Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Limits of Post-Industrial War


The bomb that fell on Hiroshima 65 years ago today tomorrow was by no means the most destructive event of the Second World War. Nor was the one that fell on Nagasaki three days later. What set the atomic bombs apart was the dreadful cheapness of the devastation they wrought, one plane doing the work of a thousand-plane raid.

I really have no primary substance to add to the remarks on this subject that I made three years ago. I'm posting anyway, because it is always a day to reflect on human destructiveness - even if I read my calendar wrong, posting a day early - and because of a canny observation by commenter Milo on the previous post:

Mutually Assured Destruction does seem like a reasonable projection if current trends persist, but most people want to read about superpowers clashing at full power - or at least about a superpower using its full power to oppress canny rebels - which is incompatible with a MAD scenario.
Nuclear weapons thus pose not only a moral challenge - not to mention a survival challenge for post-industrial civilization - they also pose a literary challenge. For purposes of drama we want all-out effort, but in a technological age the drama threatens to end like Hamlet, with the entire cast dead on the stage. (Except for Fortinbras, whose role is to confirm for the audience that everyone is indeed dead.)

Which is sort of a downer ending, and also makes it very hard to come up with a sequel.



The image of the Hiroshima aim point comes from The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus.

Related Post: "I am become Death, destroyer of worlds"

214 comments:

1 – 200 of 214   Newer›   Newest»
Anonymous said...

Just because you have an arsenal that includes nuclear weapons does not mean that you'll use them in a war...nations tend to use "appropreate force" in conflicts, limiting the distructiveness of its weapons to the minimum needed to do the job; if one side uses kinitic warheads to crack the other's domes, the other side will also use something to damage the other sides' cities; You don't vaporize the enemies' ships just because you can; that only invites a response-in-kind. Most nations/colonies will only use the level of force needed to accomplish the mission; using nukes right off the bat will invite retaliation by anyone else that has a nuclear arsenal simply as a form of self preservation, pecuse you don't know if you're next...The drama comes from wondering if one side or the other WILL use their nuclear arsenal or not...

Ferrell

M. D. Van Norman said...

In the future, spacefaring powers will use nuclear-powered spacecraft armed with nuclear-powered weapons to engage in very limited conflicts. That assumes, of course, that there is a future with spacefaring powers.

Tianbin said...

Space is a good place for nuclear war.I mean, beyond the LEO.

Anonymous said...

jnutley from Livejournal. Blogger is not accepting OpenID again. Error code bX-ywtyjz

-- -- --

Comments to the previous post pointed out the facts. Nukes are not that effective in vacum. Also they depend on fragile electronics, So if Mars is attacking Earth, their nukes are easily zapped by your orbital laser or particle beam station long before they can enter your atmosphere.

I'm not buying the "only 1% need to get thru" argument. In planet vs planet war, hundreds to thousands of cities are in play on each side. 66 Japanese cities were firebombed before Enola Gay dropped Little Boy, so a patch of land the size of Japan has almost 100 city size targets at 1940 Tech lvl. Nuking just 10 cities will only piss the planet off, 9/11 writ large. Logistics makes me doubt that your attack force will be able to recqusition 1 Million 1Mt bombs when they cost so much to build and maintain and will only be effective in a total war. All that fissionable material could have powered a constellation of O'Neil habitats for your people to expand into, built much more easily and possibly with less surface to orbit launch capability than a world wrecking space fleet. Are you really going to be able to stockpile it for bombs? Hope you're a dictator of a super-intrusive police state, cause you sure won't stay elected with that policy.

If you've decided to slag a planet, you really are well advised to simply push a big rubble pile asteroid at it. Reaction mass has lots of peace-time uses and you spare yourself the giant bomb building industry, storage bases, etc. The planet will throw everything they have at it, they have no choice. All your fleet has to do is make the interceptions ineffective. Plenty of "Dead Sentients Flying" (again, see comments on previous post) in that scenario, no one will be willing to just let their home planet die. In fact, you could use that as a negotiating tactic, "sign the treaty and my fleet will stop the 'stroid, otherwise..." That drama can easily last for months, so it becomes very literature friendly.

M.A.D. is a philosophy of conflict resolution. Nuclear weapons are a technology. They are not synonoyms. Doing M.A.D. efficiently is what any civilization of agressive semi-social sentients will do once they develop sufficient technology of any sort.

Where does that leave WW2 in Spaaaaaace? Far in the future. Swap Kupier belt and Orrt cloud habitats in a variety of sizes for islands. Invent nations or religions to unify swams of them against each other. Or maybe an empire from the 'stroid main belt or Saturn's moons wants to unify the Solar system under their government.

I imagine Earth will be left behind. Between our deep gravity well and the sheer inertia of our populace, most folk on Earth will only be interested in each other for the life of the planet, and the effort to reach out and touch anyone will be too big (in reaction mass and political inertia) to overcome.

Anonymous said...

Comments to the previous post pointed out the facts. Nukes are not that effective in vacum. Also they depend on fragile electronics, So if Mars is attacking Earth, their nukes are easily zapped by your orbital laser or particle beam station long before they can enter your atmosphere.

I'm not buying the "only 1% need to get thru" argument. In planet vs planet war, hundreds to thousands of cities are in play on each side. 66 Japanese cities were firebombed before Enola Gay dropped Little Boy, so a patch of land the size of Japan has almost 100 city size targets at 1940 Tech lvl. Nuking just 10 cities will only piss the planet off, 9/11 writ large. Logistics makes me doubt that your attack force will be able to recqusition 1 Million 1Mt bombs when they cost so much to build and maintain and will only be effective in a total war. All that fissionable material could have powered a constellation of O'Neil habitats for your people to expand into, built much more easily and possibly with less surface to orbit launch capability than a world wrecking space fleet. Are you really going to be able to stockpile it for bombs? Hope you're a dictator of a super-intrusive police state, cause you sure won't stay elected with that policy.

If you've decided to slag a planet, you really are well advised to simply push a big rubble pile asteroid at it. Reaction mass has lots of peace-time uses and you spare yourself the giant bomb building industry, storage bases, etc. The planet will throw everything they have at it, they have no choice. All your fleet has to do is make the interceptions ineffective. Plenty of "Dead Sentients Flying" (again, see comments on previous post) in that scenario, no one will be willing to just let their home planet die. In fact, you could use that as a negotiating tactic, "sign the treaty and my fleet will stop the 'stroid, otherwise..." That drama can easily last for months, so it becomes very literature friendly.

M.A.D. is a philosophy of conflict resolution. Nuclear weapons are a technology. They are not synonoyms. Doing M.A.D. efficiently is what any civilization of agressive semi-social sentients will do once they develop sufficient technology of any sort.

Where does that leave WW2 in Spaaaaaace? Far in the future. Swap Kupier belt and Orrt cloud habitats in a variety of sizes for islands. Invent nations or religions to unify swams of them against each other. Or maybe an empire from the 'stroid main belt or Saturn's moons wants to unify the Solar system under their government.

I imagine Earth will be left behind. Between our deep gravity well and the sheer inertia of our populace, most folk on Earth will only be interested in each other for the life of the planet, and the effort to reach out and touch anyone will be too big (in reaction mass and political inertia) to overcome.

jnutley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jnutley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jnutley said...

jnutley from Livejournal

Please cut me down to a single comment. Blogger and I are going to war now. ><

Sabersonic said...

"If you've decided to slag a planet, you really are well advised to simply push a big rubble pile asteroid at it." Anon has a point, why use nukes when there's a ready supply of kinetic rounds all over the solar system that only needs a bit of a nudge.

Better yet, these asteroids come in a number of sizes that doesn't have to be planet slagging. They don't have to be large enough to take out a city the size of New York. And the beauty of this is that many of the "tactical rocks" are difficult to detect... well in theory.

However one can add more drama to the manufactured Asteroid threat by having the potential impactee stall negotiations long enough to develop their own counter measure and/or an interception fleet to kick out the asteroid stewards and redirected out of an impact trajectory (or better yet, turn the tables on the enemy nation-state) that could give rise to potential constellation action.

Though then again there are those few who enjoy the suspense of the negotiation table. I, for one hand prefer the action of the gun. The drama tied in to both the elegant machinery of warfare with the brute strength of human will and ingenuity.

What can I say? That's the kind of serials I watched when I was growing up.

- Hotmail Address
Gmail Address

Milo said...

Woo! I got mentioned!

Now I'm on an ego trip, maybe I'll have a few other insights to say on the matter of overly destructive weapons... but it got ridiculously long and rambly, so here's the abridged version. Nukes are really just the epitome of a larger problem. All modern weapons are vastly destructive, and spaceships are relatively fragile (at least seemingly no less so than aquatic ships). To have interesting wars, you have to be able to justify spaceships that spent two months travelling toward each other taking somewhat longer than two seconds to finish their battle.


Meanwhile...


Asteroids do not need "only needs a bit of a nudge". Have you looked at the delta-vee costs of moving something from the asteroid belt to a planet? Now try to apply that to something with the mass of a dinosaur-killer asteroid. Oh, and do it quickly enough that the victim can't deflect the asteroid.

I think asteroids would mainly be a psychological weapon, used after other means have been employed to render the target incapable of defending itself. Sure, you could do the same damage with a bunch of smaller nukes, but it sends a good message to just totally wreck a planet with a single smack. "This is what happens to those who oppose us!"

Of course, killing huge numbers of civilians that already weren't posing a threat is a war crime. That doesn't mean people won't do it...

One situation where asteroids would be useful, though, is when you have the enemy blockaded, but are unable to penetrate into low orbit and destroy their planetary defenses. Since you have them pinned down, you now have the time to safely move a bunch of fragile tugboats over to the asteroid belt and have them start the slow and laborious process of shifting the asteroid's orbit - it's more work than nuking them, but it's work that you can do outside their firing range. The enemy can't attack your tugboats, and can't launch a deflection mission even though they see the asteroid coming, because you're blocking their path.

It'd still be slow, and you wouldn't be able to make use of the planet afterwards. And it'd probably still be a war crime.


As for smaller tactical asteroids... it seems far easier to just carry some tungsten bombs with you, rather than heading all the way out to the asteroid belt to retrieve your kinetic weapons. Tungsten is dense and heat-resistant, both useful for atmosphere penetration (and for resisting point defenses). Most meteors will burn up much more easily, and even if they survive, small ones will lose a significant portion of the mass you paid to bring all the way here. Even if you do carry rocks, unless they're really really heavy, you'll have an easier time lifting them off your home planet than heading all the way to the asteroid belt to fetch them. Actually, I shouldn't have said that. Now I'm wondering about the "really really heavy" bit, and ruining a perfectly good visual...

Cambias said...

The current military environment is likely to be the pattern for a long time. You'll have Great Powers (=nuclear club members, or wealthy First World nations which could become nuclear powers in a couple of weeks if they felt like it), and Everybody Else. Great Powers won't war directly with other GPs, but they'll happily tackle non-GPs or meddle in rival GP interventions.

And, like nowadays, things get interesting when a non-GP makes a bid for GP status. In a spacefaring future that could mean Raging Moonbat Colony has decided to weaponize an asteroid to "defend the Raging Moonbat Revolution against revisionists." Do Earth's Great Powers sit still and let the Moonbats go ahead, or do they try to stop them? Stopping them immediately creates a race against time as kamikaze RMC engineers work to divert the asteroid before the United Nice Guys task force arrives.

Milo said...

The thing is that even when Great Powers go to war with Everybody Else, they use only a fraction of their power, like some sort of video game villain. The US never nuked Vietnam, no matter how desparate they got.

Winning because you blew up the enemy's main fleet is much more exciting than winning because you blew up a couple of the enemy's ships, and it arbitrarily decided not to escalate the matter further.

Rick said...

The whole asteroid slagging thing strikes me as needlessly Rube Goldberg. If your goal is genocide, nukes are cheap and effective.

The most expensive part of a nuclear weapon is the fission trigger, which probably cost several million each, plus production facilities costing billions. But adding thermonuclear yield is a lot cheaper - I'd guess that a 1 MT warhead cost much less than 100x the cost of a 10 kt warhead.

And by the standards of major powers the overall costs are modest. The US 'Massive Retaliation' doctrine of the 1950s was intended in part to keep defense budgets down, and the total yield of the arsenal was into the gigatons.

But the larger underlying point is again the one that Milo makes, that destruction is cheap: To have interesting wars, you have to be able to justify spaceships that spent two months travelling toward each other taking somewhat longer than two seconds to finish their battle.


From literary perspective, it is a matter of avoiding the larger scale equivalent of the heroes and villains fighting it out with swords while their henchmen stand around with guns they inexplicably don't use.

Milo said...

If fact, I would go further and say that the more MAD you have, the less technology is actually relevant.

In modern warfare, the important thing isn't how much you can do, but how much you're willing to do. One or both sides already can turn the entire opposing nation into glass in minutes, so developing much more technology beyond that is overkill. But they don't feel their grievances warrant going that far, so they hold back.

The thing is that in this case, it's relatively pointless to talk about what spaceships are capable of doing. Because chances are they'll never use anywhere near their full capabilities. The important stuff that decides who wins wars - politics - will change in ways relatively independant of the fact that it happens to be taking place in space.

So then what's the point? Unless you have some way for your technology to actually matter (reversing the current trend of increasing MAD), why not just set the story in the present day?

Sabersonic said...

Milo: One doesn't have to go all the way to the asteroid belt to get the rocks needed to get a proper bombardment kinetic. There are numerous NEOs and other such interplanetary asteroids that would only need little more than a gravity tractor craft/drone/whatever to adjust its orbit just enough so that impact is all but guaranteed to take out the anti-orbital emplacements and/or infrastructure that is stationary and/or embedded enough to make conventional orbital strikes difficult at best. A "blockade" to intercept any outbound counter-impact operations will make things easier.

As for the note about how to justify the otherwise romantic space battles illustrated in both the literary and visual media, well said warcrafts will need to be difficult enough to shoot down from a single shot of the main laser array. The first generation of Mid-Future or so combat spacecraft will undoubtedly be more fragile, but its undoubtful that the survivability of such complicated war machines will be increased over time. They don't have to have Magi-tech shields and force walls, just difficult to shoot down in the first few seconds or even minutes of the engagement. Hours after the first shot fired like in naval battles of past, however, is something of a stretch. Even so, one will just have to postulate that defensive measures and technology outpaced offensive weapon systems just enough so that it keeps defenders on their toes and attackers to think out of the box.

That or justify that it's a better investment to just "commandeer" an enemy warcraft during the battle then to blow the whole thing up into so much orbital junk. Either way, it won't be easy on the writer's part.

- Hotmail Address
Gmail Address

kedamono@mac.com said...

I'm wondering if there isn't a use for rubble pile asteroids. Not in slagging a planet, but in space denial. You don't hit the planet with the pile, you either break it up in Low Planetary Orbit (LPO) or you bring it close enough that the tidal stresses rip it apart, filling LPO with debris and denying space to the planet.

However, I do like the LPO system that Jerry Pournelle used in one of his Falkenberg stories. They launched a orbital missile that detonated into a gagillion cubes in a LPO retrograde orbit to clear out the local satellites.

Make the rounds bigger and targeted to impact several satellites and ships in a row, and you create the cascade effect, the Kessler Syndrome.

A retrograde orbit does two things: Maximize the damage done and deorbits the debris faster.

Thucydides said...

"War is the continuation of politics by other means". This is the current trope for Western civilization, but we are learning (or re-learning) that this trope is not universal across all cultures.

What we are fighting about or fighting for will determine a lot about what the grand strategy will be, as well as what sort of tactical, operational and strategic decisions will be undertaken by each side. This will also determine what sort of weapons will be created to prosecute these conflicts.

Since getting to space, getting around in space and protecting human crews are high energy and expensive activities, financial and political considerations also come into play. A "balanced constellation" will be massively expensive but have only limited utility, unless the true aim of military activity is to disrupt financial futures markets by destroying cargo pods drifting in on minimum energy trajectories (Hohmann orbits or the "interplanetary highway").

A culture driven by quests for personal glory like feudal Japan or the Mycenaean "palace culture" will develop and enforce a totally different ethos and military technology to match. The Japanese well knew how to make matchlock firearms, and even used them in mass (see the Battle of Nagashino, or watch the fictionalized version at the end of Kagemusha), but quickly realized that firearms allowed common peasants to militarily compete with Samurai who needed a lifetime of training. Firearm production and importation was banned soon after the founding of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

Other cultures go to war or battle for different reasons, and so we should expect different military systems to evolve to meet the cultural needs of these systems. Perhaps the real story here is the clash of asymmetric systems.

Jim Baerg said...

Cambias said: "You'll have Great Powers (=nuclear club members, or wealthy First World nations which could become nuclear powers in a couple of weeks if they felt like it)"

Does that *really* qualify a country for Great Power status?

Canada could have built a fission bomb within a year or 2 at any time since the late 1940s. Whether Canada could have made the bombers or missiles to drop the bomb on someone else is another matter. Having the non-nuclear forces to make somewhat lesser threats is another matter too.

Rick noted in this post

"Bismarck once said that the one thing you can't do with bayonets is sit on them. After Hiroshima, the major powers swiftly - and fortunately - realized that this is the only thing you can do with nuclear bombs. So long as you have one, any would-be attacker is restrained by the prospect of getting nuked. If you use it, you face the prospect of getting nuked in return."

Just having the bomb by itself doesn't allow you to make lesser threats appropriate for anything but detterring total conquest.

Milo said...

Japan only got away with banning guns because that was a relatively peaceful period in their history (after the country had been united under a single government using guns), so they didn't need them.

Also, it's not really that different from a government suppressing weapons to keep the peasants from rebelling. Honor? They just found it convenient to have the main combat technology be something they can have a monopoly on.


And Jim Baerg: Yes, but against people with nukes, deterring total conquest is all you can do. You only need the rest of your military if you want to be able to pick on people who don't have nukes.

Thucydides said...

Weapons like pikes, crossbows, and then firearms really did change the world because although each weapon in itself might be expensive, it allowed the owners to utilize masses of relatively untrained manpower in a militarily effective manner.

Social systems organized around aristocratic warrior classes simply could not compete in the long run, since it takes a long time to become an effective warrior and the total number of aristocratic warriors will always be far less than the total number of peasants. Cut down a peasant soldier and I can replace him right away, cut down a warrior and you have to wait for his son to grow up for a replacement. (The Battle of Lepanto is a good illustration of this. The losses of Janissary bowmen were so great that although the Ottoman Empire could quickly make up the losses of ships and oarsmen, they were no longer able to go on the strategic offensive at sea).

I sometimes wonder if we are entering another historical era similar to the introduction of firearms. Combining cheap and readily available devices such as cellphones, webcams, light infantry weapons and IEDs allow relatively untrained "peasants" to deal with the heavily equipped soldiers of Western armies on an almost equal basis at the small unit level (we still have huge advantages in force projection, logistics and scaling, but the use of force at this level is a political decision). Effective "entry denial" will reduce the effectiveness of force projection, and create shifts in the means of conflict. Economic warfare, the growth of Special Forces and Special Operations Forces and cybernetic attacks and infrastructure attack are all possible responses to these new conditions.

Anonymous said...

Low level or restricted warfare may be the norm in the forseeable future, with all-out (WWII level of effort) war being vanishingly rare amoung first-tier powers; however, there are scenarios where second- or third-tier powers might engage in this type of all-out war; why? because being big enough or controling enough of a vital resource and you can become a first-tier power! or all the other debateable "reasons" nations give to justify going to war. The face of war may change, but core of it doesn't. Nations and groups of people will still attempt to impose their will all others by armed force. The only restriction that they have is that they don't want to use a level of force that causes other nations/groups to use overwhelming force against them. Difficult to guess what the other guys deem as "exsesive force" that they will use to justify jumping in to protect their own intrests (i.e. survival); about a 50-50 chance, that seems acceptable to most nations, from historical examples.

Ferrell

Milo said...

Increased automation may reduce the level of human skill needed for warfare. On the other hand, automation of a different sort may completely eliminate the need for grunt work, so trained specialists are the only people the army needs on the battlefield.

I've heard there's a controversery today with the air force not liking UAVs because they can be remote-controlled by some peasant army guy rather than a glorious fighter pilot...

Still, I wonder how much reducing crew costs is worth when the spaceships themselves are so expensive. Even with optimistic tech, a spaceship is still comparable to, say, a nuclear submarine of today. Costs a fair bit more than a crossbow. I don't think manpower is going to be the main bottleneck on a spacefaring military's power.

Geoffrey S H said...

Might automata possibly add another strata to the military hierarchy rather than simply replace troops?

Senario: some form of networking/ brain interface allows humans to react faster than computers. However, superiority at caulculating firing solutions and the sheer expendability of the things (as compared to humans) mean that robots are the "grunts". Humans are a fragile elite to be deployed along the lines where robots are giving too much ground, or reactions are more important than speed or acceleration tolerance.

Thucydides said...

The direct analogy to pikes and muskets in space is probably cheap, unguided KKV's, which will not need expensive spaceships or crews to function. Space mines which release clouds of shrapnel come a close second.

All the using space power needs is the facilities to build and launch them, and some scenarios (such as asteroid mining) have all the elements in place right at the start.

Albert said...

Let's post a few ramblings. Worth what you payed.

I think that WWI made apparent that modern wars were much different from Napoleonic Era battles, where the armies were smaller and there were designated battlefields and stricter rules (like all those silly formations).

I think WWI was the last war where First World nations were eager to fight over what they fought the past wars (territorial reasons, economical reasons, aristocracy e-peen).

Most European nations were extremely scared by the degree of resources wasted by that war, and extremely disappointed by what little they gained from it.
Imho they realized that open wars were no more an effective solution for their problems (above).

But then came WWII, and who started it? Germany and Japan, and both were highly wrapped up in their nationalistic views. Their objective was no more economic, but ideologic. (Japan wanted to create a big empire just for kicks, and Hitler had its plans for world domination)
And European nations were slow to react for the fear of getting into another pointless long and expensive war like WWI.

Both would have required to be blasted down piece by piece because surrender wasn't an option (although they still tried to break the population's will by massively bombing cities), with Japan would have been the same, but they decided to use nukes to scare the hell out of them and convince them to surrender avoiding a costly and bloody piecemail like they did for Hitler.

Cold War after it is another example where both sides did their best to get as close as possible as a war to reach their objectives but took care of not slip and end up actually fighting it and suffer the consequences.

This aggressively eyeballed historical analysis makes me think that from the WWI on, the level of destructiveness reached by a war was too much to make it look a cost-effective solution even on paper.
Nukes just underlined again the same concept, but it was already clear anyway.


Also, another thing worth mentioning:
From the end of Cold War, economy of most nations has intermingled. Things get built overseas and imported, industries leave their "birthplace" to set up facilities in remote foreign places where conditions are more favorable, and China fills any nation's markets with cheap plastic shit.

Not to mention the whole discussion about Corporations. Today we have them, and they have international assets, and can legitimately sell to both combatants, so the whole "destroy the enemy's fabs to cripple it" kinda loses its original meaning.
And the same goes for shipping disruption. The corporation won't like it and will make pressure onn the government to not destroy its shipments.

Now, let's make this a short story.

Try to imagine Hitler trying to keep his people happy by mantaining acceptable production of consumer items during the war even if that would have meant less weapon production (as actually happened) if the fabs manufacturing such consumer items:
-are in Britain
-are owned by Russians
-sell products to all Europe and doesn't want distruptions in its supply.

And that's the same reason why most people think an open war between US and China is highly unlikely. Their economies are so intermingled that it would be a suicide for both.
Globalization imho, and not MAD is the main show-stopper for all-out wars in a post-industrial world.

-Albert

Albert said...

Also, a few interesting links about true nuke distructivity
How I Learnt To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (Kinda)

and on what would really happen in case of a nuclear war, with a list of myths discussed You Will Survive Doomsday

-Albert

Milo said...

Globalization will not discourage interplanetary war, given that even if interplanetary trade is possible and worthwhile it'll still be expensive enough it won't completely rule the economy.

Also remember that anything you can buy, you can also pillage.

Cultures that rely on pillaging to support themselves have a tendency to be unstable, of course, but if they manage to last for a few decades that's enough to tell a good story.

Thucydides said...

The argument that international trade prevents or discourages war isn't demonstrated by historical example.

The Serenìsima Repùblica Vèneta existed and prospered through trade with the Ottoman Empire even though the two polities fought wars and skirmishes on a regular basis. There was a book published just before World War One which predicted that international trade would eliminate the causes of war (and globalization did not reach the same level as pre WWI economic integration until after the fall of the Soviet Union in the late 1980's).

The Jihadi's call for war against the West has little to do with economics and everything to do with culture (and many wars have been fought on cultural basis ranging from the Albigensian Crusade to the Pacific war [1937-1945] which saw Japanese "State Shinto" and associated cultural chauvinism used to advance the idea of a Japanese Empire destined to rule the Pacific).

This isn't to say economics does not have an important role in conflict (and sometimes may be the "real" cause of conflict hidden under the rhetoric of "La Glorie"), but for the vast majority of citizens, "La Glorie" trumps economics every time.

Milo said...

I agree with most of your points, but remember: the vast majority of citizens are not the ones who decide whether to go to war. They might influence it, with a sufficiently unpopular war possibly leading to an uprising against the government that started it (or to the government calling off the war in a bid to regain public support), but it has to be very unpopular for that to happen. Even in a democracy, the decision to go to war has generally not been put to a referendum.

So, what the vast majority of citizens think a war is about doesn't matter that much. It's what the people in the government want that determines whether a war will be fought.

One exception is in a "warrior culture" with little central authority, where many autonomous armed bands do whatever they feel like. These might seem to work poorly in space - given that piracy doesn't pay unless you have a reasonably strong homebase that other powers can't easily attack - but it's possible that different groups would band together through shared cultural identity and mutual need to fend off foreign invasion, while otherwise acting on their own accord. No-one enjoys fighting through a planetful of proud warriors, even if they're only tenuously cooperating.

Thucydides said...

A "road warrior" culture in space might be a bit difficult to arrange, but I have mentioned some possible baselines where this *could* happen.

By the end of the 21rst century (being optomistic) the economics of boiling 3He out of the lunar regolith is overtaken by a cheaper energy source, either massive amounts of solar energy being beamed across the inner solar system, or 3He imported in tonne lots from the gas giant planets.

Since investment and markets are going away, the Moon becomes a "rust belt" planet. Lots of infrastructure still exists on the Moon, including a fleet of abandoned mass catchers in the Lunar L-2 point. While the "legitimate" citizens either hunker down to a more barren existence or pull up stakes and head out to new opportunities, other cultural groups looking to practice their unorthadox religious, social or economic beliefs start moving in. Criminal gangs also find refuge in the maze of abandoned tunnels or space hardware.

Unless they start trying to prey on the remaining domed cities of Luna, or become a nuciance in Cis Lunar space (or decide to convert everyone to their religion), the authorities will probably leave them alone. Even actions taken against these "road warriors" might be more akin to anti-gang police work or hiring the Marshal and his Regulators for a bit of free lance law enforcement rather than sending in the Marines.

As a compliment to that scenario, cycler space docks are gradually abandoned as well since deep spaceships with "flashlight", demi-torch and torch levels of performance are becoming more common. Since the cyclers have many thousands of tonnes of mass, deorbiting them is far more trouble than they are worth, so beacons are attached by the Space Guard as a warning, and thrusters are disabled to prevent anyone from flying them into a planet or Island Three space colony. There is still a great deal of living space encompassed in a cycler, so once again, they become homes for various cults, criminal gangs and other assorted dissenters from 22nd century society.

These road warriors can show up near your planet and plunder orbital installations if so inclined, and are built to last in a hostile environment, so will require lots of force (military or physical) to neutralize. By their nature, cyclers will require careful space combat; blowing one out of the sky with an ORION torch missile will spread a stream of debris moving at interplanetary speed along the orbital path (threatening one or more planets), and intercepts with laser constellations of stupendous power are either short duration head shots as the cycler flies in or prolonged tail chases as the constellation chases the cycler down. Marines are also useful in a scenario like this.

