Aphelion

12 05 2007

The Quoqasi had been decelerating for over two (subjective) years; the ship was inverted, its engines blazing away ahead of it to shed the inertia of its voyage from Sol. Its stem, a clutch of fusion rockets assembled around the central stack, was ablaze with the glow of fusion fire. A fourth sun was suspended in Fram’s sky like a slowly falling star – brighter than the dim red glow of Proxima, but diminished by the brilliance of the two stars which composed Alpha Centauri.

Quoqasi was a skeletal but nonetheless elegant ship, functional and utilitarian, eight kilometres in length. The engine stack, balanced atop the thrust of its three fusion rockets, formed half the ship. Nestled above the exhaust nozzles was the fusion reactor, a voluminous sphere in which helium-3 was fused with deuterium inside electrostatic confinement grids, and thrust thus generated. Feeding into the reactor were payload tanks of heavy water, arranged in a lattice of girders and booms and bunched like berries on a stalk. The engine stack was connected to the mission module by a series of pusher plates – six massive, collapsible, hydro-pneumatic rams suspended within a water/glycol mix and encased within cylinders that clustered the Quoqasi’s midpoint.

Arranged at ninety degree points of the ship’s spine forward of the pneumatic cylinders were four roughly rectangular modules. These were the colonisation pods; small cities designed to split from the Quoqasi and make planetfall independently, each a kilometre in length, each with its own fusion reactor, each crammed with a thousand colonists and their dreams of an adventurous future. These were the basis of humanity’s first extrasolar colony.

Forward of the colony pods was Quoqasi’s prow, a tapered cone that enclosed the central stack. This was where the Quoqasi generated twin repeller fields. The first field reached out a hundred thousand kilometres ahead of the ship and positively charged each particle in its path; these particles would then slide over a second field, ten thousand kilometres from the ship, which repelled anything with a positive charge. As a final measure of protection, a reinforced shield sat like an umbrella held across Quoqasi’s profile against the cosmic medium. Its outer face was reinforced by an ablative covering of ice, tens of meters thick; the entire umbrella was mounted on another suspended pneumatic ram that telescoped back along the spine of the ship.

At high fractions of the speed of light, even microscopic particles possessed tens of kilotons of impact force.

Quoqasi’s average interstellar speed was about .75c: this took into account the slow, uniform, one gee acceleration and deceleration necessitated by its fragile human cargo. During the time in which she had coasted on her inertia alone, Quoqasi greatest velocity was nine-tenths the speed of light. The colony pods were thus designed with a modular, ergonomic architecture – while accelerating, effective gravity was aft; while decelerating, effective gravity was forward; and during turnaround, the habitat section rotated around the ship’s spine, providing centrifugal gravity outwards. Walls and ceilings were as often floors until the pods were comfortably embedded in the duricrust of Fram.

(The journey from Sol to Alpha Centauri had taken just over five years. This was a subjective measurement. Based on an average speed of .75c and a distance of 4.22 light years, five years and seven months passed for the rest of the Universe during Quoqasi’s voyage. For the crew however, only three years and six months had passed – this was the effect of time dilation. At its most profound, at Quoqasi’s greatest velocity, the dilation of time had accounted for two and a quarter days on Earth for each day experienced by the colonists; the average effect of time dilation was, however, more like one point four days subjective to one day relative.)

When the pods were launched, the Quoqasi would remain in geo-synchronous orbit of Fram, gutted of its payload, a slender, gaunt needle in space, awaiting instructions from the ground…

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24 08 2012
Epilogue « Orbital Shipyards: Alpha Centauri System

[…] for resupply or refitting. These tremendous vessels – tens of kilometres in length, adapted from the colony ships that bore us to Fram – were balanced between a lattice of connected girders and beams, and […]

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