Sunday, December 27, 2015

Oh right, this thing exists

Hope you all had a happy stuffsgiving and whatnot.

I've got a ton of stuff to talk about but haven't had time or motivation to type it out. Having slept for approximately 4 days straight, I'm feeling a bit more energetic and will endeavor to resume rambling into my empty corner of the internet.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Motor(?) Monday: Space Vehicle Design

Nothing new happening with car shopping, drove a ford escape with a bunch of nice stuff about it that I'd probably have put money down on already if it had limited slip and a button to lock it into 4wd if desired.

ONWARDS to my actual topic: SPAAACEships.

Specifically, trying to design approximately dieselpunk spaceships for the alt history game setting I'm working on with the Moon Marines. Trying to make them mostly realistic with the caveat of the setting featuring a couple elements of superscience to allow for spacefaring shenanigans without recordkeeping to manage keeping tabs on reaction mass and such. TL;DR of the setting is it's way later in time, humanity has been pulled into the future during the Manhattan Project and given some alien tech to reverse engineer. They fix/break it, and start exploring. I'm considering giving the ships a modernized WWII kind of vibe, and having a lot of spaceships able to land on the water due to alien not-rockets permitting heavily armed and armored spaceboats. Humanity's great wealth of knowledge related to loading, crewing, and fighting aboard ships was taken advantage of, along with moderate aircraft experience and marginal space knowledge.

One of my first inspirations is the Surcouf Submarine Cruiser. It's usable as a ship, with deck space up top, and nicely sized gun turrets (enormous for a submarine). It's streamlined and has the style I want. Not the most airworthy, but that's what lifting body style tweaks and unreasonably powerful space engines, and maybe a set of stub wings that fold flat for some extra lift and to help with climbing out of atmosphere when you can't be bothered to boost into orbit on engine power alone.

Obviously it's meant to fly, at least during the transition between spaceship and regular ship. Getting around like a very well-sealed seaplane is probably faster and more effective in a vehicle powered by reactor fueled not-rockets than forcing it through/over the water. A broader body would probably be more likely, to increase space and maintain a nice airworthy wedge design.

A flying boat lifting body spaceship, you say....

There's always the old standby of sphere ships, which to maintain the style of the setting would probably be vaguely cube shaped and rounded in something of the nature of the M4 sherman. Not great for in atmosphere use, beyond takeoffs and landings.

But now, I come to my real problem
Gravity. I'm not using artificial gravity generation, but would like at least a small amount of gravity to allow some semblance of normal life (ability to cook in a pan, sit at a table for cards that don't need magnetism or somesuch, and so on). All gravity has to come from spin gravity, either for the whole ship or more likely having a section of the ship feature a separate centrifuge portion containing the habitation modules, or from using slight superscience to maintain felt acceleration gravity. Given that the ship is meant to be usable as a ship on the surface, there are some issues with both of these methods.

Gravity, on a normal aircraft or oceangoing ship, points downwards. produced via spingrav, portions of the ship will be upside down while in atmosphere if using an included centrifuge (which may be split into a habitation block and a region not used while in gravity or otherwise still usable while upside down, or trading some space for mechanisms to allow rooms to rotate). Simply spinning the ship about an axis is difficult due a probable lack of a nice round axis had by most ships able to land planetside. Still, if a ship has a center of gravity close enough to what would be the top deck while planetside, it can rotate such that the lower deck has spin gravity. It'll look weird as heck, but if it's weird but it works it's not weird. A tumbling pigeon design does not work with the requirements of interstellar travel within the setting.

Produced via acceleration, effective gravity will point towards the back of the ship. It's possible to arrange the whole ship for acceleration gravity, and have it point upwards while it's landed like a tail-landing craft, but that comes with its own set of challenges. Suddenly the entire ship is a spacefaring skyscraper that must be navigated by steps, ladders, manlifts, elevators, and fireman's poles. It's also weird during actual flight if you use aerodynamics rather than pure engine power. Alternatively, the engines could force the ship sideways through space, such that down is always down. This results in a rather large frontal area to heavily armor, but plays quite nicely with keeping an otherwise standard deckplan, allowing systems to be navigated via hallway and corridors with a few levels.

