Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Black Desert Primer Preview: AsTrA

The Black Desert Primer Preview:  AsTrA

In a Solar System full of interplanetary cruisers, ultra-powerful lasers, and dozens of independent colonies, it was recognized early on after the Great War that some sort of regulatory body would be needed to keep the peace, provide for safe passage, and most importantly, keep the Terra-watt level Navigation Lasers from being used as weapons. What emerged from these necessities was the Aerospace Transport Authority.
AsTrA is still in its infancy; chronically underfunded, the multi-national organization much more impressive in theory than in reality. Tasked with regulating interplanetary transit, AsTrA ostensibly has direct control of all Navigation Lasers in Terran and Martian orbit. In practice, however, AsTrA must rely on assistance from the polities that use the Lasers for transport. In order to prevent political or economic factors from overly influencing freedom of travel, delegations from all polities and organizations are assigned to each transport node so that they can police one another. Tensions run high in the outposts that house the Nav-Lasers, and many feel that unless AsTrA is given more funds, it is only a matter of time before personal conflicts in space spill over into conflicts among nations.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Plausible Business Model for Colonizing Space?

 A Plausible Business Model for Colonizing Space?

         Today's preview of The Black Desert Primer features an organization that was first mentioned with our Conestoga PDF.  The Destiny Foundation, as you'll see below, offers a legitimate way to get normal people into space.  Take a look:

        Despite having gone bankrupt in the years before the Great War, The Destiny Foundation is still one of the more influential organizations in the Inner System. The brainchild of one of humanity's most daring and eccentric philanthropists Walter Hopkins, the Destiny Foundation defined the early twenty-second century with its ambitious business plan and even more ambitious building projects.
         Like many commercial space companies of that era, The Destiny Foundation was created by a billionaire who earned his fortune specifically to get into the space industry. The goal of Hopkins was not only to make settling on other planets possible, but profitable and in the financial reach of average middle-class Americans. In order to accomplish this, the Destiny Foundation developed their unique business plan that take advantage of the Mass/Commodity Principle of Economics.
       The Mass/Commodity Principle, simply put, is a way for space colonists and investors in the space industry to take advantage of the then enormous costs of transporting people and matériel into Low Earth Orbit. By the 2070s, the cost at launch had dropped to around $2000/kg. While far lower than at any time before, all but the most expensive of items cost less to make than they did to launch. Under these conditions, a kilogram of state-of-the-art electronics is no more expensive in space than a kilogram of air. For this reason, it was more economically feasible to send robots, which were expensive but lightweight, into space than people, which consumed many times their mass in air, water and food.
The reverse of the Mass/Commodity Principle is that a kilogram of platinum, worth millions on Earth, is practically worthless compared to a kilogram of life support essentials in space. By exploiting this disparity between the cost of rare earth elements in space and their value on Earth, space development could theoretically be made practical.
       Like most speculative mining operations of the era, the Destiny Foundation, allowed investors to purchase, for a quarter of a million dollars, a mining robot. The robot was sent into space and put to work mining Rare Earth Elements and Helium-3. A share of the profits of these materials on Earth, in proportion to the number of robots owned by an individual and minus a small commission, was paid to the investor. What made Hopkins' proposal different was that the Foundation allowed families of regular investors, who would most likely have to liquidate all of their assets in order to invest, to live at the Foundation Headquarters and receive training in The Foundation's space program. During the two-year training period that followed, The families' robots could earn enough from their efforts to pay for the training, housing, and a trip into space for the families as settlers. By this method, ordinary Americans could afford to send themselves and their children to the frontiers of Mars or the newly created asteroid cyclers.
       In the end, the Mass/Commodity Principle was flawed and the Mining bubble burst, impoverishing millions of investors and settlers alike. Dispite this legacy of Hopkins' vision is very much a part of life in space today. Most if not all settlements in The Black Desert include at least one or two modules developed by the Foundation, and many of those who live off Terra can trace their ancestry to the pioneers who took a chance on the Destiny Foundation and reached for the stars.

* * *
       Of course, this business plan may make space colonization possible, but it doesn't make it likely.  That leap would require enough reasonably successful people to want to leave behind everything, including their entire planet, and risk their lives in the most hostile environment humans have ever tried to live in.

