Thursday, January 29, 2015

What I'm Working On...

I haven't been posting much this week, but that doesn't mean I haven't been working.  It simply occurred to me that if I'm going to actually earn my patron's support, I should probably be making something.  Those of you who have been following me on Google+, of course have seen some of the work I've been doing.  For those of you who don't, I've making spaceships. 

Of course.
Kidding aside, I've been designing quite a few spacecraft for the venerable Traveller RPG.  The one to the left is a 10,000 ton light cruiser.  So far, I've also designed a 2500 ton destroyer, a truly massive Battle Tender and a fleet of Riders that are way too heavily armed. 

My favorite bit is that it's for the Milieu 0 setting from Marc Miller's Traveller (T4), which is set at the dawn of the Third Imperium.  My main love for the setting is the artwork. Don't get me wrong, I love the classic Traveller designs, with their iconic status among SF art, but the spacecraft, armor, vehicles and, well, everything for T4 was designed be SF Art legend Chris Foss.  If you don't know his work, you should.  It pretty much defined 70s and 80s SF book cover art and inspired hundreds of imitators.  I've enjoyed making models in that style - kind of a pallet cleanser for someone who works mainly in Hard SF spacecraft.

That isn't all I've been working on; recently, I acquired a third-party license from Goblinoid Games to produce new content for the second edition of Starships & Spacemen.  It sounds more official than it is - A few friendly emails back and forth with the very pleasant Dan P and got permission.  First project:  The Ceres-class Destoyer Escort.  This is the project I will most likely finish first, so something to look forward to! 

Anyway, the point is that things have been pretty hectic around here.  Next month should be better, as in lots of posts about building a space navy and some spacecraft designs for Conjunction.  In addition, I will continue to work on these other projects and keep you all updated.  In the meantime, enjoy the art!

Oh my God - I don't have a single link in this post to Atomic Rockets!

...Never mind.

Conjunction Number #5: "Bring my Red Shirt..."

Monday, January 19, 2015

Nano-fic: Wind Chimes

They're wind chimes. I know most people like to tie little prayer flags and scarves and stuff to the air-vent to make sure it's working, but back home we use wind chimes. You don't have to be looking at 'em to know they're working.

They're not like the chimes they have back on Earth; these only have one note. Most habs around Saturn do it that way – each compartment has a single note. That way, you can tell location of a faulty blower just by the change in the sound. And let me tell you, they are not optional. If you take a set down for anything other than maintenance on the air-vent in question, you can get arrested.

Of course they're loud! That's how you know they're working. But I know what you mean – when I first moved out to Titan, it took me a good month to get used to 'em. I was up all night most nights hearing chimes all over the hab ringing. It was like this constant drone with a few off notes every now and then to make sure you didn't relax. I complained to anybody who'd listen, which was nobody. All I did was get myself a rep as another dumb groundhog fresh off the boat 

The chimes didn't just bother me at night, either. They are everywhere. In public spaces they make quiet conversation just about impossible. And I just about failed my first semester in school from being distracted. I tried to use noise-canceling ear buds during study hall one time and almost got expelled for “negligence and reckless endangerment”. Seriously, if I hadn't still been under Immigrant's Probation, I would have had to do a public service sentence. I thought that was crazy – or some kind of bullshit hazing for the Earthworms or something. As it was, I did have to take the Habitat Orientation class again – listening to the damned wind chimes the whole time.

But let me tell you – They were absolutely right to bust me. They confiscated my ear buds when I got caught so I didn't have them during a weekend maintenance cycle on the hab. We were living in a retired Trans-Chronian, the kind they used to have before the River-class came out. The counter-spinning rings were always breaking down or getting fatigued or some damn thing, so we only had gravity maybe five days a week. My little sisters loved it – I'd play catch with them, with the toddler standing in as the ball. Anyway, the apartment had only pair of rooms, and my parents got one and the girls the other. I slept in a bag in the living room and lived out of a foot locker. One night I woke up from a dead sleep with the uncontrollable feeling that something was wrong. I couldn't put my finger out what it was, but the effect was disturbing. I figured that I was just having trouble sleeping from the wind chimes when I realized that was what was wrong – I wasn't hearing the chimes. 

