Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Infrastructure and Mega Credits

One of the most overlooked aspects of space travel in SF settings is infrastructure. Space travel today is barely begun and is almost impossibly hard. The only way our first voyages have succeeded is with a lot of people on the ground working incredibly hard. In the future new propulsion systems and engineering techniques will make it easier but I sincerely doubt it will ever be easy. It will require a lot of time, energy and skills compared to most other human endeavors (except possibly terraforming and kicking coffee).

Say we have something like the traveller maneuver drives: you put your power in one end and your ship moves to the other end sort of. No deadly rocket blast necessary. No one needs a spaceport, right?

Wrong.

First of all antigravity (or whatever handwavium you use) is expensive. A Scout ship alone costs 36 Mcr. Its routine maintenance is 36,000 credits a year and that is not figuring in life support, wages, fuel, supplies, and non-routine costs like repairs or ordinance. For a comparison, in CT high living (great food, swank accommodations, lighting your cigarettes with credit notes) costs about 900 cr. a month. A credit buys a lot.

In a setting like this earning money to keep your ship flying is a major concern (let alone paying a gorram mortgage). This has two effects: time is going to be precious, ships are going to try to cut expenses.

Time is precious because you need time to do whatever it is to pay the bills. In the example above your courier could wind up costing you say, 6000 cr. a month. That's two hundred a day so you don't want to waste any of it sitting around repairing a busted strut or Johnston rod.

As expensive as ships are they could be even more expensive. So manufacturers will try to cut costs where they can. That means anything not devoted to maintaining life and getting from point A to point B will be made as cheaply as possible, like landing gear. So you are going to want a more or less level stretch of concrete to land on otherwise you waste time fixing your struts and rods and such.

Saving money by optimizing your ship for vacuum work could save you a bundle. In Cepheus Engine streamlining costs 100,000 credits per ton. That doubles the price of some hulls, an important fact if you are paying for your ship. Not everyone steals their ship -but even in that case, you need a paint and body shop to alter it and someone to forge legit seeming credentials for it.

Yes pirates/smugglers/slavers have their own infrastructure. their ships need frequent repairs as most merchants will fire at least one shot to make things look good for the insurance company. Sometimes they panic and actually hit the pirate!

In that case they need repair facilities for their prize ship as well. Pirates have to make things look good too.

Maintenance was mentioned. Annual maintenance comes up way faster than anyone expects or wants. It requires a dock or shipyard or whatever to allow major overhaul of ship systems. Presumably you could do this in the wild but you'd be looking at longer times and an overworked engineering gang at the end of it.

But say you don't want to waste time and put wear and tear on landing, just drop your cargo off in an orbital station and pay for a shuttle to ferry it down.  Except shuttles need infrastructure, landing fields, fuel and re-mass storage. Stations need maintenance. It's all infrastructure.

I haven't even touched on ship construction but you get the idea (that may turn up in another post).

Maneuver drives are fairly expensive and considering that cost, worlds might find it useful to develop other ways to transport loads to and from orbit. A maneuver drive ship is an all purpose spacecraft (that's an oxymoron at our present stage of development by the way). Ships dedicated to lifting cargos or orbital transports can be specialized to reduce some of those costs. They don't necessarily need antigravity. Laser launch vehicles, reusable chemical rockets, orbital towers and space bolos are all being discussed and planned now. Give them a few tech levels and they might give an antigravity device a run for its money (no pun intended) for simplicity and economy.

If you are using hard science style torch ships infrastructure becomes even more important or your planet becomes instantly recognizable. It's the one with the large scorched areas and the Bladerunneresque yellow fog. Player characters are not the only people you don't want to give a 100 terawatt fusion drive to.

In fact antigravity technology might revolutionize infrastructure instead of replacing it. The previous tech level you used mass drivers to shoot cargo into orbit, now you use MFTN* driver to smoothly loft shuttles and bulk cargo containers. But don't forget, antigravity devices need support systems too.

*(MFTN= Middle Finger to Newton)