Saturday, May 11, 2019

Atmosphere Control and Monitoring Equipment

Of the parallels that spacecraft have with submarines, the most analogous to me is atmosphere control. Generally, heat dispersal is less of a problem as seawater is an excellent heat sink, and submerged maneuvering is more intuitive than orbital mechanics. Both the monitoring systems and the control systems are going to have both primary, fixed to the ship, and secondary systems, portable, that can be useful for details. The monitoring systems are those providing information about composition and  pressure, while control systems allow the crew to manipulate the gas mix. There is a simple atmosphere analyzer, giving the users breathablity and general class of the atmosphere in the game, costing Cr 150 and weighing 1 kg. However, exploration and mystery oriented campaigns and adventures may desire more detail than a simple system.

The primary monitoring system would be a computerized combination carbon dioxide detector and mass spectrometer that is built into the ship. The current CAMS Mark II system is about the height of a man, and can take samples from a variety of shipboard locations. A system like this would be part of the ship's engineering section, and repaired during annual maintenance. This could also be used to test samples captured from an unknown or poorly described atmosphere, giving the partial pressures of the component gasses. Future versions would be smaller and more reliable of course.

Draeger bellows and tube package
Secondary portable systems are available, but have to split up the monitoring functions. For oxygen content, I used an aging Servomex tester where the user had a bulb to bring in air to the sensor, and it gave a percentage readout of oxygen content. For detecting the more unusual gasses, the standard issue was a Draeger hand pump kit. This gadget consists of a hand pump kit, and a glass tube with a reagent that indicates the concentration of a chemical using a color. One end of the tube is broken off, the tube inserted into the pump, the pump is used the requisite number of times, and it shows the concentration of  a gas where the sample was taken. To check for another gas, the system must be removed to a clean atmosphere area, purged, and a new tube inserted. Also, a single purpose hydrogen tester was in use, showing atmospheric hydrogen percentage.

Electrolytic Oxygen Generator.
Atmosphere control is provided by two processes. Oxygen partial pressure is maintained by the use of an Electrolytic Oxygen Generator. Pure water is distilled, mixed with potassium hydroxide, and subjected to a high voltage, splitting off the oxygen and hydrogen into 'pure' gasses. The oxygen could either be stored at pressure, or dispersed through the ventilation system. This machine was considered to be one of the more dangerous pieces of equipment on board, because nobody wants an undersea hydrogen explosion. Carbon dioxide is removed by an amine based scrubber system, that leaves a peculiar odor in the air, and it sticks to the clothes. Carbon monoxide along with hydrogen, are removed through a burner that runs hot air across a hopcalite catalyst bed.

Again, there are secondary systems for oxygen and carbon dioxide level maintenance. Carbon monoxide is just not seen as an immediate item for emergency removal. Oxygen levels can be maintained by using the stored banks, or oxygen candles. The banks just release oxygen at a bleed point, but the air must be circulated to ensure there is no harmful build up of oxygen to dangerous levels. Candles provide oxygen to directly to the internal atmosphere using a thermal reaction. Carbon dioxide is removed by using lithium hydroxide in two fashions. There is an active hopper system that moves air through lithium hydroxide canisters using a fan, and a passive curtain system where air passes over a hanging sheet with small amounts of lithium hydroxide. One of the problems with these systems is that it is possible to over-pressurize the atmosphere. In one case, we could not open the water-tight door to the engine room because of the pressure differential. More serious problems from over-pressurized areas can include decompression sickness. Pressure build up can be mitigated by compressed air systems taking in excess, venting to space, or storage as part of a reaction control system.

The major equipment is expected to be aboard a spacecraft. Notably, the ISS uses chemically similar systems, and recycles waste products for extra water. I would expect that part of a berthing cost would be refreshing some consumables as well as the actual landing. Starships operating off in the wilds with few resources will place more space in cargo for consumables, and gas giant refueling may make the atmosphere go stale a little faster. Given the smaller ships that players have access to, backups may be limited. Most ships should have a gas tester kit as part of damage control, and the basic atmosphere analyzer was noted as being in the ship's locker for two short adventures. Oxygen candles are a disaster risk, as they almost destroyed Mir in the 1997, and killed two sailors aboard HMS Tireless (S88) in 2007.

