NEW Story: Drip
Table of Contents
A New Frontier #
The stars are close to Vekllei. The common availability of space travel is the most wonderful achievement of Vekllei aerospace. It lights the furthest corners of the imagination in the postwar Vekllei spirit of play and dreams. The democratisation of space travel is in fact the democratisation of space itself, and so essential to the realisation of the Vekllei dream — as on Earth, so in the stars.
Vekllei is one of only a few countries in the world to offer regular, schedules flights to the moon. It is the only country in the world to completely subsidise the cost of such travel, democratising a fundamentally life-altering experience for its 20 million citizens.
These flights are operated by Vekllei Overseas Airways (VOA), the international carrier of the Vekllei Air Service. VOA does not purchase aircraft as a means of making money, nor does it operate in a fair market. It monopolises international travel in and out of Vekllei, and leverages its monopoly as a social good for the people of its home country. Vekllei people are entitled to air travel on their own terms, though personal travel requires an advance booking or some charm.
In this tradition, VOA’s interplanetary services operate as a loss-making social good, though they have a substantially reduced capacity compared to terrestrial travel. Booking a flight to the moon requires a copy of your identification and itinerary sections of your Passbook, and a medical checkup (including a mental health assessment) within a month prior to departure. There is a strict hierarchy of availability that cascades down through political and economic reasons for travel, with generally 10-20 lunar holidaymakers boarding a flight of 40. On average, you can expect to wait about two years for a ticket.
The routes are serviced by a most extraordinary spacecraft called the Aerospatiale VA-5, part of the second generation of commercial spacecraft in Vekllei. It is a machine of dreams. You are asked to exchange your shoes for slippers in the cabin, and the walls are lined with rails. Above, a glass roof shows the sky. The vehicle has three sets of engines – one for takeoff, one for supersonic climb, and one for space. It takes off and lands at very high speed, and so those engines are used in reverse to brake on touchdown.
Vekllei Aerospatiale S.A. is a municipalised aircraft manufacturing and production company in Pharos (Vekllei’s ‘aviation borough’) and is generally considered the largest and most advanced of Vekllei’s civilian aerospace manufacturers. It is best known for the development of Vekllei’s first supersonic transport — the VA-500 “Sky Dart,” which was a clone of Boeing’s 6th-generation SSTs and resulted in accusations of corporate espionage and theft. The Interplanatery Transport programme, on the other hand, was almost entirely home-grown. It is an utterly unique category pf vehicle, pushed to the frontier of aerospace engineering with the development lightbulb-style nuclear thermal reactors in the late 2040s.
Designing a New Kind of Interplanetary Transport #
The Vekllei Nuclear-Electric Commission chaired the United Nuclear Transport Working Group (NTWG) in the early 2030s, which included state industry partners like General Reactor S.A. as well as specialised nuclear energy companies like Atomic Electric S.p.M. and Future Fission. NTWG conducted a series of experiments with nuclear rocketry in Kala in 2037, and built a technology data base of nuclear thermal reactors that were eventually incorporated into early types of atomic spacecraft (see, for example, the first interplanetary military and research vessel VS-10, a successor to the X-25).
The Vekllei nuclear thermal reactor project (NTR) was advantaged by the existing use of uranium-233 reactor fuels in civilian infrastructure and the competitive lead of Vekllei domestic material sciences, which lead the world in investment and research. Development of the NTR was based off studies conducted by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and the West German Atomic Authority in the decades prior. The crown jewel of Vekllei astronuclear research is the Apollo reactor, present in the VA-5 depicted here.
The Apollo-type reactor is a gaseous nuclear rocket engine which expels no fissile material. It is an extraordinary device, and stresses materials beyond any other reactor type used in the world today. The reactor core operates at a pressure of over 200 atmospheres and a temperature of 24,000 Kelvin — over four times hotter than the surface of the sun. It represents the pinnacle of Vekllei astronuclear engineering and contributed significantly to the democratisation of Vekllei lunar territories.
The Apollo uses a uranium-233 hexafluoride core, a rare isotope bred from thorium in some types of domestic civilian reactors. The uranium fuels a plasma-phase fission reaction within a transparent quartz-composite bulb that is protected from the incredible heat of the reaction by a vortex of neon laced with silica. The quartz-composite is almost completely transparent to ultraviolet radiation, which passes through the bulb into a hydrogen working fluid, which expands as it heats and is expelled through the rocket nozzle to propel the VA-5 forward.
The Apollo system uses two types of gasses — a neon-silica composite within the quartz envelope to protect the structure of the reactor core, and a hydrogen working fluid enriched with tungsten to increase radiation absorption. It is a relatively simple fission reactor mechanically, but the science of the materials required to operate it (particularly the quartz composite, developed by the Atomic Electric skunkworks) are the product of decades of research invested by the NTWG. Unlike other NTRs, the Apollo does not expel radioactive material and so is able to be used on the lunar surface — a distinct competitive advantage. It is the only closed-system nuclear thermal reactor used on a commercial spacecraft today.