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Maybe the Enterprise is hovering, not orbiting


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An idea to reconcile a perplexing fact-cluster from the Star Trek franchise in what I think is a new, hard-sci-fi-ish approach:

  • Crews on board starships experience "gravity" (exactly equal to that of southern California), which is rarely explained, discussed, or explored in an interesting way
  • Line of sight with away teams on the surface is never interrupted by the horizon, for comms, sensors, transporters, weapons, or anything else
  • Starships' engines are extremely powerful and efficient, for both FTL and sub light speed travel, able to accelerate extremely quickly and rarely limited by fuel supply
  • "Weightlessness" and "zero G" are not artifacts of being in space, but of being in free fall, i.e. experiencing no forces such as running the engines
  • When other vessels are encountered, they never whiz past at 7–15 km/s, but instead gently cruise by at a leisurely pace

What if the sheer power of Starfleet vessels' engines leads to the abandonment of true "orbits" as pertains to starships?

  1. When the captain says to enter "orbit" around a planet, the ensigns understand by established Starfleet convention that this means to enter the region of space where a low orbit would be, i.e., 100–2000km altitude
  2. They maneuver the starship into that rough altitudinal region, and instead of establishing a proper circular orbital velocity, they bring it to a faux-geocentric "stop" over designated a point of interest; with no further action, it would drop out of the sky, burn up, and crash, so...
  3. The ship is oriented so the "bottom" points towards the planet
  4. The engines are configured to thrust "upward" exactly equal to the force of the planet's gravity, effectively holding the ship in place over one spot

The result for the crew would be just like standing on the top of a ~100–2000-km-tall tower; they'd feel the planet's gravity pulling them down, almost as strongly as at sea level, with no magic "artificial gravity" tech required. Benefits include having your Starfleet-branded iPad not float away and the ability to sip Romulan ale from a glass without spilling it. The energy budget to do this, even for several consecutive days, should be relatively trivial next to that expended in the typical space battle or race to rescue the ambassador or deliver the self-sealing stem bolts. And if all space navies adopt this practice, then enemy ships have a reason to have low relative velocities.

Obvious caveats and objections:

  • "Gravity" in deep space remains unexplained
  • The ships are never shown accelerating "upwards", only "forwards"

I realize this is not what the canon says, and it doesn't cover everything, but for hard sci fi fans, it may be a serviceable excuse for turning your brain off during some episodes.

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19 minutes ago, HebaruSan said:

An idea to reconcile a perplexing fact-cluster from the Star Trek franchise in what I think is a new, hard-sci-fi-ish approach:

  • Crews on board starships experience "gravity" (exactly equal to that of southern California), which is rarely explained, discussed, or explored in an interesting way
  • Line of sight with away teams on the surface is never interrupted by the horizon, for comms, sensors, transporters, weapons, or anything else
  • Starships' engines are extremely powerful and efficient, for both FTL and sub light speed travel, able to accelerate extremely quickly and rarely limited by fuel supply
  • "Weightlessness" and "zero G" are not artifacts of being in space, but of being in free fall, i.e. experiencing no forces such as running the engines
  • When other vessels are encountered, they never whiz past at 7–15 km/s, but instead gently cruise by at a leisurely pace

What if the sheer power of Starfleet vessels' engines leads to the abandonment of true "orbits" as pertains to starships?

  1. When the captain says to enter "orbit" around a planet, the ensigns understand by established Starfleet convention that this means to enter the region of space where a low orbit would be, i.e., 100–2000km altitude
  2. They maneuver the starship into that rough altitudinal region, and instead of establishing a proper circular orbital velocity, they bring it to a faux-geocentric "stop" over designated a point of interest; with no further action, it would drop out of the sky, burn up, and crash, so...
  3. The ship is oriented so the "bottom" points towards the planet
  4. The engines are configured to thrust "upward" exactly equal to the force of the planet's gravity, effectively holding the ship in place over one spot

The result for the crew would be just like standing on the top of a ~100–2000-km-tall tower; they'd feel the planet's gravity pulling them down, almost as strongly as at sea level, with no magic "artificial gravity" tech required. Benefits include having your Starfleet-branded iPad not float away and the ability to sip Romulan ale from a glass without spilling it. The energy budget to do this, even for several consecutive days, should be relatively trivial next to that expended in the typical space battle or race to rescue the ambassador or deliver the self-sealing stem bolts. And if all space navies adopt this practice, then enemy ships have a reason to have low relative velocities.