A glance up told me that the chimes in the living room were still going, but I really didn't need it. The sound of all the chimes in our apartment had gotten so far under my skin over the weeks we'd been living there that I pretty much figured out immediately which chimes had stopped. You guessed it – the girls' room. By the time I got in there they were both awake and holding hands while spinning like they teach you. My parents were in there a couple seconds after me, but only because they had farther to go.

Anyway, it was nothing much as vent problems go. A stuffed rabbit toy had gotten jammed into the fan – so the girls got grounded and had to do extra chores for a week. They whined about it, and kids do, and then we all went back to bed. It took a me good while to go back to sleep after that. For all I my complaining about those annoying, distracting, aggravating wind chimes, if we didn't have 'em up that night my sisters would have never have woken up. Ever again.

So, you don't mind me hanging these up, do you? 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Space Combat in Conjunction: Basic Assumptions

This is sort of a digression from our Building a Space Navy series, but a necessary one.  In order to finish filling out the Building a Space Navy chart, we will eventually have to add in some actual ships and rockets and stuff.  For their capabilities and armaments and other particulars to make even a lick of sense, we must establish what design assumptions are in place in the Conjunction setting.  That's what this post is about.
Dis iz Doin it Rong.

As always, special thanks to Rick Robinson for waxing lyrical on these topics on his Rocketpunk Manifesto blog, and Winchell Chung Jr. for his indispensable Atomic Rockets website.  I will be referencing their work throughout.

Assumption #1: Purple vs Green is a Draw

For those of you not familiar (lucky!) with "Purple vs Green", it refers to the debate among Hard SF fans about which type of weapon system is better: Lasers or Kinetics?  The subject is passionately discussed in a variety of places.  This blog is not one of them.  For an in depth analysis, Rick Robinson has a couple of posts that Atomic Rockets already linked to, so that's where you should start, with further discussion here.

In the Conjunction universe, a laser capable of destroying any and all kinetics attacks is too expensive to build, especially in terms of power.  While a big laser Combat Mirror would have the power to vape anything massing less than a small asteroid, the thing is impossible to aim fast enough to do the job, so there you go.  Contra wise, with enough small lasers massed on a single side, there is no amount of kinetics capable of overwhelming a determined defense.  The cost in delta-V is to high to move that much mass.

This is how you do it.

This is important to the setting for two reasons:  First, having only one type of weapon system dominate is kinda boring.   By having both swarms of Kinetic Kill Vehicles and eye-burning lasers, you get variety to spice up your setting.  Two, by making both banks of lasers and swarms of kinetics just about even, things like maneuvering, tactics, fire discipline and other stuff you can lump under "human factors" become important.  After all, it it's just a matter of "whoever has the most lasers/missiles wins", then why write about it?  With beams and kinetics evenly matched, the choice of which one to use, under which circumstance, can be critical.

Assumption #3: The Light-Second Limit

This isn't a real limit, but a practical consideration that comes from the first assumption.  Basically, in the Conjunction universe, you can't effectively remote control something more than a light-second away.  By "effectively control" we mean, things like evasive maneuvers, coordinated fleet movements, synchronized fire from lasers, and the direction of flights of missiles.  What this means is that even the largest, most sophisticated swarm of missiles and autonomous combat craft will have a control ship with real people somewhere within three hundred thousand kilometers.    The Light-Second Limit also refers to the fact that the closest distance you can get to an attacker and still reasonably dodge a laser is a light-second, because it gives you (duh) a second's time to move.  You cannot, of course, actively dodge, because by the time you see the laser, it's cooking you.  But if you stay moving around, the laser's targeting system can only see where you were a second ago, due and then guess where you'll be by the time the laser actually gets there.  So, the goal of the attackers is to get inside the light-second range, while the defender will want to keep the attackers at least a light-second out.

