Traveling the stars has been the dream of mankind since we first discovered it was even possible. From the development of the first rocket engines to the uncovering of faster than light travel, the way which we travel the stars has governed the human experience while there. Starship propulsion can be most easily divided into three categories – Sublight, Near Light, and Faster than Light. However, these three major categories each have many subdivisions beneath them that help explain how starships – both big and small – travel across the sea of stars.
Table of Contents
FASTER THAN LIGHT
Faster than light travel is – as its name suggests – the way we travel faster than light. For the most part, ship travel is dominated by the Mass Altering Gravity (MAG) drive. However, termini are also tools by which humanity travels faster than light. In fact, termini – in many ways – shape humanity’s current interstellar community more so than even the MAG drive.
Main Article – Mass Altering Gravity (MAG) Drive
Mass Altering Gravity (MAG) Drive is a complex faster-than-light engine using a field effect similar to the hypothesized Alcubierre drive. Relying on the power generated by a Dark Matter Reactor, the engine uses exotic matter to warp space and time and achieve faster than light travel. Since its creation in 2185, it has evolved as engineers and scientist have uncovered new ways to travel faster.
Main Article – Termini
Termini are the key to the interstellar community. Naturally occurring points in space, they allow for instantaneous travel between key worlds. Termini also are the hallmarks of the central worlds around which spheres of influence develop. Even with faster than light travel, the speeds of modern starships wouldn’t allow the modern interstellar community to exist without the existence of the termini. Interestingly, termini have only been charted between habitable or near habitable worlds.
Main Article – Mass Altering Gravity (MAG) Drive
In addition to its faster than light aspects, MAG drive technology allows for high-speed travel at fractions of c when within the gravity limit of a star. Known as “boost”, this method of travel allows for a starship to bridge the vast distances between planets in a star system in a matter of hours vice days.
Sublight travel is the classical way of traveling through the stars. It’s the same way we’ve traveled through the stars and on planets since the first century of flight. From ion engines to chemical engines, there are many ways starships propel themselves all with various costs and benefits.
Fusion engines are the most popular engine type when it comes to sub-light spaceflight. With the highest specific impulse of any engine, they benefit from powerful thrust output per unit of fuel. These engines operate in one of two ways – either by producing electrical power to be used in a mass driver for thrust – which has the benefit of being tied together with the propulsion train and adding long-range efficiency – or by operating via direct output of fusion products out the nozzle – which produced greater thrust but at the expense of range. Both types of engines work in concert with the ship’s MAG drive to reduce the apparent mass of the ship, allowing it to achieve higher accelerations and velocities than would be possible with a fusion drive alone.
MAG DRIVE INTEGRATED
MAG drive integrated fusion engines are most common on larger starships. These larger engines will use a combination of the energy produced in a starships Dark Matter Reactor (DMR) and the ship’s fusion cores to produce electrical power for use in a classical mass-driver engine arrangement. Using ionized particles, these massive engines produce a large thrust often drawing from both bunkered particles intended specifically for propellant as well as particles produced in the ship’s MAG propulsion train as byproducts. This combination of propulsion types benefits from long range and good efficiency, but a lower thrust output (which is often mitigated by the scale/size of the engines produced for capital ships). These engines are sometimes simply referred to as ion engines due to their use of multiple ion sources independent of the fusion cores themselves.
MAG DRIVE INDEPENDENT
Propulsion plant independent Fusion drives directly take the byproducts of fusion and exhaust them out the ships thrust nozzle. These fusion cores are often directly tied to the engine itself and are well known for high acceleration but lower efficiency than MAG drive integrated fusion engines. This is because fusion drives of this type can only take reactant from a Helium-3 source and not supplement reactant with the byproducts from the MAG reaction themselves. However, these engines ofter improvements in both thrust output which becomes more significant on smaller scales. Consequently, MAG-drive independent Fusion engines are often implemented on smaller ships from gunships up to even cruisers. These engines are often simply referred to as fusion engines due to their direct output of fusion products as thrust.
Gravity turbines are common on spacecraft and smaller starships. These advanced engines use the same gravity tech used in the ship’s MAG drive to produce thrust when operating in a planet’s atmosphere. “Air Breathing” in the sense that they require intake to produce that thrust, they often use helium-3 or other fuels to add to that effective thrust output, allowing a smaller ship to travel at supersonic speeds in a planet’s atmosphere. Applications on larger ships are unrealistic, and these larger ships often use a combination of fusion engines and gravity repulsors to keep the ship in flight when operating in atmosphere.
Gravity repulsors – colloquially “Gravpads” or “Gravjets” – are a type of anti-gravity unit used on starships and other applications. In the sense of propulsion, though, they are frequently used on larger starships to allow for movement in the atmosphere. These units create a gravitational field effect, pushing the ship along the direction of the net field. They also are used to support the ship and maintain it in the atmosphere in a sort of “hover” both in low orbits where it would not be possible otherwise or when operating in the planet’s atmosphere but in a stationary purpose. These units also see use on smaller ships to allow for vertical landing and take off and are vital to their ability to quickly maneuver in flight.