Your fuel launcher has feed your engines long enough to get the ship and 25 million tons of deceleration fuel up to cruise speed. But now the engines are off, the hab. ring spun for gravity, and the crew prepares for the long cruse to the target star. Your main problem is boredom. At a third of light speed it would take you over a decade to get to even the closest of starsystems. The crew (all selected, trained, and equipped for starsystem exploration) has very little to do. The ship has to be easy to maintain, or the crew would never have enough time in the starsystem to get any work done. So between stars, they wait.
Now for the bad news - you have to slow down. We can't pre-load a deceleration course track into the target star with fuel across interstellar distances. So your stuck with the fuel you brought along. Unless we can come up with a neat magnetic trick to brake the ship in empty space (sorry no luck), its fire up the reactors and put engines into reverse. As the tables in fusion rocket shows, even slowing down from 1/3rd light speed would force the ship to carry 50 - 100 times its weight in fuel. See internally fueled fusion rockets for more detail.
Basically, for a fusion rocket with a specific impulse of 1,000,000. To decelerate a ship down from 1/6th the speed of light. The ship would need to carry 147 times its dry weight in fuel and reaction mass. If you can get a fusion rocket with a specific impulse of 2,500,000, it could decelerate you from 1/3rd the speed of light, with only 55 times the ships dry weight in fuel.
While our starship may have a lot of trouble crawling interstellar space. But the engines that could barely get us across interstellar space. Can now make this huge ship commute around the confines of a starsystem with ease. A ten hour burn of the main engines will would get you from Earth to Jupiter in about a month, or to Mars in a week. A two day burn would get you to Jupiter in less than a week. Under four days of constant burn will get you to Mars. About a week of constant burn will get you to Jupiter. Unless we need to completely disassemble the ship for check out, we're going to have quick access to everywhere in system. If we can even attempt interstellar, intrastellar would be nothing for us. Even the secondary ships should be able to cruise around in system like nothing. So ignore orbital mechanics and transfer trajectories.
Once in system the main ship will be shuttling surface teams, support ships, and equipment around the star system. It size and speed will allow it to drag around tremendous loads of equipment or raw material. It could haul ore in to a construction site for a space colony. Or to a fuel ore processing facility. (Note the crews will need to find enough fuel to get the ship out of the starsystem.) The starship will be carrying all the exploration equipment and personnel to anywhere of interest in the starsystem.
First you do a near approach (within a few light seconds) of each planetary system and send out Vac shuttles to plant big photo recon scopes in orbit. This data can be studied by mission crew for planning later detailed surveys.
While the crew studies the visuals. Move the ship in near a inner system comet core. Scoop out a few thousand tons of water and metal for reaction mass. Store a couple hundred thousand more tons around the hab deck to upgrade the shielding. Pull out a few thousand tons of iron and carbon out, and rig up a portable foundry. (a few square miles of reflective foil to collect sunlight to power it. Melt ore and mix and extrude out heavy bands of metal.) This probably can largely be automated. Have it weld up some big platforms. (Hab deck sized?) You may want to build segments of thick (meter thick) walled exterior hull segments for space stations. Move these and set up space stations around planetary systems worth extensive study. If the ship needs major work build a big station that the ship can be pulled inside of.
Do a detailed inspection of the ship stardrive systems. Repairing those take precedence over any mission objectives. If necessary all exploration equipment or schedules can be cannibalized to fix the ship for the return flight. By the time you got all that finished the science team would have an idea on how to conduct the surveys. Set up base platforms around primary planetary systems. (Commute the ship to areas with no long term interest.) Equip the platforms with equipment and supplies for extensive survey. Divide up teams accordingly. (This should help quarantine problem)
Quarantine will be a big issue. No pressurized connections between the quarantine sections and the rest of the ship. Extensive decontamination when transferring between areas. Ground survey teams don't get to come back to the main ship without months of quarantine. Especially if they find any life forms. All this assumes they never are exposed to the ecology. If someones surface hard suit cracks. They are left out of the rover for dead. If a rover is contaminated. No supply ships approach it.
This may seem extreme, but a review of recent plagues on earth like Ebola, shows what a local benign life form could do if exposed to an alien environment. Like ours! Not only would the crew probably die on route home. Earth will not let anybody back unless they are completely, to the satisfaction of the worst paranoid, satisfied that nothing on that ship could harm earth exosphere.
Deploy drop probes, ground roving drones, and drone aircraft in the appropriate planets and moons. Study results plan manned missions for Later. Design and build prefabricated ground bases. (Main ship engineering should be able to do this.)
Land heavy manned rovers and survey teams. Set up long term bases (fixed and rover bases). This will require the big air worthy shuttles and vac shuttles. This will be the start of manned exploration of the system. The starship stays clear of this. It's teams stick to remote data analysis. Materials and personnel do not return to the main ship under normal conditions. This limits contamination risks.