Assumption#3: Most Combat Takes Place in Orbital Space

Beware smiling patrol craft...
In a realistic setting, where's all the interesting stuff going to be?  In orbit, of course.  That's where ninety percent of all live fire incidents in the Conjunction universe have taken place.  This type of environment is a loathsome cross between brutal house-to-house urban fighting and dreadnaughts in the open ocean, only at 7 km/s in free fall.  I chose those two examples most deliberately;  In orbital space, you can fight over the horizon, and you can hide in a crowd.  There is a horizon in orbital space for the simple and unavoidable reason that there is some planetary body in the way.  because of this, unless there is an existing satellite network you can use, you will need scouts to check out the opposite side of the planet and probably a relay craft as well to insure communication.   Or you can use smaller, more maneuverable Patrol Craft that have the crew - and the authority - to make command-level decisions.  You really need that level of authority because of the other consideration, where a baddie can hide in the debris, the sovereign orbits of another nation, or even hide on or in space stations and spacecraft that are otherwise kosher.  In order to prevent a diplomatic incident, you would need an organization with broad powers to stop and search and international oversight.  An organization like the UN&C Space Force and Espatier Corps, for example. 

Aassumption #4: The Staring Contest - Lasers Against Lasers

Again, thanks to Rick Robinson for pointing this out.  You can armor a spacecraft, obviously, you can even armor radiators, if you make them out of the right stuff.  But you can't armor the lenses of your own lasers, therefore, the lasers themselves are the best target on a spacecraft.  The thing is, both sides know this.  This is why those nifty swarms of KKVs also pack a handful of laser tipped missiles that home in on the defenders lenses when they light up to break up the swarm.  Given a close enough range, a disposable pulse laser can in fact burn a hole in those nice, heavy lasers on our space warrior's bad-ass battlestars that will have to be put out of action and repaired.  Assuming, of course, that you get the chance.

Let us remember, however, that only the mirror will be kaput.  The laser generator, which is the heart of the system, will probably not be damaged.  Spacecraft will probably have multiple emitters for a single laser generator, so they can remain combat effective even with the loss of a mirror or two.  This is also a plus in that larger mirrors can be fixed-mounted in multiple places for a given generator, while a turret is unavoidably smaller - and therefore of shorter effective range - than a fixed mount of the same length.

Because of the cost of a laser system of this type, most lasers are mounted on non-disposable spacecraft.  Manned spacecraft have the opportunity to perform damage control and replace burned-out mirrors.  But probably not during a battle - it will all be over quickly, one way or another.
You may have other things to think about.

There will be a couple other posts in this category as we continue with the main series of articles.  Now that we've established our basic assumptions, we can discuss the types of spacecraft that our "space navy" will need to deploy.  We can then discuss some of the combat doctrines that will be in force in Conjunction.  But before all that, we will discuss fleet posture in our next Building a Space Navy post, in order to establish the final group of criteria we need to know before we design a fleet.

See you then!


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Conjunction #3: Relax, it's Much Worse than You Think

Click Me

Building a Space Navy: Recommended Reading

Greetings Rocketfans!

Still developing some more material for the Conjunction settings "navy",  so I don't have much new material to post.  That being said, it occurs to me that some of the research sources I've been using would be of interest.

Obviously, the Honor Harrington books and source material is not only good reading for the subject of building a space navy, it's the inspiration for this article.  So, yeah, read it for the Navy, stay for the story.

You remember the sacred chart,
don't you?
The book I was thinking of when I decided to post this article was from a tried and true source: One of the many hundreds of books written for the Traveller RPGSpecifically, I'm referring to the Mongoose Traveller supplement, Sector Fleet.  Quite simply its the sacred chart worked out to it's fullest logical extension for the Official Traveller Universe (OTU).  

