Space Travel Times


So, let’s start with a little backstory. I’m writing Episode 10 of City of Heroes, and have been for… like… almost a year… Extenuating circumstances and excuses abound, but there it is. And a lot of it happens in space, and I got to a part where I had to discuss, in some form, space travel times.

The draft I showed to Travis explicitly (or, near-explicitly) put a Kupopolis-universe travel time to the distance between a planet in the “Earth” position (the third orbital) and a nebula beyond the ninth orbital. And this, as far as either Travis or I are concerned or remember, is the nearest we have ever come to actually discussing how fast spaceships can travel when they are not using our faster-than-light space strands.

What I’m going to do here, by way of discussing this, is start talking about this by way of explaining my personal preference for how I think this should work.

First, as a refresher, let’s talk about how all inter-Dimensional travel in the story works.

Defining Terms: "Dimension"

Remember that some of our nomenclature in the story pre-dates the advent of space travel. Back in the old days, we sort of dealt with each of our story worlds as if they were different worlds that connected by way of portals. Why or how this was so wasn’t exactly clear: were these separate universes? Parallel “earths”? Nothing in the currently established cannon clarifies this, as far as what people thought or believed, but nevertheless the term “Dimension” was what we used to talk about these different worlds in relation to each other. (I’m inclined to think that they were originally meant to really be alternate “Dimensions,” becaue there were a number of places [like the Thanatos Dimension] that were similarly named and clearly intended to be otherworldly, supernatural places)

Of course, in order to make space travel between “Dimensions” a thing, we sort of flattened out the universe and brought it closer to being more like conventional Sci Fi. Our worlds were now not “Dimensions,” but solar systems, connected to each other through “strands” of mana in a network that Dustin coined as the "Web of Worlds."

The Strands

The idea here is that there’s a flow of mana energy that comes from a central point (the “Source” [Aryth]) and disperses across the known universe. This is the main conceit for our space travel: space ships hop onto the “dropoff” point and sort of ride the flow of the strand to their destination. In a way, this is the “Mass Effect” method of practical travel between different worlds in space.

Planetside Travel

The strands also provide for a way of getting around between the different worlds without a spaceship, at least in the Core. The strands generate the planetside portals used for land, sea and air travel interdimensionally. No real reason has been given to explain the discrepancy between space travel time over the strands (which, in a few story posts, has been described very clearly as non-instantaneous [i.e. there’s downtime while travelling on the strand, ala Star Wars/Star Trek and hyperspace/warp]) and through portals (which has always been described as instantaneous). Personally, I think a wizard did it.

Core vs. Fringe

The distinction between Core and Fringe is generally thus: the Core Dimensions are connected to each other via planetside travel portals. The Fringe, on the other hand, is only accesible via space travel. (but see below)

The Sills

My understanding of this phenomenon is that it’s basically identical to the idea behind portals, except they’re underground and thus accessible to things that travel subterraneally (is that a real adverb?.. subterrestrially?..). Also worth noting: there are sills that connect the Core to the Fringe, whereas no known land/air/sea portals do so. Again, this is just an observed phenomenon and no real explanation/reason has been given for why this is so; it just is. (and probably a wizard did it)

Reverse X-Zone

Disclaimer: I don’t know why it’s called “Reverse” X-Zone, but this is travel by way of a ship moving into the X-Zone and then back into realspace at its destination. In popular sci-fi terms, this is basically folding space and is a near-instantaneous form of travel, but is also potentially dangerous (several members of Marbles Marlowe’s crew are ex-Confederate spacers who were transformed into a new species of undead through an RXZ mishap). Most official space services do not use this technology, but pirates sometimes do.

Space Travel Times

Now, all of that having been said… let’s get into the meat of it. Let’s assume the following assumptions are a given:

  1. Portals are instantaneous means of travel
  2. Space strand travel is not instantaneous, but it is effectively a form of faster-than-light travel between solar systems
  3. Standard off-strand space travel moves at some sub-light speed.

    What I think makes the most sense is for Kupop to incorporate some variant of “impulse” speed from Star Trek. Impulse is 1/4 light speed, and puts space travel within a solar system in terms of hours rather than days/weeks/months.

