Thursday, December 4, 2014

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Ion the Horizon

I have had spaceship design on the brain lately, which led me to think about ion engines as sub-lightspeed travel. 
If you think of space travel as a marathon, not a sprint, then you also need to think about what people would do to fill the countless hours, days, weeks, etc. Think of it as the longest road trip ever.
If you had a hyperspace jump drive that allowed FTL travel, think of the adventures you'd miss along the way.
So how fast (or slow) are we talking here? Well when you figure that the speed of light is 300,000 km/sec, then the paltry 20-50 km/sec of an ion engine seems abysmally slow. 

Currently built with a lifetime of approximately 20,000 hours, ion thrusters could burn for about 833.33 days or 2.28 years.
And if the exhaust velocity reaches its maximum range of 50 km/sec or 180,000 km/hour (111,846.5 mph) that means you could travel 3,600,000,000 km (2,236,936,292 miles) in the lifetime of that particular ion engine. Even if you could only achieve a "slow burn" of 20 km/sec (44,739 mph) that would still carry you 1 billion 440 million miles. Maybe you could squeeze a few more million miles out of it since you're not burning as hot.

If the speed and distance are too much to wrap your head around, think of it in terms of scale.
The circumference of the Earth is 24,901 miles. Rounding that up to 25,000 miles, you could still circle the planet 57,600 times. But who wants to only drive around the block when you can get on the open road and really let the ponies run?
The moon is 238,900 miles away. You could get there in just a little over 2 hours.
It took Neil Armstrong over 4 days.
Let's say you wanted to swing by the future colony on Mars, which is about 35 million miles away.
It would take you 13 days. Ok, that road trip is starting to get wearisome. That's like driving from LA to NYC and back.
But let's say you have a spacious RV with lots of room to stretch out and all the high-tech, time-suck gadgets of a deep-space faring civilization. And like the best road trip mix of tunes ever!
You are going to push to the very edge of our solar system - 7 billion 440 million miles.
You'd get there in 7.59 years and you'd have to change out your engine 5 times. Let's hope you have James T. Kirk's Triple A card.

By the way, instead of a little hula girl on your dashboard you have a Buzz Lightyear bobble head.

Curvaceous Cargo

Because I was bored and looking for something fun to do, and because I'm a nerd that thinks "fun" is using dice roll generators to plot the probability curve of sci-fi cargo, I have modified my original 2d10 cargo curve.

The NEW version:

2. livestock
3. raw materials: ore, lumber, plastics, chemicals
4. manufactured goods and textiles
5. simple electrical/mechanical parts
6. advanced/assembled electronics and machines
7. robotics and cybernetics
8. polymers and synthetics
9. medical supplies: diagnostics, vitamins, vaccines
10. foodstuffs: seeds, spices, alcohol, preservatives
11. petrochemicals, fuel cells, propellant
12. weapons, ammunition, explosives
13. precious metals and silicates
14. radioactive materials/waste
15. luxury items
16. exotic items
17. stolen items
18. illegal weapons and modifications
19. illegal drugs, chemicals, exotics
20. human cargo: slaves, wetware, corpses

I changed the layout specifically based on what I thought would be the most likely cargo - fuel.
Then to either side of that I arranged medicine, food, weapons, and precious metals. I think that about covers it for the five most common things you'd find in a ships hold.
I figured the least likely things would be livestock and human cargo (not the paying passenger type).
If you can't tell, I had Firefly in mind quite a bit when I crafted this.

And in saving the best for last, I recently came across this Star Citizen: MISC Freelancer video.

Friday, June 27, 2014

C.A.P. versus Superium

Back in April 2013 I posted about the great Superium that runs vast sectors of the galaxy.

And if sci-fi shows like Firefly, Star Wars, and Star Trek (or just plain old good storytelling) have taught us anything, it's that the great and powerful government needs some upstarts to maintain a standing conflict.

Thus I have settled on the Superium's adversaries - the C.A.P. (Confederation of Allied Planets).

