Spacecraft – High Tech

This is the second part of my article on Ad Astra space drives. Part 1 is here. Today, TL9 – TL11.

Tech Level 9 (without antimatter)

The perfection of deuterium/tritium fusion rockets revolutionises space travel. It is finally possible for a shuttle to take off from Earth, fly to the Moon and back, all without refuelling. Interplanetary travel becomes truly practical. Cheap VASIMR thrusters powered by fusion electric plants can haul large loads, even to the outer planets – although travel times are measured in months or years. For those in a hurry, fusion rockets with drop tanks can halve travel times.

D/T fusion drives use tonnes of hydrogen propellant, but also need hundreds of kilos of deuterium & lithium fuel. Deuterium is widely available, or can be purified from large quantities of plain hydrogen, given time. Lithium must be mined or filtered from sea water. D+Li typically costs Cr300/kg.

Nuclear salt water drives are even more capable – putting Mars only 2 weeks away. Unfortunately their highly toxic exhausts restrict them to military use, or uninhabited volumes.

Jump drives can be constructed at this tech level, although they are not discovered until TL10. Some interstellar travel is conducted by TL9 craft, even though a journey typically takes a whole year. Star ships at this tech level almost invariably place passengers in low berth, even for journeys of a single jump.

TL9 Shuttle

TL9 Moon shuttle 200t, MCr89, 37t cargo

200t streamlined cone configuration, with high thrust D/T fusion rockets. Hydrogen propellant tanks fill 50% of the hull, which is enough for 27.7km/s of delta-V. This ship can launch from Earth, fly to the Moon and back in 3 days, and land – all without refuelling. (Note the heat radiator fins.)

TL9 Mars ship

TL9 Mars ship 200t, MCr45, 9 months, 130t cargo

200t dispersed structure, with VASIMR thrusters capable of 0.00016G. A D/T fusion plant generates the necessary 52MW. Hydrogen propellant tanks fill 15% of the hull, which is enough for 52km/s of delta-V. A round trip to Mars (closest approach, no landing) takes 9 months.

TL9 NSW Mars ship 200t, MCr160*, 4 weeks, 106t cargo

200t dispersed structure, with a nuclear salt water drive capable of 1G. Water propellant tanks fill 20% of the hull, which is enough for 223km/s of delta-V. A round trip to Mars (no landing) takes between 4 weeks and 5 months, depending on the season. Cargo capacity is 106t.

* – This ship is highly capable, but has significant disadvantages. Firstly, refuelling is ruinously expensive. MCr100 of the MCr160 price tag is the 2000kg of highly enriched uranium that the ship burns during its round trip. Secondly, the exhaust is very toxic. Fortunately the propellant is expelled at many times solar escape velocity, but extreme care must be taken to ensure that it is never pointed at inhabited bodies. The drive would be quite capable of launching from a planet’s surface, but using it in an atmosphere is universally illegal.

Tech Level 10 (without antimatter)

Fusion drives continue to evolve. Highly efficient thrusters reduce the minimum time for an Earth-Mars journey to less than 3 weeks. These drives are so efficient that waste heat is now a serious problem. Thruster-driven ships have huge radiator fins. Many also employ trans-dimensional heat sinks, which store excess heat in foamed higher dimensions.

Rockets are now able to use the deuterium/helium-3 fusion reaction, which produces more energy, and requires much less heavy shielding. Shuttles can move around planetary systems with ease, and interplanetary craft can use much more energetic transfer vectors.

Helium-3 fusion drives & power plants CANNOT burn pure deuterium as they lack the proper shielding. He3 is usually only available at high-tech A- or B-class starports. It typically costs Cr10,000/kg. He3 may be manufactured from deuterium, but this process is slow and costly. Alternatively it may be collected from gas giants or mined on airless inner-system worlds.

TL10 is the usual capability level of interstellar civilizations. These ships can be found working in every inhabited, civilized system. They are widely traded, easy to use, cheap to run, and well understood.

TL10 shuttle

TL10 shuttle 200t, MCr59, 82t cargo.

200t streamlined wedge configuration, with high thrust He3 fusion rockets. Hydrogen propellant tanks fill 35% of the hull, which is enough for 34.5km/s delta-V. A round trip to the Moon takes only 3 days.


TL10 Mars ship 200t, MCr81, 86t cargo.

200t dispersed structure, with D/T fusion thrusters capable of 0.01G. Hydrogen propellant tanks fill 30% of the hull, which is enough for 178km/s of delta-V. A round trip to Mars (no landing) takes between 6 weeks and 7 months, depending on the distance.