    The big question is: how fast do we want this speed to really be?

    In my draft for Episode 10, I have the Iceni travelling at just below the speed of light, which allows them to move from Mana III to beyond the ninth orbital in something that, for the sake of argument, we can call 16 hours. Lightspeed ETA from Earth to Pluto is 14 hours, so that is pretty darn close. There are a couple of reasons I opted to do this, the big one being concern for Fara’s college career (“Hi, I know I have a lot of absences, but I need to be out of school again for the next three weeks due to space travel times. Will this affect my grade?..”), but more practically I thought about how we use space travel within the story and it just makes more sense for our miles-long-battleships to be as fast as possible simply for narrative reasons.

    It’s also worth considering, as we move forward, what kinds of technological advances have happened since the inception of space travel, and what tech advances will or should happen as Kupop moves into its future. When I wrote an email to Travis earlier this morning, I put it to him like this: we’re at a point in City of Heroes where nearly two decades have gone by since the advent of interdimensional space travel (15 years post-Great War; 14 years after Gate was discovered, and Project Icarus happened that same year). I’m on about impulse/near-light speeds now because it seems reasonable to me that, in that time, we would have seen the conventional speed of off-strand travel steadily increase with improvements in tech.

    The Speed of… Plot?

    I think it’s also inevitable that lightspeed travel eventually becomes A Thing within the story. “A Not So Far Off Place” touched on this, but it was one of those sci fi stories where you had people having to come to terms with the realities of relativistic travel, both in terms of the extreme distances and in terms of time dilation. In email conversation, Travis said that if you were going to have light speed or faster-than-light-speed travel, you couldn’t just wave your hand at that and make it go away.

    Well. … Why not?

    I mean, we’re writers, right? Of course we can “wave our hands” and make these problems go away in the name of telling a story that’s fun to write and fun to read. Why on earth couldn’t we?

    In Star Wars, they go into hyperspace, which I guess allows for FTL travel without having to worry about everything in realspace aging while you’re in transit. Star Trek’s warp fields accomplish a similar thing, as do Mass Effect’s mass effect fields. (which they make a point of pointing out in ME: Andromeda [aka EA’s grand experiment in murdering single player games forever], where they travel to a new galaxy without benefit of a Mass Effect relay, and because of this time dilation becomes a factor)

    There’s no reason we can’t contrive or borrow a method of developing practical FTL travel, and even making it a major point of plot development. I mean, we have time magic in the story. Maybe there’s a spell or effect in the repertoire of time magic that can negate time dilation? Separate from time magic, we have a world where time travel technology is a thing. Maybe there’s an offshot of that tech that can be employed to dampen the effect of dilation on a ship travelling FTL? We have elemental magics of Light and Shadow; maybe instead of a “warp field” or a “mass effect field,” you have a field derived from light or shadow magic that enables more story-friendly FTL travel?

    There’s a range of possibility here whose only limitation is whatever creative juices the lot of us have as we plod through our 30s.

    BUT, this discussion gets ahead of the more immediate issue of how fast do we want our ships to fly currently?

    In the past we’ve skirted this issue purely in order to avoid being too specific, because we want to have cool space ships but don’t want to have to commit to framing how efficient space travel is. Which, honestly, sort of seems odd to me in a story that is now old enough to have a college degree, has a meticulously maintained historical timeline, and at one point had calculations for major city populations and national GDP.

    What does everyone think?

I think my main concern is that whatever methods of space travel we move forward with, it just needs to feel thoughtful and not a giant MacGuffin. As long as there are mechanics and rules behind it to write against, then I’m good.

I remember Tex writing a good story about time dilation for I think an Iron Writer once, so I think that’s a concept that should still be in play.

I think the techwise we should keep it with some sort of warp gates and commercially speeds below the speed of light, but just more commonplace than before. I think we should have space gates of any type of technology. (Artifical magic gates in space would be cool as a plot device I think.)

I was moving forward with reverse x-zone, but writing it in a way that it sounds like modern engineer’s approach to alchemy then actual magic. (Also only distantly recall it being used in the story Matt mentioned).