The other options are that the ship is just in 0G or microgravity all places except where it's absolutely necessary for something resembling normal function, or that I opt to include a crude gravity generator to the setting. Micrograv is weird but manageable, and through tech and proper design pretty easily handled. Artificial gravity requires just a little bit more handwaving than allowing small amounts of constant speed acceleration gravity thanks to warp drive effects and is easily compatible with a ship designed to also function in and out of gravity.

After sleeping on it, bouncing ideas, and doing some math, it seems that flying the ship in a helical flight path can generate gravity pretty darn readily. If it's stupid but it works, it isn't stupid. It requires constant thrust, but given that the ships are reactor powered and reactionlessly driven, it's the simplest solution to the 0G problem.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Sci-Fi Saturday: The World of the Moon Marines

We were the precursors. All our calculations, all our research from our pale blue dot, a spec of dust floating in a sunbeam, it all agreed. When we raised our eyes to the heavens in search of answers and received only silence, it was because we were first. So many billions of years seemed like a long time, but it was a mere fraction of the time the universe would persist.

So we reached for the stars. We spread our species throughout the system, ever hoping to hear from another race. We never received an answer, so we did what the precursors always do; We seeded the galaxy with life. We loaded our ordinance, developed for use against ourselves and honed to perfect over many lifetimes, with the basics of life. The hardiest microbes, able to survive anywhere. Cluster bombs of enormous size, atop rockets of unparalleled enormity. Were something to happen to us, our planets legacy as the cradle of life would not end. We planned to follow, in great colony ships to be built.

We never made it that far.

It's hard to say what cosmic calamity befell the Sol system, but we were no more. The cradle of life was extinguished.

Many years have passed since, and life has flourished throughout the galaxy. Some of it may even harken back to those converted weapons, launched untold millenia ago. Where one sapient species finds another, they are uplifted to the galactic community, and peace largely prevails.

But peace is fleeting. The eldest of races, the second precursors, saw the chaos looming, a chaos for which the galaxy was unprepared. Artifacts hinted at another civilization, ancient beyond measure. A civilization that had raised itself to the heavens alone, and vanished. The artifacts were dated, their trajectories compiled, and their homeworld found, a dead system with an aging star in a galactic backwater.

Humanity would be reborn, brought back from the ravages of time in hopes that their wisdom will save the galaxy. Plans were set in motion, and the Sol System was imploded, replaced with a copy from eons past, when humanity still flourished. The estimate of time was rough, and we had not yet reached to the stars, but there was time for us to develop before we were needed.

With the detonation of the Manhattan project, some members questioned our supposed precursor wisdom, but others had suspicions we were what the galaxy needed confirmed. Without explanation we were given a few pieces of technology we couldn't understand yet, and left to the tender mercies of our garden world with the secret hopes of the galaxy.

Even proof of extraterrestrial life, revealed to a few key scientists, could not sway the course of history by much. The alien devices were studied and set aside as too advanced. With every advancement the artifacts were dusted off and re-examined, as the space race was pursued with enhanced purpose. Where there was the possibility of life beyond Earth on our first foray beyond the planet was addressed, now there was proof. The Apollo program was largely unchanged for most of its development, but the knowledge that there were aliens who had seen fit to visit us would change the course of history.

By the new 1970s, the alien technology began to be understood. By the end of the 70s, we had begun to understand the technology, and were able to begin to examine it in earnest. By the end of the Cold War, we had begun to be able to copy the technology; we knew how it worked, even if we couldn't explain why. Reactionless rockets, quantum communications, and a device that seemed to raise the universal speed limit of Light Speed. Where our space program faltered, the new humanity used its boons and added purpose to charge ahead. The moon was colonized, and our military might was extended beyond the Earth. Spurred onwards by reverse engineering, ease of space-borne experiments, interplanetary resources, and the secret knowledge that there was other life to compete with, science advanced swiftly.

