Exploring the deep, deep beyond, moving from rock to rock, refuelling as the opportunity arises. Surviving all alone in the outer darkness. This is not just a survivalist dream, but a necessity for spacecraft exploring the Kuiper belt and Oort cloud. Where rocks are many AU apart, an efficient exploration craft must be self sufficient to undertake the multi-year missions that make the most efficient use of scarce resources (exploration craft). The goal? Mini-black-holes!
The mission consists of close flybys of candidate asteroids, followed by a landing if the instrumentation readings are good, and the local gravity is low enough. Should a mini-black-hole be discovered the craft digs in and uses the asteroids own water supply (if any) to power its fusion drive and start the lengthy process of moving the asteroid in-system.
At each stage of the journey the next candidate asteroid is chosen that makes best use of current delta-V. This may be many AU away in the Kuiper belt or tens of AU away in the Oort cloud.
Standard refuelling procedure is to choose a very small ice containing asteroid that lies approximately in its path and that wont require a huge Delta-V to get to. Match vectors. Kill the asteroids spin by using the laser and drive plume to cause selective outgassing on the asteroid. Then 'dock' with the asteroid using the robot arm to latch on. Drill in using the refinery and fill the tanks with the water recovered. The total process from selecting a suitable ice bearing asteroid to completing refuelling may take many weeks or even months, but is much faster than having to return to the inner system for fuel.
Typical crew consists of two emotionally compatible SAIs with complimentary skills, a snakebot, a tech-spider, repair and explorer cyberswarms. Carrying a living crew for the multi-year mission profile is not practical due to the space and provisions necessary.
Each SAI occupies one of the two mainframes in the paired unmanned controls modules with the other mainframe for backup. The SAIs typically 'sleep' (deliberately run slowly) during the long periods of inactivity 'waking up' when a new object is detected or some mission event occurs.
An advanced low mass design allows the high delta-V to enable voyages between Kuiper objects to be relatively short. The reliability and redundancy needs of a deep space craft are carefully balanced against the mass overhead of each component.
Design: 60ft x 30ft Cylinder (86.4 spaces, Nanocomposite, Light frame); cDr/cPF 1/1 FSB (Nanocomposite armor); Hull Radiators: 2.5 ksf
Modules: 2 Old Unmanned Controls, Medium (500 miles) PESA, Small (250 miles) Radar, Small (250 miles) Ladar [F], 5 Fusion Drive (Water, 5MW), 75 Ultralight Fuel Tank, 2.5 MJ Light Laser Tower, 0.11 Power Pack (2 shots), Small Entry Module, Minifac Workshop, Refinery, Medium Robot Arm, 0.01 New RTG (0.1 MW powers computers with drive off), 0.05 Battery (40 minutes backup and on-demand high-power load), 1.16 empty space.
Stats: LMass 1214.9, CMass 652.4, Dry Mass 89.9, EMass 89.8, Payload mass 0.1 (cybershells and swarms), Fuel Mass 1125, Cost M$ 35.48, cHP 54, Size Modifier [hull] 7/5, Maintenance interval 6.71 hours (14.3 hours per day)
Performance: Realistic sAccel 0.014 G (Book 0.0092 G), Loaded sAccel 0.0049 G, Dry and Empty sAccel 0.067 G, Cruising velocity 11.5 days per AU (0.087 AU per day), Burn Endurance 625 hours, Burn Points 20,700, Realistic DeltaV (with turnover) 93.7 mps (Book 63.3 mps)
Crew: 2 SAI-8 in unmanned controls mainframes, snakebot, tech-spider, repair and explorer cyberswarms
Trip Data: Distance 10 AU, Duration 128 days, Costs: Fuel M$ 0.0225
Transhuman Space Index