is that it assumes an 11-dimensions multiverse.

It is impossible for us to ever travel to any of those other universes that we know exist. They have radically different laws of nature, and even if we could travel there we’d instantly cease to exist. But what we can do, and use the hyperdrive for, is to slip in between those universes – basically travel through the structure of the multiverse itself in a bubble of spacetime with our own physical laws.

Host: So instead of going to an alternate universe, we stop half-way there?

Jones: Precisely. We do not actually travel faster than light. We cheat – we take a shortcut. And there’s another thing: Accelerating a mass to the speed of light takes a large amount of energy. Because we cheat, we get away expending much less energy – and no reaction mass at all. This is probably even more significant than breaking the light barrier. It also enables us to efficiently travel inside a system, within certain limits.

Host: What limits are those?

Jones: You can’t get too close to a gravity well within Hyperspace. Roughly, gravity leaks out of our universe and into the multiverse – it’s the reason gravity is so weak, much of its energy gets “lost” outside our universe. If your ship smashes into a gravity well of sufficient strength, it gets ripped apart. So you still have to travel conventionally to approach a planet, but you get to avoid the months and months of travel in between.

Host: How fast and far can a ship travel with Hyperdrive propulsion?

Jones: Speed depends on local gravity, so it’s slower in a system than interstellar space. Currently, state-of-the art technology logs thirty days to the light year – twelve times light speed. So a trip to Alpha Centauri takes over four months.

Host: Long trip.

Jones: Long trip, but that used to get us to Mars. And it took Columbus a month to get to the New World. Even so, the technology will mature. Current predictions say that 100 times light speed is feasible. That would cut that same trip down to three weeks. And that’s probably not the end to it. The real limit seems to be distance.

Host: Distance?

Jones: Distance. This is one aspect of hyperdrive technology we do not understand, but experiments have showed that there is a hard limit of 7.7 light years that a ship can travel in hyperspace. A charge builds up on the drive coils, and at 7.7 light years it begins to break down the coils into subatomic particles – you can imagine that this unleashes enough energy to rip the ship apart. Unfortunately, we can’t get rid of that charge except in a gravity well. We really do not understand why this happens, it’s a property of Hyperspace the theories do not predict. So you see how young that field really is.

Host: Surely we can work that out eventually.

Jones: Naturally, we always do. In the meantime it means a ship can only travel to another star system if it’s within 7.7 light years of the ship’s current position, because it needs a gravity well at the destination. Until we find a solution to that problem this organizes space into “lanes” or “arms”, and it means some systems will be cut off forever for us.

Host: So how far can we go?

Jones: We do not have very reliable star data for great distances. We can definitely get out of a 100 light year radius at several points, so it’s likely we’ll be able to access most of the Milky Way, even if we can’t visit all systems. A trip outside that 100 light years sphere is going to take decades at current travel speeds, so we have a lot of time to improve our drive technology and hyperdrive theory.

Host: Thank you Mr Jones. We will take a break here and return later, when we continue our interview with John Jones of the Colonial Authority to talk about the near future of interstellar colonialism and about the renewed interest in SETI.

Interstellar Probe “Vision” returns from Barnard’s Star

Houston, Republic of Texas — June 15th 2173. The third of mankind’s interstellar probes has returned today. “Vision”, the third of the initial trio of interstellar probes, has been exploring the Barnard’s Star since its departure in 2172.

Barnard’s Star is a flare star, and as such scientists did not expect it to be orbited by worlds harboring life. In addition, due to the star’s small size and low temperature, no worlds capable of human life were expected there either. The discoveries made at Barnard’s were not much of a surprise, therefore, and on the surface the “hostile” system may even seem like a disappointment after the rich discoveries in the Alpha Centauri system. However, this is not quite the case.

“Without any garden worlds, a result we expected, Barnard’s Star is still of vital strategic importance. It is within jump distance of Alpha Centauri A/B, Proxima Centauri, and Sol on the one hand, and Ross 154 on the other. “The star’s system will always be the ugly duckling,” one Colonial Authority scientist commented, “but all traffic going to and from Terra and the new colonies at the three Centauri stars is going to pass through Barnard’s, Ross 154 and Lacialle 8760.

