Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Space Travel in The Black Desert: Practical Considerations for STO Transport

         And here we are again, ready for another week of hard science-y goodness, RocketFans!

         I've spent the weekend working out some ideas on the practicality of commercial spaceflight.  Being a RPG designer, my main concern must of course be getting PCs around my setting in a practical fashion.  As a Hard SF aficionado, my concern is to make such an unlikely situation seem remotely plausible.  The two rarely go together.

The desire
         Realistically, the idea that there will be a great number of of private spacecraft owners is completely bogus.  If we look to the incidence of real-life aircraft owners, the analogy is obvious - I mean, how many people do you know that own their own planes?

The reality
         Another consideration is the cost and practicality of using crewed spacecraft at all, or spacecraft with independent propulsion.  My L-Drive concept is all well and good (if a little unrealistic), but the conventional Light Craft, which has the laser system on the ground, is more practical for 90% of orbital transportation needs.  Add to this the sad fact that when all is said and done, the idea of launching a fully fueled spacecraft that will not use this fuel for the all important boost out of Earth's gravity well is not very practical at all, and it seems to me that a little modification and/or clarification is in order.

         Relax.  This is where the fun begins.

         First of all, the L-Drive itself is only plausible as a propulsion system under certain circumstances.  For flying around like a conventional aircraft, it works great, no fuel cost, no problem!  For actually attaining orbital speeds and altitudes, there are a few caveats.  The L-Drive spacecraft must launch without the propellant it will use once in space on board.  This is a hard necessity; the weight of the propellant is 75% of the rocket's total mass, and launching all that dead weight from surface when you aren't going to use it is simply too impractical to consider.  Don't panic; a rocket can carry enough fuel for orbit changes the same as the Space Shuttle does, and if you need to leave orbit for points West you can gas up in space, with the cost of said propellant already factored into ticket costs.

Right idea, wrong Airline.
         Second, spaceplanes are more practical than tail landers.  I don't like this one either, but the constraints of the propulsion system make it so.  The lifting body design of a spaceplane will let the L-Drive spacecraft accelerate slowly, probably over several orbits.  The orbits will be low- to medium-altitude (where aircraft fly) in order to feed the most dense atmosphere into the L-Drive's bells.  This kind of launch is unheard of in conventional rockets, which attempt to punch through the atmosphere as fast as possible in order to prevent gravitational drag from pulling them back down.  Spaceplanes, which can defy gravity by virtue of their wings, overcome grav-drag enough to make the slow launch work, which means that their L-Drive systems will not require as much power.  Additionally, the spaceplane designs can make use of linear catapults, which further reduces the power requirements on the spacecraft itself at launch. Tail landers can use catapults, but it requires orienting them sideways, which is, if not impractical, at the very least a pain in the ass.

Most common of all...
        Third, L-Drive powered spacecraft will not be nearly as common as "conventional" Light Craft.  The majority of commercial orbital flights will, in my opinion, involve drone craft launched up through the use of a ground-based laser.  These Light Craft will rendezvous with stations in geosynchronous orbits to allow passengers and cargo to be transfered to other stations in orbit or to spacecraft heading to Luna or the great beyond. There may be some stations that have orbital laser capable of pushing Light Craft out into space, but these will most likely be heavily regulated, since these lasers are powerful enough to vaporize lesser rockets and fry targets on the ground.

That's no moon, it's a gas station!
        Lastly, there will be massive propellant depots in orbit.  These will be supplied either by Light Craft carrying water up from Earth, or from Iceteroids at the LaGrange points that manufacture propellants from the cryolith.  Which method is used will depend on whether or not a particular depot is owned by a Terran nation that has extensive water resources on the ground, extensive orbital resources, or both.  It all depends.

        As the week continues, we will look more at these idea, culminating with an example traveler going from Terra to Mars, and changing planes along the way.  Until then, have a good one, RocketFans!

Note: Caption links go to the websites where I found the pictures.  This is meant to give credit, not as additional information to the post.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

No post today...

Have you seen Ashley Flores?
...I just found out that an old friend of mine's daughter is missing.  More info on my Facebook page.  If you've seen this girl, contact at: HelpFindAshleyFlores@yahoo.com

         The great strength of the Internet is that one of us knows someone who knows someone who has seen her.  You RocketFans come from all over the world, if she's still on the planet, someone has seen here.

          Thanks for the support.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Vortex Tubes: A Low Tech Solution to Cooling Magnetic Sails

         In yesterday's post I mentioned using Robert Zubrin's idea for Magnetic Sails to move giga-ton asteroids into new orbits.  The idea has a lot of merit; un spool a thousand kilometers of superconducting wire, add power, and you have a sail big enough to move mountains with solar wind.  The problem with Zubrin's proposal is one of the main problems with all engineering in space: Heat disposal.  Making the wire thin enough to use means it's so thin that it cant radiate the heat it's making fast enough.  This seems to be a deal-breaker, even in science fiction like mine.

