Conversion Drive
conversion drive
Image from Steve Bowers
The energy produced by a conversion drive is considerable, and can be sustained for relatively long periods. Click for larger image

Conversion drives (or magmatter catalyzed fusion drives, as they are more formally called) use magnetic monopoles to increase the efficiency of a standard fusion drive up to nearly 100% if so desired. Transapients beyond the first singularity, that is the S1 level, find it possible to manage the complex and exacting task of monopole manufacture; allowing the construction of the matter conversion furnace. A conversion furnace uses magnetic monopoles to convert any matter directly to energy, usually in a catalyzed fusion plasma. Those magnetic monopoles which can be created by S1 are massless and have short lifetimes, meaning more must be constantly generated while the matter furnace is running, requiring large particle accelerators. While expensive, heavy, and complicated, such manufacturing equipment was still much lighter and cheaper than an equal mass of antimatter, as well as being much, much safer. Mounting a matter furnace on a ship creates the Conversion Drive, and such drives immediately began to dominate space travel. These drives convert matter to energy without the extreme expense and danger of antimatter. Early conversion drives are very large, yet have low power outputs compared to their more developed performance, mainly due to the need for monopole creation mass drivers and the continued use of plasma/vapor/solid/EM shielding systems. Such systems are the best possible at S:1, yet are barely up to the rigors of even low powered Conversion drives. S:1 Conversion drives have similar performance levels to the very best S:0 antimatter designs, but do not need complicated and bulky antimatter storage facilities. Even better, since they are able to burn any common matter, they are far easier to refuel, meaning round trips at that performance level are quite possible.

Operating Principles

In its most basic form, a conversion drive is a reinforced fusion drive using magnetic confinement to contain the fusion reaction and eject the resulting high-energy plasma from the vessel to provide thrust. In their lowest power mode, most conversion drives still operate in this manner and are no more efficient or capable than any other fusion drive system. However, when desired, artificially generated magnetic monopoles (usually held in storage rings surrounding the reaction vessel) are magnetically injected into the containment chamber and repeatedly cycled through the reaction zone at its center. Through the process of 'S-wave sucking' the monopoles induce baryon decay within the plasma stream and effectively convert a greater percentage of the fusion fuel into energy than would be achievable through thermonuclear processes alone. By increasing the number of monopoles passing through the reaction zone, either by increasing the number of monopoles used or cycling them through at faster rates, drive efficiency may be increased to levels approaching 100%. At such levels the drive exhaust is effectively a beam of high-energy gamma rays focused to near laser-like intensity. Great care must be taken to avoid irradiating planets and habitats along the vessel's flight path or even destroying the vessel itself if there is a containment or drive reflector failure. For these reasons, as well as the remote but finite possibility of a runaway conversion reaction (something not possible with a standard fusion drive) most systems in the Civilized Galaxy strictly regulate the power levels of conversion drives operating within them and require long range and interstellar-capable vessels to operate at much less than maximum power while anywhere within a prescribed distance of the system primary (generally at least one light-day).

When powered down, the monopoles are magnetically collected and stored until the next time the drive is in operation.

History and Background

The first conversion drives were developed almost immediately after the development of magnetic monopole generation technology by early Second Singularity intelligences. It was not until the First Federation that such technology was made available to modosophonts, and even then, it still required a dedicated hyperturing to create and control it. S2 monopole technology was far more compact and capable than even the best transapient fusion or amat systems, producing tremendously efficient and powerful drive systems and, most importantly, having the potential to be accessible to lower-level minds

For a time conversion drives were seen as a sort of 'calling card' of the newly rising S2 'demi-gods'; however as first S1 and then modosophont level minds acquired monopoles and developed the technology to readily 'breed' them in particle accelerators, various forms of the drive became first common and then commonplace. Perhaps the most well-known effect of the drive was to make truly relativistic interstellar travel a practical possibility. Much less well-known, but arguably just as important, the widespread use of conversion drive would break the stranglehold of the great amat megacorps; ending a monopoly extending all the way back to the Interplanetary Age.

Conversion Drives in the Modern Age

In the modern era conversion drives are still the most widely used form of interplanetary and interstellar propulsion technology. This technology also forms the basis for a number of other devices. Conversion reactors provide power to deep-space habitats across the Terragen sphere and illuminate countless outer system and Deeper gas giant and brown dwarf communities with catalyzed fusion sun-lines. In the case of some high-level transapients and archai, advanced reactors have been injected into the outer layers of stars. Operating at an efficiency far out-stripping that of the star itself, they provide power by ingesting large quantities of stellar hydrogen, converting it to energy, and beaming the resultant power to receivers located all over the local system.

The ease of refueling and the existence of useful ramscoop technology means that delta-v calculations no longer have much meaning. Similarly, ALL higher S: reaction drives have essentially the same Isp, the maximum allowed by physics, namely 30,000,000. In general, S:1 Conversion-ships have a maximum speed of .7C and a maximum range of 100 to 200 lightyears, mainly limited by the simple passive ablative shielding they employ. The Monopole Catalyzed Conversion Drive is such a huge advance, it almost completely displaces all previous technologies. There are still some Internal Fusion Drives built at S:1 and higher to take advantage of the very cheap fuel often available, and they are generally improved versions of their lower-tech ancestors, but fission drives and antimatter drives are almost completely abandoned.

On a darker note, conversion based weapons have vastly increased the destructiveness of warfare. Monopole enhanced weapons have made it even easier to destroy modosophont populations and at their most extreme can be so powerful that even the stars themselves are at risk from Terragen conflict.

Like so much knowledge down through the history of humanity, monopole technology has proven to be a two-edged sword, capable of being a tremendous boon or a terrible danger.

Related Articles
Appears in Topics
Development Notes
Text by Adam Getchell, Todd Drashner, Mark Mcamuk, and Chris Shaeffer

Initially published on 26 April 2006.

References :: ::
"Modelling High Energy Monopole-Induced Air Showers", M.T. Dova and J. Swain