As our understanding grew, we began to recognize the changes, that something with the universe had changed around the Manhattan Project and a great deal of time had passed. With this information found, and the alien technology understood, the greatest news was finally broken.

We had met aliens, and were given technology. We know nothing of who, or why; Humanity had been brought forward in time, having once been at the front of the curve. We still had yet to make contact with our mysterious benefactors, but we were ready. Whatever tests lay ahead, we would not be found wanting. Whether it was hoped that we would be worthy adversaries or galactic heroes, we meant to be prepared.

At the turn of the century, as we fired up our first Stardrive and set course for the nearest system, we affirmed our purpose. We came in peace, for all mankind. We walked softly, but carried a big stick. We would get further with a kind word and a gun than a kind word alone.

First contact was made in 2010. The present year is 2015.

We were not the wise ancients the second precursors had hoped for, but we were what the galaxy needed.

GURPS Space: I just want to build stuff

I'm glad I've been paying attention to Erin and McThag on their Traveller Tuesdays, even though I'm not setting the system in the Traveller universe (that would be far too simple and make too much sense).

Got a setting I've mentioned before knocking around, that of the Moon Marines (actual military title pending, but they're space marines who's primary base is on Luna). Given that most campaign ideas revolve around the party actually playing moon marines and romping around the universe breaking things, or playing the security/away team for an exploration/free trader ship, gear's going to be a thing. In this setting, humanity is also substantially more militarized than most of the galaxy (everyone else hit the point where war became too horrible to contemplate and actually stopped, or are super honorable/gullible, or can't utilize the FTL system without crysosleep because they get incredibly nauseous and/or horny, and other such things), which means their ships need to be durable and such, and at least the basics of a space-military need to be determined. In attempting to pick out various units for this approximately TL9 setting, I made a discovery;

Ultra-Tech, which I've glanced through before, is kind of terrible if you're actually trying to use it for things with any depth. Also, approximately half of TL9 is just stuff that we have today at least as prototypes, although it was still futuristic when it was printed. Also also, basically the entire conventional guns section is errata'd, and a great deal of other stuff. It mentions that spaceships are a thing that exists, and kind of sort of gives some examples, sufficient as long as it's merely a setpiece for the party to glance past on their way elsewhere.

Spaceships has some nice depth with reasonable simplicity, but a couple things that seem off. I can't tell whether armor and weapons are balanced, or if weapons are overpowered. Damage comparison between the 100mm cannon in spaceships and ultratech are kind of weird (the warhead and projectile impact damage seem to be switched, approximately, although the damage in the table may be meant for beam weapons or just an approximation with guns using the warhead table exclusively). Decade scale makes things weird. Assuming medium or secondary batteries are "standard", it takes approximately 2 of your available 6 systems per section of the finest armor available to be able to soak an average hit, except not once warheads, armor divisors, and weapon velocity (if applicable) are factored in because those do a bajillion times more damage than it's possible to have your ship block even if every system is nothing but the finest of armor.  Hooray Errata, the entire warheads table was off by a factor of 10 or so. Something still seems vaguely off, I may boost armor in some way, simplest way seems to be to treat armor as one unit and extra stacks reduce G-force.

GURPS Traveler seems decent, other than being for a specific setting. It offers better ability to armor up a streamlined ship and such, at cost of marginal requirement for calculations.

I've even busted out GURPS Vehicles to look at that for comparison

I'll probably just wind up building the ship in every system and bashing them together until I get something I'm happy with. Then I just have to fill it with crew, because it's small enough and going to be the main setting enough that it's probably a good idea to have at least a name and basic personality for every crew member.