by HRogge, with parts from Mal-3 and Blackaeronaut. Thank you to Dartz for feedback during writing.
March 23th, 2015.
The doors of a large hangar on Rockhounds asteroid SR-06, sometimes called Nouveau Paris by Fen, opened slowly for the first time after many months. While other hangars had been busy with repair and maintenance work on commercial satellites, this one had not been seen open for a long time.
When the first beam of sunlight hit the opening of the tunnel, it illuminated a large white cylinder which was slowly moving outwards. Farther to the end of the craft a large arrangements of rods and pipes could be seen, tightly folded against the main body of the ship. On the outer hull the logos of the ESA and the JAXA became visible, together with large black letters stating the name of the craft, Thor Heyerdahl.
“Darmstadt control, this is the Thor Heyerdahl” the crew of the spacecraft called its ground station, “minimum distance to launch facility reached, we are ready to begin with pre-launch preparations.”
“Heyerdahl, this is Darmstadt control,” someone back on Earth answered, “begin with pre-launch preparations.”
The Thor Heyerdahl was still coasting away from the asteroid slowly turning to the side to align its engines away from the ESA facility. With the firing of some small thrusters large grids of heat radiators began to unfold on three sides of the spacecraft, glittering in the sun like ornaments on a Christmas tree.
“Darmstadt, this is the Heyerdahl. Heat radiators deployed, reactor pre-ignition heat up complete, we are ready to start the hydrogen injectors.”
“Heyerdahl, all sensor data from the reactor is green, you are free to initiate the fusion reaction.”
In the engine part of the Heyerdahl the Japanese fusion reactor began to hum for the first time outside the safety of the dock, quickly charging the batteries of the Heyerdahl. The temperature of the engine room was rising quickly and the heat radiators began to glow in a dark red.
“Darmstadt, reactor on standby power, heat output nominal. Radar shows no other crafts behind us, mission vector is within defined tolerance, we are ready for activating the ion drive.”
“Heyerdahl, initiate ion engine one at high thrust mode. Gute Reise !”
Hundreds of Kilowatts of power began to flow from the reactors electricity generators into one of the seven ion engine at the end of the Heyerdahl, creating a thin plasma hotter than the surface of the sun. Powerful superconducting magnets grabbed the plasma and hurled it out of the nozzle of the engine, creating a long visible exhaust behind the craft. Suddenly the weightlessness in the cockpit was gone and a firm sense of up and down appeared.
“Engine one active, accelerating at 1.4 meters per squared second. Readings from reactor and engine within tolerance.”
“Heyerdahl, this is Darmstadt control. Your flight vector is looking as expected and telemetry is green. Keep an eye on engine and reactor, full thrust burn on all engines will begin in one hour.”
Down on Earth in the control center people rejoiced when the Heyerdahl started moving. For many year the accepted truth for spaceflight had been that there were no useful goals to reach anymore, no place to get without finding some random Fen settlements or ships. But finally the cold stasis that had taken control of most Earth based space agencies seemed to be over.
In orbit the spaceship Thor Heyerdahl began to accelerate away from the geosynchronous orbit, heading out into space.
On station fifty kilometers away from Nouveau Paris, the converted airliner A Series Of Unlikely Explanations watched the Heyerdahl accelerating away from the dock. “Heyerdahl, this is Series,” the captain said into the radio. “We see you moving, your acceleration is good. Welcome to space, ladies and gentlemen.”
“Roger that, Series,” Heyerdahl’s commander radioed back. “It’s good to be here.”
“We’ll try and keep you entertained for the trip out,” the captain replied. “Moving to escort position now.” The Series broke orbit and moved to a spot 200 meters off the Heyerdahl’s starboard aft, cameras and sensors recording every motion the hardtech ship made as it boosted along towards Mars.
The small car of the two reporters was floating in Earth orbit, just a few dozen kilometers from the Heyerdahl.
“Hey, look there! That must be the new toy ESA buzzed about the last months. Oh dear, did they tried to win a ‘most boring looking spacecraft’ contest with this thing ? Cylinder with lots of pipes strapped to all sides ? Maybe they should have built it out of standard cargo containers ?”
“Okay Jeff, calm down... we are here to take pictures, not to criticize the design. So get off your damned lazy ass and deploy the camera drones.”
“Oh, its deploying its pipes... is this the ESA idea how a transformer should look like ? Where are the arms and the beam cannons ?”
“Shut up and keep the camera stream flowing...”
A few minutes passed while the Heyerdahl did its start preparation tests.
“Yes, they finally manage to activate their engine... nice shiny glow at the bottom end... do you think they will begin to move soon ? Maybe its just an engine test.”
