The Range of Range

“You will hear it said that lasers have ‘a pathetically low range’ and are ‘suitable only for point defense and the inner engagement envelope’. To put this statement into its proper context, one must understand the proper scale of starship engagements; i.e., that the pathetically low range in question is approximately a light-second, or to put it another way, that the enemy vessel must close to within a distance roughly equal to twenty-five diameters of your home planet before you can engage them with this notoriously short-ranged weapon.”

The Dirtsider’s Guide to Interplanetary Warfare

Not For Kitchen Use

At its simplest, a point-defense laser grid is a system of hundreds of meshed, phased-array, variable-frequency, plasma laser elements (on its parent starship, these are the glossy black domes speckling the hull), capable of outputting an arbitrary number of variable-power beams, limited only by the capacity of the controlling computer, along an equally arbitrary number of bearings.

In its most benign civilian application, the laser grid protects the hull against incoming mass, by vaporizing small particles entirely, and by causing outgassing of the surface elements of larger ones in such a way as to produce thrust sufficient to redirect their course – acting, in effect, as a portable laser broom. A standard military laser grid fulfils this function on a larger scale, vaporizing and redirecting incoming kinetic slugs using the same essential principle, while penetrating and disabling AKVs. Such a grid is typically able, in full-autonomic mode, to keep the volume of space within a dodeciad miles of the parent starship clear of all material objects not explicitly tagged by IFF as friendly.

A military-grade grid, of course, has certain other applications. One, for example, is serving to propel various otherwise-unguided packages by use of the grid to heat inert ablative propellant attached to them, functioning as the power element of a laser thermal drive. Another, less advertised, is that of dealing with enemy starships that have been disabled, but which decline to surrender and which do not possess any unusual value to be recovered by an opposed boarding action: specifically, a disabled starship within effective range of a laser point-defense grid can be conveniently sliced and diced into effectively-inert fist-sized cubes.


Hariven-class Free Trader

So, I got a request from a reader for a few specs on the Hariven-class free trader. Well, why not?

(Sadly, they were imagining something like Vaughan Ling’s Planetes-inspired debris collector with comparable dimensions, capacity, etc. Sorry to say it, but that ship? Had some style. The Hariven? Really doesn’t.)


Operated by: Desperate free traders, just starting-out bands on tour, your sketchy brother, refugees, space hobos, and anyone else who can’t afford a better ship.
Basic freighter.
Under open-source license; produced by multiple manufacturers, most of whom would prefer not to admit it, along with various backyard fab shops.

(And when I say “desperate free trader”, I don’t mean, say, the people who fly around in a Firefly-class in Firefly. Those people, in this verse, own something like a Kalantha-class. This is down from there at the true ass end of space travel.)

Length: 46m, of which 30m is the hold.
8m (not including radiators)

Gravity-well capable: No.

Personnel: 3, as follows:

Flight Commander
Flight Director
Flight Engineer

(This assumes you’re following the typical regulations which require – since the Hariven has no AI, and only dumb automation – that at least one qualified person be on watch at all times, hence a minimum of three. In practice, a Hariven can be flown by one and very often is, if they don’t mind violating the rules of navigation of every halfway sane polity in space.)

Drive (typical; may vary from build to build): Nucleodyne Thrust Applications “Putt-Putt” fusion pulse drive.
 Deuterium pellets.
Cruising (sustainable) thrust:
 0.6 standard gravities (0.56 g)
Peak (unsustainable) thrust:
 1.2 standard gravities (1.12 g)
Delta-v reserve:
 (Not yet calculated, but limited; if you’re flying a Hariven, you ain’t going brachy unless you devote a lot of your hold space to extra tanks. Be prepared to spend much of your voyage time on the float.)
Maximum velocity:
 0.02 c (based on particle shielding)


Not supplied as standard, but buy some. You’re gonna need ’em.


Orbital Positioning System sensors
Inertial tracking platform
Passive EM array
Short-range collision-avoidance and docking radar



Other systems:

Omnidirectional radio transceiver
Communications laser
Whipple shield (habitable area only)
Mechanical regenerative life support (atmosphere/water only)
Algiprote vat
2 x information furnace data systems
Sodium droplet radiators

Small craft:

Not supplied as standard, but a common as-supplied variant adds a partition to convert part of the forward hold into a bay with docking clamps suitable for many surface-to-orbit vehicles.


It’s a classic tail-lander layout of the crudest form: a 30m steel box welded on top of an 8m steel cylinder welded on top of a cheap fusion pulse drive, the latter two surrounded by pellet containers. It couldn’t look more brutalist/functional if it tried. At least most Hariven owners try to give it a bright paint job.

