Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Tall Ships and Trading Posts: Tall Ships verses Spacecoaches

Welcome back, RocketFans, to another installment of Tall Ships and Trading Posts.  This time we're dealing with the specific design issues of Spacecoaches and Tall Ships, and what they are meant to do.

First of all, you may have noticed I wrote Spacecoaches and Tall Ships.  I'm beginning to see these as two different types of solar electric spacecraft.  Just as you have Piper Cubs or Lears on one end of the aviation spectrum, with A380s and 787s on the other, there will be "small" Spacecoaches for Ma and Pa immigrants and larger Tall Ships for commercial purposes.

"Small" - bit of a misnomer, as the engines and solar sail systems must be of a certain size to work at all.  I've been working on the larger Tall Ship version for the time being, and the numbers are humbling.  It will take 1200 MET units, arranged in a 900 square meter array to push the habs, propellant and eight hundred thousand square meters of thin solar film, carbon composite masts and yardarms, and automated rigging for same.  These  Solar Sailers have masts that are kilometers long, with hab sections that are almost too small to see when the Ships are shown in scale.

"But Ray", I hear no one ask, "if the number of passengers is smaller, and the payload is smaller, why can't the sails and engines be smaller?"  Ah, my hypothetical straw man, you must understand that in this case, it is not about payload, or even about mass.  It is about travel time.  If you make a smaller MET array, the thrust is lower, therefore the acceleration is lower, therefore the travel time is longer.

But still, lets look at some numbers.  Consider the following a real-time look at the creative process, meaning I'm making it up as I go along.

A full-sized Tall Ship has a MET array that pumps out 48000N of thrust and takes 240 Mw of electricity to run.  In order to power that system in the orbit of Mars, and assuming a SFnal PV efficiency of 50%, you'll need about 800,000 square meters of sail. That will be arranged on two masts, each a kilometer long, and about four hundred meters wide.  With all the stuff I mentioned above in terms of mast and rigging, that's about 900 tons for the power train.  You'll need 3000  tons of propellant, but that's okay, because it's water and can be drunk, bathed in, flushed, then used as propellant in a model of combined utility.  Habitats run you 270 tons, payload about seventy-two for a two-year mission.  This Tall Ship is more like Rick Robinson's gossamer winged spacecraft, with about 36 passengers and crew, two big habs, and a 400-ton lander/ transfer craft.

A more conventional Spacecoach design will lose the lander, have a hab suitable for about six or so, cargo for a family of pioneers, and that's about it.  If we try to quarter the power train, we get 400 METs, 60 Mw of power, 12000, and a sail array 200,000 square meters.  That would be a pair of masts about five hundred meters by two hundred along the yardarms.  But, the mass will still be 450 tons, because while you quarter the area, you can only halve the mass. Still, try a thousand tons of water propellant, and habs at only 135 tons  you'll keep the same payload reqruirements, because these folks are moving to stay.

So, Tall Ship: Total "wet" Mass of 4672 Tons, and a Mass Ratio of 2.8 (wow!).  With a Delta V of 10.1 kps.  The Space coach will have a wet mass of 1657 tons, a mass ratio of  2.5 and a Delta V of 8.9 kps.  So our Spacecoach has shorter legs than a Tall Ship, but not overly so - especially with such a significant reduction in cost (assuming you measure cost by x-thousand dollars a ton).

So now we can figure travel time. All the current figures assume enough supplies for a two year mission, so if the Spacecoach can't make it to it's destination in that time, you have a problem.  Tall Ships are golden - they accelerate at a blistering 0.01 m/s.  They also have a long burn duration, on the order of four days (750000 seconds) and can zoom out to Mars in 16 months.  That may sound slow, but you can make the trip in gravity, with showers everyday, so it ain't all bad.

Spacecoaches, however, have the following numbers:  Acceleration is only 0.007m/s, so they are slower and their burn durations is only a quarter of a million seconds (69 hours) before coast-and-flip.  The average velocity will also be only be half that of a Tall Ship. With those numbers, it will take our Spacecoach thirty-three months to travel to Mars.  Having enough supplies is not a problem, fortunately, because we kept the 72 ton payload of the Tall Ship.  It will mean that you can carry less pioneer stuff, however...

But how much do you need?  Look at your ship:  You have enough solar sails to run your hab's power systems and your propulsion.  Another thing, your propulsion system doubles as a mining system, with the MET thrusters making handy drills on the surface of, say, Deimos or Mars herself.  The habs you already live in?  They have structure, bracing, and plumbing for use in gravity already.  So it sounds to me, for the cost of an aerobraking transport to the surface that the folks at Cape Dread would be happy to charge you for, you could turn that Spacecoach from a slow boat from Terra to a instant homestead/mining outpost.  Convenient.

