Hypothetical FTL System.

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Hypothetical FTL System.

Post by The Romulan Republic » 2018-07-25 04:21pm

Here's a rough outline of an FTL system I've playing around with for a story for a while. I'm posting it here in the hopes of some constructive feedback:

So, the basis of this system is that only energy can be transported at faster-than-light speeds, not matter. FTL coms are commonplace, but to transport ships across interstellar distance, they have to be translated into energy and then rematerialized at the destination. Basically, teleportation. So transportation is done through enormous "beamers" that dematerialize the vessel (I'm undecided on whether it requires another device at the destination to rematerialize them). The journey itself is effectively instantaneous, with no real range limits other than the ability to get an accurate scan of the target destination, but it is extremely energy-intensive to get a ship into FTL- a typical system can use up a significant fraction of its total annual energy production on a single small ship, and the most developed systems might launch a dozen flights in a year. As such, most or all gates are state-controlled, and reserved for only the most crucial military, diplomatic, or exploratory missions. Major expeditions will launch simultaneously from multiple systems towards a single target, to spread out the cost.

Another downside is that there has to be a beamer at the destination point as well (if not to arrive intact, then at least to return home). So colony missions or first contacts must construct a gate upon arrival in order to get home. If I go with requiring a rematerializer at the destination, then that would require a multi-generational (likely automated) mission to construct one before people could be sent.

Beamers can also be used as WMDs, since they basically fire highly accurate beams of FTL energy through space. There's really no way to defend against them other than a pre-emptive strike, MAD, or spreading out your population and infrastructure across many worlds so that they can't be taken out with a single strike. A single shot from a beamer will fry the surface of a planet, obliterating all life. Thus, beamers are set up in deep space, far from any world, on the edges of a solar system. Therefore, there is a period of transit time at either end of the journey, as a ship flies between the beamer and the nearest planet.

So, thoughts? Are there any big pros and cons of this system I haven't thought of? Are the rules as I've explained them consistent? Is this something that's been done before, or is highly derivative/generic? What would the economic and strategic implications of such a system be? Cultural effects? Etc.
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Re: Hypothetical FTL System.

Post by Jub » 2018-07-25 04:39pm

If it requires an endpoint then you're damning yourself to having to get to a place the slow way every time you want to colonize something. Is this something you want for your story or would it make more sense that 'less complex' inorganic matter can be sent without a receiver and thus automated endpoint constructors can be sent out? This also allows your civilization to VERY rapidly seed the universe with jump points and mining machines so every system you visit will already be made at least somewhat ready for inhabitants.

If we assume rapid colonization of the galaxy you're also less likely to have galactic war. There will be more resources than we would know what to do with and, if we use the assumption of 100 light year ranges for jumps, much of the galaxy will be many years away from you, more if the place you're attacking blows up their gate so you have to build a new one and store up energy before you can move past their system. The flip side is that planets become less valuable so slagging one with this tech will just lead to much of its mass being harvested and turned into habitats better suited for habitation than most worlds we're likely to find, these habitats are also many orders of magnitude smaller than a planet and thus harder to target in the first place.

Plus, if these jumps use up a significant fraction of an entire system's annual energy output how are they storing it? I ask because at a certain point it makes sense to make more solar collectors or whatever you're using for your energy needs over launching a ship that year. This isn't an issue, just something to consider.

Finally, at least at first, there may be significant religious and even mainly rational fears that this device kills its entire crew every jump. This may be less of an issue if society already has digital minds or the means to implant digital memories back into cloned flesh but it's something to consider none the less.

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Re: Hypothetical FTL System.

