Astrography of Flat Black

Flat Black is set in space around Earth in a notional future¹ of the real world². It is therefore set in three-dimensional space³ (which is not such a problem because it isn’t a space opera and therefore players don’t have to use maps) set with real stars. I used to have a big problem with the fact that the best available catalogues of near-by stars (Gliese & Jahreiß until 1990, Gliese’s Third Catalogue of Nearby Stars from 1991) were lacking the important K-type stars beyond about 50 light-years and G-types beyond about 70. It wasn’t that the stars that would be important places in Flat Black were unknown or un-named: they weren’t in the catalogues because their distances hadn’t been determined). Fortunately the Hipparcos project came along and millions of parallaxes have been determined by a robot. I am using the Extended Hipparcos Compilation (EXHIP) as my catalogue of stars for Flat Black: it brings together Hipparcos location data with everything else known about the corresponding stars as at 2012. That is sufficiently complete (lacking only dim M-class stars that I don’t care about) out to about 50 parsecs. The star list I use for Flat Black is an extract from XHIP, consisting of 10,401 stars within 200 light-years of Sol.

The planets orbiting those stars I generated using a modified⁴ version of the star system and advanced planet generation procedures from GURPS Space 4th edition. And I re-ran the universe generation 169 times to get one I liked⁵. That gave me a universe of places with definite planetological characteristics and a defensible density of habitable worlds in space. A mathematical model of exploration and colonisation using just-as-fast-as-light technology starting in AD 2059 gave me 640 colonisation ventures sent forth by AD 2353⁶. Of the inhabited worlds, 997 are planets and only 3 are moons.

So. In Flat Black there are 1,000 worlds known⁷ to be inhabited by humans. They are all within 175 light-years of Sol, a volume containing about 8,000 stars. Given that the Galaxy is about 140,000 light-years in diameter and contains about 200 billion stars that makes Human Space a tiny, tiny globule, only about one twenty-millionth of the Galaxy⁸. Indeed, as the Galactic disk is about 2,000 light-years thick, the 350-LY diameter of Human Space is still small compared with the thickness of the disk.

Of those, 625 are “primary colonies” that were settled directly from Earth. The primary colony nearest to Earth is Tau Ceti on Tau Ceti II, which is 856 years old and 12 light-years from Sol. The most distant is Feilong on HD 83517 IV, which is 459 years old and 147 light-years from Sol. The median distance from Sol of the primary colonies is 116.7 light-years. The average nearest-neighbour distance for the primary colonies is 14.8 light-years.

The remaining 375 colonies are secondary colonies founded by emigrants from colonies rather than form Earth. Almost all were settled using faster-than-light ships; this gave wider choice, allowed the settlers to choose only worlds with higher salubrity, and has made the secondary colonies somewhat farther apart than the primary ones.

The stars these systems orbit are mostly F-type, G-type, and early K-type, with some outliers. The hottest is 16 Lambda Aquilae, an B9, which is the sun of the colony Ardour. It is followed by nine A-type stars. The coolest are Hip 46018 and Gliese 1184, type M0V, the suns of Hennah and Kaiyen respectively.

Now, starships⁹ in Flat Black travel at about 1000c (about 6 parsecs per week). That means that the minimum interstellar journey (i.e. from one’s home-world to its nearest neighbour) takes 5.4 days each way (plus the time it takes to get from surface to orbit and out to a safe distance from the planet to use an Eichberger drive). To reach Feilong from the Capital takes 54 days. To reach the farthest new settlements from the core — or to cross human space — takes about 64 days. It is these long travel times (rather than fares, which are not exorbitant) that limit human travel between the worlds and make the colonies isolated.

Not only are the colonies socially and culturally isolated from each other, but Imperial heads of mission and chiefs of bureaux are weeks or months each way from the Imperial capital at Sol. The Empire attempted to reduce this problem by establishing “Sector HQs” between about 100 and 120 light-years from Sol, where they concentrated reinforcements and senior officers to back up their local missions at need. But the geometry is not favourable: even with Imperial reserves divided among twenty sectors the average primary colony is 41.8 light-years from its nearest SHQ and the most distant, Stockbrook at Zeta Cygni is 73.5 light-years from its SHQ (orbiting Logos at Gliese 9830).

