Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Superlasers and Solar Sails: Travel Across the Black Desert

Future of Transport?
         For those of you who have been following us for a while, you know that the principle mode of interplanetary transport in The Black Desert is magnetic solar sails.  These are great; you can travel to Mars from Earth in a matter of weeks on the solar wind and don't have to carry fuel to do it. 
         The problem, of course, is that solar wind only blows in one direction: rimward.  This means that cutting across the system, past the sun, is impossible.  That is, it's impossible unless a secondary wind source can blow you toward the Sun.
         The other main mode of transport in The Black Desert is the L-Drive - a form of laser propulsion.  Lasers can be used to propel solar sail craft as well; it would just take a whopping huge laser, on the scale of a mini-Death Star, to pull it off across distances measured in AU.  That's okay with me.  After all, The Black Desert has Dyson Swarms, AI and Space Elevators, so what's a few Death Stars among friends?
         In order to make sense of how this would work in practice, I will now be revealing the official map of The Black Desert.  The image below was made using an animated orrery for reference, and is set for January first, 2210.

One hex = 3 million kilometers.  1) Mercury, 2) Venus, 3) Terra/Luna, 4) Hektor Node, 5) Paris Node, 6) Mars, 7) Agamemnon Node, 8) Achilles Node, 9) Odessyus Node, 10) Jason Node

             As you can see above, Terra and Mars both have Trojan objects; in this case, these object are asteroids that were towed into position and mounted with the largest solid-state laser arrays ever conceived.  These lasers are used to push IPVs against the solar wind and onto their destinations across the system.  To go from Terra to Mars on the date above, an IPV would need a boost through the orbits of Venus and Mercury from the Achilles Node Navigation Laser, like this:

           In this example, the IPV (that's a real plan view of one of my designs, BTW) is trying to reach Mars while the two planets are at opposition.  First our IPV tacks against the solar wind, following Terra's orbit, until it is in clear "view" of the Achilles Node Nav Laser.  The laser (in purple) inflates the IPV's sails and provides thrust against Sol's gales and across the orbit of Venus.  Once across the system, the IPV can use solar wind again to blow into Mar's orbit and hold station near the Red Planet. This is what causes the IPVs twisted flight path (in green).

           You may notice that the IPV reaches Mars' orbit a couple of pips ahead of the planet itself in this diagram.  There is a real simple explanation for that:  Each of those pips (on every orbit) represents one Terran month.  It takes, according to my calculations, about 70 days of travel.  Therefore, Mar's will be there to meet the IPV when she finally arrives.

          Now, there are more than a few problems with using these lasers to shortcut the Inner System.  The two main ones are physical and political, respectively.  Physically, we're talking about a laser that can fire across interplanetary space for weeks on end.  That will take a lot of power.  In addition, a laser that strong will fry the sensors of any spacecraft for a distance substantially greater that it can fry metal.  There will have to be a "no-fly" around the laser beam for thousands of kilometers to prevent unfortunate accidents.

          This leads us to the political problem:  That laser cuts through the orbit of Venus, a planet held by the Dyson Federation in The Black Desert.  The Trans-Humanist Dysonites are, if not actively hostile to the rest of the system, at least not friendly.  The solution in the context of our setting is the aforementioned Aerospace Transport Authority.  AsTrA basically exists to provide neutral administration of the Navigation Lasers in Terran and Martian orbit.  Representatives from every polity in space, including the Dysonites, are present at each of the Nav Lasers to insure that they are not used in anger.  The cost of maintaining these stations, and AsTrA itself is paid for by a toll system; you have to cough up in order to ride the beams.

           This leads to our final problem: the practical one.  At first blush, it would seem that AsTrA, the Nav Lasers, and all the costs and expenses associated with them only exist in order to make IPVs possible, and IPVs are used primarily to fund the Nav Lasers, AsTrA, and their expenses.  It seems like circular logic, when looked at out of context, but the main reason for such a huge infrastructure is this:  If just one nation has spacecraft that can travel between planets in weeks instead of months, the rest simply can't afford not to invest in the technology as well.


  1. Ray, maybe I'm having a brain fart, but wouldn't a particle beam give more 'oomph' than a laser for a mag sail/plasma sail? I'm not sure it would have the range though.

    Power sources. What are they using to power up those lasers?

  2. I don't think it would have the range, but I could be wrong. The Nav Lasers are powered by fusion reactors. Big ones.

  3. Hmm. So who built the first lasers? And what was their disposition during the Great War?
    And the most important - if they're using big horking fusion reactors, where is the fuel coming from? What is the fuel? Is there a steady train of IPV tankers arriving? And if so, from where?

    Tis hard SF, so you opened yourself up to the questions.

  4. The first of the Nav Lasers were built by Brazil; as the first nation to employ Magnetic sail IPVs, they needed them. The nav laser arrays in place at the LaGrange points are the oldest. The US built an outer array using asteroids colonized by the Destiny Foundation. One of these was captured during the war by the Russians and used by the EU prior to their withdraw from the Deep Space Theater. The station was recaptured by Brazil in one of the more infamous atrocities of an atrocious war. The main computers were hacked and the entire facility depressurized. The incident was immortalized in Santiago Walsh's "Apophis Speaks", a work compared to "Guernica"

    The solid state lasers in a typical Nav Laser array are powered by up to a dozen fusion reactors each. That being said, these are not lone asteroid in the middle of nowhere; each Nav Laser is part of a multi-rock node in space. The smallest of the Nodes include at least three asteroids - a metallic, a carboniferous, and an iceteroid. The Fusion plants use Helium-3 supplied by either lunar mining, tritium decay harvesting, or both. The Nav Lasers in the modern Black Desert are deliberately kept from being self-sufficient (can't rebel if you can't eat). The Nodes are supplied by the various polity that use them for transport.


Questions, comments, criticisms? All non-Trolls welcome!