The advent of interstellar travel in the Post Diaspora era fundamentally changed the galaxy. For the first time humans could travel faster than light, and thus could connect to colonies founded by slow sleeper ships. With hyperdrive the galaxy was open to humanity, though the technology would need to be refined and adapted before true, fast and cheap interstellar travel became possible.
The Early Explorers
Initially ships ‘translating’ into hyperspace ran many risks. Attempting to enter hyperspace at speeds greater than 0.3c destroyed the ship, and this was not widely understood in the early years of faster-than-light travel. Additionally the use of the impeller drive in hyperspace ran huge dangers, if the ship were to encounter a gravity sheer or wave. As a result, survey ship crews were extremely well-paid for their efforts to map out hyperspace, which existed as a non-Euclidean geometry (author’s note, I have no idea what this means) alongside normal space.
Hyperspace is divided into various bands with the Alpha layer being the first. Each layer is then divided into individual bands. The speeds attainable within the different layers depend upon the type of ship. The Alpha band allows warships to travel at speeds of up to 37c (37 times the speed of light), but the further up the bands a ship goes, the much faster it travels. By the time a warship reaches the Theta band (usually unobtainable for passenger liners and merchantmen), it can reach speeds of 3000c. When escorting merchant vessels ships will usually stay in the Gamma or Delta bands, reaching maximum speeds of just over 1000c.
To put this into perspective, travelling at 1c (the speed of light), it would take a ship over four years to reach the Alpha Centauri star system. At 37c, it would take only 43 days to make the same trip. The same journey at 3000c would take 12 hours. For a merchant vessel, travelling at an average of 1000c, they would be looking at a journey of 38 hours.
With journey times cut to a matter of weeks, even for long-distance destinations, hyperdrive opened up the galaxy to the human race, and hyper-capable ships soon caught up with colonies established by sleeper ships in the centuries before safe hyper-travel. However hyperspace was not without its dangers. Gravity sheers presented serious risks to ships traversing hyper, and it was therefore necessary to avoid them, which could still add weeks or even months to journey times. The solution to this problem took the form of the preferred method of sublight travel.
The Impeller Drive and Warshawski Sails
The Impeller drive generates a ‘wedge’ of two stressed gravity bands, above and below a ship. These bands are extremely powerful and warp the space around them, to the extent that no known form of weaponry can penetrate them in either direction. They are in a sense ‘sails’ that allow a ship to manipulate gravity and accelerate rapidly in normal space. Without them, sublight speeds would be extremely slow, and the impeller wedge also places a huge role in combat (more on that in another section). However the wedge, whilst being a vital component of n-space travel, is extraordinarily dangerous to use in hyperspace, as an encounter with a gravity sheer would rip apart the impeller nodes and destroy or cripple the ship. This limited a ship’s relative acceleration in hyperspace.
This problem was overcome – with huge implications for interstellar travel times – by Dr Adrienne Warshawski in 1296 PD. She devised a means to transform the wedges into gigantic sails, that could detect dangerous gravity sheers and even harness them to propel a ship. Not only that, the sails could tap into the energy fluxes of hyperspace and power a ship, allowing it to shut down its reactors whilst in hyper, which helped save fuel and make space travel more economical. Where in the past gravity waves and sheers were avoided, they were now sought out. Humanity could, for better or worse, increase its influence over the galaxy.