Thursday, 15 March 2018

Sleeping on the Spacship Armax.

“What else do you want to know? In the centre of the ship is a bit we call the core or “storm cellar”. This is where you want to be if there is a solar flare or some devil is shooting a particle gun at you. It is the most shielded part of the living areas. Usually you find the control room, medical centre and primary sleeping area here. On the Armax these are configured as a bundle, so each one directly contacts the other two. What? Microgravity, remember. Hatches can be in what you think of as floors and ceilings.

“Command is pretty much as you would expect. Lots of panels and displays and VR goggles. Medical is not that different, now I think about it. More surgical stations and beds, of course. Even in microG you may need to strap a patient to something.

“Sleeping quarters? They are sort of a cylinder and there are alcoves down most of the walls. Walls also being floor and ceiling. Each alcove is about a metre square by two metres. Has a little curtain for privacy. Half of your alcove you sleep in, the other half is for your stuff. There are storage lockers and nets, and on one wall there is a screen and terminal. That is pretty up to date, so you can access tons of music, video or books with it. It has a fold-down keyboard and cywriter but I seldom used those myself. Actually, I tended to use the mouse to input Morse. Quite easy after a day or so. More private than the microphone, less hassle than waving your arms about in zeroG to use the holographic keyboard.

“You sleep in a sleeping bag. It is attached to one of the short sides of the alcove. There is no mattress, no pillow, you just float there. The alcove has a little air vent that you can never fully turn off. There is always a gentle little breeze that stops carbon dioxide building up around your head while you sleep. On the Armax each alcove had three such bags, rolled up. A red, a white and a blue. Most of the time you get an alcove to yourself. When the ship is carrying a lot of personnel and there is a radiation threat as many people as possible will cram into the storm shelter. Some of those alcoves are filled up with ration packs in case we have to spend a couple of days in the storm shelter. When it is crowded you end up “hot bunking”. You share your alcove with two other guys. One sleeps while the other two work. On the Armax each guy got his own bag, colour coded. That was a lot nicer arrangement than on many ships”

Tuesday, 13 March 2018


“Besides the usual cargo lock we had three Kwikloks. A Kwiklok is an Iron Maiden without spikes; it fits a man in a suit, leaving just a few pints of air to scavenge, and cycles automatically. A big time saver in changing shifts. I passed through the middle-sized one; Tiny, of course, used the big one. Without hesitation the new man pulled himself into the small one.”

Kwikloks may be encountered on spacecraft or space habitats. They are airlocks intended to for the rapid passage of a single individual. Their small internal capacity allows them to be rapidly filled or emptied of air. A typical Kwiklok resembles a sarcophagus set in a wall. Each door has a window at face level in an attempt to counter the sensation of confinement when using a Kwiklok. Individuals taller than 78 inches will have difficulty using Kwikloks. Obese individuals or those with exceptional bulk for other reasons may also find it impossible to use a Kwiklok. The amount of equipment a normal-sized individual can take through a Kwiklok is limited. The claustrophobic should avoid Kwikloks!

A Kwiklok designed for rapid cargo transfer has a capacity of about one cubic yard and resembles a safe with a door on two sides. The floor is often constructed as a sliding pallet to facilitate loading and unloading. Kwikloks of around one cubic foot capacity are used to pass items such as rock samples and tools between exterior and interior. Kwikloks designed for the passage of robotic systems, octosaps (TS Under Pressure 3e p.101) or astropuses (TS 3e p.118, Bio-tech 3e p.104/ 4e p.91) may be encountered.

Kwikloks are also used on underwater habitats and vessels. Standing for the first time in a coffin-sized closet while it rapidly fills with water is a memorable experience!
Kwikloks are also found in research facilities where it is important that the interior of a room cannot be contaminated by the atmosphere of another. Such Kwikloks may include decontamination systems.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Mayflies from Space.

Mayflies are a class of spacecraft described on p.94 of GURPS Terradyne. They may plausibly be encountered in a Transhuman Space or many other space-based scenarios.

Mayflies are one-use orbit-to-surface cargo transports. More material is sent from orbit than is brought up from Earth (or Mars) so a considerable proportion is sent down by mayfly. A mayfly is a simple glider that is built in orbit. It has a low-cost computer guidance system and some means of thrust to nudge it out of orbit. Mayflies may be catapulted from orbiting constructions but they still require some means of independent thrust and manoeuvre.
A small mayfly has a 5 yard wingspan, occupies 5 cubic yards and has a loaded mass of 3 tons. The largest have a 23 yard wingspan, occupy 100 cubic yards and mass 65 tons. About 80% of a mayfly’s mass is cargo so the largest carry 50 tons/ 100,000 pounds. GURPS Terradyne prices a large mayfly at $7,500.

