Technology available in the game Zero Sum Future.
Fusion power is the beating heart of modern civilization. The modern nuclear power plant is little different in basic construction from one that is 50-60 years old. The basic premise of the Nuclear Power Plant is the He – H fusion cycle. The reactor chamber, as defined by the magnetic containment field of the plasma, is oscillated at the resonance frequency of the hydrogen-helium tunneling function. This causes increased fusion events at lower energy levels, drastically increases throughput by decreasing the threshold energy required. These reactors, ostensibly called Atomic Blenders due to the magnetic oscillation, can be made small enough to power a personal computer, but are generally built to the size of industrial buildings to supply large grids with power.
The Federation is capable of manufacturing room-temperature super conductors that are used in most industrial power delivery systems. The discovery of RTSC materials preceded widespread fusion power.
In 2083, humanity unlocked the key to the stars with the first theorization of the warp drive. It would take us another 2 decades to work up the courage to actually use it.
The Warp Drive is, essentially, a particle accelerator aimed towards the bow of the carrier it is mounted on. It is surrounded on all sides by large banks of supercapacitors to feed the hungry systems of the accelerator. Inside the drive itself rests the “seed” particle, a gravitonic mass suspended by electromagnetic barriers. These barriers hold the gravitonic mass in place by way of weak nuclear forces, which requires them to constantly draw a massive current from the main reactors of the ships they are placed on. Permanent loss of power on a carrier, therefore, means being marooned in deep space. It is for this reason Warp Drives are usually given their own reactor, sealed off from the rest of the vessel.
To travel faster than light, the warp drive “peels off” a graviton from the mass of gravitons, and accelerates it towards the direction of travel. At high energy levels, the graviton distorts the nearby space-time, “warping it”. Gravitons self-act, which causes the particle to keep accelerating forward. The end result is a graviton flying through space at faster than light (FTL) speeds, with the carrier caught in the slipstream. This FTL regime causes the graviton to constantly lose energy in a mechanism similar to hawking radiation – eventually the particle comes out of the FTL regime, and stops carrying the carrier with it. By carefully tuning the energy of the particle, and aiming the accelerator towards the right target, the carrier can traverse interstellar distances rapidly.
However, there are physical drawbacks of the warp drive. First is the massive energy requirement – An FTL drive cannot function without a massive surge to jumpstart the accelerator and shoot the seed graviton forward. Second, the accelerator itself has to be aimed absolutely perfectly – a few degeers of imprecision at a few lightyears can have disasterous consequences. Finally, the translation process of the graviton has a step cost of energy – the energy needed to seperate the graviton and the carrier from the nearby gravitonic influence. This causes a degree of inherent inaccuracy to the warp drive stemming from this step cost – there is no way to calculate the exact escape energy of a carrier at rest. This is the reason why carriers will avoid using the warp drive near other masses (including planets) and will attempt to leave FTL regime before they get near planetary masses.
Of course, then there is the reason why it took us over two decades to colonize an extrasolar planet. The Red Valley Disaster: The expression of a natural consequence of the warp drive construction process. The graviton mass that forms the core of the warp drive requires a very high energy run of a toroid particle accelerator. Roughly every 2/3 such accelerator forms an unstable gravitonic mass, which decays in a highly destructive event. Because of this physical reality, the manufacture of gravitonic warp drives are done in deep space, and multiple facilities are contructed at once to ensure at least one produces a workable unit.
Because of the energy magnitude needed to maintain a warp drive, and to launch a graviton into Ftl regime, warp drives are mounted on large vessels called carriers. These monsters of interstellar travel are the only means by which anyone can travel the star-spanning human civilization. Attempts have been made to turn the accelerator component of the warp drive into an interstellar signal source, but the weak interaction of gravitons and the inherent inaccuracy of the warp drive has made it into an impossibility.
Since the first permanent extraplanetary human settlement was established on Mars, the Carrier has remained the best and only tool for human expansion across the stars.
While the original carrier was built without the intention of carrying large amounts of colonist hardware to mars in an economical fashion, it has evolved beyond that. The Enterprise was a scant 280m in length, the Mayflower 512m, and in a few generations, carrier sizes may well exceed 1km. The Olympus, the sole military carrier of the Federation fleet, is over 800m long.
Because the Carrier is the only platform capable of carrying the warp drive, and because the utilization of the warp drive is very expensive, the rest of the carrier has to be built to carry as much as possible with each jump. Thus, modern carriers are slow, heavy, and large constructions.
A modern carrier is, first and foremost, built around the warp drive. The presence of the warp drive instantly requires power generation: Every carrier contains multiple Atomic Blenders, some directly slaved to the warp drive, some powering the rest of the vessel.