Post by The Romulan Republic » 2018-07-25 05:00pm

Jub wrote:
2018-07-25 04:39pm
If it requires an endpoint then you're damning yourself to having to get to a place the slow way every time you want to colonize something. Is this something you want for your story or would it make more sense that 'less complex' inorganic matter can be sent without a receiver and thus automated endpoint constructors can be sent out? This also allows your civilization to VERY rapidly seed the universe with jump points and mining machines so every system you visit will already be made at least somewhat ready for inhabitants.
Yeah, this is definitely a consideration. I'm weighing the pros and cons of the various options.
If we assume rapid colonization of the galaxy you're also less likely to have galactic war. There will be more resources than we would know what to do with and, if we use the assumption of 100 light year ranges for jumps, much of the galaxy will be many years away from you, more if the place you're attacking blows up their gate so you have to build a new one and store up energy before you can move past their system. The flip side is that planets become less valuable so slagging one with this tech will just lead to much of its mass being harvested and turned into habitats better suited for habitation than most worlds we're likely to find, these habitats are also many orders of magnitude smaller than a planet and thus harder to target in the first place.
Hmm.

I'm thinking that most of the galaxy is under the control of a single government in this setting, but that there are more primitive or isolated worlds (some alien, some human worlds colonized by sleeper ships in the pre-FTL days), plus a few more developed worlds that are hold-outs for various ideological reasons. But I may have to rethink the practicality of that sort of government due to the cost of transport.

Interstellar war is rare due to the prohibitive cost of transporting a whole invasion force across interstellar distances. Any conflict would likely come down to either WMD strikes with beamers, or in a more limited conflict (say, one rogue system against a larger power), destroying its orbital infrastructure and then blockading the world to isolate it.

Large-scale ground conflicts or fleet actions basically don't happen, except in internal conflicts in more primitive systems.
Plus, if these jumps use up a significant fraction of an entire system's annual energy output how are they storing it? I ask because at a certain point it makes sense to make more solar collectors or whatever you're using for your energy needs over launching a ship that year. This isn't an issue, just something to consider.
That's a fair point.

One idea would be to have huge arrays of solar panels in space to collect power for the beamers, actually, with whatever excess power they have left over being transmitted to the planets/colonies.

I figure most developed systems would have at least one beamer because its the only way to maintain contact with the rest of the galaxy, but due to the cost, its restricted for essential things in all but the richest systems- essential cargo (like if there's some crucial tech. that they can't build locally), diplomatic missions, or military missions. I'm thinking there might be a few moguls in well-developed systems who have a private beamer, or access to one, but ordinary people jumping on an interstellar cruise just doesn't happen. The only way for an ordinary person to travel between star systems normally is if they join the diplomatic corps, the press, the military, or a government science expedition.
Finally, at least at first, there may be significant religious and even mainly rational fears that this device kills its entire crew every jump. This may be less of an issue if society already has digital minds or the means to implant digital memories back into cloned flesh but it's something to consider none the less.
Well, one of the ideas I'm considering is that there are various enclaves of anti-tech. luddite people in this society- like future Amish. This could be one of the reasons behind such a movement.

The official line is that its the same person who comes out at the end of the journey, in every measurable sense- they just get temporarily altered and then brought back to normal at the end of the trip. Though inevitably there are people who feel uneasy about being turned to energy and zipped across the galaxy.

Oh, another thing I forgot to mention: you can't just beam someone in the flesh, Star Trek-style. You need the ship for (insert technobabble), to protect the passengers during the journey, and also the rematerialization happens in deep space. Mostly because I want starships in the setting. :)
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Re: Hypothetical FTL System.

Post by U.P. Cinnabar » 2018-07-25 05:03pm

I believe he stated a beamer uses the same energy output as a small spaceship, not an entire solar system.

My question is, why can this technology be installed on a big ship, which can them autoteleport to the destination system, like how only large ship's in B5 (and White Stars) can mount their own jump drives?
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Re: Hypothetical FTL System.

Post by Jub » 2018-07-25 05:14pm

The Romulan Republic wrote:
2018-07-25 05:00pm
Yeah, this is definitely a consideration. I'm weighing the pros and cons of the various options.
This is the biggest determinor for how your setting is going to look and feel so it's worthy of that level of thought.
Hmm.

