The following is a brief draft description of the setting’s hyperdrive systems, mostly to nail down its capabilities but the post contains several other points crucial to the setting. Note that nothing I post on this blog will contain any major spoilers. I’ve tried to keep the technobabble to a minimum.
The Star Drive (colloquially also called “hyperdrive” or “FTL drive”) is a device that allows a spaceship to travel effectively faster than the speed of light, by side-stepping into an alternate universe known as Irrational Space (or “hyperspace”, “jumpspace”, or one of several other names).
It was invented many centuries before the civilized species arrived in Colonial Space; indeed, it was the star drive which made that voyage possible in the first place.
For a device that is at least 1300 years old, the exact workings of the Star Drive are ill understood. By anyonone, that is, who does not work for the manufacturer of the hyperdrives, the monolithic and enigmatic Star Drive Corporation. The Corporation employs the best physicists and engineers of Colonial Space on incredibly lucrative contracts that contain the toughest NDA clauses imaginable. There are persistent rumors that the Corporation will assassinate employees who leave the company and “know too much” in order to maintain their monopoly.
Star Drives consist of three subsystems: Control systems, huge banks of capacitors, and the drive core. Neither the capacitors nor the control system contain any secrets; the control system consists of high-performance commercial grade astrogation computers and regular control consoles. The capacitors are purpose-built low-inductance high-voltage capacitors.
The drive core, however, is a sealed container that under no circumstances must be opened or breached. This is not merely a legal requirement; a breach of the drive core will result in a powerful explosion and the complete destruction of the spaceship and everything in its vicinity. A ship that needs to dispose of a damaged drive core must jettison it, ideally into a star.
There are several sizes of drive canisters, with larger drives needed for bigger ships, and drives can be “chained” for better performance or for redundancy.
A ship that wishes to make a jump to another star system needs to charge the drive’s capacitor banks, and it must determine a route to the destination. It is possible to purchase generic or individual course data for nominal fees on major worlds, or the astrogator can do his own course calculations.
Courses must take into account any and all objects that may exist in rational or irrational space near the intended course. Even with the best charts available, some risk remains, as Irrational Space is a chaotic place and can experience unpredictable shifts.
Transition into and emergence from Irrational Space cannot occur in deep space; since there are no objects there that exist in both universes, the two spaces are not close enough to each other to permit passage.
Once a course has been programmed into the stardrive’s control consoles, the drive is activated. Huge pulses of current are fed into the drive core. The ship transitions to Irrational Space, automatically follows its course for the duration of the flight, and re-emerges into rational space at the end of the voyage.
It is possible to steer through hyperspace manually; this is common for ships that are exploring uncharted space in order to create astrogation maps.
Star Drives are the most massive component of any star ship. They are mass-rated and custom-designed for a particular spaceship class. Nominal speed of a starship is 0.5 parsec per day; according to Star Drive Corporation promotional materials, speeds up to 10 parsec/day are possible, though anything over 1 parsec/day is not currently feasible and drives that perform at more than 0.5 parsec/day are disproportionately difficult to build and hence much more expensive.
In the past, drives were much slower. The original refugee fleet arrived in Colonial Space traveling at 0.5 parsec per month.
For safety reasons, an individual jump should last for no more than ten days. This effectively limits the drive’s range to 5 parsec.
After a voyage through Irrational Space, a stardrive can not be reactivated or re-enter Irrational Space for a duration of 10% of the original travel time. SDC manuals call this limitation “drive fatigue”, and explanations are non-specific.
SDC warranties will not cover any damages resulting from actions contravening this safety precaution.
“In layman’s terms, light does not dictate the cosmic clock in a realm of shadows.” – Star Drive Corporation cosmologist
Irrational Space is an odd parallel universe. At first glance it seems not unlike our own; all the regular laws of physics apply there – allowing ships and their crew to survive – and yet travel at speeds higher than c are possible.
Every object that exists in real – “rational” – space also exists in Irrational Space. Planets, stars, galaxies, asteroids, and – in theory – people – everything. There are also all sorts of objects there that do not exist in rational space, perhaps two or three times as many star systems in total. The origin or nature of these extra objects is unknown.
All of these objects have a slightly unreal look and feel to them.
Likewise, a ship that transitions into Irrational Space seems to fade ever so slightly; all colors seem slightly desaturated. Sounds carry a barely perceptible echo. Some star travelers claim that these effects can become much stronger – to the point where ships and crew can become ghostly, partially translucent.
There have also been reports that hyperspace is not “dead”; it is inhabited by strange creatures – some of them weird, exotic shapes that drift aimlessly through the shadows of Irrational Space. Others are said to be the ghost souls of our dead ancestors, or malign spirits from another world. Some of these are even said to enter a ship under drive.
Despite such tales, most trips through Irrational Space, while spooky, are uneventful and safe.