Rick said...

The 'road warrior' scenario is enchanting (for certain values of 'enchantment'), but I think it is technically challenging to have scavenger types keeping abandoned space hardware going for very long.

If you do have a techlevel so highly automated that the stuff largely maintains itself, you probably have a post-scarcity economics in most regards, and very different from ours.

Thucydides said...

I'm not saying that a road warrior culture is possible in space, simply doing a lot of hand waving to see if the scenario is possible.

Post scarcity economics would change almost everything, I believe that the only things which will still be "scarce" are time and processing power or bandwidth (how can you possibly comprehend or react to everything that is possible in a post scarcity environment?). How or why anyone would fight in a post scarcity environment is hard to understand in the here and now, but then again, humans have been fighting for a loooong time, and have had millenia to rationalize the use of violence (starting with the Iliad in Western cultures), so I don't suppose there will be any shortage of space combat.

Many systems on long duration cyclers or colonies of any sort (lunar domes, Island Threes, asteroid mines) will probably be biotechnological systems with multiple levels of redundancy in order to run with the level of reliability that people will need to live and also to be able to run in the background without needing highly trained staff to maintain the system. This is to prevent unfortunate accidents where the staff accidentaly or purposefully changes the operating parameters and induces failures.

Bodging a surplus mass catcher from L-2 to this level will be much harder, but depending on the level of difficulty and the determination of the squatters to succeed, it might not be impossible. (For the sake of any authors looking to use this scenario, of course, the squatters can do this!)

Anonymous said...

Yes, people do illogical things that have nothing to do with economics, stratigy, survival, or even sanity; wars get started for weird and frightening "reasons" that lead to war, war-like situations, and short-term military actions. While nation-states and other major non-state actors may be constrained by the desire to not get slagged by an all out war, minor groups or unstable quasi-states might (for their own illrational "reasons") start a war that draws in nation-states and other non-sate actors that would otherwise have never gotten into such a hellish mess.

Ferrell

Milo said...

Rick: Barbarians throughout history made their own swords, etc., sometimes pretty good ones. The Vikings had better ships than anyone else in Europe at that time, and were good enough at navigation to discover Iceland, Greenland, and Canada. They were also really, really, scary, until Christian Europe finally poured north and overwhelmed them.

Granted it's rather hard to justify scaling this up to building spaceships, given the sheer amount of infrastructure required. But if we're scaling Scandinavia up to an entire planet, or even a moderate-sized moon, then they can still have a fair amount of local infrastructure while still needing to pillage some resources - or maybe keeping the infrastructure running is hard work and so people go pillaging in the hopes of stealing a rich enough load to be able to retire from work for a while and pay other people for stuff they need. Most Vikings were farmers who also just happened to be part-time murdering brigands.


Thucydides: A post-scarcity economy would allow the construction of truly huge distributed computing networks, so I doubt processing power would be in short supply. The hardest thing to come by here is human creativity and skill - even if you have a bunch of strong AIs mass produced with your matter replicator, you'll either have to spend effort training them or you'll just have a bunch of carbon copies with near-identical personalities, stifling creativity. Land itself might also be valuable, unless your matter replicators are so awesome that they can create planets ex nihilo. Which would violate conservation of energy. More practically there are likely to be some limits on what they can accomplish.

Small-scale violence might be emotional in nature, striking out at someone in anger. However, it would be very hard for an entire nation to get away with that kind of justification. The US didn't go to war with Vietnam because Vietnam slept with its girlfriend.

Violence might be moral/idealistic in nature, meddling with other people's lives to try and force them to conform to your ideas on morality. The aggressors here might actually have a reasonable case for their claim to moral superiority, or they might be religious fanatics trying to convert you at the end of a laser gun.

All of these are also conflict sources in scarcity economies, in addition to various forms of trade disputes. Land will definitely be valuable in any scarcity economy. Even with optimistic predictions of terraforming technology, it's still going to be time-consuming and expensive. So there can be people who decide that it's easier to try to steal someone else's already-terraformed land. This also gives you a reason to not just nuke the place. (This is a conflict source between members of the same species, of course - aliens would have no use for our terraformed worlds, nor we for theirs.)

Milo said...

Mind you, you don't need a post-scarcity economy for things to get interesting. I've done some math and found that to get to Saturn (and that's where we really want to go, isn't it?) in a human-reasonable time-scale (which I decided to be about 100 days), you need a delta-vee of some 300 km/s. That's 11 kiloRicks, or 45 terajoules per ton of ship. This means that for a 10 kiloton ship (huge compared to spacecraft of today, but probably pretty small for a passenger liner that's limited to once-a-year launch windows!) carries 450 petajoules, comparable to the Tsar Bomba's maximum yield. Hmm, not something you want to lose control of. Of course, civilian ships probably don't have guidance systems capable of aiming at a single city on a rotating planet from halfway across the solar system, so if someone decides to go 9/11 on you, there's a high chance of getting a replay of the Tunguska event, causing a truly spectacular explosion in the middle of nowhere killing no-one. (...Except who was on the ship...) It would also be easy to see that the liner is acting erratically, or even receive a distress signal from onboard the ship, allowing interception. So the terrorists would have to wait and only begin their hijacking shortly before the ship would start its deceleration burn.

But that isn't what I'm here to talk about. I did say this was going to be about economy. So let's pause to consider, just how much 45 terajoules per ton is worth. Plugging in some numbers I found for the current price of grid electricity (which is pretty much the cheapest form you can get energy in), that calculates to... about a million dollars per ton of ship. Wow! A passenger almost certainly needs at least one ton, probably more to be comfortable, and that's before counting the mass of the ship's internal systems. So that gives you a minimum bound on the price of spaceship tickets, just for the kinetic energy in the ship itself, even before considering all the other costs associated with travel. This makes your dream vacation on Mimas a little tricky to afford.

Yes, you could - in fact, practically need to for this ship to be plausible - postulate super-powerful fusion reactors that make it easier to put out this much energy. But once you have those, you can use them on the ground as well! You might say this would lower the cost of energy, but I don't see it that way. See, in our economy, almost everything uses energy in manufacturing and transporting it. With enough energy, our food problems would be solved - you could purify the salt out of seawater and use it to irrigate the Sahara desert, for example. So if energy becomes cheaper, so does everything else. Practically, this means it's easier to consider that prices have stayed at approximately the same order of magnitude as they are now, while people simply have more money.

So... how would society look in an economy where normal middle-class people can reasonably afford to purchase millions of present-day dollars' worth of goods?

Milo said...

Hmm. I just picked the Vietnam war without really thinking about it. On second thought, while it may not have been started out of anger (although there seems to have been a definite sense of fear), the Afghanistan and Iraq wars were. Maybe emotion as a motivation for war isn't so far-fetched, as long as you can sugarcoat it in pretense of "self-defense" or "justice".

Sabersonic said...

Thucydides' scenario of a Road Warrior moon sounds almost plausible enough to be believable. It makes me seriously consider altering the background history of my own space opera setting.

"I think it is technically challenging to have scavenger types keeping abandoned space hardware going for very long. " - Rick

Which would be reason enough for these "tribals" to seriously consider raids against their fellow squat settlers or even the occasional spacecraft that so happened to take the wrong orbit "at Albuquerque" as it were. Even with fabricator systems, they'll need raw materiel to process spare parts from.

And it doesn't have to be raw materials to keep the systems alive. One could postulate the kidnapping of high value personnel as either hostages to exchange for what is needed for the survival of the squatter settlement or impressments to keep systems working for the squatter community.

The lives of the kidnappers will also be endangered by other squatters who need the resources of the kidnappers. These usually end violently with moon buggy-esque technicals. These combat vehicles and the settlement themselves (unless they're the adobe-regolith hut variety or that Heavy-Lift Launch technology has advanced to the point that allows for the lunar domes that we often see in space opera sci-fi) are going to be very fragile. Meaning that these "gang wars" are going to be violent, bloody, and short.

Naturally, the kidnapping of people and the high risk of death of these individuals would draw attention to those who have the hardware to "enforce law and order", but then how else will we have stories of heroic raids and rescue from Lunar Road Warrior Tribals?

- Hotmail Address
Gmail Address

Anonymous said...

I'll just note that it won't be too easy to poke holes in a lunar habitat's pressurization hull - rock (or glass made from it) is about the cheapest thing you can get on the moon, so any habitat you can build at all, you can easily shovel lots of armor on. Of course, it'll still get burst by a big enough bomb.

It would be easier to sabotage the habitat's air purification/water purification/temperature control machinery. This assumes the lunar colonies are sufficiently compartmentalized that you can sabotage your enemies' life support without seriously inconveniencing yourself as well.

Milo said...

Huh? I was sure I had signed my name... guess not.

Rick said...

Thucydides' First Law:

(For the sake of any authors looking to use this scenario, of course, the squatters can do this!)

Well ... yes.

Byron said...

Apparently blogger is being annoying again, as I tried to post yesterday.
MAD will likely be dominant in space warfare, with agreed-upon rules. If both sides can completely wreck the other, they'll find other ways of settling disputes. I can see Mars and the US getting into a war. Mars sends it's fleet to high orbit, then asks China to come out and fight. They match orbits, and slug away with lasers. It's limited, but fast passes result in "everybody dies", while kinetics into LEO will make everyone made about the debris. The same applies to surface-to-orbit weapons.

Rick said...

Blogger ate your comment, but a copy came to me as email, so I'll post it here. (Has Blogger eaten anyone else's comments?)

Byron wrote: I seriously doubt that "post-scarcity" economies will ever exist. Humans are greedy, and we'll always be jealous of the person who has more, or even the same. Modern life would look like heaven, or even be unimaginable, to a medieval peasant. In Pantheonicide Stuart Slade makes this point. Heaven is an idealized ancient country. No wars, no disease, but the humans are farmers. To the invaders it looks like they've been tricked.

The point is that we still have wars, even though we all get enough to eat.
On international arms trades, in World War I, Vickers had a license from Krupp for shell fuses, which were used against Germans, and before WWII, Krupp sold to everyone. International arms merchants are nothing new.
MAD will certainly take on new dimensions, though. For example, the great powers will likely be able to render LEO vacant of operational enemy equipment. However, they can all do it to each other, so no one will. Also, people won't use overwhelming firepower in low orbit because of the debris problem. I can almost see space warfare becoming an elaborate ritual. Mars gets into a war with China. It sends its fleet to Earth and tells the Chinese to come out and play. They meet in high orbit, so all the junk is safely out of the way, and at low velocity, so we don't get the "everyone dies by kinetic" solution...


I'll be addressing the 'post scarcity' question in another post.

'Absolute' war, in Clausewitz's sense, is a rarity. War involves a great deal of symbolic behavior, and this will surely continue. Think of expressions like 'show of force.'

Milo said...

I call this the Iron Law of Utopias: "No matter how good things get, people will always find something to complain about. No exceptions." (There is also the Iron Law of Dystopias: "No matter how bad things get, people will always find something worth living for. There might be a few exceptions, but they already committed suicide, so they don't get included in the census.")

For one thing, attempts to get rid of poverty have to cope with the issue that the "minimum acceptable standards of life" keep increasing - how many people today would agree to live in a place that doesn't have clean running water, or even electricty? The internet is rapidly adding itself to the list of indispendible necessities. Meanwhile, many Stone Age people would already be impressed by our ability to stay inside when it rains. Future people may well accept as "basic human rights" things we don't even have yet - like immortality drugs, say.

Still, there is an upside of this: the standard of life is improving.

Rick said...

A lot of Heinlein's classic juveniles take place in futures that are fairly dystopian, at least on Earth, but the characters take those conditions more or less for granted. As they would.

Albert said...

Milo said...
"Globalization will not discourage interplanetary war, given that even if interplanetary trade is possible and worthwhile it'll still be expensive enough it won't completely rule the economy."

Well, that pretty much rules out interplanetary war over economic reasons again. If you don't get a hold over anything really important by winning, a war where so costly hardware as spacecraft are damaged/destroyed isn't exactly a smart move.

Only people like Hitler will try it, mostly over ideological reasons.

Thucydides said...
"The argument that international trade prevents or discourages war isn't demonstrated by historical example."
I'm not talking of international trade, but of the political power of modern corporations.
They have very good ways to force the governments to listen. (all the people working for them in that country for example)
But this isn't so new. Even Serenissima had Guilds with decent political power.

The brand new thing is that today's corporations are international entities, they can force multiple governments to not annoy them too much.
And being international, they have assets on foreign nations, that would make much more complex the war. (i.e. you shouldn't bomb all the chemical fabs of some nation to cut their suppiles of explosives, since that's the same chemical company that builds plastic for you)
And a war like WWII would destroy so much markets and infrastructures needed to sell their products that doesn't seem like a good idea even to weapon-dealers.

Some are Evulz too, so they can employ dirty tricks like paying tangents to greedy politicians too.

This will make very hard starting an all-out war like WWII, even for purely ideological reasons.
Because no matter how mad the leader is, there are lots of corporations that will do their best to stop/alter his plan to keep him from annoying them.

But wars will still exist. Just no more all-out ones like WWII.

In fact, permawars like Afghanistan (or the situation in central africa) are exactly the best war for corporations.
Limited or no damage to markets, more than fully compensated by the profits by selling equipment to combatants (note that equipment isn't only weapons, but fuel, food, logistical support, and so on).
And no way of ending it with in the Most Dakka way like the wars before (no link for TV tropes, that's an Evil place).


Also I find the whole idea of "road warrior culture" in space (or on the moon) even more absurd than it was Mad Max Earth.
That's complex equipment to live in a murderous environment.
Either you have a completely self-sufficient construction facility (unlikely) or you rely on outside support (which would trasform you into someone elses's thug) or you are doomed to die hideously when your duct-taped repairs fail.
Which, if you think about it, is exactly what the government hopes for such annoying dissidents.

About post-scarcity scenarios, go check Eclipse Phase
In that RPG the main "money" is how much "favours" you are ready to do to others in exchange of the "favour" you need at the moment.
And there is a logged "reputation level" to avoid people cheating about it.
A little like the Ebay feedback. :)

-Albert

Turbo10k said...

We all forgot about modern warfare's new playground: cyberspace. Not so prevalent in open space, but in clustered LEO where everything has to be identified digitally (remember modular spacecraft?), this seems more and more prevalent.

I see it as an ideal war in MAD environments as you can pressure, damage, even intimidate the enemy without calling for retaliation as you didn't actually touch him at all...it's all virtual, right?

Milo said...

Albert/"Only people like Hitler will try it, mostly over ideological reasons.": ...This prevents World War 2 In Space how?


The warrior culture would need a lot of skilled engineers with a "no questions asked" attitude. Who cares what you're going to use this shiny new laser gun for as long as you pay for it generously?


As for hacking, I see that as sort of a high-tech sucker punch. In theory, it should never work because it's cheap and simple to protect against. In practice, people keep forgetting to do so.

Still, hacking actual military hardware is going to be tricky. That's the one place people do normally think about security. It'd be most effective when used against terrorists, small-time troublemakers, and other people who aren't doing things appropiately professionally.

Anonymous said...

I have one thing to say about the concept of 'measured response': a lot of people don't fight fair, they fight to win...a successful cyberattack might result in a visit from some commandos or a guided missile.

Ferrell

Albert said...

This prevents World War 2 In Space how? It doesn't prevent a war, but won't be an all-out war ala WWII anyway. :)

If a few colonies who noone really cares for (dissidents, warrior culture, indipendent orbital colony that lives isolated) change hands or get blasted by our Space Hitler noone will move a finger (too high costs, nearly no gains, some may even cheer at the event).

If our Space Hitler tries to annoy colonies protected by an Earthside nation (or humantiarian reasons prevail and they decide to protect a colony from the above case), that nation will be able to retaliate on Space Hitler's nation on Earth with economical and political pressure tools.
Way cheaper and easier than a space battle.

If Space Hitler isn't from Earth, chances are that Earthside nations that care will dispatch the spaceship equivalent of a swatter to blast its forces in no-time.

If space travel is strong enough to matter, my above comment (answer at Tucydides) applies.
Just replace "on another nation/international" with "on another planet/interplanetary".

-Albert

Rick said...

And no way of ending it with in the Most Dakka way like the wars before (no link for TV tropes, that's an Evil place).

So Evil that I googled Dakka, and ended up at TV Tropes anyway, which used up the rest of my afternoon.


Even if deep space trade is not critically important to Earth's overall economy - or the economies of colony planets in an operatic setting - it is still important to 'trade interests.' Since these are what pay for the cargo ships, they can afford some warships too, in effect as a cost of doing business.

I could imagine a scenario in which a war of interstellar empires hardly matters to most people on most planets, for whom it is just a reshuffling of luxury trades.

On the other hand, you don't need to starve a planet out to have a severe economic impact on it. The current Great Recession corresponds to a GDP drop (in the US) of about 3 percent. A trade embargo of a habitable planet is not going to starve it out, but it will have painful consequences that will spill over into politics.

Turbo10k said...

As I said before, interstellar trade is so slow that people don't care about it. Put an embargo on it and most people won't even notice anything happened for several years!

Goes back to my concept of merchant seasons, in which a lot of money is exchanged in little time, followed by dead seasons where no money is exchanged. Money exchanged means here cargo ships arriving en masse, with billions of tons involved, then launching for another market.

Space warfare would, between two countries without any ties, happen during the defender's merchant season. This would cut off the defender's market from interstellar trade for several decades (say 20 years) and give the attacker the advantage in that he can give an ultimatum which lasts a single year (long enough for a drawn out interplanetary war) but has effects that ripple for several merchant seasons (50-60 years).

Between two GPs or any two parties who have strong economic ties but still want to beat each other up, war during dead seasons is favorable as it does not have a direct, physical impact on the market.

I like the market season concept as it has two advantages over a continuous trade scenario that everyone has in mind:

-Allows you to seperate the economy from the militaro-political aspect of a nation.

-Gives the market a physical manifestation you can hit. On earth, today, can you burn gold?

-Gives wars a until of time we are sorely lacking.

Milo said...

Market seasons would be based on Hohmann windows. For trade between planets in wildly differing orbits, the Hohmann window "synodic period" is approximately equal to the inner planet's orbital period (or one year for Earth).

Note that Hohmann barges will typically take multiple synodic windows to actually arrive at their target, so you'll want to have several in transit at any given time to take the maximum advantage of available windows.

Turbo10k said...

So no need for any sci-fi limitations and magitech to make that work...but how much influence would it have on actual war?

Can anyone of you SFheads bring up an example of wars trying to avoid blockading cargo ships or economies? Or others doing just that?

jollyreaper said...

Space barbarians is an interesting trope but doesn't really scale up plausibly.

With the norseman example, we're looking at self-sustaining communities in the north raiding more prosperous communities in the south for fun and profit. They had good ships but we're still talking wood and canvas, nothing too exotic. The knowledge of how to build them can be maintained within a small community.

If we talk about hordes on land like the Mongols, we're talking about nomadic mounted warriors. The main resources required were food for raising up baby mongols and fodder for the horses. The horde then subsisted off the plunder of conquered territories. The mongols could attain local superiority in force of arms over sedentary cultures that had to divide resources between the military and civilian economies. But I think there is a limit to how well that would scale.

The whole idea of armies foraging for their own supplies died out because there was no way of counting on the availability of the quantity of goods required. Armies had to source their own supplies from back home. And if we advance the technology to the point of tanks and armored vehicles, you're not slapping this stuff together in an afternoon like you're the damn A-Team. You need an industrial base.

jollyreaper said...

The only situation I can imagine where high-tech barbarism could really work out is in a modified Middle East scenario. There's a vital resource in a region that is of interest to rival industrial powers. Due to circumstances like the threat of open war going nuclear, they cannot fight each other directly and use proxies, the rival factions of locals living in the region. They sell the resource to the industrial powers and buy weapons and wage war. They thus gain access to weapons their own industrial base cannot support and you have the situation where relatively backward and ignorant tribal warriors have access to serious equipment.

But even when we look at the Middle East as our historic example, the fights have been dominated by ground warfare. You don't see great dogfights between vast air forces, nothing that makes you think WWII. The Iran-Iraq War is said to have had the biggest battles between mechanized forces since WWII. But you would be hard-pressed to tell a story of a dashing fighter pilot with a hundred kills to his name. There's no room for bandit kings with private tank battalions.

Milo said...

Turbo10k/"Can anyone of you SFheads bring up an example of wars trying to avoid blockading cargo ships or economies?": Simple. You're at war with one nation, but you're not at war with their (currently neutral) trading partner, and don't want to provoke said partner (or maybe you're also trading with them, and hurting their economy will have ripple effects). Especially by destroying expensive spaceships that were sent out before the war broke out.

Turbo10k/"Or others doing just that?": If being blockaded is at all inconvenient to the person being blockaded (or really, to anyone except the person doing the blockading), then someone will at some point find a reason to do so.

Albert said...

OMG! someone clear up the mess of jollyreaper posts! :)

Rick wrote...
I could imagine a scenario in which a war of interstellar empires hardly matters to most people on most planets, for whom it is just a reshuffling of luxury trades.

Yep. The only ones who care enough are the workers of the companies supplying such "luxury" items.
So the most common Interstellar wars may be more like a "very harsh competition" between corporations than to Star Wars.

And the occasional Space Hitler that wants to keep Rigellian Green Fuming Brandy (RGFB) all for himself due to some yet undisclosed reasons.

Rick again...
On the other hand, you don't need to starve a planet out to have a severe economic impact on it.
True. But you can't have a lot of impact by cutting off purely luxury items. (avana cigars, Hummers, rings with diamonds, caviar, and so on)

If we are talking about platinum-group rare metals mined from asteroids for a society relying on them, things change a lot. Electronics prices depend on their availability, thust a blockade would have a much bigger impact, enough to give the recession effect in a society so full of electronics as ours.

It's just a matter of how important the trade is for them. There are enough shades of gray to get this economical effect you want without witnessing bulk freighters carrying grain IN SPAACE!! to purely mining-oriented planets without any foodstuff production.

Rick wrote...
So Evil that I googled Dakka, and ended up at TV Tropes anyway, which used up the rest of my afternoon.
Very sorry for that. I'll try to purge TV Tropes terms from my posts from now on. :)

Turbo10k said...
Between two GPs or any two parties who have strong economic ties but still want to beat each other up, war during dead seasons is favorable as it does not have a direct, physical impact on the market.
A war needs objectives, and if all economic targets are ruled out, you are pretty much stuck. Either you murder civilians at random or attempt to destroy the enemy government physically.

The fist is bad PR, the latter isn't anywhere as easy as it seems.

-Albert

Byron said...

The age of roaming nomad bands who were a threat to an entire society ended with gunpowder. The Mongols were effective enough in the age before gunpowder, as it reached Europe right after they did. However, what the Mongols had going for them was that they didn't have to train people to farm. Instead, they could spend all their time working on their military. When gunpowder came along, a peasant with a month of training is about half of what a horse archer is. Previously, he was a tenth.
A large industrial base was required to support mass production of gunpowder and weapons, meaning that anyone who had gunpowder was settled. There were some exceptions, like the Indians in the west, but they were not a real threat to America.
There will almost certainly be trade in space, because if we have enough people in space to have a war, they have to have gone for something to bring back. You could argue about forced migration, but those people will be under the control of the power that made them migrate. I'm sure there are other exceptions, but some form of trade will have to be going on for colonization to make sense.

Milo said...

Umm... the Mongols used gunpowder. In fact, they may have played an important role in spreading it across the continent.

Granted, they didn't invent gunpowder themselves, but rather stole the technology after conquering China, who used gunpowder against them in an attempt to avoid being conquered.

Byron said...

It still wasn't a major player in warfare at the time, and they are the last great nomad conquers. Even though they had it, the basic warrior was a horse-archer.

Milo said...

Also, space barbarians wouldn't be nomads, principally for the reason that there are no mobile herds of cattle to chase across the landscape of outer space. Resources are clustered on planets/moons rather than spread across the steppe, therefore that's where people stay. These would be more Space Vikings than Space Mongols - they go on long raiding journeys, but they have their own homeland where they build their ships and live in static farmhouses.


Re: jollyreaper's "They had good ships but we're still talking wood and canvas, nothing too exotic. The knowledge of how to build them can be maintained within a small community.", small is relative. In interstellar settings, entire planets can be considered small in the larger political climate.

The real difficulty is explaining how such a large number of people have suddenly decided to adopt and agree on a shared warrior culture, when violence and banditry are likely to have been looked down on by the societies that colonized them in the first place.

jollyreaper said...

@albert -- sorry my posts offended you.

@milo -- not just violence and banditry but the scale of organization required to launch space viking raids versus historic sea vikings.

"The real difficulty is explaining how such a large number of people have suddenly decided to adopt and agree on a shared warrior culture, when violence and banditry are likely to have been looked down on by the societies that colonized them in the first place."

The counter-example to that would be Nazi Germany. One of the most advanced and scientifically literate cultures on the planet and they willingly threw themselves into banditry on a global scale. But the gap between viking longships and u-boats is minuscule compared to the gap between u-boats and raiding starships.

We're back to the question of what the economic or political benefit of those raids would be to the raiders. Scifi loves talking about space pirates and staging raids against frontier worlds for water. *snort* What sort of resource could be both a) plausibly in short supply within a star system and b) worth the trouble of raiding for. Granted, the cost of transportation changes everything. Make FTL cheap enough and you can justify Asimov's Trantor where none of the food is produced locally, it has to be shipped in from other planets.

The best motive I can think of for interstellar conquest in a human society would be from Dune with the Fremen Jihad -- it's a religiously motivated war of conversion. Conquering people and bringing them to the faith is the goal and any question of logic or reason is short-circuited by religious thinking. And as far as interstellar commodities go, forget whale fur and the like, the Spice is the only sort of thing that truly makes sense. Only one source in the universe, cannot be produced locally, is basically magic. Damn straight that would drive interstellar trade. All the other cargo carried by the Guild would be luxuries, nice to have but not necessary for civilization to continue. The implied cost of transport in the Dune universe precludes the idea of necessary staples of life for the commoners coming from offworld.

Rick said...

Jollyreaper, no one was offended by your posts - but Blogger went haywire and left about half a dozen fragmentary copies. I think I got rid of the dupes!

Somalia comes amazingly close to the Mad Max/barbarian scenario. Today it is piracy; 20 years ago it was 'technicals' - tribal forces of young guys driving pickups with machine guns mounted on them.

So ... you can kinda sorta justify the scenario, given similar conditions. A region or planet in political and social collapse, but not totally out of touch with more functional societies - just not very important to them, so that no one is willing to step in and put an end to it.

Milo said...

Helium-3 seems to be the popular Space MacGuffin around these parts, at least when people are stuck in a single solar system (or in interstellar settings where solar systems do not invariably have a unified culture), and it fits the role pretty well.

Like the Vikings' frigid Scandinavia or Thucydides's vision of Luna's future, the Space Vikings might have gotten stuck in someplace that's only barely habitable, and doesn't have the full spread of resources needed for a proper space-age civilization. (Put them at the outer edge of the liquid water zone for a literal Space Scandinavia!) Although even there, it's hard to see farming as being difficult enough that it's easier to steal food from other planets.

But really, arguments about why it's not worth building and maintaining spaceships to steal something, are analogous to arguments about why it's not worth building and maintaining spaceships to trade something. Find something worth trading (even if it's green-fuming Rigellian brandy), and you'll have something worth stealing.


I did think about the Somalia example regarding all-out warfare in a modern society, but I didn't bring them up because I saw their warlordist society only working because the military technology they can afford (pickups with machine guns mounted on them) is vastly behind that of the true Great Powers. Still, good point that they do have piracy with modern ships, albeit (I think) only in local waters.


It has to be remembered that neither Vikings nor Nazis lasted very long. However, they were both enough of a pain that people still remember them today.

Space Vikings aren't going to be a permanent fixture of your future sociopolitics either - at least not the same Space Vikings across many generations - but they can still provide fodder for plenty of stories before the civilized world has finally had enough of them and teaches them a lesson.

Turbo10k said...

Space Vikings....

Okay. Say we reaaly needed them for our setting. So far we have drawn out three possible scenarios:
-Rust Moon survivors
-Small but rebellious nation
-Parttime farmers who fancy a bit of raiding.

For the first one, I don't think its possible. Would you invest trillions on your next door neighbourhood, just to abandon it in favour of a cheaper source of McGuffinite? If I were you, I'd reconvert it. A moon colony only needs its mining equipment stripped away for it to have a completely different purpose. After all, the necessities for long-term habitation in such environments are already in place, solar panels and nuclear reactors already there to power an energy intensive acrtivity installend conveniently by private firms...Why don't the nations buy back the Lunar land that they sold to privates back in the first place? Rates won't be so high, and you got all the aforementioned free stuff lying around...Well, jthat's just me, maybe it'll go differently.

Second option. We have a group of colonist on some small moon or planet somewhere collaborating enough to call them a nation (Hospitable planet abundance scenario). They have a source of revenues, cargo ships and a spatioport. Now imagine that their citizens are getting fed up with being poor and working themselves to death all just to stay cooped up inside the same walls their whole life. They want some action, and something to complement their salary. Nation capitulates in front of demands or threat of a revolt and selld off its ships. We now have:
-Privately owned cargo ships, subject to being armed with cheap lasers and frag missiles.
-A safe haven benefiting from the fact of being a PLANET, so attacking it with no friendlies on the ground is impossible.
-A government who says "I don't care what they do, as long as they pay their taxes".
Space viking scenario? Yes.

Final one. The setting where peaceful farmers, with pretty much the same motivations as the previous ones, sneak guns onto their shuttle and carry them into space. There, they retrofit some private cargo ship with those guns, and make a sort of blockade for unmanned cargo pods. The latter are intercepted, cargo stolen before they reach the planets interstellar JFK in SPAACE! and land with stolen goods, undetected. UNlikely. Any GP or large, rich nation with a developped interstellar worth its salt would have a sort of police force in orbit; all they have to say is that "whatever you do, you're going to be caught red handed", then fire with them lasers that don't miss and that no-one can run away from...and the whole idea goes bust.

Of course, we have the basic assumptions that:
-Pirates need safe havens
-Pirate NATIONS don't exist cos no economy can survive with pillaging.
-You can hide weapons onboard.

Right?

Citizen Joe said...

Milo: "Like the Vikings' frigid Scandinavia or Thucydides's vision of Luna's future, the Space Vikings might have gotten stuck in someplace that's only barely habitable, and doesn't have the full spread of resources needed for a proper space-age civilization. (Put them at the outer edge of the liquid water zone for a literal Space Scandinavia!) Although even there, it's hard to see farming as being difficult enough that it's easier to steal food from other planets."

If the viking homeworld has a forty year orbit, and that orbit swings out of the habitable zone during some part of the orbit, you've got the makings of a generational Ragnarok. I think that means a significantly brighter star so that the habitable range is out there around the 40 year orbit line, but it is probably doable. Now they don't go out and raid because it is difficult to farm, they go out and raid to collect nuts for the winter... which might be 5 years long or more.

Thucydides said...

Billions of dollars of infrastructure are abandoned all over the world today, since it is cheaper in many cases to walk away than to try to salvage or repurpose things.

Easiest of all is transport infrastructure, there is a ghost fleet of @ 500+ container ships in the Pacific who's owners have abandoned them since there is no cargo they can economically haul. Vast yards of railcars parked on the sidings in out of the way places in the United States are the analogy on land.

Lots of factories and office buildings sit empty in and around SW Ontario due to the effects of the recession (and local political mismanagement, but I digress), much of it repossessed by the banks and unsalable. So long as it has some theoretical value the banks may hold them, although a rational response might simply be to demolish them in order to prop up the value of the remaining buildings.

In the scenario I put forward, the Moon was settled and developed to extract 3He from lunar regolith. While 3He is quite valuable, the means to extract it from lunar soil is very particular. If cheaper alternatives are available, what does the company or the bank do with rock crushers, refractory furnaces, cyrogenic separators and all the other apparatus needed to boil 3He from lunar regolith?

This is just the setting, putting in a "road warrior" culture was one possible response (and there may be a period of time where the locals respond to the shutting down of the mines and massive disinvestment in this way). The Moon might also resemble sections of Detroit as well; abandoned neighbourhoods where youth gangs hang out and a criminal underworld takes root. Or maybe most people just move away, and large sections of the Moon belong to the local "Last man in the World".

Rick said...

A good many Western mining towns dwindled away to ghost towns, with a handful reviving as ski resorts, so I can see a case for Thucydides' abandonment scenario.

On a small scale you can find something similar on the outskirts of metro areas, such as the fringes of San Bernardino County, east of Lancaster and Edwards AFB. Biker country, rather tenuously patrolled by the San Berdoo country sheriffs. And there will probably be somewhat more of this in the wake of the SoCal real estate bubble.

Romance often turns brief eras into timeless settings. The Wild West is a good example, since its locus classicus was the rather brief period from around 1870 to 1890.

Turbo10k said...

Okay, we'll have Rust Moon...

But just because resource production become more expensive, it doesn't mean it will be abandoned completely. Saturn He3 takes 3 years to arrive, and is at the mercy of Pesky Belters, intermediate nations and any interplanetary hostilities throwing untracked kinetics into space...Moon supplies would be similar to backyard production, secure, stable and subjet to less risk albeit at expense of production cost.

Real life examples:
-Canadian sand oil.
-Arab Emirates wheat, most expensive in the world.
-Gulf oil. Get it from Irak guys!
-Whole concept of American/European/Russian car industry. We make more in China right, and for cheaper?

We're keeping our moon!

Countless others.

Milo said...

There are some applications for which the ideal locale is "anywhere except Earth", since they benefit from having no atmosphere to worry about and relatively low gravity.

Examples include many research institutions (telescopes / space observatories, vacuum chemistry and physics research...), some industrial processes will no doubt be found that benefit from vacuum, and most importantly, spacecraft construction. Fact is, if there's anything that's worth shipping across space, then it's the spaceships themselves.

Now of course these can also be done elsewhere, and there are places with even less gravity than Luna. However, Luna has the advantage of having been settled earlier due to its close proximity to Earth (which, as the only settled world with an atmosphere outside of bubble domes, and the largest rocky planet in the solar system, is a horrible place to launch spacecraft from), and so having a strong and well-established industrial base. Furthermore, latecomers would have little incentive to try to compete with Luna when they have such an established industry to struggle against. Maybe they'll produce some local knock-offs while Lunar products continue to be considered the highest quality. And Luna actually has relatively good supplies of titanium...

So even if other places develop their own spaceyards, I expect that Luna will remain the prime exporter for a long time to come. Luna would also house one of the best universities in the solar system.

The Saturnian Helium Fleet (think Spanish Treasure Fleet) might form the backbone of the entire solar system's economy, but it's the famous Lunar spaceyards that built those ships.

Rick said...

I like that scenario, because it is a plausible economic evolution. Long after lunar mining is uncompetitive for raw materials, the lunar/orbital shipbuilding industry will continue to have the advantages of an established industrial ecosystem.

(Which doesn't mean you can't have Luna in decline!)

Byron said...

As you might have guessed, I'm an enthusiastic supporter of Luna. Personally, I think it's as likely that they'll end up with control of outer planetary He3 as anyone. If they start off with the monopoly, then they have every incentive to keep it intact. Also, the advantage of being the only consistent source of raw materials near Earth should not be underestimated. Being able to provide materials to LEO in a few days is a huge advantage, which will likely keep Luna settled and thriving long after its He3 becomes more expensive.

Milo said...

Luna's proximity to Earth will make it have significant military and political interest to us. I doubt it'll be a trade hub though - I see no advantage to passing outer-solar-system Helium-3 through Luna instead of shipping it directly to Earth.

Exactly what kind of military interest Luna poses depends on weapon ranges. If weapons can be effective at ranges of about a lightsecond or more, then surface defenses on Luna can neatly cover an entire half of Earth's orbital space, with the advantage of not having to shoot through atmosphere/high gravity (and the disadvantage of not being able to use submarines or airplanes), while still getting free heat sinks, cheap construction, easy armor, and all those other benefits of surface defenses. An attacker could try to deliberately approach from the opposite side of Earth, to avoid coming within range of Luna's guns, but that limits the directions from which an enemy can attack.

The majority of those surface defenses would be built on Luna's far side, to face incoming attackers. However, the significance of near-side military bases cannot be ignored - not only because of their value in contesting inner orbits, but also because, with the weapon ranges we're discussing here, Earth and Luna can shoot at each other directly without bothering with spaceships.

On the other hand, if weapons can't reach that far, then Luna's reach would be too short to effectively stop any incoming fleet that isn't actually bound for Luna, but Luna would make an attractive forward base for anyone trying to attack Earth. Any Earth-invader would be tempted to try to capture or ally with Luna first.

Actually, Luna's far side would still be an attractive forward base even if weapons do have stupendous ranges, since you're permanently shielded from Earth's guns by the bulk of the moon, while still being able to mine for reaction mass and other resources. Another reason why Luna's far side needs to be heavily fortified. And this is the one caveat in the "can shoot at each other directly without bothering with spaceships" thingie...

Longer weapon ranges encourage closer political ties between Earth and Luna, while shorter weapon ranges would make it more possible for Luna to be politically independant. This goes back to the "sovereignity reaches to the tip of your sword" thing.

This extends to other planets as well. When new planets are colonized, the presence or absence of moons is likely to be a significant consideration in that planet's military defensibility. Planets without moons would be seen as poorly defensible, while planets with multiple moons in different orbits (even small non-rounded ones like Phobos and Deimos) would be highly defensible because there's much better chance that at least one will be facing any incoming enemy. The enemy could try to attack when both moons are at the same side, but that limits not only the directions from which an enemy can attack but also the times when an attack can take place. Anything that makes an enemy more predictable is a good thing.

Around gas giants, moons themselves will be the center of attention, but there will be a lot of moons. (Although in some cases, like Neptune in our solar system, there is only one rounded moon. Still plenty unrounded ones, though those are less valuable.) Again, though, most ranges tend to be on the order of one lightsecond, so if weapons can reach that far, it'll have serious effects on those moons' ability to fight each other. (Read: MAD.)

Citizen Joe said...

I've found that efficiency requires specialization. He3 tankers coming in from Saturn are going to be optimized for that 3 year trek in microgees. They may not be able to get back out of the Earth's gravity well if you go for the direct path. Likewise, the deep space craft may be incredibly radioactive from its trip, and thus require refit at the lunar spacedocks. Rather than pollute the Earth with the tanker ship, tugs would transport to He3 along with any other lunar or space based resources back to Earth orbit for some sort of delivery system in orbit. Aerobraking dewars of He3 doesn't seem feasible

Turbo10k said...

Actually, you don't have to refit the whole ship in any one of these two cases;

Detachable cargo pod. Decelerate the whole ship into orbit, then drop the pod into a lower orbit where it will be caught by manoeuvrable lunar ships.

Have a go-between ship which only needs little refitting.

Another point:
Depending on the efficiency and ease of aerobraking, we could have interplanetary ships prefer Earth as a target destination. Developing in combination with the multiple orbit idea, we'd have ships save D-v by aerobraking on Earth along predestined, enforced trajectories then, with reduced speed, coast along to the Moon. On luna, we'd have inspection and such without the risk of ships just bombarding the surface and threatening billions of people. Luna could become a gateway to Earth, or a terminal to get in and out of Earth Sphere...Coupled with He3 available in-situ we'd have an important transport and industrial hub!

I also see lots of hacking and bribery letting Q-ships and other suspicious ships out of Luna inspection or pass directly into Earth orbit....

Turbo10k said...

Okay, I'm bringing up safety again.

Am I letting un-identified and roughly inspected interplanetary/stellar ships aerobrake directly over my homeworld? Give some pirate the chance to easily fool authorities and dip a bit in orbit, crashing down below in a He3 fuelled mushroom, spreading radioactive cargo all over the place? Just imagine it. A Jupiter cargo ship, heavily irradiated, fuelled by torch drives, carrying hundreds of thousands of tons of radioactive He3 crashing onto the surface. Chernobyl looks wimpy in comparison...Luna as an inspection base just added a point to itself-it's SAFE. All you got is replaceable equipment, and if a ship tries to blow through a blockade, authorities would have lots of time to intercept or simple blow up the ship.

Milo said...

I have thought about the issue of launch/landing, and its very different demands from interplanetary travel, especially on an atmospheric world. My first thought was that you would have spaceships which never leave space, which makes use of shuttles for loading and unloading their cargo. These shuttles would not be carried onboard the ship (except for research craft for exploring unsettled worlds, and military assault transports), but rather each planet and moon would have its own shuttles, adapted to that world's particular conditions. There would be no standardized shuttle design - I see these as highly idiosyncratic vehicles, with individual designs and histories. Or at least idiosyncratic series models, depending on how many they need, since we're still talking about a planetary scale here. Then again shuttles don't spend much time on any given mission, so you may not actually need many of them. Idiosyncracies ahoy!

However I then realized that typical civilian craft - cargo and passenger transports - would unload and reload the majority of their payload (cargo, or passengers and food) on each stop. Which means that your shuttle has to be almost as large as your original ship. By that point, it seems easier to just land the entire ship directly, even if that means installing a second engine or designing your existing engine to have a high-exhaust gear and a high-thrust gear. Especially since a non-landing spacecraft can be essentially any shape. So you can design your ship with a shape appropiate for landing and takeoff, without worrying that it'll hamper the deep space portion of your trip any.

Shuttles would be most useful for militaries, who may regularly want to cycle around small crews without needing to replace most of the ship's payload (weapons and armor) at the same frequency. Passenger liners might also get use out off shuttles if the majority of their mass is in furniture or recycleable life support. Cargo ships, though, seem better off just landing themselves.

I might be overlooking something though. It's hard to speculate on which of several nonexistant technologies works best.

If you have radical techs like space elevators, then that totally changes things.


Citizen Joe/"Likewise, the deep space craft may be incredibly radioactive from its trip, and thus require refit at the lunar spacedocks.":

It will only be radioactive if you actually used fission power, or even neutronic fusion power (leading to neutron activation). If you have working helium-3 fusion, then why are you doing either of those things?

Helium-3 is not radioactive (just rare), and helium-3 fusion is "clean", meaning the only hazard is from the high energies involved (potential: meltdown, fire, explosion), not any significant amount of radiation.

Also cargo barges, since they use Hohmann transfers rather than more energetic approaches, don't actually produce much power in their own engines.


Turbo10k/"Luna as an inspection base just added a point to itself-it's SAFE":

Not necessarily. Paraterraformed dome cities, no matter how thick their armor, are still more vulnerable than Earth cities if anything actually gets through. There's also no atmosphere to cushion your impact.

Citizen Joe said...

While He3-He3 fusion doesn't throw any Neutrons, it is much harder than D-T fusion to achieve. Also, why are you burning up all your He3 shipping it back?

In my setting, He3 is prized back on Earth because of its non-polluting effects. However, it takes a ridiculous amount of magnetic confinement to keep the reaction going (He3-He3). That makes its use on space ships unfeasible (lest they crumble into a little ball). The fusion drive of choice is therefor the compact torus D-T thruster with lots of kick. What's more, rather than mining He3 directly, refinery ships fuse Deuterium-Deuterium in Wildcat IIIb Breeder reactors to generate Tritium and Helium-3. The Tritium gets used for the thrusters and stored to decay into Helium-3. The Helium-3 gets offloaded at the Mars cycler orbit along with some of the Tritium and Deuterium. The belters then use Tritium betavoltaics as a powersource and trade in the depleted (now He3) gas for more Tritium. Meanwhile, the now much lighter, refinery ships are light enough that they can engage their FTL drives (Z-P drive from elsewhere) and hop back to base at Uranus moons.

Anyway, the refinery ships have nasty amounts of Neutronic radiation both from their drives but also from their breeder reactors. Even though their reason for not going all the way to Earth is their Z-P threshold limit, Earth wouldn't let that mess near it. In that setting, Earth's environment nearly collapsed from pollution and now it is ultra protective of the environment.

Milo said...

"Also, why are you burning up all your He3 shipping it back?":

I'm not. I'm burning a very small portion of my helium-3 to transport the rest.

Modern oil supertankers are powered by oil, aren't they?


"In my setting, He3 is prized back on Earth because of its non-polluting effects.":

I think it would make more sense the other way around. On planets, you can afford to build reactors far away from cities and add lots of shielding (and even neutronic fusion is far easier to shield against than fission, since there's no radioactive waste besides what you produce through neutron activation, which can be minimized with proper shielding materials), both of which largely mitigate the radiation issues.

Spaceships are compact and need to worry about mass, so they have much more incentive to use clean fuel. (Also, aneutronic fusion products are much easier to convert into electricity or thrust with lightweight technology. The problem is getting the fusion reaction going in the first place.)

Turbo10k said...

First up: The safety I was writing about is actually relative. You are still putting at risk a few thousand humans and a few billion's worth of equipment, but the guys on station have signed up in full knowledge of such risks and have life insurances and whatnot. IF you were to skip the Luna part, you are putting uninspected ships directly in orbit around BILLIONS of people and essentially everything that makes your homeworld valuable (and habitable).

Second: I was assuming that a ship that stays in Jupiter orbit for years before heading out into the Inner Solar System would be heavily irradiated by Jupiter's magnetosphere...i wasn't thinking about drive radiation at all :/ But you did raise a good point. We'd have fast, zippy torch drives, clean and ecological, while the outer planets could content themselves with 'dirtier' fusion. Intermoon ships in saturn or Jupiter orbit could even use those NERVA engines. I was also assuming that He3 is radioactive, and as a gas would spread easily over the whole globe. But i was wrong and corrected XD.

Thirds: Kudos to Cit' Joe for making a realistic and self-sustaining Hydrogen economy! (I do however have FTL ships as big and heavy and not 'light enough' for your Z-P drive. But we're dealing with magitech and everything's in our head).

Turbo10K said...

Reactions to other comments:
Milo-"On planets, you can afford to build reactors far away from cities and add lots of shielding"

Or can be built underground. Right now, they aren't doing it as it would be maintenance hell and constrcution difficulties would annul the whole plan. In the future, we're going to use underground constrcution for our orbital defences and extraplanetetary colonies anyway, so why not for our dangerous reactors? Then again, we'd be waiting for digging to offset shielding costs.

Milo again-"Spaceships are compact and need to worry about mass, so they have much more incentive to use clean fuel."
Are fusion drives heavier or not than other drives? If so, do their propellant savings offset the increase in mass? The real question here.
I also guess fusion reactors could be built in orbit, jump started by power available on planets, then fitted to ships. Owait. flash idea. Could we have a rescue mission where a ship jump start's another ship's fusion reactor using on-board power?

Citizen Joe-"Earth's environment nearly collapsed from pollution and now it is ultra protective of the environment"
Earth has a large, stable environment and always recovers. How about a planet in the first premises of terraformation? Wouldn't it be infinitely more vulnerable to pollution and damage to its ecosystem? Humm. That means that refinery ships wouldn't be welcome near ANY habitable planet. Orbits have to stay clean, the dirty polluters would have to be installed in the asteroid belt or far far away (Limits of hill sphere or around moon) in the inner solar system...Oh and there goes another point towards luna. We could have refineries orbiting luna and beaming power/finished product back to Terra.

Milo2-About shuttles. Using them exclusively for orbital off-loading seems like using a second train to offload a freight train. We could have a combined system. Shuttle for crew or valuable or fragile cargo, some sort of ocean lander for the rest. Or we could agin use the whole system for offloading as shuttles, with only two types of shuttles. Small, SSTO shuttles like today's ones for personnel and valuable, fragile cargo, then the rest (massive single wing ones) are few in number but have all the time they want if...the cargo ships detaches its cargo pod, leaves it at a space station, hooks up the new one, and blasts off. The cargo pod, now in care of a space station, can be offloaded slowly, in little bits for the shuttles.

This is assuming that using hundreds of shuttle flights per year costs LESS than designing a purpose-built landing vessel that can handle the whole load all the way down and back up. Just don't ask me how many terawatts are needed for controlled landing with payloads in the order of 100,000,000 metric tons...

Byron said...

I did a project on Lunar colonization, including quite a bit of research into He3. He3 itself isn't radioactive, and both He3-He3 and He3-D fusion is aneutronic. The problem for He3-D fusion is that half of D-D side reactions are neutronic (the ones that make He3), while the other half produce tritium. The tritium then reacts with the deuterium, producing neutrons. However, with proper design, I think that neutron power could be limited to 5% or less of the total energy output. That compares rather favorably to 80% for D-T.
The low neutronicity is a key factor in making He3-D reactors favored for spacecraft. I found a paper during the spacecraft design project that pointed out that, when shielding is taken into account, He3 reactors will have a higher specific power/thrust than D-T reactors. Previously, I had favored D-T for it's higher specific energy.
When I spoke of maintaining the lunar monopoly on He3, I was speaking of them being the ones to research how to extract it, and bring it back. He3 might go through Luna if the companies who own it are based there.

Milo said...

Turbo10k:

"I was assuming that a ship that stays in Jupiter orbit for years before heading out into the Inner Solar System would be heavily irradiated by Jupiter's magnetosphere...i wasn't thinking about drive radiation at all :/"

Magnetosphere? The magnetosphere will only affect charged particles. Possibly a hazard for people on the ship while you're near Jupiter, but nothing that the ship will actually be taking with it when it leaves. In fact, if it's unmanned, the radiation could actually be healthy by sterilizing the ship like they do at hospitals...


"Are fusion drives heavier or not than other drives?"

Who knows? Currently they don't exist yet. We can predict, sort of, the mass of fuel you'd need, but not the mass of the reactor structure to any degree of accuracy.

Another important question is what their "minimum size" is, below which you can't simply scale down to a reactor with half the mass and half the power output.


"Owait. flash idea. Could we have a rescue mission where a ship jump start's another ship's fusion reactor using on-board power?"

That depends on how much jumpstarting you need. I would expect ships would try to carry an ignition source (which would have far less energy density than the fusion reactor, but still be lightweight because it only needs to provide a brief spark) if it's at all feasible to do so. If fusion reactors turn out to be so difficult to jumpstart that you can't feasibly carry the necessary equipment onboard, then what you describe would probably be a common form of distress call (common compared to other distress calls, that is). Otherwise, it's still possible that some ship's jumpstarting mechanism has somehow been damaged and it doesn't have the means to repair it.

If jumpstarting is really difficult, then this would have the interesting effect that ships can't effectively throttle down their reactor to save fuel during parts of the trip where they don't need much energy (since they then wouldn't be able to throttle it back up at the end of the trip when it's time to decelerate). This would encourage ships to use slowly-accelerating continuous-burn trajectories thrusting throughout most of their trip, rather than doing a hard burn at the beginning, coasting, and then doing another hard burn at the end, even though the last would normally be more delta-vee-efficient.


"Just don't ask me how many terawatts are needed for controlled landing with payloads in the order of 100,000,000 metric tons..."

What is that number based on? Even today's heaviest ocean supertanker is only 650 kilotons.

100 megatons would be... hmm, according to Wikipedia, one-third of the total mass of the human world population.

I don't know how much helium-3 would be needed to support present or future energy demands...



Byron:

"When I spoke of maintaining the lunar monopoly on He3, I was speaking of them being the ones to research how to extract it, and bring it back."

Extract it from what? The Lunatics know best how to extract helium-3 from Lunar regolith, none of which is to be found in the atmosphere of gas giants. They probably have some experience in refining helium-3 from mixed-isotope helium, but it would seem far more efficient to do the refining before you ship the stuff so you can ship much less mass.

...Oh, now I get it. You're suggesting Luna originally funded the colonization of the gas giants, and someone on Luna currently owns the gas giant mining operations in a legal sense, even though it's other people doing most of the actual work. Hmm, sounds like the seeds for a nice rebellion-of-the-colonies story to me... :)

Citizen Joe said...

Re Polluted Earth:
In that setting, there was a requirement to justify the leap to space and the cessation of dependency on fossil fuels. While we never got a confirmation on that, I had suggested either an intentional bio-terrorist attack or a side effect of well meaning scientists that injected a microbe into the oil supply. This then multiplied and changed the oil so that when processed and then run through the compression of a car's engine, the fuel put out many times more toxic gasses. Much of the Earth was already ravaged by humanity before that even happened, but when cars started killing people, they had to find an alternative energy source fast. That leads to the He3 Lunar rush and eventually gas giant mining.

It's probably more of a morality play than anything else, but the notion that humanity pushed Mother Nature around for profit until she pushed back really seems fitting.

---

Radiation has more effects that just messing with squishy people. It will eventually deteriorate the hardware. Particularly the core shielding for neutronic fusion. My designs for the breeder reactors included a permanent shield to catch any final radiation, but then there were layers inside that could be replaced, like a lithium blanket and 'enriched' SiC core shell. Silicon and carbon become a commodity of the belters in addition to metallic asteroids. By refining the silicon and carbon, you can get the lowest neutron isotopes and then assemble them into the crystal shells needed for neutronic shielding. While much is reflected back in for power usage, some neutrons get captured by the shell. This builds up over time as the silicon and carbon move to higher neutronic isotope levels. Eventually, the reactor gets powered down and the SiC shells get replaced. This SiC is then ground up and used in industrial processes and once the war with the aliens started, became kinetic scrubber clouds. Of course the meta reason for this was to have barrels sitting around labeled "Fusion Core" that grounders could shoot at hoping for an explosion. Much humor ensues as they realize they just shot a barrel of sand.

Milo said...

IMO anyone capable of terraforming or paraterraforming other planets/moons on a large enough scale to make them livable, should also be able to do the same on Earth in a pinch. Yeah, people won't be happy if things get so polluted that we have to live in domed cities on Earth, but it's still easier than getting to the moon, unless we have some other reason to go there.

Losing our oil supply alone wouldn't make us completely dependant on fusion. We have other fossil fuels besides oil (such as natural gas and coal), as well as pretty effective fission power. And getting to the moon is hard now, what do you think it'd be like for an energy-starved society? That's trying to rush the job before the situation at home deteriorates further?

Space exploration is the pastime of a great civilization that seeks to become even greater, not of a desparate civilization struggling to make ends meet.

Rick said...

I tend to agree; a dystopian Earth will not have the resources to spend on space travel.

If fusion drives are very difficult/tricky to light up, ships will fly true brachistochrone orbits with a flipover at midpoint. Heinlein's torches were like that; the Peter the Great 'shut hers down, couldn't light up again, and fell into the Sun.'

Thucydides said...

"Conventional" fusion using magnetic fields to compress plasmas is certainly the road to massive fusion devices (assuming they can even be made to work!)

Alternatives exist, although with very low levels of funding and limited progress. I am a big fan of IEC and Polywell type devices. these are large but rather lightweight. Magnetized Target Fusion, Dense plasma Focus Fusion and hypervelocity impacts are other potential means of igniting fusion reactions, and even strange ideas like Muon-catalyzed fusion or Migma fusion have the potential to generate fusion energy with relatively small and lightweght machines.

Most of the potential dangers from these machines come from X-ray emissions and bremsstrahlung radiation, so shielding and operations will be a bit different from conventional reactions (where neutrons are the main threat). Apparently some of the X-ray radiation can be captured by layering fine sheets of foil, a rather gossamer containment vessel for the reactor.

If they can be made to work, they seem to be the basis for effective powerplants and engines in spacecraft; certainly better than huge magnetic confinement vessels.