These numbers are very much back-of-the-envelope, so take them with a grain of salt.  What the number do show is that you can have small slow Spacecoaches for individual families that cost less and provide an instant homestead on the other side.  You can also have larger commercial Tall Ships that economically yet quickly ferry dozens of people from here to the Red Planet.  And what's more, these numbers are scaleable - you can add more cargo to a Tall Ship if you don't mind going slower, and you can get a Spacecoach to go faster with the addition of more METs and studding sails on the existing mast.

What I'd like to have is Spacecoaches and Tall Ships move at closer to the same travel times. I have definate ideas brewing in my fevered brain, and they involve not only these majestic sail ships of space, but their successors, Microwave beam-riders. Those  however, are a topic for another post. 

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.   

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Signed Books for Sale!

Good books, too!  Alister Young, writer extraordinaire and my inspiration behind the idea of doing Nano-fic, has two anthologies from his Eldreverse for sale on Amazon here and here.  I mention this because for a limited time, he is offering to sign copies of said books for only the Amazon price plus additional postage.  You can leave a comment at the links above if interested.

I've read both of these books, and highly recommend them.   Alister has received the distinctive Atomic Rockets Seal of Approval, so you know that the stuff is excellent, but allow me to put my additional $0.02 worth on top of that.  One of the stories, Cosmos and Ethos, was one of the most inspiring things I've read this decade.  Considering this decade is half-over, that's saying something.

Anyway, it's good stuff.  You should take a look.  Pledge to Alister's Patreon, even. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

TR-Minus-One Month and Counting...

It's September 16th, which is one month from official release date of our next books, Technical Readouts - Fighters.  These two-dollar PDFs will feature six new starfighters for your game enjoyment and will be available in both Open D6 and OSR (White Star) compatible versions!  I gave my Patreons a preview of the artwork last week, and now it's time for the world to see.

In addition to the starfighters, Technical Readout - Fighters will also feature a full-sized battle map of a small hanger to enhance your game play.  And remember:  Patreons who pledge $1.00 or more get this book - and our entire past book archive - at no extra charge.

There will be more previews as we approach the release date, but in the meantime, Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Conjunction Revisited

I been thinking long and hard about my Conjunction setting, RocketFans, and all of the well thought out comments about the plausibility of using Pertoleum as a species of MacGuffinite.  Many of these were in the form of comment discussions with the aforementioned Robert Davidoff, who helps keeps head-in-the-clouds types like me honest.

And I cannot argure his cogent points.  It does take more energy to move natural gas from Titan to Terra than you can get burning the natural gas.  It will always be cheaper to mine marginal sources on Terra than go fetch it from the ass-end of the Solar System.  All of this is true, and in a world where things like physics, hard reality, and logical allocation of resources are the guiding forces, we would never import oil for Titan.

...But.  We don't live in a world like that, do we?

I bring this up because I realized that there is a hidden cost to continually extracting oil from Terra that is so steep, it would in fact be cheaper to improt the stuff from the vicinity of Saturn.  I say "hidden" cost, but this cost is widely advertized and extensively debated in the news, private homes, schools, and of course all over the internet.  This "hidden" cost is not only measured in ridiculous amounts of money, it is also measured in a tragic human cost.  The cost includes tens of thousands of lives every year, as well as millions of families losing their homes, livleyhoods, and health.  Yet despite this cost, we continue to mine oil on Terra with a fanatic vigor and show no signs of stopping.

I'm talking about war, of course.

Just to put it in perspective, the total profits of the American oil industry in the last ten years is a bit less than 930 billion.  It sounds like a lot, I know, but the Iraq War, which we fought for about the same amount of time and was motovated far more by oil politics than anyone in Washington wants to admit, has cost to date 1.7 trillion dollars, or not quite twice as much as the oil profits for the same period.  Of course, the oil profits belong to the big five US oil companies, and the cost of the war is the responsibility of the American taxpayers...

Anyway, the cost is actually much worse than it appears. Because we're still paying for that war - veteran's benefits, despite being way, way less than our servicemen and women need or deserve, will end up costing over the next three decades (the estimated lifespan of the veterans of the Iraq War) an additional 6 trillion dollars, or about two hundred billion a year.  Verses 93 billion a year in oil profits.

This is bullshit.

Sorry, but I really think it is.  This is the hidden cost of our oil, more hidden than the tax at the pump already included, that most of us aren't in the habit of counting as the price of doing business in the petroleum-fueled industrial world.  If I may, I strongly sugesst that you we start getting used to it, because as Earth's petroleum reserves get lower, our likelyhood of going to war over what remains will only increase.

