Scifi Starship Energy Harnessed Seems Massive

Bab5space
FTL and warp are energy intensive in fiction, and even real scientists calculated at first that warping space would take a planet Jupiter mass converted into energy amount.

Later it was revised to only about 800 kilograms, about the weight the voyager 1 probe.

Even so, that is still a massive amount of energy.

Know what a paper clip contains energy wise if you had a way of converting it into energy (antimatter is one way but still not 100%)?

A nuclear blast.

Now picture that level of energy millions of times over and you get rhe nearly 800 kilograms converted into energy harnessed for warp, going by current science.

Granted, scifi need not rely on real science, but it is eye opening when we compare notes with reality and fiction. It also leaves rather staggering implications and choices to be made.

1. If you adopt using starships that can harness such vast energies and store it as well, they will likely be totally invulnerable to any nukes we have, as they already store and harness levels of energy that scale much higher. Starships like this having lasers that have enough energy to blast stuff like a missile is well within their abilites, but missiles are not obsolete since they too can take much greater thermal damage before they succumbing to point laser defenses compared to anything realistic we can make. Harnessing and controlling vast amounts of energy implies that one has materials that can take that heat.

2. If you want starshipa that are less god-like and mire defeatable by real tech but still need them to go FTL or warp... you have the oorion of them drawing energy or power from some alternate reality. Like hyperspace or something. Since if your ship does not have to store vast amounts of energy, it can have a easier time harnessing and unleashing it.

Discuss.

Mentor
Drakkith
Granted, scifi need not rely on real science, but it is eye opening when we compare notes with reality and fiction

Sure, but who does that? And esp. when you are reading the story? I'm pretty sure that Peter F. Hamilton briefly noted a portable weapon rated as storing a GW of energy in one of his 'Commonwealth' novels. It's hard to imagine any way to actually, physically do that, it is essentially a large-scale nuclear power plant in your back pocket, but it's great fun to read when characters start firing off plasma pulses that take out buildings.

BTW, most sci-fi does not rely on real science. If it did, that would just be fiction

That's tongue in cheek, but really, science fiction is deliberately speculative. If it portrays current science then it's usually wrapped up in some impossible-for-now circumstance or situation, which is used to make the point of the story.

1. If you adopt using starships that can harness such vast energies and store it as well, they will likely be totally invulnerable to any nukes we have...

Why so? A nuclear power plant harnesses 'vast energies' but drop a nuke on it and it's toast. My holding a pistol does not make me bullet proof.

2. If you want starshipa that are less god-like and mire defeatable by real tech but still need them to go FTL or warp... you have the oorion of them drawing energy or power from some alternate reality. Like hyperspace or something.

You have many options, and a lot of sci-fi stories have FTL with no energy draw-down from an alternative reality. In fact, in many instances, recharging the "batteries", usually from a fusion reactor, before the next FTL jump is a critical plot device to build narrative tension.

It also leaves rather staggering implications and choices to be made.

Yes it does, but most authors do not appear to be overly concerned with this. They write a story with a HUGE amount of presumed aspects and focus on the telling, not the mechanisms that underlie how things get from A to B.

When you write your stories, do you drill into the motor, transmission, steering, rubber in the tires, etc. etc. of a car used to drive to the spaceport? I'd bet $$you don't. But Jules Verne used to, because back in his day there was no science fiction lore or well-accepted tropes, and honestly, it's pretty boring to read now. Wading through a minutia of such detail is not what most readers are there for, most of the time. Later it was revised to only about 800 kilograms, about the weight the voyager 1 probe. Out of interest, can you cite this revision? I've not come across such a small energy debt for a possible warp drive. Bab5space Sure, but who does that? And esp. when you are reading the story? I'm pretty sure that Peter F. Hamilton briefly noted a portable weapon rated as storing a GW of energy in one of his 'Commonwealth' novels. It's hard to imagine any way to actually, physically do that, it is essentially a large-scale nuclear power plant in your back pocket, but it's great fun to read when characters start firing off plasma pulses that take out buildings. BTW, most sci-fi does not rely on real science. If it did, that would just be fiction That's tongue in cheek, but really, science fiction is deliberately speculative. If it portrays current science then it's usually wrapped up in some impossible-for-now circumstance or situation, which is used to make the point of the story. Why so? A nuclear power plant harnesses 'vast energies' but drop a nuke on it and it's toast. My holding a pistol does not make me bullet proof. You have many options, and a lot of sci-fi stories have FTL with no energy draw-down from an alternative reality. In fact, in many instances, recharging the "batteries", usually from a fusion reactor, before the next FTL jump is a critical plot device to build narrative tension. Yes it does, but most authors do not appear to be overly concerned with this. They write a story with a HUGE amount of presumed aspects and focus on the telling, not the mechanisms that underlie how things get from A to B. When you write your stories, do you drill into the motor, transmission, steering, rubber in the tires, etc. etc. of a car used to drive to the spaceport? I'd bet$$ you don't. But Jules Verne used to, because back in his day there was no science fiction lore or well-accepted tropes, and honestly, it's pretty boring to read now. Wading through a minutia of such detail is not what most readers are there for, most of the time.