The Imperial sectors and their SHQs are as follows:

Sector Star Colony
Central Sol The Capital
Ursa Major Gliese 3712 B Saguenay
Sextans Gliese 3603 Khujandi
Libra HD 133352 Blackstone
Draco HD 146868 Qinglong
Gemini HD 49736 Franklin
Cassiopeia Gliese 3185 Dehúdié
Cetus HD 18702 Ramotswe
Centaurus HD 109252 Mesta
Corona Australis Gliese 4096 Nicole
Reticulum HD 25120 Newhome
Pisces Austrinus HD 217343 Sehausie
Andromeda Gliese 9830 Logos
Puppis n Puppis Vingilot
Aquarius HD 197210 Sparta
Eridanus HD 28287 Danubia
Hercules HR 6981 Gawain
Virgo Vindemiatrix Laurens
Leo Gliese 3580 Silotimia
Hydra HR 4803 Walden

¹ Flat Black is not an attempted prediction of anything.

² Or perhaps in the future of an alternative universe that is just like this one except for having no God or souls, all mental phenomena being physiological phenomena.

³ I’m sorry but insistent, Traveller fans. 2D maps of 3D space are mathematical nonsense, like a “map” that placed every location in the USA on a line from San Diego CA to Caribou ME.

⁴ The first modification was that the gadget reading in data from the star catalogue instead of generating it at random. The system architecture table has been altered to give more realistic (i.e. much lower) numbers of eccentric and epistellar gas giants. I altered some things to give continuous bell-curve distributions instead of discrete 3d6 distributions. I fixed the rules for tides. I altered the timing of the Ocean➔Garden transformation (the “Oxygen Catastrophe”) according to the proportion of sunlight suitable to drive photosynthesis….

⁵ Perhaps I ought to have done a bunch more so that I could have the Muslim theocratic utopia on Zawijah orbiting Beta Virginis. Having it on Hijra orbiting p Eridani is something that I have to fix.

⁶ I tried extending the age of emigration to restore the 800 worlds that I had in earlier versions. A destruction of Earth in AD 2403 gave me 858 settled worlds, but economic development and population growth on Tau Ceti were threatening to make it a second Earth and start despatching its own emigrants. So I wound the destruction of Earth back to AD 2353 and accepted 625 surviving primary colonies as enough.

⁷ I do want lost colonies at great distances, established by misjumps, by reckless colonists accepting worlds on the basis of telescopic observations alone (Bofinger colonies), and by pirate fleeing the Formation Wars in FTL ships. I haven’t got around yet to working out what’s plausible and where they are.

⁸ At the current rate of population growth and current population density it will take humans about 850 years to fill up the Galaxy. Nothing to worry about.

⁹ Passenger liners, anyway. There might be some freighters that are slower and cheaper.

¹⁰ Oops! A footnote!

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And now NASA has launched a new robot astronomer (TESS, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) that threatens to set all my astrography on its ear again.

Everything turns to zeerust eventually.


I am really impressed by your painstaking work. I wouldn’t have the patience (or the brains) to do it myself.

You have done an immense amount of work here and some that I have promised myself I’d get around to doing Real Soon Now for many years. I have a map of the 100 nearest solar systems hanging up in my flat and I’ve thought about using that as the basis of a game of near space stellar exploration (the early years of Earth’s stellar age) for a long time.

If your modified version of the GURPS planetary generator is available or adaptable then it would be of interest to many people I’m sure and not just me. I don’t have enough scientific knowledge to critique the original’s or your idea of what’s realistic but inputting the actual stellar values and then getting out a consistent set of worlds would be very useful.

I suspect that looking at the map on my wall a lot of the solar systems generated would be less than ideal homes for humans which in a way is good because it would cut down from 100 the number of solar systems I have to worry about.

The problems with having a three dimensional map and an interstellar drive which can go anywhere is that there are no safe places and no easily defended choke points: I’d expect the interstellar culture to be wracked by pirates and rogue states a far bit.

Which brings me to your Empire. Never mind whether it has feudalism or democracy: what is it taxing? And how is it preventing the sources of its revenue from just taking off for the outworlds?

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I did a similar sort of thing for Wives and Sweethearts, but since this is a space-navy game I wanted defensible wormhole routes.

