Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Hard (SF) Look at Star Trek: Scope II, The Wrath of Sol

Welcome back, RocketFans! I'm thrilled at the response so far We've had new visitors, new Paetrons, new comments - it's been gratifying to see so much interest in the stuff we put out. Thank you!
Image here

In my last post, I ended on something of a cliffhanger - namely, saying I could re-create the essentials of the Star Trek universe using Hard SF elements in our own little solar system.  I meant it, too.  It will take a bit of doing, I admit.  But on a project such as this, world building is half the fun.

In that post, I suggested that Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets didn’t need to be as big as it is to tell the stories Star Trek tells.   To start us off today, I want to show why the Federation can’t be as big as it is.  To do so, I am going to have to inject some actual science into the situation.  Please forgive me.

First of all, the size of the Federation:  According to dialogue in the movie Star Trek: First Contact, the UFP is over 8,000 light years across and has a hundred and fifty member worlds. Bernd Schneider, who I've mentioned before, tells us why that’s unlikely in terms of Star Trek’s own warp drive and it's established capabilities.  The only way such a vast amount of territory could be traversed by a spacecraft is at the speed of plot.

Make no mistake RocketFans, 8,000 light years is big.  Assuming Sol is in the center of this, a starship patrolling the border that happens to spot our home star in a telescope is looking at the same light that shown on China at the start of the Bronze Age.  This is the same time that the Egyptians were experimenting  with a new substance known as leavened bread.  And this is not a flat plane of territory either.  Though never mentioned, it is understood that the polities in Star Trek occupy most if not all the space above and below their colored blobs on the map.  That’s a thousand light-years on average, right there.  A 4,000ly radius and a thousand ly depth gives us a cylinder of space roughly fifty billion cubic light years in volume.

With a hundred and fifty member planets.  

I feel ya, bra.
After consulting that most valuable of resources, Atomic Rockets, we find that such a volume of space should contain about thirty-five million stars with human habitable planets.  This suggest that the Federation should actually have many, many more member planets than it does.  Even if we assume there are a hundred colonies per member world, they’re only using 0.04% of the real estate available - without terraforming.  Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, seems to indicate a need for quick and easy terraforming, considering the resources spent on Project Genesis.

All of these points are moot, in light of the equations on colonization, which at their most optimistic - meaning huge birth rates on colony worlds and forced emigration - the volume of space  we could occupy between now and the time of the movie First Contact is only a hundred light years in radius and .  That’s 0.06% if the supposed volume of the Federation.  That volume would contain 2200 habitable systems, with a colony-to-member ratio of  14.6 to 1.

That’s...wait, that’s actually reasonable.  Have we found a happy medium?  Is this smaller size just right without resorting to my radical solution of confining our setting to the solar system? In the old system of reckoning warp speeds (WF= x*c³), you can traverse that entire space, core to rim, in about two and a half months at Warp 9.  In TNG reckoning,you could make it in a couple of weeks at the max cruising speed of the Intrepid-class explorers.  Again, that’s pretty reasonable.  Has anyone else thought of making the Federation this size?  Am I the first?!


But, I’m still committed to making a Hard SF Star Trek setting the size of our solar system.  Wh, you may ask?  Because I'm making Hard SF:  You can’t travel faster than light. Silly.

Anyway. Solar System.

The two main objections to putting a setting as epic in scope in a place as...local as the Solar System are that the it's too small and there's only one decent planet in the bunch. Fair enough - or is it? I admit that there are no aliens in our star system...for now...and only one habitable the moment. But is the Solar System too small? After all, it is our backyard, right?

If this is your backyard, maybe.
The Solar System, from star to Oort Cloud, is 1.87 light years. The heliopause, the point where solar wind is canceled out by interstellar gasses, is a thousand times closer, but still a hundred AU away, which is 9.3 billion miles from Sol. That's just size - the number of planetary bodies is also suitably enormous. While there are only eight planets in our system - half of which are gas giants and lack real estate all together - There are a whopping 182 moons, nineteen of which are large enough to be planets or dwarf planets in their own right. That's comparable to the size of the Federation in terms of numbers. Granted most of those locations lack certain amenities, like atmosphere and water and heat. But that is actually a solvable problem in a couple of different ways.

Remember we mentioned terraforming earlier? I'm sure you all figured out that terraforming would play a big part in my setting, but perhaps not to the extent I'm thinking about. However, this post is long enough already, so we'll discuss how terraforming will give us a large enough Star Trek setting next time. As a bonus, we'll have rubber forehead aliens that can interbreed with humans presented in a way that is not only plausible, but likely.

For now, RocketFans, we'll leave you with this: Wouldn't our system be a lot more habitable if we had three suns instead of just one?

*Thanks again to Bernd Schneider for making his site, Ex Astris Scientia. Also, shout-outs to Masao Okazaki at The Starfleet Museum, and as always to Winchell Chung, Jr. at Atomic Rockets and, as we mentioned today, 3-D Starmaps. I stand on the shoulders of giants.


  1. I assume you're taking about something like a Sunline(

  2. That's pretty much exactly what I'm taking about.


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