I see a youngster standing in the back of the audience shouting something about moving our industry off of petroleum as a cheaper alternative to going to war or going to Saturn.  Both of these points are true - and both are also very, very false.  At face value and on paper, it would be cheaper to move our entire industrial infrastructure to something other than Big Oil, and then be sitting pretty while the rest of the world fights over the dregs of crude left in the sand.  But it doesn't work out that way in practice.  For one thing, no civilization has successfully survived the transition from one form on energy to another.   For another thing, we wouldn't just have to get the government and practically every industry in the world to agree to the cost of such a transition, we would still have to pay for the energy we're using now and there's mounting evidence that we don't have enough resources to do both anymore.

Weather the above is true or not, it's plausible.  And that's all I need.

So let's say we're stuck with oil and the growing need to fight for it.  That is, of course if you can fight for it, because not every nation has the massive military-industrial complex America does.  China does, and while they burn enough coal to make 19th century England look like a wet firecracker, they too are fighting for the same oil the US is.  Right now, they're fighting with money and economics.  If something doesn't change fundementally and radically, it is only a matter of time before they fight with their huge-ass Air Force and all of those ASATS and cruise missiles they've been building.

Again, plausible.

Now, suppose you're a nation, or group of nations, that are advanced industrialy but lack the military power to take on the Big Two for the world's dwindling oil supply.  I can think of three off the top of my head - The UK, France, and Japan - and Germany, so four.  Now, a couple of these are nuclear powers.  Two have top-notch manufacturing bases, and all of them have excellent aerospace firms.  I bring those points up because there is a spacecraft design, available since the sixties, that can use that nuclear arsenal and aerospace tech to get to Saturn with a five- to seven-thosand ton payload:  The Orion (old boom bloom) Nuclear Pusle Battleship.

Unlike the spacecraft that so terrified Kennedy back in the day, this "battle ship" is unarmed.  what it carries are the makings of Titan's first space station, laser launch facility, oil refinery, and plastics plant.  Afterall, Saturn was the destination of the first big Orion mission proposal.  But our Orion is not there for flags and footprints - though it may very well plant a flag, because while the Outer Space Treaty may forbid political claims on exteraterrestrial territory, unless some else builds a freaking Orion, there's precious little they do about it.

In space, anyway.  After all, just becuase a handful of nations in Europe and Asia have oil fields around Saturn doesn't mean they can keep the oil, any more than the handful of Middle Eastern countries with oil fields in their own territory can keep it. But I don't expect this group of nations that first exploit Titan to keep it - I expect the UN to end up with it, and handle portioning out the oil in the name of Keeping the Peace.

In other words, the Conjunction Universe.

How much would it cost?  Billions.  Tens of billions.  And years of R&D.  And probably hundreds of lives.  In other words, easily a thousand times cheaper than oil from Earth is, when you factor in all the costs.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Of Tall Ships and Trading Posts

You know what, RocketFans?  It's been entirely to long since we've had some honest-to-Heinlein speculative worldbuilding around this blog.  Let's fix that, shall we?

So I was perusing that clearing house for all things Hard SF, Atomic Rockets, and came across a wonderful design for a cheap, reusable interplanetary spacecraft with the romantic name of Spacecoach.  It's an exciting idea - the ship's structure is primarily water ice and kevlar strands, a mixture known as Pykrete.  The habs are inflatable, the engines double as mining drils, and the propellant is grey water from the crew's life support.  It's a genius mixture of innovation, simplicity, and safety that would allow the average mortal to reach for the stars.

Part of the design that drew my curiousity was the large solar arrays needed to power the Microwave Electrical Thrusters.  Nothing wrong with solar - its the oldest and most mature form of In-Situ Resource Utilization used in orbit and, as they say, the sun is always shining in space.  The thing that concerned me was that the sun may always be shining, but its only half as strong around Mars, and a mere 4% of it's NEO intensity once you reach the Jovian system.  The excellent nano-fic Spaceward Ho! suggests that microwave rectennae could be utilized beyond Mars, but the price of such a system is dependance (and financial obligation) to whomever turns on the microwave beam.

Call me a recluse, but I didn't like that.

So I posed a question to the modern virtual agora that is Google+, in which I proposed the use of regenerative fuel cells to make the Spacecoach energy independant past Mars.  My reasoning was that 4% power on the solar array may not be enough to power the ship, but it could power the regenerative cycle on a fuel cell.  Since fuel cells crack water for hydrogen and oxygen, and the Spacecoach is pretty much made of see my logic, right?