  • start with a bunch of stellar data, also a dump of XHIP
  • do a Delaunay triangulation on the X/Y/Z data to get the initial set of routes
  • cull those routes in various ways (based on length, mostly) until there were few enough left that there were plausible chokepoints
  • then run a basic colonisation simulation starting from the four stars connected to Earth; each colony gets a growth timer, a smaller number if it’s a hospitable-looking star, which is decremented each year, and when it runs out that world throws off a new colony if there are any adjacent worlds still unclaimed.

That gets me about 10,000 colonised worlds (with owners and dates of first settlement) across about 60,000 stars.

I had originally planned to make the Delaunay triangulation 4- or 5-dimensional, so that routes between similar stars would be longer than routes between different stars, but this ended up producing such a thoroughly well-connected network that it wasn’t much use for gaming purposes.

I’ve generated individual system data only as I need them, but there’s an interactive map at

which shows the network. (Add a “&jumps=” parameter to show more.) Click on stars to re-centre on them; click on the centred (blue) star to get a system listing of jump point locations, as well as distances from each other.

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There are 36 colonies in Central Sector, all within 57 light-years of Sol. They are all older colonies, and many of them are populous and highly developed. But Central Sector is somewhat smaller than the Core as defined socio-economically — Ladon (in Herculis Sector), Stockhausen (in Puppis), and Svarga (in Draco) are certainly considered Core worlds. Also, it contains some worlds, notably Xin Tian Di, Emmaus, Bakunin, and New Lombok that are economically backward and barely civilised.

The total population of Central Sector is 87.5 billion people, an average of 2.4 billion per planet. Real GDP per head of population for the whole sector is ¤29,473 SVU/a¹.

There are nineteen outer sectors, which contain on average 31 primary colonies and 19.7 new settlements. They are somewhat irregular in size, shape, and contents: Hydra Sector includes only 18 primary colonies, Pisces Austrinus includes 51. Total population of the 589 primary colonies of the outer sectors is 639 billion, an average of 1.1 billion per world. Real GDP per head of population in the primary colonies of the outer sectors, average over the whole population, is ¤13,115 SVU/a. The range is from ¤445 SVU/head/a on Rebirth to ¤40,960 on Svarga.

The 375 new settlements in the periphery range from brand new to fifty years old, with about twenty in each outer sector. They receive among them approximately 6.8 billion immigrants per year, an average of 18 million people per world per year. Their total population is about 213 billion, an average of 568 million population each. They range from raw frontiers with only a few tens of millions of hardy pioneers on them to rapidly-developing worlds with over a billion inhabitants.

The most copious sources of migrants to the new colonies are New Athens and Simanta, which produce 145 million and 137 million emigrants per year, respectively.

The total population of the colonies is 939.5 billion people, plus which there are about 60 million Imperial servants and family, who have their permanent residence in space.

¹ The SVU is the purchasing power of one Imperial Crown in Imperial Direct Jurisdiction, approximately the equivalent purchasing power of a meal at McDonalds, or about 1.7 times the price of a Big Mac. I think that’s just over A$10 now. Real GDP per head on the richest planets — Tau Ceti, Iter, Todos Santos — is about ¤58,000 SVU/a.

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You are too kind. I make a computer do all the hard and tedious parts.

Unfortunately there are two problems with distributing it.

  • The version that generates one system at a time, looking up a system number that the user provides in its table of stellar data, is okay, but the thing that generates the systems of a whole list of stars (each for long enough to record the statistics that will tell the user it it’s worth re-generating for a real look) depends on using Excel data tables. Given that the underlying generator is a monstrous Excel workbook, this is pretty slow: each batch of 10,401 stars takes about 22 minutes on my clunky old Mac, during which time it is fatal to touch anything or think about a black rabbit. It’s just too user-hostile to inflict on anyone else.

  • The underlying generator is an instance of the star system and planet generation sequence in GURPS Space 4th edition, and is therefore the intellectual property of Steve Jackson Games. I can distribute copies of that generator under the categorical permission that SJG extends to non-commercial fan-made game aids, but I have no permission either to distribute versions that have been modified (SJG has the right not to have its work garbled) or to distribute derivative works such as a catalogue-based version. And SJG has made it very clear that it will not consider extending such permission.

I suspect that looking at the map on my wall a lot of the solar systems generated would be less than ideal homes for humans which in a way is good because it would cut down from 100 the number of solar systems I have to worry about.

