The Starship Travellers (Part 2)

Posted on October 5, 2012
By Kelvin F. Long

In the earlier blog article, we discussed the meaning of the term “Starship”; itself a joining of the two separate words “star” and “ship”. There are many types of Starships depending on whether they are robotic or crewed, slow or relativistic, precursor missions or full interstellar, small payloads or entire world ships. In this article we continue the examination of this term to help us to understand its meaning. This series of articles, “The Starship Travellers” is really a philosophical exploration of the meaning of the term “Starship”. Let’s briefly examine how the nautical world categorises its different types of vessels.

Firstly, there are different types depending on the type of waterway they are intended for. Some are designed for lakes, rivers, canals, oceans. Some are ferries, some are cargo carriers, and some are pleasure cruises. What all these vessels have in common is some form of hull, based on the simple requirement that in order for it to float, its weight must be less than that of the water that it displaces. The type of vessel will lead to the type of hull requirement, from a catamaran to a trimaran for example. They may have a wooden hull for pleasure craft, steel for commercial vessels, Aluminium for fast vessels and composite materials for some types of sailboats and pleasure craft. There are even concrete hulled vessels. These vessels also have an assortment of propulsion systems, which are usually either human propelled such as rowing, sailing such as by the use of a sail hoisted on an erect mast, and mechanical propulsion systems such as by the use of a motor or engine turning a propeller in steam driven engines or gas turbine engines. Recently, mechanical engines have also included nuclear propulsion systems, particularly for warships and icebreakers. There are also many variations on the types of propellers that a ship may have. The vessel would typically be steered by either some paddles or a rudder, which generates a lateral force to turn the craft. These can be manual or electro-hydraulic systems. Often the propulsion system and the steering are linked, such as in the use of an outboard motor and specific types of sails. All of these different elements will lead to the decision over whether to classify a water going vessel a boat or ship for example. In general a ‘ship’ is considered to be a large buoyant marine vessel, distinguished from boats based on its size and cargo or passenger capacity.

Is this the same way that ‘Starships’ should be categorised? Of course, you could break it down into the Starboat, Starship….There are already some types of Starships out there, such as Slow Boats (Enzmann) and the World Ships. In a recent paper submitted to JBIS three authors (Crowl, Long, Obousy) even invented a half-way definition called a Slow Ship. I it is important to dig into the issue of what is meant by a Starship because it helps us to argue the case for interstellar flight. So when someone says interstellar flight is not possible, they really have to be specific about what sort of ‘Starship’ they are talking about being possible to send. Is it a 1 kg probe, or a 1 million GTon World Ship? Having a first attempt at the question, you can define a Starship from various perspectives, the distance it goes to, the payload mass, mass ratio, mission type, whether it is robotic or human, what cruise velocity it attains. Following along these lines you can come up with some categories like the following:

Read more: The Starship Travellers (Part 2) | Interstellarindex.

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