Interstellar Singleship

Vanguard singleship 2
Image from Phil B
This interstellar singleship has thrust motors at each end, and the crew compartment at the centre, with radiation shielding protecting it in both directions

An interstellar singleship is defined as a small, light duty interstellar craft that can be operated for long periods of time by a single individual. Single-manned craft which operate within the confines of planetary systems have existed since the Interplanetary age, but are generally far less sophisticated than the interstellar equivalent.

Typical interstellar singleships carry a crew component of 1 to 5 sophonts. They are not specifically designed for high acceleration, but on average can manage accelerations of up to 50g for short periods of time depending on the tolerance of the crew and onboard equipment. These small craft are usually found in the hands of nearbaseline equivalent sapients and because of that, they almost never contain technology more advanced than mature nanotech (excluding - if present, of course - the monopoles required for the engine).

The typical singleship design has a crew cabin and at least two engine modules. These are arranged in a line, with one engine pulling a tungsten shielding block, which in turn pulls the crew cabin on long tethers, and the crew cabin pulling the second engine module. This allows for braking without turning the ship around mid-flight, as such a maneuver would expose the crew cabin to possible impact with interstellar debris. At relativistic velocity, even a tiny bit of debris is a potentially deadly missile.

The leading surface of the engine modules is devoted to shielding the entire craft. Many systems exist to handle these duties, but the most successful concept is a cloud of nanotech devices that extends many kilometers in front of the singleship, coupled with a coolant cloud released from the front of the engine. These two clouds are constantly magnetically recycled through the engine module. This allows any matter the vessel intercepts to be collected for fuel (if the vessel uses Fusion, AMAT, or monopole reactor drives) and breaks down larger bits of interstellar debris to a more manageable size as it impacts the nanobot cloud.

Crew compartments require heavy radiation shielding, as they are directly in the exhaust plume of the running engine. This is usually accomplished with a tungsten block which is used as a shadow shield to protect against the gamma ray output of the engine.

When inside a stellar system, most singleships use a magnetic sail drive system that combines the power of both engine modules, and most also use this for braking upon arrival at their destination. Other braking systems have the forward facing engine turn over in mid-flight, and connect to the crew compartment. The engine is then brought up to power facing in the opposite direction. The exhaust plume then acts to deflect incoming debris, or ionize anything it can't deflect, so the magnetic sail can deflect it.

Most singleships have a sentient subsophont expert system pilot software suite. This software suite generally contains a stellar cartography application, a wormhole link chart, and a short description of each destination. This information can be updated automatically at nearly any spaceport. This expert system also maintains the crew of the vessel while they are in nanostasis - if such is used on the vessel.

Image from Steve Bowers

The range of a singleship is entirely dependent on the type of engine and the environment. If the ship uses a fusion reactor, whether monopole catalyzed or not, as long as the ship can collect enough hydrogen with its magnetic shield/scoop, it can continue running. If the ship has conversion drive, as long as baryonic matter is fed to the reactor, it will continue running. Amat reactors require, of course, antimatter, which can be hard to find. Most modern exploratory singleships, and almost all modern long-range singleships use an expensive, transapient designed conversion drive.

The crew compartment of a singleship varies from ship to ship, to suit the pilot's needs. Most contain a small nanofac, a nanostasis unit, and an internal virch world to amuse the crew while they are in stasis. Most crew compartments are surrounded in incremental layers of SiCHON material, to be used as raw material for the ship's nanofac.

Contained in the typical singleship's archive are the design specification for a multitude of useful objects that might be required while the vessel is under acceleration for decades of travel. These objects can be created by the ship's onboard nanofac. Typically, this includes a plethora of high-acceleration probes with radio data linkage back to the vessel, small orbit-to-surface lander craft (with the specification that they can reach orbit again once they land on the surface of most biont-tolerable worlds), a gigantic solar collector array usable to charge up a nanoflywheel array and a multitude of other devices.

With the onboard nanofac, it is not impossible to completely re-engineer the crew compartment once it has arrived at its destination. The onboard nanofac has the capability to convert local matter in the environment into usable material, if, at the very least, amounts of carbon can be found. Once the ship arrives at a destination, probes can be used to gather asteroid material, and the onboard nanofac can convert both the singleship and the local asteroid material into quite an extensive habitat. Some rather large habitats began existence as just one singleship, several dyson spheres in outer reaches of the Solar Dominion began as singleships half-a-dozen millennia ago.

Image from Steve Bowers
singleship LookfarII orbiting Rana c

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Development Notes
Text by ROM 65536
Initially published on 05 December 2005.