To maintain the hardware, a large crew is needed to keep the Carrier functional. The size of the Carrier and the payload determines the size and training of the crew, but tens of thousands of astronauts per vessel is not unheard of. This crew requires life support, power, accomodation, and entertainment. Most carriers will contain a forest of genetially enchances plants that aid in the recycling of air, not to mention dedicated water and nutrient recycling systems.
All this already respresents a highly expensive investment. To protect herself, almost all carriers equip a version of the Bubble Shield – a network of ports lining the outermost hull of the Carrier. The foam dispersal system ejects a quickly hardening foam to outer space when an inbound object is detected, thus absorbing the impact. Carriers traveling through microasteroid fields will trail a monochrome stream behind them, the foam solidifying in the cold of space. Other protective mesaures include a thin plasticrete exterior hull that can be replaced if some debris makes it's way through the bubble shield.
For bigger game, comes the particle accelerator cannons. Drawing from a reservoir of inert xenon gas, these large weapons can be used both defensively as point defense turrets, or pointed at other hostile objects in space. Because the PAC fires highly ionized Xe nuclei, these weapons are drastically reduced in effectiveness in atmospheres.
Finally, the payload. The raison d'etre of the Carrier, the payload determines the purpose of the Carrier. The first Carrier, Enterprise, is a transport, or merchantile vessel: Designed to haul goods from Earth to Mars. The Mayflower was a colony vessel – loaded with early iterations of the colony vessels that now form the backbone of Federation colonies, it was built with the intent of carrying a large amount of humans into the far reaches of space.
However, Carriers tend to be highly unique – Discovery, while the same generation as Enterprise, was a builder carrier – her internals were filled with facilites that could build installations in deep space. It is for this reason Discovery was used to build the hydrogen harvesting facilities around the gas giants saturn and jupiter in the solar system.
The rapid construction and installation of colonial buildings necessitated the formulation of a material that could be produced in rapid quantity, was relatively lightweight and inert to endure on a variety of environments, and could be assembled with relative ease. Plasticrete is the result. The name is a bit of a misnomer, as it is a plastic-glass hybrid, that takes silicate deposits (sand) and organic material to produce. The end result is a foam-like material that can easily be poured into pre-assembled molds. After setting, the plastic-glass composite is impermeable, resistant to temperature changes, and, the benefit of the silicon, impermeable to UV light. The resilience to UV light is what makes Plasticrete such an effective material for building a colony – not to mention space installations.
The downside of Plasticrete standardization is the requirement of organic material: Recycling can only produce so much, and colonies with low organic deposits will have to import the raw carbon offworld, or make do with very little.
When a colony vessel arrives, it contains the basic facilities to mix and bake Plasticrete in a number of building templates. Building new templates for Plasticrete is an expensive and time consuming process. Plasticrete can also be shaped “freehand”, almost analogous to 3D printing. Colony vessels therefore carry both the templates needed for building construction, and a few freehand tools to do touch-ups or special projects.
Growing potatoes on Martian soil was not an easy task. Even genetically modifying the tuber strains to better tolerate the basalt crust of the red planet was a stopgap measure – and bringing soil from earth was cost prohibitive.
The solution came, interestingly enough, from southern France. Mychorrihizal fungi introduced into the barren soil helped budding farm complexes on Mars thrive. Since then, genetically modified and selected companion fungi has been a staple in the farming toolbox of every colony.
The other option, if soil farming is not an option, is hydroponic farming. Hydroponics require a large amount of water commitment to maintain, but have the benefit of being able to run anywhere.
With either methodology, the Federation is able to turn any location with access to power and hydrogen into a working farm, capable of growing a variety of genetically enhanced crops at rapid speeds. These range from starchy potatoes and other tubers to luscious, exotic fruits. Some colonies have to priorities the calorie dense harvests to prioritize the small amount of arable land they have available.
For a budding colony with access to Federation tech, resources are measured by elemental availability:
Hydrogen: Mined from planetary ice deposits and comets in the form of water, or harvested from gas giants via orbital facilities. Hydrogen is the primary fuel for fusion-based power plants, as well as impulse fuel for ion drives that propel federation craft.
Carbon: Carbon is harvested from hydrocarbon deposits on planets, or mined from carbon bearing asteroids. Biological waste generated by people can also be recycled into usable elemental carbon. Carbon is used primarily for the formation of Plasticrete, the primary building material.
Silicon: Silicon is mined from silicon bearing asteroids and silicate deposits on planets. Desert planets tend to be highly silicon rich. This material is used for the production of electronics and the formation of Plasticrete.
Metal: Metals are mined from metallic asteroids and ore deposits. Metals are highly important for the production of late-stage goods, often used for planetary export.
Elemental resources that are recycled are not tracked.