Starships of the galaxy

Drive Systems

FTL Drive
Faster-than-light drives use element zero cores to reduce the mass of the ship, allowing higher rates of acceleration. This effectively raises the speed of light within the mass effect field, allowing high speed travel with negligible relativistic time dilation effects.

Starships still require conventional thrusters (chemical rockets, commercial fusion torch, economy ion engine, or military antiproton drive) in addition to the FTL drive core. With only a core, a ship has no motive power.

The amount of eezo and power required for a drive increases exponentially to the mass being moved and the degree it is being lightened. Very massive ships or very high speeds are prohibitively expensive.

If the field collapses while the ship is moving at faster-than-light speed, the effects are catastrophic. The ship is snapped back to sublight velocity, the enormous excess energy shed in the form of lethal Cerenkov radiation.

New space travelers ask, "What does it look like outside a ship moving faster-than-light speed?" Part of the answer can be seen in a simple pane of glass. Light travels slower through glass than it does through open air; light also moves slower in conventional space than it does in a high-speed mass effect field. This causes refraction - any light entering at an angle is bent and separated into a spectrum. Objects outside the ship will appear refracted. The greater the difference between the objective (exterior) and subjective (interior) speeds of light, the greater the refraction.

As the subjective speed of light is raised within the field, objects outside will appear to red-shift, eventually becoming visible only to radio telescope antennae. High-energy electromagnetic1 sources normally hidden to the eye become visible in the high blue spectrum. As the speed of light continues to be raised, x-ray, gamma ray, and eventually cosmic ray sources become visible. Stars will be replaced by pulsars1, the accretion discs1 of black holes1, quasars1, and gamma ray bursts1.

To an outside observer, a ship within a mass effect drive envelope appears blue-shifted. If within a field that allows travel at twice the speed of light, any radiation it emits has twice the energy as normal. If the ship is in a field of about 200 times light speed, it radiates visible light as x-rays and gamma rays, and the infrared heat from the hull is blue-shifted up into the visible spectrum or higher.

Ships moving at FTL are visible at great distances, though their signature will only propagate at the speed of light.

Drive Charge
As positive or negative electric current is passed through an FTL drive core, it acquires a static electrical charge. Drives can be operated an average of 50 hours before they reach charge saturation. This changes proportionally to the magnitude of mass reduction; a heavier or faster ship reaches saturation more quickly.

If the charge is allowed to build, the core will discharge into the hull of a ship. All ungrounded crew members are fried to a crisp, all electronic system are burned out, and metal bulkheads may be melted and fused together.

The safest way to discharge a core is to land on a planet and establish a connection to the ground, like a lightning rod. Larger vessels like dreadnoughts cannot land and must discharge into a planetary magnetic field1.

As the hull discharges, sheets of lightning jump away into the field, creating beautiful auroral displays on the planet. The ship must retract its sensors and weapons while dumping charge to prevent damage, leaving it blind and helpless. Discharging at a moon with a weak magnetic field can take days. Discharging into the powerful field of a gas giant may require less than an hour. Deep space facilities such as the Citadel often have special discharge facilities for visiting ships.

A mass effect drive core decreases the mass of a bubble of space-time around a ship. This gives the ship the potential to move quickly, but does not apply any motive power. Ships use their sublight thrusters for motive power in FTL. There are several varieties of thruster, varying in performance versus economy. All ships are equipped with arrays of hydrogen-oxygen reaction control thrusters for maneuvering.

Helios Thruster Module
Intended for next-generation fighter craft, the Heed Industries Helios Thruster Module propulsion system far outpaces the typical liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen reactions that power a frigate's maneuvering thrusters. By using metastable metallic hydrogen, the Helios boasts a fuel that burns at far greater efficiency than liquid H2/O2. Navigators can execute the numerous small course corrections inherent to any long-distance travel without fear of exhausting the ship's fuel supplies. This net gain extends to forward impulse as well: a ship powered by antiprotons can coast temporarily using the Helios to reach an inferior but highly sustainable speed. Such efficiency lowers antiproton consumption, a constant concern for any warship.

