Friday, October 24, 2014


First a correction: I was under the impression that spacesuits were designed for low pressure because inflating them to one atmosphere required extremely thick fabric to contain the atmosphere. Actually the more you inflate current suits the more resistance you encounter in moving the suits that still tend to balloon out at a fifth of an atmosphere. My thanks once again to Atomic Rockets and Winchell Chung.

Today's post is about those venerable Traveller institutions: starports and Free Traders. Some people think starports only provide fuel and snoopy customs agents. In truth they provide many essential services. They can even help you get offworld.

A fact of life is that Free Traders can only pull 1 gee. Some worlds are size 9 or 10 ('A' if you think in hexadecimal.) About one world in twelve is a semi super terrestrial. They have a surface gravity greater than 1 gee. Free Traders and Subsidized Merchants  can only make 1 gee. Thus the problem. A Free Trader or Merchant can land on such an obese orb. Getting off it is another problem.

The easy out is to dock with a shuttle. Shuttles can land darn near anywhere and haul an appreciable load. The hard part is getting the cargo to the shuttle. At the very least it involves a bunch of crew in vacc suits hauling and pushing cargo containers from the trader's hold to the shuttle. It sounds simple but no job is simple in zero gravity and vacuum. Worse it takes time and time is money.

Okay so you simply dock and wheel the cargo to your rent-a-shuttle in a shirtsleeve environment. Good plan except not all starports have orbital facilities and those that do are often in demand which means you are on a waiting list. Given a choice between deboarding the passengers of the Lunard Mega-Star liner or a load of sundries from the dinky Free Trader Singing Pig who do you think gets priority? Let me repeat time is money.

Starports are therefore faced with either increasing the size of their shuttle fleet (meaning more pilots, more personnel and more traffic) or increasing the size of their orbital elements (which means you still need the shuttles to to get the stuff to the surface.)

An alternative is to give all these sluggish ships a boost to get to orbit. This equals color for any rpg setting. Color that might even go boom! Even better.

The easiest solution is magic err... gravitics. Ship lands on a runway or in water nearby, unloads its cargo of bricks and is then wheeled to a ring of grav generators that negate part of the planet's pull allowing it to lift. Fast, easy and as reliable as your ship's own m-drive (or better given most PCs concern with maintenance). This is the most common method on worlds with an A or B starport and TLs of 10 or better. The cost is assumed in the berthing fees for the ship. It's kind of hard to get other ships in that berth if your freighter makes like a paperweight.

Tech levels below 10 do not quite have the grasp of gravitics we would hope for. Likewise starports of C or less don't have the revenue to justify such an infra structure. One of those lifters would cost at least what a comparable ship's drive would and probably more. Shipping offworld for parts is not always an option. What happens if some genius sends them in a 1 gee ship?

Lower tech or less travelled worlds make use of a variety of means, magnetic accelerators, rocket sleds, or tugs are all used. they are all as safe as the story requires. A magnetic accelerator might cause all manner of sensor or computer glitches. The rocket sled will probably exceed the ship's acceleration compensators and require passengers and cargo to be secured very carefully. The steward really is a necessary position. Most crew would rather deal with a radiation leak than get to deal with strapping nervous passengers in let alone deal with passengers losing their lunch after launch.

Some passengers faced with a high gee launch might opt to purchase a low berth as well as middle or high passage. That way they can ride out the launch unconscious and be revived in orbit. How you deal with the bumped angry low passage passengers will be up to you. Bear in mind people desperate enough for low passage might not be the easiest to deal with. Let the steward handle it.