Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Nano-fic: A Sense of Urgency

It was my first time in command of an Auxiliary Craft Mission.

My nose was burning from the oxygen feed as the Payload Officer finished strapping us in. In the forward capsule, half a dozen Espos were already locked and loaded. I sat between our pilot to the left and our flight engineer to the right. The hard foam of the acceleration couch was of little comfort and was going to become less so in a few moments.

The PLO sketched a salute and floated back out the hatch. The heavy door sealed up with a puff of increased pressure that made me have to pop my ears. Next to me Egg - still what? Only fifteen? - was figeting with his straps and Oxy hose. I sat next to him on his first trip into orbit on a real rocket. Am I sitting next to him on his last?
I shook my head. There was no time for that kind of thinking; the countdown was beginning. The whole rocket shook and a deep hollow clang sounded and the docking ring uncoupled. I sounded off through the Go/No Go check list without really thinking about it. All around me, keys were pushed, switches were flipped, and we reached the end of the countdown.

The Patrol Boat we were leaving was massive, heavily armed and and armored and could boost to Moon and back without running out of fuel. But for all of its power, it only boosts at a half g acceleration. The Cygnus rocket was tiny, had half the Delta V of the PL and was unarmed. But it could pull three gs at full burn and when when the countdown reached zero that's exactly what it did.

Feeling my body crushed into the couch as we boosted into open space, the rocket kind of reminded me of the Espos we were hauling. It moved with a sense of goddam urgency.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Building a Space Navy IV: Fleet Missions- Service Roles and Missions

Hope everyone enjoyed their holidays or whatever.  Some of us had birthdays since my last post, including Ken Burnside and...me!  I'm thirty-eight!  Considering I was expected to die at thirty-two, I am enormously pleased.  Every birthday is a gift.
Just this one.

Anyway, back to the subject at hand:  The fleet missions for our UNSF and UNEC (Espatier Corps).  Because this section is so lengthy, I'm breaking it up into its constituent sections, starting with Service Roles and Missions.  In Conjunction, Why are their just two service branches?  Why just in space?  Are they just a glorified coast guard, or a real military?

In order to begin to answer these questions, I studied up a bit on how the UN is currently set up, how the UN Peacekeeping forces are set up, some problems they have, and some of the problems they face.  The results, were then combined with the meta-fiction considerations of what I wanted to focus on, what I thought would make a good story and a semi-plausible progression from today to Conjunction.  Here's what I've come up with so far:

Fist of all, the Peacekeepers are not a military, in the conventional sense.  The UNSF is more akin to Heinlien's Space Patrol in that they are an organization whose purpose is to keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of military men. In this case, the dangerous weapons are not nukes or bio-nasties or anything, but the ultimate in WMDs: multi-ton, NTR rockets. 

This is an example of Jon's Law:
"Any interesting space drive is a weapon of mass destruction. It only matters how long you want to wait for maximum damage."
Caused be a piece of foam
I'll put it another way: Our little Patrol rocket uses a plain-vanilla chemfuel engine similar to what we have today. At a dry mass of 72 tons or so, going at its top velocity of 8.2 km/sec, it would hit something with the explosive power of almost two hundred thousand  kilograms of dynamite. Or, in the language of nuclear weapons, 200 kilotons.  That's the power of a couple of nuclear warheads, in case you were wondering. This is because, according to Robinson's Law
"Something hitting at 3 km/sec (kips) delivers kinetic energy broadly equal to its mass in TNT."
So yeah, the UN takes a dim view of its member nations running NTR rockets around at each other.  Other than that, peacekeepers, you know, keep the peace.  They ensure compliance with UN mandates, stabilize conflict regions so that the officially accepted government can catch its collective breath and get on with governing.  They do not invade; they neither take or hold territory, and they rarely, if ever, are expected to fire a shot in anger.  If they do fire, then the solids have hit the separators indeed.