As a way to encourage action, this gives the referee different ways to encourage play and see how players react. This is also a way to include some chrome on how systems operate. The atmosphere plant gets a bit more detail, and here are a couple more tools to use in a variety of situations.

New Equipment

Hand Gas Detector Kit, Cr 500 for kit with one pump and 18 gas tube sets in a hard case. Cr 100 for the pump, Cr 25 for set of five tubes each detecting one gas. The kit weighs 1.5 kg, while the bellows weigh 250 grams and tubes weigh 50 grams per set of five.  TL7. Kits include CBR detection, and toxic leak, as well as a standard kit used on most ships. 

Oxygen detector. Gives a current atmospheric oxygen percentage and carbon dioxide percentage. Runs off a rechargeable battery good for six hours. Cr 500, 2 kg at TL8, TL 10, half cost and weight.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Connecting Starports with their Worlds

Traveller cannon does have several good publications about how Starports work, particularly John Ford's GT Starports. However, I am more interested in what the actual crossing is going to be like, how to relate the Starport to the local society, and my views on rules and regulations that exist in Starports. From the various sector books, I see three major kinds of Starports. On major worlds where the Imperium is a considered a benevolent presence, you have what I call a 'Ramstein' type port, where the locals and the Imperium mostly in harmony. Where the Starport is seen as a 'necessary evil', the Starport resembles 'Cold War Hong Kong'. Also, small Starports may be established to set up a claim to a territory, not unlike colonial St. Augustine, FL.
From GT Starports, Original

What I'm calling a 'Ramstein' port is not unlike the US Ramstein Air Base in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany. It is a locality under control of a separate sovereignty, but a close relationship between the two is maintained. Frictional issues between the two are routine, and rarely end up shutting down the port. This is a gross oversimplification, as there will be issues between authorities. Roads and construction standards in the port conform to those in the surrounding area, and local symbols are displayed alongside those of the Imperium. The largest difference would be a mandatory use of Anglic on all signage. Otherwise, with languages, the Starport will use Anglic, and there is a high possibility the locals will have some understanding of Anglic, if it isn't the primary language While checks do exist crossing the line, they are more around ensuring authorized personnel come in and out, customs regulations would be applied inside the starport's lines for the most part, rather than at the line. Concessions in the port will do most of their business in Imperial Credits, but the local currency maybe used by some, particularly 'temporary' concessionaires, like the burger truck that stops by the tramp pad. Local currency, if used, can be bought and sold at fairly reasonable rates. This is the ideal for many worlds.

A 'Cold War Hong Kong' port is one where the Imperium has an uneasy relationship with the world government for a multitude of reasons, such as local isolationism. One example is a large urban area is present inside the extraterritorial line, and the line is a heavy duty border. In some cases, the local authorities find the idea of a 'open commercial zone' useful in obtaining information and hard currency from off-world, and others, it is 'minimize cultural contamination" from offworld. Either result is similar, with a large scale startown, a hard line, and people wanting to cross it for a variety of reasons. Building and road standards maybe radically different, resulting in electrical goods from the Startown requiring extensive modifications to operate properly across the line. Linguistically, Anglic will be used for business and law in the enclave, but the local language may have be used as well, especially if there is a 'thaw' in relations. Currency will almost always be different across the line, and exchange rates will be rigged to reduce offworld purchasing power, unless you hit the black market...

A 'colonial St. Augustine' port is an outpost of the Imperium. Small, mostly a garrison, and the presence is there to claim a location. The locals and the port community rarely acknowledge each other, and there may be turf wars if a sophont is a 'local' or an 'Imperial'. Money may not be that common, and if it's there, the preferred tender would be Imperial Credits, or whatever the garrison is paid in. Also, anything for a trader would be very difficult to find, as distant outposts rarely have trade goods worthwhile. There maybe other settlements, many of them a long distance away, or others hidden on the world. Remember, a planet is a very large place, and it would be possible to hide a society for a long period of time.

