Air-raft to orbiting ship

Various canon Traveller sources state that Air-rafts can reach orbit and in my Traveller campaign precisely that situation arose during my weekend session with my kids. I assume here that the ship we want to match orbit with is in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The problem is much simpler if the ship is hovering on its contragrav above the planet but that is not what the canon sources say; ‘orbit’ does not mean outside the atmosphere, it means outside the atmosphere with enough speed for centripetal forces to match gravity.

If you dig into the problem there are lots of complications that crop up:

Problems with the air-raft
An open topped vehicle is hardly built for vacuum as this costs a lot extra, so I guess the instrumentation, upholstery etc will break in vacuum. Another problem is that an air-raft produces something like 0.1 G thrust for propulsion which mean (ballpark calculations here) that to reach say 5 km/s orbital velocity they must accelerate for over an hour (ca 5000 seconds).

Problems with the calculations
To match the orbit of a ship the air-raft driver must eyeball the ship and vector (yes, LEO ships can be seen at dusk or dawn by the human eye) and then match that orbit by hand with the air-raft over a more than an hour long acceleration phase. The air-raft will have no instrumentation for orbit matching and the like, just an accelerometer based (Traveller vehicles does not rely on the crude GPS system we use) absolute positional instrument that also indicate height as well as speed gauges. Calculating the orbital mechanics and driving the air-raft to comply is in my opinion a really hard problem for a spaceship pilot and impossible for mere grav-jockeys. If you think orbit matching is a piece of cake try it yourself with the free PC space simulator Orbiter.

IMTU (In My Traveller Universe)
My TL progression differs from canon and GURPS Traveller and this causes even more problems:
(I don’t add gravtech until TL 10, so I can have cultures with jumpdrives without grav and floorfield, ‘Hard-SF with jump’ if you will)
Jumpdrives TL 9
Floaters TL 10
Floorfield TL 11
Gravthrust TL 12
Floater gravbelts TL 13
Reactionless drives TL 13
Gravbelts TL 14
Tractor beams TL 15
Pressor beams TL 16
Rattlers (high freq tractor weapons) TL 17

Floaters are grav ‘thrusters’ that can only negate gravity, they can never create upwards or lateral thrust, just negate the downward pull of gravity. Floaters and gravthrust have ‘thrust’ proportional to local gravity so a 1G (Thrust = mass) floater will negate gravity on all planets, regardless of gravitation (simplifies designing gravvehícles and ‘explains’ why gravthrust is useless for interplanetary travel). Floaters come at TL 10, are much cheaper and require much less power per ‘thrust’ than regular gravthrust. Regular gravthrusters produce floating at the cost of x1/10 thrust (a 1G gravthrust would use 0.1 G for floating and 0.9 G for propulsion for example).
My air-rafts are so cheap they use floaters powered by a fuelcell for lift and turbojet for thrust (both the fuelcell and turbojet are hydrogen powered and need an atmosphere with oxygen to work).

So IMTU the air-rafts cannot reach orbit at all, they cannot even operate in anything near vacuum, fitted with compressors they can work in Very thin atmospheres, but that’s it.

Edit: I have updated the Intercept design system to reflect the TL progression (and no, there are no tractor, pressor or rattlers yet).

One Response to “Air-raft to orbiting ship”

  1. […] regular grav vehicles rarely have the instrumentation to actually match something in orbit, see this post on reaching orbit in an air/raft. Grav thrusters have have built in Floaters […]

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