A good question at this point is how do we set up floating bases for worlds with no land? Do we bring submarines?
During return prep. All ground ops are phased out. Rover bases and fixed bases are emptied and 'mothballed' or uploaded to orbital base camp for long term storage. Everyone is moved to orbital bases for long term decontamination and quarantine.
After a few months of quarantine you may find someone has caught or been exposed to something. You probably might not be able to risk taking them back to earth. Hopefully you've set up the bases for permanent habitation, and have a good well armed security team.
Ship boosts for home. Minus most of its survey and heavy industrial equipment.
As the exploration phase comes to an end the support crew will be processing the tremendous tonnage of fuel ore necessary to refuel the ship for the boost to home. This fuel could be carried on the ship. All those fuel tanks you emptied decelerating into the starsystem could be filled to accelerate you back to home. (Assuming you can find that much fuel!) Or (possibly) the crew could construct a fuel launcher system like the one the ship used to leave home.
If an automated fuel launcher could be constructed in the target starsystem, and the one near earth relied upon for braking fuel, the ship could launch with her fuel tanks nearly empty. Without the massive load of fuel and exploration equipment the ship could weight a hundredth of its loaded weight when it left Sol. This would allow it to boost faster and to higher speeds, even if the local fuel launcher could only launch (and the local mines only supply) a tiny fraction of the fuel the Sol launcher could, launched to a shorter range than the sol Launcher could. With such a lightly loaded ship, most of the drive systems would be unnecessary. Allowing either further weight reduction of the ship, or allowing tremendous redundancy in the equipment.
A automated launcher system would not only give this missions crew a much shorter flight home. It could allowing future missions into this star system a much shorter round trip.
If the crew cant get up to higher speeds thou. Its a decade plus to coast back home. Round trip time for a flight to Alpha Centari, with a 5 year layover, would be about 32 years. Hopefully the medical equipment on the ship would be up to mid 21st century standards. That way the crew would still be middle aged, and with a lot of stories to tell.
Sort of like the eagle space ships in 'Space 1999' but bigger. Say big enough to carry a one or two of 18 wheelers. Can land and take off from a full G moon. Ships are modular so they can be taken apart and rebuilt as heavy tugs or whatever. (Say for delivery of orbital bases to final orbits.) This would also allow them to be stored more compactly in the ship. (You ever see a C-5A/747 class cargo aircraft?)
Drive systems would be Busard fusion reactors heating water as reaction mass. (See my web pages for a discussion of this.)
Built like a huge lifting body (waverider or Aroura shape), Top down the hull would look parabolic to diamond shaped. Side view would be more diamond shaped. Craft would use similar engines to the Vac craft, but for supersonic/hypersonic travel inside an atmosphere (of whatever composition) it would directly heat the atmosphere behind the craft inside the shock wave for propulsion. This way it can carry more and has unlimited range in atmosphere.
These do the light shuttling around and supply runs to the ground exploration teams. They can also work in vacuum operations, and have 100 ton cargo capacity. Self protection armament of two independent self targeting 30mm solenoid gun turrets (retractable)
Big optical, electromagnetic, and radar sats. Say a 8 meter adaptive optic main mirror. About the same sized Radar antenna. They are not self propelled, but can be repositioned by vac skiffs.
These are recoverable and allow low altitude photo recon and chemical analysis. Of course they have to be customized for the atmosphere they need to fly in, but you can cover a lot of territory with these guys. (We are trying to explore an entire star system!)
Basic long endurance drone crawler with cameras, sample scoops, and deployable legs and arms to get over rough ground and get itself unstuck.
Heavy rovers travel in packs and can act as a mobile base. Rovers can be linked together as segmented trains, and docked to form temporary bases. Each heavy rover or rover trailer are about the size of a short, very wide greyhound bus. They can operate in normal air pressure to hard vac. Can float and self propel in normal water. They look like a very large Armored personnel carrier. Self protection armament of two independent self targeting 30mm solenoid gun turrets. They can operate in normal air pressure to hard vac. Can float and self propel in normal water. Self protection armament of one self targeting 30mm solenoid gun turret.
Prefab automated heavy industrial and mining platform. Something to convert a comet to a space station and mine all the fuel this ship would need to get home. 2000 tons? Its a guess.
|Vacuum landers||200 tons each||4,000 tons||20 vac craft included|
|Aero landers||200 tons each||2,000 tons||10 aero landers included|
|Orbital Reconnaissance Satellites||2 tons each||80 tons||Set of 40|
|Long endurance Aerial reconnaissance drones||5 tons each||200 tons||Set of 40|
|Drone rovers||2 tons each||120 tons||Set of 60|
|Heavy Manned rovers (crew of 5)||30 tons each||900 tons||Set of 30|
|Heavy Engineering /mining equipment||2,000 tons|