As Earth became ever more crowded, the need to expand beyond Mother Earth grew in importance. For a time, development of space was firmly the purview of the governments of the world. However, these bodies proved to have neither the will nor the foresight necessary to truly develop the technologies needed to overcome the hurdles to long term survival in space, as well as on the planets of the solar system. Initial commercial interest in space was limited to lifting of payloads into orbit and the use of orbit for commercial satellites tasked primarily with enhancing communications across the globe. However, with the efforts of a number of individuals and groups who had the foresight and courage necessary, commercial enterprise firmly took control over the development and exploitation of space in just two
There are two distinct types of maneuvering systems used by spaceships: maneuvering drives and transit drives. Maneuvering drives are used for exactly what they sound like, to provide the craft its maneuvering capability. They are used for standard orbital and deep space maneuvering needs. Most maneuvering drives are a highly advanced ion drive. These work by firing ionized xenon through a charging grid that both accelerates and neutralizes the atoms. The resulting plasma energy released is guided down a magnetic tunnel and provides the thrust necessary to maneuver the spaceship. The size and shape of this magnetic tunnel can be manipulated, resulting in increase or decrease in the amount of thrust generated, without higher fuel expenditures. This makes the drives very efficient and reduces the amount of fuel they need to carry, compared to older drive designs. In addition xenon is a stable element, which means that there is no fear of an explosive detonation, even if the fuel system takes direct damage. The charging grids of these systems tend to glow, giving ship thrusters a glow effect. The thrust itself, however, is actually invisible to the naked eye.
Transit drives are used by spaceships when they are travelling between planets. These drives have a single purpose in mind – to make the ship go really fast. These drives can push a spaceship to a speed of 0.005% the speed of light – a feat that was impossible using traditional ion drive technologies. They also do this without requiring the ship to expend massive amounts of fuel, though the drives do require vast amounts of energy to operate compared to the more mundane maneuvering drives. As a result, during operations, most other systems on a spaceship are unavailable and these drives allow a craft no maneuvering capabilities. In order to stop, these ships must literally turn around and fire the transit drives again.
Transit drives are an evolution of what used to be known as the magnetoplasmadynamic (or MPD) drive. These drives operate in a manner similar to an ion drive, in that they push an atomized plasma medium down a magnetic tunnel. However, unlike their smaller cousins that rely on a separate system to generate the magnetic field, transit drives work at such high energy levels that they generate their own magnetic tunnel. The reactant used for these systems comes in the form of specially designed teflon bundles. A super-high current is run through this bundle, which boils off the surface molecules, which are then directed down the magnetic tunnel created via the current. The constriction of this field accelerates the resulting plasma gasses to speeds over 500,000 meters per second, enough to rapidly propel the craft to incredibly high speeds. Unlike maneuvering drive exhaust, the exhaust from a plasma drive is both highly visible and incredibly dangerous. In general, spaceships are not allowed to engage a transit drive within 5,000 kilometers of any other craft or station for safety purposes.
With a look and feel similar to large international airports, spaceports are the link between planetary surfaces and orbit. Earth supports six such facilities: two in North America, one in South America, one in Europe, one in Australia and one on the Chinese mainland.
Spaceports are generally located far from any large population centers, though most have a small town that has developed around the facility. Most spaceports have an integrated airport and mag-lev train station. Spaceports on other planets are generally much smaller. The two that Mars supports are the largest off-planet and are the size of the smallest Earth-based facility. The other colonized planets each have a single spaceport that is generally located near the first colony founded on the planet (or moon). In some cases, the colony is a part of the spaceport.
Orbital Transfer Vehicles
Generally referred to by the simpler moniker shuttles, OTVs ferry passengers and cargo from the surface of planets to orbital stations or waiting spaceships. Shuttles come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, from small personal transports to massive cargo haulers that can lift almost 200 tons of cargo to orbit. Most shuttles have a limited endurance, as they are designed to go from the surface to orbit and back – though some models have the endurance to travel to the moons within the planetary system. Shuttles, however, do not have the transit drives or fuel to make the trip between the planets themselves. Most OTVs utilize a vertical take-off and landing system, though a few older designs still need a large runway to get aloft.