          There is, however, a possible solution: Vortex tubes.  Vortex Tubes have been around for decades as a cheap way to refrigerate using only compressed air and no moving parts.  The tubes themselves are so easy to fabricate that we're doing it already, in Ghana.  One of MIT's Fab Lab projects is in that African nation providing technological solutions through the use of the industrial infrastructure inherent in the fabrication model.  In this case, Vortex Tubes are being used to solve the problem of food spoilage, which claims a third of Ghana's produce.  It's an elegant solution; by hooking up the tubes to a truck's air compressor, you get refrigeration with no moving parts and now extra power consumption.  As long as the truck's engine is running, the food stored within is safe.

          This system can be used in magnetic sails for asteroid moving.  by making the outer skin of a Vortex Tube out of superconducting elements, the tube itself will keep the system cool.  Simply have air moving through the tube and the heat disposal problem is solved.  Right?

          Silly RocketFans, nothing in space is ever that simple.

          The use of the VortexTube is an inspired solution (if I do say so myself) but it only moves the problem somewhere else.  The heated air in the Tube must be cooled or the system will eventually just separate hot air from hotter air and the whole thing will vaporize.  This means that the surface of the asteroid must have enormous radiators, or heat sinks.

          I'm in favor of heat sinks, because that waste heat from the sails can be valuable in the asteroid itself.  From what I understand, a heat sink kind of ideal for asteroids anyway, and can be as simple as a block of ice.  It is useful for short-term waste heat; any longer and the ice begins to boil or the rock starts to melt.  It occurred to me, if one of the purposes of asteroid mining is propellant production, then this is a good thing.  Let the "waste heat" from the sails and the fusion plant that powers them melt the ice in an iceteroid so that the liquid water can be cracked for hydrogen and oxygen.

          So there you have it, RocketFans; by using the simple, primitive Vortex Tube in our Magnetic Sail design, we create a closed-loop system that cools the sails while heating up the ice (cryolith?) of an iceteroid for propellant mining.  All with no moving parts.  I call that an engineering win.

           That being said, I am not an engineer, so your thought are appreciated in the comments section below.

           See you tomorrow, RocketFans!

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Black Desert Itself

Mars, with one of the Aldrin Cyclers approaching
         Happy Monday, RocketFans!  This is a post I've wanted to write for a few weeks now, about just what "The Black Desert" I've been referring to consists of.  The info in this post supersedes any info in previous posts that have mentioned the subject.

         The Black Desert is a romantic term, coined by the expatriate artist on Mars and used in literary works by the same.  The term itself comes from the closest translation of the Native Martian term for space in general.  In human lingo, it specifically refers to the asteroid colonies that are not orbiting either Terra or Mars.  It does not cover those planets, nor does the term cover the colonies and outposts of the Dyson Federation that exist around Venus and Mercury.

          At the core of the Black Desert are the Cyclers.  The Aldrin Cyclers are the oldest, cheapest, and most reliable way to travel from Terra to Mars.  Thanks to the Oberth Effect, the costs of maintaining the Cycler's orbit is so low that it is subsumed into the costs of the life-support for the travelers on the Cyclers during the six-month trip between worlds.  That's what makes this type of travel so attractive; the Cyclers are going to go to Mars no matter what, so getting to the Red Planet is simply a matter of hitching a ride.

           But what is a Cycler, exactly?  Theoretically, it could be any type of spacecraft.  Buzz himself currently favors using space stations, and I'm sure that's where Cyclers will start.  Sometime in the 22nd Century, entire asteroids began to be moved into the Aldrin Orbits and permanent outposts set up in space.  The reasons for this are economical; technological advances made such a massive undertaking more cost-effective than worrying about maintaining conventional spacecraft.

          This may sound far-fetched, but the advent of stable fusion reactors makes this kind of statement possible.  With what is for all intents and purposes unlimited power, magnetic sails like Robert Zubrin proposed, were used to move the giga-ton mountains of rock and ice into stable orbits. Two orbits were established, running in opposite directions, so that service between the two worlds could be accomplished more efficiently.  One can, by switching cyclers, make a round trip from Terra to Mars in one year, with no expended fuel.

          There are only two available orbits for this kind of cycle.  Politics being what they are, once one major power established a colony on the Cyclers they all had to, for military and scientific competition.  In the space of about half a million miles there are over a dozen asteroids and iceteroids on each orbit.

           These expensive hunks of rock were mined all the way to their new homes, of course, and the continuing mining operations off-set the initial investment needed get the massive things in place.  In reality, it wasn't enough; the mining bubble burst in the mid-2200s as the Destiny Foundation went bankrupt.  By then, enough people lived off Terra and on Mars that the cyclers continued to be occupied, with twenty permanent habitats between Mars and Earth.
           These aren't the only oases in The Black Desert.  The interesting thing about the Aldrin Cyclers is that their orbits alter slightly (watch the simulator here), moving around the ecliptic by about 51 degrees per orbit.  This means that when the cycler's orbits reach their farthest points, which are in the Main Belt, they do so at seven different locations, passing through each in a seventeen and a half year long cycle.  This means that each one of these locations gets visited by the Cyclers once every 30 months.  It was only natural to alter the orbits of some of the more useful residants of the Main Belt to coincide with these locations and thus seven Main Belt Nodes were added to The Black Desert in a few decades.