I kind of imagine it being more like space gates that seem immediate for shorter solar system/dimensional space travel, but hours to days for interstellar space travel.

Also I mentioned I think this should be the norm for commercial spacecraft, I think warp drives and FTL should still be not the norm but still exist. in Kupop the fastest thing I’ve written flew slightly less than half the speed of light.

I like the idea of an impulse drive. That sounds like a nice, elegant solution when we’re not using Strands (or any other portals, artificial or otherwise). I kinda like the idea that the most efficient way to do FTL is a portal of some kind – maybe special ships have an FTL drive of some flavor, be it Reverse X-Zone or otherwise, but most still have to do the Strands. Buuuut, I also like the idea that they’ve made their drives more efficient; for instance, that the impulse drive by the time of City of Heroes can move as fast as Matt noted.

Despite writing that entry, I’m not too attached to time dilation; I really meant it more for a travel that was way slower than a Strand, to a place that doesn’t have Strands (and they started bridging the gap towards the end, I think). Also since I’m pretty sure I didn’t actually do time dilation correctly.

Simple proposal for hard-and-fast rule for Proper-era ships:

Average Ships = One tenth the speed of light (.1c)

Special Ships = .25c (“full impulse”)

This does mean it takes a couple days to get to a systems Plutonian planet, but I feel like part of the reason to have space in the story is to keep certain places remote and distant. (…the ship must also accelerate and decelerate, too.) I’m of the mind that certain places in the Kupopolis universe should be inaccessible, and going there should be a Big Deal requiring extra effort. I think that this gives the in-story universe some much-needed geography and structure. Putting certain parts of the universe outside of easy reach makes our universe bigger, but having ships that can zip around wherever we want makes it smaller assuming we are dealing with a relatively fixed number of dimensions. I really doubt anybody wants to go full bore Star Trek/Wars and introduce a huge number of dimensions, because at that point it’s a totally different story – I think these respective series are misleading analogies, because they’re dealing with a whole galaxy, and we’re dealing with about a dozen interconnected systems.

In other words, I think that traveling into space should be much more difficult than traveling within a dimension. Going to space should not be like going to the next town over. Space is big, yo.

I would point out that most of our in-story ships are clearly made to house people for long periods of time, and if you could easily and quickly transit from one populated world to another this would be unnecessary. If travel time from (say) Crystal III to Merge II was less than 24 hours, ships wouldn’t bother with living quarters. (…my flight from the US to China takes about as long and it certainly doesn’t!) In fact, space colonies themselves would be unnattractive – one of the in-story reasons for space colonies is that they’re fleet bases, but if your ship is fast enough to transit from one inhabited world to another quickly and easily there’s no reason for you to go down a gravity well to build a base on an inhospitable planet.

…I SORT OF feel like we had this some idea about this in Neo – IIRC, the extrasolar space fortress Sodom took like half the story to get within range of the rest of the Web.

And MAYBE it can be a plot point in Reborn that ship speed has significantly improved, possibly through the mechanism of gates creating artificial strands or stabilizing previously unreliable ones.

…anyone want to try to talk about how big armies in Kupopolis are now, using posts from 1995 me as our material? IIRC, I set the Grand Army at 100 million and the Dark Wrath at 200 million, which seemed like nice round numbers.

I feel I should definitely have a say in this-- given that Asgar has space-born installations and even star-fighters-- but I took the lazy route of not putting much thought into the physics and science of space travel times.

Travis’ proposal about Proper-era ship speeds works for me, and that by the time of Reborn, there’s been experimentation in ship-born portal technology.

I’m at work right now, and can’t really delve too much into this at present, but I’m definitely paying attention to the debate, since it’ll apply to Asgar once I get around to doing introductory stuff for them.

A frame of reference:

ISS travels at 7.66km per second in orbit

light travels 299,792km per second

An average kupop spaceship travels at ~2,997.92km per second

A fast kupop spaceship travels at ~74,948km per second

From Earth, an average kupop spaceship can reach Mars, 54.6 million kilometers away, in 5 hours.

From Earth, an average kupop spaceship can reach Puto, 7.5 billion kilometers away, in 28 days.

