The Tech Side #11: Stardrives

Terran starships of all kinds, from loderunners to imperial warships, use a faster than light drive system colloquially referred to as the ‘stardrive’ or a ‘warp drive’ or even a ‘hyperdrive’. This article looks a little more closely at the technical details of this type of propulsion system.

Stardrives are a variation of warp engine, and in common parlance, traveling faster than light-speed is referred to as ‘warp speed’, with degrees of measurement specified as ‘warp 1’, ‘warp 2’ etc. At warp speed, the stars outside the ship are invisible due to it traveling faster than the speed of light, and so from inside the ship, through viewports and on the main view screen, space looks dark. According to some sarcastic old spacers, warp four looks just like warp three, just a little more black.

A Few Basic Facts About Warp Engines:

Stardrives, since they are a sort of thruster, are conventionally positioned at the back end of most ships, but in some cases, they’re encased in pods at the end of pylons to the side of the ship.

In science fiction, warp engines are based upon real scientific theory, in which they employ the reaction derived from mixing matter and anti-matter to drive a ship forward at faster than light speeds.

For more information about the principles of warp drive, look here.

Antimatter engines require a quantity of negatively and positively charged matter on hand in order to operate – which implies a fuel supply. Anti-matter is very dangerous to store in a matter environment, since as soon as it comes into contact with matter, a violent and destructive reaction will result. Earlier forms of stardrive used complex ways of preventing this. The other drawback was that older starships had more limited range – dictated by the amount of matter/anti-matter fuel they could carry at a time.

With the advent of the transmatter – a teleportation device, and its eventual evolution into a replication device which could reproduce copies of an original pattern over and over again, the need to carry vast amounts of unstable and dangerous anti-matter in a special storage cell, was eliminated. Instead, anti-matter fuel – and matter fuel – are produced on demand by a fuel producing device positioned near the intermix manifold as the engine runs.

This in effect means that a starship can travel for as long as there’s fuel, or to be more exact, until something prevents it from making more fuel, like for example, a breakdown.

Older ships, especially privately owned loderunners, still use the old system, as do some of the older Space Fleet ships – which are always on some or other schedule to refitted with newer updated tech.

The Engineering Complex:

Like the Bridge Complex, starships of the Terran Space Fleet also come with an Engineering Complex, which consists of the Engine Room (naturally), an office and control station, an ablution facility, a first aid station, as well as the Chief Entech’s cabin- which is really more generously appointed than it sounds. To ensure that the Chief Entech is situated close to their main duty station, they have the use of a modest apartment right beside the engine room, which is accessible through an office and control station where all engine functions are monitored. The aim of that is to ensure the proximity of key engineering personnel as much as possible, so that even when off-shift, the Chief is handy to address emergencies.

The engine room itself is probably one of the largest chambers on a starship, typically around fifty meters long, oval-shaped, three decks high inside. The core – often referred to as the Reflex Furnace – that powers the stardrive, is situated at the center of it. That item alone dominates the engine room, reaching from top to bottom, and connected to the engine banks by means of conduits. Catwalks and covered ladders allow access to various parts of the machinery which are laid out at different levels of the engine room. A massive shield behind the stern wall of the engine room protects the crew and the rest of the ship from radiation, heat and destruction should anything go badly wrong!

Technical Descriptions:

In the stories I’ve written I mention various components and materials used in these engines. The engine rooms of starships are filled with bulky machinery covered by shiny baffle plates, with blinking lights everywhere, and funny little things on consoles that quietly go ‘beep’ occasionally. 

It’s worth pointing out that the modular cassette-like parts in a stardrive are fiddly bits, but you couldn’t remove them and then put them back in a wrong place. That’s how they were designed – they either fit correctly, or they don’t. This is meant to prevent accidents resulting from mistakes. It also facilitates the ease of stripping down an engine and if necessary, replacing a faulty part as quickly as possible.

Materials used in the construction of stardrive engines are the usual array of space-age materials, duranium, plasti-steel and the like. Due to the extreme stresses and temperatures produced while in operation, the matter-antimatter reaction is regulated inside a magnetically sealed anti-gravity “bottle” surrounded by a chamber made of densified collapsium, and fitted with all kinds of fail-safes and alarms. The core of the reflex furnace itself is a towering lump of thermacite-concrete designed to hold massive pressure and heat, the central chamber of which is lined with lantillium, a rare apolar metal. 

A few components of a stardrive which have been mentioned in Galaxii and Quantum;

Primary field modulator control manifold: in simple terms, it’s part of the cooling system and helps to stabilize the temperature of the warp plasma injectors, which is important if you don’t want the engines to overheat and melt the ship!

Interpolating generator unit: generates the opposing magnetic fields that separate the matter-anti-matter fuel mix. If it fails at warp speed, little green folk in Proxima Centauri will wonder where that pretty new star came from.

A Quick Look At Entech Personnel:

The engineering section is staffed by technicians who are familiar with maintenance of every mechanical and digital part of the ship – especially the stardrive. Because of the diverse systems aboard a ship, it’s important for entechs to be well-versed and rated in all of them. If a computer console breaks on the bridge, they need to be able to troubleshoot and correct the problem, regardless of whether it’s a software or hardware issue – and likewise if there’s a problem with a small drive gear in the locking mechanism of the outer door of an airlock. Versatility is key.

While considered less vital aboard a civilian ship, they’re indispensable on military ships. Loderunners for example often only employ a single qualified ship’s mechanic – and they have to maintain and repair everything, often enlisting the aid of another crew member for larger jobs. Large spaceliners, since they’re operated by huge corporations can afford to retain proper crews of technicians as well, and sometimes they’re a favored future employer for Space Fleet entechs who prefer a more laid-back and somewhat safer pace at which to earn a living.

Often categorized as ‘specialists’, their formal designation in the Space Fleet is that of ‘entech’, or ‘engineering technician’. Entechs are the mechanics of the starship, repairing what needs repairing and performing a rotating schedule of ongoing maintenance and servicing of shipboard equipment.

The head of the Entech department is typically a Lieutenant Commander – but regardless of rank, their title is “Chief Entech”. Sometimes they’re referred to colloquially as “Chief”. Depending on their duties at any time, they may wear different clothing – for really dirty jobs, they might wear variations of coverall, including a version of viro-suit (environment suit) which is also worn while working in vacuum or toxic atmosphere. The usual crew uniform is reserved for “office days” or formal events. Typical work-dress for an on-duty entech includes the uniform trousers and a blue short-sleeve smock with several tool-pockets, or a toolbelt. 

Further reading:

In Closing

That about covers it! I hope I’ve explained everything in a way that’s easily understood! I really enjoyed translating my original hand-drawn sketches into digital blueprint diagrams for this article, and I think they look pretty neat that way!

Feel free to email or message me via Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn if you have any comments or questions!

Until next time,

Cheers! 🙂


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