Obviously I couldn't use "the Federation" without immediately conjuring Star Trek connections. Besides, I don't particularly like the notion of a federation. When I think of the Fed I think of: over-reaching, arrogant, taxation, and otherwise meddling for meddling's sake.

But I also couldn't call it "the Confederacy" without blundering into associations with the South in the U.S. Civil War.

Perhaps, like myself, you need an easy comparison between a Confederation and Federation.
Think of the United States when they were in fact just that. United states. Before the formation of the federal government, the original colonies chose to operate together for a greater good/benefit.

A confederation is voluntary. A federation isn't necessarily.
A confederation lacks a powerful core, instead being governed by a council of sovereign entities.
A federation typically has a centralized "seat of power" like a Presidency or Chancellor.
In a confederation the system only lasts so long as the various parts decide to participate. This hopefully leads to more cooperation because the entire thing crumbles if agreeable terms aren't met and maintained for everyone.
In a federation, the votes are tallied and the law becomes the binding "agreement" which must then be enforced and upheld, even if you were one of them that got out-voted.
A confederation grants a certain amount of autonomy to its member states to govern themselves in matters of customs, trade, law, etc. They operate together in terms of protecting the whole by protecting the parts.
A federation typically controls several aspects of its participants from economic concerns to housing, travel, and education. A norm/average is expected to be upheld for everyone, like it or not. And certain cities or regions are given priority status, while others are ignored.

I was thinking of calling it the Coalition of Allied Planets, but that is much too informal to operate in large numbers. A coalition is generally on a much smaller scale, say a dozen individuals. They work together for a short time to meet a short term coal. Think of it like a small community of farmers all pitching in to plant, tend, and harvest a variety of crops to be held in a central storehouse. That might help them last through a few hard winters, but it's not necessary forever.

So the background could be that the C.A.P. started as a loose coalition to repel a common threat - pirates, slavers, smugglers, what have you. Over the years they realized the benefit of continuing to work together in defense of their homes and trade routes. Gradually they formalized into the Confederacy of Allied Planets. It maintains peace among them as neighbors because a war between them would harm both and benefit none.

There you have it, the Confederation versus the Superium.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Haul Your Freight

Wow. Has it really been 6 months since my Find A Job post? I guess so. Time really flies when you're traversing the stars at warp speed.

Anyway, I did finally craft a Traveller-esque cargo table. But since I chose to use 2d10 instead of d66 it came out rather different. I was able to shave the 55 options down to 20 by combining several of them.

Here's what I have:

2. Raw materials: ore, lumber, plastics, chemicals
3. Foodstuffs: seeds, spices, alcohol, preservatives
4. Manufactured goods and textiles
5. Livestock
6. Medical supplies: diagnostics, vitamins, vaccines, antibiotics
7. Simple electrical/mechanical parts
8. Advanced/assembled electronics and machines
9. Robotics and cybernetics
10. Polymers and synthetics
11. Petrochemicals and fuel cells
12. Weapons, ammunition, explosives
13. Radioactive materials/waste
14. Jewels and precious metals
15. Luxury items
16. Exotic items
17. Stolen items
18. Illegal weapons and modifications
19. Illegal items: drugs, chemicals, exotics
20. Human cargo: slaves, wetware, corpses

Because using 2d10 lays out results in a curve, you could easily adjust for supply and demand mechanics depending on the type of world you're shipping to/from. Or if you just want something quick and don't care the likelihood, just roll 1d20 where the odds toward any one kind of cargo are all the same.

I haven't decided what the value per ton per parsec would be, and it would fluctuate anyway.
Something I have decided is the base wage for simply hauling freight.
I'm thinking it would be 500 credits (known as creds or dits) per ton per parsec, up to 10 parsecs. There is an additional incentive of 250 credits per ton per parsec for any distance exceeding 10 parsecs.
So 10 tons for 15 parsecs would pay:  50,000 base + 12,500 incentive = 62,500 credits upon delivery.

I might incorporate the notion of major and minor hauls. Major is anything over half of the ship's capacity, thus minor is anything less than half.