Mayflies are constructed in orbit using materials and techniques that are readily available. They are unlikely to use exotic materials or anything that is more expensive than it needs to be. Likewise, the thrust and manoeuvre system is likely to be something simple and cost-effective such as a chemical rocket with the minimum of fuel reserve.

Mayflies are cargo vessels and not designed to carry passengers. Resourceful players may find ways around this or locate NPCs that can help them do so, for a price.

Acquiring a mayfly from a non-reputable source comes with its own potential problems. A badly built mayfly could break up on re-entry, destroying its cargo. More usefully from a narrative point of view is for a malfunction in the guidance system or control surfaces to cause the mayfly to land many hundreds of miles from its intended destination. Perhaps the system has been hacked or deliberately sabotaged. A player may be placed in hostile territory, or the opportunity for a salvage operation created.

A rogue mayfly might be directed to crash into a planetside target. Mayflies that stray too far from their registered flight path may be shot down!

Being relatively simple, most mayflies lack sophisticated security systems so some smugglers see them as a good place to hide contraband. Some smugglers use “parasite pods” which detach or eject from the mayfly some distance from its intended landing spot.

We are given no information on where mayflies land. Wilderness areas such as deserts or large bodies of water seem likely. Perhaps a problem with locals stealing cargos may arise. Or a salvage operation needs deep diving expertise and equipment.

Landed mayflies are broken up and their components repurposed for various planetside uses. In some parts of Earth or Mars buildings made from mayfly parts are a common sight.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

The Whaup

As early as the start of the 21st century accelerometers could be produced that were cheap enough and compact enough to be incorporated into a variety of everyday devices. Mobile phones and tablets used these components to detect which way up a device was and modify the screen display accordingly. Other applications used them to monitor the carrier’s motion and speed. Game controllers used them to allow the user to play games using physical movement of the controller.

Inevitably more lethal applications for such technology were exploited.

Many of the economic and political elite play golf. The whaup is an assassination or kidnapping device that externally resembles a standard golf ball. Its interior incorporates accelerometers and a super-quick (SQ) fusing mechanism. The mechanism can be programmed so that the fuse arms at a pre-programmed time, ideally just as a round of golf has been started. The whaup can also be programmed to disarm at a set time if it has not been detonated.

Handling an armed whaup, moving it or hitting it with a golf club will cause it to detonate. The super-quick fuse ensures that the golfer triggering the device will be within the effect area, no matter how fast he can hit a ball. Whaups are sometimes dubbed “nitro-balls”. This is due to their apparent sensitivity rather than the use of actual nitroglycerine. 
Standard warhead for a whaup is an octonitrocubane HEI-fragmentation type that does 4d cr ex damage and [2d+1] secondary cutting fragmentation damage. Custom features such as toxic or x-ray invisible fragments are sometimes encountered. The explosion of a whaup will also have an incendiary effect as per [4e p. B105]. This is, of course, very bad for the green! Alternately a whaup can contain eight doses of chemical or biological agent. Whaups are too small to contain cyberswarms and not suited to hollow-charge, HEMP or SEFOP warheads.

A whaup can be planted in a golfer’s bag and programmed to arm when the golfer is scheduled to play next. A disadvantage of this approach is that the whaup may be triggered by the caddy rather than the intended target. Another approach is to replace a ball in play with a whaup and wait for the golfer to find the ball and play another stroke. Being in the right place and the right time and replacing a ball unobserved in the relatively open terrain of a golf course has its own challenged. Small cybershells have sometimes been used to achieve this. 

Whaups are highly restricted devices. Black ops agents of highly covert agencies may have access to them. More usually the user may obtain them from the black market or construct their own. Just locating and obtaining a whaup may be a major task in itself.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Megaphonon Underwater Weapon.

A certain TV channel is currently reshowing “SeaQuest DSV”. Appropriate since the first season is set in 2018. When the series first ran an engineer friend of mine christened it “Dodgy Sea Vehicle”. We cremated that friend last year, so watching this series reminds me of a good friend whose wit and company I will no longer enjoy.

The armament of SeaQuest DSV was rather uninspiring, so this series also reminds me of a Daedalus post in “New Scientist” (25/6/1981). Daedalus’ posts were often tongue in cheek and many where satirical. About 20% of the ideas he suggested have been patented or proposed as serious proposals by other people. My own impression was that some of the more credible concepts may have been jokes that I lacked sufficient physics background to appreciate.

