Interstellar exploration in Fenspace

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If humanity persists and endures, in time we will come face to face with the evolution of our sun. In a few billion years its slow brightening will speed up as it swells into a red giant. Earth will then be uninhabitable, as will the inner regions of the Solar System. Yet there will be other more clement stars to which our descendents may wish to migrate. Certainly a society that has developed space flight and space colonization will have the advantage of never thereafter having to stand hostage to fortune.

—T. A. Heppenheimer, Toward Distant Suns, 1979

Final Peg 51 Poster web.jpg

Tired of the glories of the Solar System? Or maybe you want to really go where no one's gone before? Either way, the only solution is to pack up your bags, fly past the Cochrane Line and head for the stars. Thanks to handwavium, interstellar flight is within the reach of the dedicated fan, but to do it and then successfully come back to gloat about it requires not just dedication, but careful planning. Not many fen have traveled beyond the edge of the solar system... or at least, very few have gone and come back from their travels without preparing before their expeditions.

A Short History of Interstellar Flight

The majority of us have dreamed about interstellar flight since we first got hooked on science fiction. We dream about zipping through the stars on warp drive, blasting away into hyperspace, etc. The idea of being able to go to the stars and back within our lifetimes is just as much part of Fandom as the general idea of spaceflight. We want it with a burning passion.

When fen first started to filter out into space in '07, one of the first things tried was faster-than-light travel. All of the early attempts to engage warp speed or jump to hyperspace failed; nowadays we know why, but at the time the First Fen figured it was a limitation on the 'wave. So instead of immediately leaving for the stars they started building in the Solar System, leading to the creation of Fenspace as we know it.

It was a couple of years later, when the Trekkies and the Warsies really started moving out in force, that we finally figured out 'wavetech FTL. It was a team of Trekkie mad scientists and their ship (the Phoenix, naturally) who stumbled over the secret. They'd been on a Starfleet research mission to Sedna when they realized that they were moving a hell of a lot faster once they'd crossed Pluto's orbit. A few experiments later and they realized that about 40 astronomical units (5,983,920,000 km) away from the sun, their drive speeds shot up, way up. Crossing the 40 AU line made all that speed vanish, pulling the ship back down to its top-rated velocity of 6% lightspeed.

Mountains of Solace, near Ptichka's Landing, Gallifrey, Tau Ceti

Having proved that it could be done, the Trekkies then set out to make a serious interstellar voyage. The Trekkies aimed Phoenix at Proxima Centauri and opened up the throttles. Three and a half days later, they were there. Not that there was much in orbiting Proxima of interest, but hey. They spent a week surveying, turned right around and came back to acclaim from the entirety of Fenspace.

The Phoenix expedition was only the beginning. While Fenspace didn't have - still doesn't, really - the resources and manpower necessary to do a proper exploration of the nearby stars, small Lewis & Clark-style missions have hit many of the closest promising targets. The Phoenix went back to the Centauri trisystem, the Ptichka explored the Tau Ceti and Epsilon Indi systems, the Juraians sent one of their wooden boats to Sigma Draconis, and so on. Even with this activity, there's still a hell of a lot of stars nearby for the enterprising fan to explore for the first time.

FTL Basics

The thing you need to know about interstellar travel is that it takes forever to do. Given that a lightweight vehicle can make the Earth-Mars run in less than six hours even during opposition, a lot of fen don't realize that making a jump outside the Solar System is a very long haul.

The night sky as seen from Eayn (HD 69830 d 1)

Part of that is the Limit. Cochrane's Line, whatever you want to call it, it's the boundary inside of which FTL is - for now - impossible. Nobody's entirely sure why this is, but the best theory so far says that it's the sun's gravity that keeps the 'wave engines from forming a proper gravity warp in which the normal laws of physics take a hike. The Limit doesn't have a sharply defined "line," instead being a fuzzy zone between 35 and 40 AU out. The exact point at which FTL becomes possible varies depending on drive design, solar activity and a million other little variables. For simplicity's sake, just figure that getting 40 AU out is the minimum.

(An important thing to note for interstellar travel is that every star has a different Limit. The Limit around Sol is perfectly spherical, whereas the Limit around Alpha Centauri is more like a giant ameboa 30 AU by almost 90 AU across, or the Limit around a dwarf star like Proxima Centauri is only 5 AU. The Limit around a star like Rigel might be somewhere around 100 to 500 AU, and so it goes.)