           The advent of IPVs during the Great War made manned spacecraft once again the fastest way to travel.  Never the less, with nearly fifty colonies on the cycler route, the Black Desert has been and remains a large and important part of space and life in the twenty-third century.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Spacecraft Spotlight #6: The Santa Teresa

Called “the most expensive ambulance in history” by its detractors, the Santa Teresa is a unique variant of the Marquisa Gras design. The spacecraft is a humanitarian transport for the extremely sick and also for medical supplies anywhere in Terra/Luna orbital space. What makes the Santa Teresa special is intrinsic in her design: She is the fastest spacecraft ever built.

When Pope Francis decided to make a pilgrimage to Shackleton Crater after the end of the Great War, the Holy Catholic Church's main concern was the Pontiff's failing health. Therefore, at great expense, a Marquisa Gras transport was modified into an emergency courier that could, if needed, bring the Holy Father back to Earth in the case of emergency. Fortunately for the half-billion Catholics of the System, the Santa Teresa was not needed in this capacity. Currently, the craft is operated by the orbital branch of Our Lady of Calcutta delivering medical supplies to Luna periodically and assisting spacecraft in distress.

The Santa Teresa gets its incredible speed by virtue of sacrificing all of its available cargo space. The volume is devoted instead to massive LOX/LH² tanks. The typical bank of four thrusters have been replaced with a singe engine that can deliver over a million kilograms of thrust. This amount of drive power is rarely used, as the spacecraft is normally operated at a single gee of constant acceleration. This constant-boost capability lets the Santa Teresa traverse the quarter-million kilometers between Terra and Luna in only six hours.

The interior of the life system has been reworked as well. The Coach accommodations have been removed and replaced with two sickbeds that are fully equipped with tele-operation systems and designed to be sealed for use in free-fall. There is double the life support capacity on board the Santa Teresa, with the extra atmosphere tanks and filtration gear installed in the former gym compartment. The master computer system that monitors the two sick rooms is also installed in this secondary compartment, which allows the Teresa to transport quarantined patients.

While there are still two passenger compartments, these are normally filled with medical supplies being ferried to Luna or stand empty to receive stranded spacers.

The Santa Teresa is the fastest way to get to Luna from Terra, period. This ability may come in handy for dramatic moments when the course of the game needs a fast transition. Antagonistic NPCs who have gotten hold of this craft (or have fabricated a clone) would provide a nasty surprise by being able to run down as anything else in space. That being said, the spacecraft is not armed and adding weapons to it will dig into the Teresa's available -V. Also, the travel time for a constant-boost spacecraft of any type is extremely limited and for a chemically-powered rocket like the Santa Teresa long distance or time-intensive missions are out of the question.

Craft: Modified EASA Transport Orbital-44 Marquisa Gras
Type: Emergency Trans-Lunar Transport
Length: 32 meters
Crew: 3; one dedicated medic
Crew Skill: Medicine/First Aid: 6D; Spacecraft Maintenance/Marquisa Gras: 3D (Luna Run); Spacecraft Operation/Marquisa Gras: 4D (Luna Run
Passengers: 8 (6 refugees, two critical patients)
Cargo Capacity: 5 metric tons (at the expense of passengers)
Consumables: 16 crew-days (25 kilograms)
Fusion Powered? No
Safety Threshold: 10
Acceleration: 1g
-V: 3600
Hull Strength: 2D
Damage Range: 8
Avionics: 2D
Weapons Systems: none

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Spotlight Preview: The Santa Teresa

        Still catching up on work, chores, and sleep, RocketFans.  I'll have the Spacecraft Spotlight for the Marquisa Gras posted by tomorrow.  For now, here is a preview image of a medical variant of the "Fat Duchess":  The Santa Teresa.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Marquisa Gras Officially on Sale!

         And once again, RocketFans, we reach that time of month, where a bright, shiny new rocket awaits you.  That being said, things are a little different this month.
        The price on this month's offering is only $4.00.  The prices on all of our previous spacecraft will also drop to $4.00.  And because of its massive popularity, the Ten PDFs for $10 bundle deal available on RPGNow.com will be continued for at least another month.  So if you're new here and haven't taken advantage of this offer yet, you still have time.
        I've got a busy week ahead of me, so the Spacecraft Spotlight for the Marquisa Gras may not be available until Thursday or Friday; it all depends on what I can get done today.  Speaking of which, I should get to it, shouldn't I?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Tweaking the Marquisa Gras...

         On the advice of Engineer in Progress and RocketFan Robert Davidoff, I modified the docking rings on the Marquisa Gras.  I like the look of the new images better.  Work continues on the interior in preparation for the 16th.
         On another note, you'll notice this site no longer has advertisements.  I'm having issues with my AdSense account that have not been resolved.  That being said, I still have my donation tab for those generous RocketFans who wish to throw a few florins into the steam of trade.

         Personally, if anyone wants to help keep this website (and this company) going, It is always helpful to get some nice word-of-mouth advertising.  So if you like what you see, tell a friend.