With an unmodified version of the GURPS Space generator you might get a handful of “habitable” tide-locked planets orbiting the M-type junk that makes up most of everything and 75% of the nearest 100 systems, but in my modified version (which makes the planets of M-type stars and late Ks pretty much uninhabitable, you only tend to get one or two habitable worlds among the nearest 100 systems.

The star map that used to be on my wall (until I redecorated my study) is Winchell Chung’s 3D Starmap 30 LY Limit, which has about 278 systems marked. The complete junk is unobserved beyond about 15–20 light-years, so things are a bit cheerier here: Flat Black has eight habitable extrasolar planets within thirty light-years.

The problems with having a three dimensional map and an interstellar drive which can go anywhere is that there are no safe places and no easily defended choke points: I’d expect the interstellar culture to be wracked by pirates and rogue states a far bit.

That’s what the Empire is Flat Black is absolutely terrified of. It bases its claim to legitimacy on protecting everyone from the absolutely terrifying prospect of FTL piracy and interstellar war. It will not let anyone but its loyal servants control and armed or interstellar spacecraft, and that’s what makes Flat Black decisively not space opera.

Mankind in Flat Black got sort of lucky: the primary colonies were settled with a lower-tech, inconvenient, just-as-fast-as-light drive that was not anywhere-to-anywhere but only “from where we have built this huge, delicate, and expensive piece of infrastructure to somewhere else, at lightspeed, no return until you build an industrial civilisation and construct another of these flingers”. Proper FTL ships came along later, and the cat very nearly got out of the bag. A couple of inhabited worlds got depopulated and sterilised. The heirs of the bloke who invented the FTL drive went a tad mulish around the corners of the mouth, and after fifty years of desperate war they managed to destroy all of everyone else’s space infrastructure and establish a monopoly on interstellar travel. That’s the Empire. They squat in orbit over everyone’s planet now and summarily destroy any spaceship that launches without their inspectors having first checked that it has no weapons nor FTL drive aboard. No-one like them much.

I dunno whether you consider this to be taxation. The Empire has a monopoly in interstellar transport, and charges profit-maximising monopoly fares and freight rates on all interstellar travel and commerce. The monopoly on interstellar travel gives it a monopoly on developing new planets for real estate: it sells about eight planets per year to about 6.8 billion migrants. It also makes some revenue on interstellar banking, a bit of trade, and space industry and mining in systems where the locals can’t manage that themselves,

It prevents its sources of revenue from fleeing its grasp by not allowing them interstellar spacecraft to flee in. By spying on their R&D. By lasering anything that it is not allowed to inspect. In short: tyrannically. It’s a sort of “water empire” maintaining its power by granting or denying access to space and trade.

Hmm, I’m not sure keeping strict controls on interstellar travel produces enough revenue to maintain a strict control on interstellar travel. But I Am Not An Economist so what do I know?

But relying on keeping the lid on the technology is a disaster waiting to happen. If it isn’t some branch of humanity, then an alien species could well discover if not the current star drive then an alternative.

I hope it is a disaster you will feel like exploring.

It’s hard to find a reasonable basis for an estimate or the profits of the interstellar transport monopoly. You can get cost figures from the rules for spaceship design and operation in the game rules you are using, guess that the elasticity of demand with respect to generalised cost is unity, and start from the trade volumes calculated from GURPS Space’s trade rules, though a conversion of value to mass is wanting. I might do it in the next few days if I get chores done such as planting my bulbs and dusting and re-shelving my books. Or it might be adequate to treat it as a 10% ad valorem duty on trade volumes, which would not be outrageous. I note that these days the revenues of global logistics are $1.6 trillion out of a gross world product of about $76 trillion, or about 2%. A well-adjusted monopoly can easily achieve a profit margin of 50%, so perhaps it’s reasonable to just guess that the Empire extracts 2% of total GDP in monopoly profits.

On top of that there’s the real estate sales revenue on eight whole planets per year, sold as a price-discriminating monopolist to 6.8 billion migrants per year. “Real estate, Lex! They aren’t making any more of it!”

I’ll grubby up the backs of some envelopes in the next few days, and ballpark the naval budget, but my guess is that the Empire has a lot of revenue left over for aid work.

As for your remarks about research, I maintain that it is possible to spy on R&D without bringing all progress to a shuddering halt, especially if the Empire conducts R&D itself. But even otherwise, the Empire would probably consider that a disaster waiting to happen may be preferred to one that won’t even wait.