From Earth, a fast kupop spaceship can reach Mars, 54.6 million kilometers away, in 12 minutes.

From Earth, a fast kupop spaceship can reach Puto, 7.5 billion kilometers away, in a little bit over a day.

Okay, I knew that Pluto had been downgraded from proper planet to “dwarf planet,” but I didn’t realize they’d gone so far as to degrade its name to Puto as well! :lol:

… also for reference: in Kupopolis, most of the Dimensions’ planetary layouts align roughly to that of Earth’s solar system, with nine planets.

A “dwarf planet” would be a planet whose primary form of sapient life is dwarven. No such world currently exists.

[quote=Jay2K post_id=1349 time=1515794359 user_id=52]
Okay, I knew that Pluto had been downgraded from proper planet to “dwarf planet,” but I didn’t realize they’d gone so far as to degrade its name to Puto as well! :lol:

Why do all my typos always turn into hilariously awful vulgarities??? :cry: :cry: :cry:

… I’m guessing that we can’t have a “Puto, the 9th Planet” shirt…

Those speeds sound pretty good.

A few suggestions:

Shoals: Let’s have zones called “Shoals,” which are kind of a reverse Strand/Gate. These are areas where the mana flow that makes Strands gets tangled and knotted. This causes space-time to get lumpy/wavy/generally disordered. This slows travel speed down. There isn’t a nice, round number that is consistent; maybe some only do it by a quarter. Some decimate (as in 1/10th) travel speed. They also tend to play havoc with sensors. These can be our space mists at sea, basically.

Dangerously Tampering with Drives: It should be possible to make your ship go even faster on an impulse drive… but, uh, it’s temporary. It could explode. It could malfunction. Maybe this needs a term? Like overclocking with computers.

Wasn’t there a thing that appeared in a post somewhere, I think maybe in Neo, where someone had gone and built a space station or something inside a Strand? Like there was this separate reality inside “Strandspace”, ala Star Wars’ Hyperspace?..

If that’s not a thing, I think it might be a cool thing. But, vis a vis new things, I generally think it’s better to introduce them in a plot rather than a thing on the forum. Like, re: overlcoking a starship engine, someone actually does this in a post, and then it becomes known as the “So-and-So Maneuver”.

Man, I… think so? I can’t remember for sure.

And that makes sense to me, Matt.

Ok dumb question, if we follow the riding the mana flow concept, and all mana is coming out of source, how do we go reverse current? Is the assumption then that its like normal weather patterns that kind of swirl out and flow based on obstructions like land masses?

I’ve always assumed that the mana actually flows two ways simultaneously. Which it can do, because magic. In actuality, it’s probably the case that you have two strands that overlap each other, moving between the same two dimensions, each one carrying mana in a different direction. And it just happens to be that their beginning and end points in either dimension exist in the same space, or approximately near enough to each other to be almost the same space. But to all outward appearances, the strands seem to work in either direction: when you hop on, you end up on the other side, and then if you hop back you go to where you first started from.

[quote=Scen post_id=1363 time=1516085474 user_id=55]
I’ve always assumed that the mana actually flows two ways simultaneously. Which it can do, because magic. In actuality, it’s probably the case that you have two strands that overlap each other, moving between the same two dimensions, each one carrying mana in a different direction. And it just happens to be that their beginning and end points in either dimension exist in the same space, or approximately near enough to each other to be almost the same space

So is magic strands like space weather?

Related: what about communications times?

If we assume that communications in space travel at basically lightspeed, we could be dealing with a delay of several minutes. Narratively, this is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, this provides handy justification for captains and ships to act independently (there’s no time to pass things up the chain of command!). On the other hand, I can also see how having distant people able to have a near real-time conversation might be convenient.

As a practical matter, this means characters in space won’t have a very good omninet connection, and may need to rely on the database of their colony or ship a lot more.

flails I just want to write cool space battles and other cool stuff! I don’t want to get bogged down in the science like I’m writing a David Weber novel!

Seriously though, this is fascinating talk.

I admittedly just assumed communication was instant, but it was an assumption, not a thing I put a lot of thought into.

I’m ok with keeping it at light speed. I think instantaneously would be boring in the long run.