         See you tomorrow, RocketFans!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Quick Post

It's not done yet...
        Bad weather and Blogger issues prevent me from leaving a decent post today.  Therefore, I leave you with a shot at the unfinished interior of the Marquisa Gras.  Enjoy, and I'll see you Monday!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Designing Plausible Spacecraft for RPGs: More work on IPVs

The USS Example II
         In order to help everyone get a feel of what I'm trying to accomplish with my Interplanetary Vehicle (IPV) design, and not just the long time followers of this blog, I made this list of vital statistics. I'm including the technical stuff as well; this being one of the places where such data is both expected and welcome.

Length: 240 meters on the longest axis.
Primary Mission: Space denial; to interdict the space around an asteroid base with Kessler-type Missiles in order to deny said base resupply.
Secondary Mission: Resource acquisition; force the surrender of asteroid bases though space denial and then occupy said bases.
Crew: 40 core crew, 10 Espatiers, 30 mission specialists, 75 maintenance robots, 80 combat robots.
Powerplant: Two 50 Gw He³-He³ fusion reactors
Primary Propulsion: Two Mini-Magnetospheric Plasma Propulsion (M2P2) arrays.
Secondary Propulsion: Two Laser propulsion thrusters fed with Hydrogen or Oxygen from water electrolysis. Used only for emergency vector changes.
M2P2 Field on: as seen from the front
Radiators: 32 lithium droplet radiators
Propellant: Liquid Hydrogen and Liquid Oxygen stored primarily as water.
Habitats: Two 25x25 meter cylindrical habitats on opposite sides of the IPV. Docking ports for up to 16 optional attachable Habitat Modules (mass removed from cargo capacity).
Dry Mass: 31,000 tons
Structure: 14,000 tons
Cargo Capacity (including habitats and all consumables): 16,000 tons
IPV under sail; spacecraft is traveling to the right.
Propellant Mass: 120,000 tons (stored as water)
Total Mass: 150,000 tons
Mass Ratio: 5
Specific Impulse: 400 s
Acceleration: 1 millegee (0.00981 m/s²)
Mass Flow*: 7.6 kg/s
Exhaust Velocity*: 4000 m/s
Thrust: 882,900 N
v: 116,171 m/s
Brachiostrome Duration Terra/Mars: ≈ 10 wks
*Data is for the M2P2 system

Fell free to comment!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Marquisa Gras Exterior finished!

         Here we have the final look of our May offering, The Marquisa Gras Transport,  In both front and side views.  I've enjoyed working on this one; its got gold foil and external tanks and generally a lunar lander-esque look that's been fun.

         It also hasn't generated nearly the debate and controversy of yesterday's article; there is quite a bit of buzz on my roller coaster inspired artificial gravity article did.  And the pro-camp can be found on Engineer in Progress and the con-camp can be found on SFConsim-1.  I personally plan on keeping the design in some form for American IPVs, as the hallmark of American aerospace design when it comes to manned spaceflight has tended toward over-engineering a bit.  I also plan on introducing other designs that are less involved for other space-faring nations.

How do you feel about the artificial gravity design?  Do you like the roller coaster, or would you prefer a simpler approach?  Comment below.

See you tomorrow, RocketFans!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Arificial Gravity and What Roller Coasters Can Teach Us About It

        One of the many problems with long-terms spaceflights is the lack of gravity. Your nose stuffs up more or less permanently, making any food not served with hot sauce taste like cardboard, nausea makes it impossible to eat for the first two or three days, and telling the male members of the crew to keep their dirty thoughts to themselves is pretty much unnecessary, given what the fluid redistribution does to “Le Reflex Gallant”. If that weren't enough, going to the space toilet takes about an hour and as Apollo 9 Lunar Module Pilot Russell Sweickart noted, “There ain't no graceful way”.

         If that were all it was, we probably wouldn't worry about it. However, these little symptoms are only the beginning. For example, because all of the body's fluid sensors are above the waist, Astronauts don't feel thirsty when they should and suffer chronic dehydration. They don't feel the need to urinate when they should either, making bladder rupture a embarrassingly real possibility. Lack of convection currents makes forced ventilation a must, as you could end up choking in a cloud of your own breath without it. The same principle makes dying of heatstroke for want of a breeze a possibility as well.

         The most dangerous effect of free-fall is that it causes muscles to atrophy and bones lose calcium. It is generally a truism in biology that organisms are lazy to a degree. If you don't use it, you lose it. In space, that means that bones, since they no longer need to support weight, start shedding calcium like a long-haired cat in July.
Keep going, it's saving your life!

        While it's true that vigorous exercise will help ameliorate this somewhat, Astronauts that serve the standard six-month tour of duty on the ISS lose on average 5% of their bone density. Not so bad right? It is when you consider where that calcium goes. Most of it is expelled via urination, which makes getting wicked kidney stones not only possible, but likely. As bad as kidney stones are on the ground, in space there is pretty much no way to pass them, as gravity will not move them along. While it hasn't happened yet, if we go without gravity for periods much longer than the current limits we will lose Astronaut to kidney failure. This means if we want to go to Mars, or even a Near Earth Asteroid, we are going to have to take gravity with us.

