Blackberry Targeted Content

Ship Focus: Spacecoach

Type: Ultralight multirole vessel.
Original manufacturer
: Unknown.
Current pattern status
: public domain.
Propulsion: Microwave electrothermal drive.
FTL capable:
Length: 20 meters.
Payload : 20-50 tons.

Crew: up to 5, optionally manned.
Also known as Duct Taped Miracle.

What is the most common usable molecule in space?

Water. The answer is water. Water ice, more specifically -- an ubiquitous substance, found in asteroids, on gas giant moons, on planets, everywhere. So why not build a spaceship out of water ice? After all, water is already used as shielding for a variety of vessels, so why not build an entire vehicle out of it? Turns out, someone already had that idea a while ago -- almost two centuries, in fact. And the result of their cogitations is the Spacecoach.

The Spacecoach is one of the simplest ships a commune can get their hands on. It is the purest, simplest expression of what a ship can be: an engine, a few RCS modules, an inflatable crew and machinery section, propellant tanks and a scaffolding to link all of the parts and greebles together. The main superstructure is built out of carved ice, the engines are microwave electrothermal drives that run on water propellant while the outer hull made with slow melting ice compounds such as pykrete. With the exception of its inflatable parts and mechanical elements, the Spacecoach is built out of and runs on H2O. Considering that all of the non-watery modules can be 3D printed for cheap in any self-respecting workshop, the Spacecoach is not just cheap, it's almost free.

Such simplicity comes at a cost, of course. Spacecoaches are so slow their acceleration can be measured in units of snails, they tend to temporarily melt and lose cohesion when a powerful drive or laser merely sneezes at them and the word "cramped" doesn't begin to describe how the manned units feel. Not that it is show-stopper, mind. Spacecoaches aren't meant for long-range travel or complex operations. They are pure utility vessels, the larger-scale equivalent of jinn drones. They are very well-suited to simple, repetitive tasks with low capital investment. Spacecoaches are thus often found in space mining operations, where they are used to capture loose asteroids, work around them, ferry drones in and out of the extraction zones and, in general, fill the role of "space forklifts." They are also appreciated in orbital spaceports, where they are often present in stripped-down versions, devoid of drives and moving on RCS only. Large vessels such as Farseers often have a small flotilla of multi-purpose Spacecoaches, jokingly referred to as "gnomes." The Spacecoach pattern being in the public domain, everyone uses it, everywhere. 

For such an ubiquitous vessel, though, the Spacecoach is strangely rare in pop culture -- it is more of a background element, like the ads in noir movies depicting the late industrial era -- with the notable exception of the Elora Grand Tour, a highly publicized "slingshot race" where brightly-colored Spacecoaches run circles around the system's main gas giant all the while engaging in rap battles through laser-transmitted Morse code. It has a very serious following.

llustration by Maciej Rebisz for Eclipse Phase, distributed by Posthuman Studios under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share-alike 3.0 Unported License.

Ship Focus: Simurgh Courier

Type: Light transport ship.
Original manufacturer
: Aqualonde.
Current pattern status
: open-source.
Propulsion: Lazward Drive. Metastable nitrogen rocket drive for SSTO capability.
FTL capable:
Civilian laser grid. Optional EW module and weaponized probe bays. 
Length:  40 meters.
Payload : 200-500 tons.

Crew: up to 6, minimum 3.
Also known as the Lazward Ship, The Courier.

The Simurgh Courier is a light transport vessel manufactured by Aqualonde, an Elora-based shipbuilding cooperative. While it has been in development for almost thirty years, the Courier is a relatively recent ship, whose first prototype performed its maiden journey nine years ago.

Most messenger vessels are large, powerful ships equipped with fusion drives or high-power fission engines for long-range translations requiring extensive velocity matching burns. However, few courier ships are destined for interplanetary or short-range interstellar travel, and this is the niche the Simurgh Courier aims at filling. This gunship-sized vessel is meant for the transportation of light, high-value cargo -- typically, physical letters and packages -- in the smallest envelope possible. The Courier's compactness is all the more remarkable as it doesn't come at the expense of crew habitability or cargo capacity. The Courier is even widely considered as a highly liveable ship. Instead of compacting its cargo and cramping its crew, the Courier finds room where most designs wouldn't even dare touch: the engines.