I've looked through this supplement extensively, and it pretty much covers everything.  It covers things I hadn't even thought of yet, like the care and feeding of a mothball fleet, the difference between a Navy depot and Navy base, and the official procedures involved in granting leave and liberty.  Some of the information, such as recruitment and training, is germane to my current work and story ideas (i.e.: the Conjunction webcomic). 

Make. Your. Friend.
What I love about the Sector Fleet source book most is something that I pointed out at the beginning of the "Building a Space Navy" series:  The information in the book tells you almost everything you need to know to understand the Traveller OTU.  You could write fiction, outline campaigns, and even make a go at running the game in a system you're already proficient in based just on the information therein.  Even if you were a D6 or D20 fanatic like me, you could run a Traveller game with just this resource and your enflamed imagination to fill in the gaps.

That's a damn good book, right there.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Conjunction #2: Awkward

Pretty much exactly what it says on the tin...

Click to Enbiggen.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Building a Space Navy V: Fleet Missions: CONOPS

Welcome back RocketFans!  Hope everyone had a happy new year.  I certainly did; among other things I am now the proud father of a teenage daughter.  I also established and launched a Patreon campaign to help keep this blog going.  If you like what you see here, consider pledging a small amount.  Or a large amount, as I am not adverse and you get free stuff that way.
Press Here

But enough about that.  Today we continue our series on Building a Space Navy with a section of CONOPS, or Concept of Operations.  For an overview of the whole thing, you should start here, or for a more general and in possibly useful summary, consult the obligatory Atomic Rockets link. 

Just to get on the board here, Winchell Chung sums up the crux of the CONOPS discussion this way:

"CONOPS is Concept of Operations.
"When and where will the space navy perform the inter-service missions defined in the last step? Is the space navy mostly offensive or mostly defensive? Does the space navy operate mostly inside the empire, at the border, or outside? What is the standard operating procedure?
"CONOPS might change, especially if they are fossilized conservative procedures that apply poorly to the new situation."
And once again, The Chart

This is one of the few sections of the chart that is almost always covered by science fiction authors.  This makes sense, since next to Fleet Design, it is the most often seen aspect of a Space Navy in stories, movies and other media.  That being said, maybe there are some things we still have to learn about the subject.  After all, we maybe using the term "Space Navy"  but what we are designing for Conjunction is most certainly not any kind of navy at all,  it is a Space Force, and that is a new thing entirely.

Why is a Space Navy so different from a wet-navy?  The medium, of course.  Space is not like anywhere we've ever been and we've never had to fight up there before.  It requires extreme levels of preparedness from all who dare enter, and the physics and mechanics and stuff is all wrong from a naval standpoint.  "Stand" - that right there is a good example.  In space, nothing "stands", everything is moving all the time, at speeds which impart the force of our most potent explosives.  There is also no boarders in space.  All planetary bodies are in constant motion - the planet in the next orbit will spend half the time on the other side of the Sun, making it's neighbor farther out the closer.  Conjunction  is based on the idea that planets move and thus cause the concept of territory to chance with the calendar.  That's space for you. It's just not the same.

But there are some parallels.  For example, the US Navy currently divides the theaters of operation they work in by colors (well, the color of the water, anyway).  Brown water naval ops are conducted in the river regions of the world, green water along the shores and coastlines, and blue water in the open oceans.  These last two have a near-perfect analog in space:  Orbital Space, and Open Space.

Orbital space seems obvious, but let's define it anyway; after all, everything within a light year or so orbits the Sun in some fashion.  But for our purposes, in 2015, Orbital space is anything between the upper atmosphere and Earth Departure.  This includes GEO, or the geo-synchronous orbits or GPS and communication satellites, the low-fast orbits in NEO currently used for manned missions, and any and all in between.  By logical extension, Every planet and moon has an orbital space easy to define by use of Sir Isaac's mighty maths.