I'm thinking that most of the galaxy is under the control of a single government in this setting, but that there are more primitive or isolated worlds (some alien, some human worlds colonized by sleeper ships in the pre-FTL days), plus a few more developed worlds that are hold-outs for various ideological reasons. But I may have to rethink the practicality of that sort of government due to the cost of transport.
Technically with FTL comms you could govern over distance but the first time a few systems decide to break away you're faced with wasting a beamer on stopping them or you have to accept that you can't keep them in your sphere. Neither option is going to make you popular at home.
That's a fair point.

One idea would be to have huge arrays of solar panels in space to collect power for the beamers, actually, with whatever excess power they have left over being transmitted to the planets/colonies.
Make sure you figure out how the energy is stored as well as gathered. It could be important for a story later or just make for some set dressing depending on how things go. Either way, it's something people will probably want to know.
I figure most developed systems would have at least one beamer because its the only way to maintain contact with the rest of the galaxy, but due to the cost, its restricted for essential things in all but the richest systems- essential cargo (like if there's some crucial tech. that they can't build locally), diplomatic missions, or military missions. I'm thinking there might be a few moguls in well-developed systems who have a private beamer, or access to one, but ordinary people jumping on an interstellar cruise just doesn't happen. The only way for an ordinary person to travel between star systems normally is if they join the diplomatic corps, the press, the military, or a government science expedition.
This incentivizes doing whatever you can to get more energy generation as fast as possible. The system with more beamers colonizes faster, has access to more resources, and is stronger militarily. These advantages fade over time as your colonies become independant but there will be a made rush to expand once this technology spreads.
Oh, another thing I forgot to mention: you can't just beam someone in the flesh, Star Trek-style. You need the ship for (insert technobabble), to protect the passengers during the journey, and also the rematerialization happens in deep space. Mostly because I want starships in the setting. :)
Just make it so you need some kind of stabilization pulse or field and the equipment needed for it has a large minimum size but scales well and needs to materialize first to fire a second pulse, It means you'll have some sweet spot based around the largest ship that can be served by a single unit constrained by how powerful a beamer you have access to. So you're always fighting two factors and thus end up with different systems having different ships based on their needs.

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Re: Hypothetical FTL System.

Post by U.P. Cinnabar » 2018-07-25 06:08pm

Also, how downscalable is the technology? Can it be used, with less power expenditure, over much shorter distances to, say, teleport a mass of meson particles inside a ship to decay explosively?

I know you said teleporting living beings was out, so that question has been answered.
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Re: Hypothetical FTL System.

Post by The Romulan Republic » 2018-07-25 09:30pm

Jub wrote:
2018-07-25 05:14pm
This is the biggest determinor for how your setting is going to look and feel so it's worthy of that level of thought.
I want to try to avoid going routes that are too derivative, but I also want to avoid a situation where interstellar politics or exploration are prohibitively expensive/time-consuming.

I don't really think I'd want to have building a receiver at the destination first be mandatory, as it means that any first contact or colonization mission would have to be preceded by an STL mission to construct the receiver. I want interstellar transport to be difficult, but not necessarily to anything approaching hard sci-fi levels.
Technically with FTL comms you could govern over distance but the first time a few systems decide to break away you're faced with wasting a beamer on stopping them or you have to accept that you can't keep them in your sphere. Neither option is going to make you popular at home.
Indeed.

It also precludes any physical interaction or trade of physical goods- it severely limits the options. You could still tell a good story around those limitations, of course, but its something to keep in mind.
Make sure you figure out how the energy is stored as well as gathered. It could be important for a story later or just make for some set dressing depending on how things go. Either way, it's something people will probably want to know.
If there's one thing that internet fandom has taught me, its that people want to know how everything works, and they will nitpick it to death if they don't. :wink:
This incentivizes doing whatever you can to get more energy generation as fast as possible. The system with more beamers colonizes faster, has access to more resources, and is stronger militarily. These advantages fade over time as your colonies become independant but there will be a made rush to expand once this technology spreads.
Yeah, I think I see what you're getting at here. More beamers is advantageous, but to build more beamers (or use the ones you have more often), you'll need to build up your energy production infrastructure first.
Just make it so you need some kind of stabilization pulse or field and the equipment needed for it has a large minimum size but scales well and needs to materialize first to fire a second pulse, It means you'll have some sweet spot based around the largest ship that can be served by a single unit constrained by how powerful a beamer you have access to. So you're always fighting two factors and thus end up with different systems having different ships based on their needs.
A big issue here is the energy it takes to dematerialize a ship. I'm presuming that that would increase as the mass of the ship increased (at least that seems the most straightforward way to handle it from a writing perspective). Which would create an incentive to use the smallest ship design possible. On the other hand, a larger ship would mean having to launch fewer separate missions, which would save on the cost of powering up the beamer.

