Jovian Chronicles Mechanical Cyclopedia

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Mechanical Cyclopedia

The hard times on Earth in the 21st and 22nd centuries and the much more urgent problem of survival in the space colonies have restricted research to areas with immediate practical applications, such as warfare and recycling. Thus, while leaps were made in emergency medicine, weapons and spaceship design, little or nothing else received much attention.

The Edicts have also changed the way science is pursued. They are covenant written into the codes and laws of every place of learning in every nation in the Solar System. They prohibit all access to high-level information pertaining to bioengineering and nanotechnology, and likewise forbids research into these areas without specific government approval and constant public scrutiny. The Edicts also apply to research into artificial intelligence. While painful for scientists to enforce, they have kept the misuse of technology to a minimum. Although every nation maintains several "illegal" research facilities, these are always heavily safeguarded.

The technology of the twenty-third century is thus less advanced than most people in the twentieth century would have expected. There are no teleporters, no faster-than-light drives and most common technological items used would be recognized by a twentieth century human. The text below offers a quick survey of the major technologies that have shaped the world of the Jovian Chronicles.

Basic Engineering

The twenty-first century was the first to see the advent of new kinds of materials made possible by the zero-gee conditions of space stations. The development of workable molecular-scale engineering technology, or nanotechnology, also came about at roughly the same time. Nanotech allowed the design and construction of molecule-sized machines, capable of manipulating very small clumps of atoms. The few types of nanomachines presently in existence are severely restricted and regulated. Nano- and micromachines are used in sealed vacuum tanks to grow material of very high strength for low weight. They are also used to build advanced computer circuitry, complex chemical products and medical microrobots.

Armor

Armor is generally made from a special polymer-ceramite composite with good heat conduction and limited flexibility. Sometimes, a special mesh of artificial diamond fibers is added for extra strenght and durability, although this increases the cost of the material. Special care is taken to include limited radiation-absorbing elements within the material as well as making sure there are reduced possibilities of a catastrophic radiation cascade should the armor be hit by high energy cosmic rays.

Power Generation

Most twenty-third century space vehicles are powered by a compact reactor using a high-energy magnetic "bottle" to hold a micro-fusion reaction. These powerplants come in a variety of sizes, from the small engine of scout exo-armors to the huge fusion drive cores of the largest ships. Jovian designs are the most advanced and efficient in existence; heavily shielded, they do not react as violently as most other types of powerplants when their core is breached.

Man-worn powered armors (refered to as exo-suits) and other small vehicles use a superconductive battery instead of a fusion powerplant because of size limitations. Many ground vehicles feature internal combustion engines that use alcohol or synthetic oil as fuel because petroleum has become too rare.

Solar energy is freely supplied by the Sun Ñ one needs only collect the rays and convert them to a more useable form of energy. Although solar-powered ground vehicles are relatively uncommon, many houses and industries use solar panels for non-critical, low-power applications.

Propulsion Systems

The most common type of space propulsion system in use is the PCC (Plasma Combustion Chamber) drive. Using an inert gas or liquid as reaction mass (most often hydrogen or water), the PCC enables ships and other space vehicles to achieve great acceleration for extended periods, reducing the travel time between planets to mere weeks and sometimes even days. Smaller vehicles, such as repair pods or exo-suits, also use the more conventional chemical engines.

Electronic

As advanced manufacturing techniques reduced the size and boosted the power of electronic circuitry, more and more items started to feature them. In space, electronics were pervasive Ñ there was a computer in each helmet, each suit, each ship, all monitoring the machinery that kept their human crew alive. By the twenty-third century, computers and automated workers are an accepted part of the everyday world.

Communication

Even though the signals travel at near light speed, space communications almost always suffer from delays due to the large distances involved. A conversation between the Moon and Earth is almost in real time. A call sent from the Inner Belt to Mars, however, would take 5 or 6 minutes to reach its destination. Any reply from Mars would take the same time to get back.

Computers

Data-processing machines have evolved the most of all electronic technologies. Once simple calculators, they are now capable of limited intelligence and problem solving. Modern computers can often sound very human on the comm system. The Edicts have placed limits on artificial intelligence developments, so there are no known self-aware computers in existence.

