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Post by Hades on Fri Jul 19, 2013 9:51 pm

Interstellar Travel

Due to the vast distances involved in interstellar journeys, the use of conventional drives is inefficient; a new method of transport is required. This problem was solved with the invention of the Faster-than-Light Drive, or "Jump Drive".

Jump Drives work by generating microscopic gravitational singularities within a magnetic confinement field, and then focusing the intense gravity fields in a short beam to "fold" spacetime. Once the two points coexist in the same area of space, the ship is sealed in a sphere of gravitons, disappears from one end and appears in the other; the singularity is subsequently destroyed. The visual effect of a jump is that of a literal "bubble" of warped light surrounding the ship, and then suddenly disappearing with it.

For the singularity to be formed, a very large amount of mass has to be compressed to occupy a very small amount of space; usually in the picometer range. This requires the generation of an intense electromagnetic field, and thus the use of a cyclotron. It takes time for the capacitors to charge and the particles to reach the needed velocities, and such a period is referred to as "spinning up". Heavier ships have a larger spinning up time because more gravitons are needed to seal themselves in the bubble. In addition, the process requires massive amounts of energy to be put into the compression and subsequent containment field; shield-capable ships have to lower their defenses before a jump to divert power to the FTL drive.

After a jump, an intense amount of radiation and heat is released as the singularity collapses. As such, a ship needs to let its drive cool down before it jumps again; one can bypass the safety systems, but many continuous jumps may destroy the drive, or the entire ship.

Another limiting factor is range. The energy required for a jump (in joules) is directly proportional to the distance (in meters). In addition, the calculations needed to be done get more complex as the distance increases; a jump inside the same system may take less than a few minutes to plot, but a jump to another system may take hours, or days. That is why ships often carry databases with pre-plotted jumps between known objects, that reduce the time to a couple of minutes. Another concern is drift; jumps get more inaccurate with range, and any jumps beyond a specific distance are extremely dangerous because the ship could end up jumping into an asteroid or star. Safe jumps are usually less than 10LY in distance, but the limit can be pushed up to 20LY in an emergency.

Finally, jumps in combat are tricky; with power and computing cycles being diverted to weapons and defenses, the capacitors of the FTL drive are given the short end of the stick. It could take many minutes to charge them to jump. One may ask, why not keep the drive spun up forever? Such a move would cause damage to the systems, and as such drives can't be kept on stand-by for more than half an hour before risking system integrity.

Interstellar Communications

As with interstellar travel, communications have to be done in a faster-than-light fashion to arrive in any meaningful amount of time. There are two methods for this; tachyon transmission and quantum entanglement.

Tachyon transmission is the most widespread method. Tachyons are particles that travel with superluminal velocities, and so can be used to deliver messages with very small, almost meaningless delays across vast distances. A 50LY transmission will have a 0.005ms lag. It is cheap, and it can send tons of data; but it is not secure. Anyone can pick such a transmission up, and this means that it is dangerous to use; in addition, it can be detected both when transmitting and when receiving. Ships in stealth put themselves at risk when communicating.

This is where quantum entanglement comes in. Two particles are entangled and used to send messages in virtually the entire universe instantly. The transmission can't be intercepted by anyone, and is undetectable. The problem is, it is slow; it has a transmission rate of ten bytes/sec at the usual power setting, which may be good enough for text messages, but video chats become impossible.


Visual detection is almost impossible in space; especially with a decent camouflage pattern. Thus, radiation and heat are used to track objects. A ship that wishes to remain stealthy must take several measures to do so, and usually has to undergo special refits to be capable of doing so for more than a few minutes.

The first issue is, of course, radiation. Particle radiation is easy to shield against, and does not pose a concern in modern starships. But EM radiation from the reactor is very difficult to hide, and ships often have to sacrifice power output to lower their radiation signature. In addition, any transmissions can give the ship away.

The second way of tracking a ship is heat, and is the primary concern. Against the cold background of space, a ship is a flashing red target. The engines themselves can give not only a ship's position away, but its size, speed, acceleration, heading and class. The most drastic step to reduce heat signature is to go dark; set all systems to low or zero power mode, shut down engines, weapons and shields, and hope you aren't noticed. The problem is that computers can tell even the tiniest of distortions in heat imaging, and even the life support and the heat generated by the bodies of the crew may be enough to set off an alarm. Heatsinks are the only solution to the problem; instead of radiating heat, the ship stores it in cells until the danger has passed and it can be radiated to space, or the cells can be changed at a spaceport. The problem is that if the heat goes above a certain level, it could fry the crew. Specially designated stealth ships have been known to remain in stealth for days, or even weeks without radiating their heat, but a regular cruiser will only be able to do so for an hour or two at most.

Inertial Dampening

While interstellar travel was covered by the invention of the jump drive, intra-system journeys were left a niche for the patient. The masses of ships meant that accelerations were difficult, and journeys within systems could take weeks at a time without the use of FTL. The more mass a ship carried, the more difficult it was to get started, or to slow down. That is why the engineers of various races took a good look at their FTL drives, and decided that the concept could be reversed.

The inertial dampener utilizes the same principles as the jump drive, but in the exact reverse. Instead of creating a gravitational singularity to fold space, it bombards the surrounding space with Higgs anti-bosons, effectively lowering the mass of nearby objects, or regular Higgs bosons to increase it. This is what allows the creation of artificial gravity in ships. Modern vessels all come standard with such a device, and nobody likes to leave spacedock without one. But they are, nevertheless, very limited. The technology to affect the Higgs field has not evolved enough to expand beyond artificial gravity, or to completely counter inertia; it has just made it easier to move in space.


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