Obvious caveats and objections:

  • "Gravity" in deep space remains unexplained
  • The ships are never shown accelerating "upwards", only "forwards"

I realize this is not what the canon says, and it doesn't cover everything, but for hard sci fi fans, it may be a serviceable excuse for turning your brain off during some episodes.

Amazingly...still not good.

Or rather...too much of a good thing. On an earlier thread of mine I discussed how conservation of energy would make most scifi spaceships flying bombs.

And by bombs I mean big ones, all the way up to nuke and beyond.

Consider that the amount of energy to hover for hours at a time by sheer thrust, lifting a few thousand tons is...non trivial.

In other words, we are talking bomb territory.

And it would mean that every single ship they have, shuttles included, is likewise a flying mini nuke.

Granted they do not blow up that way in canon, but it is not as if ST cares much about conservation of energy anyway.

If one wants to do conservation of energy justice, you have to make your own scifi instead of look to popular scifi.

That said...I use loop holes for mine. Namely, my drive has plenty of thrust...which will be gone in 15 min whether or not you even use it once you engage the drive to online mode.

No it's not a traditional rocket, and yes they do have backup drives, but not a lot because government heavily regulates the energy equivalent of having many bombs aboard.

Edited by Spacescifi
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5 minutes ago, Spacescifi said:

Consider that the amount of energy to hover for hours at a time by sheer thrust, lifting a few thousand tons is...non trivial.

Hmm, I don't think the Kzinti Lesson is a problem for this idea, at all; in fact, it helps. Yes, "Starships' engines are extremely powerful and efficient," as already stipulated. The have to be, to be able to perform the suggested maneuvers routinely. Why they don't use them as weapons can be delegated to be handled by a SEP Field.

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6 minutes ago, HebaruSan said:

Hmm, I don't think the Kzinti Lesson is a problem for this idea, at all; in fact, it helps. Yes, "Starships' engines are extremely powerful and efficient," as already stipulated. The have to be, to be able to perform the suggested maneuvers routinely. Why they don't use them as weapons can be delegated to be handled by a SEP Field.

 

SEP field?

Do you mean structual integrity field like in Star Trek?

That is pure fiction.

I don't know what a SEP field is.

Either way, conservation of energy is still a problem that is not addressed.

Who cares about the Kzinti lesson when shuttles that are essentially nukes are landing in populated areas and people drive them around like flying cars?

That's FAR more dangerous!

All it takes is for one to go off and goodbye starfleet in San Francisco.

Edited by Spacescifi
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22 hours ago, Spacescifi said:

SEP field?

Do you mean structual integrity field like in Star Trek?

That is pure fiction.

I don't know what a SEP field is.

[snip]

How extremely powerful engines are used a question of fleet practices, interstellar agreements, etc., not physics. Thus "Somebody Else's Problem" in the context of speculating about a link between "artificial gravity" and said extremely powerful engines.

Edited by Vanamonde
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The things are even more sad... ;.;

***

Enterprise orbits the flat Earth.

The ST authors aren't aware of the "orbital" mechanics and the new fancy theory of "spherical Earth".

They just know that astronauts and shuttle arer always in the sky, i.e. above the head.
If the Earth was spherical, the astronauts would periodically get underground. But they don't. So, the Earth is flat.

Following this sober and healthy view they just play with starship, spacemen, and robot toys on their big flat table in the studio, moving it up or down, depending on the plot.

Spoiler

eaglemoss_002.png

Star-Trek-The-Official-Starships-Collect

Star-Trek-Enterprise-Rocker-For-Kids-Fea

 

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It’s an interesting suggestion.  I think a couple of those observations can be rationalised fairly easily without needing the Enterprise to hover.

No loss of line-of-sight can be rationalised (to a reasonable degree by assuming that a ‘standard orbit’ is a stationary orbit for that particular celestial body. Stationary orbits are usually going to be high enough that you’ll keep line-of-sight with a respectable portion of the planet’s surface.

Not having spacecraft whizz past each other at orbital speeds - most interactions between ships (peaceful or otherwise) are probably helped by not having such a high relative velocity - so when you see two ships on screen I assume they’re in matching, or close to matching orbits, since they’ve effectively rendezvoused.

I might be missing OP’s point here though.

