Reactionless Drives

Technically, this is a trope-a-day from much later in the cycle, but seeing as (a) I just wrote it up having been thinking about it recently, (b) I’m sure at least some of my readers have been wondering about the very common use of reaction drives in the Eldraeverse ever since I first mentioned vector control, and (c) among those are the ones wondering how (and if) I avert running smack into Burnside’s Advice in the worst possible way. So:

Reactionless Drive: The important thing to remember about a reactionless drive is that it’s not reactionless.

A vector control drive is a member of the entire family of vector-control technologies, and like all the other members of said family, it obeys Newton’s Third Law. Vector control used for artificial gravity transfers the reaction to the action it’s applying to the stuff between the gravity rotors to the structural framework it’s bolted to. Vector control used in tractor/pressor beams pushes the party of the first part every bit as much as it pulls the party of the second part, and on the precisely opposite vector. And a vector control drive, while it utilizes extremely fancy ontotechnological trickery to spread the reaction to the action out across all the ambient mass in appropriately vast volumes (if not the entirety of, but that’s real hard to measure) of the local universe, is absolutely no different in this respect.

What you get from a vector control drive is not needing to haul all those vast quantities of reaction mass around with you. Note: only the remass. Vector control drives still need fuel, and since there are certain inevitable inefficiencies in coupling the action to the reaction quite so indirectly, they need significantly more fuel than an equivalent reaction drive. You aren’t getting away from having those huge spherical tanks of D and He3 strapped to the back of your starship that easily.

Another thing you might get is a degree of, um, stealth, inasmuch as you don’t have the huge bright drive flare that most reaction drives tend to produce. Of course, as we all know, there ain’t no Stealth In Space, because apart from your life support’s comfortable temperature alone making you stand out like a lighthouse against the 3K sky background, you’re also running a bloody great reactor (and radiating its heat) to power your vector control drive.

In short: the existence of vector control permits you to build something damned close to a classic SFnal reactionless drive. It provides you with rather fewer reasons as to why you might want to, outside a few highly specialized edge cases.

(Side note: the mad scientists out at Resplendent Exponential Vector have also been experimenting along the lines of the Alcubierre drive to get reactionlessness and a working fittler in one package. After their prototype vaporized a fortunately-spare dwarf planet and exploded first time out, their tort insurers have been reluctant to cover further development at a price they can afford.)

 

Giving Flak Some Flak

Don't do this. Don't ever do this.

Don’t do this. Don’t ever do this.

There is one other small point to make, it occurs to me, regarding lasers and appropriate uses of same.

One of which is that the Imperial Navy, by and large, uses carefully targeted laser weapons for short-range point defense, the intent being to vaporize small projectiles, blind sensors, overheat close-in AKVs and send ’em into thermal shutdown (being small, they have precious little heat-dumping capacity, relying instead on avoiding being hit), and convince missile warheads (for those people who feel the need to use missile warheads, kinetic energy being plenty of fun on its own) to explode before they actually get to their target starship.

Some folks (the screenshot on the right is from Battlestar Galactica) are of the opinion that an even better way to do this would be good old-fashioned flak. Mount point-defense turrets on your ship, and fill space around you with enough projectiles that anything incoming gets shredded by those before reaching you.

What those folks forget is that Sir Isaac Newton is the deadliest son-of-a-bitch in space!, ’cause all those projectiles – all those clouds of projectiles – will keep moving, with all their kinetic energy, until they hit something, and ruin its day. If you’re lucky, that will be whatever poor bastard is next to you in the same formation, weapons and small craft you’re trying to use, or your own ship on some future occasion, and you’ll only manage to hurt yourself. If you’re unlucky, they’ll just carry merrily on hitting things completely unrelated to the original target at random and providing people with casus belli, atrocity fodder, and other reasons to whup your ass for the next ten thousand years or more.

Cleaning up the debris after a space battle to ensure this sort of thing doesn’t happen is already a giant pain in the ass (the kind that there’s even a dedicated class of fluffship – crewing which is generally thought to be the worst job in the IN – to handle) when all you have to worry about is hulks, spallation debris, ricochets and accidental misses, and such-like, without deliberately making the problem a million times worse by filling the sky with high-KE flak. You don’t fire anything without a firing solution attached to it. Here endeth the lesson.

Or, as Mass Effect 2 put it in a somewhat more pithy manner: