A Stroke of State

11 05 2012

Today marks five years since the first post in Orbital Shipyards, a not-insignificant anniversary! To celebrate the fifth birthday of Orbital Shipyards, presented here is a full-length short story set in the OS universe, featuring many familar characters – and some new ones as well.

As always, please feel free to share your thoughts, opinions and feelings regarding the colonisation of Fram.


A Stroke of State

An Orbital Shipyards Story

Dave Blades

Read the rest of this entry »

In the Beginning

7 04 2012

Submitted to the 125th Session of the United Nations General Assembly by the permanent Member States of the United Nations Security Council on 30 September 2070.


Submitted with the concurrence of: the European Union, the Eurasian Union, the United States of America, the People’s Republic of China, Japan, the Republic of India, the Federative Republic of Brazil, the Forum of Mars and the Galilean Federation.




125/1. International Cooperation in Peaceful and Extrasolar Colonization.

The General Assembly,

Having considered the report of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space on the work of the one hundred and twenty-third session,

Recognizing the common interest of mankind in furthering the colonization of outer space and the need to coordinate international cooperation in this field,

Believing in the common interest of mankind in expanding the use of outer space, as the province of all mankind, for peaceful purposes and in continuing efforts to extend to all States the benefits derived therefrom, and also of the importance of international cooperation in this field, for which the United Nations should continue to provide a focal point,

Convinced of the benefits to all Members derived from the expansion of human economy and population to stars other than our own,

1. Requests the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, in co-operation with the Secretary General and making full use of the resources of the Member States of the General Assembly;

(a)   To develop capabilities for extrasolar colonization, recalling its resolution 1721 (XVI) of 20 December 1961, in particular article A;

(b)  To coordinate the exchange of information of Member States relating to extrasolar colonization through an international Project, on a voluntary basis;

2. Invites the Member States of the Security Council to contribute space capabilities to the successful realization of the goals of the Project, including but not limited to those outlined in resolutions 119/10 of 18 September 2064, 120/11 of 28 November 2065, 122/2 of 29 May and 123/9 of 20 September 2068.

3. Further requests the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space to continue its work, in accordance with the present resolution, to consider, as appropriate, new projects in extrasolar activities and to submit a report to the General Assembly at its one hundred and twenty-sixth session, including its views on which subjects should be studied in the future.

Wings over the New World

1 08 2011


“…the newly-formed Special Aeronautics Department began as a small collection of office modules and scaffolding atop Alpha-1.  Their crowning achievement was taking the powerplant of a Sprat and turning it into the SAD-1, or ‘Sookybird’ as it came to be known.  A light, powered glider; manned by a single pilot and fired via a magnetic slingshot from a specially-designed flight gantry.  It was as much an exercise in raising the spirits of the colonists as it was a technical achievement.”

After the murder, we came to appreciate the limitations of satellite photography.

Cane had disappeared into that vast area beyond the colonies and seismological relay stations that we had slowly come to call the Periphery, and neither satellites nor trackers could find him. Only weeks later had a long-range team chanced upon the degrading, short-range beacon of Cane’s vehicle.

Satellite mapping of Fram was an ongoing task. We had since Planetfall mapped a swath of Fram, centred on the equator and ranging between twenty and twenty-five degrees north and south latitudes. We had accomplished this with only two satellites, locked in opposing orbits. There were, of course, over a dozen different satellites in orbit of our world, but most of these were space observatories examining the Universe in various wavelengths, or monitoring the Amundsen Ring for potential impactors.

Yet the ground resolution of the images provided by these mapping satellites was in some cases insufficient for our needs. There were other limitations beyond low ground resolution. The manoeuvrability of satellites was restricted to their planned orbit, in turn circumscribed by delta-vee and payload. Because of this, data collection was slow, as evidenced by the limited coverage of Fram’s surface achieved in the months since Planetfall. Data collection was also dependent on weather, and, although cloud cover was less a restriction on Fram than the worlds and moons of Sol, dust storms were common, and in the polar latitudes these storms were violent and long-lasting. Moreover, our pool of satellites was limited to those brought from Sol aboard the Quoqasi and the Mayflower; although we could potentially build more, the costs of construction and launch were prohibitive.

Thus, we turned to cheaper alternatives to supplement the data collection of satellites. Two contending alternatives were submitted to the Special Aeronautics Department: an unmanned aerial vehicle, and a low-altitude, manned aircraft. Various designs for each alternative were explored, from fixed-wing aircraft to VTOL rotorcraft, to airships, to both autonomous and guided UAVs. Almost every design responded to Fram’s thick atmosphere with differing wing shapes. Some of these shapes appeared to the eyes of creatures that evolved on a world of comparatively thin air as impossible, or delicate, as though no lift could possibly be imparted on such a shape. The most creative of designs was for a UAV with sets of wings like those of a dragonfly which, through a complex motion calculated to reduce drag, paddled through the air.

Fram’s atmosphere imposed further limitations. Its thickness provided more lift, certainly, but that density also required more of the aircraft’s engine for propulsion. Designers looked at jet engines, fuelled by SiH4, an oxidiser that readily burned in a carbon dioxide atmosphere. But silane was both difficult to manufacture and extremely toxic. Other methods of propulsion were examined, and these methods would be balanced by the requirements of power and endurance.

The advantages of a low-altitude photographic platform were readily apparent. Ground resolution would be increased, and data collection would be less constrained by weather. The ability to follow more complicated flight paths offered the geologists a better perception of the depth and scale of geological features; while increased resolution would help the xenobotanists identify clusters of methanogens. Moreover, these platforms offered real-time data – which would become important for search-and-rescue as we grew outward from the colonies and further explored our world.

And so there was some amount of compromise behind the accepted design: the SAD-1. It was a manned vehicle, which reduced its endurance, but also reduced the complexity of its design. The Special Aeronautics Department accepted that endurance was less an issue while the Colonies remained young, as most of the SAD-1’s work would be within two of three hours’ flight of its airbase atop Alpha-1. It was powered by solar-electric cells that lined the surfaces of its wings, and these electric cells could be powered by lasers beamed from the surface. The SAD-1 was propelled by two turboshaft engines mounted in the bases of its wings, which produced free turbine shaft power that spun rear-mounted propfans. Flanking the fuselage was a sophisticated sensor suite of electromagnetic spectrum sensors – infrared, ultraviolet, microwave – laser spectroscopes, and geomagnetic sensors. Mounted beneath the SAD-1’s fuselage was a super-wide angle camera, composed of four digital cameras mounted in overlapping optical axes.

At some point along the length design process, the name ‘Sookybird’ was attached to the SAD-1, and by the time of its maiden flight that moniker had stuck. The vehicle was launched from the upper heights of Alpha-1 using the same kind of electromagnetic catapult installed at Wisting Base on Amundsen. There were sparse crowds of interested onlookers, mostly colonists of Alpha-1, gathered along the ridge of the crater. Not many of those gathered appreciated the irony that the Sookybird’s first high-resolution mapping mission was of the Henderson Ridge, where Cane had murdered his partner and vanished into the Periphery…


11 05 2007

“…the outpost sprawls over three hectares on the gentle southern slopes of a sweeping range, buffered to the great horizon by a wasteland of arid plains. Upon an outcrop along the spine of the ridge, not far to the north, sits an automated radar station that not only acts as an ATC tower for our spaceport, but also manages the vessels which brought us here, across the stars, to this place, far from Home.

I can see Quoquasi, our colony ship, hanging in the sky, devoid of its crew for now…”

This isn’t a blog, so don’t expect hoo-haa and whinge. This is a creative outlet for writers and artists enthralled by hard science-fiction, and captivated by the promise of our species’ destiny among the stars. The rules are simple and flexible, and are meant to stimulate creativity by bouncing and merging ideas together to construct an entire world:

One person posts their idea or thought, in whatever medium they use. The other person uses the other medium to explore that idea, develop it, and together illustrate some aspect of the world we are generating.

Welcome to the frontier, to a new world growing out of the old. Welcome to Orbital Shipyards.

AC & DB.