A full version of this 10 page article can be found in Issue No. 1 of my FREE Verum Et Inventa magazine. You can also obtain a PDF version of this article. A list of available articles can be found on the E-Zines / Articles page of this website.
Science-Based Starships And Colonies (And Aliens!)
A Report Compiled By Raymond Towers
Types Of Interstellar Ships
Types Of Interstellar Propulsion
Advantages Of Space Habitats
Space Habitat Necessities
Types Of Rotating Habitats
Space Colony Notes
About The Author
I loved Space 1999. This was a science fiction TV show from the 1970s that ran for 2 seasons with a total of 24 episodes per season. I loved this series about the same as I loved Star Trek, The Original Series, from the mid-sixties, and this was a lot more than TV shows that came later in the eighties, such as Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers In The 25th Century and the original V series.
I think part of the draw was that the fantasy world in Space 1999 was only a couple of steps more advanced than contemporary technology was back then, more in the realm of plausible sci-fi than other franchises in line with the first Star Wars movie, which was full of alien races, medieval fantasy weapons such as light sabers, and giant Death Stars the size of moons. The characters in Space 1999 were regular people in my eyes, back when I was in elementary and junior high watching the reruns of those shows. Martin Landau was usually cool and collected, but if his tantrum buttons were pushed he’d bark at his crew and often make decisions against the consensus. Barbara Bain was a silver-haired fox for me, and still is as I watch the old shows when I can find them on Youtube (Or on the Tubi app!). The show was filmed on a low budget, but I wasn’t too worried about plastic models being used for spaceships and temporary scenery backdrops. I was more interested in whatever new concept would be presented, and how the crew would get out of trouble during the one hour program.
As a tribute to this TV show that helped stoke my love for science fiction, I wanted to go back and watch the old episodes and gain inspiration from them. There was a problem! A lot of the science was inaccurate back then, and is downright ridiculous in today’s world. Just look at the premise of the show: an explosion of nuclear waste causes Luna to be propelled out of orbit, and now Luna and the colony on it are hurtling through space with no hope of rescue and no way to remedy the situation. Moon Base Alpha gets obliterated every other episode, and they lose half of their Eagle ships whenever they have a dogfight in space, but miraculously everything is renewed in time for the next episode. There are no issues with maintaining a breathable environment, replenishing food, water, electricity, fuel for the ships, etc. I know, I know, some of this stuff has to necessarily be simplified for a TV program, such as alien races speaking English for the benefit of the audience, and the ability for the cast to walk around on exotic new worlds without wearing spacesuits.
I can accept some of that stretching of the imagination, and I do similar things myself depending on the writing project I’m working on. However, as a writer trying to present a plausible space environment and ensuing adventure to a reader, I have to make sure that most of my science is grounded on actual facts, and is reasonably extrapolated from what is known today. For those reasons, I’m doing research on the practicality of interstellar ships, space colonies of various types, and a few other related topics. Space 1999 will still be my inspiration, but the web of fantasy I weave my stories around will have a much better real-world grounding. The information I’ve gathered is credible, fairly practical and can be backed up by science.
I’m showing this from a general, semi-detailed perspective, so if any of these ideas interests you, you can do more research on your own. The math on some of this stuff is very complex, and too meticulous for the depth of my project. Also, I’ve left out some of the more fanciful concepts, such as Larry Niven’s Ringworld idea, where a giant human habitat is constructed around an entire planet. That’s really not feasible or practical, as it would take the nickel and iron content of a dozen worlds or more to create. The concepts I’m presenting are much closer to home and could be possible as working models within our lifetimes. Most of the concepts are within our reach with the science and technology we have today, and that will make for a more credible story for you and I to write.
Types Of Interstellar Ships
1. Methuselah ships - The crew on these ships has extremely long life spans and can survive the voyage from start to finish.
2. Sleeper ships - These ships have hibernation areas and a small, active skeleton crew.
3. Generation ships - These ships are designed with the ideas of multiple generations of families living and breeding on board. To prevent genetic stagnation and inbreeding problems, human egg and sperm cells can be frozen for measured durations before they begin to deteriorate, or DNA printing can add new / diversified genetic code onto existing DNA strands.
4. Seed ships - This concept is for a very small and heavily automated ship that carries seeds of life or advanced printing technology. Humans, animals, vegetation and terraforming would be done mechanically upon arrival at a destination. Machines or robots would raise humans once the initial set-up work has been done.
5. Data ships - Another very small ship, this one would carry vast amounts of data that could unpack itself upon arrival, by using local material.
Types Of Interstellar Propulsion
1. Nuclear fusion - At present, these ships are very expensive. Small, controlled (and potentially very dangerous) nuclear explosions would propel a ship forward to approx. 10 percent of light speed. Estimated costs for building this type of ship are around $350 billion dollars. The advantage is they could potentially move huge amounts of cargo, but they would use a tremendous amount of power materials and be difficult to speed up and slow down. A hybrid ship type named the Bussard Ramjet would suck space material in and use that for additional power. The Star Trek ship Enterprise design has twin Bussard Ramscoops on the ends of its wings.
2. Anti-Matter - I’m going to skip this idea, because we can’t make anti-matter, and even if we could, we have no way to safely store it. Basically, anti-matter would provide huge propulsion for a ship.
3. Black hole - This theory is beyond me. I don’t understand the physics of safely using a black hole’s gravity pull to move a ship between stars. Next!
4. Light sails - This concept I really like. Solar panels made of ultra-thin graphene absorb light energy and use it to propel a ship forward. The shape of the sail might be a problem. The further away from a star, the slower the sail would move. Also, the shape of the sail would create drag on the non-solar side. The sail would end up becoming more of a parachute. Lasers or microwaves could boost the sail’s velocity. 1463 Gigawatts of laser power would accelerate the light sail by 1 Gee. A laser may be needed at the destination to slow the sail down.
In the traditional rocket fuel model, Tsiolkovsky’s Rocket Equation tells us that when a rocket-based ship launches, 63% of its weight will be fuel. For a rocket-based ship to land or slow down, 86% of its weight must be fuel. That is the amount of fuel needed to achieve Exhaust Velocity. To propel a ship at twice Exhaust Velocity, the percentages increase to 86% at launch and 98% for slow-down. This is about 400 pounds of fuel for every 1 pound of cargo at 1 times Exhaust Velocity.
Shooting light photon lasers at a graphene sail is more cost effective, but there are problems with making sure the laser hits the sail at just the right angle and also when the laser and sail are too far apart from each other. The proposed thickness for a graphene sail would be 1 micrometer thick. A galactic GPS network will be necessary to keep things in alignment and for course correction. A sister laser at the destination could help slow the sail down. Additional lasers can be spaced out along the travel route.
Alternatives to photon lasers are charged particles aimed at magnetic sails and also solar neutrinos, if a new material were invented capable of reflecting them.
A sample sail ship could weight 10 million kilograms (10,000 pounds) and have the shape of a cone to lessen drag and deflect incoming objects. The amount of laser power needed to push this size ship is tremendous, comparable to the noonday sun shining over an entire continent. The laser can also be used as a particle accelerator and for communications.
50 relays per light year at 2000 light years of highway equals 100,000 total relays. These relays would use about a trillion kilograms of hydrogen fuel per day to power the lasers. There are projections that such a system could power a ship fast enough to reach relativistic speeds, but for the purpose of my writing project, I’ll probably set a more practical cap of 10% of light speed.
(continued in next post)