Friday, September 18, 2015

Of Tall Ships and Trading Posts: Setting the Stage...

One of the most important design aspects when trying to create a plausible Hard SFnal space craft is context.  When every gram counts, and performance has to reach into the theoretical just to be possible, you're not going to design a spacecraft with more....anything than necessary.  It would be nice to have a starship that only needed to be told to "thattaway" and let you cruise at the speed of plot until you find your next adventure.

But in real life, or at least the approximation used for Hard SF, you're lucky if the cold equations let you make it to your destination with enough life support, and luckier still if the hot equations let you do so without melting in your own waste heat.

So. Context...

Starting with the future history I began discussing last time, we have a war between China and 'Merrica over oil sometime in the next twenty years.  Because China invested in cruise missiles, the world's largest Air Force, and ASATS instead of Carriers and other weapons designed to win WWII, they destroy the US satellite system and Navy surface fleet in relatively short order. This is a wake-up call for "the greatest nation on Earth" that leads to separatist movements as the Federal government in the US loses what little credibility and authority it still had.

Even better, the destruction of all of America's satellite constellations is the tipping point for a nasty case of Kessler's Syndrome, so now international communications, Internet and even television is knocked out.  Oh, and weather prediction, so the increasingly frisky weather causes much more loss of life than it does now.

Meanwhile, across the pond, the UK and France decide to take matters into their own national hands in regards to the oil crisis.  Since even together they can't fight China over the dregs of Middle Eastern oil, they decide to use their nuclear arsenal to launch heavily armored Orions into orbit, which can weather the debris storms by virtue of not having to worry about mass.  By selling space on said Orion stations, they can earn money and influence to become major players again, and also enough to not get into trouble with the UN.  In fact, with the world pretty much pissed at China and the US, They are invited to retire from the UN Security Council and their Veto powers are revoked.

That's just the beginning - with the worlds atomic powers giving the ESA their nukes in exchange for payloads on their Orions, A mission is sent to Saturn with the goal of starting an unending stream of megaton oil tanker from Titan to Earth.  It's an enormous gamble, but the investment isn't as bad it could have been  - Orions are in regular, if not frequent use at this point in time, and outfitting a ten kiloton trans-chronian is just a matter of packing enough biscuits, bombs and barrels for the oil.

It will take about twenty years to get the steam of oil from Saturn to Earth.  Once started, it come in regular like - which is good, because earth is just about dry.  All those Orion flights have heated things up a bit as well - the sea levels have displaced or drowned about a billion of the world's nine billion people.   Russia and China are at one an other's throats, but China lack's the resources (after taking out America) to mount an offensive, and Russia lacks the resources to sustain one.  They just...grind away, losing their military power more and more each year.

As for the US, if occurs to the rising military powers of  Mexica and South America that we have quite a bit of oil in our national territory.  Karma is an ugly thing.  What's left of CONUS is not the United States of America.  It's maybe three or four  smaller, weaker countries that dislike one another as much if not more than their neighbors to the south.

By the time the first mega-tankers with their endless supply of methane reach Terra, the Kessler syndrome has just about faded out.  You know how people really really want something when they're told they can't have it? That's how the Terran public feels about space.  And with the enormous amounts of methane making for a petroleum boom that makes frakking look like a backyard well, there's enough money in economy to invest in things like solar power stations in space, and laser launch facilities.  People lived through some lean times, not unlike the period between 1930 and 1950, and they want reliable power and lots of plastic feedstocks.
I didn't have a picture...

It's the late 21st century.  Orions go to Saturn.  Oil goes to Terra, and Mars - the idea of terraforming the red planet is a lot less ridiculous when you have an unlimited amount of greenhouse gasses and fertilizer.  Cape Dread is become a going concern.  Ceres is as well, and planes to visit Jupiter, just to round things out are in the making.
More than anything though, people want into space.  Maybe for a suborbital hop, just to say they did it, maybe for longer.  Space infrastructure builds up.  The numbers I put up for a single Gateway station are about right for the amount of cargo going up into space at this point.  There's a veritable monsoon of oil coming down in ships like the Liberty Bells I've shown here before.  And with interst in older ideas like the Spacecoach leading to actual corporate funding and construction, the Solar System on the verge of it's first bona fide diaspora.

The Kessler Era has ended.  The Conjunction War won't start for another hundred years.

It's Age of the Tall Ship.   


  1. If you want a scenario to make thing a little too interesting for the people living around Titan, I'd like to point out that all an enterprising terrorist needs to make a bomb there is an ignition source and an adequate supply of oxidizer...

    1. One of the reasons Native Jovians were interred at the start of the Conjunction War. Including Jovian Peacekeepers. It gets ugly fast.

  2. Mmm. I'm assuming that once the oil flow starts coming in all steadily, and orbit starts to clear up, that's when the ESA/UN starts building slower but not so massively toxic nuclear-electric ships for the Saturn run. Sure, it'll take a lot more than a few weeks to get to Saturn, but on the other hand Earth's magnetic field isn't grabbing just about every piece of radioactive bomb debris and raining it on the Earth.

    I was worried that if the US was being balkanized before the war, that would cause complications with the Quito Space Elevator, but I suppose if the Conjunction War is replacing the Great Space War, then that's not an issue.

    I suppose it also means that the Conjunction War is gonna turn really nasty - not just in Jupiter space, but also back on Earth. Matching up with the Black Desert timeline, an inhabited Cape Dread is in the perfect position to spot some tantalizing hints on Mars, bumping up Martian colonization in priority...but with Titan methane still way ahead on international and corporate lists, actual expeditions and colonization would take some time...

    1. I talk about old Boom Boom's dirty exhaust in the comment on "Conjunction Revisited". As for the Conjunction War reaching Terra...yes and no. I don't see Jovian forces directly threatening Earth. However, the UN has had a monopoly on space for close to a century at the start of the war, and the Jovian revolt becomes a catylist for widespread independence from the UN.

  3. There are ways to limit the radioactives and fallout from Orions - I go into more detail in a comment on "Conjunction Revisited" .
    The Jacob's Ladder Elevator will still be a big part of The Black Desert, just in a different way. It may be a Brazillian project that is attacked by some species of American successor state now - I dunno yet...

  4. Using a Kessler Syndrome to justify the use of Orion launchers, that's clever!

    Even as Orion drives can be made less dirty as one thought (and even less once they get their hands on pure fusion bombs), I would also expect them to favour alternate launchers with time; nuclear fear won't disappear like that.
    Sure, once your aerospace industry is tooled for it, simple inertia will keep them flying, but at some point laser launch, more refined fusion propulsion and even space elevators may very well phase them out at the time of the Conjunction Wars.
    I wonder how ESA would react if North Korea asked them for one of those N-pulse unit/cargo space deals. Well, North Korea isn't called "the Hermit Kingdom" for nothing, so actually they would probably try and build their own Orion, with all sorts of hilarious shenanigans... Though it could also be fun to see Iran (with normalized diplomatic relations) asking for such deal, adding "Yeah, those old treaties about us not developing nuclear weapons? Well, those are not weapons, obviously, those are nuclear devices!"

    When reading about Rocketcat's Universe recently, I thought that the Riggers would be a natural fit for the Black Desert, in one form or another. The trope of deep-space merciless pirates lurking beyond the rim is a time-honoured SF trope (the first example to come to my mind is the Reavers - before the movie ruined them at least).
    That they are killing people for their phosphorus is good to make them horrible in an interesting way.


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