As for how much you can haul at a given time, I figure a nice round number is to say that an average ship can carry 20 "standard" 20 foot cargo containers, with each container holding 20 tons = 400 ton max.
But not everything is shipped in completely full containers.
1 container holds 20 crates in 4 rows of 5, stacked two on two.
1 crate holds 4 canisters or cells. Liquids must always be transported in canisters. All other goods are packed in crates.  
1 canister holds 50 gallons at approximately 10 lbs per gallon; therefore, each canister is 500 lbs, each crate is 1 ton, and each container holds 20 tons. 
Logistically, the canisters don't have to be packed into crates. The cylinders could be stacked atop each other inside a container, or even laid on their sides like whiskey barrels or beer cans. But the problem with this is that they get jostled about alot during shipping and one of the worst dock disasters is to have a crew open a container and have loose barrels come tumbling out, crushing, maiming, and generally making one hell of a mess.

A medium freighter cannot (safely) haul more than 700 tons, which is 35 containers. Any captain found moving more than that - some push their luck, stacking 40 containers - can be fined or jailed by port authority. Depending on the severity of the charge, which is directly related to the goods being moved, a captain can even lose his ship.
A heavy hauler maxes out at 1,000 tons if every possible inch of the hold is crammed with cargo, but it means that crew cannot move about in the bay. It also means that containers much be inspected as they are unloaded. This takes more time and skill meaning that dock workers and harbormasters demand a higher pay. A smart captain, or a smuggler, will stack 40-45 containers (800-900 tons) and hope to distract the harbormaster's crate-mates in they are trying to hide something or just wheedle a lower offload price.

Average/Standard ship
400 tons x 10 parsecs = 2,000 credits
400 tons x 15 parsecs = 2,500 credits
Medium freighter
700 tons x 10 parsecs = 3,500 credits
700 tons x 15 parsecs = 3,875 credits

Heavy hauler
900 tons x 10 parsecs = 4,500 credits
900 tons x 15 parsecs = 5,125 credits

Things I'd still need to work out is the value of the credit in relation to cost of living and purchasing/maintaining a ship. Maybe a standard ship costs 50,000 credits on the low end - think of Serenity - or 80,000 to 100,000 brand new. By the way, I think I will call 100,000 credits "kash."
 If you figure cost of living to be 20-25% of a captain's take - 30%+ for the crew - that means 400-500 credits for a haul is already spent just to keep himself fed and flying.

Building upon the previous post about ship classes let's figure travel and cool down times between jumps.
Let's say a freighter doesn't have the capability for frequent jumps that say a military cruiser does.
Being a maximum class 3 means that it cannot jump more than 9 parsecs. The time it takes to jump one parsec is 5 days (120 hours) - so 45 days maximum in hyperspace. But anything exceeding 30 days is thought to be dangerous because people can go mad in the Ether/Nether. The duration of the insanity lasts longer the longer they were in hyperspace.
The crew and core must then be chilled/cooled over a period of 5 days at regular burn, which is one third the speed of jumping. Traversing 1 parsec at regular burn takes 15 days, meaning that burning 9 parsecs would take 135 days, or 4 and 1/2 months. But that's still going pretty quick considering a parsec is 3.26 light years across.

A class 3 would need a minimum 60 days (2 months) to travel 10 parsecs. And if you figure that's just one job, minus cost of living, and downtime to find another job, it would take several years and dozens of treks to pay off the rusty tub you're shooting the stars in.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Say What? (In Chinese)

In case you've ever wondered, as I often have "What the hell did they just say?" or Shenmen shi diyu tamen ye zhishi zuo zai?

Firefly's 15 Best Uses of Chinese Profanity (with translation and pronunciation guide)

Friday, April 18, 2014

Another Mother

Forget colonizing Mars! Let's up the budget on intergalactic jump gates and/or FTL space travel.

NASA's Kepler telescope finds 'the Holy Grail' Earth-sized planet

I vote we change its name from Kepler-186f to Herman (as in hermano or hermana), or just go for the incredibly fitting Alienae, which is Latin for "another mother." Then we could call whatever life is found there Alienaes.