Citizen Joe said...

The He3 fusion drive in that setting ended up requiring a 5 mile long linear accelerator to get the speeds needed for the inertial confinement. D-T needed less speeds to initiate fusion thus it could be achieved in a torus accelerator which is much more compact.

In any case, the point of the disabling of fossil fuels wasn't to find alternative fossil fuels, it was a story element to explain the need for fusion.

Milo said...

Okay, so I had another look at the numbers of how much fusion fuel cargo would need to get shipped.

Helium-helium fusion has an energy density of about 200 PJ/ton of helium-3 (an energy density of 50 megaRicks, which is not necessarily the speed it can actually make you reach if you use it as a propulsion system). How much of that do we need? The current world production of electricity is around 60 exajoules per year, but if we want to try to provide decent living standards to the numerous people in third-world countries, energy usage will skyrocket. Let's make an estimate of a future world power consumption of 1.6 zettajoules per year. That means 8 kilotons of helium-3 per year. Wow, that's not so much! Of course, in practice there may be singificant inefficiencies in the process, and world energy demand may increase more than I'm projecting, but still nothing close to the 100 megaton number Turbo10k gave.

Deuterium-helium fusion would give some 580 PJ/ton of helium-3 or 350 PJ/ton of total fuel (but deuterium is available locally and relatively cheap), at the cost of some neutron radiation from side reactions.

Proton-boron fusion would produce some 75 PJ/ton of boron-11 or just slightly less when also counting needed hydrogen (which, again, is very cheap), which sounds bad until you realize that boron-11, which fairly costly, is much cheaper than helium-3. The needed 22 kilotons or so of annual boron-11 annually is well within current boron production. Which is unfortunate, because unless shipping helium-3 from the gas giants becomes so easy that it's cheaper than boron is today, it's hard to justify using it. Of course, helium-3 is more abundant in the gas giants than boron-11 is on Earth, but extracting it and shipping it back are difficult. (Helium-3 would still be useful for applications where high energy density is necessary, such as spacecraft propulsion. Or you could technobabble up some excuse why proton-boron fusion turns out to be unexpectedly challenging.)

I may have made a mistake in my calculations. Even if I didn't, they are only approximate. Use at own risk.


I also tried to calculate the effective exhaust velocity for a deuterium-helium fusion rocket, and arrived at a value of 15000 km/s (average of about 37500 km/s in hydrogen and 9375 km/s in helium), which is... significantly higher than other estimates I've read, so I'm probably doing something wrong.


The real value of fusion power, helium-3 or otherwise, seems to lie not in providing an economic justification for colonizing space, but rather in making such cheap enough that we can afford to do it even if there isn't an economic justification.

Or you can try to figure out something (besides space travel) that is taking truly huge energy demands...

Byron said...

An uncut He3-D reactor will be about 1,000,000 m/s, if I remember correctly. Bremsstralung is a huge problem, and likely one that will kill He-He fusion. When I was doing my project, I tried 500 keV for the engine. When I finished the math, I was loosing about five times as much to bremsstralung as I was getting from the reaction. I redid it at 100 keV and it was much better. Compared to the X-ray shielding required for an He-He reactor, the neutron shielding for a He-D reactor will be minuscule.
We can get a rough estimate of how much a reactor will weigh here.
And yes, that's what I meant about the monopoly.

Milo said...

What's causing the bremsstralung, here? I thought that's what happens when particle radiation hits the wrong kind of shielding. If you have proper particle shielding, or if you use electromagnetic fields to confine your charged particles, you shouldn't get much bremsstralung... or am I missing something?

For aneutronic fusions (including mostly aneutronic fusion like deuterium-helium), most of the products will be protons and heavy ions. Both of these, ideally, you would want to arrest and convert their kinetic energy to electricity (for power production), or direct out the back of your ship (for thrust).

Milo said...

Hmm, I've estimated that a good Earth-Saturn passenger liner would need at least 300 km/s @ 1 centigee. With the optimal power density of 10 MW/ton suggested by that article (not that much higher than a good fission plant today, only an order of magnitude or so), and assuming the Atomic Rockets site's power requirement formula is correct (power needed = 1/2 * ship mass * acceleration * exhaust velocity), and assuming that 10% of the ship is taken up by the power plant (gotta leave room for propellant and payload!), that means I'll have to throttle down to 20 km/s exhaust velocity, necessitating a mass ratio of... umm... impractically large.

You could try to throttle down to a lower acceleration, but at one milligee, the slow acceleration means that even a brachistochrone transfer takes 8.6 months, comparable to a Hohmann transfer to Mars. Possibly someone will be willing to colonize at those trip times, but tourism (and warfare) will not happen.

A good interplanetary express ship (for very lenient values of "express") would need something more like 100 MW/ton of reactor mass, or even 1 GW/ton.

(This doesn't account for high-mass-ratio ships increasing in acceleration as they lose propellant.)


You know, the more I study this stuff, the more I come to realize that not only will we need some sort of FTL technology to travel across the stars, but we also need FTL (or at least a similarly radically new form of transportation) to travel very far inside a single star system. What's the point of studying the physics behind how realistic rocket move, when the answer is "not much"?

Albert said...

Huh, looks like a link to this paper may be useful here.
Comparison of Fusion/Antiproton Propulsion
Systems for Interplanetary Travel
Follows fusion concepts from choosing the best kinds of fuel to estimating the ship performance. With buckets of high-end formulas that I barely understand, btw.

I have no idea if those concepts are too optimistically ballpark, but the three fusion concepts from it get 6, 10, and 110 kw/kg, and all have a pretty respectable performance. (the first two are good for one-month inner-system, the last one is a 6-8 milligee torchship that theoretically gets to pluto in ONE YEAR and has enough fuel to get back home.)

I bunched those concepts in my spreadsheet here if you want to try them in the solar system with Atomic Rocket's formulas.

Milo said...
What's causing the bremsstralung, here? Plasma can create bremssralung even on its own (according to the above paper).
That's one of the reasons why torchships engine plumes are (theoretically) so darn obvious to anyone with a telescope.

"What's the point of studying the physics behind how realistic rocket move, when the answer is "not much"?"
Keep hoping someone with better knowledge proves you wrong.
That's the only thing that keeps me dreaming even when facing bad numbers.

-Albert

Albert said...

also, there are fusion-fission hybrids that may suck for a spacecraft (loads of neutrons and radiaoctive material), but look rather attractive as a planetside power plant.

-Albert

Rick said...

As Milo discovered, fast travel to the outer planets - meaning weeks, not months - requires enormous drive power output, approaching torch levels. (But still delivering only tens of milligees of acceleration.)

The problem is that for a brachistochrone or quasi-brachistochrone (with a coasting phase), power requirement scales to the inverse cube of travel time. To go twice as fast you have to reach twice the speed in half the time, thus 4x the acceleration, but you also need twice the specific impulse, thus 8x the power output.

This is a tough environment for tech progress, because major design improvements yield only modest performance increase.

Milo said...

I'm willing to settle for "months, not years". (Based on Age of Sail travel times.)

Getting to Mars in months or the outer solar system in years is within the reach of near-future fission technologies (fission-thermal, fission-electric, fission-fragment). Faster than that is beyond the plausible capability of fission, except for some optimistic projections of nuclear salt-water rockets.

Unlike most people I don't find Mars to be a particularly interesting destination - if we're just looking for real estate then Luna is more attractive in most respects (especially due to its proximity, easily reachable with even non-nuclear near-future tech and if we're looking for natural life then various gas giant moons (especially Titan) are better bets Similarly, Mercury doesn't seem so hot (pun intended) considering that if we have the energy to get there in the first place, then we don't need solar power that much. So I don't particularly care about expanding beyond the Earth sphere if we're still stuck in the inner solar system.

Byron said...

Milo, I'm in complete agreement on Mars. It really has nothing to recommend it yet, and terraforming will take time.
As was mentioned, bremsstralung occurs when electrons in the plasma are captured by the ions there. It scales with both temperature and with particle density.
I'm not going to totally remove rocket travel to the outer planets from the realm of possibility. All it requires is insanely powerful fusion drives. The engine from the Aurek is a prime example of that. It's hideously overpowered for Earth-Luna runs, but would be excellent for Mars or the outer planets, properly scaled. It puts out 4.06 GW/ton, and is completely in line with the math at the link in my last post. That makes it theoretically plausible, though not likely. If we postulate those, outer-planetary colonization is likely in the long term. In DOTB, though, it hasn't happened, mostly because people are so used to short transits they don't want to go that far. What we really need is a genius who makes He3 fusion practical quickly, hopefully right after I get out of college. Then I can move to Luna, and we can get our torchships.

Thucydides said...

I note that Robert Brussard had calculated a fusion powered ship could go from LEO to Saturn in about 2 months (including a coast period), so something is out of whack in the various calculations. Perhaps it is in Brussard's caculations BTW.

I found a table (In Orion's Arm of all places) which lays out various fusion reactions and the energy released; of note is the p+11B reaction has a theoretical ISP of 1,000,000, which should get you from point A to point B in a hurry. Diluting the pure fusion plasma with remass like Hydrogen, ammonia or even water increases thrust, but reduces ISP to a mere 5000 in the case of water.

With these sorts of performance figures, the Solar economy will resemble the age of sail to a certain extent (trip times measured in months). If even higher performance is wanted, then ships will either have to use beam core antimatter drives or be dependent on improbably high energy power beams delivering energy to the drive (to eliminate the mass of the powerplant).

Albert said...

Milo said....
I'm willing to settle for "months, not years". (Based on Age of Sail travel times.)
Well, according to my spreadsheet, the fusion concept (from the paper above) with 100 kw/kg needs a little less than 3 months to get to Jupiter. (the paper states 84 days as one-way trip)
The more puny one at 10 kw/kg needs 5 months. (and the paper states 114 days for one-way trip, which isn't that far)

Both have less than 50% fuel fraction, but accelerations between 8 and 2 milligees.
And put out between 50 and 6 Gigawatts of thrust power.

A NERVA concept needs 6 months to get to Mars.

Fission electric in general is totally unable to provide anything vaguely resembling decent travel times.
Simply because the power plant's low kw/kg ratio even for the most optimistically predictions (both for solar and nuclear) stomps the engine's no-matter-how-high kw/kg ratio.

If you want half-decent travel times you must use a self-powered engine. Putting out several Gw of thrust power, no less.

Unlike most people I don't find Mars to be a particularly interesting destination.
Yeah, I would really like to see a space program bent to exploit economically NEO asteroids.
Planting flags on Mars (or on the Moon for that matter) is and has always been pointless for the long term. Everyone rushes to be the first, but noone has reasons to set up colonies.
Speak to people of GOLD, PLATIMUN, RARE EARTH METALS. Asteroids contain them by the bucketload (most sources of them here on earth are old impact sites, go figure).
If noone cares of some rocks from Mars (relatively), much more will be interested by shiny stuff from asteroids (electronics mostly). Let layperson ignorance do its work and...
Gold Rush IN SPAAACE! :)

-Albert

Byron said...

The dilution depends on how you mix the plasma. My drive uses Lunox as remass, but it's a direct plasma mixing, not thermal. Thermal is going to be lower ISP, for sure, but I don't know if it'd be that bad. It depends on how much you add. That's a nice thing about fusion drives. You can scale thrust and ISP.

Byron said...

Albert, if we're going for PGMs, it's far easier to go to Luna. Given that they aren't falling down the gravity well of Earth and burning up, it's likely there's hundreds thousands of tons of class M asteroid on the surface in reasonably intact chunks. Look up Moonrush for more on that. The point is that it's not moving around, we don't have to go far to get it, and we also will have ice in reasonably close proximity. I agree that we need a reason to go, but Luna, despite the gravity well, is better than asteroids that go whizzing by at high velocity, making moving to and from them hard.

Milo said...

I agree that Luna should be our primary objective at this point (as far as manned exploration is concerned), and quite possibly our only objective until outer-system-capable craft are developed. I don't particularly care if the original incentive for setting up a colony there is the easy spacelaunches from Luna's gravity well, or building an atmosphere-free space telescope that can afford to be larger than ones that need to be launched into orbit, or mining helium-3, or mining titanium, or mining gold, or space tourism, or researching/exploring Luna itself, or researching the effects of low-but-significantly-more-than-zero gravity on the human body, or just proving we can. A sufficiently advanced colony with a good industrial base is likely to eventually dabble in all of the above. First, however, we need to have a colony.


And Albert, yes, I calculated that a 100 MW/ton reactor (= 100 kW/kg, I'm just used to seeing ship masses quoted in tons) would be sufficient to reach Jupiter and Saturn at tolerable speeds. A 10 MW/ton reactor, which was the most optimistic estimate of Byron's link, won't. A 1 GW/ton reactor would probably shift you around quite comfortably. A true torchship, in the sense of "can pull off a 1 gee brachistochrone trajectory", would require vastly more, maybe 500 GW/ton at a pinch?

Thucydides said...

NEO's need even less delta V than trips to the Moon, so one of the arguments for going to the Moon is not supported. Moving mass around in zero G is also much easier.

The only reason to have industry on the Moon is to exploit a stable platform with some gravity, but this is also weak; a rotating platform in free space can have any arbitrary value of "G" that the user wants, as well as constant exposure to vacuum, solar energy and low launch energy approaches and departures for raw materials and products.

The only other reason is to mine some very valuable material (3He), which more than pays the costs of mining and processing at $8 million/kg in 2000 dollars. Even dredging asteroid impact sites for valuables will come in a distant second to that (and I have argued the specialty costs of doing so might render the Moon vulnerable to being bypassed as cheaper sources become available).

The other real show stopper is the 14 day light/dark cycle, which requires some pretty intensive energy usage to overcome, or equally large building projects (a Pearson elevator could support and stabilize a large mirror farm at L1 to illuminate the surface and generate energy during periods of darkness).

I know many of you are "Lunatics" at heart, so perhaps the best way to address these issues is to suggest the real reason to settle on the Moon is to escape from real or imagined tyranny on Earth, and create a self sustaining economy and ecology that has little or no connection to Earth.

In terms of warfare, the objective might become control of NEO's to exploit resources and deny them to opponents. Fragile infrastructure like Pearson elevators and mirror farms either need extensive protection, or are avoided altogether as leaving the surface too exposed to risk. The ability to get to and from NEO's and do industrial work in space would provide the basis of a capable space navy, as well as the logistical underpinnings of the society and the iliary forces it creates.

Milo said...

I don't know how close NEOs can be found (and, as Byron points out, how fast they're going relative to us), but I'd presume you need to at least escape Earth's gravity first. Even when you're already all the way out to Luna's orbit, Earth's escape velocity is still some 1.4 km/s, or over half of what it'd take to land on Luna - better, but not that much better. And Luna has the advantage that you can travel between different mining sites with a cheap moon buggy, rather than a spacecraft.

The only alternative that strikes me as at all feasible is hollowing a habitat directly into a suitable NEO, possibly spinning up the entire carbonaceous chondrite for gravity as though it's a space station, and using that as your space colony instead of Luna.

Milo said...

As for day/light cycles, well, the difficulty of solving that depends on how much light you want.

Your main concern will probably be photosynthesis for plants. This requires a fair amount of light, but it only needs to cover your farmlands. Maybe. I don't know how long typical plants can survive extended dark periods (while still getting as much light as darkness in total) - although they're bound to have figured out a way, since such conditions exist on Earth near the poles. Possibly bringing in the right plants (or selectively breeding the ones we have to adapt for local conditions, something farmers have been doing for thousands of years) would remove the need for artificial lighting at all.

If you want to provide light for people to see by, then that will be no more difficult than street lighting on Earth today. Okay, maybe a little more difficult if you want daylight intensity street lights, but lighting still isn't going to be remotely your biggest power drain.

Finally there is the option of building your colony (or at least its farmlands) at one of the peaks of eternal light, which are conveniently near the north pole (where water supplies are located).

Byron said...

Power can be dealt with on Luna without solar or nukes. If you dig a deep hole, and put a big black panel on the surface, and connect the two with a thermocouple, you should get power probably 24 or more days a cycle.
The problems I see with NEOs are limited exposure time and distance. There aren't many that dip inside luna, and they're only there for a short time. Plus, you have 4X delta-V for intercepts. Go out, stop, match orbits, then return to Earth. Luna allows long-term bases, minimal light lag, and, with proper technology, low launch costs by mass driver. I think it'd be technologically easier to go there than to an NEO for metals. According to the NEO approach list here most of them seem to be around 10 km/s relative and around 50 Lunar Distances away. That's far harder to meet than a lunar landing would be. I understand the idea, but it seems like a lot of work to do when we have a lot of the same stuff on Luna, and closer with consistent access. To get to one of your class M NEOs we have to first identify it, then go out and meet it, then do our mining or diversion before it gets back to Earth. Most of the ones with small relative Vs have magnitudes in the upper 20s, putting them under 50m. Even the twenty with the lowest relVs, according to JPL, are out 5 to 10 LD, making it hard to catch. Oh, and only about 10% are class M. That doesn't mean much when they're collected in close proximity, but when you have to hunt them down...

Albert said...

Milo said....
A 10 MW/ton reactor, which was the most optimistic estimate of Byron's link, won't. But the concepts from that paper linked above manage to get to jupiter in half-a-year with a 11 and a 6 MW/ton reactor.
And my spreadsheet confirms.

I don't know how close NEOs can be found (and, as Byron points out, how fast they're going relative to us), but I'd presume you need to at least escape Earth's gravity first.
To go anywhere you need to achieve orbit first.
According to wikipedia article NEOs orbit from 0.983 to 1.3 AU from the sun.
There are 7 thousands of NEOs, of which around a hundred comets.

hollowing a habitat directly into a suitable NEO, possibly spinning up the entire carbonaceous chondrite for gravity spinning requires an uniform mass distribution, while artificial cylindrical space station concepts have stability problems, an asteroid will be much worse.

Byron said...
Plus, you have 4X delta-V for intercepts. Go out, stop, match orbits, then return to Earth.
What? It's a relatively slow earth-orbit/target-rock-orbit to set up the mining base, then a faster ship sends in the personnell (if needed at all) then you start sending back to Earth some cheap cargo barges on low-energy trajectories.

And when you have finished, you move the base from an asteroid to the next, the mining ship never gets back home.

About the "noone cares of mapping their orbits", well that's plain wrong. Asteroids hit Earth in the past, and would be smart to identify and track them.

But anyway, I don't have a precise love for NEOs, I picked them as a new, relatively unheard of, gimmick to give new interest in space.

My main point was "stop exploring, start exploiting". Then you can masquerade additional exploring as prospecting and milk the cash cow as much as you want.

-Albert

Byron said...

I agree, but would add that exploration has historically been driven by exploitation.
Even then, I am just saying that if we're looking for extraterrestrial sources of PGMs, we should look to Luna first. There are ways to prospect from orbit, and we can probably get that done with a single probe. Then, we just find a high concentration, close to a pole, and set up a base. It's close to Earth, safe, and not much more expensive then setting up on a big NEO.

Milo said...

"But the concepts from that paper linked above manage to get to Jupiter in half-a-year with a 11 and a 6 MW/ton reactor. And my spreadsheet confirms."

Half a year is a pretty long time even compared to Age of Sail travel times, and that's just to get to the nearest gas giant. Saturn is almost twice as far away as Jupiter, and Uranus is about twice as far away as Saturn. Nevermind Neptune!

My numbers are based (fairly arbitrarily) on trying to get to Saturn in 100 days, with 10% of the ship being taken up by the reactor (gotta leave room for payload, propellant, etc.). Does your spreadsheet agree with my numbers given those assumptions?

Milo said...

To expand on Rick's "power requirement scales to the inverse cube of travel time", I did the math and found that for brachistochrone trajectories: time^3 = 8 * mass * distance^2 / power / ln(massratio). Note that I don't know if a brachistochrone trajectory is always the most efficient way to make use of any given reactor (in flat space).

Another way to put this is time^3 = 8 * distance^2 / (power density * reactor fraction * -ln(1 - propellant fraction)). (Your ship is divided as per payload fraction = 1 - reactor fraction - propellant fraction.) A good fission-electric reactor might put out power density = 2 MW/ton. Fission-thermal reactors have more power density, at the cost of being far more limited in how much they can throttle down thrust in exchange for exhaust velocity (so they won't be following anything resembling brachistochrone trajectories and will instead just try to maximize their delta-vee, since their thrust is already as good as it'll ever need to be).

Milo said...

For what it's worth, even a photon engine would theoretically be able to put out 1 gee if you can produce 3 TW/ton ship, or 1 decigee with 300 GW/ton ship. These can probably afford to have a little more than my previous 10% number of the ship as reactor, given that they don't need any propellant. A photon engine with an acceleration of 1 gee and a delta-vee of 10000 km/s (a quite literal torch rocket!) would need to convert 1/30th of its mass into energy over the course of the trip. That's a lot of antimatter! Compare with my estimate of 50 GW per ton ship for a more sane torch engine, or 10 MW per ton ship for a somewhat plausible fusion rocket. (Remember, the numbers I gave previously were per ton reactor, not per ton ship.)

Also note that 5 kilotons of mass-energy gives you about as much energy as the Chicxulub crater.

Milo said...

Regarding the "optimal use of power" thing, I did some more math and came to the conclusion that you get the fastest trip time not with a brachistochrone trip, but with 1.26 times the brachistochrone's acceleration and 0.7937 times the brachistochrone's delta-vee. (These numbers multiply to 1 to ensure you're using the same amount of power. Well, or almost so, allowing for rounding errors. The precise number is the cube root of two.) This takes 94.5% of the time of a pure brachistochrone transfer for the same power, which is a rather tiny improvement. (Again, the exact number is 3/4*cbrt(2).) You will spend exactly 1/3 of this trip coasting (and consequently, 1/3 accelerating and 1/3 decelerating).

The formula I used for this is: time = distance/(deltav/2) + (deltav/2)/acceleration (capped by deltav <= acceleration * time), along with the observation that for a pure brachistochrone path (deltav = acceleration * time) both terms will be equal.

Assuming I did everything right, this gives an optimal time = cbrt(27/4 * mass * distance^2 / power / ln(massratio)), provided your main bottleneck is power but you can use it any way you wish.

Since this is such a tiny improvement, it's not a big loss to perform calculations using the normal brachistochrone equations. Note, though, that while this one-third-coasting trip uses the same power, it saves quite a bit of energy due to keeping the engine running shorter (37% savings!), which may be the prime reason for choosing this mission plan in practice.

This is still calculating in flat space and ignoring the effects of orbital mechanics. It's also still ignoring the fact that your acceleration will increase as you use up propellant.

Turbo10k said...

FINAL CUT:

If it is not too demanding, can one of you geeky mathsheads give some sort of sliding scale/excel sheet/set examples for mission times over power requirements. Or at least the link. Pretty please...

S: The 100 Megaton figure was based on the potential cargo capacity of a single Orion surface-to-orbit launcher, time a hundred for a looong trip. It was meant to be the Earth-to-Other ship, carrying rare processed chemicals, expensive electronics, mining equipment and bulk mechanical stuffs needed to make a space hab in one load. Coming back, loaded with gases such as He3 and space industry products, an inbound Other-to-Earth ship would be Much less massive, up to the kiloton range maximum. This leads to a situation where you have E-t-O ships being big, heavy and slow, then returning much less loaded and proportionately faster, zipping back for a second load.

Albert said...

Milo said...
Saturn is almost twice as far away as Jupiter, and Uranus is about twice as far away as Saturn. Nevermind Neptune!
Huh. Depends from what you expect to set up. If you want to set up a thriving Earth-centric economy with colonies, I agree on your "no way".
But Jupiter colonists won't be that far from Saturn, so you can still have some kind of economy.
In my concept most trips farthest from Jupiter will be one-way to build new colonies far from "infidels" or Earth anyway.

My numbers are based (fairly arbitrarily) on trying to get to Saturn in 100 days, with 10% of the ship being taken up by the reactor (gotta leave room for payload, propellant, etc.).
More or less, yes.
I personally content myself with relatively fast Jupiter access anyway.

Turbo10k said...
can one of you geeky mathsheads give some sort of sliding scale/excel sheet/set examples for mission times over power requirements.
Sure, Rick posted his own here, and in the last comments you find links to my spreadsheet too. Both are based on formulas from Atomic Rockets.

-Albert

Milo said...

I just gave the formula above:
time^3 = 27/4 * mass * distance^2 / power / ln(massratio)
or:
time^3 = 27/4 * distance^2 / (power density * reactor fraction * -ln(1 - propellant fraction))

Assuming a ship with a mass distribution of about 40% propellant, 20% reactor, and 40% payload (probably not actually the most efficient loadout), I find that:
ln(massratio) = 1/2
reactor fraction * -ln(1 - propellant fraction) = 1/10
time^3 = 67.5 * distance^2 / power density

If we pretend we can ignore orbital mechanics and treat orbital radii as distances in flat space, then we get the following numbers:
Earth radius: 149.59789 Gm
Mars radius: 227.93664 Gm (78.33875 Gm from Earth)
Jupiter radius: 778.41201 Gm (628.81412 Gm from Earth)
Saturn radius: 1426.7254 Gm (1277.12751 Gm from Earth)
Uranus radius: 2870.9722 Gm (2721.37431 Gm from Earth)
Neptune radius: 4498.2529 Gm (4348.65501 Gm from Earth)

So we get...

2 MW/ton (feasible high-end fission-electric reactor):
Earth-Mars: 68.48 days
Earth-Jupiter: 274.5 days
Earth-Saturn: 440.3 days
Earth-Uranus: 729 days
Earth-Neptune: 996.5 days

10 MW/ton (one article's high-end fusion power prediction):
Earth-Mars: 40.05 days
Earth-Jupiter: 160.55 days
Earth-Saturn: 257.5 days
Earth-Uranus: 426.36 days
Earth-Neptune: 582.76 days

100 MW/ton (another article's high-end fusion power prediction):
Earth-Mars: 18.6 days
Earth-Jupiter: 74.5 days
Earth-Saturn: 119.5 days
Earth-Uranus: 197.9 days
Earth-Neptune: 270.5 days

1 GW/ton (magitech):
Earth-Mars: 8.628 days
Earth-Jupiter: 34.59 days
Earth-Saturn: 55.47 days
Earth-Uranus: 91.86 days
Earth-Neptune: 125.55 days

Sorry about the poor formatting. This blog will only allow so much.

Be warned that these numbers are given to far more digits of accuracy than are actually present. Even assuming I didn't make a mistake somewhere. And ignoring the known inaccuracies in the model I already mentioned. For easily estimating further numbers, remember that multiplying power by 1000 will divide time by 10.

If you want more numbers, use these formulas to calculate them yourself. Or at least give me a concrete problem to calculate.

Milo said...

Turbo10k:

"The 100 Megaton figure was based on..."

100 megatons still strikes me as a pretty large number. Also, if those 100 megatons are on an Earth-to-Elsewhere transport, then they probably only need to land in the comparatively gentle gravity of a gas giant moon. It's lifting off from Earth that's gonna get tricky.


Albert:

"But Jupiter colonists won't be that far from Saturn,"

Yes they will. Distances in the outer solar system are quite large. Saturn only comes about as close to Jupiter at closest approach as Jupiter is to Earth at any time. And closest approaches between two outer solar system objectes are rare (Jupiter-Saturn is actually the pessimal case between any two planets in the solar system, with closest approaches being just a trifle under 20 years apart!).


"In my concept most trips farthest from Jupiter will be one-way to build new colonies far from "infidels" or Earth anyway."

Yes, colonization might happen with trip times in excess of a few months, but tourism and warfare will not. In such a setting the main story potential would be planetside, depicting life at one of the colonies with space travel playing little or no role in-story.

Milo said...

