Although Most Designs Are Poly

Ascíël coupler: the standard design, in modular habitat and starship architecture, for the coupler that binds adjacent modules into a single unit.

For such semi-permanent connections on a large scale, simple docking adapters are obviously unsuitable; tidal forces and other stresses common in large structures may cause a simple docking adapter to be stressed sufficiently to separate over time, and starship-level thrust applied to a modular design would cause near-immediate failure.

A variety of designs (often based on existing railroad couplers) were tried to prevent this while also avoiding the expense, wasted time, and potential damage involved in bolting or welding additional reinforcement onto the modules, with varying degrees of success, eventually converging on the modern Ascíël coupler.

The Ascíël coupler, as defined in IOSS 64212, makes use of the IUSI androgynous docking adapter (as defined in IOSS 52114) to achieve initial connection. (As such, it too comes in the three there-defined standard sizes.)

Once hard dock has been achieved, the surrounding coupler engages a nested pair of counterrotating helical screws, which intertwine from each side of the coupler to form a solid bond between the modules. Once the screws have advanced to the fully engaged position, twelve locking rods (six per screw, three being managed by each coupler) are electromagnetically released and are forced by springs into their extended position through holes in the screws, preventing them from rotating and thus from working loose over time.

When fully engaged, an Ascíël coupler has an effective strength equivalent to that of the surrounding module hull.

– A Star Traveler’s Dictionary


blacklight (n.): an external window in a large space habitat, looking out into space (see: the black). The word was deliberately coined in opposition to skylight, since due to the operation of spin gravity, the majority of blacklights are in the floor.

It is considered both polite and practical to throw a rug over the blacklights when flatlanders come to call.

– A Star Traveler’s Dictionary

(Well, no-one’s going to call an UV light a blacklight when they can see UV natively, are they?)


“That?” Cathál glanced at the slate-blue pipe in question, then down at her slate. “Water coolant source for distillation unit 02-367, tap off main section 11-9120, return through 02-3683, automatic flow valve controlled by sector utility server #2, manual cutoff accessible via service panel 02-38.”

“Distillation unit? This isn’t a machinery section.”

“Not that kind of distillation unit. It’s a… personal still.” Seeing her apprentice’s still-confused expression, she continued. “A starshine still.”

“You have those on the plans?”

She looked at him appraisingly. “You’re new-up, aren’t you?”

“First spaceside rotation, yeah. What’s that –”

“Look around you. The hab’s maybe two-thirds, or a little more, plumbing by mass. All kinds. Potable, non-potable, gray, black, steam, rad-hot, loaded, non-aqueous – hell, we’ve got reactor lines in section one circulating liquid sodium. People around here get all kinds of upset when they find a pipe that’s not on the plans, especially if they don’t know what it’s for or what’s in it. So we have an Agreement. We agree to put all the, um, unofficial plumbing on the master plans and hook it into the control systems, and the adminisphere agrees not to bug us about it unless it causes a genuine issue.”

“And it’s still unofficial?”

“Surely. But it’s officially unofficial.”



[an excerpt from]

A Contract Written
Under the Fundamental Contract and the Seal of the Guild of Formal Obligation,
And in Accordance with the Traditions of the Stellar Empire,
Between and Among:

First Distributed Exclavine Republic (Holdings), ICC, their successors, or assigns, hereafter the party of the first part,


Three Elements Habitability Services, ICC, their successors, or assigns, hereafter the party of the second part,

In the Matter of Operating Life Support Services and Associated Systems for

Cantervale Drift, Golden Groves (Principalities), hereafter “the Drift”,

…blah, blah, blah…


In order to provide necessary sureties for the ongoing safe operation of the Drift, the party of the second part undertakes the following:

22.1 The party of the second part will operate all life-support services and associated systems in such a manner as to fulfil all requirements of the IOSSs defining environmental conditions for warm-blooded oxygen-breathers, specifically:

22.1.a The environmental conditions of the Drift shall remain within the parameters therein defined as optimal for no less than 99.9% (“three nines”) of the system’s duty cycle, computed on a rolling average basis.

22.1.b The environmental conditions of the Drift shall remain within the parameters therein defined as acceptable for no less than 99.99% (“four nines”) of the system’s duty cycle, computed on a rolling average basis.

22.1.c The environmental conditions of the Drift shall under no circumstances whatsoever be permitted to deviate from the parameters therein defined as minimal.

22.1.d Exceptions to the above shall be permitted for individual compartments open to space, on fire, containing hazardous chemical spills, or otherwise suffering emergency situations at the discretion of Damage Control Central or the safety officer on the scene, provided that these compartments have been isolated from the life-support services in such a manner as to prevent cross-contamination.

22.1.e Provision for monitoring current environmental conditions in real-time using the associated sensor systems shall be provided to the party of the first part by the party of the second part.

22.2 The party of the second part will ensure that all life-support service equipment installed by them shall be up to common industrial (IOSS) standards where relevant, except as agreed in writing with the party of the first part, and that all such equipment shall both support and implement spacer “triple-triple” redundancy standards, and that any deficiencies in this requirement, of whatever kind, shall be made good at the party of the second part’s own expense.