       ...I dunno.  I'd do it.  Maybe.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Black Desert Primer Preview: The L-Drive

The Black Desert Primer Preview:  The L-Drive

         With only a few days left before it becomes available, this week we'll be featuring short excerpts from The Black Desert Primer.  Today, we'll take a peek at one of the signature pieces of Tech from the setting, the L-Drive:
1) Water Tank, 2) Electrolyzer, 3) Turbofan, 4) Propellant tanks, 5) Fusion Plant, 6) Laser generator, 7) Thruster Bell

The L-Drive
One of the two breakthroughs in aerospace technology that made the modern solar system possible, L-Drive is a laser propulsion system that super heats the atmosphere under a rocket to produce thrust without the need to carry reaction mass. Unlike the laser systems proposed in the early twenty-first century, which involved using ground-based laser arrays to propel a spacecraft, L-Drives use lasers mounted in the stern of the rockets themselves. L-Drives only became possible after the Helium-3 boom on Luna, which allowed the mass-production of safe fusion plants in the 2050s. By the dawn of the twenty-second century, L-Drive technology had become as commonplace as the use of disposable, multistage chemical rockets became a thing of the past.
At its heart, laser propulsion is relatively simple. A laser, usually mounted in a ground installation, fires into a specially shaped bell in the tail of the spacecraft. The laser's ultra-high temperature instantly super heats the air in the bell, causing it to expand and push the craft upwards. By pulsing the laser, The air is replenished and the shuttle is boosted further and further up.
L-Drives are an evolution of this concept. An on-board fusion reactor produces the massive amount of power needed to fire a high frequency laser, allowing the spacecraft to take off and land anywhere. In addition, the air used to propel the craft is provided by a system of ducts and turbofans that compress and feed massive amounts of atmosphere to the thruster bell. This allows an L-Drive equipped rocket to launch much larger masses into orbit than conventional laser propulsion systems. Once in space, a ship with L-Drive can use stored propellant to accelerate and maneuver. While the thrust is less than a conventional chemically powered rocket, it is not necessary to punch through the thick atmosphere as fast as possible, as that very atmosphere provides the spacecraft's propellant. The twin virtues of unlimited air and nearly unlimited power make L-Drive the most efficient, and therefore cheapest, method of putting a ship into Low Earth Orbit.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I Feel Like This Guy...

Drop Sickness is only funny to the immune. this will be a lame, short post.  This is also the week before my two boys' mutual birthday party.  It's a Lego theme, and there are a lot of preparations to make.  In addition, I'm also feverishly (literally) working on The Black Desert Primer, getting it ready for publication.  So my posts this week may be a little short.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Map of Terra: 2210

          I think I've caught whatever gave my darling wife her scorching case of bronchitis.  Since I'm feeling under the weather, I present to you a map of Terra, with the mega-states I've been talking about all of this time.  Hope you enjoy.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Will Space be Full of Republicans?

Testing a prototype space-sex garment, the 2suit.
         My first reaction to this is, "I hope not!" but that really isn't fair.  Also, even a cursory study of current space programs makes the idea more likely than others.  By that I mean, the cadres of Astronauts we see in the modern-day space programs around the world are full of conservatives.  If you look at certain studies and documentaries about "Sex in Space", for example, the overwhelming majority of space men and women are clear that they would rather go without for half a year on the ISS instead of risking their careers with fraternization.

         At first blush, this makes a kind logical sense. For an agency like NASA, which constantly faces budget crises, this is the kind of attitude you want to see in your Astronauts.  Space is not only the most dangerous environment that humans have ever lived in, it's the most expensive.  If you're funding (with billions and billions of dollars) a space program, you have to have people that are willing to live in cramped conditions, with only the most basic of amenities, for extended periods.  The amount of self-control needed to simply exist in space is beyond most people's imaginings.  Faced with that, current thinking goes, what's a little doing without?  And like I said before, micro-gravity is hardly an aphrodisiac...

I'm watching you, Dave...
          Anyway, what does this have to do anything?  First of all, it's another nail in the coffin of the idea that future space-pioneers will be libertarians.  Apologies to the ghost of Heinlein, but it's not gonna happen.  Living in a tuna can in space, last thing you want in an Astronaut is an individualist.  Space people will be cooperative in a way that normal human culture cannot conceive of.  In addition, while we would consider invasive surveillance to be a violation of our civil liberties, people living in space would consider it not only normal but helpful.  Astronauts are used to people on the ground knowing how fast their hearts beat, not to mention where they are, what they are doing, and other manifestations of Big Brother.  In such an environment, common privacy will become an outmoded concept.