“Only after Lacialle 8760 do we find multiple stars within Jump range again.”

In other words, unless a method is found to increase the range of jump drives – something theoretical science makes as impossible as traveling faster than light in our own space-time continuum – all ships that set out to explore, colonize and trade with the galaxy have to pass through those three systems, and with that traffic and the support that ships need, comes money.

And there is another aspect too. Any hostile fleet heading for Earth would have to take the same route.

“Barnard’s Star may well be our last line of defense before any aggressor hits Earth,” the official concluded. He declined to speculate about who those potential aggressor could be.

The planets of Barnard’s Star are:

  1. Glacier (0.05 AU): 10000km diameter, density 1, Gravity 0.83. Dense atmosphere, 70% ice sheets, 3 moons.
  2. Failed Core (0.11 AU): 7000km diameter, density 0.3, Gravity 0.18. Thin atmosphere, 50% ice sheets, no moons.
  3. Failed Core (0.3 AU): 7000 km diameter, density 0.3, gravity 0.18. Thin atmosphere, 70% ice sheets. 1 moon.
  4. Failed Core (0.6 AU): 14000 km diameter, density 0.2, gravity 0.23. Standard atmosphere, 90% ice sheets. no moons.
  5. Ice Ball (1.3 AU): 3000 km diameter, density 0.3, gravity 0.08. Vacuum, 100% ice sheets, no moons.

Out of the five planets, the innermost seems the most interesting for future bases. Its three moons, although smaller than Luna, lend themselves for orbital defense and spaceport facilities, while the relatively high gravity of the planet makes it easy for humans to adapt to life there.


Interstellar Probe “Dream” discovers Terrestrial Worlds – and Life!

Houston, Republic of Texas — February 21st 2173. The second of mankind’s interstellar probes has returned from Alpha Centauri, where it made a spectacular discovery: the existence of not only one, but two human-inhabitable planets in that system.

The probe emerged from Hyperspace almost exactly on target and entered a parking orbit around Mars while transmitting data back to mission control. “The data we did get back immediately showed us that our wildest dreams had been eclipsed,” Mission managers and representatives of the Colonial Authority said in a joint press conference today.

The Alpha Centauri system, of which Proxima Centauri is a distant companion, consists of two stars: Alpha Centauri A, an almost identical two to our sun, and Alpha Centauri B, which is more orange in color. Both stars possess individual star systems, with a total of 16 systems. Both of the earthlike “Garden” worlds orbit around Alpha Centauri A. Both of them, initial data suggests, support life, but in neither case has it evolved very far.

“There’s plentiful plant life on the inner of two garden worlds, and probably early land-dwelling animals. Ohe second garden world has even more primitive life; it hasn’t conquered land now.”

In addition to the large distance of the world to its sun – at 1.71 it orbits at the outer edge of the Habitable Zone – Planetologists pointed at the absence of moons orbitting the further Garden world as a likely cause: “Without large moons, conditions on Earthlike planets are more chaotic, and we suspect this may have a negative impact on the evolution of higher species.”

In detail, the composition of the Alpha Centauri A system is:

  1. Hothouse World (0.2 AU): 11000km diameter, density 0.8, Gravity 0.73. Massive atmosphere, no water, 1 moon.
  2. Desert World (0.3 AU): 4000km diameter, density 0.9, Gravity 0.3. Thin atmosphere, no water.
  3. Rock (0.42 AU): 2000 km diamteer, density 1.3, gravity 0.22. Vacuum, minor ice deposits,3 moons.
  4. Hothouse World (0.67 AU): 15000 km diameter, density 0.6, gravity 0.75. Dense atmosphere, no water, 3 moons.
  5. Garden world (1.01 AU): 11000 km diameter, density 0.8, gravity 0.73. Dense atmosphere, 60% oceans. 1 moon.
  6. Garden world (1.71 AU): 12000 km diameter, density 0.9, gravity 0.9. Dense atmosphere, 80% ice sheets.
  7. Failed Core (2.4 AU): 8000 km diameter, density 0.3, gravity 0.2. Thin atmosphere, 80% ice sheets. 1 moon.
  8. Failed Core (3.6 AU): 24000 km diameter, density 0.2, gravity 0.4. Dense atmosphere, 60% ice sheets. 2 moons.