         We've been theorizing about artificial gravity in space since before we went there. Pictures of the old-school spin habitats hovering like giant bicycle tires in orbit have graced the pages of everything from children's books to Colliers magazine over the years. The problem with spin habitats is that they are, as currently imagined, going to be so maintenance intensive the dang things will probably spend more time out of order than doing anything useful.

        What's wrong with spin-habs, you ask? Oh, dear RocketFans, let's count the ways:
  • If the entire spacecraft spins, it has to be wide enough to make it worthwhile, adding superfluous mass,
  • If that wasn't enough, steering this spinning top is whack-o due to the gyroscopic effect, doing maintenance on the hull will cause vertigo in a corpse, and docking an axillary craft is impossible without stopping this monster.
  • If only part of the rocket spins, you need a flywheel, which is aerospace engineer-ish for “big mass penalty”.
  • If you have two spin-habs that counter spin to cancel out the gyroscopic effect, there is pretty much no known way to engineering science to make an air-tight seal that friction won't destroy in a matter of days. Come to think of it, this holds true for any spin-hab, counter spin pairs or no.
  • If you use an air lock to travel between the spin segment and the rest of the spacecraft, you better leave a crew in the free-fall segment or hope you don't have any emergencies that require rapid response. Having a hab in the free-fall segment for the “on watch” crew just means nearly doubling the habitat space, which is yet another mass penalty.
  • Radiation shielding an entire spin hab is – you guessed it – a major mass penalty. Not shielding the spin hab means that you better have plenty of warning when solar flares happen, due to the whole air-lock thing.

        There are probably more reasons that spin-habs are a pain to use, but I think we've seen enough.

        So there you have it, RocketFans; we have to have spin gravity in order to survive a trip to the planets, but they are so ornery that actually building one is going to be next to impossible. Whatever can we do?

        Obviously, I have a suggestion; there are pictures further down the post that are a dead give-away.

        First of all, I've generally thought that putting the motive force at the hub of a spin-hab would put a lot of stress on the spokes from torque (I think; engineer I'm not). It made more sense to me to put the spin hab in a centrifuge, which could be as small as a stationary ring around the hab and them have wheels on the hab add the spin like a car constantly driving uphill. Unfortunately, I couldn't come up with a design that had a prayer of not being a tangle of supports that make the mass penalty of a flywheel seem like a sweet dream. Still, the idea has stuck for awhile, and ended up getting used in the Iceteroid Outposts article in OpenD6 Magazine. Basically the Conestogas are connected and drive up the walls on opposite ends of a circular vault inside an asteroid. That worked pretty well, but didn't help for spacecraft.

Look kids, it's Physics!
        Finally it hit me: Roller Coasters! Specifically, inverted roller coasters. You know the ones; they have tubular tracks and the cars have wheels mounted both above and below the track that allow the coaster to travel in pretty much any direction the track leads, regardless of gravity. The inverted coasters are my inspiration because when they loop the loop, they are on the outside of the track, hanging from their wheels.

         That's all it took. I opened up GIMP and started kit-bashing with the map elements and plans from all of my other stuff and whipped up possible design for an IPV that has spin gravity via modules traveling on tracks.
The USS Example

         This IPV is not large enough for my tastes, but it demonstrates all of the design principles I've mentioned in the past. It has two of everything, lots of room for propellant, two fusion reactors and associated thrusters, and big, beautiful radiators that turn what looks like a dumb bell made of Tinker Toys into a fairly cool looking spacecraft. Or maybe that's just me.

Thank goodness for sprites!
        The important parts for this discussion are the spin tracks and modules. As you can see to the left, there are airlock nodes mounted on drive trains that have two sets of wheels gripping the tubular track. You can have as many or as few of these modules as you like; as long as there is an equal amount on the other track rolling in the opposite direction at the same speed. This versatility will allow IPVs to interchange modules in short time, both increasing flexibility and making maintenance easier.

         The maintenance advantage is that each module node has its own motors and power supply independent of the others. If one konks out, it can be pushed or pulled by the others on the track like a rail car while the techs repair the motors inside the module and in gravity. This turns a good chunk of the maintenance nightmare into something manageable. Even better, preventive maintenance can be done as often as you like and no one need put on their fancy clothes.

         This design is safer too. You may notice that the interior surfaces of the hab modules are flat; there is actually an Astrobot standing on the “top” of the module on the left. The robot arms in the previous graphic allow access to the habs, the consumables cargo pods on the central truss, and the avionics gear in the hub, all without risking the trapeze act while the modules are spinning. If there is a need to crawl along the “underside”, or outer surfaces of the modules, handrails are provided. Have fun with that.

         My favorite part about this design is the outside surface airlock on the module nodes. In the examples above, you can see that I have an inflatable greenhouse on one side and a Paladin Spaceplane docked on the other. Both the greenhouse and the Paladin are in full gravity - even more gravity than the modules because they are further away from the center of rotation. This set up allows the crews and passengers of small craft being ferried across the black deserts of space to enjoy the benefits of gravity without having to increase the number of habitat modules permanently attached to the IPV. Indeed, an IPV could become a veritable super carrier just by adding more airlock nodes. If it were me, I'd have double the number of airlock nodes anyway and use them to ferry passengers (for a fee) to the other module it's in between. This system also makes it much harder for shady types to get unauthorized access to the control module, which will have the command crew's quarters located on the same node.

