SyFy Q of the Day: FTL Within the Solar System

This thing has FTL? Really? Amazing what I find on Wikimedia...

Before I even started this blog, I would occasionally pose a SyFy Question of the Day to my facebook friends. Sometimes, it was directly related to what I was writing, and I really did want some input to help me decide what direction to take with the story. Other times, it was purely fun.

Here’s one of my favorites, from December 2011:

SciFi Question of the Day: Assuming the starship has something like FTL, would it be able to “jump” directly from orbiting a planet, or should they have to maneuver to a suitable position in the solar system first?


Alan          I’m not a scientist but, based on my perception from popular science-fiction (ST, SW, B5, Farscape, Firefly, Dune et al) hitting your FTL whilst in a planet’s gravity well would have pretty dire consequences. Also, the gravity at your point of origin might screw with your trajectory and thus destination. So, send out a probe in advance (years?) to map the minimal / null gravity points in a star system. When you want to jump go to one of those points on sub-light, enter your destination co-ords and hit “Go.” Hopefully you’ll arrive safely. Of course, safe arrival assumes that your chicken soup machine technician hasn’t tried to replace one of the drive plates 😉

Gwendolyn     I’m with Alan on this one – “jumping” within a gravitation field just makes every SF fiber of my being scream NO!

“Jumping” *into* an orbital position though would be kind of a fun hot shot maneuver ;P

Dan          Heh. It would depend entirely on how the FTL is accomplished. In Star Trek (if I remember right) the warp drive is actually warping space, much like gravity does. It would seem logical that a planet’s gravity well would interfere, but there are many counterexamples to this.

If your FTL engine is of the “it goes really fast” variety it probably wouldn’t matter. Witness Firefly, where the only restriction seems to be that you can’t hit it while in atmosphere (the consequences of hitting atmosphere at FTL velocities don’t even bear thinking about).

The more important question is probably “Is it better for the plot to allow this, or not?”

Alan           If I remember my Trek correctly (from the novels) a warp drive was activated in a planetary atmosphere with disasterous consequences for both the planet and ship. Something about linking two singularities. Someone wanted to prosecute someone else with war crimes. So, away from a gravity well.

Also away from *any* matter. If it’s a reaction FTL drive then it ejects force out the rear end. You don’t really want that force acting on “space dust”, pushing it at near-FTL velocities and having it puncture anything.

Best bet is to ingest a whole load of melange from Arrakis and then fold space like a Navigator.

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Rebecca          My knee-jerk reaction would be placement in a suitable position first, but… that is the beauty of science fiction. If you can justify the jump in your multiverse, then all is fair play.
Linda           I have seen it both ways. In the Star Trek Universe, FTL within a solar system is strictly prohibited, but of course that rule along with every other rule is just there to be broken at some point. I have seen some FTL travel put a ship THROUGH a planet, but that kind of pushes the line of credibility with me. I see no reason why a ship could not go to FTL right from an orbit, unless their emissions were directly harmful..
Brian          Given the complete integration between space, time and gravitational distortions, I think Einstein’s theories would support the idea that large gravitational bodies would still affect a ship traveling faster than light.
That’s kind of an armchair physicist’s take on the matter, but it’s worth consideration.If the question is related to an actual story, I think that authors tend to go with whatever drives the plot best. If the limitation of distancing the ship from planets is an essential plot element, then they go with that. If it is not consequential, then they either go straight from orbit into faster-than-light speed, or the author may not even mention the issue at all, seeing as how it can be a distracting detail rather than a helpful detail.But I’m sure you already knew that. 🙂
RK          In general, I’d assume they’d have to jump to that system’s La Grange point and maneuver through the gravity well.It is scifi, though, so as long as it doesn’t strain credulity too much, you could do it just about anyway.
AmyBeth      I like La Grange points! Some stories have ships reaching the other solar system almost instantly, then spending days or even weeks maneuvering within the system. Counter-intuitive, but it makes sense.

Brian          No different from having a network of airports around the country, flying from one to another in just half an hour, then having to drive two additional hours to your final destination. 🙂
Jim               In my scifi universe, I had it that all FTL travel was done by taking a shortcut through “shortcut space”, a set of subdimensions with different properties than the regular universe. Fairly common, right? Well, my Shortcut Space is mapped around the real universe’s gravity, meaning that the stronger a body’s gravitational pull is in our universe, the more real estate it takes up in subspace. That makes leaping from star system to star system easy as pie, since there’s generally not that much between the two of them… but it makes exiting subspace dangerous, since 99.9% of the points you would randomly select would have you exiting inside a “gravity event” in the real world (aka a planet, a star, an asteroid, a black hole). Therefore, as a general rule (at least in my writing universe) you can enter FTL anywhere you want, it doesn’t matter – but you’ve got to be really picky about where you exit.

AmyBeth     That’s a neat rule! In +Sara Creasy ‘s SciFi, you have to enter and exit via nodes. It’s great from a plot POV, because the node might be near inhabited space, or in the middle of nowhere.

Sara            It worked for my plot, but in sci-fi things tend to work as the plot requires. (Just as the ship travels “at the speed of plot”, per J. Michael Straczynski.) I wanted a story with long stretches of time stuck on a ship. If you want a story set primarily at the destinations, having a ship jump directly from planet to planet works nicely.
AmyBeth     That’s why Star Trek has transporters. It had nothing to do with Science or Tech, and everything to do with “We need to move the action… they must be able to quickly go from ship to surface.”
Sara            Not to mention (in the classic series anyway) it was cheaper than making a lot of shuttle shots. Blakes 7 copied the idea but they had to wear special bracelets for transport.
Jim            Bracelets which functioned reliably… only when the plot called for them to do so.

Troy            In order to travel FTL, one would need a constant subspace shield or bubble to to protect from the effects of traveling at that speed (inertia, running into a dust particle, etc..) and facilitate reintegration into normal space-time when the destination is reached. That being the case, a ship or very powerful self contained transport device is necessary. As this device would have limited power, it would need to make course corrections (assuming a limited knowledge of the multiverse as one would have to when traveling at FTL) to avoid anomalies or obstacles that it could not overcome due to its limited power (black hole, sun, etc…). The result being a transport device capable of making course corrections as soon as the obstacles are detected.

I would love to hear what you think! Even if you are reading this post a year or more after publishing, I hope you will leave a comment with your own ideas on this topic.

Post Script: Besides changing this to SciFi Q of the Day instead of SyFy Q of the Day, I’m thinking about retaining some of the formatting when I copy/paste from the social media sites. That would keep each poster’s thumnail profile, as well as a link to them, and their full names instead of just first names. What do you think?

Also… this post has some weird formatting going on. I’m going to publish it anyway, and look at giving this meme a makeover for the new year.

The previous SyFy Q of the Day is Flying Cars

The shortlink for this post is

The next SyFy Q of the Day is Betty White


About AmyBeth Inverness

A writer by birth, a redhead by choice.
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3 Responses to SyFy Q of the Day: FTL Within the Solar System

  1. Pingback: SyFy Q of the Day: Flying Cars | AmyBeth Inverness

  2. KJosephS says:

    My SF trained gut says that FTL and gravity wells do not mix. I remember reading stories that required ships to travel beyond a certain distance beyond the star itself in order to make a FTL jump. Star Trek, on the other hand, never really pinned this down, I know they were in close orbit to stars when using warp.

    Personally, I always make FTL drives in ships dependent on distance from stars, but I also plotted out a universe where gates (like Stargate) require gravity wells, and are found in close proximity to stars.

  3. Pingback: SyFy Q of the Day: Betty White | AmyBeth Inverness

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