dagoski: Emperor Norton I of the Bear State Republic (Default)
[personal profile] dagoski
I was just digging around the net for science fiction propulsion systems for a roleplayting campaign I'm putting together. Incidentally, I'm probably going use an Alcubierre drive in my setting.  Think Star Trek Warp Drive.  The Alcubierre drive is one of several so called reactionless drives.  These are propulsion systems which violate Newton's Laws of motion, specifically the 3rd law, often phrased as "For every action, there is an equal opposite reaction."  This boils down too the fact that rockets work by shoving large amounts of something out the back with a lot of speed.  That change in momentum goes into rocketship.  4th of Jul rockets take gunpowder, mix it with air and heat.  You get a chemical reaction which generates CO2, CO, HSO4 and some other junk.  Oh, and the reaction liberates a lot of heat as the energy of the chemical bonds in the gun powder go into the environment.  If you bottle this up and leave a hole in one end, the energy has only one way out.  The combusted propellant and whatever else is in there goes flying out the back end.  The rocket looses the mass and it goes out with a force roughly equal to its energy.  That force also goes into the rocket and it goes flying off in the opposite direction as the combustion products.  All solid rockets from your bottle rockets on up to Space Shuttle boosters work this way.  Liquid fuel rockets work little different.  Advanced propulsion systems get interesting.  You can heat up some Cesium until it becomes an ionized gas, meaning the individual particles have an electric charge.  You then accelerate that gas with electrical and magnetic fields.  But, it's all the same thing.  Just different ways to accelerate something to a high velocity so you can go bravely into the night.  The Alcubierre was proposed as part of NASA's Breakthrough Propulsion Program.  Sounds way more impressive than it was.  Basically it was a competition that gave beer money to the physicist with coolest idea.  A guy from Mexico, Miguel Alcubierre, was one of the finalists.  His drive distorts space time to create a sort of gravitic Venturi Effect.  In other words, denser spacetime to the rear pushes the spaceship while sparser spacetime pulls it.  This allows for extremely high acceleration and all you need is power source.  Make that a ginormous power source and add physics we don't yet understand.  Still, instead of carrying massive amounts of fuel and reaction mass, you can travel light.  This belongs to a family of blue sky ideas I call Transcendent Propulsion systems.  They're transcendent in that they all go beyond, transcend, the laws of Physics as we currently understand them.  Great science fiction even the science fact is pretty thin.  Still with the Large Hadron Colider now in operation, we live in a spectacularly interesting time, and not in the Chinese proverb sense.  We might see Physics rewritten to allow for these sorts of propulsion systems.  In the meantime, if you're looking for plausible ideas on getting around the Solar System or to a near star, give the Project Rho's page on rockets a read.  This is a fan site by a devoted science fiction fanatic named Winchell Chung who has done all the research that I typically do.  Only difference is that he was kind enough to share it with the web.  His page has got everything, and I do mean everything, propulsion systems, space suits, weapons and more.

Update:  I cannot recommend Winchel Chung's website, Project Rho enough.  I've been trawling through it and forgetting the fact that I'm working on something of my own.  Not only does he present the physics of science fiction props, he also traces the development of their concepts.  In doing so, he cites almost every Golden Age work of science fiction.  He traces ideas in science fiction from the first time they appear in literature on up through their evolution towards cliche.  The dude has essentially compiled a history and critique of science fiction as a genre from the 1940s up to present.  Man, I wish I were as OCD as this guy.  Chung is a geek's geek.  If I meet him at a con, I am so buying him the mind altering liquid of his choice.

Update the Second:  I am upgrading this site from, a "It's very cool!" to:  "Everyone on my friends list must read this, now! Pick a section and write a book report.  Reports are due Thursday." He does an tremendous critique of all Faster Than Light travel schemes known to Science Fiction and Conspiratorial Nutcases alike.

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dagoski: Emperor Norton I of the Bear State Republic (Default)
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July 2011

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