With regard to shipboard gravity, from what I remember, we only tend to see Starfleet ships without gravity in the event of a power outage, usually due to battle damage.

Personally I don’t have a big problem with shipboard artificial gravity. Whilst the only currently sensible answer to how it actually works is ‘very well, thank you’, quite a few important other features of Starfleet vessels can be ‘explained’ by assuming that they have the capacity to generate artificial gravity fields. Those features include the warp drive, the navigational deflectors, the inertial dampers and possibly the main shields.

Edit:  And the tractor beam of course - d’oh!

So in that context I can switch my brain off regarding artificial gravity for the crew. :)

 

Edited by KSK
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24 minutes ago, KSK said:

Personally I don’t have a big problem with shipboard artificial gravity. Whilst the only currently sensible answer to how it actually works is ‘very well, thank you’, quite a few important other features of Starfleet vessels can be ‘explained’ by assuming that they have the capacity to generate artificial gravity fields. Those features include the warp drive, the navigational deflectors, the inertial dampers and possibly the main shields.

9 hours ago, HebaruSan said:

Obvious caveats and objections:

  • "Gravity" in deep space remains unexplained
  • The ships are never shown accelerating "upwards", only "forwards"

In Star Trek: Enterprise (featuring the NX-01 ship) there is at least one episode, likely in the early half of eason 1, where it's made clear that gravity is provided by "gravitic floor plating" (and related, primitive shields provided by "polarized hull plating" which deflect enemy beams via extremely powerful EM fields. Shield emitters aren't a thing yet,) and I've contemplated that ever since. Observed "gravitic waves" is a real thing apparently, so we can actually gauge gravity to some extent and hope to be able to control it. So at that point in time (Early 2200s, right?) they've clearly developed a means to cause gravitons(?) assuming gravity has a particle, to flow along the proper vector, otherwise, and this is a fun and insane idea I have, the ship creates a singularity, or several singularities at some far off location under the ship, and the ship subtly resists being pulled into it/off course. Granted the faux dimension "Subspace" exists and allows FTL [particles, travel and comms], and can be shattered by attempting an Omega particle, I try to handwave artifical gravity by gravitic plating creating a subspace "Waterfall" onto and through itself, and the ship passively thrusts against it, or the waterfall affects everything on the periodic table as we know it, and not the handwavium metal (Duranium) that the plates are likely made of.

By extension, inertia dampeners (the thing that prevents crew from being splattered by the ship's acceleration) could be a lateral variant of gravitic floor plating.

In general, since being introduced to the Expanse meta, I try to remind myself that most of the Trek series is built upon hand-crafted ceramic scale model ships, and is an old series, so any of these conditions, and more, may be true:

  • The budget didn't exist to allow the producers to model weightlessness and other physically accurate scenarios.
  • Nobody at the time, especially Gene Roddenberry himself, knew of the nuances of orbital mechanics, or if they did, didn't care to implement them as these would subtract from Trek's premise of telling a seemingly whimsical story and exploring dilemmas of individuals and civilizations.
  • The technology didn't exist, or was beyond their reach, that allowed for brewing or serving more creative juice in an episode. Holodeck scenes are pretty intense when you think about the era that Trek was produced in.

 

9 hours ago, HebaruSan said:

The result for the crew would be just like standing on the top of a ~100–2000-km-tall tower; they'd feel the planet's gravity pulling them down, almost as strongly as at sea level, with no magic "artificial gravity" tech required. Benefits include having your Starfleet-branded iPad not float away and the ability to sip Romulan ale from a glass without spilling it. The energy budget to do this, even for several consecutive days, should be relatively trivial next to that expended in the typical space battle or race to rescue the ambassador or deliver the self-sealing stem bolts. And if all space navies adopt this practice, then enemy ships have a reason to have low relative velocities.

I've seen enough in KSP planet modding chats to have a solid answer but further complicating question to this. Sure you ascend to orbital heights in what is effectively a space elevator. but as you go, you still acquire a lot of lateral velocity because you're effectively increasingly getting slingshot by the structure. Gravity's downward pull weakens, so you ultimately end up "in endless freefall" just as if you were on the ISS. There are some super-size planets that if you land on them, you will roll and tumble because surface gravity and rotation speed don't balance out.

Depending on your altitude, you can meet a point between being pulled down by gravity, and being constantly slingshot by your fraction of orbital speed. You could find yourself in a semi-centripetal state.

