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I've made my first novel, Ventus, available as a free download, as well as excerpts from two of the Virga books.  I am looking forward to putting up a number of short stories in the near future.

Complete novel:  Ventus


To celebrate the August, 2007 publication of Queen of Candesce, I decided to re-release my first novel as an eBook. You can download it from this page. Ventus was first published by Tor Books in 2000, and and you can still buy it; to everyone who would just like to sample my work, I hope you enjoy this version.

I've released this book under a Creative Commons license, which means you can read it and distribute it freely, but not make derivative works or sell it.

Book Excerpts:  Sun of Suns and Pirate Sun

I've made large tracts of these two Virga books available.  If you want to find out what the Virga universe is all about, you can check it out here:

Major Foresight Project:  Crisis in Zefra

In spring 2005, the Directorate of Land Strategic Concepts of National Defense Canada (that is to say, the army) hired me to write a dramatized future military scenario.  The book-length work, Crisis in Zefra, was set in a mythical African city-state, about 20 years in the future, and concerned a group of Canadian peacekeepers who are trying to ready the city for its first democratic vote while fighting an insurgency.  The project ran to 27,000 words and was published by the army as a bound paperback book.

If you'd like to read Crisis in Zefra, you can download it in PDF form.

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So here's the plan

Conquering space in two easy steps

Further to the discussion about Brian Wang's treatment of Orion and its offshoot, the Verne gun, if you look at the comments to my previous post, Adam Crowl suggests that peak acceleration for Brian's gun would be about 3700 gravities.  He also suggests ways of reducing that, primarily by using a nuclear charge to energize hydrogen gas and have that push the ship.  (I'm not sure that's the most efficient way to go, though, because the Orion design depends on the efficiency of energy transfer to the pusher plate and requires close proximity to the charge.)

In any case, this figure of 3700 g's suggests something: some things would be able to take it (like hardened electronics, tight rolls of thin-film solar cells, and liquids like water or rocket fuel) but others (like people and furniture) would not.  In one of Brian's latest posts, he talks about the Mercury laser, which might make practical laser-initiated fusion happen.  This piece makes me wonder what the total mass of the system minus the supporting building structure would be (because that bears on how practical it would be for fusion powered spacecraft) but also reminds me that laser launch systems have only been waiting for this one development to become practical. 

So here's the plan:  launch a few hundred thousand tonnes of rugged stuff using the Verne gun, and send up the rest a tonne at a time using a laser launch system.  You can even run the laser launch system off renewables if you want to be green; and after the first few launches, you end up running it off beamed power from the first solar power sat you put up.  True bootstrapping through hybrid launch technology.

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Posted by Adam Crowl at Mar 09, 2009 06:00 AM
A good use for a laser launcher is to get the payload high enough to use a Mag-Beam on it and circularise its orbit. Mag-Beams, being giant plasma-guns, don't work too well in an atmosphere but do wonders up in space, which is convenient because a Myrabo-style laser-launcher craps out once its medium (air) runs out. A Verne Gun can launch the power systems and helicon beam-generator and plasma director the Mag-Beam needs. Plus about 3000 tons of batteries is needed to launch off a payload to Mars, for example. Less batteries are needed for Low Orbit circularisation operations fortunately.

Actually a decent Mag-Beam can be done for less in-space mass because a big ultra-light SPS array can provide the power directly instead of batteries. Using L'Garde inflatables for collectors the array can mass just 130 tons for a 300 Megawatt Mag-Beam power-supply.

As much as I like "Orion" I just don't like the idea of a drive needing massive amounts of bomblets for propulsion. The less we have to play around with nuclear explosives the better - though for mining on airless worlds they're pretty handy. External ignition of fusion pellets would be better and (relatively) non-weaponizable approach for pulse drives. Problem is that such ignition is hard to do! We know how to make fission bombs much better than we know how to ignite fusion without fission triggers.


Posted by Karl Schroeder at Mar 10, 2009 05:19 AM
For a while now I've been thinking about writing a long post on "the next business model for space." So companies like Virgin are taking us suborbital, and companies like Bigelow provide us with a destination--but in between is this opportunity for a company or companies to take payloads that have been launched to suborbital heights, the rest of the way. I've also been thinking about the hybrid of laser and magbeam, and it seems like one of the better options--another weakness with laser launch being the tiny payloads if you're trying to get all the way from the ground to LEO. But there's an opportunity here for more than one model: you could also put a rotating tether system in place to serve the same function. Neither system cares much about how you get to the suborbital rendezvous point, so it could be a SpaceX launcher, Spaceship 2, or whatever that gets you there.