          That being said, some of the more odious (at least to me) forms of Conservative-ism will most assuredly not be present in space.  For all of us that are the 99%, It is indeed true that currently all but 1% of us live off of only 1% of the GNP.  As I've mentioned before, this will not be possible in space; there won't be enough disposable resources to support such economic disparity.  In space, as I've also mentioned before, money is nothing but penalty mass; if you can't eat it or breathe it, it's useless.  And the thing about air is, you can't limit its distribution.  If there is enough air for a hundred people, the 101st doesn't just suffocate, everybody gets hypoxia.  Food could be hoarded, but starving people in space are not going to sit still for it.  As RAH pointed out, anyone "...who has missed seven meals is ready to commit murder".

          Other aspects of a free-market economy will be missing as well.  Health care will have to be free to all;  what is a nasty cold goin' around on Earth is a pandemic in orbit.  Education will have to available as well, as a lack of knowledge is potentially lethal in vacuum.  Social Security won't just be an abstract concept either; it will be vitally necessary for all who live in space.  That doesn't leave out the possibility of deportation...but that's another story.

          I supposed I've rambled on enough about all this for now.  Have a good weekend RocketFans!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

On Luna, Citizenship Does not Guarantee Residency III

In you can't afford to live on Luna, get used to this.
         ...So my wife read the two previous posts on this topic, and her first question was: "If Lunar citizens who can't afford to live on the Moon have to live in another country, what happens when their Visas run out?"

         Dang.  Hadn't thought of that.

        Assuming that the Lunarian citizens are not Permanent Residents of some other nation,  They would have to get one of the many Visas available to workers and other travelers to foreign lands that we have available today.  Of course, all of these expire eventually, so what's a Loonie to do?  They can't go home, and they can't stay.

         Unfortunately, we have refugee camps too.

         Given the post-total-global-war climate that The Black Desert is set in, there will inevitably be scads of refugee camps all around Terra.  These will be the homes of the poor, homeless, possibly diseased and maimed, and other sentient detritus that comes under the name of "collateral damage" among those responsible for creating the dispossessed.  Of course, when you can download people to AI, or even just save them on a hard drive, will the refugee camp as we know it even exist?  Will be replaced with simple data storage, or even a Virtual World?  

           I mentioned yesterday, it's a bad idea to even think about Transitioning people (as in, into Transhumans) that are enemies, criminals or other types likely to be unpredictable.  That being said, there is always the avenue of Labor Camps for such cases.  Despite having a justifiably atrocious reputation for being a cheap way to maintain a war machine while exterminating people, Labor Camps can occasionally be run without coming to the attention of Amnesty International. 

Your new home.
          If all else fails, one can always retreat to the frozen tundra of Europe and the Southern Territories to find a place they are allowed to live while trying to build up enough of a stake to live on Luna.  Opal mining and farming may make one some decent cash in Australia, bio-diversity in Antarctica, and relics of the past from Europe can all be used to finance residency on Luna.  The only way I see one can permanently guarantee residency on the Moon would be to finance additions to the settlements life-support network.  In enough of an investment was in Lunarian infrastructure prior to attempting to live there, Lunarian citizens would not have to worry about whether or not they can come home.

Your new look.
         Incidentally, the process of making enough of a stake to permanently live on Luna is a great justification for the kinds of Player Character problems that you see in Role-Playing Games.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

On Luna, Citizenship Does not Guarantee Residency II

Nice place to have citizenship, but you wouldn't wanna live there.
          ...Aaand we're back to the topic at hand, which is: If Citizenship doesn't guarantee residency, then what's the point of having it.  Yesterday we went over some of the reasons that a Luna Free State, strapped for resources and having to scratch and claw for every meter of space, would not allow it's tax-paying voters to live there if they couldn't pay there way.  Today, I'm going to try to offer some reasons that people would want to be a Lunar Citizen anyway.

         Number one on my list is the fact that a citizen of one country cannot be conscripted into the military of another.  Since the idea of press gangs faded away with the age of sail, military have shied away from using foreign nationals in an attempt to put warm bodies onto ships or into ranks or what ever.  This will be especially true in the future of The Black Desert, where grunts and AB Seamen are usually robotic.  In fact, one would think that there would be no draft to dodge in my setting, since any military rank under Platoon Sergent is usually filled by something that runs on electricity instead of SOS.

         One would think wrong, however.  After nearly a half-century of total war on an interplanetary scale, "civilian" in its current usage is an obsolete term.  Imagine one parent being actually in the military, the other a "Rosie the Riveter" (even if its the guy) and the kids all in military school.  And if you fail out of school, you may be transitioned and spend the rest of eternity as an AI.