Alas, Robert Davidoff, who is to the untrained writer/artist like myself what the Logisician is to Generals (Read the first entry in Logistic Quotations and know that it's a compliment) points out that you can add hectares of solar arrays for the same mass that the regenerative fuel cell and enough solar panels to run them.  I wondered if it would make sense to stow the extra panels when in the inner system, or just leave them out all the time.  Like modern Muse of Hard SF, Rob posted a quote that seved as great inspiration:

"Well, there's the potential justification of protection from micrometeors and other debris, like you said, plus just general rule of cool". Maybe something like a roller-furling jib, with a fixed "boom" and retracting flexible solar array "sail" would do? The boom could be very light, and rigged inboard when not necessary to avoid docking issues, and it'd be easy to swing it out and unfurl the array to and start making watts when necessary."

...Masts?  Jibs? SAILS!?  That sounds like... a TALL SHIP!

So my fevered brain had to design one, of course.

Here we see her shaping an orbit from Cape Dread to points beyond in the Belt.  There's a family aboard, who will use their ship's MET thruster as a mining drill to tease volatiles out of the cold rock.  They'll trade surplus water for phosphorus and other necessities. I may be hard life, but there's freedom and opportunities in the Black.

See?  Inspired!

But I'm not just interested in making fun art pieces out of these ideas; I've been crunching numbers just as feverishly as I have been drawing pictures and sculpting pixels.  And while it is only a matter of many maths to come up with the essential specs of such a spacecraft, justifying its existance is another matter entirely.  Sure, you could build one, but who's gonna buy it?  It can go from here to Marse, or even Ceres, maybe, but what will it do once it gets there?

In future posts we will start seeing what this Tall Ship can do, and why it should do it.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

And For Our Next Trick...

Greetings RocketFans!  The last week has been super busy - not with projects, but with illness.  Debra, all of our kids, and myself went through the rounds of flu, and now the house looks like the end of a particularly raucous party I don't remember attending.

My house after the flu.
But I already had plans for the next few installments in Blue Max Studios' inventory, so we are by no means behinds schedule.  In fact, the designs that will be used in these new books have already been done, and that is a huge savings in time.

And yes, I said these books.  As in plural.

The next couple of books were putting out, like The ABCs of Space Opera, are a bit of a departure from our normal spacecraft deckplans.  Instead on one ship being explored in detail, we're releasing a half dozen designs at once.  They don't have deckplans - just stats and some images of the various ships.

We're calling the series Technical Readouts.  Our first books are on fighters.  There will be two releases at the same time; one with OSR stats, suitable for the new White Star  RPG, and one in Open D6, because of course I'm doing stats in D6.  The two books will include six fighter designs and will also include a small hanger battle map.  They will be sold for two dollars each - In order to keep the costs down, the two rule systems will each get their own short book, instead of a five-dollar long book.  This also means that the books will be available to a wider number of my Patreons: the books will be made available to my one dollar patreons as well as my $5+ patreons at no additional cost.   I try to make sure my Patreons get a good deal.

Just because the books are cheaper than our usual fare doesn't mean they're of lower quality.  For one thing, thanks to hitting our first milestone (at $50 a month) I am upgrading my equipment and software!  I've already got a new Wacom tablet to replace my aging one, and I've aquired new desktop publishing software on which to edit and layout our future books.  As for the art, how about we have a sample?

Technical Readout - Fighters will be available for sale on October 16th for $2.00 through the good offices of and  We'll have more updates as the month goes on.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The ABCs of Space Opera Released!

98 pages of AWESOME.
Here it is, RocketFans, our first offering in two years!  Coming in at 98 pages, this is also easily the longest book we've ever published. It is twice the size of our next longest book, The Pumpkin-Suit Manual, if that tells you anything.  That's one of the reasons it's a two volume set - after all, it wouldn't do to have a third-party suppliment be longer than the core-book, would it?   Honestly though, we needed the space.  Inside you'll find four new playable races, an entire new class of alien menace, and a new type of spacecraft.  There are also new rules for beam weapons, shields, hybrids and a ton of random tables.   It's ten dollars by itself, but if you want it and all the other stuff we've and all of our future books as well, you can go to our Patreon page and pledge $5.00.  Your choice.

Speaking of which, our Patreon account reached it's first milestone yesterday!  In addition to giving me and my family a much-needed infusion of funds, the reaching of this goal will allow me to upgrade my hardware and software, so the next books we put out should be even better!

You may be wondering, in a rhetorical sort of way, what's next for Blue Max Studios.  Obviously, The ABCs of Space Opera, Volume 2: M-Z are on the horizon.  There are also a lot of ships in the S&S Universe that are just crying out for deckplans.  That being said, I have some other ideas for OSR and D6 suppliments that I'll be talking about in a day or two.  But for right now...I'm taking a day to just enjoy the happy feeling of being back in the game of Gaming again.  See you later!