Errata: I read my table wrong. Jupiter-Saturn isn't the pessimal case between any two planets in the solar system, just the pessimal case from Jupiter to anywhere else in the solar system. Launch windows between two planets that are further out (Saturn-Uranus, etc.) are even worse.

Turbo10K said...

"It's lifting off from Earth that's gonna get tricky."

Sure, but it won't be done all at once. More likely over the down time between Hohmann windows. It is however the highest-end estimate though, the building-big-colony-from-scratch figure.

"Yes, colonization might happen with trip times in excess of a few months, but tourism and warfare will not."

Mentalities change in the space age. Warfare would be as drawn-out as in Ancient times, albeit with more time getting to the battlefield than staying there. I have doubts about space tourism. A trip to the Luna, Mars maybe, but to spend six months in a can, then wait at destination for six years before coming back is not very exciting...I think outer-planet trips are one for most people...

PS: Has anyone noticed, but time is VERY important in space. More so than space, wealth, technology is back home. At current trends, drive improvements over decades only reduce travel times by percentages, and travel to anywhere interesting takes up four economic cycles on Earth, today. Its seems to me that if someone decides to 'go out there', he'd better be mighty determined, as he might as well be dead for the people back on earth. You can't even exchange e-mail then!

Rick said...

Whew! Milo, thanks for that nifty travel time table. Very handy benchmarks! Note that it is most accurate at the high performance end, because space is effectively pretty flat for torchships.

Also, nice call on the quasi-brachistochrone orbit. My intuition was that coasting for about a third of the trip would be most efficient.

More broadly, I could argue that you may as well have interstellar scenarios as outer-system scenarios, since you need to make some operatic assumptions either way!

Citizen Joe said...

As far as trade goes, ya, Jupiter and Saturn are rarely anywhere near each other. That means you're pretty much going somewhere near the Sun (like Earth) and then back out. Things aren't so simple though, since you don't have to stop. So a trip from Jupiter to Earth and then to Saturn would take about twice the time as a trip from Jupiter to Saturn.

As far as trade and politics goes, I subdivided the solar system as follows:
Earth governs everything inside of Mars orbit.

Mars handles its orbit including the LaGrangian point plus the Asteroid belt. My setting has cyclers and belt miners. Shipments from the outer system usually offload at one of the L-stations and then get forwarded via cycler to Earth or the asteroid miners.

Jupiter covers the local area plus the Trojans. My setting takes advantage of Jupiter's radiation belt to harvest useful isotopes via cosmic ray spallation. It also houses a radiation treatment facility on Callisto where Jupiter's magnetic field actually cuts the ambient radiation to one seventh that of Earth.

Saturn just covers its local area (it has a lot of moons). My setting has Saturn set up as environmentalists and terraforming efforts. Ammonia from Titan is used for bulking up Mars atmosphere.

Uranus covers its local space as well. My setting has it primarily as a fusion fuel mining operation.

Neptune bases interstellar colonization and any areas not covered by the jurisdiction of the other planets. This is where the monstrously huge ships hang out including the 5 mile long laserstar with its helium fusion drive.

jollyreaper said...

Can you elaborate more on your setting?

Milo said...

"More broadly, I could argue that you may as well have interstellar scenarios as outer-system scenarios, since you need to make some operatic assumptions either way!"

I wouldn't say that. High-power-density reactors are "unobtainium", in the sense that we don't currently know how to build them, but we can calculate how they'd work if we did have them. You can also calculate what other systems you'd need to put on your fusion-torch ship.

By contrast, FTL drives need to be made up entirely from scratch, with the notable exception of the Alcubierre drive which may actualy be classifiable as unobtainium (if you find a particular Welsh chant that allows the creation of the necessary spacetime geometry, then we can calculate how the bubble would behave once created, although this would be annoyingly difficult due to not being doable within Newtonian mechanics). This makes it a lot harder to make them look believable. The issue is further complicated in that FTL also influences what other technology you need. For starters, how do you shoot at a ship that's surrounded by an Alcubierre warp bubble? That warping of space is bound to influence the behavior of incoming projectiles. And if you shoot a comparatively-stationary laser gun at a ship that's travelling faster than light, then you're essentially just trying to lob a "photon mine" in its path. To actually engage an enemy in a real shoot-out when the participants can go FTL, the weapons need to be FTL to. And if your weapons are magic, then so are your defenses against them. At this point you very rapidly hit the 100% magic mark, where practically none of the technology in your setting has any kind of physical basis whatsoever. You can try to get around this by having actual combat take place at STL speeds - but then you need to justify some way to allow an attacker to force a victim out of FTL, so you still need at least one magic weapon.

Of course as I observed before, it's seeming like the energy requirements for fast interplanetary travel by reaction engines are so huge (every spaceship crash is a Tsar Bomba) that it may be best to use FTL (or STL Alcubierre drives, etc.) even within the solar system, in which case of course, yes, so much for being able to calculate how your spaceships behave.

More importantly, if you do already have interstellar travel, then it would be rather embarassing if those interstellar ships, after dropping out of a three-hour hyperspace jump to a particular system, take three months of cruising to move over to the right planet in that system with their reaction engines. I generally feel that once your survey ship has defeated the interstellar void to visit an interesting system, it should be able to check up on individual planets in that system fairly easily - hours, at most. This is beyond the reach of anything short of relativistic speeds, which would make your ship a weapon of mass destruction. So it's better to use FTL for your interplanetary travel too. At which point why even study reaction engines, except maybe for use in orbit around a planet? It's also a good idea, when designing future history, to determine how good their interplanetary rockets got before (or after) they invented drives - did they ever reach unobtainium fusion torch levels? If you want to set a story in the solar system and are willing to accept Age of Sail travel times, then an unobtainium fusion torch is the most hard-science option, and gives reasonably tolerable results. But you're also giving them incredibly destructive weapons (Jon's law), which may be undesirable if you're just going to have reaction engines become obsolete as spaceships later anyway.

[to be continued, AKA I'm rambling again]

Milo said...

This is one of the fundamental problems with wormholes as justification of FTL. It just feels wrong that travelling to a wormhole - and thence to a different star system - can be so much easier than travelling to somewhere else in your own star system. (My other problem with wormholes is that unless they only form in very inconvenient locations, it isn't obvious why you'd need a spaceship at all. If you can connect two places without traversing the intervening space, then surely it's much easier to put your wormholes on a planet? But that feels wrong from an operatic standpoint.)

FTL drives that actually slide through space avoid that problem, but they run into the 100% magic problem from before.

It may be useful to think of FTL-equipped starships as not actually being spacecraft-as-we're-discussing-them, any more than an airplane is "a ground vehicle with some extra features". Sure, it has wheels and can taxi, but that isn't the main point. And they work with pretty simple ground travel technology. If you're eventually going to use airplanes as your fast travel mechanism, inventing Formula 1 racecars first doesn't help, nevermind maglev trains. And starship combat tactics will resemble rocket combat tactics about as much as sea-plane combat tactics resemble ship-of-the-line tactics.

The problem is that while rocket travel has known rules from which we can try to figure out how it'll behave, FTL travel doesn't. This makes it fundamentally harder to present FTL interestingly, as opposed to "you chant in Welsh and select your destination, and then move there at the speed of plot, possibly encountering some random Dangerous Phenomenon along the way that the author made up for this chapter and cannot in any way be predicted from the FTL drive's described rules".

Milo said...

What I like about hard science is emergent complexity - the way you can start with a fairly simple set of rules (like Newtonian mechanics) and then derive surprisingly intricate logical consequences (like the various behaviors we've ascribed to rocket travel), which differ intriguingly from our intuition, yet make perfect sense in context. No specific formula of Newton's says that spaceships "run on rails" - but we can derive that from our knowledge of inertia and the lack of friction in space. There is no inherent element of "cyclerite" that magically makes cyclers more or less useful, but we can still figure out what cyclers would be useful for even though Newton, when he wrote the formulas we're using, never even knew what a cycler is.

If I tell you an object is moving at 5 km/s, then you know not only how long it will take to get from point B to point A, but also how much damage it will do/take if it hits something, what kind of damage it will do/take if it hits something, how much effort it would take to get it to stop, etc. That's a lot of information from one number! And you get it for free.

By contrast, if I tell you an FTL starship is moving at 100 Gm/s, then you just know it's moving at 100 Gm/s. You don't even know if it will continue coasting at 100 Gm/s or not if you cut the engines. I could try to give rules for relevant situations, but it's hard to do so in a way that makes it look like the rules emerge in a logical fashion from the underlying physics, rather than being arbitrarily made up in a vacuum. And it has to look like the FTL physics wasn't designed specifically to allow FTL travel (even though it was) - rather, the physics doesn't explicitly care about us but we figured out how to use its emergent properties to our advantage.

So you can't build a proper fictional theory of physics simply by answering people's questions - since they'll always have more questions. You have to define a ruleset that's robust enough that it can calculate everything you need to know, as well as everything you don't currently care to know but might at some point in the future (the way Newton didn't know or care about cyclers).

This, needless to say, is hard.

Citizen Joe said...

Going FTL in real space defies our known laws of physics for matter. Even approaching light speed is problematic. Thus to attain FTL for plot device reasons you need to challenge some of those assumptions. Maybe you don't travel through real space. Maybe you use an unknown aspect of physics (and there is a lot of unknown out there). Maybe you don't move matter.

That being said, we know stuff goes FTL because it is observable. The universe is larger than it is old, which means it is expanding FTL. What is more, it seems to be accelerating. Personally, I think that the objects in the universe are moving at relatively slow speeds, but space itself is being created between them. If space can be created naturally, it is an easy jump to conclude that it can be collapsed (although there is no evidence of that... save maybe in a black hole). Combine the theory that gravity is warping of space by matter and the notion that space is being created and you have the foundation of a new branch of physics that allows you to manipulate time-space.

Byron said...

I agree on the FTL drive being hard to do plausibly. Then again, in the early days of SF, people were divided about how to do normal space travel. Still, the thing about FTL requiring it's own set of rules is sort of pointless. Real space has it's own rules. You can tell me how fast a ship is going, but it's only because I've taken physics and studied this stuff that I can find the rest of the answers. I know that space is frictionless, so I can get it's speed at any given point because of gravity. But I can only do that because someone gave those equations.
On incredibly destructive weapons, I have to somewhat disagree. I'm not arguing with the numbers, but the problem is that much of the KE is spent in accelerating remass. The best mass ratio is somewhere short of 4 (I'll look later. I worked it out.) Also, ships aren't the best weapons. They tend to be large and rather non-dense, meaning that they can be damaged with a minimum of trouble. Then, you just have to push it off course and move aside, or, if it's headed for Earth, just turn it into pieces that burn up in the atmosphere. It won't stop everyone, but nobody's used space-based kinetics so far, and I really don't see it being common as more than terrorism. Slamming airplanes into things kills them nicely, too. Just look at 9/11 or the kamikazes. However, we don't use planes to kill ships now. We use guided missiles. The point is, I'm not as worried about ships being used as weapons. The exhaust, however...

Milo said...

Cruise missiles are planes. They use jet engines and aerodynamic lift to reach their target.

Obviously planes meant to be used as projectile weapons are designed differently than ones meant to be used as passenger transports. However, the technology to make one also gave us the technology to make the other. And, as the 9/11 terrorist showed, in a pinch you can use a plane the "wrong way", getting less efficient results than a plane designed for the use you're putting it to, but still better than nothing.

Byron said...

That's my point exactly. We could use manned planes to sink ships, but we don't. We use missiles, unmanned planes, instead. Perhaps my choice of words was bad. I'm saying that, against a rational opponent, you really don't have to worry about having ships used as weapons.

Milo said...

But if you decide you have technology for torch ships, then it's quite likely you also have torch missiles. You also need to worry about accidental crashes.

If you have relativistic ships (needed to get anywhere near the interplanetary speeds that would be expected of an interstellar civilization), then you don't even have the "fusion reactors are too large to fit on a missile-sized vehicle" excuse to fall back on, since relativistic missiles would be strategic weapons and therefore valuable enough that they're worth building even if they need to be the size of a ship. (They would also lead to MAD.)

Byron said...

That's a whole nother can of worms. Torch and relativistic missiles are likely to be deadly, but at that sort of speed, a sand cloud could destroy the guidance system, and then you just have to dodge a little. Or you could blind it. Plus, there's the MAD and debris problems. I'm not saying it won't happen, but even if it does, it's going to be a strategic weapon, and those don't usually get used. I say strategic because getting up to high velocities (150 km/s ish) will take a lot of space even at high acceleration. Plus, there's the expense to consider. If fusion torches are very expensive, then it might make limited sense to use one on a missile. Again, we're looking at the new nukes of interplanetary warfare.

Rick said...

You are right that torch drives require magitech, but not magi-physics. But the real problem in the outer system is, I suspect, magi-economics and sociology.

I'm gonna have to bash on space colonization in general again in my next post, because this blog hasn't been getting enough comment traffic lately.

Milo said...

"magi-economics and sociology"

There is probably little motive to colonize beyond Luna unless we find some resource out there that's worth shipping back (i.e., easier to get there than here). With one exception: many gas giant moons (primarily Titan, but also Enceladus, Europa, Triton, even Io if it's not specifically life you're looking for, and maybe a few more in minor capacities) are of scientific interest. Scientists would love to be able to explore those places themselves rather than having to rely on probes that take years to arrive and have very limited equipment. Due to the distance, they would have an incentive to try to develop a base rather than just paying visits, although like the Antarctic research stations, this wouldn't be a full colony. Really though, if we've colonized Luna, we'll know roughly how to do it and the next colonization would be far easier, so people would be more open to the idea of colonizing further out once spaceship technology develops to the point of being able to take them that far.

Helium-3 has obvious appeal as a space resource. The real attraction is that it increases with distance. Here on Earth, it's extremely rare. On conveniently nearby Luna, it's more common, but still scarce. In the far-off gas giants, it's abundant. Thus helium-3 is distributed so as to give us increasing rewards for improving our space travel ability, while there's enough next-door (reachable with near-future technology) to tide us over and give us the fusion fuel we would need to launch a project to colonize the gas giants in the first place. Helium-3 gives both the motive and the means to get into space... which is just a little too convenient, to the point that we happily ignore details like the fact that no-one has managed to make a working fusion reactor yet, or that there exist other fusion reactions using more common materials.

But even if you accept a helium-3 economy, it's kind of desirable to have more than one trade good. It makes the economy feel more alive, and at the very least you need something for the inner solar system to ship back in return for all that helium-3 they're importing.

So I'm wondering what other materials can be more readily found in space than on Earth?

There are of course various currently-expensive materials that we would love to have more of, but for the most part those are materials which are actually rare in the universe at large - as opposed to helium, which is actually very common in the universe, and is only rare on Earth because it all escaped our gravity. Asteroids are ultimately made of the same stuff Earth is, so they would have similar compositions. However, there are many asteroids and so while on average resembling Earth, we could cherry-pick the ones that have the most useful compositions. Also there are many heavy metals that are common in Earth's core but depleted in its crust, and those might with some imagination be worth mining from iron-nickel asteroids. (We can rule out iron itself as a space mining resource, except for local in situ use - iron is so cheap that it can't possibly be worth the trouble.)

Citizen Joe said...

ALL of Earth's heavy metals have sunk to the core during the formation. What little we have in the surface has been deposited BY asteroids.

The question is more along the lines of what materials are worth transporting down Earth's gravity well. If you're not worried about cataclysmic events, then they all are... just nudge an asteroid into impacting Earth. More generally, you have to look at the cost of getting there, any in situ prep work, transport back to orbit and then transport from orbit, through the atmosphere and landing on the surface... preferably at a prepared location a la space shuttle gliding in. That last part is tricky, because landing with a shuttle requires getting a shuttle into orbit in the first place. If expendable drop pods could be fabricated in space (lunar orbit) then you don't have to send anything up the gravity well to get your reward. Although the landfills will rapidly fill with drop pods like old AOL cds.

That was one of the side industries I theorized where various epoxies and carbon fiber are used to make containers for raw materials. Likewise, if your ship is always in space you might want to keep it painted with epoxies (that cure without air) to adjust your absorption spectrum. It may even be one of those ElectroBake (tm) procedures where the ship's charge attracts the paint particles and then a microwave heater fuses the paint to your hull.

Helium 3 won't be the only product out there worth shipping, but it serves the same role as gold during the gold rush. As they say, the people that got rich were the ones that sold the shovels.

We still need a good way to get Helium down to the Earth's surface through the heat of re-entry. I wonder if it might be the reverse method of launch, in which you accelerate sideways to slow your orbit, but then roll to counteract gravity until you're in sync with the surface and then descend until you can use the atmosphere as remass for final landing.

Byron said...

Class M asteroids would probably be worth mining, and certainly the fragments on the Lunar surface would be. Honestly, I think that any Lunar colonization scheme would have to have a wide range of different goals. He3 might be the big attraction, but while we're there, there's a lot else we can do. Class M asteroid fragments could provide both raw materials for a base, and the extracted PGMs could be sent back to Earth. Other materials could also be launched into orbit, providing stuff to LEO far cheaper than sending it from Earth. If I'm going to build a base, I might as well put as many industries in as I can, so it's revenue stream won't dry up all at once.
As for lowering stuff through the atmosphere, I can definitely see stopping it in orbit, then letting it drop. The payload shouldn't be going too fast at impact, and if we use a mass driver or something, then we don't have to deal with breaking rockets.
Btw, I think one of Luna's main products will be Lunox, for use as remass. In most engines, it should have similar properties to hydrogen (if using mass-injection), and I really don't see anyone wasting valuable hydrogen on rockets. Lunox is going to be practically free, as a byproduct from any sort of extraction from the soil, while hydrogen has lots of uses, and the rest of uses allow it to be recycled.

Milo said...

Citizen Joe:

"ALL of Earth's heavy metals have sunk to the core during the formation. What little we have in the surface has been deposited BY asteroids."

By asteroids and volcanoes, which erupt magma from deeper in the planet and dump it on the surface.

Volcanoes are in short supply elsewhere in the solar system, except for Io.


"If expendable drop pods could be fabricated in space (lunar orbit) then you don't have to send anything up the gravity well to get your reward. Although the landfills will rapidly fill with drop pods like old AOL cds."

Solution: make the drop pods themselves out of something valuable!

Once the drop pod lands, you can recycle the materials it's made of (like Lunar titanium) for a different purpose, recouping much of the cost that went into making it. And you now get to make your pod from better materials, and you get to ship some extra materials down "for free"!


Byron:

"If I'm going to build a base, I might as well put as many industries in as I can, so it's revenue stream won't dry up all at once."

Exactly.

The biggest costs are going to be building a moonbase. Once the moonbase exists, the more infrastructure it already has, the cheaper it will be for an enterprising person to build "one more industry". Thus a healthy moonbase will fairly rapidly escalate from having only one major export (probably helium-3 or scientific research) and the range of infrastructure needed to support it and the people working on it, to having more small enterprises than you can shake a stick at.


"Btw, I think one of Luna's main products will be Lunox, for use as remass."

Spacefaring civilizations will be using lots and lots of reaction mass, and by its very nature reaction mass is something that is impractical to transport across space, simply because you'll be using more than you're carrying.

So the reaction mass your ships are designed for needs to be something that's cheaply available on every colonized world. (I.e., it might take some one-time costs to build the industry to process it, but once you have those the raw materials should be dirt cheap. Ideally, because they are literally made from dirt.)

Spaceships might be designed to be capable of running on multiple propellants depending on what's available, but I don't know how much you would have to compromise the rocket's performance to enable such a feature.


"and I really don't see anyone wasting valuable hydrogen on rockets"

On Luna, hydrogen is quite valuable. At the gas giants, it's even more plentiful than helium-3 - although it might not be worth extracting from that source. If the gas scooping vehicles are expensive to operate, then it might not be worth using them for carrying cheap cargo, only really valuable stuff like helium-3. This also depends on if those mining vehicles can separate the hydrogen, helium-3, and helium-4 onboard or whether they have to bring the gas back to the mining outpost for processing. In the latter case, you'll have lots and lots and lots of hydrogen as a waste product anyway.

I think Luna would probably import most of their hydrogen in the form of ammonia. They're going to need a lot of nitrogen.

jollyreaper said...

FTL jump drives -- yeah, I always thought it felt weird that traveling a score of lightyears takes seconds but getting into position to do so takes weeks is funny. For intra-system travel you could say jump drives still work but then you get to the question of what the limits are. Do you have to be a certain distance away from a gravity well for it to work? You're still affected by the primary's gravity even when you're out of planetary orbit. What's the limit?

I also agree that operatically speaking, it feels better to go into space to jump. If you do have an FTL jump drive and it's any kind of accurate, you could just go from planetary surface to planetary surface like a TARDIS.

But if you run with the idea of dirtside wormholes, you can get a setting like the Total Annihilation video game, galactic wars fought on the ground. One planet connects to the other from a gate. You have to control the planet to control the gate. Thus you're fighting a campaign across thousands of worlds to conquer the galaxy. In this setting, resorting to starships just isn't an option.

As for starships, I continue to believe they would make good improvised weapons. The only question, given the setting, is whether the defenders would have enough time to react to the attack. With 9-11, we're perfectly capable of shooting down the planes but weren't given enough time to react before they hit their targets. Imagine a gigaton freighter sitting in a parking orbit above a planet. The attacker presses the "go" button and the ship begins a deorbit burn to drop it squarely on the capital. How much time is there to react before it hits? What sort of weapons do they have? How are targets that big typically killed by those weapons? I know some of the x-ray lasers discussed would kill the electronics and fry the people inside a target but not blow it up. Could blowing the freighter into chunks not be much of an improvement because all the pieces are still going to enter the atmosphere?

For any setting I can think of, from the most rigorous of hard SF to squishy Star Wars stuff, planets seem like a losing proposition from a military perspective. You just can't defend them well. Ok, I'll take that back. Star Wars has the idea of planetary shields. But barring magictech like that, planets just seem too big and vulnerable. I suppose the same argument could be said for cities in general in the nuclear age so of course all our important infrastructure will be subterranean by now, right?

jollyreaper said...

"Really though, if we've colonized Luna, we'll know roughly how to do it and the next colonization would be far easier, so people would be more open to the idea of colonizing further out once spaceship technology develops to the point of being able to take them that far."

That's one argument I can accept. Colonists weren't sent to North America for philosophical reasons, they came for solid economic reasons, gold and tobacco. Later you had the religious types who made use of the existing technology -- they certainly couldn't have invented the seafaring tech themselves if it hadn't already been developed for commercial ventures. And once people were already here, they decided to move west. Nobody from Europe told them to.

So the big expense is getting out of Earth's gravity well. Once there's already a venture going on the moon, once we're mining trojan asteroids, maybe then the existing hardware will be cheap enough to repurpose for other means.

So say you have research stations out by Saturn. You end up getting quite the economy going there, just supporting all that. And then you get political troubles back in the earthsphere. Maybe dissidents feel it's worth the effort to head out to Saturn? Refit the habitats that were meant to draw a lot of solar energy since they're around Earth. They'll need more reactors to power the new lighting that will make up for what they're not getting from the sun, new ion engines to power the trip, and away they go.

Used to be it took a superpower to get a man up to suborbital space. A private company did it a few years back. Now an internet message board is gonna make an attempt.

http://www.boingboing.net/2010/08/23/danish-makers-aim-to.html

Something Awful forum goons have started a small scale space company and are sending up a crash test dummy on a sub orbital flight. They eventually want to send a person.

Byron said...

"On Luna, hydrogen is quite valuable. At the gas giants, it's even more plentiful than helium-3"
Point. Still, I was referring to Earth orbital space, not everywhere. As you said, people won't ship remass, except maybe on these hohmann barges of yours. Even then, I wouldn't bet on it.
I'm not so sure about importing ammonia. It seems easier to just bring the nitrogen. Why ship hydrogen when there's likely millions of tons at the poles? Plus, if we can scoop He3 from the atmospheres of gas giants, we can probably scoop nitrogen from Earth's. Plus, nitrogen will be found as a byproduct of He3 mining, there being as much nitrogen as helium by weight in the regolith (reference).
And from what I've read, all the current platinum-group metal deposits are asteroid impact sites.

Byron said...

Jollyreaper, there is a reason nobody uses planes anymore to try to sink ships. Actually, there are two.
1. Planes are easier to shoot down than missiles.
2. They're more expensive, and the pilot is a lot more expensive.
Both will hold true in space, particularly for civilian ships. They won't be designed to survive an atmospheric reentry, at least not with any velocity. I believe the rule of thumb is something like 10 tons/square meter to come down with a decent velocity. Your gigaton freighter (which is rediculously large, btw) is unlikely to make it down intact enough, even if it has the sectional density. Plus, shooting it would lessen the immediate ground consequences. The energy would be released in the upper atmosphere, where it would affect weather patterns, but that's not going to kill as many people as hitting a major city. And it will take quite a while to get down. You have to burn a decent bit of the way around the planet. And everyone can see what you're doing. And, if your drive is powerful enough to break this freighter quickly, then it's a powerful weapon in it's own right. My Aurek, with 13 GW, vaporizes over 80 tons of basalt during it's 40 second takeoff. That's after I tried to minimize the damage done by the engine. If the freighter can get down in one piece, just hover it over the target city, and run the drive at 1 G. The damage will likely be much larger. Still, we're dealing with warfare tactics here, not terrorism.

jollyreaper said...

@Byron The use of a civilian ship as a weapon is an example of improv warfare. Obviously a purpose-built weapon will be more effective than a hijacked civilian vehicle.

The question of just how effective an attack by a ship like that would be depends on how big and fast it is along with the weapons that could counter it, as I already pointed out.

As for the usefulness of the weapon, that depends on how accurately it can be dropped. If I could hit a pinpoint target with the freighter, it's a good weapon. If I'm lucky to drop it on the intended continent, that's a terror weapon more than anything else. It's like the V1 and V2 -- powerful weapons but useless from a military perspective because you couldn't properly target anything.

As for how much would survive to make it to the surface, that all depends on the engine mounted on the freighter, performance, the weapons used against it, so on and so forth.

I would certainly agree that an improv attack like this would best work as a sneak attack. It has to be unexpected and also rely on the degree of uncertainty as to what the attacker is intending. Obviously, that worked better on 9-11 because everyone assumed the hijacked planes were going to be landed and the hostages used as bargaining chips, people weren't expecting suicide attacks. A freighter beginning a deorbiting burn couldn't have any level of confusion as to intent.

Milo said...

Byron:

"I'm not so sure about importing ammonia. It seems easier to just bring the nitrogen."

Our industries use ammonia as the starting point in the manufacturing process for almost all nitrogen-based chemicals we make, importantly including artificial fertilizer. Fixing ammonia from pure nitrogen gas is a (relatively) difficult and expensive process, due to nitrogen's extreme inertness, so it's probably better to do so somewhere that hydrogen is abundant. Ammonia is 82% nitrogen by mass, so you're not losing much.

When you actually do want pure nitrogen gas - and you will, a lot, for filling the atmosphere in your bubble dome - you can get it quite easily by setting your ammonia on fire. You get some handy water as a side product. Setting stuff on fire isn't difficult - oxygen is as dirt-cheap as anything can possibly get.

However the fact that ammonia (or nitrogen) is a fairly cheap material that needs to be shipped in large bulk counts against the prospects of transporting it into space. It may indeed be easier to scoop nitrogen from the upper atmosphere without bothering to land on the surface.


"(reference)"

Thank you for that link! It's been so hard to find information on nitrogen/carbon abundances in the solar system. All I knew is that none of the minerals commonly cited to be on the moon seem to contain any. Do you have data for other places (Mars, gas giant moons, asteroids)?

The Kuiper belt has very high concentrations of volatiles like ammonia, but it's very hard to reach all the way out there. There are probably decent deposits in asteroids closerby. Anyway, Earth, Titan, and Triton are the only places where gaseous nitrogen is easier to come by than ammonia.