Both of these factors suggest to me that fairly-multi-purpose vessels would be the preference incidentally, but I might be missing something here.
U.P. Cinnabar wrote:
2018-07-25 05:03pm
I believe he stated a beamer uses the same energy output as a small spaceship, not an entire solar system.

My question is, why can this technology be installed on a big ship, which can them autoteleport to the destination system, like how only large ship's in B5 (and White Stars) can mount their own jump drives?
Okay, I guess I didn't explain this very clearly, but:
So transportation is done through enormous "beamers" that dematerialize the vessel (I'm undecided on whether it requires another device at the destination to rematerialize them). The journey itself is effectively instantaneous, with no real range limits other than the ability to get an accurate scan of the target destination, but it is extremely energy-intensive to get a ship into FTL- a typical system can use up a significant fraction of its total annual energy production on a single small ship, and the most developed systems might launch a dozen flights in a year.
Thus, beamers are set up in deep space, far from any world, on the edges of a solar system. Therefore, there is a period of transit time at either end of the journey, as a ship flies between the beamer and the nearest planet.
The beamers are not installed onboard ships- they are basically space stations, floating in deep space, which project energy across interstellar distances. A ship docks inside the beamer, gets turned to energy and shot as a beam of energy to the destination, and then rematerialized at the destination. The ship is simply there to provide protection to the passengers during the transition (insert technobabble here), and during the flight to and from the beamer.

If anything, as noted above, the technology actually favors smaller ships- the bigger the ship, the more it costs to turn it into energy and beam it across interstellar space.
U.P. Cinnabar wrote:
2018-07-25 06:08pm
Also, how downscalable is the technology? Can it be used, with less power expenditure, over much shorter distances to, say, teleport a mass of meson particles inside a ship to decay explosively?

I know you said teleporting living beings was out, so that question has been answered.
As I envision this setting, beamers are BIG. Like multi-kilometer stations in deep space. Energy requirements are also enormous- the entire energy output of modern Earth probably couldn't run one.

The way I imagined it, distance to the destination isn't the main factor in how much energy it uses- its the amount of mass you have to dematerialize and shift into FTL to begin with. So you can't really miniaturize it much by using it over shorter ranges. You could use them to transport explosives inside an enemy ship, but I figure that it would probably be more cost-effective to use some other weapon.

But FTL beam weapons are definitely an option. If you could transmit energy at FTL speeds to transmit a signal (FTL coms are commonplace), there's no reason why you couldn't build an FTL energy canon (which is essentially what a beamer used as a WMD is, on a massive scale). It would presumably use more energy than a com over the same range, but less than a beamer which has to first dematerialize a ship, then transmit it as energy across interstellar space.

I'm thinking initially this technology wouldn't have been miniaturized to the point that you could mount it on board a ship, but someone developing a miniaturized, ship-mounted FTL energy canon could be a plot development down the line.
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Re: Hypothetical FTL System.

Post by U.P. Cinnabar » 2018-07-26 12:27am

The R9mulan Republic wrote:The beamers are not installed onboard ships- they are basically space stations, floating in deep space, which project energy across interstellar distances. A ship docks inside the beamer, gets turned to energy and shot as a beam of energy to the destination, and then rematerialized at the destination. The ship is simply there to provide protection to the passengers during the transition (insert technobabble here), and during the flight to and from the beamer.

