Artificial Gravity

In the early 1990’s, a Russian scientist claimed to have created artificial gravity in the lab. However, his results were unverifiable, and his experiments could not be duplicated. Artificial gravity, as a serious endeavor, found itself mentioned with other less-than-noteworthy work, such as cold fusion. Then in 2006, a lab funded by the European Space Agency, created an artificial gravity pulse that measured 1/10,000 th of a G. Unlike the previous claim, the experiments were successfully repeated, and gravity pulses were again created, but it wasn’t until the late 2020’s that artificial gravity fields were being produced of sufficient strength and duration to have commercial applications, and cheaply enough to be afforded by more than just governments. Artificial gravity was rushed into commercial use. There were many accidents, and deaths, but the technology was patched and re-patched in between uses, until finally, in 2035, artificial gravity was considered “safe.” While there were many craft on the drawing boards that were designed to take maximum use of the new AG technology, it was found that many existing craft could be retrofitted. One of the first moon bases was a retrofitted ocean research vessel lifted from Earth and placed in a cradle that was also retrofitted from a decommissioned dry-dock.

Artificial Gravity technology split into four distinct applications: gravity generation and enhancement, gravity screening, propulsion, and containment.

All four applications started with an artificial gravity pulse (AGP) generator. This massive piece of equipment produced an unrefined gravity field. The term “field” suggests a continuous effect. However, an artificial gravity field is a series of pulses that occur very rapidly. The effect is continuous since the pulses are so close together that there is no discernable decrease between pulses. The longer the field is active, the longer the decay of a given pulse. After the field has been active for a few dozen hours, the decay between pulses virtually ceases to exist. Shutting down a gravity generator that has been in operation for months results in a decay of that last pulse that can last for weeks at near full strength. Without refinement, the field extended out in all directions, centered on the AGP, or the highest mass density in direct physical contact with the generator, and was virtually indistinguishable from a natural gravity field. All matter produces gravity pulses just as a gravity generator does. However, naturally occurring gravity pulses are unsynchronized. A natural gravity field appears as a uniform effect, much like the light from an incandescent bulb, while an artificial gravity field appears as a wave effect, similar to the light from a florescent bulb. The creation of an artificial gravity field was a linear effect. Doubling the power doubled the size of the field. As far as anyone could tell, the only limit to the size of the field was the output of the generator’s power supply. When artificial gravity was first created, a tremendous amount of power produced a tiny amount of gravity. But as the technology was refined, along with a number of startling breakthroughs, a given gravity field required less and less power for its creation. A very noteworthy effect: A sustained gravity field would exist at nearly full strength for a period of time after the power to the generator was cut. The longer the field was maintained under power, the longer it lasted without power. Once a gravity field was created and stabilized, its maintenance power was an order of magnitude less.

The first few ships to include artificial gravity were spheres built around the generator, with decks arranged like the layers of an onion. Luckily, the invention of the gravity rotor came very quickly. A gravity rotor enables an artificial gravity field to be refined, contained, and transmitted a short distance. The gravity rotors in a given vessel are linked by an encrypted frequency. This makes the gravity field in a ship unique, and keeps gravity rotors from nearby ships from interfering in the ship’s gravity field. This also acts as a “fingerprint” for the ship, as no two artificial gravity fields have the same frequency.

While AGP improvements allowed for smaller and smaller generators, they were still too big to be placed under the deck plating and too expensive to be used in large quantities. A typical ship would have one primary AGP and one backup. Artificial gravity would be fed to gravity rotors for emission and refinement. The gravity rotor shaped the gravity field, allowing it to have a flat bottom and sides, and the rotor was inexpensive enough that a ship could hold enough to provide controllable gravity everywhere on the ship. Another benefit of the gravity rotor was that the gravity field could be stopped at a specific distance, such as the ceiling of that deck. An unrefined artificial gravity field extended indefinitely, until its effect was cancelled out by a larger surrounding field, in the same way that a planet’s gravity extends until overpowered by a star’s gravity.