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21 minutes ago, JadeOfMaar said:

In Star Trek: Enterprise (featuring the NX-01 ship) there is at least one episode, likely in the early half of eason 1, where it's made clear that gravity is provided by "gravitic floor plating" (and related, primitive shields provided by "polarized hull plating" which deflect enemy beams via extremely powerful EM fields. Shield emitters aren't a thing yet,) and I've contemplated that ever since. Observed "gravitic waves" is a real thing apparently, so we can actually gauge gravity to some extent and hope to be able to control it. So at that point in time (Early 2200s, right?) they've clearly developed a means to cause gravitons(?) assuming gravity has a particle, to flow along the proper vector, otherwise, and this is a fun and insane idea I have, the ship creates a singularity, or several singularities at some far off location under the ship, and the ship subtly resists being pulled into it/off course. Granted the faux dimension "Subspace" exists and allows FTL [particles, travel and comms], and can be shattered by attempting an Omega particle, I try to handwave artifical gravity by gravitic plating creating a subspace "Waterfall" onto and through itself, and the ship passively thrusts against it, or the waterfall affects everything on the periodic table as we know it, and not the handwavium metal (Duranium) that the plates are likely made of.

By extension, inertia dampeners (the thing that prevents crew from being splattered by the ship's acceleration) could be a lateral variant of gravitic floor plating.

In general, since being introduced to the Expanse meta, I try to remind myself that most of the Trek series is built upon hand-crafted ceramic scale model ships, and is an old series, so any of these conditions, and more, may be true:

  • The budget didn't exist to allow the producers to model weightlessness and other physically accurate scenarios.
  • Nobody at the time, especially Gene Roddenberry himself, knew of the nuances of orbital mechanics, or if they did, didn't care to implement them as these would subtract from Trek's premise of telling a seemingly whimsical story and exploring dilemmas of individuals and civilizations.
  • The technology didn't exist, or was beyond their reach, that allowed for brewing or serving more creative juice in an episode. Holodeck scenes are pretty intense when you think about the era that Trek was produced in.

I've seen enough in KSP planet modding chats to have a solid answer but further complicating question to this. Sure you ascend to orbital heights in what is effectively a space elevator. but as you go, you still acquire a lot of lateral velocity because you're effectively increasingly getting slingshot by the structure. Gravity's downward pull weakens, so you ultimately end up "in endless freefall" just as if you were on the ISS. There are some super-size planets that if you land on them, you will roll and tumble because surface gravity and rotation speed don't balance out.

Depending on your altitude, you can meet a point between being pulled down by gravity, and being constantly slingshot by your fraction of orbital speed. You could find yourself in a semi-centripetal state.

Yes note that internal gravity is always is the same direction and the same strength even if in deep space or under trust.  
Not sure how the sublight drive work but it would make sense if it used gravity too and could then probably move the entire ship and the crew as one as in no felt acceleration. 
If not they would need to first cancel out the g force from the trust and then add the artificial gravity. If this system failed while the trust was still running down would now be backward and you would get up to some speed in the huge rooms and long corridors. 

Its the old spaceships are ships meme who simply screams not a clue or does not care.  Yes it has a bit rule of cool but mostly its simpler to make the props this way. 
And yes millennium falcon has the same issue

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@magnemoe The Trek wiki (memory-alpha.org) says that the Impulse drive is a composite of a fusion rocket and low power warp nacelle, having "driver coils" which are essentially warp coils, and which are fed by the exhaust plasma, but the impulse drive itself is not a warp drive. The coil assembly is only an efficiency buff. (Yes! It runs on Efficiency™!)

As I said, the interia dampers could be a lateral form of the gravitic floor plating. They would project their force in tandem with the ship's acceleration, canceling out that lethal inertia moment that you'd face otherwise. There is a decent number of occasions where inertia dampers are threatened or compromised, which is cool.

Hah! We don't talk about the Millenium Falcon. :D

Edited by JadeOfMaar
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22 minutes ago, JadeOfMaar said:

@magnemoe The Trek wiki (memory-alpha.org) says that the Impulse drive is a composite of a fusion rocket and low power warp nacelle, having "driver coils" which are essentially warp coils, and which are fed by the exhaust plasma, but the impulse drive itself is not a warp drive. The coil assembly is only an efficiency buff. (Yes! It runs on Efficiency™!)