If anything, as noted above, the technology actually favors smaller ships- the bigger the ship, the more it costs to turn it into energy and beam it across interstellar space.
I think, honestly, instead of (insert technobabble here), you can simply get away with stating 'cause that's the way it works." Generally, the more technobabble you use, the further from sense it strays, and the more questions it opens up, leading to an overcomplicated, contradictory mess. You're better off simply stating people need a ship around them to teleport FTL, and stick with that.

If the beaming stations are in deep space, You're going to have other stations surrounding it to provide recreation, transportation, habitation, and other essential services for you weary space traveler, assuming the beaming station itself has room only for the beaming equipment and dock space for one ship, resulting in entire communities growing up around the beaming points, and more potential story ideas.
As I envision this setting, beamers are BIG. Like multi-kilometer stations in deep space. Energy requirements are also enormous- the entire energy output of modern Earth probably couldn't run one.

The way I imagined it, distance to the destination isn't the main factor in how much energy it uses- its the amount of mass you have to dematerialize and shift into FTL to begin with. So you can't really miniaturize it much by using it over shorter ranges. You could use them to transport explosives inside an enemy ship, but I figure that it would probably be more cost-effective to use some other weapon.

But FTL beam weapons are definitely an option. If you could transmit energy at FTL speeds to transmit a signal (FTL coms are commonplace), there's no reason why you couldn't build an FTL energy canon (which is essentially what a beamer used as a WMD is, on a massive scale). It would presumably use more energy than a com over the same range, but less than a beamer which has to first dematerialize a ship, then transmit it as energy across interstellar space.

I'm thinking initially this technology wouldn't have been miniaturized to the point that you could mount it on board a ship, but someone developing a miniaturized, ship-mounted FTL energy canon could be a plot development down the line.
I honestly think it's better to keep the beaming technology as a strategic threat, rather as every day starship weaponry, simply because it's too easy for it to get out of hand, and turn your story into all "POOF! It's magic, bany,' and that, I think would get boring to read and to write.
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Re: Hypothetical FTL System.

Post by Jub » 2018-07-26 06:37am

The Romulan Republic wrote:
2018-07-25 09:30pm
I want to try to avoid going routes that are too derivative, but I also want to avoid a situation where interstellar politics or exploration are prohibitively expensive/time-consuming.

I don't really think I'd want to have building a receiver at the destination first be mandatory, as it means that any first contact or colonization mission would have to be preceded by an STL mission to construct the receiver. I want interstellar transport to be difficult, but not necessarily to anything approaching hard sci-fi levels.
Hence the idea of sending inorganic drones out. Maybe you send an entire ship packed full of drones and only 30% of them are needed to build a receiver in the year it'll take to send the next ship to that system. Even if part of the ship and 70% of your drones aren't resolved successfully at the destination things still get built so colonists can follow them up quickly.

This also means that even a system that you don't want to FTL nuke which has denied you access to their receiver can still have a load of drones dropped into their system to cause trouble. It's a step between glassing a planet or trying to destabilize a star and doing nothing.
Indeed.

It also precludes any physical interaction or trade of physical goods- it severely limits the options. You could still tell a good story around those limitations, of course, but its something to keep in mind.
The currency of the day is information. Blueprints, gossip, entertainment, science, etc. become more valuable than goods especially when most settled systems are likely to have roughly the same distribution of elements to fabricate with.
If there's one thing that internet fandom has taught me, its that people want to know how everything works, and they will nitpick it to death if they don't. :wink:
You don't need a ton of detail but casually mentioning that antimatter is what powers your beamers but more conventional fission/fusion powers ships might make for a cool setting detail.
Yeah, I think I see what you're getting at here. More beamers is advantageous, but to build more beamers (or use the ones you have more often), you'll need to build up your energy production infrastructure first.
Exactly, you always balance how often you use your beamer(s) versus building up what you already hold. It makes for interesting strategies that might be used by various groups, factions that played things wrong and ended up as also rans, and new factions hitting a sweet spot and exploding out of nowhere. You could write periods of boom and bust for beamer lead expansion, explore treaties about how fast you can colonize via beamer and that's some rich material.
A big issue here is the energy it takes to dematerialize a ship. I'm presuming that that would increase as the mass of the ship increased (at least that seems the most straightforward way to handle it from a writing perspective). Which would create an incentive to use the smallest ship design possible. On the other hand, a larger ship would mean having to launch fewer separate missions, which would save on the cost of powering up the beamer.