Fear my mighty maths.
The rest of space, deep space or interplanetary space is huge and open and that doesn't matter, because a spacecraft must travel in certain orbits to get to point A to B for a given speed and Delta V, and there are no exceptions.  That being said, since everything is moving all the time at different orbital speeds around the sun, there is no way to establish trade routs or shipping lanes.  The use of Hohmann trajectories does allow for convoys and such, but that's about it for interplanetary space; it's a lonely black desert out there, with spacecraft either deliberately close together or impossibly far apart.

So, where does our Navy Space Force operate?  Obviously, in orbital space, of course.  This is the perfect place to operate using Patrol Rockets and smaller craft to zip to and fro.  It is also where Espatiers get the most use - boarding inspections, SAR, and the classic orbital drop on a planet.  But that's just the tip of the iceteroid - what about enforcement of quarantine? This could be an even bigger deal than it is today, since the enclosed system of a space station or rocket pretty much insures that if I got it, you got it. 
Shown: Astronauts protecting themselves from
the biggest threat to space exploration.

Rick Robinson has some cogent points on the subject here.

As for Interplanetary space, the missions are similar but modified by circumstance.  The world of Conjunction moves objects, oil and ore via the convoy system.  I thought long and hard about the balance between the added expense of multiple spacecraft and the safety margin provided by the same, and decided that when you are flying missions measured in years, you really shouldn't put all your life support and Delta V in one basket.  Therefore, rockets boosting to Saturn from Earth and vice versa, or to anywhere except maybe the moon, will travel in packs.  This makes sense from an author's perspective, as well - just ask the writers on Battlestar Galactica.   It's a lot more fun for our Astros and Espos to have somewhere to actually go on leave - and for work as well.  The oft-mentioned inspection teams, emergency SAR, and even simple cargo transfers all give our Space Navy folks something to do for those long, long months is the Black.

Anyway, that takes care of where.  The next rhetorical question Winchell proposes is whether or not our Space Navy is offensive or defensive.  We established last time that Peacekeepers aren't in the business of offensive war, so the answer to this one's obvious.  In fact, at the starting point of this setting, there has never been a war in space, so the role of our Space Forces is more law enforcement than anything else.  This is especially true when you add in the duties of obit/beam guard.  The Space Force SOP is the implicit nature of their service roles.  The main point of the UNSF is to be there.  Just in case.

Of course, if Jupiter decided to do something to interfere with Saturn's oil shipments, such as attempt to blockade the convoys, then all bets are off and the space forces on the spot would have the unenviable job of tossing the manual out the lock and improvising a war based on no practical experience.

See? I told you that that little chart could inspire novel plots...



Saturday, January 3, 2015

Nano-Fic: "What's in a Name?"

“You see this? Burned up a good bit of my mass allowance – anyway, it's an old-fashioned straight razor. Hand forged by my great-great-grandfather. He made it out of the spring steel of a motorcar. Know what one of those is? They burned hydrocarbons for power, and not very well. Used to be, just about every private citizen had one. That's where the oil went, mostly.

“My twice great-granddad was American – United States, that's how long ago – and he owned a car called a 'Ford'. When the Chinese War got bad enough that they cut out civilian hydrocarbon rations, 'Ole Grandaddy built a forge out of junk and started making hand tools and stuff out of the car. Without methane to make it go, or what ever it was, all that Ford was good for was scrap.

“Got to give it to him...people thought he was crazy for learning how to forge metal in the first place. Granddad was so proud of him that he changed the family name to 'Ford'. That's how we got the name – after a car.

That's why I'm out here, half way to Saturn. If we don't keep the oil flowing, if we don't protect the supply, then my kids and grand kids are gonna have to learn how to forge hand tools out of cars.

“And there ain't no more cars.”

Thursday, January 1, 2015