All space vehicles have an advanced computer to figure out trajectories and burn time, freeing the pilot to perform more important tasks (like fighting). Relying extensively on superconductive neural nets and complex expert system programs, they are used as virtual crewmembers on spaceships and as copilots in fighters and exo-armors.

Electronic Warfare

Each modern fighting vehicle carries a host of defensive electronic modules. Some break up their radar signature, while others interfere with the opponent's targeting equipment. These modules are built-in, and no combat vehicle would be designed without them. As a result, they are have a much smaller sensor signature that what would be expected due to their large size, and combat is once again short-ranged; weapons that could hit an unprotected target thousands of kilometers ahead have to be used almost at visual range.

Radiation Screens

Early space vessels relied on sensors and heavily shielded "storm room" to protect the crew against solar flares and other cosmic radiations. The problem became more acute while setting up the mining colonies in Jupiter's orbit. With the space emigration boom, a solution was found: why not equip each station and vessel with a shield generator similar in effect to the magnetic field surrounding Earth? Power was plentiful, and the new equipment stopped almost all harmful radiations.

Weapons Technologies

Space is a very special environment for weaponry due to the absence of atmosphere and gravity. Specific weapon types have evolved to answer the peculiar requirements of space combat, such as increased range and lack of an atmospheric medium. Unlike their ground-side cousins, space weapons are also capable of more than destruction. Lasers can be used for secure communication over very long distance; kinetic weapons use the same basic technology as a massdriver reaction engine; a modified missile can be used as a message torpedo.

Lasers

An acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation, the laser has been widely used since its development both as a tool and weapon. Lasers can also be used to send coded messages over very long distances. In general, this is practical only for large installations or in emergency situations, since both the emitter and receiver must remain at the same velocity during the transfer (the space equivalent of standing still).

Kinetic Kill Weapons

These weapons are based on magnetic acceleration technology and cause damage by kinetic energy (i.e., movement). They are divided in two general classes: railguns and massdrivers. A railgun uses a single projectile and accelerates it via twin rails supplying the necessary current along the length of the barrel. Massdrivers use the same principle, but employ a series of magnetic rings instead of rails' current to fire a hail of smaller shells. Each impact causes less damage, but the attack is generally spread over the whole of the target instead of just a spot. It also allows a greater rate of fire.

Particle Cannon

Particle cannons (also sometimes known as beam cannons) are magnetic acceleration devices designed to shoot high energy ions instead of a solid projectile. Particle cannons cause damage through a combination of kinetic energy, heat and electrical induction. Often more powerful than lasers, they cause a lot of collateral damage by shorting electronic circuitry in the target.

Missiles

Missiles are self-propelled, self-guided projectiles. Using sophisticated guidance computers and laser targeting technology, the missile is one of the most deadly weapons available to an exo-armor. Various types of warheads are used, from the simple shaped explosive to the low-yield tactical nuclear charge (although the latter is rather rare and expensive).

Plasma Lance

The plasma lance is a compressed-gas cylinder with an ionizing ejector nozzle at one end. When held by a specially designed manipulator, a direct current from the exo-armor's main fusion reactor is transmitted to the ejector and transforms the gas into a giant plasma flame. The overall device looks like a sword made of light and is very effective against armored opponents. Unfortunately, the small gas supply limits the usefulness of the weapon and the exo-armor must often carry several spare lances.

Space Engineering

In the late eighteenth century, French physicist Joseph Louis Lagrange was studying three-body systems, calculating the gravitational influence of two masses, like the Earth and the Moon, on a third body in their vicinity. He found that at certain points, the gravitational forces of the two bodies were equal (but did not necessarily cancel each other out), creating "stable" points in space. In reality, these points actually orbit their calculated positions because of the influence of the Sun and the other bodies in the solar system.

The first three Lagrange points are located on the axis linking the two main bodies. All three points are relatively unstable: any perturbation of the satellite along the axis would cause it to gradually fall towards one of the bodies. The other two points, L4 and L5, are on the orbit of the smaller body at 60 degrees on either side of the axis. These are extremely stable points, as demonstrated by the clusters of asteroids found there. These so-called Trojan Asteroids were used as on-site material for the construction of the Earth system's colonies. The supplies from the Moon, added to these asteroids, were used to first build wheel-type stations, then, later, the larger O'Neill islands and cylinder colonies.