         But what I like about this spin-gravity hanger space (no pun intended) is the possibilities it gives me as a role-playing game designer.   I need my future Players to be able to do something during that ten-week trip to Mars, or I'll end up having to Handwave shorter travel times out of desperation and hang my head in shame. With the roller coaster design, Characters in my game can explore the IPV, interact with its crew, the crew of other rockets, explore the other rockets, all while traveling to Mars or the asteroids in their personal, short-range spacecraft. This is why rockets like the Heinlein spacecraft have airlocks in their noses, so they can become part of the spin-hab itself.

          Anyway, the roller coaster design may solve a lot of problems, but seems to make some issues worse. Traveling to the non-spinning sections of the IPV, for example, is now impossible. These modules are completely isolated and cannot even use an Airlock to access the hub because the rails are in the way. While it may seem to be not unnecessary to travel to the other parts of the ship, trying to pilot a spacecraft from a control room that is in constant motion would be difficult, to say the least. This isolation also seems to make the problem of radiation shielding worse as well.

Of course, I wouldn't have brought it up if I hadn't figured out a decent work-around. Just like real railroads, our IPV's rails can have sidetracks and switching stations. It's a little more complicated than tracks on flat ground but if a section of the tubular rail can be made out of flexible segments with expandable areas in between, it would work. I made a handy .gif animation showing the process below:
         With a sidetrack, the Modules can leave the spin track when they need to, without the other modules having to slow down. It may be necessary take a damaged node off the spin track for overhaul; the IPV can simply detach the modules, connect them to the node that pushed the damaged unit off track, and put the modules back under gravity, all in a couple hours or so. In combat or an emergency like loss of sensors, the Command module can side track out of spin, stop, and then take as many bearings off the stars with a coelostat that the Emergency Pilot wants. They can also send robots and possibly live crew via suits to any areas of the hull that are stationary.

         But the best part is that in the even of a radiation event, attack, or other calamity, all of the modules can sidetrack and hide. You'll notice our USS Example has a ring of silvery cylinders to located medially to the big orange balls (those are Hydrogen tanks, BTW). These tubes contain the bulk of the ships volatile propellant stored as nice safe water. Because there isn't any solid that hydrogen can't seep through given enough time (it is, after all, the lightest of all elements), the long-range IPVs electrolyze the water when more LH2 is needed and the oxygen is either burned for rocket power or breathed by the crew, take your pick.

Head for the cellar, Maw!  Twister's comin'!
         Anyway, all those water tanks are racked on a ring wide enough that the habitat modules can slide into the space they create, giving the humans and plants within a nice 10-15 meter wall of water between them and radiation. This means that not only is there no additional mass penalty for radiation shielding, there is no need to cramp up the crew in a tiny storm cellar either. The only luxury the crew need do without during a long radiation storm is gravity; they can sleep in their own bunks and eat at their own tables.

          During combat (if it's that kind of IPV), The modules are still protected. I imagine that all of the modules with the exception of FCR-1 will be under cover; FCR-2 will be in a place where it can pop out immediately and take over if FCR-1 is mission-killed. The most logical set up I could come up with is the one above; the Modules go in opposite directions so that the loss to one side of the spacecraft does not mean the loss of all hands. It may be possible to create another sidetrack that allows modules to travel from one spin rail to the other; that way, if one ring is damaged, the full crew can use the other ring while damaged one is repaired. Repair would involved replacing the damaged section from either spares or fabricated sections. We can do that now, as the rails on roller coasters today are prefabbed in sections and assembled on site.
          Anyway, this is a really long post, so I'm gonna go do something else now. Comments are always welcome. See you tomorrow, RocketFans!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Character Sheet: Final Design?

          I've received a lot of good suggestions about the Character Sheet and have modified it accordingly. 

          One of the most common comments about the first version of the Sheet I posted was that there were not enough Combat Displays for different weapons.  The Black Desert setting isn't really all that combat heavy, in my opinion, but I want to make things open enough that my more blood-thirsty fans can pack a lotta heat if they like.  There fore, there are two Ranged Displays and two Melee Displays on the current version.  In addition, I changed the Displays' design to make it a little easier to record info in - especially since the Displays are now smaller.

          I also modified the Defense Display to take up less room, added an Ammo Tracker, and made the Damage Tracker larger.

          Anyway, here is the new version:

          Today is the last day to comment on the Character Sheet before I publish the PDF on RPGNow.  I will continue to listen to comments and stuff, of course; the final version will not be set in stone until December, when the Core Book is published.
           Anyway, that wraps up another week, RocketFans!  Monday, we will kick off with a look at Artifical Gravity and some plans I have to make spin habs that aren't quite as big a maintenance nightmare.

