The Beamrider Network
The beamrider network was conceived as an interstellar particle beam propulsion network first in the late 20th and early 21st centuries c.e.. The network uses arrays of particle beams to magnetically accelerate self-manoeuvring 'smart dust' micropellets to near light speed and direct them toward a vessel equipped with a powerful magnetic/plasma sail. The pellets vaporize upon impact with the magsail and transfer their momentum to the craft, accelerating it to a significant percentage of lightspeed. Once accelerated up to cruising speed the beamrider coasts on a course that takes it into the vicinity its target's orbit. Originally they were stars, brown dwarfs and free-floating extrasolar planets, today they are used exclusively almost exclusively inside systems as an alternative to wormhole generators. Additional mass beam booster stations are built on and around these objects. Using a combination of the galactic, or solar, magnetic field, onboard fuel and mass beams from the booster stations, the beamrider is able to curve its course in a great arc back to its starting point which is now used and another booster station to send the vessel back around the arc again.
As the beamrider passes near each of the booster stations, additional cargo, passenger and resupply pods are accelerated to match velocity with the beamrider and/or are dropped off by the beamrider to be decelerated into the target system. Although the energy required to accelerate/decelerate the pods is considerable, it is far less than that required to constantly boost and decelerate entire self-sufficient spacecraft intended to survive years-long journeys between the stars all by themselves. The beamrider makes a huge initial investment to boost the main vessel up to speed to take advantage of the much greater savings later.
Beamrider links rarely operate with just a single vessel in the circuit. Rather a great many vessels are boosted up over time so that a constant stream of ships is passing along the network. This ensures that a vessel passes by each station at regular intervals, usually ranging from every six months to every three years on most routes.
Modern beamriders are huge vessels, often extending across hundreds of kilometers of space. At the same time they are rather small by modern standards. Even the largest beamriders rarely have a complement of passengers and crew larger than a few hundred people, most of them travelling in suspended animation. It is common practice on most ships for passengers and crew to spend 1/3 of the trip awake. Random shuffling of stasis/waking schedules ensures that a traveller will meet at least some new people with each awakening. More than a few people can report that they met their mate or a great romance while travelling aboard a beamrider.
Most of the ships' great size is made up of superconducting cables spread out across space with habitat modules affixed at various points. Most ships rotate to provide "gravity" and habitat modules are attached at points where gravity is at the desired level.
In the past, beamriders employed a variety of shielding methods to protect themselves against radiation and interstellar debris. Shields were initially a combination of magnetic fields and ionization lasers. Also a plasma screen, consisting of a portion of the vapourized incoming mass stream that was allowed to 'slip thru' the magsail was fired ahead of the ship and acted to vaporize particles ahead. As a last resort the ship employed powerful radar to locate larger objects and would then use a combination of magnetic 'tacking' and onboard thrusters to dodge the object in question. At a standard cruise speed of 0.3c there was generally time to manoeuvre at least a little.
While some beamrider ships today rely solely on decay induction fields for shielding, most modern vessels era ships still use magnetic/plasma shields backed up by advanced materials shielding to protect themselves.
Standard cruising speed for a beamrider is 0.3c although smaller, faster 'hot beam' vessels can achieve speeds as high as 0.9c.
The beamrider network persists even in the face of wormholes and wormhole generators for a number of reasons. One is that is is relatively cheap to use, even if it isn't FTL. Also, apparently someone set up an auxonic beamrider network. The controls are open and thus it is easily used by those that can't or won't use the wormhole network. Finally, some people view the beamrider network much like some early 21st humans view trains - with great fondness and as a hobby.
Tech Level: String Tech 4 for the basic Beamrider Network. Users are strongly suggested to use Environmental Fabricationand Decay Induction Fields if they can help it.
Cost: Exorbitant to build, Expensive to maintain, Moderate to use. Time consuming though.
Descriptors: Energy, Near C - the particle beams that drive the system. There are rumors of auxonic versions building expanding the system through space, uninhabited worlds, Cargo Cults and secret Civilizations.