When a Helios-propelled ship must refuel, however, it typically relies on a large carrier or nearby planetary factory to synthesize the metallic hydrogen. This process uses extremely dense mass effect fields to create the metal under pressures of over a million Earth atmospheres, an activity most safely done while planetside. While that process may seem like a drawback compared to "skimmer ships" that can gather hydrogen and oxygen from anywhere in the universe, the combat superiority of the Helios' maneuvering capabilities is often a worthwhile trade-off. The same efficiency that allows for microburn course correction can power rapid bursts of motion. Once a pilot becomes used to the ship's new energetic responses, she can easily put the ship wherever and at whatever angle she desires.


Disruptor Torpedoes
Disruptor torpedoesare powered projectiles with warheads that create random and unstable mass effect fields when triggered. These fields warp space-time in localized areas. The rapid, asymmetrical mass changes cause the target to rip itself apart.

In flight, torpedoes use a mass-increasing field, making them too huge for enemy kinetic barriers to repel. Because extra mass retards acceleration, torpedoes are easy prey for defensive GARDIAN weapons and must therefore be launched at extremely close range to be effective.

To prevent damage to the parent craft, torpedoes must be "cold-launched," meaning they are released before their thrusters ignite. Aligning with its target's trajectory, a fighter releases a torpedo and immediately thrusts away, while the torpedo continues to coast towards its target. After the fighter is clear (no more than a second after launch), the torpedo activates its mass field and thrusters away from the fighter and towards it [sic] target.

Torpedoes are the main anti-ship weapon used by fighters. Launched at point-blank range in "ripple-fire" waves, they are reminiscent of the ancient Calliope rocket artillery launchers (thus their popular nickname, "Callies"). By saturating defensive GARDIAN systems with multiple targets, at least a few torpedoes will get through.

A ships' General ARea Defense Integration Anti-spacecraft Network (GARDIAN) consists of anti-missile/anti-fighter laser turrets on the exterior hull. Because these are under computer control, the gunnery control officer needs to do little beyond turn the system on and designate targets as hostile.

Since lasers move at light speed, they cannot be dodged by anything moving at non-relativistic speeds. Unless the beam is aimed poorly, it will always hit its target. In the early stages of a battle, the GARDIAN fire is 100% accurate. It is not 100% lethal, but it doesn't have to be. Damaged fighters must break off for repairs.

Lasers are limited by diffraction. The beams "spread out", decreasing the energy density (watts per m2) the weapon can place on a target. Any high-powered laser is a short-ranged weapon.

GARDIAN networks have another limitation: heat. Weapons-grade lasers require "cool-down" time, during which heat is transferred to sinks or radiators. As lasers fire, heat builds within them, reducing damage, range, and accuracy.

Fighters attack in swarms. The first few WILL be hit by GARDIAN, but as the battle continues, the effects of laser overheat allow the attacks to press ever closer to the ship. Constant use will burn out the laser.

Mass Accelerators
Mass accelerators propel solid metal slugs via electromagnetic attraction and repulsion. A slug lightened by a mass effect field can be accelerated to extremely high speeds, permitting previously unattainable projectile velocities.

The primary determinant of a mass accelerator's destructive power is length. The longer the barrel, the longer the slug can be accelerated, the higher the slug's final velocity, and therefore the greater its kinetic impact. Slugs are designed to squash or shatter on impact, increasing the energy they transfer to its target. Without collapsibility, slugs would punch through their targets while inflicting only minimal damage.

Rather than being mounted on the exterior, starship guns are housed inside hulls and visible only as gun portholes from outside.

A ship's main gun is a large spinal-mount weapon running 90% of the hull's length. While possessing destructive power equal to that of tactical nuclear weapons, main guns are difficult to aim. Because ships must be able to point their bows almost directly at their targets, main guns are best used for long-range "bombardment" fire.