In role-playing games, it seems players have an expectation of being able to take weapons wherever they please, and extraterritoriality often means Starports are assumed to have a low law-level. However, this wouldn't be much of the case. Generally, unless carried concealed, locked for transit, or authorized by the management, carrying of weapons is prohibited. This is mostly a safety measure, as a Starport with excessive violence is bad for business. An example of authorized carry would be a Mercenary officer assigned to work with the security force while his unit is on liberty. The mere act of transportation, such as a hunter on a safari expedition, is guaranteed through Imperial Commerce Regulations. Also, most Starports from Class C up do have at least one 'Outdoor Equipment' concession, that offers a wide variety of weapons, as well as more pedestrian survival equipment, that delivers inside the line, with containers sealed and ready for transport. The Starport Authority has an extensive corpus of laws and regulations built up over millennia, with commentaries available when needed. Generally, there is a procedure available for any situation, up to, and including doomsday incidents. As for goods import, ships and containers 'under seal' and transiting can carry almost anything. However, the Imperium does frown upon importing things that threaten life on world, generally, if it would cause death and destruction on world, the Starport may even ban a craft from landing. Remember the first rule: does it make sense at the gaming table?

These are just some connected ideas I have had on Starports. There are some that are part of but separate from the worlds they are on, some that are barely tolerated, and some that are staking a claim. I also gave a few thoughts on how I see Starports run, particularly with respect to weapons laws. These gateways to adventure are places to run adventures out of, as much as the class fantasy gaming tavern.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Big Computers, No Problem

A long running joke about Traveller has been the size of computers for starships, usually measured in displacement tons as being unrealistic. I find it to be acceptable because of what the machines are doing, the actual size of shipboard and mainframe computers, and general requirements. Also, traditionally, space opera has had large computers. A bit of background, I was assigned to a Ohio-class submarine, in Travller terms, a TL7 design with extensive TL8 electronics, and specialized in working with the computer system for the strategic weapon system.
Close enough to a displacement ton. Original
A Model 1 computer takes up one displacement ton of the ship's volume. Considering a DTon is defined as exactly 13.5 Cubic Meters, that can be hard to visualized for those of us who don't deal with volumes every day. I found this from a moving company on how big their 15 cubic meter trucks are. Moving boxes are a good substitute here. Fan Lore in Traveller has been the Model 1 computer is roughly equivalent to a Cray-1 from the 1970's. Sized up, one of those units was 263 cm across the base, and 196 cm tall, taking up a volume of 10,647,740 cubic centimeters, or 10.64774 cubic meters. Throw in a bit of space for an operator, access and some ready spares, and 1 Dton is a nice round figure for design purposes.

Official US Navy Photo, Original
As a strategic weapons system tech, I worked in a space just like the one at left. The brown doors in the background house various FCS components, and are integrated into a large scale forced air cooling system. Most of the doors contain power supplies to Versa Module Eurobus racks. Others have older, bulkier systems that have not been phased out, or high frequency AC power rectified into DC. Each one of those islands is about a Dton and a half of space. The beveled edges on the overhead into the islands are fan plenums, for cooling, and the deck is raised for an air return. Not pictured are the flat-panel displays for system control. I have said there is a minimum size for control units based on sophont physiology and ergonomics, so I don't see those getting much smaller. Also, there are various other computers running sonar and fire control, navigation, and communications.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Modeling United States Navy Officers in Using Traveller: A Variant

This is a sort sequel to a post from when I first started this blog. While enlisted personnel have long been specialists, in the United States Navy, officers are often generalists, expected to go from contact coordinator one day to Engineering Officer of the Watch the next. Since the first edition of High Guard was published, there's been career tracks for officers in the Navy career. However, these place officers in the same narrow fields as enlisted, and just don't seem quite right to me. While Sector Fleet is an interesting book, at times it's very much an attempt to give the game a veneer of plausibility. One item from there, the idea of the Naval Regiment, I like. Reminiscent of the the Royal Naval Division of World War I, or the US Navy's Naval Expeditionary Combat Command and Seabees, it started off as local defense and ad-hoc units from remnants at Navy Bases, as well as security troops supporting the Marines.

