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Help: Parts of a Starship

HULL

The hull is a complex metal alloy, sometimes laced with trace amounts of neutronium for greater resistance to damage, and often peppered with windows made of transparisteel. The hull is designed to withstand atmospheric reentry, to resist damage from high-velocity dust and other small space hazards, to partially reflect coherent light (i.e., weaponized lasers), and to resist both kinetic and explosive impacts. A ship's hull could conceivably be made somewhat stronger than it is today, but it sacrifices overall strength in favor of predictable points of failure. In other words, a ship's hull is designed to fail in a controlled fashion rather than losing integrity suddenly. This is one of the things which allows the near-flawless operation of onboard rescue systems.

COMMUNICATIONS

Starships are equipped to send and receive both radio and light-based communications, the latter usually in the form of a tightbeam communication laser. Most starships do not have builtin wormhole-based communication, as this necessitates a constant linkage with some distant hub, which can prove to be a vulnerability to many ships at once if the hub is compromised. Communications which appear to be networked among a fleet of ships, or connect a fleet to a point of command elsewhere, are usually in fact transmitted via radio or tightbeam through sector beacons.

ONBOARD COMPUTING

Starships possess some of the most advanced computers yet invented, and the wiring and transistors for all of this computing power occupies much of the forward portion of the hull. The computer filters and reports data from the sensors, provides a limited target tracking ability, and can allow the starship to pilot automatically to a preselected destination. More advanced functions usually come in the form of additional modules that pilots install at their choosing, often paying a small fortune for the privilege.

SENSOR SUITE

Starships can detect and interpret information from a wide variety of external sources, including a wide range of light and the electromagnetic spectrum, radio, spatial curvature (that is, gravity), and perturbations in the quantum foam. Often, a ship's sensor suite is capable of detecting more than the onboard computer can readily interpret. This can sometimes be corrected with software updates, but more often additional functions must be unlocked with add-on modules, as mentioned above.

TRANSPONDER

The transponder is a sort of communications component, but it is separate from the starship's other communication subsystems. Any starship constructed to the legal standards of the alliances is programmed upon registration to constantly transmit certain basic information, such as the ship's model designation, its alliance, and its name. Certain models, however, are programmed for different behavior, notably the models produced by the League's pre-war experimentation with stealth. Additionally, it should go without saying that unregistered starships frequently fail to transmit all the information that the alliances require. A transponder's signal, normally, can only be changed at a spaceport upon submitting an appropriate request to the interalliance starship registry. It cannot be changed otherwise without deconstructing most of the ship's onboard computer.

ELECTROMAGNETIC MANIPULATOR

All starships contain one or more units which can project and shape electromagnetic fields. The two most obvious uses of these units is the salvage beam which retrieves useful debris from around the ship, and the rescue system which places occupants into a self-contained rescue pod in the event of the starship's destruction. A much more precise and finely-tuned EMM unit is also required for the proper operation of the wormhole drive (which will be more fully described below).

TURRET

Most starships, even humble salvagers and tradeships, possess a few turret hardpoints to deal with large hazards or for defense. A turret hardpoint is typically fitted with either a weaponized laser projector or a chaingun (more properly, perhaps, called a vulcan, although this term is not common among pilots). Generally, turrets are not the main weapon of warships, although ingenuity has produced many exceptions to this rule. Turret hardpoints are mounted outside the hull on a base which can both swivel and change elevation.

LAUNCHER

A fighter or warship will almost invariably possess one or more heavy launcher hardpoints. A launcher hardpoint is usually fitted with an explosive torpedo launcher or, more rarely, a plasma minicannon which derives from Jinu technology. Launcher hardpoints are inset within the hull and less vulnerable to damage than turrets. Because of their lack of motion, they rely on the ship's targeting systems having a solid lock, and usually take longer to fire than a turret.

REACTIONLESS DRIVE

The reactionless drive violates a number of laws of physics but, nonetheless, exists and works. Such is the way of exotic matter. A reactionless drive, in its simplest form, consists of two magnetic plates. Both plates have the same magnetic charge, usually positive (due to some convention whose origin is forgotten). As every schoolchild knows, two magnets with the same charge will seek to repel each other. The key, of course, is that one of the metal plates is in fact made of negative matter, which has the opposite reaction. While the posimatter plate seeks to escape its companion plate as we have come to expect, the negmatter plate will simultaneously be attracted by its companion which shares the same charge. The end result is that both plates move simultaneously in the same direction, a motion that can be preserved indefinitely with no "equal and opposite reaction." Velocity varies according to the distance between the plates. Of course, in practice, velocity is restrained by the high degree of precision necessary for keeping plates in alignment as they are brought closer together. Additionally, total distance is restrained by the necessity of maintaining power to the EMMs that maintain the alignment. Designs can also vary by the size, number, and configuration of the plates, and the nature of the mechanism used to change their direction of motion. Since there is no need for the reactionless drive to be exposed to space, it is kept deep inside the ship where it is not vulnerable to damage. Reactionless drive failure is nearly always catastrophic.

WORMHOLE DRIVE

The wormhole drive is, in fact, not a "drive" as such, for it does not in itself produce motion. The key to the wormhole drive is the froth of wormholes, known as quantum foam, that exists throughout the universe below the scale of a Planck length (that is, the smallest measurable unit of distance). A wormhole, as every schoolchild also knows, is an extradimensional construct which directly connects two specific points in spacetime. The quantum foam, to describe it in terms so simple that they are almost entirely inaccurate, is an infinite set of wormholes contained within a zero-point in spacetime. A starship must triangulate on a desired location in space (which is the purpose of the ubiquitous sector beacons), and then pick out that same signature from the froth of proximate wormholes. Since the set of wormholes is infinite and encompassing of all possibilities, a match is guaranteed to exist. A trick of quantum attunement allows the proper wormhole to be located instantly. Upon finding it, a small, very finely tuned EMM manipulates the wormhole, expending a great deal of energy to expand its mouth into a useful size. Once the wormhole mouth is big enough to accomodate the starship, the ship's reactionless drive carries it through. The wormhole then collapses upon cessation of power routed to the EMM. It is certainly worth noting that this transition occurs only in space, and that the origin and destination will agree on their reference point when it comes to time. Travel through time is theoretically just as simple, except that the quantum attunement which locates the correct wormhole allows for no temporal variation. Probes programmed to select a wormhole at random, or to attempt to attune to either an old beacon signal or an extrapolated future signal, do usually successfully enter a wormhole but are never observed again. Experiments involving this matter are emphatically not recommended.

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