Approximately 40% of the hull's width, broadside guns inflict less damage and can be mounted with greater numbers and more flexibility. The modern human Kilimanjaro-class dreadnoughts mount three decks with 26 broadside accelerators apiece for a total salvo weight of 78 slugs per side, firing once every two seconds.

However, mass accelerators produce recoil equal to their impact energy. While the mass effect fields suspending the rounds mitigate the recoil, recoil shock can still rattle crews and damage systems.


Kinetic Barrier Shields:
Kinetic barrier shields changed starship battles from short, vicious bloodbaths to extended, indecisive slugging matches. Only the main gun of a dreadnought could punch a mass accelerator slug through the barriers of an opposing dreadnought. This changed with the development of the fighter-launched mass disruptor torpedo, a short-ranged weapon that can penetrate kinetic barriers to destroy their projector assemblies.

Ablative Armor:
A warship's kinetic barriers reduce the damage from solid objects, but can do nothing to block GARDIAN lasers, particle beams, and other forms of Directed Energy Weapon (DEW). The inner layer of warship protection consists of ablative armor plate designed to "boil away" when heated. The vaporized armor material scatters a DEW beam, rendering it ineffectual.

A scaffold was built around the interior pressure hull, with sheets of ablative armor hung from the structure. Ships typically have multiple layers of armor separated by empty baffles, spaces often used for cargo storage. Cruisers, which lack the internal space to fit dedicated fighter hangars, store the shipboard fighter complement in the baffles. It is not unknown for enlisted crew to build illicit alcohol distilleries in some obscure corner of the baffles, safe from prying eyes.

Ship Systems
Mass Effect Field:
Mass effect fields create an artificial gravity (a-grav) plane below the decks, preventing muscle atrophy and bone loss in zero-gee. Large vessels arrange their decks perpendicular to their thrust axis. The "highest" decks are at the bow, and the "lowest" decks at the engines. This allows a-grav to work with the inertial effects of thrust. Ships that can land arrange their decks laterally, so the crew can move about while the vessel is on the ground.

Heat Management:
Dispersal of heat generated by onboard systems is a critical issue for a ship. If it cannot deal with heat, the crew may be cooked within the hull.

Radiation is the only way to shed heat in a vacuum. Civilian vessels utilize large, fragile radiator panels that are impossible to armor. Warships use Diffuse Radiator Arrays (DRA), ceramic strips along the exterior of the armored hull. These make the ship appear striped to thermographic sensors. Since the arrangement of the strips depends on the internal configuration of the ship, the patterns for each vessel are unique and striking. On older ships, the DRA strips could become red- or white-hot. Dubbed "tiger stripes" or "war paint" by humans, the glowing DRA had a psychological impact on pirates and irregular forces.

"Light lag" prevents sensing in real time at great distances. A ship firing its thrusters at the Charon Relay can be easily detected from Earth, 5.75 light-hours (six billion kilometers) away, but Earth will only see the event five hours and 45 minutes after it occurs. Due to the light-speed limit, defenders can't see enemies coming until they have already arrived. Because there is FTL travel and communications but no FTL sensors, frigates are crucial for scouting and picket duties.

Passive sensors are used for long-range detection, while active sensors obtain short-range, high quality targeting data.

Passive sensors include visual, thermographic, and radio detectors that watch and listen for objects in space. A powered ship emits a great deal of energy; the heat of the life support systems; the radiation given off by power plants and electrical equipment; the exhaust of the thrusters. Starships stand out plainly against the near-absolute zero background of space. Passive sensors can be used during FTL travel, but incoming data is significantly distorted by the effect of the mass effect envelope and Doppler shift.

Active sensors are radars and high resolution ladars (LAser Detection And Ranging) that emit a "ping" of energy and "listen" for return signals. Ladars have a narrower field of view than radar, but ladar resolution allows images of detected objects to be assembled. Active sensors are useless when a ship is moving at FTL speeds.