Sunday, 24 July 2016

Interstellar Travel: The Current Situation

A corollary of the Anipos invasion of our Earth is that we now, finally, have access to first-hand data on the cost of FTL travel.

The main fact of interest appears to be that an FTL jump requires a massive quantity of energy, in the order of 0.0001% of the moved mass, per "C" factor of speed AND Parsec of covered distance.

In this, travelling through FTL seems quite different from normal space, where kinetic energy is usually conserved as long as areas with matter (gases, interstellar dust, dense solar winds etc.) are avoided.

"Hyperspace"  -  or whatever it really is where FTL jumps take place; what few information about the theory is available, on the grid, is fairly contradictory - is way more akin to sea.

It may seem not much, expressed in this way, but the reader must bear to mind that He3 fusion reactors, currently the most efficient energy source at our disposal, can only extract around 1% of the energy represented by the rest mass of the fuel... hence the limit for one "hop", of 10000 CP - which means, 50 P at two hundred Cs - four months - or two hundred parsecs in four years, for an ideal ship composed with minimal mass to fuel ratio... in reality, this would require costly multi-stage ships, with the associated problem of littering the galaxy with extremely interesting technological salvage.

Anti-matter does not really improve things, as it is not really an energy source...

Naturally occurring anti-matter is extremely scarce, if indeed can be found at all in our galaxy, so it must be produced by extremely inefficient energy re-conversion, and the containment issues strongly limits the quantity of it that can be stored - not that any storage system available for it can really be considered even marginally safe, over the length and times of interstellar exploration.

Anti-matter is attractive only for things like battle-bots: it allows huge power peaks with little or, really, no advanced technology involved.  In this application, the potential for truly massive global destruction, in the event of a containment systems* failure, is considered an acceptable risk - if not, really, an unconscionable bonus.

(*note: quintuple-redundancy is  considered a minimum engineering requirement, in this field; acceptable in low fuel-to-dry weight vehicles like an in-system armoured battle-bot, it is unacceptable on inter-system designs) 

He3 is relatively abundant, and a ship can re-enter normal space and use a Bussard ramjet to collect it, if it jumps next to a suitable star.

While possible, and used, it is still a process that requires months, and makes long range exploration time-consuming and dangerous - "FTL space" may be safe, but normal space is an environment full of dangers, from radiations to micrometeorites, to magnetic bursts, to gravity funnels.

This, and the wide spread idea that "everybody interesting to know will pop on the info-sphere by its own, some day" has led to a very reduced effort in exploration, by the very few known FTL-travel capable cultures.

This would still leave open the possibility of commercial exchanges, with neighboring systems acting as refueling stations for ships coming from the others...

Commerce being a powerful motivator and an almost universal human activity, we could expect it to motivate plenty of space travel.

And it would, if there actually was anything worth the energy expense of moving it from a star to another, or investments with return times in the scale of centuries, using hugely cheaper slower-than-light travel means.

Given the fact that nano-construction by molecular assembly seems to be a prerequisite, to successfully tackle FTL travel, it is not surprising that the consensus, all around the galaxy, is that there is no such thing as something worth the effort of shipping it by FTL.

With nano-assembly, and hyper-automation, literally everything can be built from its raw material in a matter of minutes, hours or, at worst, days.

All that is needed is, really, energy - often in the order of some % points of that contained in the chemical bounds of the finished product, some ten or more orders of magnitude less than the energy required by a 1 CP travel - the assembly specifics and raw materials, none of these latter really presenting significant distribution differences, when considered on an inter-systems scale.

In other words, the only things worth transferring, from a solar system to another, are information and - maybe, just maybe and under certain conditions -  people.

People itself is worth moving only for those cultures that do not admit the so-called travel-by-copy.

Considering a human being as simply a material object, it is possible to "transfer" it by sending its assembly data, and memories, as data streams.

This is much more economical than actually sending the body of someone through FTL, though FTL datata-streams bandwidths pose serious limits to how many people can "travel" this way, these are way higher than those set by energy consumption to most civilizations.

(Most of the rare successful interstellar romances are concluded this way, by both parties exchanging their data - each partner than being free to decide to pine for a distant lover, or having the same lover at hir side, although a "simple", indistinguishable copy of the original.)

No matter how really unsubstantiated may it be, many cultures object that these copies are not "real" - Anipos Prime being the main example and most technologically advanced of these cultures, as well as one of the few cultures to have developed functioning FTL travel after the "Nu slide" - and frown upon this method of "travel".

Cultures that do not share these qualms, however, and that also have expansive streaks - like, say, the Transsians - do not refrain to send "envoys" through copy travel, though often these cultures have to resort to rationalizations, to justify the violation of some of their own cultural tenets.

Of course, that can happen only if the receiving civilizations are imprudent enough to allow the reproduction of potentially hostile, memes-ridden alien humans (something that the UN will likely have to regulate soon, if we want to avoid another tragedy like Belo Horizonte and the Brazil civil war), which is an attitude not really diffused, around the galaxy.

However, not all human cultures are bound by the appreciation of the same values and derive the same boundaries from these technological limits

Whereas a commercially inclined culture may see no reason to invest energies into interstellar travel for the sake of travel, more militant ones may invest more, often in the form of multi-generational STL colonization efforts.

Actually, it is known for sure that the Theocracy ruling the Barnard Star has sent no less than three multi-generational "Arks" toward the neighboring stars, one of which being the famous "Crusade Ship", aimed at the Anipos home-world.

Slated to arrive at its target in another 1500 years, the envoy of colony ships re-appeared on the global info grid some 200 years ago, when an internal coup d'etat overthrow the representatives of the Theocracy and instituted the Agnostic Oligarchy of the Travelers [AOT], as their current political system.