TL10 interplanetary shuttle 200t, MCr118, 52t cargo.

200t streamlined wedge configuration, with He3 fusion rockets, and a D/T fusion thruster. Hydrogen propellant tanks fill 40% of the hull, which is enough for 18km/s of high-thrust delta-V AND 112km/s of delta-V at 0.01G. This ship can launch from Earth, fly to Mars, land, and return – all in 2 months, without refuelling. A round trip to the Moon takes only 2 days.


TL10 jump courier 200t, MCr130, 40t cargo.

200t spherical configuration, with He3 fusion rockets (6G), and a D/T fusion thruster (0.01G). Hydrogen propellant tanks fill 40% of the hull, which is enough for 41km/s of high-thrust delta-V OR 255km/s of delta-V at 0.01G. The ship is designed to take advantage of drop tanks


Affordable antimatter enables a quantum leap in space craft technology. Suddenly, interplanetary journeys can be completed in days, rather than weeks.

Tech Level 9 with antimatter

TL9’s usual fusion rockets can be supercharged by injecting small (0.1%) amounts of antimatter into the fuel stream. Antimatter-catalysed fusion rockets can be used for interplanetary travel – often supplemented by drop tanks. Antimatter can be purchased at most A- and B-class starports, but prices can be very variable. MCr10/kg is typical. Pre-mixed deuterium/antimatter fuel pellets are often available for about Cr20,000/kg.

Pure antimatter rockets also become available at TL9. Whilst useless for long journeys, they enable highly manoeuvrable military fighter craft. Engines that can pull 6G for a whole hour are possible, although they would normally be used at lower thrusts, or for many shorter burns. Antimatter-rocket driven missiles are even faster.


TL9 interplanetary antimatter shuttle 200t, MCr75, 70t cargo.

200t streamlined wedge configuration, with antimatter catalysed fusion rockets (no thrusters). Hydrogen propellant tanks fill 40% of the hull, which is enough for 82km/s of high-thrust delta-V. This ship can launch from Earth, fly to Mars, land, and return in 3 months, without refuelling. A round trip to the Moon takes 15 hours.

Tech Level 10 with antimatter – torch ships.

Finally, at TL10 with antimatter, interplanetary travel becomes an every day convenience. Antimatter catalysed fusion thrusters have both super-high efficiency and high thrust – so there is no need for separate rockets for launch or landing. One “torch” ship, can do everything.


TL10 interplanetary antimatter shuttle 200t, MCr75, 76t cargo.

200t streamlined wedge configuration, with an antimatter catalysed fusion torch drive. Hydrogen propellant tanks fill 40% of the hull, which is enough for 1022km/s of delta-V at 1G. This ship can launch from Earth, fly to Mars, land, and return in a week, without refuelling. A round trip to the Moon takes 6 hours. Even a trip to Jupiter takes 9 days (with drop tanks).

Tech Level 11

Even without antimatter, fusion drive technology continues to develop. Procyon’s space fleet is largely limited to this capability level, because of the Commonwealth’s antimatter blockade.

Efficient Helium-3 fusion thrusters are now available, even though journey times are still measured in weeks. These drives are not powerful enough to launch or land, so ships still tend to be specialised between long-haul space-only craft – equipped with thrusters, and streamlined landing craft equipped with rockets.

Monopole catalysed fusion is the one TL11 innovation that might compete with antimatter, if only magnetic monopoles were easier to obtain. Monopoles make it far easier to manipulate the powerful magnetic fields required to initiate fusion, and can also be held in the mixture to help compress it. The result is every bit as efficient as antimatter catalysation, with the added advantage that the monopoles are not used up during the reaction, so fuel costs are minimal. Unfortunately monopoles are so rare that a single gram costs up to a million credits. Drives require hundreds or thousands of grammes.


TL11 interplanetary ship 200t, MCr38, 90t cargo.

200t close structure, with a Helium-3 fusion torch drive. Hydrogen propellant tanks fill 35% of the hull, which is enough for 431km/s of delta-V at 0.1G. A round trip to Mars takes just over two weeks, Jupiter and back is only 6 months.

(Thank you to for many of the space craft images used here.)

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  1. alex said,

    18 May, 2015 @ 09:08

    Facebook comments:

    Alexander Tingle The idea is to give the players MCr 2000 to build whatever TL11 ship (or ships) they like, for their adventurers…

    Klaude Thomas you’ve read Trillion Credit Squadrons or High Guard? The Traveller supplements.

    Alexander Tingle Of course. I ran a huge Trillion Credit Squadron campaign, back in the day…

    Alexander Tingle These starship design rules are based upon High Guard. I should publish the spreadsheet.