The Simurgh Courier is one of the only interstellar ships not to use any sort of nuclear propulsion. Instead of mounting the fission drive one would expect on such a vessel, the Courier uses a Lazward drive. This unconventional engine, powered by superconducting batteries (Superconducting Magnetic Energy Storage or SMES), uses a mixture of microwave chambers and direct battery quenching to provide thrust for velocity matching burns. A metastable nitrogen engine is used to give the Courier additional punch or perform SSTO operations. While the Courier will not win any acceleration contests, its small frame makes the Lazward engine more than adequate for the majority of velocity matching burns.

The performance trade-off more than pays for itself, however. The absence of any sort of radiation shielding and fission chamber makes the Courier extremely compact and allows for the geometry drive to be placed right at the centre of mass. With very few interference coming from the engine and such a small frame, the Courier can reach FTL performance levels more commonly found in much larger, long-range vessels. It results in pinpoint accuracy and an ability to "chain" short-range jumps, as well as to plot translations even in high-interference areas. Some engineers consider the Courier as one of the first geometry-drive centric ships, where the main sublight engines are purely auxiliary to the faster-than-light device.

While the Courier is a purely civilian design, it is surprisingly good as an improvised combat vessel. With such a low-signature engine, the Courier is harder to detect than the average cargo vessel and can run with all radiators retracted for extended periods of time. While it doesn't generate enough power to use combat lasers, the generous thermal headroom allows for extended electronic warfare capabilities, while the two sliding probe doors only need a simple software update to perform as acceptable missile launchers.

Ship illustration by Valahor.

Lazward Engine

The Lazward drive is a hybrid space engine for small-size vessels.

It can be best described as battery-powered microwave drive with optional quenching injection and chemical fuel enhancement. It is used in places where fusion drives are not readily available and fission engines would interfere too much with the geometry drive given the layout of the ship -- or for any other situation where fission is not desirable, for example due to fissile material availability.

The typical use case of a Lazward drive is a courier or light cargo ship expected to be primarily employed for interplanetary and low-end interstellar travels. It is mostly used for velocity matching prior to FTL translations but can also be employed for SSTO operations with chemical fuel boosting.

The core of a Lazward drive is its energy storage module, made of superconducting magnetic energy storage (SMES) units. Made of room temperature superconductors, these toroid-shaped coils are used to store large quantities of power produced by an external source. A typical Lazward unit may contain several hundred to thousands of them. The SMES units are stored in revolving cannisters that allow them to be rotated in and out of the engine section easily. The SMES are installed alongside the main tanks of metastable nitrogen used for chemical fuel enhancement. Finally, the propulsion module contains a foldable rectenna that can receive beamed power from a space station or another ship.

The Lazward drive has three propulsion modes -- a main one, and two optional modes.

-- The main mode of propulsion is a high-power microwave drive. Hydrogen propellant is pumped into the engine section and rapidly heated in a microwave plasma chamber, powered by the gradual discharge of an SMES unit. This mode allows the ship to match velocity with interplanetary targets, at moderate specific impulse and moderate thrust. The quantity of energy stored in individual SMES units make this drive vastly more powerful than regular stationkeeping ones, and comparable to low-end "nuclear lightbulb" rockets.

-- When in need of additional power, one or several SMES units can be diverted towards an auxiliary chamber where they are voluntarily ruptured. The superconductor disintegrates in an arc discharge and the generated gases are used to produce additional thrust. Quenching enhances the base thrust of the Lazward drive, giving it more punch for velocity matching, though it destroys SMES batteries while doing so.

-- Finally, when conducting surface-to-orbit operations or when in need of even more thrust for velocity matching, the Lazward engine uses an auxiliary high-thrust metastable nitrogen chemical rocket. Such propellants are sometimes called "nitromemes", for reasons better left to historians to elucidate.

If the ship runs out of SMES units, emergency beamed power can be used, but at a much lower efficiency. A solar moth unit is often paired with the Lazward module in case of emergency.

All consumables -- SMES batteries, hydrogen propellant, chemical propellant -- are relatively easy to source with a minimal industrial base. Specifically, they are commonly produced by high-tech systems with limited access to mass production of fissiles or industrial-grade fusion drives. These systems are the ideal location for the deployment of Lazward drive ships. Battery recharge is handled by local stations or gas giant habitats. It is possible to conduct fast recharge operations by simply swapping the SMES cannisters through hull openings.