Why do this for Traveller?
This provides more 'chrome' and a varied route through the ranks. Some officers are not going to be specialized like enlisted personnel, and this gives a path for defining officers who may have been the Chief Engineer and then went on to command their own ship. Also, I see the Imperial Navy as having four socially distinct groups of officers. First, is the Nobles and other Gentry (SOC A) who enter the Navy as a means for social advancement, and social responsibility. Those who join from both social responsibility and advancement. My own LT Brickley is one of those who joined to gain status. Considering how end of generation Navy promotions give an increasing to Social Standing, this is reasonable. Second, you have professional Navy Officers. The guys who Get Things Done aboard ship, and while not explicitly angling for command, they are ready for the responsibilities should the Navy need to expand. Third, is officers commissioned from the ranks. Long serving professional spacers who have skills and leadership above that of an enlisted man and deserve a different sort of recognition than princes using the Navy as a pathway to success. There's also the appointment of various personnel as officers to give them military authority equal to their professional status. This would be military doctors and the like. Uniformed professionals whose rank is consummate with expertise are also in the service, like doctors, are always going to exist.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Nigel The Aslan

When I picked up my copy of Alien Module 1: Aslan, I took a picture of my cat, Nigel, with the book open in front of him. Recently, though, I considered to use the known habits of cats in my favor. Namely, they like to push things off of surfaces.

I placed Nigel on a card-table in my office, and placed dice on there close to the edge, and had him push them over the edge to roll the attributes and some of the early generation roles. He then leapt off the table, so I resumed generation with manual rolls. Meet Nigel the Aslan:

He's a former Commandant in his clan's space force, having served five terms before he was a prisoner of war in a small scale war between clans. The second son of a minor landholder in a major Clan, his family is just another productive cog in a larger machine known as the Hierate. A largely uneventful service, he resisted the temptation to run "war to the knife" against another population of Fteirle as a young officer. He saw it as wrong. He spent his time on a courier route to the Imperium later, learning to deal with other cultures, as well as developing an adaptable skill set. While not knowledgeable about ship's systems, he understood well enough what the female engineer staff was doing to respect them. As a Senior Lieutenant , he got into an honor duel with another male, where he easily bested him, despite being a rather small Aslan. Shortly there after, he spend the remainder of his career in a POW camp when in a war with a human state. He met another captured Aslan who was from a rival clan, and they worked together to maintain their honor as captives. Released, and with a small amount of territory, he's wondering if it's time to go home, or wander the stars. Having worked with humans, he's not averse to them, but wonders if the idea of a earning fortune, and landhold is worth something more than his country-house.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Wasting Away Over Peraspera