Moving forward, the reason for the UN to only operate space-based forces is twofold.  First, the history of the UN Peacekeeping forces involved cleaning up after countless coups, juntas and other examples of why governments should fear their own militaries the most.  Since Naval/Marine forces are less likely to overthrow their governments, the UN&C only keeps a standing Space Force and Espatier Corps.  For planetary actions, they draw from a pool of national armed forces same as they do now.
This happens all. The. Time.
The other reason involves the UN&C's modified charter.  They only operate space forces, and the member nations only operate planetary forces.  The UN also does not maintain a nuclear arsenal, while the member nations may not operate nuclear powered spacecraft without a UN inspection team.  Since planetary attack is not nearly the turkey shoot that old school science fiction made it out to be, these trade-offs make the UNSF and a national nuclear powers about evenly matched, so tensions are theoretically reduced.

Theoretically.  It's gone all political.
 So now that we've established some of the setting-specific particulars of the UN's Not-military, we can move forward to their missions and service roles.

More outline!
    1. Service Roles & Missions
      1. UN Space Force
        1. Patrol major commercial orbits
        2. Convoy escort
        3. Patrol orbits of actively mined NEOs MBOs, KBOs and other potentially dangerous objects
        4. Operate and Maintain Navigation Lasers in Terran, Martian, Main Belt, Jovian and Chronian orbits
        5. Power Projection in orbital space of Main Belt and Saturn (Fleet in Being)
      2. UN Espatier Corps
        1. Space Expeditionary Force
          1. Mobile Fleet Contingent (Combined Arms)
          2. Peacekeeping Zone Contingent
        2. Space Force internal security
          1. Spacecraft security/boarding parties
          2. Security contingent at nav-laser installations
        3. Inspection Team security
          1. Nuclear spacecraft inspection teams
          2. Patrol craft boarding parties 
 Most of the above is self-explanatory.  A few curious notes: MBO means "Main Belt Object" if there is an official term for this, please let me know.  "Chronian" is used instead of "Saturnian" because the Chonians themselves prefer it. Which, of course, means I do.

Next time, we tackle Concept of Operations (CONOPS).  This involves chains of command and charts and stuff, so it could take awhile.  I will of course be unable to resist drawing spacecraft and other cool stuff, so I will probably post in the meantime.  Enjoy!


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Happy Holidays! Have a Rocket

This is the same one from the other day, only dressed up with a nice logo and some stats.  These are realistic capabilities made courtesy of the charts and other information available from Atomic Rocket and inspiration from Rick Robinson's Rocketpunk Manifesto.
My PL differs from the one in Rick Robinson's article in a few key areas. The main difference is that it is not made for long hauls.  It only has a delta v of about 8200 m/s.  This will not get one far in the solar system but it allows a forward deployed Patrol Craft a sufficient "range" to perform many of the missions we discussed in the last post on Building a Space Navy.   Our little A-Class has Enough Delta V to shape a light-second orbit around a convoy in deep space, conduct SAR missions anywhere in cis-lunar space, or to reach any moon of Saturn from any other moon.  Obviously, this rocket is mostly propellant (mass ratio 5).  If you drew lines through the side view of the rocket that bracket the docking rings, you would encompass the entire pressurized volume.  I've got to say, it's nice to work on a warship for a change - I don't have to make it economical to run! 
One of the interesting things about this design is actually the freedom the little carried craft gives me.  It was a throw-away touch, originally - a design borrowed from another project.  But as I got to looking at the little thing, I realized that it's about the size of the Saturn V stage/Apollo/LM stack.  That means it should be able to go from Earth Departure to Lunar orbit.  That means that it has the Delta V to ferry crew to and from a Patrol Craft on station away from the convoy.  That means, like submarines, our Patrol Craft can have two crews and stay out for a lot longer than otherwise.  This is one of those realistic touches that I hope add to the charm of the rocket's design.
Anyway, I got sick kids and it's Chrismas Eve, so you all enjoy the Holidays and I'll post again later!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Conjunction Rocket Sneak Peek

 Now, you all just knew that I would already be working on rockets for Conjunction and wouldn't be able to resist showing off, didn't you?
Stats to follow...


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Building a Space Navy III: Strategic Goals

Our last post gave an overview of building a space navy from the very beginning - the world building stage of Strategic Assumptions.  Today's post takes that part and focuses down on Strategic Goals.