22.3 The party of the second part will ensure that, in the day-to-day operation of the Drift, life-support service reserve supplies, spare parts, and sufficient essential support technicians under contract exist at any time to provide for continuous operation for no less than one year (Imperial Standard) or three times the journey-time to the nearest transit point, whichever is greater.

22.3.a Provision for monitoring records of these supplies, parts, and contracts shall be provided to the party of the first part by the party of the second part, as shall provision for random periodic audits of stocks held by the party of the first part.

22.3.b For the purposes of this clause, the party of the second part will operate under the assumption of a 12% permissible population variance per year, in either direction.

22.4 The party of the second part will post a reflux bond and contract insurance with an banking and insurance institution, approved by the party of the first part, sufficient to provide for full habitat evacuation and resident compensation, per scale, along with any necessary salvage work, in the event of lifesystem collapse or contract default.

22.5 The party of the second part agrees that in addition to the one year of notice specified for contract termination above, they will continue to provide life-support service operation for up to an additional twelve months and/or necessary evacuation time in the event that the party of the first part is unable to contract with and commence receiving service from a replacement life-support service provider within the notice period.

22.6 Both the party of the first part and the party of the second part agree that, in declared emergencies, full command authority devolves upon Damage Control Central and/or the safety officer on site, and shall provide them with their full cooperation and access to technical assets.

22.7 The party of the second part agrees to participation in the recognized habitat mutual-aid organizations of the System in which the Drift is located as a condition of the contract, and shall:

22.7.a. Comply with the requirements of membership of such organizations in addition to the specific requirements of this contract; and

22.7.b Make such supplies, parts, and contracts available to such organizations as are necessary to fulfil obligations to other participating habitats of such organizations as can be made available without compromising the operation of the Drift’s life-support services.


Trope-a-Day: Arcology

Arcology: A prominent feature, reaching up to several miles wide and high, of the Empire’s older and higher-population worlds, where clusters of several of them in lieu of sprawling suburbs (they’re also much easier to build than suburbs on non-garden worlds, for one thing, where the distinction between “arcology” and “habitat” blurs) around a relatively conventional downtown will form the cores of cities, interspersed with lesser buildings, estates, parks, and woodland.


2016_Q(Alternate words: none.)

The zeppelin’s motors whispered as it drifted slowly away through the dusty butterscotch sky, the setting sun glinting off its outriggers. Lumenna hung just above the horizon, casting long shadows on the ruddy dunes, while Súnáris shone bright near the zenith.

And I shivered in the chilling twilight air.

* * * * *

“There is only one way to qualify as a habitat technician,” Academician Chernyc said, stroking his beard. “If you are unwilling to trust in your own skills to keep a dome habitable, then why would anyone else? And let those of you fresh off the cycler be assured: no-one on this planet or out in the e’Luminiarien have any sense of humor where infrastructure is concerned.”

“So this course rests on a single practical test. At the end of the university year, those of you who remain and feel sufficiently confident will be dropped somewhere on the Altiplanum. You will be provided with one cycle’s oxygen, a week’s supply of ration bars, an environment suit, an emergency beacon, and a shipping case filled with habitat system parts. I’ll tell you now that some of those parts will have been… adjusted, let us say, to provide you with an appropriate challenge.”

“The test is pass-fail. If you have a comfortable hab constructed that meets all IOSS habitability requirements when we come to pick you up three months later, you pass. Extra credit will be given if you go significantly above and beyond those requirements.”

“If you don’t, you fail. If you make contact with any settlements or any of the other qualifiers except to answer a distress signal from them, you fail. If you activate the emergency beacon, you fail. If you die and have to be reinstantiated, you fail twice.”

“Simple, isn’t it? Now, has anyone been sufficiently discouraged already?”

* * * * *

And so to work. There should be a pressure tent in this case – lLet them not have nobbled the pressure tent, please! – and some thermal gel. Once that’s set up, I can start inventorying parts and running diagnostics. That should keep me occupied until dawn and cut out most of the nasty surprises, and then on to a local ground survey. Rock would be ideal – but I don’t want to try and find the best permanent hab site in the dark…

Trope-a-Day: Space People

Space People: Well, about three-fifths of everyone, actually.

That would be “about” principally because it’s really hard to determine, say, exactly where one draws a line between people who live on large asteroids in “habitats” and people who live on small moons in “domes”.

And depending on how you want to count things – well, you could count only people who live in starships or city-ships (habitat-dwellers say “Hey!”), or ships and habitats (asteroid-dwellers have an issue to raise), or people who have the key spacer biomods (absolutely everyone without some sort of compatibility problem, since even planet-dwellers find themselves in space enough that the calcium hack, thumb-toe, etc., are now part of the baseline set), or only members of the genuine four-armed sennóris clade (a long way from everyone dwelling in space long-term), or people who live in space-type habitats (includes lots of moon- and actual-planet-dwellers), or people possessing the characteristic shibboleths of spacer culture (although since spacer and groundling cultures have been bleeding into one another for centuries)…

In short: there are Space People, but there’s not a readily denotable boundary between them and everyone else.