By 2210, most of the colonies in existence are O'Neill-type cylinders, with the exception of the Jovian ones, which had to be build on the closed Vivarium model because of the increased radiation levels. They are huge cylinders varying between 25 and 40 km in length, usually with thrusters and zero-gee docking bays at both ends. Each is home to up to 20 million people, though smaller ones are not uncommon.

Gravity is simulated by rotation along the axis of the cylinder. O'Neill colonies alternate ground panels with clear panels to let the sunlight inside, and use giant reflectors to direct it; Vivariums use a special "sunline" running the axis of the cylinder for light, since the whole station is thickly covered by rocks for protection against radiation and meteors.

Exo-Armors

The exo-armors (short form for armored exo-skeleton) are the ultimate evolution of the personal combat space suit of the early twenty-first century. Originally no larger than a man, they increased in size until some of the biggest were nothing less than small ships. This was necessary in order to carry the enormous amount of fuel, armament, and electronics necessary to accomplish their assigned mission. Spacefighters remain in use, but their lack of maneuverability and endurance (compared to exo-armors) confines them to strike and fire-support roles.

Linear Frame and Cockpit

The linear frame is the main control element of the exo-armor. It looks like an strength-enhancing industrial exo-skeleton and wraps the pilot, reproducing his every movement. The exo-armor's onboard drive computer then interprets these motions and moves the armor's limbs accordingly, firing apogee motors as needed to compensate. The linear frame control system gives the exo-armor an uncanny maneuverability as well as a strangely human grace.

Space flight is controlled via special joysticks located near the hand controls. A minimum of training is necessary to fully control the armor, even if the computer can provide verbal and visual assistance. The cockpit's internal walls are covered with layered monitors linked to various sensors and cameras in the outer hull of the exo and display an unobstructed view of the world around the vehicle. All relevant operational information (IFF, targeting, velocity, etc) is displayed either in the flight helmet worn by the pilot or directly on the screen. The machine's "head" and main sensors are slaved to the motions of the helmet, adding to the "humanity" of the exo-armor.

Chassis and Actuators

Since an exo-armor is designed to emulate and reproduce the movement of the human body, it is built around a composite skeleton to which the various components and actuators are attached. The "bones" are made of composite material specifically designed to optimize the transfer of loads passing through them. Limited flexibility enables the frame to absorb casual kinetic stress without any damage.

Exo-armors rely on several different types of actuators to move about, from conventional hydraulic systems or high-strength myomar fibers to highly specialized linear electric motors. The smaller exo-suits almost never use hydraulics, as myomars are easier to adapt to the human form. The fibers are wrapped around an inner shell which contains the wearer and various motion-sensitive sensor arrays.

Spaceships

Spaceships of the twenty-third century are very different from the practical designs used in the early age of space exploration. Modern ships sport a thick ablative skin and a massive architecture designed to stand particle erosion and lenghty acceleration. Other vessels, designed at a lower cost or for shorter trips, are just a support frame for habitat modules, fuel tanks and engines.

Each ship relies on powerful fusion thrusters (called plasma drives) to move. When possible, they accelerate for half the voyage, then turn around and decelerate at the same rate for the rest of the trip. Except for a short weightlessness period midway through the trip, the passengers feel gravity during the transfert. When the ship is in acceleration, "up" is toward the nose and "down" toward the engines. The internal organization of a ship is thus very similar to a skyscraper, with decks stacked on top of each other instead of following the lenght of the hull like a plane or a boat.

Ships are generally not equiped to descend on the surface of a planet. Aside from being non-aerodynamic, they are much too heavy to land on anything bigger than an asteroid. The exceptions to this is the Moon, where small ships routinely land to transport cargo.

Medicine

Medicine in the twenty-third century uses limited genetic engineering to create custom drugs and viruses designed to specifically treat an illness. It is customary for an individual to be gene-mapped at birth to check for any possible disease. Limited accelerated cellular regeneration is possible and often used to regrow missing limbs and organs.