The Boxing Kangaroo’s superficial armor damage was repaired in a single shift, but the crew found them question, and giving statements to be sent to the Imperial court at Prometheus. Everyone was thoroughly questioned, and it came through the information was correct. The Ministry of Justice’s freelancer was telling the truth, and the Delights and its’ crew were a Rule of Terra cell intent on running a number of car bombs on Prometheus. It was adding up, and the embarrassed Commander Lord Wood decided to conduct a thorough security review. At least the next courier would take the request off to Counter Intelligence on Terra. It would be up three weeks before the investigators arrived, but the compromised spacer was locked up. A series of statements were recorded, with the command staff’s being the longest. The crew was largely ready to get back to patrols.
            The ship departed the orbital complex early in the morning and went into the three-watch rotation. The first two were largely uneventful, but early in the third watch, GM2 Chishan noticed something off with one of the planetary navigation satellites. Calling for Spacehand Owen, his current messenger, he said, “Look at this, one of the local nav sats is on the fritz. Normally, we’d just report it, and the locals would fix it, but we have to play nice around here. Get the skipper,” taking a second to look at the roster, “Afari, and Brand, we gotta fix the thing.”
            Owen replied, “Tell the CO, Engineer and boat pilot there’s a problem with a local navigation sat, and we’ll need to fix it.”
            Brickley was in his stateroom relaxing, while Brand was supervising the cleanup of the mess deck when Owen found them. Afari, though, was taking a nap in the boat. The last to get to the bridge, he subconsciously adjusted his uniform. Addressing the group, Brickley said “Now we’re all here, what’s your suggestion, OOD?”
            “Sir,” Chishan replied, “I recommend the offgoing section take the boat and repair it. The local nav sat’s error codes, checking in our database, are pretty routine. It looks like it’s a simple computer failure. Nothing unreasonable.”
            “Why the boat?” Afari challenged.
            “It’s more maneuverable in getting to a sat. Also, if there’s a problem, we can recover it back to the Kangaroo and it will fit. It’s a cubic meter, plus arrays. If there’s a problem calling for the Kangaroo, there’s no problem with life support,” Chishan explained. “Should I make the 1MC for the offgoing section to muster in the rec room for briefing?
            “Make the announcement. I’ll give the plan,” Brickley stated.
            A few minutes later, Lieutenant Brickley, MM1 Brand, BM3 Zabiyah, Spacehand Hall, Corporal Afari, and Marines Franke and Fini were in the Kangaroo’s bunkroom. On the monitor set up for movies, there was a watchbill that read: Satellite Repair Operations.
MM1 Brand
CPL Afari
Boat Crew
Mne Franke
EVA Supervisor
BM3 Zabiyah
EVA Tech
Spacehand Hall
EVA Support
Mne Fini
            Brand stood up in front of the group, and explained they were going to repair a malfunctioning navigation satellite, and what each person’s job would be. Afari and Franke would be operating the Ship’s boat. She and Hall would be performing the actual repair. Zabiyah would be ensuring that safe operations occurred. Fini was to be the general assistant. Everyone quickly understood their role, and what malfunction it was. The section mustered at the boat, and performed a quick inventory of equipment. Vacc Suits, tool kit, and some spare parts. Brickley went up to the bridge after the boat was sealed.
            Boxing Kangaroo, this is Joey,” Afari said to Chishan, testing the comms. “We are ready to deploy on your orders. Over.”
            “Understood Joey. Standby for my order to deploy. Over,” was the reply as Chishan noted the captain entering the bridge. “Sir, the boat is ready to deploy.”
            “Understood; I’ll give the area warning, you perform the boat ops,” Brickley replied.
            “Aye-aye sir.”
            “All ships, this is Imperial Naval Ship Boxing Kangaroo. We are conducting boat operations in support of navigational maintenance.” Brickley said to anyone listening on a guard frequency. Not that there was much traffic in the area.
            Joey, this is Boxing Kangaroo. Releasing you on my mark,” Chishan examined his board for status information from the Ship’s Boat. “Mark!” as he entered the command to deploy the small craft.
            Boxing Kangaroo, I am making way under my own power. Over,” came Afari’s reply.
            Joey, understand. Carry out your repairs. Boxing Kangaroo out.” Chishan replied. The boat went off to rendezvous with the damaged satellite. Matching orbits, Afari effortlessly got the boat to a position 50 meters from the damaged satellite. Setting the boat to keep station automatically, he got up from the small flight deck to speak with the party in the main cabin. Franke stayed at his console, monitoring comms.
            “MM1, the show’s yours. We’re about 50 meters off the satellite, so it should be nice and easy,” Afari spoke to her.
            “Good work, but there’s no such thing as an easy spacewalk,” she replied. Her and Hall’s vacc suits were ready to go except for their helmets. “My first deployment, we almost lost a spacer on one. We’ll have 200 meters of recovery line linking us to the boat, so Boats can pull us back in. If that happens, remember we don’t have compensation, so take it easy.”
            “Aye-aye MM1. I’ll be standing by here,” Afari responded. “You ready for this?”
            “One last check here,” Brand responded to Afari’s question. “Boats, go through the checklist one last time, then helmets on,” she ordered as they went down, checking tool inventory, diagnostic computer, and suit status. Satisfied, Zabiayah and Fini placed the helmets on Brand and Hall. Once the seals were good, the two suited figures gave the traditional thumbs up gesture, and carefully entered the airlock. It cycled, and they floated out. Connecting the line to the two spots on the outer hull, Brand and Hall made it to the satellite. Brand hooked the diagnostic computer up to it, and got the readouts for the failure code. A recent event caused its’ simple computer to fail. The work was handed over to Hall, and they reset the program to ensure it operated correctly. The reset worked, and the satellite returned to normal operations. Once they returned to the boat, Afari returned it to the Boxing Kangaroo without incident.

            A few days later an unknown ship entered the system. Zabiayah was on the bridge, when he noticed a jump flare alert. Noticing the sensors, it was a ship coming in system, with the origin system masked, and at 80,000 km away, too far to do anything. He called for Brickley, who was in his office.
            “OOD, report,” was the captain’s command as he came into the small bridge.
            “Bogie detected, bearing 305 range 80k, origin system masked, sir,” was Zabiayh’s practiced response....