Incidentally, magbeam provides a good opportunity for proof of concept on power beaming, since microwave recharging might be more efficient and lower-mass than putting solar panels on the thing.

Rotovators and Power-Beaming

Posted by Adam Crowl at Mar 11, 2009 04:16 AM
Rotovators have always had an appeal for me and while the drag is too much for them to touch down on Earth, a top of the atmosphere pick-up is eminently feasible. A major issue is the pesky amounts of space-junk in LEO which is rather unhealthy for tethers.

As for power-beaming to the Mag-Beam station, that does have merit if the station is doing boost-to-orbit for LEO operations. An array can be parked in a higher orbit and beam power to the LEO Mag-Beam base. Mass can be saved by using shorter wavelengths than an SPS beam would when sending power to the ground, thus a smaller emitter/rectenna can be used. The interplanetary Mag-Beam would be better having an attached array because the power-demand is higher and the array can stay in sunlight continuously.

Business model-wise a Mag-Beam could both demonstrate power-beaming from a decent size SPS AND provide the means to launch further SPS into space cheap enough to actually make money. Assuming fusion power or something better doesn't turn up in the meantime.

Dark Sky station

Posted by Karl Schroeder at Mar 11, 2009 02:21 PM
Well, here's something else I'm very curious about, then: would a rotovator's drag be sufficiently reduced at 140,000 feet that it could reliably dock at one of JP Aerospace's proposed Dark Sky Stations? ( or see the book Floating to Space.)

I've been thinking about a cardiovator that docks once per orbit at a dark sky station; but I'm unsure whether such a tether could be built to have zero horizontal velocity on touchdown, even at that altitude.

DSS problem

Posted by Adam Crowl at Apr 15, 2009 05:59 PM
Hi Karl

What JP doesn't mention on the webpage is their discovery that high altitude winds make the Polar Gyre about the only place their DSS can be parked without fighting the wind all the time. So while an airship might be able to dock with a rotovator, there can't be a fixed point station.

Working on the filling in the details on nuclear cannon/verne gun

Posted by brian wang at Apr 01, 2009 11:58 AM
Laser launch is ok. But laser arrays of smaller lasers makes more sense
for more ordinary pushing or providing energy to burn propellant.
There is problem maintaining beam quality over distance and the precision of compression needed for laser fusion means you cannot initiate fusion from a distance.

Looking at the issue of high-g acceleration and how much payload and keeping a large projectile together.

Ram accelerator work provides info on static and dynamic loads on space cannon launch. One thing is that the highest stresses are only acting for a short time. So you could go past ordinary measures of strength of material. Current navy guns can shoot large projectiles to put thousands of Gs of acceleration and the projectiles are not made of heroic material.

The Project Orion model does use boron and other filler as the propellant that gets converted into hypersonic gas and plasma. So it is not the nuclear blast that directly accelerates. The blast acts on the propellant and filler.

Can dig several miles deep to get to 1000g of acceleration if the propulsion can be made uniform across the distance. For more development effort can have underground Orion acting over a long tunnel. [David Brin idea. under and along the slope of Mt Kenya.] Could get down to 100gs. Make adjustments for low slope. The One shot cannon has advantages and simplicity. Analyzing making that work and determining how well it can work.

An earlier version of the idea...

Posted by Adam Crowl at Apr 15, 2009 05:53 PM
Hi Karl (and Brian if you're lurking)

David Darling's reprints of papers by MacroEngineer Richard Cathcart has this little discussion...

Alexander Bolonkin has asserted: "... a gas gun using hydrogen can give a speed of up to 3-4 km/s, which however is not enough for space flight".4 [Earth escape velocity = 11.12 km/s.] It seems he may have been unaware of a gun-launcher devised by Arthur J. Gram, Jr. and Charles S. Smith; their employer The Babcock & Wilcox Company, was assigned USA Patent 3,131,597 on 5 May 1964. The Gram-Smith invention would cause heated freshwater to vaporize, made into super-pressured steam; some of the manufactured steam was then to be reacted with natural gas to form hydrogen,5 some of it was to be sent directly to a high-pressure steam accumulator. When the vertical gun-launcher, installed inside an appropriately sited mountain, was scheduled for discharge, it was expected that steam would compress the hydrogen gas, which would then act to propel the fired object upwards towards interplanetary space. They calculated a 5.4 m-wide missile could be launched every three days from a gun barrel ~3,000 m-long. Their missile, never exceeding a launch acceleration of 100 g, could attain an altitude of ~280 km in ~4.5 minutes. The contemplated invention was never constructed because post-Sputnik rocketry advanced so quickly, overtaking and eclipsing what seemed like a cruder (gun-launch) technology. Gram-Smith foresaw missile launch side-effects occurring within the Earth's atmosphere: ignition of the suddenly released anthropogenic hydrogen gas on contact with natural air above the launch tube, and a subsequent massive rain-out of freshwater on the countryside surrounding their subterranean gun.