So we've established a SF universe that would have a space force that needs this chart:  Conjunction.  In this universe we have a United Nations & Colonies as the solar system's only space-faring military power (currently!)  A politically restless, self-sufficient Jovian system, terraforming on Mars, and a Saturn system featuring a booming oil business on Titan.  This UN has about 3.8 Trillion of whatever currency as it's military budget annually, and now we need to focus on said military's goals.

Atomic Rockets has recently added this chart and a break-down of what each segment means in the Astromilitary section.  This is fortunate, as Winchell Chung is frankly better at explaining the chart's details than I am.  It also allows us a chance to concentrate on turning the chart into a concrete example.

In the Conjunction universe, what's the most important thing our space navy can do?  That is a loaded question, since every planet and indeed constituent nation on Earth probably has a different idea, one that involves their polity/corporation/special interest being most protected/favored.  Forgive the cynicism.  Looking at current navies, historical navies, and a healthy dose of pragmatic sense, I see the top three priorities of the UN&C Space Force as follows:
    1. Strategic Goals
      1. Protection of commerce   
      2. Enforce Safety Mandates
      3. Power Projection 
In a universe that does not revolve around money, I would've put "enforcing safety mandates" first.  But why make a perfect universe?  This way, when there is a choice between recovering an oil tanker drone and rescuing a manned spacecraft, with only enough Delta V  to do one or the other, we have an ethical quandary, instead of an obvious choice.  More stories that way.

To us, the choice between safety and commerce is still pretty obvious - no matter what pundits and less recognized pontificators have to say about the USN being in the Middle East just to protect the oil, I know of no Navy asset -or sailor for that matter - that would think twice about rescuing civilians lost at sea.  But what if it was oil mega-tankers in space, and losing a convoy it meant power outages across much of Earth for months? Is that kind of prospect, and it's human cost, worth the lives of a few people trapped on a rocket going nowhere with its tanks dry?  Is that kind of prospect worth an entire fleet of ships thrown into the breech, if it means darkness across Earth?
Don't answer right away; it's a creative writing exercise. 

Anyway, commerce protection is number one, then enforcing safety mandates.  That being said, if the safety mandate involves NEOs moving when they shouldn't, then of course the priority changes.  But as much as I agree with the formation of an Orbit Guard, and definitely a Laser Transport Authority (Remember ASTRA?), how much of that goal should be served by our space navy?  For example, is it cheaper to have a fleet a patrol craft, or a squad of power-suited Espaciers posted on every rock?  Hmm...probably the patrol craft, if we end up with a lot of NEO mining.  Maybe better, a central base with Espaciers in rockets that function like helicopters do for marines?  These are important questions, if you want a consistent and detailed universe.  Notice how those questions above can be answered by more detail in the "Strategic Assumptions" category?  Funny how that works out...  Anyway, one thing I definitely like is the idea of on-board inspection teams for all nuclear powered spacecraft.  Their cost would be part of the rocket's overhead, they would also be a hell of a deterrant for smuggling, piracy and all that jazz.  I could see the Espos becoming friends with the crew, dating even...and when the chips are down, having a naval nuclear engineer and God's own DC party never hurts.

The last strategic goal for the UN&C in Conjunction is the one that they consider the least important, and is most likely to bite them on the ass later: Power Projection.  This means letting uppity Jovians know that any war-like moves on their part will not be tolerated.  Theoretically, this is in part handled by the logistical needs of the Titanian convoys.  Approaching the Great Conjunction, the UN is investing Jupiter with more supply bases, which means more troops.  It also means more taxing Jupiter's resources to supply water for transports and water, air, and cubic for the Espos and Astros stationed in their space.  This will be the largest build-up in the Jovian system since the last Great Conjunction, twenty years ago, and the current generation of Jovians will probably resent the infringement on their isolation.  Is this "power projection", or is it the SF equivalent of billeting redcoats in colonial homes prior to Lexington and Concord?  That is also a writing exercise.
You won't tread on me.
Due to simple Newtonian physics, The old Naval Doctrine of "Fleet in Being" is going to be big hit in any realistic space conflict. Any strategy that does not require one to burn propellant is a good strategy.  So, with patrol craft stationed near navigation lasers in Jovian space, and an entire fleet at Saturn, and the UN may thing they have Jupiter safely boxed in.