“No, no... you see, they are accelerating with nearly 1/7 earth gravity. That’s a great achievement for a hardtech craft.”
“You think so ? *sigh* we could be on Mars, eat a couple of Ninja Burgers for lunch and be back before they left Earth orbit if they don’t go faster... lets see that we get one of the cameras to the back side to get some video before they get away more than a few meters.”
The radio beeped. “Unknown craft, this is VVS ship A Series of Unlikely Explanations. You are advised to stay out from behind the Heyerdahl. This is for your own safety, please acknowledge.”
“Oh come on, we will not damage ESA’s new toy, we just want to get a few more pictures... we keep nearly a kilometer distance between our drone and... … … WHAT THE HELL... IT VAPORIZED OUR CAM!”
“Series calling unknown craft, this won’t help any but... we told you so!”
Gina entered the office to see Ben cackling wickedly and rubbing his hands together gleefully.
"What's so funny?" asked his wife.
"This," said Ben as he put the video on the large screen he used for presentations. On it was video footage from one of the observatories used by the budding sciences division (Ben was seriously considering giving them their own branch of the Roughriders along with their own facility). It depicted a small drone that was starting to tail that new joint-project between the ESA and JAXA. While it was rather clunky in appearance, and slow in comparison to other Fen vehicles of comparable size, she and Ben gave hearty approval for the enterprise being exclusively hard-tech. From the time-stamp running in the corner of the screen, Gina could tell that the footage was only a minute old. Accompanying the video was an exchange of radio chatter.
“Unknown craft, this is VVS ship A Series of Unlikely Explanations. You are advised to stay out from behind the Heyerdahl. This is for your own safety, please acknowledge.”
"Oh come on, we will not damage ESA’s new toy, we just want to get a few more pictures... we keep nearly a kilometer distance between our drone and..."
At that moment, the drone crossed with the drive-plume of the Heyerdahl, causing the little device to flare brightly as it was suddenly forced to absorb energy far in excess of its design and subsequently sublimated.
"... WHAT THE HELL... IT VAPORIZED OUR CAM!"
"Series calling unknown craft, this won’t help any but... we told you so!"
Gina snorted at that. "Dummkopf."
Minutes later, a new video graced Fentube under the heading: Idiot Reporters Underestimates The Power of Hardtech
The ESA press room was full of reporters for the first time in many years. Cameras flashlights were working overtime when the press speaker of ESA announced the Heyerdahl’s mission. Behind the press speaker was a large picture of the spacecraft with the words “ISV 1: Thor Heyerdahl” above it.
“The Thor Heyerdahl is the first of a series of interplanetary spacecrafts with a second generation ion drive, powered by a helium-3 fusion reactor. The spacecraft and engine were built by ESA partners, the reactor and cooling system was delivered by or partners at JAXA. Both were created without any kind of Handwavium. All parts of the vehicle were assembled at the orbital satellite depot of ESA during the last months. Fully loaded, the Heyerdahl has a mass of 300 metric tons and is capable of accelerating with nearly 0.1 gravos for more than a month. If necessary it can do up to 1g acceleration for a few hours. Our Interplanetary Space Vehicles, or just ISVs, will allow ESA and our partners at JAXA to deliver up to 80 tons of crew and equipment to any point in the solar system within a reasonable amount of time.
The Thor Heyerdahl has left Earth orbit a few hours ago with its crew of seven astronauts and is on its way to Mars. It will dock with Starbase 1 within the next seven days.”
The room became silent instantly while the reporters digested this message. Most of them were used to the idea that the waved spacecrafts of Fen could reach Mars within hours, but an ESA built craft doing it within less than a week ?
“How can your craft reach Mars this quickly ?” one of the reporters demanded.
“The speed of the Thor Heyerdahl was made possible by the combination of the new generation of ion drives built by ESA and the compact fusion reactor and cooling system built by our partners at JAXA. The Thor Heyerdahl carries a few hundred grams of Helium-3, which will give the ship a nearly unlimited range in our solar system, only limited by the life support systems and the reaction mass carried by the ship.”
Another reporter raised his hand. “Why did you built the ship in orbit instead of using your facilities at the Guiana Space Centre ?”
“The Interplanetary Space Vehicles are not designed to be used inside the atmosphere of a planet. Building it within the gravity well of a planet would have made the transport to our orbital depot much more difficult. Neither our Ariane 5 launch system nor ESAs normal freight contractors for surface-orbit delivery can handle this amount of mass easily. Because of this ESA and JAXA decided to built the components on Earth and assemble the ship in orbit.”
“What will happen with the Thor Heyerdahl after it got back from Mars ?”
