Razorback: The Fellowship (Concept Sketch)

Okay, so a friend of mine wants to do a science fiction comic-book series entitled "Razorback". I'd love to help out but I'm totally jammed-up, but did allow myself to be tempted into doing the short prequel story (roughly amounting to one 15-page issue) which I can do at my leisure. It's intended to be a little more "hard sci fi" than my personal norm of space fantasy. Takes place circa 2170 if I recall correctly. I don't want to risk stealing my friend's thunder, so I won't go any further than that, except to share this concept sketch. One of the ships featured in the prequel story I'm doing is the "Fellowship", an ore hauler converted into a transport of sorts. So this evening I did up a quick concept sketch. Comments and criticism welcome, especially from the hard sci fi crowd (I'm looking at you, Sophia's Favourite).

The ship was never intended to land on a planet, hence the strap-on/disposable boosters (they did get it on the ground somehow to pick up the 10,000 civilians it will carry).


Sophia's Favorite said...

Well, if we're only talking Babylon 5-level hard, as in ships don't behave like sea vessels (and might not even have artificial gravity), but we don't worry about propellant tanks or waste heat, I have only two suggestions. One is that it'd probably be more efficient to get the crew up to the ship, on some sort of shuttle (or several), than to land the big ship. And the other is the bridge and AI hub should be inside the ship—bridges have to go up top on sea-ships because they have windows, and the people on the bridges have to see as far as they can, over the curve of the earth, but on a spaceship, they'd use cameras rather than windows, so it's best to put as much hull as possible between the bridge and things like meteors (or railgun shells).

How, uh, hard are we talking? Because if we're talking really hard, Arthur Clarke/early Heinlein hard, the first step is figuring out the engine type and its exhaust velocity, and using that to determine what the ship's "cruising speed" is, with the Tsiolkovsky rocket equation—for cruising speeds over about 2% lightspeed, you need some kind of huge fusion, unless the ship is going to have the gas-to-solid ratio of a party baloon. The mass ratio (mass with propellant over mass without it—and cut the calculated speed in half, if you're partial to stopping) and exhaust velocity together determine how much propellant you carry, determines how many tanks, and how big (the density of liquid hydrogen being constant), the ship needs.

A truly realistic ship looks like a framework radio tower, with a relatively small habitat section on one end and the ignition equipment and rocket nozzle for the engine on the other (higher-end engines actually use magnetic fields for nozzles, since fusion plasmas would melt any nozzle made of matter). In between are the tanks and the refrigeration equipment to keep the hydrogen liquid, and at increments along the length will be rings of EM antennas to shield against charged particle radiation. Ships will also have nose cones made of graphite or something more exotic, to protect from small debris impacts. Warships (and possibly other ships) might also have their hulls, or at least the section over the propellant tanks, lined with "Whipple" shields, layers of hard material with vacuum in between. They'd be set at an angle, like tank armor (actually, their function is not unlike how British tanks' Chobham armor defeats shaped charges).

Realistic ships will also have to have some way to get rid of their waste heat, although a lot of rocket systems get rid of most of it in their exhaust. The only way to transfer heat in a vacuum is by radiation, so various types of heat radiators will be used—sheets of foil with the area of a small town, heated red hot, are typical. A tip there is that a ship can't put its radiators closer together than perpendicular, because any closer than that and they radiate heat into each other, defeating the whole purpose.

Even if you decide to spare yourself the headache of calculating mass ratios, permit me to suggest an electrostatic ramjet, not for achieving fusion directly (which is probably impossible—the original ramjet idea has been near-totally debunked), but merely for in-flight refueling (technically, in-flight propellant replenishment, propellant and fuel being different things on many rockets). It has the bonus effect of making it hard for nitpickers to calculate the effective mass ratio.

Nicholas D.C. Wansbutter said...

I'm guessing we're going Babylon 5 hardness, but I'm still waiting for the creator to get back to me on that. I do know that there will be no artificial gravity (aside from centrifuge).

I put the bridge et al. on top since the whole bottom section is all just a big empty cargo space for holding ore. So there're really nothing for the bridge to be inside of -- it's just strapped on-top of the big bin along with whatever other components are needed to control the whole thing.

I think a shuttle would normally make more sense, but the intent with this thing is that it lands once on the moon to pick up the 20,000 refugees it will carry, and then blasts off. It's meant for a one-way trip to the new colony.

Thanks for the electrostatic ramjet idea. I'll look for some pictures of what that looks like. Good call on radiating heat -- that's one thing that seems to always be ignored in sci fi. Even in 2001: A Space Odyssey there are no such things.

My vision was that this section we see here attaches to the lattice work that remains in orbit -- hence the docking collar at the rear.

Question, though: is radiating heat as much of a problem in deep space where you're not picking up heat from a local sun?

Nicholas D.C. Wansbutter said...

Oh, yeah, I remember what an electrostatic ramjet is now. I actually used that in a sci fi I wrote a few years ago. Beats the pants off of huge fuel containers on the ship.

Nicholas D.C. Wansbutter said...

P.P.S. -- re: windows, seems to me that space ships will always have windows just for the sanity of the crew. Humans need to be able to see out. That's why they keep windows on the International Space Station and shuttle.

Sophia's Favorite said...

Yeah, actually, picking up heat from a sun is less a factor than the heat from the engine, though of course heat that's absorbed can be troublesome (just make the ship white, and it'll reflect most of the heat—according to my sister, the Goth scene in Phoenix wears white, rather than black). The downside of a decent rocket engine is that the energy the rocket gives off is directly proportional to its exhaust velocity, which determines its fuel efficiency; while many rockets dump their waste heat into their exhaust (it's called "open cycle cooling"), their power plant is still going to give off a lot of heat, too.

The Discovery in "Space Odyssey" was originally designed with heat radiators; apparently test audiences thought it looked ridiculous.

As for windows: they might have viewscreens along the interior, because people do need to feel like they're not in a little box (especially when they are), but physical windows are more trouble than they're worth. Even if they don't represent a structural weakness (there are actually a few ways a spaceship's windows could be just as strong as the hull, without being as heavy as bulletproof glass is), it's a bad idea to have any part of a spaceship's habitat exposed to radiation, even visible light, for a long period of time. Our spaceships don't go up for long enough for that to be much of a factor—and our space stations are in low earth orbit, with a lot of the radiation being blocked out for them by the upper atmosphere and Earth's magnetic field.

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