Both of these factors suggest to me that fairly-multi-purpose vessels would be the preference incidentally, but I might be missing something here.
Does volume matter much? If you're not physically traveling to your destination a thin skinned bubble could be enough to get at least some cargo from place to place. Other loads might need sturdier hulls and thus be more expensive to send per unit of volume they can devote to cargo.

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Re: Hypothetical FTL System.

Post by Sea Skimmer » 2018-07-26 11:51am

The Romulan Republic wrote:
2018-07-25 09:30pm
I'm thinking initially this technology wouldn't have been miniaturized to the point that you could mount it on board a ship, but someone developing a miniaturized, ship-mounted FTL energy canon could be a plot development down the line.
If were talking about what amounts to an interstellar range cannon, and you have FTL communications, I dunno why anyone would care if it was able to be mounted on a ship or not. Space doesn't care how big an objective is, once you have one assembled you just need a fire control network to dominate the region.

This would actually be a great way to setup a universe that isn't dependent on really stereotypical and militarily dubious 'battleship-carrier' navies like 97% of sci fi is. Instead you'd have something more resembling siege warfare on a massive scale.
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Re: Hypothetical FTL System.

Post by The Romulan Republic » 2018-07-26 10:14pm

Fair point. And it does create a somewhat unique tactical and strategic situation.
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Re: Hypothetical FTL System.

Post by Sky Captain » 2018-07-28 02:23am

If it needs only few times more than annuaal energy production on modern Earth then it is hardly an obstacle for well developed solar system. Sun generaate multiple orders of magnitude more energy. A small Dyson swarm intercepting 0,01 percent of sunlight could power a beamer stations to launch multiple missions per day.

Even if you need equivalent amount of energy to a mass you are launching FTL sun converts to energy something like 4 million tons of mass per second. Energy is plentiful once you have well developed space energy production infraastructure.

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Re: Hypothetical FTL System.

Post by Jub » 2018-07-28 02:16pm

Sky Captain wrote:
2018-07-28 02:23am
If it needs only few times more than annuaal energy production on modern Earth then it is hardly an obstacle for well developed solar system. Sun generaate multiple orders of magnitude more energy. A small Dyson swarm intercepting 0,01 percent of sunlight could power a beamer stations to launch multiple missions per day.

Even if you need equivalent amount of energy to a mass you are launching FTL sun converts to energy something like 4 million tons of mass per second. Energy is plentiful once you have well developed space energy production infraastructure.
You could easily have it take a million tons of stellar mass per second per kilogram of mass you want to send. Couple that with a stabilizer system, one which must be sent along, weighing several tons on its own and add a dash of certain elements taking more or less energy depending on how much energy is needed/released when breaking their atomic bonds. If this is the case you start to need tens of a percent of stellar output annually per shot. Not insurmountable by any means, but beyond what a small colony would be able to do quickly and a real cost to even an established system which might want to use that energy for things like transmuting elements, stockpiling anti-matter, or any other number of things.

Organics might take near unimaginable amounts of computing time to ensure they come apart right and go back together again, so scanning and backing up every organic that you want to send could add tons of time even if it doesn't add to energy costs. Again, for an advanced enough civilization, this might not be too large a hurdle and your beamer could have dedicated computers just for this task, but that computing power could go to other tasks if you're not planning a beam that quarter. A small system might have to use a large fraction of their yearly computing cycles just to send a few organic samples anywhere. Sure you could send the data for cheap but any prestigious institution only deals in physical samples.

it doesn't take much to get the desired effect.

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