...from here...[…]/lithopanspermia_Cathcart.html mention of the nuke-heated gas-gun, but the idea's there.

Orion nuclear pulse drive

Posted by Arthur Majoor at Apr 27, 2009 10:18 PM
Next Big Future also talks about Orion asteroid interceptors that can launch from Earth accelerating at 100G and impacting an incoming asteroid 15 million KM away with a Gigaton of kinetic energy about 5 hours after launch.

The interest here is the fact the Orion can launch to orbit with only 3 nuclear detonations if the shock absorbers are locked and the ship is stressed for 100G. Once in orbit, the shock absorbers can be unlocked and the ship sent to dock with the ISS or some future offshoot, transfer the hab modules and carry on to Mars or the asteroid belt at a more leisurely pace.

Even the minimum Orion asteroid interceptor is supposed to carry 115 pulse units of 2.5 KT each, which is a lot of Delta V, more capable interceptors used as core modules for deep space missions can carry a lot more.

Since the ideal launch location is near the North Pole so fallout isn't trapped in the Magnetosphere, it isn't a stretch to imagine the US ABM base in Alaska becoming the site of the asteroid interceptor squadron as well (tied into the extensive USAF and NORAD monitoring systems). You can imagine the political opposition to such an idea, but someone will eventually have to save the world...
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About Me

I'm a member of the Association of Professional Futurists with my own consultancy, and am also currently Chair of the Canadian node of the Millennium Project, a private/public foresight consultancy active in 50 nations. As well, I am an award-winning author with ten published novels translated into as many languages. I write, give talks, and conduct workshops on numerous topics related to the future, including:

  • Future of government
  • Bitcoin and digital currencies
  • The workplace in 2030
  • The Internet of Things
  • Augmented cognition

For a complete bio, go here. To contact me, email karl at kschroeder dot com

Example: The Future of Governance

I use Science Fiction to communicate the results of actual futures studies. Some of my recent research relates to how we'll govern ourselves in the future. I've worked with a few clients on this and published some results.

Here are two examples--and you can read the first for free:

The Canadian army commissioned me to write Crisis in Urlia, a fictionalized study of the future of military command-and-control. You can download a PDF of the book here:

Crisis in Urlia

For the "optimistic Science Fiction" anthology Hieroglyph, I wrote "Degrees of Freedom," set in Haida Gwaii. "Degrees of Freedom" is about an attempt to develop new governing systems by Canadian First Nations people.

I'm continuing to research this exciting area and would be happy to share my findings.


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    Coming on June 18, 2019

    "Science fiction at its best."

    --Kim Stanley Robinson

    A Young Adult Scifi Saga

    "Lean and hugely engaging ... and highly recommended."

    --Open Letters Monthly, an Arts and Literature Review

    Sheer Fun: The Virga Series

    (Sun of Suns and Queen of Candesce are combined in Cities of the Air)

     β€œAn adventure-filled tale of sword fights and naval battles... the real fun of this coming-of-age tale includes a pirate treasure hunt and grand scale naval invasions set in the cold, far reaches of space. ”
    β€”Kirkus Reviews (listed in top 10 SF novels for 2006)

    "With Queen of Candesce, [Schroeder] has achieved a clockwork balance of deftly paced adventure and humour, set against an intriguing and unique vision of humanity's far future.
    --The Globe and Mail

    "[Pirate Sun] is fun in the same league as the best SF ever has had to offer, fully as exciting and full of cool science as work from the golden age of SF, but with characterization and plot layering equal to the scrutiny of critical appraisers."

    "...A rollicking good read... fun, bookish, and full of insane air battles"

    "A grand flying-pirate-ship-chases-and-escapes-and-meetings-with-monsters adventure, and it ends not with a debate or a seminar but with a gigantic zero-gee battle around Candesce, a climactic unmasking and showdown, just desserts, and other satisfying stuff."