           BTW: For those who qualify, Happy Mother's Day!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

May Reveal

          Here we are, RocketFans!  This month's Ship of the Black Desert is a space-only cargo craft:  EASA's Marquisa Gras Transport.  This is an unfinished side view of the new spacecraft.  Hope you like it:

I'm happy with how the shading on the body turned out; it gives a good illusion of depth.  I also tried an effect to get that gold foil look and it worked out fairly well.  If you squint (or, even better, click on the image) you can see the details of my new docking ring.  At the suggestion of Robert Davidoff, who has his own blog, Engineer in Progress, I have added an androgynous, universal docking port that will now appear on all of my rockets, and any of the old stuff that appears in future products.

          Anyway, that's it for today, see you tomorrow, RocketFans!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Crew as Mission Control IV: The Heinlein Rocket in Combat

         Here we come to the last (for now) installment of our series on using the Mission Control model for future spacecraft crews.  Today, we will look at a fully staffed Tactical Rocket on a mission of space superiority.

          First of all, let's do a recap of the Heinlein Rocket and what goes on in space combat.  There are certain conventions I'm assuming that have to do with the physical limitations and economic realities of using crewed rockets or even rockets at all, when missiles and small robotic drones would be more efficient and affordable.  Admittedly, the justifications for some of these conventions are rather arbitrary; Meta-Fiction, in the form of Burnside's Zeroth Law, makes certain assumptions inevitable.

          Okay, so the Black Desert setting assumes that the Plasma Sails used for propulsion on IPVs also protect the spacecraft from cosmic rays, solar flares and fast moving space debris.  Assuming that means that the IPV can casually shrug off lasers, nukes, kinetic kill vehicles and what have you.  This is great for the IPVs, but bad for games and dramatic plots.

           Now we have learned of a way to take out an IPV: The Kintzi Lesson tells us that the Fusion Torch on a rocket will cut through pretty much anything if it can get close enough.  This means reusable rockets instead of missiles, however; fusion reactors will be much too valuable to waste on one-way trips.

           This still does not dictate that we need a fragile organic crew to to man any of these rockets.  Indeed, In BD, a squadron of rockets set to attack an IPV will only have one crewed rocket in the entire formation, for Command and Control.  Electronic Warfare being what it is, it will take a flesh-and-blood crew riding into the fray with the drones to keep them from being fooled by all the razzle-dazzle.  The rest of the rockets will, however, be identical to the manned rocket, as a way to protect the crew.

          As we all know, there ain't no stealth in space.  Period.  You may disagree, and may have a really good reason for doing so; if so, please read this before leaving a comment.  I'm not trying to be a spoil sport, I'm trying to make SF cooler than it currently is by making it actually possible.

         Besides, having a Wing of drones surrounding a single C and C rocket makes the idea of using decoys practical.  Since we have all of those autonomous rockets in our attack wing anyway, they might as well all be identical, to make finding the boss rocket harder.  Add Electronic Warfare to the mix, and the crew will be reasonably safe from the risk of being singled out.

          At this point, we have enough info to start thinking about this Command and Control crew.  We need a core crew to actually fly the crewed Heinlein, and additional crew to direct the drones and keep on top of EW and insure communication is maintained between the drones and the command rocket.

          The core crew is easy; we figured that one out yesterday.  It may or may not suprise you that finding info on field operating Unmanned Aerial Vehicles was a little difficult.  I did find this smallish doc online that says that up to four modern UCAVs can be operated by a pair of people.  For the purposes of Black Desert, these positions will be:
  • Drone Operator (DO):  This officer only directly controls the drones in the event of EW interference, ionization blackout or other problems.  Use the Spacecraft Operation Skill.
  • Mission Payload Operator (MPO): In charge of deploying Kinetic Missiles, programming the defensive lasers, and firing the Fusion Torch.  Use the Gunnery Skill.

          Now I didn't know about any of this stuff when I first designed the Heinlein.  Nevertheless, I included 11 crew positions in the deckplans to account for a fully armed and combat ready craft.  Assuming a minimum of 5 to actually fly and fight the craft, that leaves three pairs of Drone Operators available for up to 12 drones. 

So there you have it, RocketFans; we have now outlined the crew compliments for fully staffed IPVs, basic small spacecraft, and Command and Control craft in a space combat scenario.  As always, comments and questions are welcome.

           The rest of this week will be updates only - I gotta get to work on this month's Ship of the Black Desert, my Westward artwork, and finalizing the design on the Character Sheet.  Next week we will be discussing the Missile Craft again, with a look at how the Artificial Gravity will work.  Should be lots of fun.

            This brings up an important question:  Would you guys like to see a supplement on the IPV soon?  My original plan is to publish a PDF on a NuRom Vardo in March, to be the first big offering after the Core Rules.  Make no mistake, it will be a big supplement, akin to OD&D's Keep on the Boarderlands in terms of scope but with more detailed info on the NPCs.

            I've had a few of you ask for a doc on the IPV; what worries me is that info in the supplement may change as the Core Rules come into tighter focus.  What I can do is put out the IPV in PDF only by around August.  The nice thing about working with RPGNow is that I can edit the PDF once the Core Rules are finished and anybody who purchased the product will get an updated copy for free.  I can then offer the IPV in print with a clear conscience.