Actually having the impulse drive as a sub-light ‘warp’ engine makes sense given that a starship could reach 0.5c on impulse power (as I recall). If it was a pure rocket it would put the Epstein Drive to shame!

I suppose the bit of plasma spurting out of the back does add a bit of thrust and proves that rocket ships are cool even in the 23rd century. :)

 

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[snip]

It could work, but for Trek it would not fit, since their main engines are in the rear, not the bottom. They would have to flip over and point upright. I also see no glowy lights underneath that would indicate Trek engines.

One could attribute the hovering to antigravity, but that too is never mentioned as a factor in Trek

Edited by Vanamonde
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11 hours ago, JadeOfMaar said:

There is a decent number of occasions where inertia dampers are threatened or compromised, which is cool.

This is a standard plot device in David Weber's books. He's at least aware that a failure of his ships' "inertia compensators" when they are accelerating at 500 gravities or whatever would instantly kill everyone on the ship. Sometimes he declares that it happens to selected unlucky ships in his battles. But anyway....

Yes, if you have an unlimited delta-V budget and at least enough available thrust to hover, then there is absolutely no need to be in orbit. However, if you ever turn off your engines, you will immediately start to fall.

Edited by mikegarrison
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im getting tired of people on the ground in scifi films looking up and seeing large spacecraft floating stationary overhead. i know star trek/wars has tech magic that makes anti gravity possible. its silly to explain that to somone who has seen the dot sized iss zoom across the night sky.  they should at least make an attempt to make the technology seem feasible in both its usage and its exhibition.

Edited by Nuke
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6 minutes ago, Nuke said:

im getting tired of people on the ground in scifi films looking up and seeing large spacecraft floating stationary overhead. i know star trek/wars has tech magic that makes anti gravity possible. its silly to explain that to somone who has seen the dot sized iss zoom across the night sky. 

The implications of a vessel the size of a star destroyer literally zooming overhead every 90 minutes is far scarier than it just hovering.     If somebody with the data wants to work out the relative size to the full moon.....

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5 minutes ago, Gargamel said:

The implications of a vessel the size of a star destroyer literally zooming overhead every 90 minutes is far scarier than it just hovering.     If somebody with the data wants to work out the relative size to the full moon.....

a star destroyer in the same orbit as the iss would be like 15 times bigger. 

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In Spore the highly detailed moons and planets above heaad are very... impressive.

Also, KSP.

Spoiler

 

And there was another KSP movie with tens-kilometers sized ships above, but can't recall its title.

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1 hour ago, Gargamel said:

If somebody with the data wants to work out the relative size to the full moon.....

zvezdnye-vojny.jpg

Tarkin wouldn't have it any other way 

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2 hours ago, Nuke said:

a star destroyer in the same orbit as the iss would be like 15 times bigger. 

An star destroyer is around 1.5 km long. ISS is 100 meter so it will be very visible from the ground in low earth orbit but still smaller than the moon I think, Some thing 10 km long would be much larger than the moon. 
Had been fun with an shot or image of this seen from earth. 

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24 minutes ago, magnemoe said:

An star destroyer is around 1.5 km long. ISS is 100 meter so it will be very visible from the ground in low earth orbit but still smaller than the moon I think, Some thing 10 km long would be much larger than the moon. 
Had been fun with an shot or image of this seen from earth. 

A reddit thread I just saw says that since the SD’s Would  orbit at about 400km,  it would only be about 14 arcseconds, vs the the moon’s 40.   So about a third the size.   But I can see it being much bigger if you brought it in real low. 

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If I was a Star Destroyer, at what altitude would I be hovering?

Probably above the weather and the tactical anti-aircraft things, but still enough close to the surface to watch,

50 km?

If so, it's ten times closer than ISS.

1.5/50 * 180 / pi = 1.7 degrees, 3..4 Moons.

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7 hours ago, kerbiloid said:

If I was a Star Destroyer, at what altitude would I be hovering?

I'm pretty sure the Vogon planet destroyer (which destroyed Earth to make way for an intersteller bypass and famously hovered "like bricks don't") hovered at a similar altitude or lower.  Visibility was key.

3 hours ago, Gargamel said:

And with deference to the OP, I consider Star Wars and Star Trek vessels (wessels!) to be in the same category here. 

And almost on a level with the Vogons.  The important bits are visual (or audio for HHGTG), which far outweigh the science in the director's eyes.

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