Thursday, May 28, 2009

Mistakes About Space Stealth and Revamping Lasers

In 2005 I wrote a fairly extensive article on space combat called "Hunters In The Great Dark," which was published in Strange Horizons. One of my main assertions was that stealth in space was a given; the sheer scale immense of the battle field seemed to assure that. Also, one of main rationales for that was how real-life astronomers have had a lot of difficulty finding even the majority of near-Earth asteroids, objects that can dwarf many proposed space battle ships. If there's such a problem finding flying mountains, why would it be any easier to find much smaller ships?

However, in the years since, people have pointed out the problems with that, and with a great deal of reading on my part for how sensors and such would work in space, I now have to admit I was wrong about that. The hunt for asteroids has taken place only in a limited spectrum (visible light) so far, and doesn't take into account multiple-spectrum IR detectors and more. Life support, various ship systems, and engines create waste heat that can at best be masked for only a short time, more than likely not long enough to mount any kind of successful attack.

Given "realistic" projections for future space technology (on the OV scale, that would be up through Tech Level 15), stealth for manned ships is not very likely and for unmanned attack craft difficult at best. Like most things about future technology, I don't want to say its flat-out impossible, because too many dismissals of 'impossible' things have been proven wrong. I still think its probably doable in certain specialized circumstances, and some unforeseen innovation (like metamaterials, which looks like it may lead to a real life 'invisibility' cloak) may throw a monkey wrench into it all.

But otherwise, I was wrong. Oh well. Sorry about that. At least I got paid $100 for the original article way back when, so I think my pride will survive.

So anyway, I'm taking down "Hunters In The Great Dark" from the Essay section for a possible major rewrite at some future time. I'm also going to take down the "Laser Firearms" article in the "Firearms" section. The article is still accurate as far as it goes, but it was one of the first articles I did in for OV back in 2003. There have been a number of developments and rethinking about laser weapons since then, and I should rewrite the article to reflect all that.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Visit EXOSOLAR.NET--An Interactive Flash Starchart


This is by far one of the neatest things I've found online in a long time.

EXOSOLAR.NET is a professionally done, interactive animated starchart showing the stellar neighborhood around our solar system. You can zoom in and out, rotate the view, toggle close-ups of known star systems with exoplanets or binaries, and more! An invaluable resource for anyone into astronomy, space exploration, or science fiction.

When I was young and imagined zooming around interstellar space in a starship, this is the kind of navigational aid I imagined starpilots would reference. Okay, it might not be quite as detailed as all that (its has excellent data on stars within about 30 light years, but it thins out significantly after that--though you can find the occasional far-off straggler on the charts like Betelgeuse at 427 ly and Deneb at 1600 ly) but it was still enough to get my sense of wonder going. Check t out.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

What Is And Isn't Hard Science On

A website ( SF Debris ) linked to Orbital Vector, but had a small write up under it saying, the science on the site should be 'taken with a grain of salt.'

Now, a site that's dedicated to snarky reviews of Star Trek episodes should hardly be calling out other sites for their scientific accuracy, but that statement was true enough. A lot of the stuff discussed on Orbital vector is soft science, and shouldn't be taken seriously as a scholarly resource. However, there is a lot of real science on the site was well. Still other technology discussed is almost pure fantasy with only a tangential connection to real world research

Distinguishing which is usually pretty simple: just look at a technology's tech level.

There's a reason why the Tech Level scale on the site is divided into broad ranges; its to distinguish what's hard science, soft science, and technobabble. Generally the higher on the Tech level scale you get from the baseline (Tech Level 10), the farther you get away from real science.

Tech Levels 0-10 are historical tech levels, representing all of history right up until today. All this is of course real science, and can be looked up in an encyclopedia or on websites like the excellent How Stuff Works.

Tech levels 11-15 are the 'Hard' science fiction levels. Everything addressed in this range is either already on drawing boards or is thought to be realistically doable sometime within the next 100 years. Anything on the main Orbital Vector site classified as Tech level 11 through 15 is based on real-life, hard science, and I try to remain a scientifically accurate as I can when presenting such innovations in articles.

Tech Levels 16-20 are the 'Soft' science fiction levels. Most of the technology here is still based on known scientific principles, only their effects are more fantastic and their workings are hand-waved away for drama's sake. Like the space operas and other soft scifi that inhabit this range, its 'sciency' without actually having to get into the nuts and bolts of how their fantastic machines work. For technologies in this range, I try to at least connect the innovation with real-life principles.

Tech levels 21-25 are the 'Technobabble' science fiction levels. The technology in this range pays only lip service to real-life science and pretty much does whatever the story its featured in needs it to do. Still, real science principles occasionally get mentioned, and I try to tie the technology here with real science wherever I can, though that's not always possible.

Tech Levels 25+ is pure fantasy labeled as science fiction. Again, where possible, i try to tie the few times such technology is addressed with real science but that's not always possible.

There are exceptions to the above, of course. FTL technologies and force fields, example, should belong in the "Technobabble" range, but are put into the "Soft" science range instead to coincide with their abundant use in space opera stories.

So do take anything written on the main site with a grain of salt--and research the topic yourself. It never hurts to learn something new.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

So Where The Heck Have I Been?

If you've been wondering why there haven't been any updates to this blog or to the main Orbital Vector site the past few months, the short and simplified answer is, I've been very sick. I had a virus that lingered for months, that caused headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, fevers, chest pains and sciatica in my right leg. Plus in the middle of all this I also got tendonitis in my right foot stepping of an x-ray machine, so I couldn't even walk that much for three weeks straight.

Anyway, that's hopefully behind me. I feel fully recovered (more or less) though I'm still contending with the bills from the hospital and doctors. So if you've been thinking about donating to help out Orbital Vector stay afloat, now would certainly be a god time. Just use the donate button on OV's main page.

Just keep in mind that Orbital Vector and this blog are a one-man operation, which I do in my spare time, more or less. I'd love to do this stuff full time, but unless the ad revenue from the site increases a thousand fold, that's not very likely. So until then, its all just a labor of love (of futuristic technology.)

I do have plans, though. I have a bunch of OV articles that are in the works. An article on Ansibles (FTL radios) just went up, and future articles will address tech like Rocket Guns, Spacesuits, Advanced Ammunition, Underwater Habitats, Planet-scale Structure, Pocket Universes, and more. For this blog, besides linking to neat science and other stuff I find online, I may start serializing one or more of my novels here. One, The Shattered Sky is fully complete and the other, Escape From Zeroville is in first draft. I'll see how thing go, though.