Of course, Jovians serve in the UNSF, so...

On a final note, lets fill in our outline a little more based on the above:
    1. Strategic Goals
      1. Protection of commerce
        1. Safely ferry convoys to and from Titan
        2. Safely resupply bases in Saturn System
        3. Oversee transport of hydrocarbons from Saturn and minerals from NEOs, MBOs and KBOs to Mars and Earth/Luna
      2. Enforce Safety Mandates
        1. Provide inspection teams for all nuclear-powered spacecraft
        2. Provide over-site of all orbital changes of NEOs MBOs and KBOs
        3. Provide over-site of all transport laser installation on Earth, Luna, Mars and in the Main Belt, the Jovian system and the Chronian system.
        4. SAR Patrols in Trans-Lunar space
        5. Man and re-supply SAR bases in Trans-Martian space
        6. Provide other search and rescue services when necessary
      3. Power Projection
        1. Forward deploy fleet assets to potential trouble areas (Jupiter)
        2. Provide threat of instant response while conserving assets (Fleet in Being)
Next time, we will tackle Fleet Missions, with gets more specific that this.  It should also show how the strategic assumptions need to be as detailed as possible. See you then!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Building a Space Navy II: Stategic Assumptions (World Building)

So let's dive right into the next segment of our series on "Building a Navy" with the tools given to us by Dave Weber and Christopher Weuve.

This part.
The first section of our chart from the first post in the series shows the column "Strategic Assumptions".  Now, in real life this means military and political stuff way above our pay-grades (except Weuve, of course) and is therefore not our concern, unless you like to study that stuff.  For the purposes of our little niche labeled "military-hard-SF-that-doesn't-insult-professionals-too-badly" This is where the author in question should put their world building.

In order for us to go through this chart effectively, we will need examples to work with.  In order for me to show off what I've been working on, It makes sense that I should provide the examples.  Very well, I accept.

This step is also arguably the most arbitrary of the steps we'll be going through in this series, so there isn't much I can advise others on except in the most vague and broad manner.  If you're Weber, you add the Honorverse to this and get the Royal Manticore Navy.  If you're Ken Burnside, you add the 10 Worlds and get Attack Vector: Tactical.  If you're me... you get Conjunction.

"When Planets Come Together, Worlds Are Torn Apart."
This idea was stolen inspired by Winchell Chung's Atomic Rockets website because of course it was.  Specifically, the Appendix "Ring Raiders"  Which extolls the virtue of Saturn's sub-system as a location for human colonization.  The main MacGuffinite offered is that Saturn is basically is a huge source of Fusion super-fuel Helium 3 and lacks the crushing gravity and deadly radiation of it's larger son, Jupiter.   This is all well and good for the future, but we don't even have fusion reactor that works on helium 3, so it's all a bit pie-in-the-sky.  However, Saturn's moon Titan has some very interesting properties.

On September 3, 2014, NASA reported studies suggesting methane rainfall on Titan may interact with a layer of icy materials underground, called an "alkanofer," to produce ethane and propane that may eventually feed into rivers and lakes. (Citation)

Did you catch that?  On Titan it rains natural gas.

This isn't even a MacGuffin, Rocketfans, this is as real a reason to go 'way out into space as it gets. We are now rapidly approaching the period of Peak Oil here in Earth, and we have not made adequate preparations for converting our civilization to renewable power generation and conservator power usage.  Most estimates I've found for the absolute latest we can start this process and hope to keep industrial society alive is between five and twenty years ago.  Even better, if our industrial society slips into the Dark Ages because of a lack of fossil fuels, it's pretty much impossible for any successor civilization to get back into space.

So, in short, we lose civilization for a few centuries and we lose space forever.  And plastics, and fertilizer, ad nauseum.

Let's assume for purposes of pure fiction that somebody or a group of somebodies decides to get proactive and corner the market on hydrocarbons mining on Titan.  This is far from a bad idea no matter what you think about the future of fossil fuels as a power source- we literally make everything out of the stuff, so it will always be valuable the way rare-earths and coinage metals are valuable.  Not to mention, it would probably take a lot less time to terraform Mars if we could bathe it's red hills in fertilizer...

