Hyperdrive technology is probably the most essential aspect to the Science Fiction setting’s balance. I’ve always had a rough idea of what I wanted, but it took me a long time to work out the details. In recent weeks, I’ve done just that – and produced a ~15 pages document over the course of my brainstorming.
I think I’ve come to a few conclusions:
- “Modern” Hyperdrive speed is 2 hours per light-year, plus a jump prep time of 8h, not counting time it takes to charge up capacitor banks. This results in approximate travel times of 84 days from Terra to the Federation border – one way. As an aside, the FN – before the break down of interstellar society – was able to build ships twice as fast.
- The actual course a ship takes is longer than the point-to-point distance because gravity wells en route need to be avoided.
- Range: There is no theoretical limit to the distance of a single hyperdrive jump. Longer jumps require better astrogation equipment and better astrogational data, or they become more prone to error over distance. Practical jump distance is still on the order of hundreds of light years, at least, which means there are no fixed, defensible borders.
- No FTL communication and no FTL detection – this isn’t a new decision of course.
- Ships in Hyperspace can, in theory, abort a jump prematurely. To do so, however, carries a high risk – the ship is likely to be severely damaged or even destroyed.
- There is no limitation on entering or leaving hyperspace in a normal gravity well; ample safety margin to any object in real space is advised especially on re-emergence; the margin of error means it’s fairly easy to crash into a planet. Extreme gravity wells (singularities) are a different matter, and could knock a ship back into real space.
As you can see, I opted for the simple approach. For example, I just could not come up with a reasonable way to limit jump range so I eventually decided to just go with the easy default – after all if I can’t justify a limitation before myself, nobody else would believe in it either.
The biggest implication of all this for the setting is that there is no border a nation can easily defend. Important systems will be heavily fortified, scout ships will patrol systems for signs of intruders, but in the end your enemy can jump right past your defenses to your homeworld if they want. Of course, such an invasion might leave their own systems undefended and if their enemy can out-think them what was intended as a surgical surprise attack could end up as a disaster.
These decisions also mean that human space contains a lot of worlds that are simply bypassed – maybe never even visited. In a way, this is good – it means “the frontier” is never far away from a civilized system; but unfortunately there’s really no way to have the players or protagonists stumble across anything they did not intend to visit.
I may yet change my opinion on some of these points… but since I really need to move on with the design, I will only do so with very good reason. And yes, as always, if anybody has feedback or good ideas, I’d love to hear it!