WorkInProgress: Pressure

The 8th installment of my work-in-progress, The Silence of Ancient Light, is ready for your review!

Racing back to their starship with their wounded crewmate, the crew of Aniara find even more trouble when their orbital shuttle is hit and damaged by some sort of weapon. Of course, the alien space station they’ve been investigating has been dead for centuries, so who or what is firing at them remains a mystery. Unable to raise the starship on the radio, and losing engine thrust and cabin pressure, Anna and her crew are forced to take emergency measures. Can they repair the shuttle before their air runs out? Find out!

Read now: Pressure


header image credit: NASA

WorkInProgress: Reaction

When last we left our heroes, they had just suffered a setback. Takashi, the expedition’s engineer, sustained an injury while attempting to cut a way into the alien space station, and now the crew prepares to race back to their ship, Aniara, for emergency medical attention.

But their troubles have only just begun. Even centuries-abandoned space stations may still have some surprises in store. Read on to find out what happens next.

 

Reaction

 

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image credit: user:tombud / pixabay.com

header image credit: user:HariSeldon58 / pixabay.com

WorkInProgress: Geostationary

This scene obviously took me a bit longer to finish than the others before it, as I wrestled with a number of factors. Not least among those was simply figuring out how the crew would go about forcing their way into an alien space station, one that has no direct analog to our technology or knowledge.

That turns out not to be that big of a deal in the end. Is there a hatch on the station? Well, yes, the aliens would have needed a way to get in and out. Ok, so how different can a hatch be? Well, it might be quite a bit smaller, for one thing, if the alien species is quite different in size from humans. But otherwise, it’s still going to be essentially a door, and a door must have some mechanism for opening it.

But… what if the aliens don’t have hands in the way that we do? What if they have claws, instead? Hmm, well, a handle for claws is probably not too different than a handle for hands, assuming those claws can grasp something. And if they can’t, then we don’t have much in the way of tool users in the early history of those aliens, do we?

Do we? Oh, we could go down so many interesting rabbit holes with this one. I think we’ll return to this subject in a later post.

Ok, so there’s a hatchway, possibly a bit of a tight fit, but still a hatchway, and it has a handle. One that’s either frozen with disuse, or locked. Either way, it’s going to need some modicum of force to get in. Applying force, or cutting your way in, in vacuum, in microgravity. What could go wrong?

A lot could go wrong.

The other factor that kept me up late at night doing math puzzles was figuring out what a good parking orbit for Aniara would be relative to the space station. I spent a good part of the last two weeks reading and reading about orbital mechanics and astrodynamics, and my head still spins from some of the math involved. At one point I had myself convinced that, like Zeno’s arrow reaching its target, it was impossible to truly rendezvous in orbit.

Except we do it all the time with the ISS here at Earth.

There’s another post to come on this subject. This one is really quite fascinating to the geek in me.

However, for purposes of this ongoing serial story, there is one factor about Aniara‘s orbit that the careful reader will discern as a departure from the previous scene. In Flip and Burn, you may recall, the Captain, David Benetton, asks our pilot, Anna Laukkonnen, to bring the ship to a parking orbit 100 kilometers north of the station, and to a matching altitude.

However in the scene you’re about to read, Anna does something different. She parks the ship 100 kilometers higher than the station, but directly over it.

Why the change? That, my friends, is going to be the primary subject of my forthcoming post on orbital mechanics. Suffice it to say that after several evenings of scratching about on Excel, I realized that the only way to maintain the same altitude but a different inclination and not smash into the station (twice per orbit, in fact) would be through a fairly constant use of thrusters. This would be an expensive thing to do, in terms of using up not-unlimited propellant, and a responsible pilot wouldn’t do it when a safer alternative that uses far less fuel (or none at all) is readily available.

The risks of pantsing a novel, indeed. That detail in the previous scene will have to change in the rewrite.

Right, so more to come on this subject. Meanwhile, you’re tired of me driveling on about these boring topics, and just want to read a good scene, right? Well, here you go!

 

Geostationary


image credit: NASA

Work in Progress: Flip and Burn

A two-fer!

I’ve combined two scenes into a single post here, mainly because one of them was quite a bit shorter than all the others so far (just under 500 words), and also because I felt like keeping on writing after that one.

You’ll recall that the crew of the starship Aniara has been accelerating in toward the planet Kepler 62f, around which they’ve discovered what appears to be an orbital ring station — the first indication that somebody once lived here, even if they may not be here any longer. They are now halfway there, and it’s time to begin decelerating.

The “flip and burn” maneuver. No, I didn’t coin that phrase. For that, I have to credit a pair of my favorite authors, collectively known as James S.A. Corey (a pen-name for the writing duo Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck), best known for their science fiction series The Expanse (and the SyFy TV series of the same name). In the opening chapters of the first book, and the pilot episode of the show, the interplanetary ice hauler Canterbury needs to alter their acceleration trajectory in order to respond to a distress call. The executive officer, James Holden, warns the crew, “This will be a high-G maneuver. Prepare for flip and burn.” (I think the dialogue in the book was slightly different from that in the show, but I digress.)

That, right there, was what made me want to see that show, and then after to read those books, which I now consume just as fast as Abraham and Franck can churn them out. No magic “artificial gravity,” no spaceships that fly around like fighter jets in an atmosphere, just full Newtonian physics at work. If you want to change the direction of your ship, or slow it down, you need to point engines ahead of your travel vector and burn.

If your engines are efficient enough, and you can carry enough propellant, then the fastest way to get somewhere is to accelerate constantly until you reach the halfway point, then flip the ship around and decelerate the rest of the way. That’s without taking into account matching aphelion and perihelion of initial and final orbits, but again, I digress.

Aniara, of course, is not burning as hard as the Canterbury. She’s moving very fast, due to twenty-one days of constant acceleration, but the acceleration itself is relatively minor. At the halfway point, the crew shuts down the engine, flips the ship, and restarts it, for twenty-one days of deceleration. They aren’t changing the direction of their vector, just reducing speed, so no massive G forces on superstructure or crew are necessary.

So, that’s our first scene here, followed by arrival at the ring station. Enjoy!

The Silence of Ancient Light: Flip and Burn


image credit: NASA

Celestes: Ring

The 4th installment of my little space opera is now up, another 1000 words for you to enjoy and critique.

Which begs the question: what makes a story a “space opera”? Does it need to have a large cast, multiple points of view, numerous intricate subplots, and galaxy-spanning empires? Or is any story that takes place primarily in space, far from Earth, visiting other planets and star systems, a space opera? What’s your view?

Either way, please take a moment to read Ring and drop me a comment, tell me what you think!