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Solomani Security In My Traveller Universe

While the common and popular depiction of Solomani Security is of a Secret Police force with a vast network of informants and a ruthless prosecution of anyone it deems a  threat to the Solomani Cause. As I see it, it's a much more complex organization.

SolSec has two missions in practice; serving as the political police of the Solomani Confederation, and as the primary intelligence agency for the Confederation. The political police role has two functions; keeping the Party and populace aligned with the Solomani Cause, and preventing problems from disrupting the Confederation. At times, these roles come into conflict, but the guidance from the Committee of Consolidation and the Coordinator General generally resolve these on  case by case basis. Also, SolSec agents are often seen as "S-Men" working for the benefit of Solomani society.

The political police work in the general populace is minimal. While hundreds of millions, if not more, Monitors do file reports about what they see and hear, few citizens end up directly in front of a SolSec officer for a criminal issue. Planetary agencies, like the Krypteria of Polyphemus/Capella (SR 1537), are more likely to deal with the Solomani in the street. Local police and security forces will have liaison arraignments with SolSec, where information appropriate to the level of enforcement is exchanged. Also, Old Solomani worlds with independent-minded populaces, like Sequoyah/Capella (SR 1337), require SolSec to have it's own arrest force. However, interstellar travelers of any stripe will have encounters with SolSec. Partially, SolSec wants to know as much as possible about the workings of what actually happens, and every report helps them. It is frequently in the form of a minor functionary that just asks to see the logs at landing, or performs immigration checks.

Active members of the Solomani party are more closely investigated than ordinary citizens, and members of the Secretariat most of all. Generally, a local member of a cell will receive party discipline rather than SolSec attention, but a senior member, usually a delegate to a major party conference, may have issues investigated by a SolSec officer. The factionalism inherent in the Solomani Party means that only the most egregious political crimes are treated harshly; corruption is one of them. The differences between factions are not unlike Cold War era "Kremlinology" for outside observers, but there is more transparency than in a truly closed political environment.

The internal monitoring of the Army and Navy has two major components. First, there are monitors inside military units. Most understand the difference between military duties and typical complaints of them, and actual disagreement with the Cause. Few of these monitors are "Zampolits" in the sense of being an explicit representative of the Solomani Party and SolSec, more often they serve as staff officers, or just have connections. The personnel (S-1) and logistics officers (S-4) are common covers, but some monitors are operational personnel, even up to unit commanders. The additional role as the criminal investigation departments for the military means there are some open SolSec officers at most bases, working with the Military Police. They can either be uniformed personnel, or a plain clothes operation. Generally, the teams assigned to a deployable unit will be uniformed, and one that operates at a base will be plain-clothes.

The monitor program provides much of the small scale information that SolSec uses to work with crude psychohistorical simulations and understand how to operate on a particular world. The general rule for monitors is not to provide salacious gossip that jams the networks, but information directly related to consideration. Current cultural ideas are welcome as well, as it allows SolSec to deeply understand the nature of Solomani society, particularly on different worlds. Given the size of the database, favored researchers are sometimes offered access to older portions. Also, the nature of monitors varies. Some are quiet recorders, others are highly patriotic citizens, and some just have spy fantasies. The ones with spy fantasies tend to get asked to leave the monitor program.

An internal officer may spend a tour assigned to an investigative team, followed by an intervention unit. Senior internal officers end up in the Administration, and they are the leads for many units. It is not unknown for senior investigative officers, while nominally administration, to operate with Field agent teams. Secret agents, of course, do exist, but are far less common than popular media thinks.

The External Directorate is a fairly standard intelligence agency in Charted Space, and it has earned a healthy respect from Imperial Intelligence agencies. Despite a well-earned reputation as a group of fanatical agents sneaking in and destroying Imperial targets, many quickly realize there's no real romance in their sordid business. They employ open agents as attaches to various missions, and under official cover. Secret Agents are more common than in Internal, but many operate under various forms of cover, such as merchants or tourists. On occasion, agents may be lent from one directorate to the other, and transfers do occur. However, to maintain the correct outlook for each role, this is unlikely.