This means a huge train of space-going super tankers bringing Titanian rain to where it's Black Gold.  Just as pirates hold oil tankers for ransom now, they probably would in the future, so there will need to be a military/ peacekeeping patrol keeping an eye out.  Add to that what Issac Kuo had to say about Jupiter and you have a possibly self-sufficient colony system that may be chafing under the yoke of Earth's trusteeship.  Then there is a little event called the Great Conjunction, where restless Jupiter is right in between the oil-starved billions of Earth and Mars and the propane seas of Titan.

Black Barney:  "I'm the Captain now.  I'm the Captain."

And that, Rocketfans, is what gave me an idea...

Taking all that and plugging it into the Building a Navy chart was (is) a non-trivial process, but the main legwork is in the latter sections.  With what we've discussed so far, we can fill in the Strategic Assumptions section in fairly short order:

  1. Strategic Assumptions
    1. Security Environment  (This is the part where we talk about what we want to protect and what we need to be protected from) 
      1. Overview: Multiple colonies spread throughout the solar system. Earth is the hub, with Mars undergoing major terraforming. Extensive mining of NEOs. The Jovian system is nearly self-sufficient with abundant raw materials and energy thanks to Jupiter's magnetic field. The Saturn system is thinly populated but Titan is the number one source of hydrocarbons in the entire solar system.
      2. Original source of security threats involve changing orbits of NEOs and outer system objects. UN&C over-site necessary to insure planetary security.
      3. Advent of nuclear powered civilian craft require on-board UN inspection teams to insure integrity of reactors, safe operation of spacecraft, and compliance to all UN mandated safety protocols.
      4. Economic pressure of Titan's hydrocarbon boom have shifted mission assets to protecting commerce from Saturn to the Inner System
      5. Jupiter's increasing self-sufficiency, deteriorating economic and diplomatic relations with Inner System and approach to Great Conjunction requires forward projection of force.
    Fiscal Environment (This is where we see how much money there is changing hands, and how much we can reasonably spend on our Navy before our Security Environment is more trouble than it's worth)
    1. Importance of Space Resources to the Economy:
      1. Nearly 20% of Earth's GPP and 80% of Mars' GPP depend on foreign imports of rare earth metals and hydrocarbons.
      2. It is impossible to underestimate the value of Titan to the Solar economy. Both water and hydrocarbons (ammonia and methane) are needed to hydrate and fertilize the Martian soil and Titanian hydrocarbon stocks are still needed for the synthetics, agriculture, and plastics industries.
    2. Amount of expenditure viable for interplanetary military assets is one-fifth of the value of space commerce to the constituent planets' GPP (Approx. 3.8 trillion)

The part about "one-fifth the value of space commerce"  is compliments of Rick Robinson's essay on Interstellar Trade, which works just as well for interplanetary trade.  The monetary values are arbitrary and subject to change depending on the needs of fiction, further research, and stuff.  I thought the part of UN inspection teams being present on all nuclear powered craft to be common sense, but I'm not sure if I've seen it before.

Anyway, that is more than enough for now.  Next post will be about How to spend that 3.8 trillion a year on our Strategic Goals.  Or, you know random stuff.  But we will continue the series eventually.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Rocket Pics!

At one point, I thought about doing a Black Desert Comic Strip.  To that end I designed a smallish spacecraft for my wacky crew of characters based off of the CASSTOR from back in the day.  Alas, I never could get production on such a comic down into manageable amounts of time and effort, and abandoned the project.  But I did come up with some pics of the ship and its interior I wouldn't mind sharing with the blogosphere, so, here we go:

"What a piece of junk!"
 -some stupid farmboy
This exterior is nothing special - just a rocket in launch configuration.  Aft you can plainly see the large bell of the L-Drive folded out.  It's got the checkerboard pattern traditional for tracking spin (useful for a rocket that gets shot in the butt ten times a second with a high-powered laser).  The panels are mismatched, there are flags from all of the crew up the side - just a typical, reusable rocket that been reused more than its share.