The hold is up front, a big steel box roughly the size of eight standard shipping containers. (Indeed, sometimes it’s made from eight standard shipping containers.) Putting it right for’ard has the advantage of simplifying construction greatly – all the machinery is at one end – and giving Hariven captains the assurance that if they ram their junker into anything accidentally, at least there’s 30m of other stuff between them and whatever they hit.

The hold opens up along its entire length on the port side to permit access. Responsible captains who convert their Hariven for passenger transport (the aforementioned touring bands, refugees, and space hobos, for example) by attaching deck partitions inside the hold and adding canned air have these welded shut. Less responsible captains simply pray for a lack of wiring faults.

The habitable section (the cylinder at the back) is wrapped in auxiliary engineering machinery and fuel storage, to the point that it’s only 4m in internal diameter. (If you need to fiddle with most of the engineering systems, you’re going to need a drone, or to take a walk outside.) It’s divided into four decks, from the bow down:

The bridge, which shares space with most of the avionics;

A small living area, which contains the food vat, a tiny galley, the inner door of the airlock, and any luxuries you see fit to squeeze in there. Like chairs;

The crew quarters, which means four vertically-mounted sleep pods, and maybe room for another luxury or two if they’re small;

And a tiny workshop, for any repairs that need doing.

That all sits right on top of the shadow shield and the business end of the drive. If you need to adjust anything below that – well, hope you brought a drone.

But enough of this. You buy this ship, treat her proper, she’ll be with you the rest of your life.

Ain’t sayin’ how long that’ll be, mind.



Trope-a-Day: Ramscoop

Ramscoop: The classic ramscoop as a starship drive is not a terribly common design feature, since they are (for reasons explained at Atomic Rockets) awfully draggy and power-hungry and thus limited in top speed. Much more common is using the technology as a magnetic sail brake to decelerate a fusion rocket, which braking technology has the advantage of letting you top off your tanks at the same time.

Now, the ramscoop that lets you dip fuel from a suitable gas giant, that is used. Typically on specialized scooper small-craft (mostly carried by warships, exploration ships, and others who may need to refuel away from normal fueling stations that have other, better ways to mine gas) and relatively small ships only, because it requires a specialized hull shape and frame along with heat-sink and radiator capacity to avoid incinerating yourself trying to pull it off, but it’s still relatively common.

Trope-a-Day: Ace Custom

Ace Custom: Happens a lot, aided and abetted by the highly modular and modifiable nature of Imperial technology. (Indeed, both the Navy and the Legions positively encourage the practice – as long as you stick to the standard interfaces and thus do not muck up the supply chain, or drop below the baseline performance – on the grounds that they enjoy keeping their opponents in a state of perpetual confusion and disorientation with regard to what can actually be expected out of their hardware.)

Braking Without Breaking

“Your attention please, gentlesophs and adjuncts; Flight Commander Aimne speaking. In twelve minutes time, we shall commence our deceleration burn to enter Talentar orbit and make rendezvous with Avétal High Port.

“As you may know, the Wanderer Station cycler intercepts Talentar orbit at high transit velocity, and as such making orbit requires a substantial velocity change. Our flight plan therefore mandates that we decelerate at six standard gravities.

“At this time, therefore, please ensure that your acceleration couches are facing full for’ard, upright, and locked. Any loose objects may become dangerous projectiles under thrust; please ensure that any such are stowed. For your comfort and safety, we advise that you remove any objects – especially if heavy or possessed of hard edges or corners – from your front, or upper, pockets, and stow them in the g-safe container provided. If you have a full bladder, you should empty it before the burn commences. If you are not familiar with acceleration couch procedure, this would be an excellent opportunity to study the provided reference data. Any passengers with special medical requirements for high-gravity maneuvers should make themselves known to the purser without delay.

“The thrust alarm will sound one minute before burn commences. Please ensure that you are in your acceleration couch, with restraints fastened, at that time. For your comfort, check that clothing beneath you is smooth and wrinkle-free; minor discomfort is greatly amplified under thrust. Your arms should be resting on the provided rests; do not cross them or place them in your lap. Check that your headrest is properly adjusted and place your head in contact with it, without turning it to either side. Remember that even a short drop at six gravities may cause serious injury. Do not attempt to release your restraints or move about the cabin while the burn is in progress; even if you are able to do so, such activities endanger your fellow passengers.

“If it is necessary to interrupt the deceleration burn for any reason, it may resume at any time without warning, or unanticipated attitude corrections may be required. For this reason, again, please do not release your restraints or leave your acceleration couch until I have announced the end of the maneuver.

“The current temperature on Avétal is 214 absolute, and the vacuum is hard out today. On behalf of the company and the other members of the crew, thank you for flying Amphiplanetary.”