The performance of Lazward drives is perfectly adequate for interplanetary velocity matches and the majority of interstellar ones, though faster destinations will require the help of a carrier ship. Lazward engines are civilian drives through and through. Their thrust is too low for effective combat manoeuvers and they are too complex to power a missile.

However, the lack of a nuclear drive and its accompanying shielding allows for a very compact engine section. Furthermore, heat rejection is low: while the design does need radiators (especially during quenching), the drive is fairly stealthy and only really visible from the rear. The Lazward engine doesn't require complex maintenance. SMES units are a well-understood technology while both microwave and nitromeme rockets are known quantities. Lazward schematics are under public domain licenses.

The main weak point of a Lazward are the SMES units. The energy storage coils are fail-deadly: if one of them is physically compromised, it can accidentally quench and propel high-velocity shrapnel through the ship. Cascading failures are not unheard of, due to the nature of the revolving cannisters. There are two main failsafes for SMES failure. The first one is to pre-emptively quench the failing SMES units, which melts them instead of creating shrapnel, scrapping the engine section but saving the crew. The second one is the emergency ejection of the entire cannister, using the same mechanism that allows for rapid charging.

The name "Lazward" is derived from the persian word for "blue". The origin of the nickname is unknown butiIt may come from the faint blue glow of the exhausts when quench-enhancing the drive.

Source: NASA public domain. 

Ship Focus: Almaz Picket

Type: Semi-improvised fast mover.
Original manufacturer
Unknown communes.
Current pattern status
Public domain.
Fusion drive.

Armament : 8x pebble launchers and 4x laser grid nodes on the military version.
FTL capable: Yes (thoughts and prayers recommended).
Length: 70 meters.
Payload: Up to 1,000 tons with canisters.
Crew: 5-10.
Passengers: up to 20.
Also known as Junkyard Dog, Soyuzwave.

The Almaz Picket is a ship that exists. It's the kindest thing I can say about it.

-- Anonymous engineer.

Sometimes, you really need to go fast and cheap. If you're a sane person, you'll probably try to get your hands on a decommissioned Luciole Interceptor, or perhaps buy an Inyanga and replace its q-drive with a fusion cell. Of course, these options are for cowards -- or worse, Earthlings. If you're a real spacer, and if you've had enough drinks or shots of Vyirangan lichen, you might start considering the Almaz Picket. When you're at the bottom of the pit you dug for yourself in desperation but yet keep digging, that's what you'll find eventually.

The Almaz Picket is not exactly a ship. Rather, it's a million pieces of junk flying in formation. Building space ships out of space trash is not exactly a new concept in human space: it's been a time-honoured tradition to clean up encumbered orbits by assembling small shuttles, trade barges and other minor vessels out of discarded equipment, dead satellites and other Kessler children. It took more than a century for someone to decide that, yes, it was actually a good idea to glue a fusion drive to such a trash vessel -- and thus the Almaz Picket was born. A contained sun duct-taped to discarded fuel tanks of various sizes.

The Almaz is fast. Owing to a very favourable thrust to weight ratio, it has enough delta-v to out-accelerate almost anything in sublight, and can pull off translation shenanigans only a Luciole Interceptor can hope to match, adjusting relative velocities in the blink of an eye. Thanks to surprisingly decent radiators (when the ship they've been plundered from was in good shape, of course), the Almaz can remain under thrust for days on end -- for non-crewed versions at least. There's also quite a lot of cargo space for such a relatively small vessel, making the Almaz a prime choice for fast couriers. The rest of the ship is not exactly up to par. The Almaz is a very simple, rugged vessel full of antiquated fly-by-wire systems (in some versions, the radiators are to be retracted and extended manually), the RCS thrusters are little more than glorified gas sprinklers, the crew cabins are more than spartan and the less is said about the sensor suite, the better. But it is fast! 

Aside from its primary role as a fast courier for communes that can't or don't want to afford a more complex vessel, the Almaz Picket may receive a series of hardpoint and sensor upgrades that turn it into the Almaz Interceptor, one of the cheapest manned combat vessels in existence. Prized by outlaws and communal militaries, the Almaz Picket is a medium fighter, equipped with pebble launchers, laser gimballs and, if the crew is lucky, one or two hunter-killer missiles. To put it in charitable terms, it's very bad at actual combat. While it is quite good at "torch duels" involving fast translations and evasive manoeuvres, a well-piloted Luciole can dance around an Almaz with little trouble due to its vastly superior faster-than-light capability. Against anything bigger than an interceptor -- especially a Firebase -- the Almaz simply cannot withstand even a fraction of the firepower such a large combat vessel can unleash. It does, however, excel at peer combat against other improvised ships.

Illustration courtesy of Lilly Harper, who writes most excellent sci-fi prose on the Beacons in the Dark blog.

Ship Focus: Migrant

Type: Settlement/Deep space surveyor vessel.
Original manufacturer
Starmoth Initiative.
Current pattern status
Public domain under Starmoth Initiative designs.
Fusion drive.

Armament: None, may carry a military laser grid.
FTL capable: Yes.
Length: 800 meters.
Payload: Up to 50,000 tons.
Crew: Up to 2,000.
Also known as the Immigrant, the Great Wanderer.

Many would liken the vast Migrant vessels to arks for the interstellar age, but the comparison is ill-advised. Humankind isn’t settling new worlds because it has to, but because it can. Colonization isn’t a last-ditch attempt at giving a new home to a dying race, as was often prophesied by writers of old. It is a long, careful and complex project aiming at attuning a small human population to a new planet all the while preserving its ecological integrity. In this context, Migrant vessels play a key role, not so much as immigration ships but as surveyors and initial outposts.

Migrant ships are among the largest FTL-capable vessels in existence, starting at 800 meters. Their crews are surprisingly low for their size, with passengers, colonists and navigators accounting for one to two thousand people on most Migrant vessels. These crews aren’t meant to populate a colony, they are not even the first settlement wave. They are the surveyors and pioneers tasked with assessing the ecological viability of a habitable world and setting up the initial infrastructure. Migrant vessels are typically populated by a mixture of scientists, engineers and artists, with an emphasis on geography and biology-adjacent disciplines aboard. In the initial settlement attempts, Migrant vessels often carried a “cold storage” compartment of colonists plunged in deep cicada sleep. This practice has fallen out of favor however and modern Migrant ships are not equipped to support hibernating crews, unless the navigators expect to be stranded for an extended period of time.

The key element of a Migrant ship’s design is redundancy. The size of these vessels is partially justified by the fact that every single system aboard a Migrant ship is doubled or even tripled by auxiliary modules. They are the only human ships to routinely carry two geometry drives and twice as many fusion reactors as necessary, and the only non-military vessels to be entirely coated in ablative armour. The central habitable section of a Migrant ship is almost impervious to radiation and contains enough supplies to last a lifetime. The vessel is large enough to provide artificial gravity in its crew quarters through rotation-induced centrifugal forces, though the habitats can be folded to trade gravity for compactness. It is not an exaggeration to say that Migrant ships are the single most resilient human vessels in existence. There have been many occurrences of Migrant ships being damaged in their deep space ventures, but not a single one has ever been lost. This desire for self-sustainability extends to the political organisation of Migrant vessels, which are always independent communes made of passenger-citizens.

A Migrant vessel is destined to carry out three distinct roles during its operational lifetime. The first one is to act as a deep space traveller, transporting its crew, biosphere and high-tech infrastructure across thousands of lightyears, very often through uncharted space. The second one is to act as the target planet’s initial orbital station, serving as a scientific outpost, remote sensing platform and small craft harbor. Then, after a few years, if the planet is deemed suitable for long-term settlement, the habitat section of the Migrant vessel is separated from the engine modules, disassembled in space and de-orbited. The various modules will then be used as is for the first planetary settlement, while ship-specific systems will provide much-needed resources to the initial manufacturing efforts. The rest of the Migrant vessel can then either remain in orbit as a rudimentary space port or travel back home on its own and pick up another habitat section.

Due to their mission profile, Migrant vessels don’t usually take part in more than one settlement attempt, though there are a few notable exceptions. One of them is third generation Migrant Gaia Theory which successively took part in the initial settlement of Smyrnia, Concorde, Masan and Azur. In old colonies, the initial Migrant vessel has often been turned into a monument; such is the case of Look At What We Have Here whose orbital section now rests in Elora’s Remembrance Dome.

It is to be noted that Migrant vessels share more than a passing resemblance with heavy warship designs, and especially USRE Firebases.

Mass Effect Andromeda - EA/Bioware, all rights reserved.

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