Out of interest, can you cite this revision? I've not come across such a small energy debt for a possible warp drive.

The energies required for FTL/warp are staggingly high if using modern science theory.

Any massive concentration of energy that we know how to handle is either stored over a wide area, or released like water hose as opposed to having a deluge come down on you.

The energy of a nuclear blast is more than what a nuclear reactor can give off.

And the very idea of a fusion reactor powering a warp or FTL drive seems unlikely to me, since the power required for such approaches the antimatter level (matter into energy).

How does one handle such energies?

They can spread out the energy across space rapidly somehow, perhaps warping space at FTL to do so, thus avoiding concentrating it on the vessel generating it.

As for the calcs, here:

https://www.space.com/amp/17628-warp-drive-possible-interstellar-spaceflight.html

The energies required for FTL/warp are staggingly high if using modern science theory.

Maybe. As you noted, the supposed energy for an Alcubierre warp has reduced by orders of magnitude from 2008 when Gerald Cleaver and Richard Obousy calculated that "Jupiter mass" energy requirement, so perhaps it is reasonable to assume that this will be reduced further by the passing of a few more decades.

And the very idea of a fusion reactor powering a warp or FTL drive seems unlikely to me, since the power required for such approaches the antimatter level (matter into energy).

LOL, well a ton of sci-fi authors disagree with you, so let's park this in the IMHO bucket because it is all speculative physics.

That's interesting but as the article notes, "An Alcubierre warp drive...potentially made of exotic matter" suggests that even if the reduced energy calculation is correct, the underlying engineering is still based on unobtanium!

GTOM
Personally i also think antimatter is better option for warp. With this, you can prevent constant jumping (warp bunny hop against missiles) since antimatter depletes, generate it is slow, fusion only enough for real world.
Also it sounds good that we couldn't yet discover certain things, since we need antimatter power density.
I also introduce constraints against wide bandwidth ftl to prevent droning. (quantum entanglement very fragile, hyperspace waves can be jammed pretty efficiently, well it is already a bit W40k like chaotic environment)

essenmein
Its important to note that at least for fusion the plasma is not contained by "materials" but by magnetic fields. The materials have to withstand the neutron radiation, but not the plasma temperature. No reason to think more advanced sci fi reactors would revert to solid materials rather than magnetic fields to contain the reactions.

Being able to contain a reaction inside the reactor is completely different to withstanding a similar reaction on the outside. So there is no reason to assume something is invincible simply because it is a high power reactor core, if anything quite the opposite, if something is already working very hard to contain an energetic reaction, then a mere tickle on the outside could upset that and BOOM.

Bab5space
Its important to note that at least for fusion the plasma is not contained by "materials" but by magnetic fields. The materials have to withstand the neutron radiation, but not the plasma temperature. No reason to think more advanced sci fi reactors would revert to solid materials rather than magnetic fields to contain the reactions.

Being able to contain a reaction inside the reactor is completely different to withstanding a similar reaction on the outside. So there is no reason to assume something is invincible simply because it is a high power reactor core, if anything quite the opposite, if something is already working very hard to contain an energetic reaction, then a mere tickle on the outside could upset that and BOOM.

Do you already know why we do not have a working fusion reactor right now?

Are you aware of the specific reasons?

Here's why as follows, which is why I think the way I do. I rather make stuff up than give peopke false hope that a technology we understand can do more than it already does:

Why We Do Not Have Fusion:

Yes magneric fields do hold the plasma fusion reaction... just not well enough. Plasma is wispy and slippery stuff, and tends to slip out of the magnetic fields and hit the containment walls, lowering the ultra high temperatures required for a self-sustaining fusion reaction and killing it. Human fusion VS star fusion are two different beasts. Stars do fusion because they have planets worth of mass that cause fusion in their cores with elements that normally would not fuse otherwise. We obviously cannnot do planets worth of mass, so we have to heat up plasma to temperatures even hotter than the core of the sun to compensate.

And using known science only, the amount of heat a starship would generate via a self sustaining fusion reaction is... a cause for concern to put it lightly. The only way we know of dealing with lots of heat in space is using a lot of mass... and we know how hard it is to get lots of mass into orbit to begin with.