“The Thor Heyerdahl is the prototype for our coming ISV fleet. It will be brought back to our orbital depot and be checked for at least three months. If we can find no faults or shortcomings, the ship will get a maintenance and will return to duty for the next mission. ESA and JAXA are planning to build at least three other ISVs during the next two years. In addition to this there is a project to build a smaller solar powered craft for usage in Earth orbit, which will enhance our capabilities of fast travel in Earth orbit and to the whole Earth-Moon system.”
“When will your ISVs be able to lift off directly from Earth instead of assembled in orbit ?”
“Unfortunately even the advanced ion drive technology of the ISVs is unable to create enough thrust for leaving Earths gravity field from the ground. Because of this we are talking with the members states of ESA and Japan to get the funds for building a space lift in South America until 2020 or 2025. A space lift should be a cost efficient way to transfer large amounts of cargo between Earth surface and the geosynchronous orbit.”
Stephen Caldwell was watching the recorded data from the deep space surveillance satellite for the second time. “So they are still accelerating since they started three hours ago without any evidence of problems or overheating ? Prepare a message box with all data we gathered and send it down to the Pentagon with a courier as soon as possible.” Some people back at home would not be happy about a new player joining the game.
March 29th, 2015.
For days Earth had becoming smaller and smaller and when the time for Heyerdahl came to turn around and begin breaking after three days, Earth had become a small blue dot in the sky. But while Earth had vanished into the background, Mars had been growing quickly. From time to time Fen ships had joined the Heyerdahl’s and Series journey, including a bright yellow bus asking if they wanted to buy some fast food. Unfortunately ESA had not thought about supplying their astronauts with money for the flight, so they politely declined the offer.
But now the ship and its companion was slowly approaching Mars, diving into the traffic around Phobos and Deimos and heading towards the Federation of Planets Starbase 1.
“Starbase 1, this is the ESA Interplanetary Space Vehicle Thor Heyerdahl. We are slowly approaching your orbit and request a vector for docking. Please keep in mind that we are limited to small maneuvering thrusters.”
“Thor Heyerdahl, this is Starbase 1. In the name of the United Federation of Planets I am happy to greet the first human visitors that arrived in Mars orbit without Handwavium. You are cleared for docking point one, we are looking forward to see you all in person.”
The three ESA astronauts looked at each other and grinned.
“I think we are the first ESA astronauts who got a welcome party during out flight” one of them said, “that is one thing I could get used too.”
Thor Heyerdahl mission, captain’s debriefing:
“… as I told in my report, the Heyerdahls systems performed as well as planned. The concept of the Interplanetary Space Vehicles should allow ESA to move out into the solar system, both with unmanned and manned missions.
But there are still a few points which have to be addressed by ESA, which have more to do with the Fen out there in the solar system. During the mission the crew and me collected a large number of congratulation messages, both from single Fen we met on our way to Mars and members of the larger faction out there, like this video message here:
»The entire office staff stopped what they were doing to look out the big window at the top of the station. This was a historic event, after all.
The man in charge turned to the closest member of the administration staff - an intern who was getting some experience in space. "Minerva, take a memo, please. 'To the crew of the Thor Heyerdahl, from Sullivan Dwyer, Chief Administrator of the Artemis Foundation. Welcome to Mars and congratulations for making it here the hard way. If you have time while you're here, please stop by my office on Odyssey and I'll buy you a round of whatever your favorites are.' If you got all that, please send it off... assuming you can get a signal to them without it being swamped by everyone else's well-wishes.«
ESA must not forget that we are no longer are researchers moving out into an empty and dark solar system, everywhere we will get there will be people to meet. This has to be addressed in a number of ways, both technological and operational:
- Each crew should have basic diplomatic training and knowledge about the local Fen community. This will prevents misunderstanding on our flights.
- Each ESA crew should take some amount of money with them, this might be more important that some of the spare parts. If an ISV gets into trouble we might be able to buy the spare parts from the local Fen.
- Upgrade the ISVs radio systems for multiple simultaneous calls, including GSM, UMTS and WLAN technology.
- ESA should work hard on improving the maneuvering thrusters to allow us to be less disruptive to the local traffic.
- ESA should think about open sourcing the design of our airlocks and the automatic docking system, this will make interfacing with existing spacecrafts and -stations easier.
- Add a warning signal light at the end of the craft that can be activated before the main engines are started.
I think most of this points should be reasonable easy to implement in the future revisions of the ISVs and missions.
Ladies and Gentlemen, ESA has finished a great mission in my opinion. Now we have to built upon it the start a new era of space exploration for all of us.”