    Bryan Betts I’m pretty sure I still have all those original books somewhere. I wonder if they’re worth anything now?

    Andy Miles They’re worth about the value of the paper that they’re printed on unless you have something rare. The classic Traveller “Little Black Books” are available for next to nothing in pdf. Some of the FASA material is quite rare and can command high prices.

    Tony Jones A thought that occurs is if you can pump waste heat into another dimension entirely as you say can be done with dimensional tech then that has the potential to make very stealthy spacecraft, at least in IR.

    Does it also mean you could have vehicles that could operate in environments that would otherwise be too hot to be practicable, as without extradimensional waste heat dumps you couldn’t get rid of the heat as you’d need to do to keep the drew alive? I’m thinking a form of ‘Sundiver’ here if you remember the David Brin book.

    Alexander Tingle I had some thoughts on the extra-dimensional heat-sinks after our earlier conversation. Here’s how I now reckon it works: First you expend energy to created a bubble of negative energy[1]. This is an inefficient process, so you probably do this out in space, where you can radiate the extra heat away. Now you can pump waste heat into the bubble, but as you do so, it shrinks. Eventually the bubble will evaporate altogether – and you’ll have to find something else to do with your waste heat.

    [1] – hand waving going here wink emoticon

    Alexander Tingle I had already spotted that this tech would be super useful for spacecraft. Highly efficient reaction drives would normally need massive radiators to dispose of waste heat – this enables them to do that without looking like an star in IR.

    As for diving into solar atmospheres – yes I don’t see why you couldn’t use it for that. Is there a reason you might want to?

    I suppose that it might enable you to use jump points that are inside red giants – a-la Mote in God’s Eye. It might also be useful as a defence against laser weapons.

    M J Harvey If you can pump IR into this bubble of negative energy you’re towing along, why not other parts of the spectrum? Might be a very handy shield against X-ray weaponry (assuming other magic tech for that doesn’t already exist)

    Alexander Tingle I imagine the foamed extra-dimensional space is contained within some kind of three-dimensional device (a box) that exists in the real world. If you can persuade your enemy to fire his X-ray laser into the box then fine. “Heat” can be pumped around to some extent. X-ray lasers… not so much.

    Traveller does have a “black globe” shield technology that effectively does what you describe. That’s a much higher tech level than this, though. I guess you could describe these “magic heat sink in a box” devices as a step along the road to a full black globe generator.

    Matt Fitzgerald Is the ‘foam’ detectable by sensors ? Otherwise your ‘box full of LOTS of heat’ is a nice, portable, relatively ‘clean’ bomb.indistinguishable from all the other boxes full of electronics kicking around the place.

    Alexander Tingle Matt Fitzgerald – I think you misunderstand. The box contains a negative potential – it’s like an energy hole that you gradually fill in as you feed heat into it. Once it’s “full” then it evaporates entirely, and there is nothing left but an empty box.

    If you wanted to weaponise it, you’d have to use it as a “freeze bomb”, or some such.

    Tony Jones Alexander Tingle – sundiving for science! Could you have multiple heat sink boxes on a single ship?

    Alexander Tingle Yeah, knock yourself out. The more the merrier. They are good for keeping beer cold, too.

    Klaude Thomas Your TCS campaign looks awesome! WRT your new future history, without wanting to by any means denigrate space opera for the sheer fun of it, if one takes the view that war is economics by other means and that cultural mechanisms in support of war are serving a functional purpose (of making war possible and tolerable, preferred even) then the largest obvious question is why any space-faring civilsation will engage in war at all?

    And then if they did, the military technologies might more foreseeably be robotic, silent (more akin to submarine) warfare. From the point of view of inhabited worlds, anything that slipped through must be viewed as 100% lethal to life (although perhaps not other robots?). Suggesting that the political sphere – game theoretical situations of mutually assured destruction – are going to be critical to model (and could contain much of the gameplay).

    Matt Fitzgerald So the players could get to the end of the campaign and find that they were in an Upload Sim all along ? smile emoticon

    Tony Jones That could easily be very annoying and crap!

    Alexander Tingle Two adjectives I strive to avoid having associated with my games.

    Klaude Thomas I think a submarine style stealth-based conflict system could work very well for modelling interstellar conflict. And an emphasis on the politics might be fun. But yes, I agree with Tony, the real future is likely to be deathly boring. All that hanging around living forever with infinite resources and no reason to beat up on anybody wink emoticon

    Alexander Tingle Well, in this setting I’ve deliberately put a somewhat arbitrary cap on “easy” technological development, precisely because that makes it more interesting.

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