        If you are a Lunar citizen in a place that actually recognizes that citizenship, then you have many more options.  You can't be conscripted, and you can't be Transitioned (One doesn't make criminals into AI; that would be a bad idea).  So, in a world of saber-rattling and war-mongering you would be relatively safe.  Unless of course, you are thought to be a spy...

         Another reason to have citizenship without residency is something I remember from my Army days:  Dodging taxes.  As a soldier, one technically doesn't have state residency anymore.  To put it another way, you can claim residency in any state you like, which is why most of us chose Texas or Virginia. Those two states, in case you didn't know, do not have income tax.  We still paid federal taxes (I always wondered why - didn't that mean that our taxes helped pay our own salaries?)  but got to keep a few hundred extra at the end of the year.  This may be important enough to some people in The Black Desert that they would seek Lunar citizenship, to escape the crushing tithes asked by mega-states of the future.  Heck, Charlie Chaplin lived in the US most of his life (until we kicked him out) and never paid a dime of income tax thanks to his British citizenship.

        So there you have it, RocketFans:  Draft or Taxes, there are a few reasons to be a citizen of one country but not actually live there.

Monday, November 7, 2011

On Luna, Citizenship Does not Guarantee Residency

Voting is free, but living here costs you.
         What is citizenship?  For most of us, the term's most fundamental meaning is the basic right to live in a country without any paperwork.  But what about places where ecosystems will have to be subsidized, such as eventual Lunar colonies?  Will citizenship automatically confer the privilege of living in space?

        As we discussed a while back in the first articles about Economics in the Black Desert, it will take about L$U55,000 just to be a homeless bum in orbit.  This assumes, of course, that all of a person's life-support needs must be transported as cargo ahead of time from Terra.  Luna will probably have extensive hydroponics banks that will at the very least be able to supply oxygen for their residents.  According to some NASA figures I came across a while back (wish I could remember where), 10 square meters of  plant life will supply a person with their breathing needs indefinitely, but it would take a 100 to supply that same person with enough food to live off of.  Granted, there is some argument to just how much biomass you need; Rick Robinson sites a figure of 10 square meters for air and food.  I believe these figures are for Spirulina Algae farms or similar; if our future Lunarians want to eat anything besides pond scum, let's go with the more pessimistic number of a hundred square meters and move on from there.  

        First of all, each square meter of hydroponics you install in a Lunar facility will cost through the nose in terms of mass, manufacturing, maintenance and all the other hidden costs of living in space.  In order to even make space for growing food, the future colonists of Luna will have to drill and excavate for each and every meter of cubic.  This will not be done lightly - and besides, who's gonna pay for it?  That question right there gets to the heart of the matter:  TANSTAAFL holds true in my SF just as much as in Heinlein's.
This meal cost about four grand.

        This is why it's possible that citizenship in a Lunar free state will not necessarily guarantee one the right to live on the Moon.  If a citizen in good standing (you know, tax-paying voter), is unable to pay for their own food and life-support, there is no reason to believe that the government will be able to support them gratis, much less be inclined to do so.

  Before we go into the ramifications of this, just how much will living on Luna cost?  Using our monetary standard of L$U10/kg (the cost to lift mass from Terra+20%), Breathable gases account a little under a kilo a day, so that's only not much of a discount.  We can also throw in about a 1% mass discount for food (assuming 1% of our biomass farms can be eaten).  Assuming 6.2kg/day for consumables (a number we've used before) that comes to 5.32kg, and therefore L$U53.20 a day.  And even this isn't what a citizen owes for air and bread, because the life-support provided by the 10square meters of biomass has to be payed for. 

         Again, TANSTAAFL.
         So what would a Lunar citizen get in exchange for their loyalty, taxes, and all that?  That will have to wait for another post.  Have a good one RocketFans!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Mars 500, the end of an era.

The Mars 500 facility. releasing the cosmonauts required a can opener.
          At the time of this writing, the 6 virtual cosmonauts of the Mars 500 project have tasted the freedom of being back on Earth, or at least out of isolation, for just over three hours.  Congrats to them and all of their hard work.  Personally, I don't like going more than a few days without getting out of house, so staying put for a year and a half is definitely an epic win in my book. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Superlasers and Solar Sails: Travel Across the Black Desert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Vesperides Officially on Sale!

        Aaaand we're done!  It's almost feels strange to be publishing again, but it's nice to be back to work.  I wish I had some time to relax, but with the Primer coming out on the first and our first Core Rule Supplement coming out just two weeks later, I have a lot on my plate and don't wanna get behind.  Besides, I'm hoping to have my new, secret Black Desert project ready for the new year.

        Anyway, hope you all had a fun weekend.  Enjoy the rocket!