Of Torchships and Compartmentalized Hearts

(The Silence of Ancient Light, continued)


“Won’t it take hours to effect an orbital change and advance to our position?”

“Normally, yes, that would be the case. With the shuttle, that’s what we would have to do, firing thrusters retrograde to push down to a faster orbit and get ahead of us, then firing again prograde to lift the orbit and let us catch up to the shuttle. That would easily be a two-day maneuver, although in an extreme case we could push all the way down to the Karmann line and back up, and maybe it could be done in a few hours, at a huge cost in fuel the shuttle just didn’t have.”

“We don’t have a few hours.”

“No. But the lander, of course, has an engine designed for descending to the surface of a high-G world and then lifting back up to orbit again, with a fuel tank to match. The lithium saltwater fusion engine has more than enough thrust and specific impulse for a brachistochrone trajectory straight to our position, and we’ll still have fuel to spare afterwards.”


“Think straight-line. With enough thrust…”



(1,810 words; 7 min 14 sec reading time)


An engine designed for descending to the surface of a high-G world and then lifting back up to orbit again. A lithium saltwater rocket with enough thrust to accelerate quickly and enough specific impulse to keep on burning for some serious delta-V. Brachistochrone trajectories capable of ignoring orbital dynamics and just powering on through to where you want to go.

In other words, a torchship to make even Robert A Heinlein proud!

This really is the only way to get quickly from one part of a high orbit to another location on that high orbit that is 22,000 kilometers away without taking multiple days (multiple orbits) to get there. And to do it, you need either a ton (or, many tons) of fuel, or a very efficient engine. You need that unicorn of space drives, an engine that shift gears between high thrust and high specific impulse, two attributes that normally are exclusive of each other.

And there is a design out there to do this. The only problem today is that we haven’t quite mastered the trick of running a nuclear fusion reactor, which is the key component we need for this.

I’m going to talk a great deal more about this in a future blog post, very soon, but right now I’m very excited to present to you the next installment in the saga of our hapless heroes, The Silence of Ancient Light. You’ll recall that when last we saw our friends, Anna, Laxmi, Jaci, and Ca-Tren, they were stuck in an abandoned alien space station with no obvious way to get out, and with less than two hours before imminent destruction in the form of a severed space elevator cable would smash their part of the station into tiny bits.

Not good.

But you’ll recall that Anna, after all this time, finally found a way to connect Jaci’s handheld tablet computer to the alien station’s radio broadcast network, and from there create a digital connection to their faraway spaceship. What can she do with such a connection?

You’ll need to read on, of course, to find out, but my earlier comments are surely a big hint.

I’ll warn you now, there’s an emotional component to this scene that you may not expect. Jaci is going to reveal something…

But read on to find out!

header image credit: Ioulou Nash / pixabay.com under Pixabay License

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