Stronger magnetic fields might help, but even those have limits (solid electromagnets break apart at super high fields) unless we learn a better way (liquid magnets perhaps?). Even so magnets are also known for being heavy... and heavy spaceships tent to cancel out the gains you get from having fusion in the first place.

Kind of reminds me of the antimatter beam core rocket concept. Conceptually it is the most scifi powerful rocket we have ever theorized, with both high thrust and a delta v in the thousands (can do high thrust for long periods of time). Yet it burns through antimatter by the second, and the amount of gear needed to keep the ship from melting would cut into the vessel's max speed and thrust anyway. Not by a trivial amount.

In scifi we choose to ignore reality and that is fine.

I guess my only real issue is pretending that conceptual technologies are miracle tech when the problems/challenges with them are known.

Kind of why Gene Roddenberry went with phasers over lasers, although he more or less ignored this method when it came to fusion powered impulse... or not. Trek has so much Treknobabble that it becomes tiresome.

The TOS had more real science in it overall than any of the succeeding ones.

GTOM
Do you already know why we do not have a working fusion reactor right now?

Are you aware of the specific reasons?

Here's why as follows, which is why I think the way I do. I rather make stuff up than give peopke false hope that a technology we understand can do more than it already does:

Why We Do Not Have Fusion:

Yes magneric fields do hold the plasma fusion reaction... just not well enough. Plasma is wispy and slippery stuff, and tends to slip out of the magnetic fields and hit the containment walls, lowering the ultra high temperatures required for a self-sustaining fusion reaction and killing it. Human fusion VS star fusion are two different beasts. Stars do fusion because they have planets worth of mass that cause fusion in their cores with elements that normally would not fuse otherwise. We obviously cannnot do planets worth of mass, so we have to heat up plasma to temperatures even hotter than the core of the sun to compensate.

And using known science only, the amount of heat a starship would generate via a self sustaining fusion reaction is... a cause for concern to put it lightly. The only way we know of dealing with lots of heat in space is using a lot of mass... and we know how hard it is to get lots of mass into orbit to begin with.

Stronger magnetic fields might help, but even those have limits (solid electromagnets break apart at super high fields) unless we learn a better way (liquid magnets perhaps?). Even so magnets are also known for being heavy... and heavy spaceships tent to cancel out the gains you get from having fusion in the first place.

Kind of reminds me of the antimatter beam core rocket concept. Conceptually it is the most scifi powerful rocket we have ever theorized, with both high thrust and a delta v in the thousands (can do high thrust for long periods of time). Yet it burns through antimatter by the second, and the amount of gear needed to keep the ship from melting would cut into the vessel's max speed and thrust anyway. Not by a trivial amount.

In scifi we choose to ignore reality and that is fine.

I guess my only real issue is pretending that conceptual technologies are miracle tech when the problems/challenges with them are known.

Kind of why Gene Roddenberry went with phasers over lasers, although he more or less ignored this method when it came to fusion powered impulse... or not. Trek has so much Treknobabble that it becomes tiresome.

The TOS had more real science in it overall than any of the succeeding ones.

What you say is basically right (personally i have a bit optimism with ITER but energy gain most likely will be still below fission level. On the other hand, fission reactors in private hands doesn't sound good for my story. Fusion reactors less dangerous. )
Although i don't really see your point.

I guess my only real issue is pretending that conceptual technologies are miracle tech when the problems/challenges with them are known.

Many stories explore the problems and challenges with technology. Many don't, they just use fantastical tech and get on with it. But science fiction encompasses so much 'pretending' that if you find this tiresome then you are reading the wrong genre!

Although i don't really see your point.

I second that.

What is your point, @Bab5space? Your OP was about energy levels for fictional starships with a couple of contestable assertions made. You can write a sci-fi story only using current technology, if you like. It won't have 'starships' and it certainly won't have FTL of any kind. But taking speculative science as if it's real and making a case that it can't be real...it does not make much sense.

essenmein
Do you already know why we do not have a working fusion reactor right now?

Are you aware of the specific reasons?

Here's why as follows, which is why I think the way I do. I rather make stuff up than give peopke false hope that a technology we understand can do more than it already does:

Why We Do Not Have Fusion:

Yes magneric fields do hold the plasma fusion reaction... just not well enough. Plasma is wispy and slippery stuff, and tends to slip out of the magnetic fields and hit the containment walls, lowering the ultra high temperatures required for a self-sustaining fusion reaction and killing it. Human fusion VS star fusion are two different beasts. Stars do fusion because they have planets worth of mass that cause fusion in their cores with elements that normally would not fuse otherwise. We obviously cannnot do planets worth of mass, so we have to heat up plasma to temperatures even hotter than the core of the sun to compensate.

