Friday, March 11, 2016

Mind Over Antimatter

It is estimated that a gram of antimatter costs about 62.5 trillion dollars (or credits?) to produce. That's at tech level 7. In perusing a few Traveller products (okay I caved and looked at the fuel costs in T4: Fire Fusion Steel) we see one cubic meter of antimatter costs 200,000 credits. That's 70 kilograms of antimatter. I'll save you the trouble of looking it up: that's three gigatons worth of boom once you combine it with 70 kilos of antimatter (the mass of a slow moving crew member perhaps).

Three gigabooms for 200,000 credits. What does that mean?

Traveller says that antimatter power systems are in use by TL 17 (about the tech level where we build robots smart enough to stop us from playing with dangerous crap like antimatter ironically). So I assume that 200,000 credit figure is for TL 17 where you can basically buy your antimatter from your local price club (if the robots let you).

I made the following table for the cost of a gram of antimatter at various tech levels. I took the log of 62.5 trillion and subtracted the log of 200,000 then divided the difference by ten for the ten tech levels between 7 and 17. It looks scientific but I'm an humanities major. Here's what I got

Tech Level Cost of 1 gram A-M (dollars/credits)
7  62.5 Trillion
8     3.7 Trillion
9  212 Billion
10  12 Billion
11 725 Million
12   42 Million
13     2.5 Million
14  144 Thousand
15  8396
16    500

17    30

Okay at TL 17 that stuff is cheaper than crystal meth. This sorely pushes the sufficiently advanced technology trope for me. For 30 credits you get a puff of something that will go off with 43 kilotons of force. 

Currently antimatter production is solely for research purposes and not very economical. Higher tech levels are more consumer friendly. TL 8 however removes the biggest hurdle to using antimatter: containment. At TL 8 we have both fusion power for economical generation of energy and gravitics to contain the antimatter in an evacuated vessel. The idea of a TL 8 society with A-M at 30 bucks a gram is pretty scary to me so I will go with my progression thank you. 

My friend Ray McVay also rightly points out antimatter is technically an energy transport medium. You expend a shit ton of energy to make it and you get it back by opening the vessel. 

In fact we are researching A-M propulsion now. despite the high price tag it has uses that will be economical soon like augmenting chemical rockets to put payloads in orbit. So saying A-M power systems are only practical at TL 17 seems a little far fetched. 

What the TL 17 systems are is SAFE. In Traveller terms you might have a A-M power pod that you can run your TL 12 ship off for a year. Swell. No more wilderness refueling. You can make it to the Old Islands cluster without worrying about those pesky drop tanks dropping at the wrong moment and blowing your ship to bits. 

The problem is if that antimatter containment fails for even a moment you become a local astronomical event. Your liquid hydrogen tank gets a hole and you can enjoy the pretty cloud of gas while that pirate comes around for another pass. 

Mass might be another factor. Below TL 17 the amount of A-M required to equal a ton of liquid hydrogen in energy might take more space for its container than a ton of liquid hydrogen. If antimatter required five times it's displacement in containment systems then twenty tons of vessel would give a ship four tons of antimatter.

A kilogram of hydrogen will at max produce 6.4 * 10^14 joules. A ton of the stuff 6.4 * 10^17 joules. A ton of antimatter will produce 1.8 * 10^20 (add regular matter and stir.) So for your twenty displacement tons you'd get the equivalent of 241 tons of hydrogen. That can take a Scout ship a ways. It can also take a Scout a ways in all directions at once. That's 215 gigatons. I'm pretty sure most star systems wouldn't let something like that anywhere near their main world or any inhabited, or soon to be inhabited or remotely valuable real estate. But some governments or other interested parties might operate such ships to cross rifts and explore or operate secret communications relays. I dunno what information would be that valuable to the Third Imperium or whoever your big government is but you could think of something. Or at the very least such ships might be prototypes to design better antimatter vessels. Perhaps some ships will use antimatter merely to supplement their power systems.

I salute any characters trying to salvage such a ship, let alone use one for travel. I'm old fashioned. Fusion power was always good enough before.

At the very least as the cost of antimatter comes down it will be used for various industrial applications. If you're terraforming and a mountain is in an inopportune spot remove it. Ditto for glaciers. Turn that inland sea into a giant hot tub!