           So what do you say, RocketFans?  Would you like to get your hands on an IPV by August?  Leave a comment below.

           See you tomorrow!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Crew as Mission Control III: What about Small Spacecraft?

          Continuing this week's expansion on the idea that future spacecraft crews will be set up like present day Mission Control, we're taking a look at how such a model can be applied to smaller spacecraft, like the kind that PCs in the game I'm developing would actually use.

           The truth is, I've done some work on this topic already, which is where I got the current systems I have been using in my Ships of The Black Desert products.   The way I see it, there are two necessary approached to any problem such as this for an author; the Plausible design considerations, which tell you what you can get away with without stretching credulity, and the Meta-Fiction considerations, which basically mean what does the plot that you've already got in mind just have to have in order to work?   Now, being the author (of sorts) of Hard Science Fiction, I understand that the Plausible considerations must take precedence over the Meta-Fiction considerations.  As an RPG Designer, I understand that there are certain conventions that must be followed in order to make a game playable.  Hopefully, I can strike a happy medium between the two.

            When deciding how to crew my rockets, way back last September when the Paladin first came out, I understood that as an RPG product the spacecraft had to have room for up to five people.  This is the traditional baseline for PC parties in most game systems.  I also understood that in order for people to actually get to play a game more than once a month, I needed to make the game playable for smaller groups and even solo players.  In Hard SF this is not that hard difficult, because even with the way technology is shaping up, large crews in space are simply never going to be practical fanancialy.

            Problem one solved.

           So, having decided that I need spacecraft to have a crew of 1-5 organics, It was time to start researching in the real world, so I would have a baseline from which to extrapolate.  I first looked at how real space craft are currently crewed; The Space Shuttle, despite being 30 years old and on its last mission as a class of spacecraft, is the best place to start in the real world because it has the largest crew compliment; up to seven astronauts can be carried at a time.  Even better, It can be crewed by as little as two, such as on STS-1.  With a crew capacity within my Meta-Fictional filter, I could now look at what these people actually do.

            The Space Shuttle has a core crew of three or four; Commander, Pilot, Mission Specialist and Payload Specialist.  The Commander is the astronaut in charge (obviously) and also serves as the primary pilot.  The Pilot is actually the Co-Pilot and also may deploy satellites and such.  The Mission Specialist usually has specific duties related to whatever science is being performed on the Mission.  The Payload Specialist, as well as being in charge of specific satellites as technical experts, may also be a military officer responsible for launching classified payloads into orbit under the title of USAF Manned Spaceflight Engineer.

          Possible crew positions also include  Educator Mission Specialist , Flight Engineer, International Mission Specialist and Spaceflight Participant.  Details can be found here.

             Now, most PCs in a game will not be conducting scientific experiments. For the Ships of the Black Desert, I used the above as inspiration to come up with the following crew positions:
  • Flight Commander (FCOM): Not to be confused with "Flight" on IPVs carrying small spacecraft.  This person is the Skipper, and maybe the Emergency Pilot as well.  Use the Command Skill.
  • Pilot: This is the primary pilot of the spacecraft, a job that involves incidental maneuvering, monitoring the flight computers, and guiding the spacecraft during ionization blackout. Use the Spacecraft Operation Skill.
  • Flight Engineer (Booster/Chief/Drive): In charged of maintenance, electrical systems, propulsion, and the Fusion reactor, (Via robots) if any. Use the Engineering, Nuclear Engineering, Spacecraft Maintenance and/or the Telepresence Skills.
  • Payload Officer (PLO): This person is in charge of all cargo, including proper weight distribution, and all weapons on a spacecraft, if any.  Also operates robots often.  Use the Gunnery and Telepresence Skills.
  • Life-Support Officer (LSO):  Even spacecraft fully operated by AI will have an LSO if they carry passengers, as a reassurance to their guests.  In charge of maintaining all organic consumables, atmosphere, and associated systems, like the air-scrubbers and toilets.  This is also the spacecraft's Medic.  Use the Medicine and Spacecraft Maintenance Skills.
       Now this is a perfectly workable crew line-up.  In light of our Mission Control model, I would change one thing: I would replace the Pilot with a Guidance Procedures Officer (Guidance) using the Computer Operation/ Maintanace Skills and thus cover the Electronic Warfare angle without adding any additional crew.  In an emergency the FCOM could maneuver the spacecraft just like Jim Lovell did with Apollo 13.

        Incidently, anyone who thinks that the Mission Control model for a spacecraft crew isn't bad-ass enough for a work of fiction or a role-playing game is invited to watch the movie Apollo 13 as well as the videos from the FCRs at NASA during the Challenger and Colombia disasters. 

       This type of crew would be set up thusly:  Three eight-hour Watches staffed by the Pilot, PLO and Chief in order.  Neither the FCOM nor the LSO stand watches; the FCOM is too busy being in charge and the LSO is not qualified.

            That's it for this post, RocketFans; return tomorrow for the final (maybe) installment of this series of articles, where we will discuss the staffing of a tactical command and control craft during space combat.

        PS: Don't forget to comment on the Character Sheet!