Alpha Centauri B’s system is less promising. There are two Mars-like desert worlds in its habitable zone, both lifeless, and one hothouse slightly larger than earth. All three could be terraformed but lack significant water reserves.

  1. Rock (0.3 AU): 1000 km diameter, density 1.2, Gravity 0.1. Vacuum, minor ice deposits.
  2. Hothouse (0.48 AU): 14000 km diameter, density 0.9, gravity 1.05. Dense atmosphere, no water.
  3. Desert world (0.62 AU): 4000 km diameter, density 0.9, gravity 0.3. Thin atmosphere, minor ice deposits, 1 moon.
  4. Desert world (1 AU): 10000 km diameter, density 0.4, gravity 0.33. Standard atmosphere, minor ice deposits.
  5. Ice Ball (1.3 AU): 4000 km diameter, density 0.3, gravity 0.1. Vacuum. 60% ice sheets. 1 moon.
  6. Ice Ball (2.07 AU): 2000 km diameter, density 0.5, gravity 0.08. Vacuum. 50% ice sheets. 2 moons.

Unless Barnard’s Star holds any surprises, the discovery of two habitable planets at Alpha Centauri make the binary system the destination for mankind’s first manned interstellar expedition, which is currently bein prepared by an international team under the coordination of the Colonial Authority.

The United States, China, Europe, Russia, Brazil and Indonesia immediately announced that they intend to set up colonies on the as-yet unnamed worlds, and other nations are expected to follow soon.

Interstellar Probe “Hope” Returns From Proxima Centauri!

Houston, Republic of Texas — January 17th 2173. One of mankind’s first three interstellar probes has emerged from hyperspace, mission control specialists have reported. The probe emerged just outside the orbit of Mars – it was off target by several thousand kilometers but in good shape. The probe immediately attempted to contact the Advanced Deep Space Network to broadcast its data.

While specialists pour through the data, we can already report on the makeup of Earth’s closest extra-solar star system. It contains eight planets:

  1. Desert World (0.02 AU): 6000km diameter, density 0.6, Gravity 0.3. Thin atmosphere, no water.
  2. Rock (0.034 AU): 2000km diameter, density 0.5, Gravity 0.08. No atmosphere, no ice or water.
  3. Failed Core (0.065 AU): 8000km diameter, density 0.4, Gravity 0.27. Thin atmosphere. Surface covered by ice sheets: 80%.
  4. Failed Core (0.13 AU): 9000km diameter, density 0.2, Gravity 0.15. Thin atmosphere. Surface covered by ice sheets: 70%.
  5. Icy Ball (0.19 AU): 5000km diameter, density 0.3, Gravity 0.13. No atmosphere. Surface covered by frozen oceans: 60%. One Moon.
  6. Failed Core (0.33 AU): 5000km diameter, density 1.3, Gravity 0.54. Standard atmosphere. Surface covered by ice sheets: 80%. Two Moons.
  7. Failed Core (0.43 AU): 8000km diameter, density 0.6, Gravity 0.4. Standard atmosphere. Surface covered by ice sheets: 30%.
  8. Rock (0.6 AU): 3000km diameter, density 1.3, Gravity 0.33. Very thin atmosphere. No water

It had not been anticipated to discover any Earthlike worlds at Proxima Centauri, or at Alpha Centauri, so the discovery of the Mars-like desert world was seen as being “as good as we could hope for”. A Federated Nations spokesman stated that the Colonial Authority would be soliciting proposals for colonization within the next six months.

The other two interstellar probes, “Dream” and “Vision”, are due to return in February and June from Alpha Centauri A/B and Barnard’s Star.