Vir's Archive

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Antimatter Matters (Development)

In one of the comments on an earlier post, Cutnose asked about the role of antimatter and matter in the game - specifically as a source of thrust.  My answer, frankly, wasn't the best and mostly danced around the question of the prominence/role of exotic power sources.  It something I have thought a lot about - especially today (Cutnose's question pushed the issue to the fore).  I'm still not sure how I want to deal with propellants and power sources.  Spaceships are going to play a critical role in how the setting is going to function as well as how the worlds are going to look.  The type of power source is going to dictate how fast ships move, how far they can go, what they will look like, and even how destructive their weapons can be -- all important stuff for a game that has aspirations of focusing on military-style campaigns.

I need to hash out what, if any, role antimatter will play in TDE.

The Case For Volatiles (aka Chemical propulsion):

Volatiles are the safe way to go (and BTW, "volatiles" is code for chemical propulsion right now).  They are what we use today to propel spacecraft -- and pretty much all other vehicles save for some navy ships.  Its a common and understandable technology.  Its plausible and easy to understand.  Its cheap.  Volatiles and the like are great economic macguffins.  If TDE is going to have a plausible economic view of the setting, and Volatiles will play an important role -- especially if they are the primary (or sole) way to move interplanetary ships.  Plus, Volatiles are found in a lot of interesting places int he solar system - providing a useful excuse as to why there are colonies in the proverbial ass-end of space (especially for Venus, Jupiter and the Belt).  Volatiles would also be useful as radiation shields - serving double duty of protecting the crew as well as providing delta-V.

The Case Against Volatiles:  

Volatiles as a power source are inelegant and a little boring.  The tech, by 2191 is going to be ancient and implies a level of technological stagnation I am not sure I am comfortable with.  Ships that rely exclusively on volatiles for delta-V will require some very bulky structures to make sure there is some plausibility to how much reaction mass is available to move some big ships.  I'll admit that I am not a big fan of the modern NASA aesthetic... and the realistic ships that build off that aesthetic aren't very appealing.


The Case For Antimatter:

Antimatter is sexy.  Its plausible for the timeperiod -- more than 150 years in the future (especially since we can already manipulate small quantities today).  Giving Antimattter a prominent role in powering ships (and maybe more) frees up a lot of physical and aesthetic/design space.  Ships wont need those bulky fuel tanks since antimatter (AM) supposedly can yield upwards of 90% energy dividends when smashed against matter.  It gives ships longer legs and faster speeds as well.  Oh, and it makes for a good reason to get out to Jupiter and Mercury.

The Case Against Antimatter: 

Its expensive.  Antimatter may be a little too sexy in that it pushes some boundaries of plausibility.  If volatiles are somewhat implausible to still be the primary fuel source 150+ years from now, antimatter is somewhat implausible for only being 150+ years int he future.  I also dont fully understand the dangers and benefits AM presents -- which requires more research (what happens if a ship gets the crap blown out of it and it has an antimatter drive?  A big boom, most likely... but how big?  What about other commercial uses?).

Suck it Earth!  This is my playgorund!  

...and the Nuclear Darkhorse:

I also need to consider nuclear fusion and fission.  Its a known technology (fission moreso than fusion).  Its speculated to be quite efficient (though not as efficient as AM).  I think its plausible we could safely create and harness fusion as a power source.  They provide a nice medium between archaic chemical propulsion relying on volatiles and the Star Treky antimatter option.  Nukes really aren't a dark horse -- they will be a core propellant, but I thought the title for the section suitably dramatic, so I kept it.


Right now I am leaning towards major military ships and some very advanced private/corporate ships using AM.  Most civilian ships use a combination of volatiles and nukes.  Jammers?  Jammers I am not sure of yet -- though I am leaning towards managed fusion.

Whatever the decision - the final setting will involve a number of different options.  Volatiles, AM and fusion/fission will all have their places - its just a matter of percentages and what mil spec ships will use (and Jammers, for that matter .  Likewise solar and magnetic sails will have a role to play.

The devil, as always, is in the details.

If anyone out there has a strong opionion one way or the other, please let me know.