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03-SUBSPACE LINKS
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Galileo experimental propulsion ship

Background

By the mid-2020s, there was a small but growing number of commercial spacecraft designs that followed the introduction of the DY-120 interplanetary transport. These ships represented a myriad of purposes: orbital facility construction, asteroidal ore offloading, main belt exploration, near-Earth scientific explorers, junk retrieval, personnel and tourist transports, most anything relatively local that was not Mars-bound (which was still considered “off limits”).

The Grand Mission was ongoing, with one Aventeur (the Stephen Long) left to launch. The perceived inherent danger of long-distance solar exploration was magnified by the extreme length of these missions; Aventeur IV had just arrived at Saturn after eleven years, and was not expected back to Earth for another fourteen. As ion propulsion technology steadily evolved, some astronautical engineers sought to create a drive that would figuratively and literally boost the output and velocity of Earth spacecraft, in order to—at first—dramatically decrease the time that passed to get from one inner system point to another, and then extend the range of those missions. These technologists saw exploration and resource gathering of the Oort cloud as achievable within the next two decades, not something that was a century or longer away, as was commonly accepted.

The propulsion vehicle they had their eye on was of an experimental nuclear thermal rocketry (NTR) design. With nuclear fusion on the cusp of becoming viable for spacecraft, the hyper-expensive Galileo concept envisioned the NTR drive using a reactor utilizing laser exciters to allow the necessary miniaturization. This endeavor would be fueled by liquid hydrogen stored in the bulk of the spacecraft’s hull and could conceivably achieve—with consistent acceleration—an unheard of 0.35 c velocity. With such a drive, the inner boundaries of the Oort cloud could be only months away. The nearest star, Proxima Centauri, which was over 35 years distant with the present ion drive technology, would only be a mere 12 years away; a round trip would come out to six years less than the entire mission of the Lewis and Clark system explorer.

The Galileo test vehicle, as commissioned by the ISA, had a particularly specific design, with a massive (nearly 88,000 m3) liquid hydrogen-2 tank dominating. While not specifically necessary for trial runs, it was thought best to provide an over-abundance of fuel lest a test burn that could not be not be decisively shut off at the intended conclusion left the ship continuing into the void of the outer system and beyond, far out of range of any rescue attempt. There was no considerable concern for this scenario, but the enlarged tank supported a secondary goal that a successful test run would also validate follow-on vessels that were equipped with enough fuel to both retro-burn for approach to the destination and then return to Earth.

The “bow” of the vessel was a broad flat circular area serving as the top of the two-deck habitat ring. Cargo hatches and emergency vents adorned this region of the vessel, with a prominent navigational dome serving to take in star positions every fraction of a second, to ensure a precise positional awareness. A low-frequency dish antenna served as a back-up method of communication through deep-space relays placed outbound of the ship and as the main method when returning from the completed trial run. Twenty-four linear antennas—fixed just forward of the fuel transfer module and almost mid-way down the engineering module—served a unique purpose on the ultra-high frequency range, as it was conceptually possible that the thrust of the NTR would otherwise interfere with transmissions and reception of radio signals with a dish design. Though appearing to serve as (completely unnecessary) tie-down straps, their placement instead was meant to address the off-axis angle of the ship’s outbound vector in relation to the observation stations on Earth and Luna, enhancing the integrity of essential distance-delayed data and voice transmissions. Four structural stability monitors were installed at non-symmetrical but equidistant positions about the aft module (though forward of the NTR drive itself).

Conceptual plans for post-testing operations saw an additional fuel tank—of identical proportions—added to the fore of the Galileo, with a similar habitat ring ahead of that. The original ring, now sandwiched between the two tanks, would be converted into an atmospheric mining space, from which a scoop drogue and rig could be extended into the upper atmosphere of a gas giant, replenishing the fuel tanks with free hydrogen. The habitable areas would accommodate the supplies, including foodstuff and spare parts, that would be deemed necessary for mankind’s first interplanetary voyage.

The Galileo testbed entered the history books, not for the achievement of any of these grand designs, but from its catastrophic and early conclusion. What was to have been a simple start-up test of the laser-fusion exciters (the fusion reactor itself was still in the design phase) out at the L5 orbital point instead turned into a silent but huge conflagration as the helium inadvertently leaked from internal supply lines during the excitation warm-up procedures. All 98 crew members, as well as eleven observers, perished immediately.

Galileo interstellar explorer concept

Blueprints/Orthos


Author: RevancheRM

Illustrator: Adrasil

Original Inspiration: Spaceflight Chronology (Goldstein, Goldstein, Sternbach)

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Last Updated on 2403.15 by admin