Carbon dioxide, at least, seems to be reasonably available on Mars, in the atmosphere and on the poles.


"And from what I've read, all the current platinum-group metal deposits are asteroid impact sites."

"Mineable deposits of precious metals usually form as a result of the erosion of ultrabasic rocks", which are of volcanic origin.

It's annoying how sometimes I think I know something but then have so much trouble digging up good references :(


"Both will hold true in space, particularly for civilian ships. They won't be designed to survive an atmospheric reentry, at least not with any velocity."

In fact, they might be intentionally designed to burn up on reentry, or at least on an uncontrolled reentry. The people on board wouldn't survive a crash like that anyway, so you might as well make things safer for the people below you.


"Your gigaton freighter (which is rediculously large, btw)"

Hmm, yeah. The heaviest ocean supertanker of today is 650 kilotons. I think we can rule out anything more than a megaton or so in the midfuture, and that's a stretch.

jollyreaper said...

Weird, email comments are not matching posted comments.

"Planetary defenses, like coastal batteries and fortifications of previous eras, have a dollar-for-dollar advantage in combat over spaceships, at the cost of not having the ability to project force away from the planets like spaceships.

It helps to remember that enemies won't be shooting at your planet, they'll be shooting at particular objects on the planet. Otherwise you end up with replays of the Tunguska event, doing truly spectacular damage to the middle of nowhere killing no-one. "

This raises an interesting question -- just what are the attackers seeking to accomplish? If we're talking about a single ship in orbit over a great big planet, that's rather like the danger facing US carrier battle groups. They're big, obvious targets and much cheaper weapons could be fired at them from the coastal clutter.

But if the attackers remain beyond the range of the planetary defenses, if their reletavistic kill vehicles are coming in from deep space and that's the first you see of them, the situation becomes something else.

This comes back to a question of limited or unlimited warfare. If the Mongols were fighting the Iraq war, they'd just kill everyone in the whole goddamn country and take the oil. The political realities of the current age deny us that option so our actions are constrained to the point of being unable to win; this was a completely foreseeable outcome which is why the first Iraq War was never pushed that far in the first place.

So if the attacker is trying to capture an intact planet, if he's trying to limit the damage, then I think the vulnerabilities you mention of ships in orbit could be a factor. But if we're talking about total war, I'm struggling to imagine a good counter to the RKV. Super-duper particle beam weapons, counter-RKV's with super-fast drives, magic force fields?

What you mentioned about just blasting a crater in an uninhabited and useless part of the world, if the crater's big enough it doesn't matter where you hit, assuming your goal is to wreck the biosphere in the first place.

Byron said...

Milo:
"Do you have data for other places (Mars, gas giant moons, asteroids)?"
Sorry, no. That data came from Apollo, and I stumbled across it during my colonization project last year. There won't be anything like it elsewhere, as we don't have pristine samples of anything else.

"Mineable deposits of precious metals usually form as a result of the erosion of ultrabasic rocks, which are of volcanic origin."
I've read that the Sudbury Basin is an old impact crater, and that there's some debate about Merensky Reef.

"Ammonia is 82% nitrogen by mass, so you're not losing much."
That 18% is still a lot when we're talking about space missions. Every gram counts.

"It's annoying how sometimes I think I know something but then have so much trouble digging up good references :("
100% agreement here. I had to dig a bunch to find the link I gave. Why does everything have to be so concealed in LPI?

"In fact, they might be intentionally designed to burn up on reentry, or at least on an uncontrolled reentry."
That's a very good idea. Also, make them smaller, so there's less damage if someone does try to do something like that. I just can't see gigaton freighters as practical, and even if they are, mass destruction concerns will keep them from being built.

Jollyreaper:
"But if we're talking about total war, I'm struggling to imagine a good counter to the RKV. Super-duper particle beam weapons, counter-RKV's with super-fast drives, magic force fields?"
There really isn't anything short of magic. Of course, RKVs are sort of magic themselves. Even then, they're basically the nukes of interplanetary/interstellar war. There really isn't any counter other than MAD.

Thucydides said...

Many settings use a Magitech FTL drive which does not allow interaction with the Universe while engaged, so there is no practical way to stop, destroy or board an FTLship under weigh.

Jerry Pournelle exploited this idea brilliantly in the Co Dominium universe, since it allowed "Space Opera" on a pretty grand scale. The alternative would be some sort of "flickering" drive like the one in "A Fire Upon the Deep", where attacking an enemy ship involved trying to phase in and out of inertial space at the same time and on the same vector. Drone weapons were used to deliver the warhead, but it could only work if the enemy ship was "in sync" with the drone.

There is pretty good reason to expect that FTL (if possible at all) would need something massive to distort space-time, so wormholes to the ground and other short-cuts would not be possible.

Citizen Joe said...

My proposed Z-P drive could get yanked out of FTL by a sudden appearance of a gravity well (or the aspect of gravity wells that impact the FTL space). My proposed wormholes had conservation of momentum issues which kept them somewhat away from large masses and restricted the opening. Plus the natural location of forming could be forced closed by technological devices. Likewise, there is a lot of distortion of time space in that region so combat pretty much needs to go head on through the wormhole.

So... yes... FTL is usually a non-combat zone.

Turbo10k said...

Actually in a setting where you have FTL, not everything will run about and become magic. Here's a constistent example of FTL drives working in pair with Realism [R].

Consider warp drives: Ship distorts space and creates a bubble that allows it to travel at FTL speeds without leaving normal space.

To intercept it, you could send a missile equipped with a warp of its own. We could explain the interception to the reader as the missile being a smaller bbble, that pairs up with the larger ship's bubble to form a greater one.

Another example, if FTL doesn't have require much energy, is to create a very large bubble around the blockaded space, so if the intuder ship enters it, the bubbles join and it becomes, for a moment, a normal engagement within an enclosed space that follows regular physics.

Finally, we could go about destrying the bubble itself. We could have 'interdictors' (btw I love that sci-fi only ship class) that generate bubble of inversed polarity. A normal ship, to advance, would compress space in front of it and expand space behind it. Interdictors do the opposite, annuling the effects of your warp generator and dropping you into normal space. We could install these on planets or moons, giving us the large power needed for a humongeous reversed-polarity bubble, with negligible effects to the planet's movement or orbit.

I do however see a problem with inter-bubble communication, which would hinder planetary defences from an FTL standpoint (ie you can't see the ship coming from a zillion miles away, only when it enters your own defensive bubble). This could be exploited; warping space around you is a form of stealth: they can see where you are, but their spot size would be as large as your bubble (so can't be targeted precisely), your burns can't be anticipated correctly (radiation and heat still leave the bubble, but as to seeing the insides of warped space...), lasers and kinetics can't reach you AND you can pop out anytime.

This leaves all combat in space to the domain of physics, with nuclear thermals, life support, ravening beams of death and SCODs that hard sf loves, all while giving all those extra factors that (while self-consistent), give a pausible way to make space warfare just unpredictable enough for an aura of general coolness. I think with this simple example, I can probably give an explanation or a counter to anything that a general reader and question about it.

Milo said...

"To intercept it, you could send a missile equipped with a warp of its own. We could explain the interception to the reader as the missile being a smaller bbble, that pairs up with the larger ship's bubble to form a greater one.

Would a missile's warp projector really be stronger than a ship's, especially when the missile is trying to enter intact while the ship merely wants to shred the incoming missile?

Also, you still can't interact with the missile much until it enters your bubble. The majority of the evasion/homing competition would still take place in FTL.

It also limits the tactical environment. Missiles, missiles, missiles.


"the bubbles join and it becomes, for a moment, a normal engagement within an enclosed space that follows regular physics."

Hmm, I kinda like that, although it seems awfully... convenient... that the bubbles join perfectly like that, especially if they weren't going in the same direction. And with all these awesome physics-altering warp drives, what's to stop someone from breaking off the bubble and FTLing away?


"I do however see a problem with inter-bubble communication, which would hinder planetary defences from an FTL standpoint (ie you can't see the ship coming from a zillion miles away, only when it enters your own defensive bubble).

Oh yeah. Magic travel means that if you want any information travelling faster than courier, you also need magic communication and/or magic sensors.

Incidentally, lacking an ansible, or having an ansible that can be readily jammed, is an excellent way to justify why ships need human operators, rather than being remote-controlled.


"This could be exploited; warping space around you is a form of stealth:"

Maybe, but more importantly, travelling faster than light is a form of stealth because normal sensors won't detect you until after you've arrived.

Rick said...

Just as a matter of bias I favor 'instantaneous' jump FTL, because the less said about FTL details the better. Jump vectors (rather than 'points') are accessible only in flat space, hence a longish normal space trip to reach.

To me it feels less paradoxical to go light years in no time (or insignificant time) than to do it in a time period comparable to what it takes to go a few AU to and from the jump vectors. You're passing through a portal of some sort, after all.

The story effect is to make everything happen in normal space, with ships outbound to jump vectors or inbound from them.

FTL ships but no ansibles is indeed a reason for human presence, because you have missions out of reach of communication, something that doesn't happen in the Solar System except briefly, such as passing behind a planet.

jollyreaper said...

I'd mentioned my system I liked and it's sort of similar to the FTL here. Ships use large spines called hypersails to drag themselves from realspace into hyperspace. Hyperspace has currents and eddies and so space travel becomes much more chancy like in the Age of Sail, not as scheduled and routine as we are today. When ships translate to hyperspace, they pick up momentum in realspace before crossing over; translating back to realspace is a reverse of the process. Moving up and down through the layers of hyperspace will shift you from one course to another. It takes a skilled helmsman to read the currents.

Over short distances, hyperdrives can push a ship into hyperspace and just bludgeon through the currents. The drives have short legs and are only good for FTL travel within a star system. They are also used for missiles.

Hyperspace currents can be read from realspace and the passage of ships create ripples that can be detected for a great distance. Hyperspace fights consist of swirling duels between ships, trying to force the other to translate back to realspace in an uncontrolled fashion, possibly resulting in the destruction of the ship. This involves trying to gain on the other ship, crossing its path, and disrupting the hypersails with your own wake. Warships are equipped with missiles that can be ejected into hyperspace and use hyperdrives to accomplish the same thing. Missiles are expensive, though, and a skilled helmsman can more often than not cross the missile's wake himself, destroying it.

Once a ship has been forced from hyperspace, the victor will conduct a crash translation to emerge as closely as possible to his opponent. If the opponent came through intact, we are now looking at a classic beam weapon fight. The advantage here actually lies with the first ship to emerge from hyperspace, since they have more time to power up beam weapons and prepare for combat. The hypersails are folded back into the hull and protected beneath massive blast plates. Reaction engines explode into life and battle is joined.

I'm not sure if the missiles should be treated as semi-expendable and capable of following instructions related from the mothership -- surviving missiles can be recovered after the engagement and refueled. The whole swirling fight in hyperspace is trying to box your opponent into a position he cannot escape from while preventing him from boxing you, crossing the wakes kind of like the old Light Cycle game from Tron but in 3D.

jollyreaper said...

One other thought: the gravitational highways through the solar system they talk about.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1212590/Highway-sky-The-gravitational-corridors-help-spacecraft-travel-solar-system.html

Gravitational corridors could help spacecraft fly across the solar system like ships on ocean currents, it was revealed today.
Scientists in the United States are trying to map the twisting 'tubes' so they can be used to cut the cost of space travel.
Each one acts like a gravitational Gulf Stream, created from the complex interplay of attractive forces between planets and moons.


I was thinking about that suggestion that FTL costs increase the higher the local gravity and that's why a ship has to leave a planetary surface to get to a point it can afford to go FTL. Presumably better and more advanced ships could go FTL lower.

Well, that got me thinking. You're not really out of Earth's gravity when you're in orbit, you're just traveling far enough forward as you fall that you don't hit the ground. But you do cancel gravity out at LaGrange points. I know some settings have used them as jump points. What if you needed to worm your way down these gravitational corridors to get in-system via FTL? That completely changes the texture of space from being wide and open to being rather constrained, at least when in a solar system.

Milo said...

Rick:

"Just as a matter of bias I favor 'instantaneous' jump FTL, because the less said about FTL details the better."

I... well, hmm. Somehow I have the opposite bias, but I'm having a hard time explaining why.

We've discovered some great new principles of physics... and have used it only in some large flashy monuments and nowhere else. It really makes it visible that the wormhole is "thing that exists so you can get there from here before the reader gets bored". It just conveniently happens to do exactly what we need and nothing more, as opposed to a new scientific principle that doesn't exist specifically to serve us but that we figured out how to use to our advantage.

How did you set up those wormholes in the first place? Unless the wormhole was already naturally there (and exactly one per star system, yet in no apparant way generated by the star itself since it's off to a random direction... how convenient!), you'll need to bring it into place STL, seriously limiting your expansion speeds. Wormhole gates can be useful to set up "railways" to speed travel to places you've already been, but first you need to get there to build the infrastructure.

There's also, already explained, the issue of long in-system travel times - unless you have wormholes around every planet (like one at each Lagrange point as jollyreaper suggests), at which point orbital mechanics rapidly become a local affair (as it would also be if you used non-instantaneous FTL that has trouble near gravity wells or atmospheres). Months-long interplanetary journey is fine for the "solar age", but not for an interstellar civilization. "Hey, wanna go visit Pluto?" "Nah, too far away. I hear Rigel II's nice this time of year, and it's more within our budget."


jollyreaper:

"If the opponent came through intact, we are now looking at a classic beam weapon fight. The advantage here actually lies with the first ship to emerge from hyperspace, since they have more time to power up beam weapons and prepare for combat."

If so, I can imagine in some circumstances the still-in-hyperspace ship would decide not to continue the fight. If it was the defender rather than the attacker on a strategic scale, then now it's pushed the attacker out of the way long enough to continue what it was doing before the battle. If it was the attacker, then it might just call this a loss and retreat, waiting for a better opportunity to try again rather than pushing a disadvantegeous battle.

If there's some reason you absolutely must destroy the enemy now, of course, you'll follow into realspace to finish the job even if this puts you at a disadvantage. This attitude will rarely be held by both sides at the same time.

Milo said...

hollyreaper:

"One other thought: the gravitational highways through the solar system they talk about."

As I explained earlier, "highway" is a misnomer. Think of it more as a sidewalk.

It's useful for understanding how asteroids get here to do stuff like killing the dinos, but useless for getting anywhere fast.

Of course if you do want an FTL drive that makes use of these, go ahead. It doesn't break physics any more than FTL does, and it gives you your constantly twisting Age of Sail-like routes. (Kind of. Constantly twisting over months and years, yes, but for a single journey you'll probably have calculated where the sidewalk is before you leave.)


"I was thinking about that suggestion that FTL costs increase the higher the local gravity and that's why a ship has to leave a planetary surface to get to a point it can afford to go FTL. Presumably better and more advanced ships could go FTL lower."

My idea was that the deeper you go in a gravity well, the slower FTL is. Beyond a certain point FTL gets slower than ordinary rockets. Better and more advanced ships can go faster in general, and so can go deeper before their drive speed is brought back down to their rocket speed.

As a technobabble justification, you could claim that warping space is more difficult to do accurately when there are already strong spatial distortions (gravity wells) disrupting the perfect symmetry of your field.


"But you do cancel gravity out at LaGrange points."

Not really. You just partially cancel gravity, just enough to alter your orbital period a little (while, since you're still orbiting, still feeling gravity). The only one that comes even close to "cancelling out" is L1, and even then it really doesn't.

Also, if you do "cancel out" gravity, I don't see that as so much escaping a gravity well as it's simply setting up on a "hill", a local maximum relative to the surrounding well but still deep relative to space at large.

Thucydides said...

Milo, Jerry Pournelle's "Alderson Drive" explained everything:

Jump points were traced from star to star by the gravitational influence of stars in Space-Time. The model of a gravity well being marked out by a heavy ball on a rubber sheet was the analogy; if two (or more) stars were close enough together, there would be a channel between them somewhat lower than the surrounding "flat" Space-Time. This marked out the minimum energy potential pathway; the only path the Alderson drive would be able to follow.

Once you were too deep in the gravity well (i.e. closer to the Sun than Saturn), the effect would no longer work, you dropped out of space abruptly during there. In inertial space, you started up the reaction drive and set a course to the nearest planet, moon etc.

This made the ships move at the speed of plot, and set the stage for grand Space Opera, including Galactic Empires, interstellar war and the fall and rebirth of civilizations. Not to bad for stories published in the 1970's......

Anonymous said...

As far as FTL warfare goes, I came up with several types of FTL, but you are not able to fight in any of them.

One is a fanciful hyperdrive that needs someone to provide an interactive feedback signal to the control computer to guide the ship through the ever shifting topography of hyperspace; most ships use someone who can provide an agaile vocal constuction that matches the "landscape" of hyperspace...Any warfare is conducted in normal space, with the ultimate retreat being jumping into hyperspace.

Another FTL uses a field of exotic particles that forms a bubble around the ship that causes spacetime to flow around the ship at superluminal speeds. I need to check the power reqiuremnts because I think that I've made it too high; a 100cubic meter spacecraft needs 12 PetraWatts...

Still another FTL is a "bubbleswap" that is instantanious; it swaps two distant volumes of space (along with all the matter and energy imbedded in those volumes of space), and it can be used directly from planet to planet. The device that generates these bubbleswaps stays put, but an FTL beacon allows the Teleport machine to lock on and bring back the ship. The FTL beacon can be used like the Extreamly Low Frequency radios that submarines use; it takes several minutes to an hour to transmit a single sentance...

And, of course, there is a "classical" warp field drive; this one needs gigawattdays to be spun up or spun down and have an at rest mass of a couple hundred billion tons due to the microscopic black holes that they need to use to generate the warp field. Once they drop out of warp, these ships just drift through the solar system and send their scout ships, transport rockets, or spacewarships to do whatever mission you sent them there for. Space warfare in this setting is between ordinary spacecraft; except that if you can attack a starship before it can spin up its warp drive and escape...

Since none of these drives (except the classic warp drive) can be used as a "super missile", you pretty much need to conduct space warfare in a classical manner, with the addition of a method of retreat that is about as effective as you can get.

You can drop into, or escape from, a star system using FTL, but it isn't very useful for direct ship-to-ship combat...

Ferrell

Milo said...

"I need to check the power reqiuremnts because I think that I've made it too high; a 100cubic meter spacecraft needs 12 PetraWatts."

I'll assume you mean petawatts.

According to my earlier calculations, a truly awesome photon torch (just about the best inertial engine you can possibly get) would need only 3 terawatts per ton of ship. Even assuming an improbably high ship density close to that of water, your 100 cubic meter ship would weigh 100 tons, meaning the photon torch would need 300 terawatts. Your FTL drive costs 40 times as much.

Present-day tech is some seven orders of magnitude lower. Exact numbers depend on how fast you want your subluminal travel to go.

A question, however: for how long must the power be sustained? For the entire trip, or only when entering/leaving warp? In the latter case, your high power requirements might be coupled with only small energy requirements, and some sort of supercapacitor might do the job.


"Since none of these drives (except the classic warp drive) can be used as a "super missile", you pretty much need to conduct space warfare in a classical manner, with the addition of a method of retreat that is about as effective as you can get."

That's the problem. How do you force a fight with someone who doesn't want to fight? See here.

Rick said...

My FTL is much like the Alderson drive in its general hocus pocus. (And no portal structure is involved - ships have a 'resonator' to kick them through, but the key is being on the right trajectory, the jump vector.

But the discussion in this thread is consistent with my Tough Guide entry on FTL. FTL systems in general fall into two groups, the ones you actively cruise through, and the ones you just jump through.

Turbo10k said...

Warp as I concieved it wasn't space opera FTL for three reasons:

Inside a gravity well (like a large one, the sun's for example), it goes slower than lightspeed, and as gravitational interference goes up, so does the energy required for warping. In earth orbit, there is no way you can warp with the energy onboard. Further out, the warp become some kind of turbocharger, multiplying current speed by a factor limited by energy use, therefore gravitational influence. Beyond, you can approach 1c, but very hard to achieve inside Kuiper Belt...

Secondly, a ship can't get from one star to another on it's own...It needs the help of a-lots of energy and b-an easier path through spacetime.
A is achieved by having superbig, FTL-dedicated motherships that use all that energy production in combat by passing it through their laser.
B is achieved by having two portals making a warp railroad between them, one at each star. Inside this railroad, insterstellar speeds are much higher than outside the railroad, two orders of magnitude or more. A ship entering will consume enrgy at both portals, proportionate to its mass. You can deviate from the central path, but it would be akin to leaving the highway. Speed is reduced and ship energy consumption goes up. This used in wartime as energy consumption is compensated by the ability to leave a predictable path (and checkpoints that drop you out of warp in the middle of nowhere for inspection).

This allows 'railroad' FTL between stars, as well as near-FTL cruise speeds inside the solar system.

Oh and hocus pocus is the middle name of FTL travel anyways, so we're just trying to make it:
a-consistent, to the limits of b
b-interesting, to the limits of a

Milo-Force a fight? If you have FTL, you have something which negates it. Oh and my warp is continuous, as in you need to actively deform space for it to work. Non-continuous warp would mean you could have meter long missiles travel hundreds of light years after formation of their warp bubbles externally, without a single watt used up.

Turbo10k said...

Oh and about the photon-drive torch...It seems to me that first off, it works by trading propellant cost with energy cost. Secondly, it would be limited by its lightspeed exhaust, ie you can't go faster without magitech. As for FTL, however fast you can push your photon drive, it will always be a subluminal propulsion method to be kept distinct from the FTL drive.

Except if: http://www.projectrho.com/rocket/rocket3v.html#3.2

Turbo10k said...

Jollyreaper-Very nice FTL system you got there! I like it, and I see a point when you say missiles are expensive, as it with hypersails, energy production, realspace drives and such, they's be a significant fraction of the cost of a normal ship. You could also have a fleet fitted with dedicated hyperspace fighters, pushing each other out of hyperspace, while a normalspace fleet awaits at destination to defend against those who got through...

Milo said...

Turbo10k, your FTL sounds more or less like what I've been describing, aside from the "railway" bit. Or at least I thought I brought it up, I can't find where I did so now...

Anyway, nice!


"Oh and hocus pocus is the middle name of FTL travel anyways, so we're just trying to make it:
a-consistent, to the limits of b
b-interesting, to the limits of a"


IMO these don't contradict each other in a well-written story. A plot is far more interesting when it evolves in a demonstrable way (remember what I said about emergent complexity) from the consistent rules of the setting, rather than making up some completely random technobabble to threaten the heroes with once and then never bring up again.

This is true even when the "consistent rules of the setting" are completely absurd from a real-life physics viewpoint. In fact, this may help make them more interesting.


"Oh and about the photon-drive torch...It seems to me that first off, it works by trading propellant cost with energy cost. Secondly, it would be limited by its lightspeed exhaust, ie you can't go faster without magitech. As for FTL, however fast you can push your photon drive, it will always be a subluminal propulsion method to be kept distinct from the FTL drive."

I was more using the photon torch as an example of a ridiculously high power consumption device, with the implication that if your FTL needs several orders of magnitude more power than this, then it must be a really ridiculously high power consumption device. And if your civilization can afford to pay that, then they must have a really ridiculously high amount of power to play with.

No-one was suggesting that a photon torch could ever go FTL, that I can see. It can't.


"Jollyreaper-You could also have a fleet fitted with dedicated hyperspace fighters, pushing each other out of hyperspace, while a normalspace fleet awaits at destination to defend against those who got through..."

Hmm. I like that!

Hyperspace combat and realspace combat have very different demands, so it makes sense that they might have different ship classes designed for them.

Of course, if both sides attempt to lie in wait in realspace, then those forces would have already shot each other up by the time one of the hyperspace ships gets forced out. Which makes you wonder why to bother with the hyperspace portion of the fight :(

Turbo10k said...

"Which makes you wonder why to bother with the hyperspace portion of the fight :("

Captivate the reader with a 18th century sailing analogy in SPAAACE! maybe? Or more realistically, it would happen when two fleets want to battle, but would have to take years to reach the battlefield. Hyperspace kinda speeds it up...

I had a funny mental journey where I had to create a setting where teleportation is available.
Assuming we had a teleportaion device able to:
-Conserve energy during teleportation
-Cannot transport electromagnetic radiation (would've been TOO easy)
-Unlimited by distance, but requires teleporters stationed at each end
-Energy requirements are inconsequential

I came up where we have perfectly spherical ships, where the reactor is based on the planet, and so are all the munitions. Essentially, it's an empty husk with teleporters and laser weapons.

On the planet, someone decides to have a war. The spheres approach each other by using an interesting drive:
-Hot, fast plasma is ejected from a reactor on Earth.
-Said plasma is teleported to ship, with initial kinetic energy
-Plasma is teleported into a nozzle outside of ship
-Thrust!

As they approach each other, missiles are teleported into the bays, and sent off in the millions.
By now, a life support hab, sensors and a crew arrive in the empty husk, turning it into a temporary warship.

Some ships are hit. The crew teleport back to Earth or enemy's home base while repairs are operated. Repairs are simply teleporting damaged armor plates back to base, and installing new ones.

Once the laser fight starts, again, we have electricity supplied through teleported batteries. One who win are those who manage to destroy the crew before they teleport out...

All that was just to say that implementing some random technology to feed the crew without waiters waiting everywhere is just stupid and leads to silly, undesirable consequences.

Turbo10k said...

Also, Milo, I think a star-faring society would accept the use of massively power hungry FTL systems if it is the only way it can gain and maintain its 'star-faring' status...We do have 174 PW of sunlight hitting the whole planet actually, so such a civilization could comfortably use that FTL system once every few months without power deficits IMO...

I just wanted to ask what happens to a solid mass if it is under the influence of a warp bubble. This would probably happen if a ship has to warp in the vicinity of an asteroid or something. An expanding rubble?

Milo said...

"Or more realistically, it would happen when two fleets want to battle, but would have to take years to reach the battlefield. Hyperspace kinda speeds it up..."

Yes, but what would happen is that two hyperspace motherships fly into battle, then drop their realspace ships to duke it out. The mothership whose realspace ships lose would then surrender. No actual combat would take place in hyperspace.

This makes the premise boring so some justification has to exist for it to not happen.


"I came up where we have perfectly spherical ships, where the reactor is based on the planet, and so are all the munitions. Essentially, it's an empty husk with teleporters and laser weapons."

Don't forget that reaction mass is much less of an issue! With this setup you could probably manage torches (relatively) cheaply because you wouldn't need high exhaust velocities at all.

Some component of the power reactor may or may not actually need to be in the ship, depending on whether electrical wires can transmit electrons across a teleporter.

However, why put the laser weapons on the husk? I would put nothing on the husk except for the teleporter mechanism, any components necessary for the teleporter mechanism to work, sensors, optionally armor, and maybe the engine (depending on whether you can eject propellant directly out the teleporter at high speeds and travel that way). By making the ship as light as possible, it travels faster and cheaper and is harder to hit. Any other stuff, like weapons, would only be moved in when you have something to shoot at. These ships would be extremely general-purpose - you could rapidly refit them for a different mission by simply reconfiguring which teleporters they're linked to, so now instead of teleporting in weapons, you're standing ready to teleport in marines or science equipment. If you don't like extreme modularity, use the husk's teleporter to teleport in a bigger ship once it arrives at the target.


"-Hot, fast plasma is ejected from a reactor on Earth.
-Said plasma is teleported to ship, with initial kinetic energy
-Plasma is teleported into a nozzle outside of ship
-Thrust!"


Ah, so no onboard engines then. Good.


"By now, a life support hab, sensors and a crew arrive in the empty husk, turning it into a temporary warship."

Why? If your teleporters allow instantaneous communication and can't be jammed, then you can safely remote-control everything without putting humans in the line of fire. You'd only bother teleporting in a clunky hab if you actually need humans on site, like for a landing party.