And finally, the Empire aren’t supposed to be the good guys. Flat Black is not a utopia.

Following up

  • Total GDP of the primary colonies is ₢7.3 quadrillion per annum. The GDPs of the new settlements are a bit hard to estimate because of all the terraforming work and non-marketed production that is going on. Maybe about ₢4,500 per head per annum (and ¤10,000 or so at PPP). Another quadrillion per annum, say. Total world product is about ₢8.3 quadrillion, and 2% of that is ₢166 trillion per annum.

  • Total trade volumes for the primary colonies come out to ₢3.48 quadrillion per annum, but that’s counting everything once at arrival and once at departure. ₢1.74 quadrillion per annum. 10% on that is ₢174 trillion per annum.

So without doing anything properly with an estimate of the cost curve, demand curve, and degree of monopoly power, I’m reasonably happy with a ballpark figure that the Empire collects about ₢170 trillion per annum in profits of the interstellar transport monopoly.

Then you have 6.8 billion migrants per year, who can probably be charged an average of about ₢2,500 each for a share of their new world (either directly or through their future landlords) and screwed out of another ₢2,500 on freight for all the stuff they need to bring with them or import. Another ₢34 trillion in revenues from real estate development.

Imperial revenues could easily exceed 200 trillion crowns per year. Multiply by 1.7 to convert to Big Macs. Multiply b £3.19 for the price of a Big Mac in Blighty. £1.1 quadrillion per annum. G$800 trillion per year. Warships are expensive. The Empire can afford a few.

What you have there seems to be comparable to the mercantilist system of the ancien régime, where the monarchy used its enforcement powers to decree monopolies in certain goods (and enforced them brutally; the penalty for smuggling was breaking on the wheel), enabling those goods to be sold at a high profit. This heeded to be applied to goods with highly inelastic demand, such as salt and tobacco, to make it pay off, of course.

Now, the French monarchy didn’t sell salt itself; it sold the right to sell salt to courtiers who then collected the monopoly profits. That in itself wasn’t necessarily bad; it was worse that the monarchy then treated the sales proceeds as current income rather than as capital. But that’s not inherent in the state using its powers to establish and profit from monopoly.

However, it does have to enforce the monopoly, and pay the costs of doing so. In a sense, what you have is an inversion of piracy. Instead of their being legal shippers whose cargoes and ships are likely to be seized or destroyed by outlaw users of force, you have outlaw shippers whose cargoes and ships are likely to be seized or destroyed by legal users of force. In either case, the question is whether the profits of trade are sufficient to justify taking the risk of losing ships and cargoes. The Empire seems to depend on this not being true; that is, it can’t possibly intercept every single smuggler, but if it has a high enough interception rate, potential smugglers will decide that the risks are too high (the standard calculation for any prudent criminal).

The calculation of risks and rewards in smuggling (in Flat Black is) is strongly affected by two technological truths of the setting:

  1. There is no effective stealth in space, and Imperial warships have direct-fire weapons with range significantly longer than the diameter of a planet. There are no secret paths across the frontier. There are no hidden coves and moonless nights. The Imperial Navy squadron at your origin and that at your destination will spot you and will be able to shoot you.

  2. The Eichberger drive, activated in the atmosphere of a planet, would cause a self-catalysing fusion reaction in the air and water that would kill everyone on the planet and within a few million kilometres, and render the planet permanently uninhabitable.

Any ship that arrives FTL will be detected and could, if it reached an inhabited world, destroy the planet and kill everyone in the system. And the Imperial Navy has the laser batteries with which to prevent it arriving.

Effect two has happened three times, destroying Old Earth, Mayflower, and Orinoco, with a total loss of over twenty billion lives. The Empire goes to some lengths to make sure that its personnel never forget that. Now, the Empire could not maintain its legitimacy if it were shooting on sight to protect its revenues: probably couldn’t get officers who would reliably do that. But when any surreptitious arrival could as easily be a terrorist or genocidal maniac as a smuggler? Any ship that won’t be inspected will be destroyed.

The credible threat of CT weapons also legitimises Imperial efforts to monitor the materials, components, and sub-assemblies that are especially used in making Eichberger drives, and R&D on anything related to them. No sane person wants an Eichberger drive assembled on their planet or in their habitat, and they are very likely to co-operate with Imperial inspectors, or drop a dime on anyone they suspect of trying to assemble one.