In addition to refining and shaping a gravity field, a gravity rotor could be reversed to cancel a nearby gravity pull, effectively masking the weight of an object. While maintaining the effect of a normal earth gravity inside a ship was an important advancement in spacecraft production, it was gravity screening that truly opened up spaceflight – and any vehicular travel, for that matter – to all equally. Up to that time, tremendous resources were required just to get the spacecraft off of the planet’s surface. After gravity screening was applied, the craft’s engines only had to overcome the craft’s inertia. Cancel out the gravity pull on any object, no matter how big, and the higher air pressure under the object will be enough to push it to the upper reaches of the atmosphere. Granted this would take a VERY long time on a massive object.

From that point on, there really was no limit to the size of a spacecraft or of its construction. Before gravity screening, spacecraft were wispy delicate constructs that could be easily damaged and had to be designed and constructed to prohibitive tolerances. After gravity screening, any material that could be made space worthy could be used. Ships could be built out of concrete and steel, and some were. The ship’s weight was unimportant. All that mattered was that the drive system could overcome the ship’s mass.
The one truly disappointing application of gravity technology was gravity propulsion. While gravity rotors excelled at refining gravity fields and cancelling interacting fields, they weren’t at all efficient at pushing against a gravity field. A large amount of capital was invested in creating a gravity propulsion system, but it never worked well enough to be economical. The best application of gravity “propulsion” was to use just enough gravity screening to cancel the craft’s weight, and let more conventional propulsion systems handle the pushing and pulling. In this way, a conventional hovercraft still has the lifting fans, but they can keep the hovercraft at a greater altitude, and the ground effect skirt is eliminated.

While all of the applications of artificial gravity have important uses, it is the application of containment that produced the most beneficial and lucrative effect: Gravity containment of hydrogen makes commercial fusion:

  • SAFE: The fusion reaction is maintained entirely by gravity constriction inside a vacuum chamber. Turning off the constriction simply ceases the compression of the atoms, which are pulled apart by the zero pressure around them. While there have been some instances in which the sudden expansion of hydrogen has caused a catastrophic breach of the reactor containment vessel, the resulting explosion was not of a thermonuclear nature, and the ship’s shuttles and escape craft had no trouble clearing the blast.
  • VIABLE: The invention of artificial gravity eliminates the need to pump massive amounts of energy into heating the reaction mass. While a significant amount of energy is required to produce the high gravity field necessary for fusion, that field is very small. The energy produced by the reaction far exceeds the amount required to create the gravity field.
  • PROFITABLE: The amount of hydrogen required to start a sustainable fusion reaction is one cubic foot of hydrogen gas at 30psi. That volume is compressed to a volume that is microscopic. Commercial generators use substantially more and fuel must be added continuously to maintain the reaction, but the fuel is still just ordinary liquid hydrogen.

The combination of conventional shielding, added to electromagnetic and gravitational containment produces fusion reactors small enough, and inexpensive enough, to be installed on privately owned spacecraft, and in small-to-medium sized installations. The power output of a fusion reactor is such that all other forms of power production become meaningless by comparison. While substantial consideration must be given to physical containment and shielding, an AGP fusion bottle can be made in any size and power output. Well, almost any size: While a tiny AGP fusion bottle could conceivably be generated for a personal vehicle, such as a family car, the physical containment housing would fill the trunk and back seat. Additionally, the fusion process would be so small that more energy would go into sustaining the reaction than the reaction produced. Personal vehicles are powered by high-performance batteries, charged from fixed power distribution points. Out on the rim, internal combustion engines can be found – along with an abundance of animal-powered transportation.

Typical frontier towns on newly colonized planets and moons would have a “pocket power plant” in a shed behind city hall or the town courthouse.

Artificial Gravity

Firefly: Redemption E221b