Spaceships, like everything else in modern society, vary in size, function, and cost a great deal. In general, there are two distinct types of spacecraft. The first are inner-system spaceships. These ships are designed to operate strictly within the inner portion of a single planetary orbit and lack the transit drives necessary to make the journey between planets in any reasonable amount of time, even if their maneuvering drives allowed for it. They also generally do not utilize a rotational ring for generating artificial gravity, as the crews are not in space long enough to warrant the extra cost these systems entail, and they have a smaller fuel reserve. Also, ships that are limited to a single planetary orbit lack the gravity couches needed in an interplanetary journey. Jupiter and Saturn are the most common places these types of ships are found, though they are found anywhere that travel between a planet and moon or high orbit space station is necessary – such as Uranus or Neptune.
Inter-system ships that are designed to go between planets never travel beyond the orbit of Mars, as they lack the fuel and supplies necessary for the extended journeys that push out into the outer portion of the solar system. They have transit and maneuvering drives, but only the larger designs have a rotational section for artificial gravity. Most designers feel the times involved in travel in the inner system are too short to warrant the expense.
The second common type of spaceship is the inter-planetary spaceship. These ships are designed to travel anywhere within the solar system and, to a lesser extent, beyond the solar system . These ships are large, with hydroponic gardens, recreational facilities, and other amenities not present on smaller inner-system ships. All inter-planetary ships have at least one, and oftentimes two or three, rotational sections to provide the crews gravity during the long journeys these ships commonly undertake. They also have extensive machine shops and spare stores so that they can do any repairs underway that may be necessary.
Orbital and Deep Space Stations
It is said that space stations are like snowflakes – there are no two that are identical. While this is not exactly true, there is a staggering variety of stations, both in layout and function, across the solar system. Some stations are not much more than warehouses in space.
These basic stations are used by corporations and governments to store or stage goods, machinery, and just about anything else of which you can think. Many of these stations are little more than open skeletal structures with docking clamps that hold cargo containers waiting for pickup. At the other end of the spectrum are the massive luxury resort stations that have become popular vacation spots. Some of these stations are located literally in
the middle of nowhere, in order to stay out of the jurisdiction of any government or corporate entity, which enables them to offer services that would be frowned upon at best, and outright illegal at worst. Such stations are, naturally, secretive.
Orbital and deep space stations follow two distinct design philosophies. Orbital stations, which refer to stations that are built around colonized planets, moons, and asteroids, tend to rely on resupply from the planet or colony they orbit. This comes either in the form of direct shipments from the planet or colony, or through logistic ships that supply the colony itself. Orbital stations generally do not have space dedicated to hydroponics and maintain a smaller reserve of fuel for powering their reactors. These stations also tend to rely on the native defenses of the planet or colony and, with the exception of military stations, are generally unarmed or have a very light suite of defensive weaponry and systems. They also tend to maintain smaller support staffs since the station can easily call upon personnel from the planet or colony should the need arise.
Deep space stations generally refer to stations that are built in the deep black between the orbital paths of planets. As a result, these stations need to be much more self-reliant. Deep space stations support large hydroponic gardens to provide both a native food source and a natural carbon dioxide recycling system. Many times, these gardens are designed to be as natural-looking as possible in order to provide crew and guests a more natural environment to relax in from time to time. In many cases, small animals, birds, and insects are an integral part of the garden; though when this is the case, their populations are tightly controlled and special measures are taken to ensure they do not escape the garden area. Deep space stations also maintain a much higher reserve of fuel and other supplies should an event mean the station is going to be isolated for longer than normal.
The crews on these stations are also large since, again, they must be as self-reliant as they possibly can be. Finally, deep space stations tend to be well armed in order to protect themselves from would be pirates or raiders that may see it as a target of opportunity.