St. Valentine's Bend, Lombardi River, Gatewood, Lalande 21185

Once you're over the Limit, you're home free, right? Not exactly. It turns out that there's a ceiling on FTL travel. Much like nobody's ever managed to get a speed drive to exceed 25% lightspeed inside the Limit, outside the Limit nobody's managed to exceed a top speed of 500c, or five hundred times the speed of light. Now that's nothing to sneeze at, 500c is a hell of a lot faster than any mundane scientist would've ever expected us to travel, but at the same time it's tiny compared to the scale of the galaxy. For example, if you wanted to go to the galactic core, at 500c it'd take you 50 years of nonstop travel to get there.

At least one thing seems to be working in our favor: the mass/speed curve for FTL travel is flat. So instead of larger=slower like in STL travel, everybody can move FTL at the same speed. This is useful to know when planning an interstellar expedition because while a large ship may take longer getting to the Limit, it'll spend the same amount of time in FTL as a smaller ship.

Navigating in interstellar travel is a little tricky. You can't just point your ship at the star and hope for the best. Everything in the galaxy is moving, and that point of light you see doesn't mark where the star is, it marks where the star was however many years ago. Thankfully, most stars don't move that fast [1], and a half-decent computer armed with shareware science programs can figure out where a particular star's going to be at any point. This is one of those "forewarned is forearmed" situations; get a navigational program built for FTL work off the internet before you start out, otherwise you might end up in the middle of a whole lot of nothing. Otherwise you have to correct your heading every few lightmonths or -years.


Movement of Barnard's Star, as seen from the sky of Earth
We were put here as witnesses to the miracle of life. We see the stars, and we want them. We are beholden to give back to the universe... If we make landfall on another star system, we become immortal.

—Ray Bradbury, speech to National School Board Association, 1995

The stars on this table either have a special significance for science fiction fandom in general (Alpha Centauri, Sirius, Altair, Barnard's Star, Zeta Reticuli), have some specific astronomical interest (Van Mannen's Star, Vega, Beta Hydri) or were pulled from the Catalog of Nearby Habitable Systems, meaning they were determined to (possibly!) have the conditions needed to support habitable planets. This is, essentially, a list of the candidate inhabitable systems within 100 light years of Earth.

