Friday, December 18, 2009

Holy Stardrive Batman

OK. Bad pun, but I just love the concept. You manufacture a small black hole – concentrating a tremendous amount of energy into a small volume with something like a giant gamma-ray laser. Just forget for now the small issue of the little black hole escaping and say falling into the core of your sun. You end up with a black hole no bigger than an atomic nucleus, which happens to weight around 1 million tonnes.

Then you manoeuvre this little miracle into the focal range of a parabolic mirror with your ACME black hole transporter – hey presto Star Drive. Thanks to the calculations of our wheelchair bound friend Dr Hawking, we know that this little sucker will release a continuous stream of Hawking radiation – a whole swag of different sub-atomic particles with high energy, particularly gamma ray photons. These particles will be focused by the parabolic mirror into a parallel beam, shooting out of the back of the starship driving it forward.

The starship is massively heavy at the outset – one million tonnes plus infrastructure – but that energy should be sufficient to accelerate it to near the speed of light within a few decades. Close enough to the magic ‘C’ that the magic of relativity comes to the rescue of the aging star-traveller. Time would slow down at this speed to such an extent that it might be possible to travel 2.5 million light years within a human lifetime. My organic, gravity-bound brain boggles.

What to do when we get there and our little black-hole has shrunk to nothing? Easy. Just make another one. Better take your friends with you though. Your whole civilisation might be extinct by the time you get back.

What’s your favourite star-drive concept? (No FTL cheats!)


Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Worm Holes -- because they are so convenient to get from one place to another for plot reasons. And you can always have a war about who controls access tot he worm holes.

Brendan said...

Hyperspace. Ducking out of the 'real' universe for one that corresponds on a scale of 1 to 1,000,000(possible more) and then popping back out having gone huge distances in very little time(comparatively)

Jonathan D. Beer said...

The Warp in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Its pretty much like hyperspace/subspace, except that its occupied by all the daemons a hellish bunch of writers can come up with, and only ships with a special Phlebotonum shield can pass through it without their crew going nuts and/or being possessed and eaten by said nasties.

The reason its such a brilliant plot device is because it makes the most integral part of running a galactic empire - the getting from point A to B - also the most dangerous and unpredictable aspect of it. It allows a writer to go nuts with story ideas based on this, and gets across the difficulty that ought to be inherent in any type of interstellar travel.

Don't get me wrong, I love Stargate and (to a lesser extent) Star Trek, but for me the press of a button ought not to be the most difficult aspect of moving between planets. This should be an incredibly difficult, risky business, if for no other reason than it makes actually getting there almost as impressive as what you find there.

John Lambshead said...

After 34 years in the British Civil Service, I favour the infinite improbability priciple.

You calculate the probability of all the ship's subatomic bits disappearing and reappearing in perfect formation somewhere else. You then write a White Paper on the subject, make it Party Policy, set up target assessments (these need have nothing to do with travel or indeed anything rational) and a panel to monitor same, devise a logo and mission statement, set up a website and hold tight.

It works on the principle that even less likely things happen routinely in government so although infinitely improbable instantaneous FTL travel must be inevitable.

I call it the Bureaucratic Quantum Particle Assisted Subway, or BUQPAS, drive.

Can I have my Nobel prize now, please?

John Lambshead said...

Dear Jonathon
I also like the 40K warp - see my toy soldier blog.

matapam said...

Bussard Ramjet. Love the concept. At 0.1G's you can get to Alpha Centauri in twenty years or so. Cruise along at 0.3C. I mean, who wants to go 2.5 million light years? Plenty to do right here in the neighborhood.

Yeah, I know. the interstellar medium is not thick enough to provide enoufh fuel to get you up to operating velocities. That just means you have to pre-accelerate some fuel, catch up with it about the time you reach escape velocity. ;)

Otherwise, I'd as soon fold space.

Anonymous said...

I'm also a fan of worm holes. They are such tidy and self contained little methods of space travel that I can't help but love them. Like our own subways, you can give them all sorts of peril while in transit. I wonder what worm hole tokens would look like. And how much would they cost?

Linda Davis

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Rowena. Nice and convenient. And where would Stargate be without them? Great concept.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Brendan. Hyperspace is definitely cool. How else could we have all those scenes where the space travellers are standing at the bridge and the blue cloudy stuff is rolling past?

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Jonathan. Having things actually living in hyperspace is definitely an underexplored idea in SF. That sound like a great universe.

Chris McMahon said...

Ah, brilliant John! I will nominate you for the Nobel.

But do you have to go through that entire process every time you use your drive? Can't you just fill out forms in triplicate or something?

I guess if you travel to a distant star you would need to take all the bureaucrats with you - perhaps in cold storage - and reassemble your governments and committees and such.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi,matapam. Folding space is an interesting idea. From the relativity point of view there is nothing to prevent you from going any amount of distance if you can bend spacetime. The other one I like is instantaneous travel - would certainly make holidays outside of Australia a little less of a marathon!

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Linda. Looks like its a tie between hyperspace and wormholes so far.

I think you could write something pretty quirky following that same line of reasoning. You could have the Urban Wormhole Transit Authority. You would turn up to the local Wormhole in the morning, clutching your cup of coffee, only to see a 'Wormhole out of Order' sign. Then there would be the disgruntled Wormhole workers, prodding around the edge of this Timespace miracle with their picks and shovels and crowbars. Nice stuff.

Kate said...

You could always go with the Holographic Principle and have a holographic realignment drive. Rearrange the holographic reality wave so that your ship is no longer *here*, but now *there*. Unfortunately, the rearrangement lost a bit of fidelity along the way so half your spaceship is inexplicably missing, but hey, minor details, right?

Chris McMahon said...

I like it Kate. So you would walk around in grey tones once you got there with the first version of the drive.

Then with drive version 2.3 you would get better resolution. But then if there was a glitch, you would accidentally recreate part of the Ubanzi lizard-warrior's empire next your home planet and the shit would hit the fan:)

Mike said...

Kate? Remember Van Vogt's approach in Null-A, I think? Make the space "similar" to 20 decimal places, and *poof* you are there. If I remember correctly, this required that you know the exact characteristics of the area you wanted to go to -- and I never quite understood how you avoided having the area come here, or what would happen if you tuned in a slightly different set of characteristics than you intended while you were adjusting, but that's quibbling. It was teleportation with an explanation, right?