To smuggle, you first have to acquire the components of an Eichberger drive without being detected by Naval Intelligence monitoring programs. Then you have to assemble it with none of the technicians involved dobbing you to the authorities. Then you have to install it in an un-inspected spaceship. Load cargo. Then get to the correct departure point without an authorised flight plan. Then, after arrival, get from the arrival point in your destination system to somewhere to unload, given that

  • you can’t hide
  • people with honking great lasers figure that you might easily be a terrorist with a nuke, but a million times worse, and you have no way to reassure them except for surrender.

Flat Black is not set up for charming rogues to engage in smuggling adventures.

My black research project in this universe involves a very small automated spacecraft with an FTL drive in an evacuated chamber below ground level… of an uninhabited planet. (Yes, this is not cheap or trivial to set up.) Can we get that to jump without destroying the planet?

Because if so, we have a possibility.

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The leading theory about what happened to Old Earth is that there was an accident in an FTL lab at Buenos Aires.


The Empire monitors the manufacturers and supplies of critical components of FTL engines. It monitors the careers and employment of critical theorists and technicians. It licenses, monitors, and inspects non-Imperial spacecraft. Uninhabited planets are in its direct jurisdiction, and it monitors what is happening on them. The project won’t be small and won’t be cheap, and the moment anyone suspects that you’re gathering the parts for a planet-busting weapon they phone the Imperial Secret Service to collect a medal, a cash reward, and whistleblower protection under a new name on any planet of their choice.


Flat Black is intended as a setting for serial rationalised planetary romances, not for the schemes of insane setting-busting PCs. What do you think the drive will do?

First the atmosphere blows up. Then your vehicle runs into the inside of its cavity at one thousand times the speed of light. Then the authorities start a frantic search for the terrorist who just demonstrated WMD capability on the world-ending scale.

The argument about no hidden coves makes perfect sense if all the human settlements are on planets; the space around a planet could be monitored closely enough to spot any approaching ship. Are there no asteroid belts with the kind of “meteor miner” activity Smith, Heinlein, Anderson, and The Expanse all portray? Or are there sensors that can detect a human spacecraft amid asteroids even if it’s in “silent running” mode? (I’m not saying that smuggling has to be possible; I’m just exploring your logic for ruling it out.)

But I’m also looking at historical precedents for a fiscal situation where the state is funding by either running or franchising monopoly industries rather than by taxation.

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I’m not trying to break your system (really!), but trying to get the mindset of people who want to break the Imperial monopoly. (And I’m sure they exist.) “FTL without launching a spacecraft” is one option; if you could make that happen accurately enough to drop a passive cargo into another planet’s atmosphere you might get somewhere.

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There are some orbital industries and habitats. Colonies are allowed to operate them themselves when they have a global government (or if they are Tau Ceti, which gets to be treated as one colony or as eight colonies as suits it from case to case). The Empire will even ship in high-tech spaceships and parts for colonials to operate in systems that lack the industrial capacity to build their own. (This used to be more important back when I was using the ForeSight system and planet generator, which often produced systems with more than one inhabited world.) But operations in space are in Imperial jurisdiction and subject to licensing, inspection, and traffic control.

Colonies have sovereignty out to the Kármán line, which is to say the altitude above which aerodynamic flight is not possible (because the air is so thin that stall speed is greater than orbital speed). United colonies (and Tau Ceti, which gets to treat itself as either one colony or eight as suits it on a case-by-case basis, because of grandfathering provisions) normally have a right to undertake operations or place satellites in orbits with periods no longer than their planet’s day — the Empire dearly wishes that this right extended only to unarmed satellites, but it is not so. Otherwise, anything in space is under Imperial jurisdiction.

Imperial jurisdiction comes in three types.

  • There is Imperial direct jurisdiction, which applies in the Empire’s quasi-diplomatic territorial enclaves on planets, in Navy vessels and Imperial Spaceways’ liners, in Imperial orbital habitats, factories, research stations, and dockyards, and in Imperial stations on uninhabitable planets. That where the Empire owns all the stuff, the empire’s domestic law applies to civil and criminal matters, law is enforced by police from the Empire’s Home Office, and all spacecraft are operated by captains who are officers of the Empire.