Stars of Interest to Interstellar Fen
Star Notable Planet(s) Distance from Earth Travel Time [2] Interwave Lag
Proxima Centauri 4.22 ly 3.08 days 3.70 hours
Rigil Kentaurus B Chiron 4.39 ly 3.21 days 3.85 hours
Rigil Kentaurus A Pandora 4.39 ly 3.21 days 3.85 hours
Barnard's Star New Alaska 5.94 ly 4.34 days 5.21 hours
Wolf 359 Muspellsheimr, Nifelheimr 7.80 ly 5.70 days 6.83 hours
Lalande 21185 Gatewood 8.31 ly 6.07 days 7.29 hours
Sirius 8.60 ly 6.28 days 7.54 hours
Epsilon Eridani Arcadia 10.50 ly 7.67 days 9.20 hours
Ross 128 Lenin 10.89 ly 7.95 days 9.54 hours
61 Cygni A 11.36 ly 8.30 days 9.96 hours
Procyon 11.41 ly 8.33 days 10.00 hours
61 Cygni B 11.43 ly 8.35 days 10.02 hours
Groombridge 34 Thuvaraiyam Pathi
Kumari Kandam
11.7 ly 8.55 days 10.26 hours
Epsilon Indi Alice 11.83 ly 8.64 days 10.37 hours
Tau Ceti Gallifrey 11.90 ly 8.69 days 10.43 hours
Van Maanen's Star 14.37 ly 10.50 days 12.60 hours
Omicron (2) Eridani Vulcan 16.45 ly 12.02 days 14.42 hours
70 Ophiuchi 16.59 ly 12.12 days 14.54 hours
Altair 16.77 ly 12.25 days 14.70 hours
Sigma Draconis 18.81 ly 13.74 days 16.49 hours
Eta Cassiopeiae 19.42 ly 14.18 days 17.02 hours
36 Ophiuichi 19.52 ly 14.26 days 17.11 hours
HIP 99461 19.74 ly 14.42 days 17.30 hours
82 Eridani 19.76 ly 14.44 days 17.33 hours
Delta Pavonis Yggdrasil 19.92 ly 14.55 days 17.46 hours
Gliese 581 Zarmina's World 20.40 ly 14.90 days 17.88 hours
Beta Hydri 20.98 ly 15.33 days 18.39 hours
Xi Boötis 21.85 ly 15.96 days 19.15 hours
Gliese 667 22.74 ly 16.61 days 19.93 hours
Gliese 667 C Gliese 667 Cc 22.74 ly 16.61 days 19.93 hours
BD +6°398 23.51 ly 17.18 days 20.61 hours
BD +4°123 24.33 ly 17.77 days 21.33 hours
107 Piscis 24.36 ly 17.79 days 21.35 hours
Gliese 570 24.41 ly 17.83 days 21.40 hours
Vega 25.30 ly 18.48 days 22.17 hours
Pi 3 Orionis 26.18 ly 19.12 days 22.95 hours
P Eridani 26.57 ly 19.41 days 23.29 hours
LHS 2520 27.1 ly 19.80 days 23.76 hours
Chara 27.30 ly 19.94 days 23.93 hours
61 Virginis 27.81 ly 20.31 days 24.37 hours
Zeta Tucanae Thule 28.03 ly 20.47 days 24.57 hours
Chi(1) Orionis 28.26 ly 20.64 days 24.77 hours
BD -5°1844 28.38 ly 20.73 days 24.87 hours
Gliese 666 28.66 ly 20.93 days 25.12 hours
BD -5°1123 28.75 ly 21.00 days 25.20 hours
CD -27°14659 28.78 ly 21.02 days 25.23 hours
Gamma Leporis 29.25 ly 21.37 days 25.64 hours
Beta Comae Berenices 29.86 ly 21.81 days 26.17 hours
Gamma Pavonis 30.06 ly 21.96 days 26.35 hours
CD -32°8179 31.11 ly 22.73 days 27.27 hours
61 Ursae Majoris 31.12 ly 22.73 days 27.28 hours
12 Ophiuchi 31.89 ly 23.30 days 27.96 hours
BD +63°238 32.54 ly 23.77 days 28.52 hours
Alpha Mensae 33.10 ly 24.18 days 29.01 hours
Xi Ursae Majoris 33.98 ly 24.82 days 29.78 hours
Iota Persei 34.36 ly 25.10 days 30.12 hours
Delta Trianguli 35.38 ly 25.84 days 31.01 hours
Zeta (2) Reticuli 39.40 ly 28.78 days 34.53 hours
Zeta (1) Reticuli Arda/Valinor 39.53 ly 28.88 days 34.65 hours
85 Pegasi 40.45 ly 29.55 days 35.46 hours
Rho(1) Cancri 40.87 ly 29.86 days 35.83 hours
BD -12°2449 Eayn 41.04 ly 29.98 days 35.97 hours
BD +41°328 41.24 ly 30.12 days 36.15 hours
i Boötis 41.61 ly 30.39 days 36.47 hours
HD40307 41.8 ly 30.51 days 36.62 hours
BD -21°5081 42.35 ly 30.93 days 37.12 hours
58 Eridani 43.43 ly 31.73 days 38.07 hours
Gliese 853 44.39 ly 32.43 days 38.91 hours
18 Scorpii 45.74 ly 33.42 days 40.10 hours
47 Ursae Majoris Coyote 45.91 ly 33.54 days 40.25 hours
Gliese 481 46.63 ly 34.07 days 40.88 hours
Nu(2) Lupi 47.48 ly 34.68 days 41.62 hours
51 Pegasi Bellerophon 50.10 ly 36.60 days 43.92 hours
BD +29°3872 51.84 ly 37.87 days 45.44 hours
37 Geminorum 56.34 ly 41.16 days 49.39 hours
15 Sagittae 57.63 ly 42.09 days 50.51 hours
83 Leonis A 57.64 ly 42.10 days 50.52 hours
83 Leonis B 58.67 ly 42.86 days 51.43 hours
9 Ceti 66.50 ly 48.57 days 58.29 hours
HIP 30104 83.80 ly 61.22 days 73.46 hours
HIP 40952 93.81 ly 68.52 days 82.23 hours



  1. The average speed of our sun compared to close neighbor stars is 20 km/s
  2. Limit to Limit only, getting to a planet inside will take additional time