No, not really. You all should know me better than that by now...
That being said, RocketFans, the drive used by our example Hard SF Space Opera Frigate allows for constant acceleration without a net loss of energy or momentum. And the reaction mass is not expended.
First of all, the thing with this drive is that it uses negative matter. Negative matter, if you're not hip to the latest fringe physics and whatnot, is the stuff that they say will make the Alcubierre Drive work, hold open wormholes to allow instantaneous interstellar travel, create gravity in spacecraft, remove gravity from flying cars, cure baldness, ED, and a partridge in a pear tree. The thing is that there is no such thing as negative matter, that we are aware of. It's physically possible, however, that such a substance exists, so negative matter is Unobtainium, and not Handwavium, like Dilithium crystals.
Only, you know, actually work.
Now, the esteemed keeper of Hard SF knowledge and wisdom, Winchell Chung, proposed the very important question: How do you stop? That is where the design our example Frigate comes in.
Here is an exterior silhouette of our frigate, perpendicular to the long axis. The forward spherical tanks on the nose of our craft hold negative matter A nearly equal amount of negative matter is held aft, with a empty tanks just forward of that. There is various pumping machinery and pipage that can carry negative matter between holding tanks. How is an interesting question, since push on negative mass makes it push back, because it motion is, well, negative of what normal mass would do. But these Space Opera folks figured it out, and probably couldn't explain to us anyway.
If I understand the math right (which is by no means guaranteed), when you want to stop, you pump the negative mass forward again, and you just stop. There is no net gain or loss of momentum, remember? I pretty sure that means you don't get to keep the velocity you get when the negative matter's pushing on you. I'm not sure how that will effect things like getting into planetary orbits and such. Suggestions welcome.
The next step for me to take involves purely arbitrary ex cathedra statements about performance of such a drive, and I used the Frigate to make these assumptions and hammer them out. Here is the current list of Negative Matter Drive Abilities/Limitations:
- The negative matter is a liquid, with the density (negative density) of water. So, one m^3 of negative matter masses -1000 kg.
- In order to propel a spacecraft at 10/sec^2 requires the equivalent of 10% of the spacecraft's mass in negative matter.
Before too long, you'll be up to relativistic speeds, and that is a problem. Not the physics of it; the ship will accelerate more and more slowly as the effects of relativity make the Frigate's mass increase. But the crew would be long since dead, and all of the electronics fried by radiation as even normal average photons compress into gamma rays.
So the spacecraft's maximum
You may be asking why I think that 0.05c is a good speed limit? Well, assuming an acceleration of roughly 2.8 days, a stop to rest, and another 2.8 day acceleration, you could get from Sol to Neptune, the radius of the main bulk of the Solar System, in about a week. So it's a good number from a meta-position, and justified by physics.
Blocking radiation is not the only reason for the extra negative matter; you'll need it for FTL travel, after all. But that's another post.
The implication of such a drive are many and varied. For one thing, being able to travel from one end of the Solar System to the other in week makes fighting interplanetay wars similar to the island hopping campaigns of WWII in terms of travel times. Revolt of distant planetary colonies would be much more difficult, due to the shorter travel times.
But that's just the begining - Ships with a negative mass drive expend no reaction mass. They keep it, dragging along behind them trough a loophole in physics. Small craft, even star-fighter sized craft, have the same "range" as dreadnoughts - limited only by power generation and supplies. As for acceleration, it would be a lot easier to give a 10-ton fighter ten gees worth of negative matter than a mile-long, million-ton battle ship. And if such small craft accelerate long enough, they could easily become Relitivistic nighmare missiles. Since I don't want that, I will have to make a new addition to my list:
- Negative Matter is too expensive to waste on disposible spacecraaddition
Hey, since ships lose all momentum when you move the negative matter around, Disposible attack vehicles and recoverable star fighters use the same amount of remass! And since NegMat is so expensive, you want to recover any craft using it. So...Star Fighters are back on the table. Huh.
But this rule leads to even more consequenses, and they must be thought out and dealt with. For on thing, if NegMat is too pricey for use on missiles, it's too expensive to use on things like cargo crates, hover boards, and even the classic Air/raft of Traveller fame. Fortunately, I just read a post by fellow RocketFan Rob Garrita on the topic of Air/rafts that actually inspired a solution to this conumdrum.
Remember the fun thing about NegMat, how it is not consumed? That means that we can pump the stuff from our ship into holding tanks in cars, crates (or, at least, a hover-dolly) and whatever, and return it later. It also means that if you're tooling around in an Air/raft, and lose it, get it stolen, blowed up or any of the things that can happen to Players in a RPG, your mother ship has at the very least lost some of its accelration. Worst case, you can't raise ship.
But it also means that said players can steal other people's Air/rafts, and take their NegMat... as treasure.
And that, RocketFans, is how worldbuilding leads to plots and ideas based on the technology you develop, Hard SF style.