  • There is Imperial delegated jurisdiction, which prevails where colonial operations and enterprises take people who are not officers or employees of the Empire or the dependants thereof, passengers, visitors, prisoners etc. beyond synchronous orbit other than in Imperial yadda yaddas. The Empire customarily negotiates status of law agreements with the colonies to let them make and enforce laws for the peace, order, and good government of those facilities. But it retains sovereignty: the local authorities and laws existing under the status of law agreements are technically delegations of Imperial jurisdiction, and the Empire retains prerogative powers to board and inspect anything it wishes to, it retains space traffic control and insists on flight plans, and it licences spacecraft engineers, masters and masters’ mates. Imperial licensing procedures include high-tech neuropsychological character testing.

  • Then there is provisional Imperial jurisdiction, which is created by a specific Establishment Act to allow the Empire to set up and provisionally run a government on a newly-settled world. Without such an act each new settlement would become an independent and sovereign colony as soon as the first settler (not an Imperial servant) came in through its Kármán line. So far every establishment act has had a fifty-year sunset clause on Imperial provisional jurisdiction; since the Compromise of '84 each one specifies the form of government that the Empire is to set up under its provisional jurisdiction.

Result: the “asteroid miner” and like activity that does take place takes place in Imperial delegated jurisdiction. It is subject to Imperial space traffic control and naval inspection, and you can only get a spaceship captain’s licence if the Empire considers that you are competent and of good character. Naturally, spacers don’t like the Empire even as much as [other] colonials do. But rogue captains are rare.

Silent running mode for spaceships was argued extensively on, and appears to me to be superscience. You could send robot smuggling ships that didn’t need to dump the waste heat of a crew habitat, but even so their manoeuvres would be conspicuous and allow precise determination of their trajectories. Our conclusion was “no stealth in space”.

Anyhow: it would only be difficult, not impossible, to get a cargo and a pirate Eichberger drive into a ship in space, and then deviate from your trajectory plan (or fly without one) to go to a suitable point from which to escape FTL. And the naval officers in system, not being monsters (mostly), probably wouldn’t laser your ship as soon as it deviated from plan. I have run adventures in which conspirators used such ploys in attempts to escape from Imperial knowledge and power to set up utopias in the deep Beyond.

The problem for smugglers appears more at the arrivals end. The arrival of a ship under Eichberger drive is announces by a flash of ~thermal radiation with energy equal the difference between its gravitational energy on arrival and its highest gravitational energy at any point along its path, at a temperature determined by that energy and the surface area of its warp bubble. The Empire is watching for those. Then, you really can’t hide in space. When you arrive in the system that your market is in you are overwhelmingly likely to be observed, hailed, and ordered to cut your drive and stand by for boarding. Then a brave junior officer and a bunch of marines are sent in a patrol boat to arrest you and seize your ship. Nothing that you can say is likely to be believed. If you refuse to stop you will be tracked for later interception; if you approach any inhabited place you will be ruthlessly lasered 10,000 km before you get there, as a probable genocidal terrorist.

The extreme measures are justified by the terrorist threat, and far exceed what would be economical for the Empire to engage in merely to protect its revenues. They make for a formidable disincentive to any smuggling operation that was aimed at delivering a few hundred containers of weapons or chiselling the freight rate on anything else.

My logic for abolishing smuggling is not that a bit of smuggling would spoil the setting for campaigns, Indeed, I’d like to have a few smuggled high-tech weapons and smuggled fugitives to spice up some adventures. The problem is more that if I leave room for smugglers the logic and physics always end up with the Hobbesian nightmare of endless war in which no defence is possible, to which @MichaelCule alluded above.

Another thing is that orbital habitats suffered badly from the depredations of outworlders with FTL ships during the Age of Piracy (c. 370 – 430 ADT). Then they got hammered during the Formation Wars (c. 432 – 490 ADT). The Treaty of Luna (495 ADT) was only 111 years ago: lots of people remember the Formation Wars. Colonials are still a bit shy about living in orbital habitats or even investing in orbital assets. Rich returns for the brave ones who do! But there is not as much living-in-space as you would otherwise expect.

Fair enough. I’m sorry that I got a little testy.


It’s because of bastards like you that the Empire needs a huge nasty navy.


It’s because of bastards like you that I have written thousands of worlds about Imperial jurisdiction, naval operations, the Treaty of Luna, Eichberger drive specs, spaceship licensing, space traffic control and so forth that will never come into play (unless things go terribly wrong).


I just had a look at that old monster, and I can’t make it work myself!