Would the “megaphonon gun” or “cavitation cannon” actually work? If nothing else it might make an interesting weapon for a cinematic or super science campaign.
Remember that the speed of sound underwater is higher than in air. Water temperature, salinity and pressure (depth) further increase the underwater speed of sound. Treat the velocity of a megaphonon as 1,650 yards/ second.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Sky-Eye Munitions.

By the start of the twenty first century very small, low cost real-time video cameras became widely available. These were to see numerous applications.

One novel application was in military reconnaissance and surveillance. Fitted in a rifle grenade or 40mm grenade gun round the camera could be fired above an area of interest. Hanging from a small parachute the camera could transmit a view of the area below for up to five minutes. GURPS version may be found on page 143 of 4e High Tech.

This idea will reach a new level of capability once equivalent rounds for mortars and howitzers are created. A weapon crew and the unit they are with could have a real time aerial view of a location kilometres distant. Such a view could be used for target selection, fire correction and damage assessment.

The projectiles used are similar to conventional illumination rounds. The round is fired above the target area where it ejects its cargo approximately 600 yards above. Some versions release a single camera carrier or just a small number. Other versions release dozens of smaller cameras that spread over a wide area. Where more than a single camera is used software may be used to process the image into a composite view which may be partially stereoscopic. Larger camera carriers may mount multiple cameras provide stereoscopic and alternate wavelength views.

A variety of systems are used to keep a camera aloft. The smaller or cheaper systems use the same parachute systems used with illumination rounds. These can be assumed to have a rate of descent of 5 yards per second. Some versions have rotors and/or deploy a hydrogen balloon. Balloon-equipped systems have longer endurance and are more reliable for high altitude terrain where the air may be thin. Rotor equipped systems can be manoeuvred for a better view of an area of interest.
Sky-eye” munitions provide a useful compliment to surveillance fluff. Their large image sensors provide better resolution and can see in a broader spectrum range.

Less bellicose applications for this technology include search and rescue and surveying. For such applications disposable launchers or systems of a calibre that cannot take more lethal rounds may be developed.  

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Battlesuit Autonomous Movement.

“The president is never in public without a protection detail of eight battlesuits. Four of them are always close to him, the remainder work a few metres out as an outer screen. At least one of those suits is empty. You can’t tell which with the tinted faceplates.
Any sign of trouble and that hollow suit engulfs the president. Four suits then take off in different directions while the others act as a rear guard. It doesn’t matter if the president is wounded, unconscious or wants to stay, that suit will not stop until it has him in a safe area.”

In a previous post I examined the idea that battlesuits might be able to move when unoccupied, effectively becoming hollow-centred androids. I also touched on the idea of battlesuits moving irrespective to the wearer’s volition. A squad of empty SWAT battlesuits might take hostages on board and transport them out in armoured safety while a firefight might still be in progress. This concept is likely to be used by other services, such as fire departments or mountain rescue.

A battlesuit or similar device capable of autonomous movement might have other applications.

For example, a major obstacle in learning to hang glide must be learning to “throw yourself off a cliff”. A battlesuit could take over and perform such an action when necessary. Training for parachuting involves at least a day of drilling so that you do not hesitate when you reach the door. A battlesuit could be programmed to automatically walk the occupant to the door and jump. Likewise, the suit might perform related skills such as free fall or wingsuit manoeuvrer and safe landing. Potentially individuals with no relevant training could jump like experts, whether they want to or not!

Capability for autonomous movement has other applications. High diving is an obvious one. If a soldier has to jump off a high cliff into a lake the suit may take over. Continuing with the theme of jumping the suit might be programmed with pakour/ free running-type movements, allowing the user to jump from rooftop to rooftop or branch to branch like an expert. The suit’s rangefinders and its ability to precisely regulate the force used for a jump are an obvious advantage. Likewise the suit may advise the wearer when a jump just cannot be made.

A friend of mine suggested that a suit could be programmed to override a wearer’s flinch reaction when hit by non-penetrating weapons fire. This suggests that actions such as dashing between cover might be autonomous. Perhaps the wearer selects the next desired position and lets their suit select the best way to reach it.

Autonomous movement capability has various advantages but is likely to concern some potential users. It can be argued that the user is surrendering control of their fate and free-will. Suits can be programmed to perform certain actions even if the wearer does not want them to. A sabotaged control system could deliberately put the user in hazardous situations and is potentially a means of kidnap or assassination. There may be battlesuits that are deliberately incapable of autonomous movement. Distrust of battlesuit control system might be a possible quirk, and a reason for discharge from the military.