Only five generations inside the travel, the descendant of the original crew already couldn't understand the purpose of their mission, nor why they should respect the order of authorities that, as their daily reality proved, could not understand the needs of some two millions stranded mid-travel, far from any star, facing shortages as the inevitable imperfections in their recycling routines leaked materials where no direct resupply was possible.

So, they finally replaced a government they had no reason to respect and contacted their presumptive enemies, the Anipos Central Government, asking for help: supplies (in the form of some 2000 tons/year of raw materials ) and an alternative destination for their travel, to find which the Anipos Government finally decided to unleash the first generation of Von Neumann FTL probes to explore the galaxy in 40.000 years.

(In reality, it was 300 years that the Anipos parliament was dissecting the decision of launching a similar exploration program, the cost being - as usual, for them - irrelevant, they weighted mostly the possible results - discovering solitary human cultures that hadn't reached FTL communication capabilities - against risks - being discovered by some hostile, truly alien species, and the probes themselves evolving, like self-replicating often do, into some kind of hostile alien species - without reaching a decision, for lack of hard data. The Transsian Crusaders asking their help just served to unlock the centuries long stalemate.)

Nothing is known of the other two Transsian colonization efforts, as they most probably have either got lost in transit ("normal" space is dangerous), still have to reach a state of decay where contact with external forces is needed (recycling of resources having been improved, in these newer ships), or had no FTL communication relays built in their infrastructure (this is most probable for the third  wave, that shipped from the Transsian space after the AOT contacted the external galaxy  claiming its independence from the motherland, and denounced the Theocracy as an undemocratic government - in many ways, admittedly, a pot calling the kettle "black", but an extremely embarrassing moment for the theocracy nonetheless).

Cultures that are believed to have launched their own colonization efforts include the Pogmahones (one colony ship, contact lost after 500 years),  the Illuminarians (two colonies; one suffered an internal revolution, lost control of the ship - destroying its original computer systems? - and plummeted into a Sun some 700 years after the launch; the other, renounced the original destination, anchored around a less than perfect star system, and created an orbital culture with no home planet called The Shadowdancers), the Cata (three ships, all losts) and, legend wants, ours.  

How may it be possible that some agent out of one of our planet-bound civilizations may have reached far out of any known government reach, to send a host of colony ships towards many known as unmanned stars, is beyond our most vivid imagination.

Yet, the legend goes that some unknown "secret organization" has already flew into space a number of "Von Neumann Genetic probes" - each one with a collection of genetic samples and basic human mind records - capable of self-replicating on their way toward a host of unnamed stars, as well as re-creating the humans whose data they carry once they reach their destinations.

Each probe, potentially, capable to spawn an entire "new" civilization, based on various, each slightly different, cultural and biological templates.

In many ways, it is an image worthy of admiration, some solitary genius tackling a goal of epic proportions with little resources and an absolute disregard for established ethics - human cloning and similarly illegal reproductive technologies would be at the center of such a project - in the indifference of the world's main governments.

Buy, herein lies the root of the certainty that this is just a urban legend. Whoever the organizer of such an expedition would be, they could not hide it from the Space agencies - there is a limited number of space tech providers, all tightly monitored.


Jennifer "Ice Queen" Nielsen had no reason to read more, the writers of the article were obviously misinformed, because she worked for the urban legend, using unregistered rocket technology. It had taken a year for her and her two companions to reach Saturn, another year to assemble the automated robot factory, and one more year for the robots to be able to assemble the basics blocks of the probes. During these three years, regular shipment arrived, carrying biological samples - mostly frozen embryos - and the ancillary tech that could no be built up there. DNA assemblers and artificial uteri, mostly.

The first probe  had launched some six months before,a sphere of about 20 meters in diameter, of ice kept together by a carbon-carbon tubes structure and a small nucleus containing the payload and computers. The low termal dispersion ionic propulsor allowed only 0.00001 G of acceleration, but the probe was designed to keep it on for a hundred years.

 The highly refined ice was there as radiation shielding and as reaction mass for the propulsion, which was the reason it had to be filtered to reduce impurities down to ten parts in a billion.

Now that the probe had reached the Heliopause, the data suggested that ten meters of ice were maybe enough on  Earth, but keeping the samples viable for the expected 5000 years of travel required more shielding..

The new probes have a 1 meter thick lead shield around the biological samples, which is likely just enough to get them intact to the end of their journey. However, more refinements will be added, after the third will free the docks and work will start on the fifth probe.

If the article was so off the mark about her own job, how accurate could it be about the rest?

 Jennifer stretched her seven feet of Lunarian body, and sailed off her room to the mess hall - she had come to a conclusion about where to mine the Palladium that they needed, desperately,  for the He3 generators.

 As her two Moon-born companions, she enjoyed being part of the farthest Earthian settlement, even though it was solitary and a one-way-ticket situation that would have driven mad even the sturdiest Terra-born.

Jennifer was the first Moon-born and the robot who raised her had no facial mimicry... as a result, Jennifer had grown without any ability to show her emotion, which was the reason  why she did not show her surprise when she felt a sudden trod running throughout the station, reverberating through the sliding grapple up to her shoulder.

 Something had docked... something with a mass so grand that the vibrational modes of the whole structure had been distorted. She ran to the main airlock, and tried to look out of the window, then called up the external surveillance... the thing was bigger than the station, she could only see glimpses of it.

Then the airlock opened - a tiny girl with long floating green air and eyes with yellow iris over a black   cornea stood in the middle of the passage, one step from the door.

She asked, with a melodious voice "Permission to come aboard?"

With a tremble in her voice betraying the apprehension her face could not show, Jennifer invited the Robot's avatar in.

Little dfid she knew that it was her ticket back hone.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Feel free to point me out conceptual, orthographical, grammatical, syntactical or usage's errors, as well as anything else