Thursday, September 24, 2015

Spacewalk Empire

The sad hard facts are rockets and related technologies are likely to be with us a long time. Antigravity and reactionless drives will likely remain science fantasy. Notice I do not insist they are impossible. Sir Arthur C. Clarke taught me not to say that. Rockets are a right pain in the butt for getting into orbit. Most of your vessel will be propellant.

Some really brilliant folks got the idea of firing a laser into various materials (ablative solids, hydrogen, water, common air) to get it really hot and create a rocket. The lasers, focusing mirrors and generators are far too big to carry into orbit if you're carrying anything else but if you're smart you leave them on the ground and fire them into the launch craft's reaction chamber. Essentially you leave your engine behind! (For more on this see here:

Obviously this sort of arrangement is very appealing to settlers, merchants and explorers. Less so to space pirate or worse, player characters who are fond of quick launches and getaways. Kind of hard to book when the cops can shut down your launch systems with a phone call. Take heart, there's no way you can get away with space piracy anyway according to a great many bloggers and game designers more knowledgeable than me (though there are still plenty of opportunities to make money illegally in space and I'm working on new ones everyday!)

So you have a laser launch system. Maybe it's not the only way to launch. Big companies and the military have their Orion boom-boom launchers or Gahdawful big chemical rocket thrusters but they have way more money than your poor settlers and hard working merchants. Heck maybe your universe even has reactionless drives. It's just that not everyone can afford them or have the technology necessary for them. Anyway what does this mean? You have launch system barons equivalent to the railroad barons of the 19th century. Very rich people who want to be richer still or possibly make everyone else's money meaningless.

It means the company with the launching laser system is going to get a lock on building and renting the launch craft. That gives them a monopoly on taking people to orbit. Never mind legality, they will try to do it if they've got an ounce of gumption. Selling people the Universe will make you a load of money. If more than one company is selling launch services well ... accidents happen. Anyone can tell you, Space is hard. Maybe they'll get their monopoly the legal way by buying the government's cooperation. Maybe they'll use a maze of corporations. Maybe they'll be chartered as the sole company for the job after the other launch operations had all those horrible accidents.

Of course there's room for other kinds of operations like magnetic mass drivers or orbital towers or are there? One company may try to get them all using spies, troubleshooter and assassins (player characters!) The government may be trying to prevent the infighting from wrecking launches and costing billions to the companies funding elections using police, detectives, their own spies, and mercenaries (the other player characters!)

This set up really kicks into high frontier gear when the Fly By Light Launch Corporation plants a computer virus  on the Orbital Tower of Babbage to disrupt a competing launch operation and runs into the Life Support Guild (remember them?) If you have cultures with antigravity technology these launch kings will likely welcome a ship from one with the enthusiasm you reserve for a rat at a gala banquet before calling for the exterminators (okay not sure if the player characters will be the people with the antigravity drive or the exterminators here.)

Remember I said I was working on new ways to commit crimes in space? Space piracy is just thinking too small.