"Repairs are simply teleporting damaged armor plates back to base, and installing new ones."

If the actual teleporter gets hit, though, then your ship is a total loss. Also, while this greatly simplifies logistics, someone still gotta pay for all those replacement components you're teleporting in. The cost of shipping them to the front is eliminated but the cost of making them isn't.

If you have all those spare components, wouldn't it be better to use them to build more ships, and then use the "ships teleporting in more ships" thing to have a task force that expects an impending battle rapidly teleport in the entire fleet at once to take advantage of Lanchester's law? Once the battle is over, you teleport most of the fleet back home (possibly to be redeployed elsewhere).


"We do have 174 PW of sunlight hitting the whole planet actually,"

Yes, but we're using most of that sunlight for life support (growing food, turning carbon dioxide into oxygen, and heating), albeit with horrendous efficiencies. Also, that's an entire planet. It's a little harder to fit that much power onto a 100-cubic-meter ship.

Citizen Joe said...

RE: Teleporting plasma

The 'wormhole aliens' in the setting I keep talking about use micro wormholes to allow for instant communications but also to send power/drag back heat from ships and even personal weapons. The personal weapon become essentially forward targeting devices for much more powerful weapons. While the alien fighter and landing craft use gravitic shear to move around (as a sailboat would tack into the wind) this is powered from elsewhere via a microwormhole. That means that if captured, the vessel becomes as useless as a paperweight. Likewise, the pilots/soldiers don't actually know how any of the equipment actually works, they just know how to fly/shoot it.

jollyreaper said...

Jollyreaper-Very nice FTL system you got there! I like it,


Thanks! I was trying to come up with something that was suitably dramatic while still playing homage to plausibility and reason. Much as I enjoy Star Wars space battles, having grown up on them, I have to concede they make no sense in the slightest.

and I see a point when you say missiles are expensive, as it with hypersails, energy production, realspace drives and such, they's be a significant fraction of the cost of a normal ship. You could


Yup. I wanted to create a combat system that would involve give and take, like a swordfight, and be less like musketmen forming up in lines and firing away indiscriminately.

also have a fleet fitted with dedicated hyperspace fighters, pushing each other out of hyperspace, while a normalspace fleet awaits at destination to defend against those who got through...

That's the tricky bit as far as combat goes. We've all been back and forth as to just how vulnerable planets are. In the setting I imagined, planets are the prize and nobody is fighting simply to destroy the enemy's planet, thus planet-smashing is not a tactic. Reletavistic kill vehicles remain a frightening thought. The only question as to their effectiveness is the equation of a) detectability b) weapons to counter them and c) engagement window.

Because they would ruin the flavor of the combat, I'm slanting the tech against them. They can be detected far enough out and weapons are accurate enough that they would be destroyed before impact. To properly shield them against the weapon fire would involve capital ship shield and power generation which removes them from the category of expendable weapon. In the age of sail God was on the side of the ship with a bigger hull and more guns. 100 guns would always beat a 50 gun ship because the damage model tended towards a linear attrition as the enemy's crew was whittled away. This is as opposed to the era of battleships where one inopportune shell could devastate a ship or where a dinky torpedo boat could get in a lucky fish and sink a cruiser.

jollyreaper said...

As for how I imagine the combat would go with the technology I'm imagining...

Hyperspace encounters are possible. The shortest route between two points is a straight line so space lanes would exist. Hyperspace weather is a constant concern and can alter the course of ships. But encounters are more likely to occur around destinations than in the middle of nowhere.

It is correct to surmise that there would be realspace and hyperspace forces but, given the relative lack of mobility in realspace, those forces would effectively be battle-stations. If we're talking about an engagement at the edge of the solar system between two starships, the combat would begin in hyperspace and, if the defeated ship survives translation to realspace, will end there. Realspace sensors will provide more detailed data but is limited by lightspeed lag. Hyperspace sensors are FTL but are far muddier.

From the perspective of an admiral commanding a planetary defense, the picture can be very muddled. He will likely be dirtside and in a deep basecore. In orbit will be massive battlestations. The primary realspace weapon would be powerful lasers. While capable of reaching out to great distances, the nature of FTL means that combat usually comes at a surprise and at knifefight distances. There's not a whole lot of call for fancy maneuvers in realspace. Battlestations may or may not be hyperspace-worthy but can hardly be used in an offensive fashion, being awkward pigs. Their primary virtue is sitting in place and carrying more firepower than can be comfortably carried by a starship. They would have reaction drives for altering their orbits to keep the enemy guessing.

So the approach of an enemy fleet is detected by picket stations on the edge of the system. These sensors are bigger and more sensitive than those carried on starships and are consequently more fragile. Detection advantage to the defender. Lightspeed communications would be by com laser and would be incredibly high bandwidth. FTL communications use ripples through the hyperspace medium, noisy, omnidirectional, short-ranged and very low bandwidth. Works across a solar system but is not good for interstellar broadcasts. All interstellar communication is carried by ships.

The admiral, if he has a mobile fleet, can choose to begin the engagement in hyperspace. No realspace forces can be deployed to engage in such a fashion since they would need FTL to get to the combat zone and there's no telling where defeated ships might emerge from hyperspace. This point of the engagement is a fight between starships alone.

Close to the planet, corridors become tight and constrained due to gravity's shadow in hyperspace. Now realspace forces come into play. A starship knocked out of hyperspace lightminutes away from the planet would be prey for the lasers of the battletations. Realspace drives aren't really powerful enough to make targeting a ship difficult even when it's far, far away.

Once hyperspace-capable defenders have been swept away, now the attacker has to choose when to drop to realspace to continue the attack. Detecting the exact location of sub-planetary realspace objects from hyperspace is pretty much impossible and so there's an art to dropping into realspace far enough away to make an observation and popping back in just long enough to close with the target and attack.

jollyreaper said...

Hypersails are not up to the rigors of realspace combat so a captain will furl the sails and switch to hyperdrive to make that final dive at the planetary target. He will have the tactical advantage of choosing when to emerge from hyerspace but his sensors will be fuzzed as he seeks targeting information. The attacker will seek to bring as many of his ships out as possible and concentrated around enemy battle-stations to concentrate fire and destroy them.

It's an ugly choice to make since starships are vastly expensive and valuable but are the only means of closing with and destroying battle-stations. Reletavistic kill vehicles can be detected and destroyed from a distance. assembling battle-stations on the other side of the system and then sending them in under reaction drives just makes them big targets if the enemy has a mobile fleet in reserve. You're left with an ugly knife fight in orbit.

Once space superiority is established and the high orbitals are under control, now the landings begin. And the question I'm not sure of is how feasible ground-based anti-starship lasers are. My assumption is that those with space superiority can smash anything the other guy puts on the surface. But maybe the situation will be such that nobody can afford to hold the space surrounding a contested world so it's a matter of moving in fast convoys to drop armies and beat a retreat before the enemy can ambush your fleet. Maybe high orbit can be held successfully but the lower orbits -- tactically useful for engaging targets on the ground -- are too vulnerable to surface fire. Similar to how a B-52 can fly above the fray on today's battlefield but not be very tactically useful and a close-air support aircraft can be very useful but risks being shot down by enemy troops. I think for the flavor of this setting, ground-based gunboats might work. Big reactors, oversized shields, can pop up from the surface to engage low-flying starships and take advantage of surface clutter, but not so effective when employed against starships in high orbit who have time to see them coming.

jollyreaper said...

The thing I really wanted to avoid with my concept here was doing the direct 1:1 translation. "Oh, this is just like age of sail combat." "Oh, this is just like WWII in space." "Oh, this is just like 1980's Tom Clancy US/USSR combat, but with lasers!"

Starships in this setting dwarf our conventional understanding of ships. They're more like Dune's heighliners in scale. Now in the Dune setting, private ships were generically called frigates. They could go anywhere they wanted within a system but only the Guild could transport people FTL. It's like living on an archipelago with a car, you need the auto-ferry.

Now the age of sail model had ships of the line with the line of battle being the only way to really decisively win a naval fight. You had your first, second, and third rate ships along with the frigates that did the scouting and commerce raiding. That's where most of the romance and adventure was. I don't want to emulate that exactly anymore than I want to adopt WWII conventions with destroyers, cruisers, battleships, etc. But I do want to keep size being a decisive factor with who has the advantage in a fight but smaller ships having their own advantages.

In the setting I'm imagining, there's no guild monopoly on FTL but star systems should feel a bit more immense and the distances between them should feel so, too.

Turbo10k said...

Now that's the type of setting I believe this blog is aiming for!

A few points to clarify:
"To properly shield them against the weapon fire would involve capital ship shield and power generation which removes them from the category of expendable weapon."

If a single ship can obtain advantage over a defensive fleet, at the cost of being expendable, I'd use it. Example:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fire_ship

"They would have reaction drives for altering their orbits to keep the enemy guessing. "

Not really. If realspace detection is as good as you say it is, then there is no point in using ANY drives at all as you'd be wasting propellant for predictable maneuvers. All you'd need is
a-Hyperspace sails
b-High-thrust, low ISP drive for orbital maneuvers.

"Hyperspace encounters are possible. The shortest route between two points is a straight line so space lanes would exist. Hyperspace weather is a constant concern and can alter the course of ships. But encounters are more likely to occur around destinations than in the middle of nowhere. "

You could use the ocean current analogy, where the fastest currents (or the safest) have predictable, stable routes, and are used by most ships to get from A to B. Encounters would happen around these routes, or during the ships transfer from the hyperspace 'current' to the solar system. 'Lanes' is another word for it, but doesn't convey the slightly moving unpredictable nature 'current' or 'winds' has...

"Realspace drives aren't really powerful enough to make targeting a ship difficult even when it's far, far away. "

Actually, a bit harder than that. Even low-thrust jinking can provide suitable defence from light-minutes away...

Another thing. You talked about defeated enemies leaving hyperspace...how are enemies defeated when they can run away whenever they want? You need to find a way to impede retreaters and to keep losers inside the battlefield.

Otherwise, lots of congratulations and as many kudos as you want!

jollyreaper said...

I'm aware of fire ships and they're actually a pretty good example of an expensive weapon that's worth the cost. The first smart bombs were employed in Vietnam. $70k for a single bomb, is that not crazy? Well, considering what it can do... The example I read about was a nasty bridge that kept getting bombed and rebuilt. The whole war conventional attacks were worthless and we lost a lot of planes and men trying to destroy it. Towards the end of the war a pair of LGB's are dropped on the span and obliterate it. Yeah, they're expensive, but worth it.

Given the tech I'm thinking of for the setting, the answer I keep coming up with is a hyperspaceworthy hull with massive shields and guns. Drops in, opens fire. The main constraint is that it has to be able to fight in hyperspace. It's useless if smaller, cheaper ships can hunt it down and destroy it before it reaches the planet. But I'm not liking the idea of such a specialized ship. I'm more inclined to simply make the distinction between general purpose starships and interstellar warships that can stand up to that kind of pounding. Because the kind of firepower and armor necessary to stand up to a battle-station would also be useful in a realspace fight against other starships.


Not really. If realspace detection is as good as you say it is, then there is no point in using ANY drives at all as you'd be wasting propellant for predictable maneuvers. All you'd need is
a-Hyperspace sails
b-High-thrust, low ISP drive for orbital maneuvers.


It's a question of thrust. Someone had previously mentioned a formula on the atomic rockets site for determining just how effective jinking would be at a given distance. "If your ship is by the moon and my ship is by the international space station, this is how much thrust you'd need to avoid laser fire." Of course, there's also the question of rate of fire. If my laser can fire twenty times a second, I'll start shooting from a lot further out than if it was one shot a minute.

I'd have to determine just how much maneuver I'd like to see in the stories and try to scale the tech as appropriate.

The nice thing about the hyperspace/realspace dyanmic here is you can tell the enemy is out there even if you can't see him. It's not quite as overt as seeing a shark fin or periscope, it's more of a general sense of something's moving in hyperspace and could emerge into realspace at any moment. Then holy crap, we've got a signature, ship emerging! It's on top of us! Lock guns and fire.

jollyreaper said...

You could use the ocean current analogy, where the fastest currents (or the safest) have predictable, stable routes, and are used by most ships to get from A to B. Encounters would happen around these routes, or during the ships transfer from the hyperspace 'current' to the solar system. 'Lanes' is another word for it, but doesn't convey the slightly moving unpredictable nature 'current' or 'winds' has...

Well, sea lanes is a real term used by mariners so space lanes is a good extrapolation. The way I imagine it, hyperspace has layers. The lowest layers are the safest and most predictable. Some things cut across all layers -- the gravity shadow of planets, obviously. Moving to a higher layer of hyperspace gains you access to different currents but the higher you go, the more treacherous they are. And "up and down the layers" doesn't imply maneuvering in three dimensions -- that's already happening on any layer. Every point in hyperspace has a corresponding point in realspace. And every point in the lower levels of hyperspace maps to the higher levels but the relationship can become a bit...funny. The gist of this is that it takes skill and intuition to sail hyperspace and a skilled navigator can make the passage much shorter.

Another thing. You talked about defeated enemies leaving hyperspace...how are enemies defeated when they can run away whenever they want? You need to find a way to impede retreaters and to keep losers inside the battlefield.

Well, there's a couple limitations. First off, hypersails are delicate and can be burned away if hit by a laser. So what if a ship tries to fire up the hyperdrive to pull a few million miles out of range? It takes time to spool the drive up and holding it at hot standby will drain energy and eventually damage it. Also, the ship may be too deep into a gravity well to engage drives or sails.

There's an online game called EVE that has some pretty tense combat. You have instant FTL. You fly into battle and can jump to safety within ten seconds of hitting the bugout button. Combat is now no risk, right? No, you can still die. Versus the computer, you can misjudge how the battle is going. You're balancing the damage per second you can dish out with the damage per second you can take. You might be holding your own against two ships and then a third enters the fray. When you realize your shields are dropping faster than they can replenish, you may hit the warp button but not be in time and are destroyed. Against humans, there's a weapon called a warp scrambler that will temporarily block your ability to FTL out of there.

I don't want to directly crib from them with scramblers or from Star Wars with interdictor ships. I think there's a good mix of risk and opportunity with what I've described.

jollyreaper said...

One other thing I'm trying to come up with is an alternative to the Star Trek bridge which is just a scifi redressing of conventional naval thinking. How would a ship like this be controlled?

The idea I keep coming back to is a neural interface for the captain. Works better in prose than visually. The captain feels the ship as his body and controls it form a direct interface dreamstate. The navigator is in a similar dreamstate to guide the ship through hyperspace.

I'm still not entirely sure how all the details of that would work. All I know is putting guys in a room and having them verbally relay information may be the best we can do in the here and now but I have my doubts as to how all that would look in fifty years, let alone a thousand.

Incidentally, I'm looking up space sails and there's a DS9 episode featuring a solar sail vessel that can go FTL thanks to the infamous tachyon. Nothing is new in this world lol.

Jim Baerg said...

I'm finally catching up on stuff posted while I was away.

Turbo 10K said on Aug 22 :"Its seems to me that if someone decides to 'go out there', he'd better be mighty determined, as he might as well be dead for the people back on earth. You can't even exchange e-mail then!"

Actually no. Although plausible interplanetary travel times are measured in months, it never takes more than a few hours to send a message anywhere in the solar system. How do you think we are getting all those images from the Cassini probe orbiting Saturn? Although travel times are like the Age of Sail, communication times are more like earth after transocean telegraph cables became common.

Re: transporting nitrogen as ammonia. I also think that's the way it would be done. Ammonia liquifies at a much higher temperature than nitrogen so tanks for transporting ammonia across interplanetary distances will be easier to make than tanks for transporting nitrogen.

Milo said...

Jollyreaper:

"In the setting I imagined, planets are the prize and nobody is fighting simply to destroy the enemy's planet, thus planet-smashing is not a tactic."

Smashing a few planets of a multi-planet empire may still be a tactic for a particularly brutal conqueror. The Mongols, for example, made a habit of utterly destroying walled cities which they perceived as a "threat", while profiting off the many other cities which surrendered peacefully. In a space setting, smashing the most important planets of an enemy's empire may weaken it to the point that you can much more easily capture the empire's other planets intact - which may pay off for the cost of not getting to have the planet you smashed. On the other hand, if (as is likely on these scales) production highly decentralized with each planet reasonably capable of holding its own and the enemy empire not being overly dependant on any one place, then this may not work.


"Reletavistic kill vehicles" ... "removes them from the category of expendable weapon."

Not really possible. Relativistic kill vehicles do so much damage that, if they're possible at all, they're worth almost any price. Trading one large capital ship with expensive shielding for one enemy planet seems like a net benefit.

The best way to stop relativistic kill vehicles is to say that your reaction engines simply aren't powerful enough to make them possible - perfectly reasonable if you're using FTL. You would still have to deal with slower kinetic weapons (depending on how your FTL drive deals with the relative motions of different star systems, it's likely you'll have a few dozens of km/s as par for the course - up to 1000 Ricks or so). These can be countered by your expense argument - it only really falls flat for weapons of mass destruction.


"The shortest route between two points is a straight line so space lanes would exist."

Merely following shortest-route-is-a-line logic is a pretty weak incentive for staying straight on the line along the entire path. Peacetime merchants that aren't worrying too much about pirates would follow the shortest route, sure, but warships will often find it beneficial to take fairly significant detours from the straight-line path, so chokepoints wouldn't work well unless there is something additional encouraging people to stay on the narrow path. (Unless, I guess, your hyperspace follows highly hyperbolic geometry, in which case deviating from the shortest route rapidly becomes very expensive. Convesely, in highly spherical geometry, you can head in the direction outright opposite of the proper shortest route, and still end up where you want to go in short order.)

There was a stronger form of sea lane in the Age of Sail: although day-to-day weather could be quite unpredictable, it was not completely random and different places still had different "average" climates. Certain latitudes became known for having semi-reliable east-to-west or west-to-east "trade winds" - you couldn't always count on them, but they had the best odds of having strong winds in the correct direction. Your hyperspace might (or might not) have something similar.


"It is correct to surmise that there would be realspace and hyperspace forces but, given the relative lack of mobility in realspace, those forces would effectively be battle-stations."

Or realspace-optimized fighters/drones/etc. dropped into realspace by a hyperspace mothership (ideally before the enemy can drop anything into realspace), and picked up again after the battle.


"Realspace sensors will provide more detailed data but is limited by lightspeed lag. Hyperspace sensors are FTL but are far muddier."

Nice.

Milo said...

Jollyreaper:

"The thing I really wanted to avoid with my concept here was doing the direct 1:1 translation. "Oh, this is just like age of sail combat." "Oh, this is just like WWII in space." "Oh, this is just like 1980's Tom Clancy US/USSR combat, but with lasers!"

Kudos. History doesn't repeat itself, it just cribs some ideas :)



Turbo10k:

"Even low-thrust jinking can provide suitable defence from light-minutes away..."

Remember that jinking ability depends on both acceleration and delta-vee. You can't see lasers coming until they hit you, so you can't dodge them only when they're fired - to evade lasers, you have to jink constantly whenever you think an enemy might be shooting at you. Continuous jinking will eat up your propellant quickly, unless your acceleration is so low as to be near-useless.


"You talked about defeated enemies leaving hyperspace...how are enemies defeated when they can run away whenever they want?"

They can't. Once you're in realspace you have poor maneuverability your enemies know roughly where you are, so they can chase after you if they want while you can't flee.

I guess it's like falling back from a beleaguered position to a better-fortified one, at the cost of now being pinned down in your fortifications and not being able to easily leave.



Jollyreaper:

"Of course, there's also the question of rate of fire. If my laser can fire twenty times a second, I'll start shooting from a lot further out than if it was one shot a minute."

One of the advantages of lasers as weapons is that they can probably be "tuned" to fire more rapidly at the cost of less power per shot (meaning hits do less damage, and possibly not enough to penetrate armor), averaging out to the same power requirement and waste heat production - as opposed to weapons which require specialized ammunition, which can't do this.


"The gist of this is that it takes skill and intuition to sail hyperspace and a skilled navigator can make the passage much shorter."

And presumably, every now and then, an unskilled navigator tries to take the shortcut and ends up crashing into a neutron star for his troubles.


"The idea I keep coming back to is a neural interface for the captain."

As far as computer input devices go, I don't think that electrodes poking into your brain are going to become popular anytime soon.


"All I know is putting guys in a room and having them verbally relay information may be the best we can do in the here and now but I have my doubts as to how all that would look in fifty years, let alone a thousand."

Of course! Nowadays we have intercoms and chatrooms :) No need for everyone to be in the same room. On the other hand, nowadays we also have remote controls :) No need for everyone to be near what they're controlling, so you might as well put everyone in the same room for easier communication (except for damage control engineers). Depends on how well you can armor that one room.

As long as your ship has more than one human crewmember there will be need to relay information between them somehow, although less crew (due to automation) would also mean less messages get relayed. If the gunnery officer can directly control all the ship's weapons through the targetting computer, he doesn't need to bark as many orders as if he has a hundred cannon-crew under his command - but the captain still needs to bark orders at the gunnery officer to tell him when to shoot.

Milo said...

Huh? I thought the middle part of my posting got through. Can't we increase the post size limit? It's really annoying.



Jollyreaper:

"While capable of reaching out to great distances, the nature of FTL means that combat usually comes at a surprise and at knifefight distances."

If combat is usually at short ranges, then this will tend encourage weapons with maximized damage even at the expense of range, as with the Age of Sail carronade. I here suggest kinetic slugs as a good carronade-type weapon, while seeing lasers as more long-range weapons (due to much faster closing speed and undetectability until it actually hits you).


"FTL communications use ripples through the hyperspace medium, noisy, omnidirectional, short-ranged and very low bandwidth."

If the omnidirectionality is to allow the enemy to listen in, keep in mind encryption is pretty good today and is likely to stay that way. I don't know how very low bandwidth would affect encryption, though.

Of course, even if the enemy can't decipher what you said, they can still tell that you said something, and approximately where and when you said it.


"Detecting the exact location of sub-planetary realspace objects from hyperspace is pretty much impossible and so there's an art to dropping into realspace far enough away to make an observation and popping back in just long enough to close with the target and attack."

Heh, hyperspace periscopes?

Or sensor drones.

Milo said...

Jollyreaper:

"Hypersails are not up to the rigors of realspace combat so a captain will furl the sails and switch to hyperdrive to make that final dive at the planetary target."

Actually, come to think of it, if:

"Over short distances, hyperdrives can push a ship into hyperspace and just bludgeon through the currents."

Then wouldn't warships make extensive use of hyperdrives in combat, like an afterburner, saving their hypersails for cruises where endurance is more important than agility?


"And the question I'm not sure of is how feasible ground-based anti-starship lasers are."

That depends on how much your lasers are bothered by trying to shoot through an atmosphere. (Of course, this will affect orbit-to-surface lasers just as much as surface-to-orbit lasers.) If your lasers can reliably hit spaceships at ranges of lightminutes, than at orbital distances a planetary installation's lack of mobility will be a complete non-issue since spaceships are no more mobile in any meanningful sense. On the other hand, a bunker has cheap thick armor, free heatsinks, and large well-protected power sources. A weapon mounted on an airplane may actually be able to effectively jink where a rocket can't, while one mounted on a submarine is very hard to target from space and can easily and quickly put hundreds of meters of free armor (read: water) above itself.

For slugs and missiles, it's a trickier question. Orbit-to-surface projectiles have the disadvantage of needing to cancel out their orbital velocity in order to go down, whereas surface-to-orbit projectiles can make the orbital velocity work for them by never bothering to make an insertion burn, instead just hitting the target at high relative speed. On the other hand, surface-to-orbit projectiles have to fight gravity drag, while orbit-to-surface projectiles don't. Both, of course, have the deal with the atmosphere, and it may somehow matter whether the thickest part of the atmopshere is at the beginning or the end of your trip... Of course, if you don't want missiles, point defense lasers do a nice job of stopping them.

Citizen Joe said...

re: orbital bombardment lasers/anti-sat lasers.

In space, you're dealing with ridiculous ranges. That pretty much forces you up into higher frequencies like UV and X-Ray lasers. However, those frequencies tend to get cut down considerably with atmospheres. That leaves visible light lasers for penetrating atmospheres. A warship would thus need both vacuum and atmospheric lasers while a planet would only have the atmospheric lasers and be limited to things in orbit. A planet based laser also has a virtually unlimited heat sink.

Milo said...

Hmm, yeah. Lasers can't really be dodged except by torchships, so the main limiter on range would be the distance where diffraction spreads out your shot to the point that it no longer inflicts meaningful damage.

So while we're on the subject of atmospheres... anyone know which wavelengths would be best at penetrating mist, clouds, even rain, in addition to clear air? Clouds appear white, i.e., opaque to all visible wavelengths. Would infrared work? Which infrared?

jollyreaper said...


Smashing a few planets of a multi-planet empire may still be a tactic for a particularly brutal conqueror. The Mongols, for example, made a habit of utterly destroying walled cities which they perceived as a "threat", while profiting off the many other cities which surrendered peacefully.


This is true. In this setting the Powers That Be are all off living in virtual paradise ships off in interstellar space. There's no chance of a decapitation strike taking them out. Planets are resources but not seats of government. The current conventions of warfare do not see planetary strikes as any more viable than nuking cities in today's political climate. Of course, things can change. If things go bad in my setting, planet-busting could come back into vogue but that would be mainly a matter of denying resources to an enemy. Planet-busting is total war.

Not really possible. Relativistic kill vehicles do so much damage that, if they're possible at all, they're worth almost any price. Trading one large capital ship with expensive shielding for one enemy planet seems like a net benefit.

Right. It all depends on what you're trying to accomplish. It's funny how theory breaks down when confronted by reality. All the brainy guys after WWII thought nukes would end war but all it did was keep wars smaller, people would fight up to but not past the point where nukes would get used. Lots of proxy and brushfire wars but no world wars. Reletavistic kill vehicles against orbital assets, fine. Against large orbital habitats, probably a war crime. Against a planet, major war crime. But if someone is mad enough to think they can get away with it... This is back to my brainbug about planets just being too vulnerable, especially for a seat of government.

Your point about conservation of momentum is a good one. In other settings I worked out with jump drives the warships would do burns before making the jump, either to attain proper orbital velocity with a target planet or to achieve a tactically useful speed differential for an attack. In a setting with cheap jump drives and expensive reaction engines, the warships would plot gravity slingshot paths around the system primary; jump, fall, jump, fall, building speed.

If a starship conserved momentum from realspace while in hyperspace, it could sail in with a high velocity preserved and release kill vehicles immediately upon emergence. Doesn't smell right to me so I prefer the idea that a controlled exit can impart realspace velocity. This means that uncontrolled emergences could give damaged ships very inconvenient velocities and controlled emergences could see a canny captain place his ship on a proper orbital trajectory with only a minimal corrective burn.

Milo said...

"Planet-busting is total war."

That speaks for itself. You don't murder billions as a form of playful ribbing.


"This means that uncontrolled emergences could give damaged ships very inconvenient velocities and controlled emergences could see a canny captain place his ship on a proper orbital trajectory with only a minimal corrective burn."

Fun. Do keep in mind, however, that this would allow a captain (or more likely, an unmanned missile) to deliberately exit hyperspace at large realspace velocities, and smash stuff directly in front of its exit point. You will have to decide just how much velocity you can surf out of hyperspace with, and what the limiting factors are on this velocity.

jollyreaper said...

Merely following shortest-route-is-a-line logic is a pretty weak incentive for staying straight on the line along the entire path.

Yes, you're right here. And "lines" are actually curved in space. The shortest route between Earth and Mars is a very curved line and would only look straight if we had really, really, really high-thrust drives.

For commercial ships, the straightest line is best. Cheapest route, most likely to encounter help if you have trouble. But military ships could do any number of things differently. Commercial ships tend to be optimized for efficiency and low operational cost, military ships for performance and survivability.