Once in orbit, the rocket opens up like a flower.  There are solar panels inside the launch fairing, radiator panels in the service module, and four equipment pallets hidden behind roll up doors.  Each pallet bay conceals a robotic arm and one of the rocket's landing legs.  At this point, the rocket looks like a space station and could indeed function as one.  there is a docking ring for other spacecraft or larger stations in the nose as well as a utility airlock on the side of the spacecraft .  The L-Drive bell folds up discreetly in this configuration, so as to so that the many sets of RCS station-keeping thrusters can keep the CASSTOR in the groove.

The interior, as is usually the case in free-fall environments, feels bigger than it is because you can use so much more of the space.  In reality, the chamber pictured is only about fifteen feet from end to end in any dimension.  The upper cubbies, as you can see, are tapered to the docking ring's airlock (1).  The ceiling around the ring is festooned with low-heat lighting and hand holds (2).  Starting on the right, the first cubby holds the rocket's head, life support equipment, and storage lockers (3).  The main flight deck (4) and the adjoining service deck (5) are catty-corner to one another to allow face to face communication with all of the crew...in a position that was tight enough to draw in one panel.  Anyway, the on-board AI Annabelle Li, who I've mentioned before,  is housed in a nitrogen atmosphere with all of here peripheries in a shallow housing in the cubby below the life-support block (6).  The side panel in this cubby allows access to the corner segments that house the air-scrubbers, batteries, and sundry engineering (7).  The galley occupies the entire next cubby (8) and houses a large processor and ten lockers holding food. The cubby just under the service deck (9) holds the main airlock.

The last two cubbies we've haven't covered (because they were in this picture) house the workshop (10) and the dorm (11) respectively.  The workshop is a miniature fab-lab with everything a flight engineer needs to prototype spare parts and components on the fly.  The large red box with the white door is a 3-D printer, and there is a CNC cutter under that.  Trays of off-the-shelf components, storage lockers with tools and feed stocks, and a small workbench round out the gear available.
The dorms are smallish coffin-rack style sleeping units only five feet by two-and-a-half feet square.  Fortunately, such tight quarters is somewhat tolerable thanks to the lack of gravity.  The little rooms have smart screens, padded walls with webbing for securing the sleepers, and most luxurious of all, built-in life support gear mounted in the void space between the cubbies.  This allows the tiny dorms to function as passable survival shelters.  The radiation shelter is under the main cabin and is a claustrophobic space with a shielded door surrounded by fuel tanks.

I hope you enjoyed this look into a working Black Desert rocket.  My next post will probably be more about the "building a navy" project, with a look into turning that chart into an outline.

See you then!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Building a Space Navy

My new digs (sorry, I just couldn't resist).
So, I entered my top-secret bunker in the autumn of 2012 and just came out last week to check the radiation levels.  That's where I've been.  Yeah, that's it...

Anyway, I found this link a few months ago (Uhhhh...while still in my bunker) on the Inter-webs.  It's a episode of the Adventures in Sci-Fi Publishing podcast.  This episode was recorded at Demi-Con,  with Naval Analyst  Christopher Weuve (part of the Honorverse brain-trust) talking about designing the Space Navy(s) seen in David Weber's works. It also features talk-talk by Tom Pope from Ad Astra about hammering out the Saganami Island Tactical Simulator and the (then) new House of Steel Companion. It's a funny listen;  for example, Reeve at one points tells the audience that, for purposes of their discussion, they are assuming that the Air Force is a military organization.

So here is the link for the original podcast: 

If you want to design a Space Navy, make this chart your friend.

Perhaps the most useful part of the whole podcast for a gamers with the dirty habit of injecting plausibility into their SF (Aside from David Weber himself recommending game mastering for all aspiring writers) is this chart:

This chart, along with other sundry detritus from the world of speculative fiction, have been a big influence on my work lately.  Big like the whole Mission Control thing was big.  Future posts will show how an outline based on this chart has be of great use to me in designing not only fleets of spacecraft, but campaign settings, comic strips, and novel plots.

How can a little chart do so much?  I've said it before Soft Science Fiction tries to make technology fit the imagination, and Hard Science Fiction tries to imagine what fits the technology.  This chart provides a great framework of technology, logistics, and practical organization to fit one's imagination into.

It feels good to be back...

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


This is a test.  If it works then, IT'S ALIIIIIVE!!

Hee hee.