And using known science only, the amount of heat a starship would generate via a self sustaining fusion reaction is... a cause for concern to put it lightly. The only way we know of dealing with lots of heat in space is using a lot of mass... and we know how hard it is to get lots of mass into orbit to begin with.

Stronger magnetic fields might help, but even those have limits (solid electromagnets break apart at super high fields) unless we learn a better way (liquid magnets perhaps?). Even so magnets are also known for being heavy... and heavy spaceships tent to cancel out the gains you get from having fusion in the first place.

Kind of reminds me of the antimatter beam core rocket concept. Conceptually it is the most scifi powerful rocket we have ever theorized, with both high thrust and a delta v in the thousands (can do high thrust for long periods of time). Yet it burns through antimatter by the second, and the amount of gear needed to keep the ship from melting would cut into the vessel's max speed and thrust anyway. Not by a trivial amount.

In scifi we choose to ignore reality and that is fine.

I guess my only real issue is pretending that conceptual technologies are miracle tech when the problems/challenges with them are known.

Kind of why Gene Roddenberry went with phasers over lasers, although he more or less ignored this method when it came to fusion powered impulse... or not. Trek has so much Treknobabble that it becomes tiresome.

The TOS had more real science in it overall than any of the succeeding ones.

If you want realism, then FTL is off the table. This thread was started about you being surprised that it takes a lot of energy to do FTL.

Any ship traveling any significant sublight velocity is already extremely energetic by our standards.

So if you want FTL then you will inevitably have to invoke magic.

As you have noted, FTL by todays "estimations" requires large amounts of energy, and from memory (ie don't quote me on that!) that pesky negative mass (or negative energy).

My reasoning for fusion containment and antimatter is simple, if you can do all the field things that you need to be able to do to make FTL happen, then you should also be able to contain fusion or make antimatter, as IMO those are a pre-requisite to developing FTL, you need power and lots of it, other wise you're just pontificating about what could be, much like we are today.

jackwhirl
2. If you want starshipa that are less god-like and mire defeatable by real tech but still need them to go FTL or warp... you have the oorion of them drawing energy or power from some alternate reality. Like hyperspace or something. Since if your ship does not have to store vast amounts of energy, it can have a easier time harnessing and unleashing it.
Also consider more conventional outside sources. With the appropriate infrastructure (mass relays, stargates, etc.), your vessels do not need to store or harness the energy. Without the limiting factor of the vessel's volume, lower density power sources become feasible. Your transwarp corridor might be stellar-powered by a Dyson swarm, for example.

GTOM
Bab5space
If you want realism, then FTL is off the table. This thread was started about you being surprised that it takes a lot of energy to do FTL.

Any ship traveling any significant sublight velocity is already extremely energetic by our standards.

So if you want FTL then you will inevitably have to invoke magic.

As you have noted, FTL by todays "estimations" requires large amounts of energy, and from memory (ie don't quote me on that!) that pesky negative mass (or negative energy).

My reasoning for fusion containment and antimatter is simple, if you can do all the field things that you need to be able to do to make FTL happen, then you should also be able to contain fusion or make antimatter, as IMO those are a pre-requisite to developing FTL, you need power and lots of it, other wise you're just pontificating about what could be, much like we are today.

Where we differ is the tech level.

In my opinion if a scifi race has the energy to fly spaceships at warp/FTL/jump drive and the energy required is anywhere near theorized, then they would be able to do much better than fusion and antimatter rocket propulsion.

And yes, alcubierre warp in theory requires stuff that currently only exists on paper, we have never detected negative matter so it may not even be real.

As for making stuff up vs pretending theoretical concepts for propulsion work better than they really do... it can be much the same.

As here are the options:

1. Miseducate your readers and have them thinking fusion or antimatter propulsion is awesome with none of the drawbacks those who have studied it know all too well.

2. Compensate for the drawbacks of fusion and antimatter by adding fictional technology. You're mixing fake with real, and it will be hard for uneducated readers to tell the difference.

3. Just make up the entire propulsion system. It's fake and readers know there is no real world equivalent.

I prefer option 3 because I feel that miseducating readers about space travel is the last resort I am willing to take, and when I do so, I make it obvious that there is no real world equivalent. At the same time, fictional means of transport for me exist to serve the plot.

I am not in the business of trying to foretell the future of space travel, but I do think that common sense tends to transcend past and future. So no matter the time, common sense will decide how tech, no matter how advanced, is used.

Staff Emeritus
In my opinion if a scifi race has the energy to fly spaceships at warp/FTL/jump drive and the energy required is anywhere near theorized, then they would be able to do much better than fusion and antimatter rocket propulsion.

But will not be able to make their spaceships any shape they want?

Bab5space
But will not be able to make their spaceships any shape they want?

Perhaps.