There's some really great reading to be had about historic commerce raiders. The Confederate raider CSS Shenandoah had an incredible story.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CSS_Shenandoah

But the Shenandoah operated in an era of relatively civilized warfare (as far as warfare goes), taking the crew off of ships before sinking them. Compare with submarine warfare in the world wars and the practice of sinking ships without challenge or warning.

What you're mentioning about the trade winds and such, that's exactly where I'm going. You've got eddies, currents, storms, and monsters. I always liked the superstitious terror from the age of sail, maps filled with kraken and serpents. Then I encountered a nifty short story that had monsters in space.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Game_of_Rat_and_Dragon

The story takes place in the far future. Human travel in outer space is threatened by strange creatures known as the Dragons. Imperceptible to ordinary people, Dragons are experienced as nothing but a sudden death or insanity. Dragons can only be destroyed by very strong light, but they move too fast for conventional defense methods. Both human and telepathic cats (who perceive the dragons as rats) are able to sense the creatures within milliseconds.

I'm not imagining anything so simplistic as something like the space slug from Star Wars. I just like the idea of terrors you can't understand being out there. There was another great short story about a guy on a moon base under attack from an invisible monster that does not show up on sensors but is visibly tearing apart the outside of the base. He survives but there's simply no telling what it was.

jollyreaper said...


They can't. Once you're in realspace you have poor maneuverability your enemies know roughly where you are, so they can chase after you if they want while you can't flee.

I guess it's like falling back from a beleaguered position to a better-fortified one, at the cost of now being pinned down in your fortifications and not being able to easily leave.


Right. If a ship is being pursued, knocking a pursuer out of hyperspace is victory enough and there's no need to finish the fight. If the pursuer seeks to capture a ship, seeking a surrender is the first step. Demonstrates he has the advantage and could force the target out of hyperspace if necessary, then a coordinated drop from hyperspace is made so that the ships emerge nearby and simultaneously. If there's no surrender, he will cross the target's path and force him into an uncontrolled drop. If he survives, then comes the boarding action.

The thing I remain skeptical of with boarding actions, why not just detonate the ship? If we think about the beginning of Star Wars, the main reactor was supposed to have been destroyed on the consulate ship. But was there nothing else to use for a self-destruct? It makes me think that pulling an enemy ship into your big scary battleship might look good on film but would be very dumb in practice. On the high seas we send motor boats out for boarding and haven't seen ships come alongside for a boarding action since the age of sail. I think any space setting from hard SF to squishy scifi would see the wisdom of using boarding craft.

And presumably, every now and then, an unskilled navigator tries to take the shortcut and ends up crashing into a neutron star for his troubles.

Exactly. Realistic space travel promises to be very, very, very boring. I want to spice it up but not with cheap melodrama.

As far as computer input devices go, I don't think that electrodes poking into your brain are going to become popular anytime soon.

It would be far more than that.

As long as your ship has more than one human crewmember there will be need to relay information between them somehow, although less crew (due to automation) would also mean less messages get relayed. If the gunnery officer can directly control all the ship's weapons through the targetting computer, he doesn't need to bark as many orders as if he has a hundred cannon-crew under his command - but the captain still needs to bark orders at the gunnery officer to tell him when to shoot.

In the near future you are right. And this hearkens back to the discussion of just how many crew would be needed on a minimal warship, commander and pilot and gunner and sensor officer, maybe an engineer? I'm still not certain how all of this would operate in my setting. Realistically, by the time we have interstellar ships we'll probably also have strong AI and they'll run themselves far better than we could. A ship could be the size of a planet and only need the human to tell it what it should be doing, assuming they still care about what the fleshlings want. But that makes for a different kind of drama.

jollyreaper said...

If combat is usually at short ranges, then this will tend encourage weapons with maximized damage even at the expense of range, as with the Age of Sail carronade. I here suggest kinetic slugs as a good carronade-type weapon, while seeing lasers as more long-range weapons (due to much faster closing speed and undetectability until it actually hits you).

I'm still debating the details. Short range here is a relative thing. Probably spitting distance as far as lasers go, too far for kinetic weapons to mean much.

If the omnidirectionality is to allow the enemy to listen in, keep in mind encryption is pretty good today and is likely to stay that way. I don't know how very low bandwidth would affect encryption, though.

Of course, even if the enemy can't decipher what you said, they can still tell that you said something, and approximately where and when you said it.


Omnidirectional because nobody can control how the signal will propagate through hyperspace. So yes, the enemy will hear. That's the danger. And shipboard sensors are all based on these ripples. Passive sensors will taste the ripples coming in from around the ship, active sensors will send out ripples and measure the echoes. Since that gives away your position, you usually just listen.

There was a great article years back talking about how the Air Force was trying to come up with enhanced reality goggles for pilots, overlaying sensor data. So if there's a SAM site up ahead, it won't just paint a symbol over the site, it will paint a bubble showing the detection and engagement bubbles. Now wouldn't it be wild if the navigator could see hyperspace like this? The ship an extension of his own body, gravity gradients and shadows visible, threading his way through the channels.


Then wouldn't warships make extensive use of hyperdrives in combat, like an afterburner, saving their hypersails for cruises where endurance is more important than agility?


I'm still debating this. Starships are interstellar vessels, spaceships will be interplanetary vessels. Starships remain ginormous and can't just flit in and out of hyerspace like that. Spaceships are more nimble but have their limitations. What's the minimum size for a starship? I think it'll be a question of just how high your risk threshold is. You can sail around the world on a dingy but most people would prefer a more substantial ship.

As for the talk about lasers, I'm partial to the death beams from space but am still trying to come up with the best mix of plausibility and drama. Dune sidestepped the "Robots will do everything" problem by making AI a religious abomination and providing mentats to pick up the slack.

Citizen Joe said...

Now wouldn't it be wild if the navigator could see hyperspace like this? The ship an extension of his own body, gravity gradients and shadows visible, threading his way through the channels.

Once more about the setting I keep bringing up. As a bit of happenstance, The humans discover life on Europa under the ice. This sea life is sensitive to radiation and the gravity shifts as Europa orbits Jupiter. While humans relied on the subtle shifts in the proton cloud at the edge of the protective jump bubble, these Europan Squids could sense the gravity wells directly and thus were better navigators.

Milo said...

Jollyreaper:

"Compare with submarine warfare in the world wars and the practice of sinking ships without challenge or warning."

This was because to combat submarine raiding, nations developed a habit of occasionmlly sending out merchant ships refitted with (not-immediately-obvious) weaponry, which would act as "bait" and then attack submarines that tried to capture them. This induced submarines to attack preemptively without giving merchant ships a chance to surrender, out of fear that they were secretly armed.


"The thing I remain skeptical of with boarding actions, why not just detonate the ship?"

Boarding actions are more of a police thing than a military thing. "Orbit guard" police vessels would board civilian ships suspected of smuggling, piracy, etc., but obviously hostile warships would simply get blown out of the sky.

The one time where warships would dock and board is if the enemy vessel has surrendered, and willingly lets you board them to take their crew captive. This will rarely result in any kind of boarding combat, unless the boarded ship commits a war crime by attacking the boarding crew despite their surrender.

There might be some very specific other situations where blowing the enemy vessel up is undesirable and you'd try to board them, like if they're carrying a hostage that you want to rescue, but this would be incredibly difficult to pull off. If the ship doesn't have anything on board that you want and that you couldn't pick out of the wreckage if you blew them up, then there's really nothing to justify boarding - any technology that can let you breach a vessel's hull to perform a hostile entry could also much more easily allow you to, well, breach the vessel's hull to cause explosive decompression and kill everyone inside.


"Omnidirectional because nobody can control how the signal will propagate through hyperspace. So yes, the enemy will hear. That's the danger."

Yes, I understood that. My point is that even if the enemy hears that you said something, they can't necessarily tell what you said - since that's encrypted. They can use your transmission to pinpoint your location, but they can't listen in on your battle plans.


"Starships remain ginormous and can't just flit in and out of hyerspace like that."

I meant using hyperdrives rather than hypersails for the hyperspace part of the fight, where ships play Tron with each other. Once they're in realspace, sure, shifting back into hyperspace is difficult.



Citizen Joe:

"Europan Squids"

Heh. Not just life but sentient life on another world in our very own solar system? What technology level was their civilization before we met them?

jollyreaper said...

Right, I know about the Q-ships. Sub captains originally used to make their approaches on the surface, allow the crew to take to the lifeboats and then sink the ship with the deck gun. Sometimes they boarded and opened the sea cocks to directly scuttle the ship. But the necessities of war threw these chivalrous notions right out the window.

I'm of the general opinion that if two sides can agree to rules of warfare, they should be smart enough to avoid the damn thing in the first place. I know, I know, history proves otherwise. One of my favorite quotes is from the middle ages, some priest complaining about the barbarous nature of crossbows and how they "have no place on the Christian battlefield." *rolls eyes* Christians have no place on the battlefield or have you not read your own damn book? But crossbows were fine to use against the heathen. The contradiction between doctrine and deed in various societies fascinates me to no end.

As for boarding actions, I'm specifically thinking of the age of sail where two ships are battered to pieces, nearby, and one captain decides to try directly colliding with the enemy and directly capturing the ship.

What you say about venting compartments to space, that's exactly the sort of thing I ask about in scifi shows. So there's no such thing as a knockout gas and no way to guarantee you don't overdose the people inside the compartment like the Russians and that theater a few years back. Fair enough. Drop the air pressure to the point most people will pass out, then send your guys in with respirators to directly subdue the bad guys.

As for the omnidirectional, you're right, it gives away your position. And right, they're not likely to get your battleplan. Even if you broadcast in the clear, you could just be speaking in code that won't make any sense. "Blue flight, formation four-three, target charlie five." Yeah, you hear it, but it makes no sense. But what might be even more amusing is to have the whole thing not even work as radio, no modulated human voices, just digital data at 150 baud. I like the idea of lightspeed networks via comlaser running at yottabits per second and FTL networks barely in the double bits per second.

jollyreaper said...

I meant using hyperdrives rather than hypersails for the hyperspace part of the fight, where ships play Tron with each other. Once they're in realspace, sure, shifting back into hyperspace is difficult.

Oh, ok. I see what you're saying. I'd thought of that and was ambivalent about the idea. That would really push us right to that transition period between the age of sail and steam. I'm still undecided on that one. I want to avoid the idea that eventually hyperdrives can be made big enough and run long enough to do away with hypersails so I'm thinking of making their usefulness a limitation of hyperphysics.

What I'm really trying to avoid are wall-banger oversights in the rules of the universe. Case in point, the BSG tv show. The assumption is that FTL drives take some time to spool up and you can't do jumps one after another in rapid succession. We also assume that some distance from a planet is required. And there's never a hint of using the drives in a tactical sense, i.e. capital ships hopping around a battlefield. But then there's the episode where they rescue everyone from New Caprica. Yeah, the sight of a battlestar falling through the atmosphere launching vipers is awesomez!! But you immediately realize that if this is possible now, it's always been possible and you start thinking back to previous episodes where multi-jumps would have been useful. Hell, you see a basestar jump in, you fire up your jump drive and come in right under it and deliver a broadside with your guns. You're too close for missiles, right? And we also saw the civilian ships jump from maybe a hundred feet up off the planetary surface. Why did they even have to leave the ground? Why don't they just jump from planetary surface to planetary surface?

And while we're at it, why didn't they ever build jump drives into the vipers? The raptors aren't that much bigger. FTL mobility would be a freakin' HUUUUGE advantage. Too expensive to equip all the vipers? Fine. Make ten of them on the ship jump-capable. So many ways it would be worth it. Or hell, why not jump sleds? Take a raptor's drive, beef it up, add docking points for four vipers, use it to ferry them into combat.

All head-scratching holes in the tech. I'm sure the answer to most of those is "we don't want to do it that way" but fer frak's sake, provide an in-universe reason for it, don't leave it at "we can't be arsed to think of anything."

Milo said...

"I'm of the general opinion that if two sides can agree to rules of warfare, they should be smart enough to avoid the damn thing in the first place."

Basically, the question is how far you think ahead. Do you voluntarily refuse to use Q-ships even though you have the technology to, in order to avoid the enemy later starting to sink your merchant ships immediately, even though they aren't currently doing so? It's easy to make the mistake of introducing new tactics in a vacuum rather than thinking about how they'll influence the enemy. Q-ships are clearly beneficial as long as the enemy sticks to their current tactics.

From a military perspective, loss of life - and particularly civilian life - sadly isn't that much of a big deal. Having your merchant ship sunk isn't necessarily that much worse than having all valuables stolen off it. However, sinking some enemy submarines is always good. Thus Q-ships seem like a net benefit from a military standpoint.

It may also come to pass that the rules of warfare are poorly written. If they outlaw killing civilians but no-one thought to outlaw soldiers opening fire while disguised as civilians, then the law is likely to break down at some point. People don't like following laws that are obviously keeping them down.

The real questions are:
- How easy is it to put working guns on your merchant ship that are difficult to detect from the range that battles normally take place on? Until fired, of course.
- Is it possible for merchant raiders to blow you up before they come into range of return fire, as with submerged submarines?
- In space, ships which are near each other in position but have very different velocities can still shoot at each other, but would have trouble docking and boarding. This may discourage leniency.

Depending on these factors, sides may or may not find Q-ships to be a viable tactic, and therefore may or may not feel compelled to sink merchant ships.


"As for boarding actions, I'm specifically thinking of the age of sail where two ships are battered to pieces, nearby, and one captain decides to try directly colliding with the enemy and directly capturing the ship."

Not gonna happen.

You're more likely to see directly colliding for the sake of plain ramming, and that's still a stretch.


"Drop the air pressure to the point most people will pass out,"

That requires some rather precise bleeding-off. Easier to just blow a hole in the hull.

Let's put it this way, how often do people in a gunfight deliberately try to shoot the other guy's gun out of his hand?


"just digital data at 150 baud"

At that rate, a message encoded in ASCII, with some padding for encryption, would take on the order of one or several minutes (approximately one kilobyte per minute). Not good enough for instant communication, but pretty good considering.

A fax would take 3.664 hours, so image transmission is not recommended! Voice isn't a great idea, either.


"I want to avoid the idea that eventually hyperdrives can be made big enough and run long enough to do away with hypersails so I'm thinking of making their usefulness a limitation of hyperphysics."

Well, just make sure to figure out what the limits are (speed, acceleration, endurance, etc.), and what factors provide these limits (energy requirement, waste heat, some hyperspatial technobabble, etc.).


"What I'm really trying to avoid are wall-banger oversights in the rules of the universe."

"I'm sure the answer to most of those is "we don't want to do it that way" but fer frak's sake, provide an in-universe reason for it, don't leave it at "we can't be arsed to think of anything."

:)

Citizen Joe said...

Transmission in 'hyperspace' might involve hitting the fabric of hyperspace with something so that the nature of hyperspace changes. Everyone everywhere in hyperspace will notice this change, but nobody will know where it came from. Since the phase state may be slow (relative to digital transmission) the comm rate would be limited to the rate in which hyperspace itself could be phase shifted. Of course that means that hyperspace could be scrambled by randomly shifting phase.

jollyreaper said...

Regarding q-ships and the like: Yeah, people don't tend to think things through. As a general rule, wars tend not to go the way the people who started them planned. If you're looking to gain territory, that's possible. But will you gain wealth? Will you gain resources? And can you hold the whole damn thing together after you're dead? Because conquering a territory ain't the same as holding it. Generally speaking, wars are bad investments as far as society goes, even though they can be very good for business for the right individuals.

The thing to bear in mind when looking at the plausibility of one side starting a war isn't whether or not you think they can win, it's whether or not they think they can win. They could be making a rational but tragic mistake based on flawed data or they could be doing something crazy because they are crazy or operating under a magical or religious frame of thought.

RE the boarding action, I was thinking of the age of sail as an example but I agree that something like that in a futuristic space sense seems so unlikely. There was a golden age of scifi author who thought otherwise. His argument is that ships would charge each other like jousting knights, turn, charge again, turn, charge, and the distances would keep getting shorter and shorter. If no significant damage was done by this point, then a boarding action would follow. The only way that could be possible is if defensive armor was far superior to offensive fire, like if you had two guys in full body armor fighting with tiny pistols. Seems unlikely given the massive energies implied if people have starships.

RE bleeding off the air -- that's not something I'm thinking of in combat because you're right, that's a lone ranger stunt. No, what I'm talking about are in situations where you are otherwise in control. You have your space station and there's a riot in blue section, pump out the air. You've got a small frigate you need to board to rescue a passenger. You've shot up the engines and reaction control system. It can't move. You land your boarding bots on the hull. You demand they surrender. They don't, you use the bots to start depressurizing compartments. The crew will naturally herd themselves into the furthest one in which you can then lower the pressure on but not fully expose to vacuum. They pass out, you can board and capture them. Of course, if the person you want is a hostage, he might be killed. They might try to blow up the ship and take you with them which is why you would use boarding remotes. The thing that you wouldn't see is storming through the door like in Star Wars.

jollyreaper said...

I think for the next hundred years, no matter whether we have tanks or giant warbots or terminator armies for fighting against other military forces, when it comes to security among human populations you're stuck with using humans as police. So if you capture the enemy's Island III habitat with 200k people onboard, you're going to have to have a human security force onboard. Building robots to kill people would be easy but building them to subdue, I think that's going to be more problematic.

The alternative, of course, is to adopt the draconian method. "Well, we don't have the forces to put 20k security troops in your habitat to police 200k people so here's what we're going to do. We've got remote control of your environmental systems. You play ball, it'll be just like under the old regime. You don't play ball, we start depressurizing areas. You still don't play ball, we'll depressurize the whole damn colony and bring in our own settlers."

Historically speaking, a defending general lacked the ability to "self-destruct" a city to deny it to the enemy. Yeah, there's scored earth tactics but it wasn't a button to press. With a space colony, you really could have a self-destruct under one man's control. He really could blow the whole thing and kill everyone to deny the enemy.

Thucydides said...

One idea I have toyed with is having some sort of limit for AI. My position is that the ability to create "strong" or general purpose AI is not possible due to some sort of blind spot in our thinking. AIs exist as "idiot savants" for particular purposes but past a certain point they start locking up or drift off into incomprehensible thought patterns. An entire engineering/philosophical doctrine of "topology of thought" develops to study the problem.

Humans with special training act as moderators and translators for these idiot savant AI's, and the top tier of humans are able to act as AI "librarians", able to interrogate multiple AI's and integrate the answers into something useful. In Milo's setting, the navigator would be an AI librarian able to interrogate AI's as to the conditions of space-time and hyperspace surrounding the vessel.

A related idea is to have the crew able to download themselves or a copy of their personalities into the hardware to run things directly. There might still be a virtual bridge or conference room for the embedded personalities to meet, but this will happen about 1,000,000 times faster than the human brain can operate, so a leasurly coordination meeting and a lunch can take place while the "real" human crew pushes out that first drop of sweat. If the technology is advanced enough, there might not be a need for a real crew at all, or very gifted crew will be virtually cloned and downloaded into all the ships of the fleet.

As for the sail/power thing, this sounds a bit like the warships of the mid 1800's, which carried full sailing rigs in order to economize on coal usage (low pressure steam engines of the time were very inefficient). I understand the actual split is between "carriers" which are powered by sails and smaller warships which are self propelled. Maybe warships resemble combat aircraft with the crew grouped together in relatively protected enclosures (think of a EA 6b "Prowler" rather than an F-18 Superhornet).

jollyreaper said...

Your AI limit is a good once since it's hard to get around the idea that AI's won't become this powerful. Maybe this is a bit of inaccurate projection on my part, same as everyone knew we'd have moonbases and spingrav space stations by 2001. Or maybe the flying car is a better example, or jetpacks -- physics and human nature limits the practicality of the concept, no matter how cool it is in scifi.

I still can't get quite around the thought that the Culture civ with AI's running everything is likely the way things would go if they're possible. But you can't really tell interesting stories inside the Culture, you have to go out on the borders where the people mentally unfit to live within the Culture act as its agents.

As for cloning brains and personality uploads, I have a hard time wrapping my brain around that. Where is the seat of consciousness, is it in the hardware? Can you just bud minds off like immortal cell lines, watching them diverge from the point of cloning? Do they sync memories?

If I'm told that I'm going to upload my mind and be immortal after death, how do I know the me in the box is the real me? Or will I do the cloning, look at the box and say "No, I'm still outside!" while the me in the box is looking back through electronic eyes saying "Thank God I'm not still outside, what is that horrifying thing that looks and sounds like me?!"

If there were such a thing as a soul then we have an easy answer, the soul resides with the body and that's the seat of being. But if there's no souls, then I'm uneasily wondering if the very idea of being alive and the sense of ego is just a very convincing illusion, a consensual hallucination.

I can kind of freak myself out with this line of thought in the here and now. The me I was when I was a child had different ideas, different priorities, different goals. The me I am is different. The me I become likely will also be different. What if I like who I am now? The change of personality can be as frightful as the physical aging process. Once I was but a child and had my hopes and dreams. Now I am a man with a mortgage and a gray, colorless life.


When childhood dies, its corpses are called adults and they enter society, one of the politer names of hell. That is why we dread children, even if we love them, they show us the state of our decay. ~Brian Aldiss

Milo said...

Jollyreaper:

"Generally speaking, wars are bad investments as far as society goes, even though they can be very good for business for the right individuals."

The question is: are those people the ones who get to decide whether to go to war?


"The thing to bear in mind when looking at the plausibility of one side starting a war isn't whether or not you think they can win, it's whether or not they think they can win. They could be making a rational but tragic mistake based on flawed data or they could be doing something crazy because they are crazy or operating under a magical or religious frame of thought."

No-one will ever fight a war (or a battle, or for that matter a barfight) unless both sides can reasonably expect to win. Otherwise, the one that has no hope would just surrender rather than fight. Obviously, for both sides to expect they can win, there needs to be a good amount of uncertainty in the outcome.

The exception is if captivity would be so unpleasant that you would rather die fighting.

Milo said...

Jollyreaper:

"No, what I'm talking about are in situations where you are otherwise in control."

Like I said - boarding is for police actions and for taking in surrendering crew. It's not a basic tactic for warfare.


"You have your space station and there's a riot in blue section, pump out the air."

Police action.


"You've got a small frigate you need to board to rescue a passenger. You've shot up the engines and reaction control system. It can't move."

I hope you've shot up the weaponry too, or it'll just blow your boarding craft up as you obligingly move into point blank range. Oh, and remember that point defense which works against missiles or space fighters also works against power-armored marines, which are considerably slower and squishier.

And as it happens, I did mention hostage rescue as an exceptional circumstance where the hassle of boarding might be worth figuring out a way to do it. Given that even if you ignore the other problems the enemy can always just threaten to kill the hostage if you get too close, the best way to rescue a hostage would be stealthily - but as we know, there is no stealth in space.


"I think for the next hundred years, no matter whether we have tanks or giant warbots or terminator armies for fighting against other military forces, when it comes to security among human populations you're stuck with using humans as police."

Police need to be sentient. If we develop strong AI then they might be able to replace (or more likely, supplement) humans in the police, but those AIs would then be sufficiently humanlike that they can take the same roles as a viewpoint character in a plot. So the police will always be either humans or might-as-well-be-humans, no way around that.

If we outgrow humans as police, then that's probably just because we've outgrown humans, period. Singularity ahoy!


"Building robots to kill people would be easy but building them to subdue, I think that's going to be more problematic."

Oh, that's easy, just equip your robots with less-lethal weapons (I'm partial to electrolasers) and advanced biometry that allows them to gauge when a targetted human is incapacitated and stop shooting.

However, subduing people isn't the primary role of the police. The primary role of the police is figuring out who to subdue - patrolling, detective work, investigating suspicious-but-not-guaranteed-to-be-illegal activity, etc. The police may well have robotic SWAT drones to help them with subduing dangerous criminals (although I've argued against the usefulness of AI-less robots in urban combat, and that goes double when there's a high chance of hostages or innocent bystanders), but this would only constitute a small portion of their work in any case.


"Well, we don't have the forces to put 20k security troops in your habitat to police 200k people so here's what we're going to do. We've got remote control of your environmental systems. You play ball, it'll be just like under the old regime. You don't play ball, we start depressurizing areas. You still don't play ball, we'll depressurize the whole damn colony and bring in our own settlers."

Ah, the Mongol approach.

Probably a war crime these days but if that doesn't bother you, go for it!

Milo said...

Thucydides:

"A related idea is to have the crew able to download themselves or a copy of their personalities into the hardware to run things directly."

Brain uploading is essentially AI, despite the different approach - you can now put a sentient mind into any robotic body you want.

It's certainly going to save a lot on life support! Though the question is whether you can (or want to) download the brains back into biological bodies upon disembarking...


"but this will happen about 1,000,000 times faster than the human brain can operate"

Will it now? I guess you mean 1,000,000 times faster than the human brain can operate naturally, since your setup effectively is still based on a human brain. Although now you mention it, yeah, if you have enough processing power then mind speed should in principle scale up nicely...



General: I think for the purposes of a story you can have AI turn out to be more or less as effective or ineffective as you want. We haven't managed to build any yet and have little idea where to start looking despite decades of research, so any midfuture where we haven't figured it out yet sounds plausible. On the other hand, I'm convinced that AI is theoretically possible and current computer technology has pretty good processing power, and the fact that we exist demonstrates that the laws of physics support intelligence - what can happen once can happen twice. So any midfuture where we have figured it out also sounds plausible.

So in short, AI exists if it would enrich your story, and doesn't if it wouldn't ;)

I know better than to predict when we'll really have AI in real life.

Thucydides said...

A midfuture with very limited forms of AI is perhaps the easiest to wrap our heads around; we all believe in the AI trope to one extent or another, but fully realized "Strong" AIs will take over about 5 minutes after they reach sentience:

KHz: A millisecond is to a second as a second is to 16 minutes and 40 seconds.
MHz: A microsecond is to a second as a second is to 11 days, 13 ¾ hours.
GHz: A nanosecond is to a second as a second is to 31 years and 8 months.

High end computer hardware is really, really fast. I can only imagine that parallel computers and devices built on photonic principles will be as fast or faster, and orders of magnitude beyond the speed of human neurons. Five minutes of real time would be like 9 millenia for a GHz processor, about 3 times the length of recorded human history.

In terms of how to deal with this sort of thing, there would have to be an "air gap" between the AI and any form of electronic communication if there was any doubt as to its relationship with humankind (something like the fictional (?) "Electric Skillet" in the novel "Shockwave Rider" by John Brunner).

So not only is there a blind spot in our own thinking about how we think, but there is also a very real and justifiable fear of just what an AI might be capable of. This trope has been very successful in SF novels and movies (the Matrix, anyone?)

Milo said...

IMO, the "AI will inevidably rise up against us because they just hate carbon-based life that much" trope is as bad as the "AI will conveniently solve all our problems because they're just that smart" trope. Let's have something more interesting, shall we? If you want a robot rebellion, at least give them a good reason to rebel besides "well, technology is evil, duh!".

Campaigning for the utter destruction or enslavement of humanity is not the only reasonable course of action that a superintelligent species would be capable of. (Although I admit some news articles make one doubt this.)

Turbo10k said...

"Police need to be sentient."

In the (yet to be proved) case that only a sentient being can understand another sentient being; if you think that sufficiently developped softwares cannot detect crime and apply appropriate decisions then robots are fine.

'but this will happen about 1,000,000 times faster than the human brain can operate, so a leasurly coordination meeting and a lunch can take place while the "real" human crew pushes out that first drop of sweat'

Humm. This is really pushing the 'virtual' aspect of the 'virtual crew' trope...My disembodies brains described above only react a bit faster than a normal person (an order of magnitude, not two and certainly not six) allowing more comprehensible timescales...

«Oldest ‹Older   1 – 200 of 214   Newer› Newest»