How to get mining products into space?

I’m writing the sequel to Star RidersThe Rogue of Sevado, and part of the story occurs on a mining planet, where ore is processed into alloy and sent back to the homeward. I needed a way to cheaply get the heavy stuff off the planet. The typical rockets we use now are very expensive in terms of fuel, and would not be cost-effective for a civilization seeking to mine another planet in their system.

Enter the SkyHook: a theoretical (for us) means of getting heavy payloads into space using an extremely long rotating cable in orbit. It’s related to the Space Elevator concept in which a geostationary satellite is tied to the ground by a very long (and strong) cable. In this case, the satellite is not geostationary, and the cable rotates as it orbits, dipping down nearly to the surface of the planet to hook onto a payload and fling it into space (my characters like to call it a “flinger”).


The SkyHook was first proposed by John Isaacs in 1966 in the journal Science.  Many others have expanded the concept since then, and Boeing even did a study in 2000 which proposed a 600-kilometer tether in a 700-kilometer orbit, rotating with a speed to 3.5 km/sec (Mach 10) at the tip. Their idea was to have it pick up a payload from a hypersonic aircraft. Amazingly, they determined the tether could be made from existing commercial materials!

If you’d like to learn more about this amazing technology, check out Isaac Arthur’s great video (as well as the other intriguing stuff in his collection).

I included the information above in my monthly email newsletter, and received several responses from interested readers.  Frank had some ideas for a magnetic launch system, aided by rocket thrust after the payload gets closer to escape velocity.

David said the skyhook concept seemed overly complicated, requiring an “orbital ballet” to keep it working, particularly on a planet with atmosphere, which would introduce an issue with drag as well as cooling (the stagnation temperature at Mach 10 is probably 7-8,000 deg).  Not to mention the risk of using it over populated areas. Fortunately, in my book, the mining planet is both atmosphere-free and population-free.

You can read more about the general topic of launching payloads into space without rockets in this Wikipedia article.  Also, one of the most interesting SF books I’ve read on similar ideas is Atmosphaera Incognita, by Neal Stephenson (better known for Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon, and Seveneves), a novella about the building of a tower to reach the threshold of space (spoiler alert — it doesn’t end well).

How long does it take to write a novel?

One of the first questions people ask when they find out I write sci-fi novels is “How long did it take?”  For my first novel, it was almost four years from the time I first wrote down the premise to when I published it.  My novella took much less, of course, and I expect my sequel novel to be completed in less than a year. Read on if you want to see what took all that time. Continue reading “How long does it take to write a novel?”

Does Advertising Make Sense for One Book?

As I near completion of the first draft of my new book, a sequel to Star Riders, I am starting to think about promoting it.  I had been planning to start up Amazon ads again, but I participated in a recent webinar for authors that convinced me maybe that wasn’t the best thing to do.  Read on if you’re interested. Continue reading “Does Advertising Make Sense for One Book?”

NaNoWriMo – Week 2

In a previous post, I announced that I was participating in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, and committing to writing at least 50,000 words of first draft text for my sequel novel in the month of November. I fell behind in the seventh day due to a basement emergency, but pledged to catch up. So how am I doing? Continue reading “NaNoWriMo – Week 2”

Can I Write a Novel in a Month?

In author circles, November is known as National Novel Writing Month, or more commonly, NaNoWriMo. Now in its 20th year, it challenges authors to write 50,000 words of a novel in thirty days.  I’ve known about it since I started working in earnest on Star Riders, but this year is the first time I’ve decided to participate.

Hundreds of thousands of people around the world participate in NaNoWriMo. I decided to sign up this year primarily because I’m trying to discipline myself to write more consistently.  I recently resolved to write at least 500 words every day, and aim for 5,000 words per week (obviously I have to beat that 500/day metric at least once per week). And I’ve been doing pretty good with that, but when I plotted that out, I realized I wouldn’t finish my sequel’s first draft until March. So I decided to step up my game.

Before I go further, let’s just clarify that I don’t think I’m going to have my novel done and published on December 1. A typical sci-fi novel runs around twice the 50,000 mark, and the goal is just to get to a first draft, not a finished novel. But the benefit is to learn to write every day, and to just get those words down.

One thing I’ve been trying to learn is to just write and not re-write as I go.  It’s hard for me to not correct spelling errors, or tweak something I just noticed in the last paragraph. But as one of my early engineering managers used to say, “We have to resist the temptation to make things better.” At least at this point.  The goal now is to just get a draft done. A whole draft.  Then (and only then) rewrite it.  Most beginning authors don’t get hung up on rewrites. They don’t even make it that far; they get hung up on finishing that first draft.  Enter NaNoWriMo.

By participating in NaNoWriMo, an author joins a community of other authors facing similar struggles to find the time, face down the beast that says you don’t know what you’re doing, and plain old procrastination. There’s a website to help you stay focused and connect with others who have stepped up to the challenge.

NaNoWriMo’s objective of 50,000 words in a month works out to 1,667 words per day. That’s a lot more than 500.  But I’ve been keeping track of my writing every day, and I find I average around 700-800 words per hour.  So I could meet the NaNoWriMo pace in just two hours per day. Still, that will require dedication.

The NaNoWriMo people say there are several things to do to prepare:

  • Get your novel planned out, plot and characters – check
  • Decide when and where you’re going to write every day – check
  • Let your friends and family know what you’re doing and to give you some slack for one month – check

The website has a “NaNo Prep 101” course to help you walk through all of those steps through September and October so you’re ready to pour out the words in November.  I didn’t do that (mostly because I just decided yesterday to do it), but I’ve also already got the book planned out and have written over 17,000 words.

So tomorrow I start, and I hope to beat the 1,667 word mark the first day, and every day for a while.  If I’m successful (called “winning” NaNoWriMo), I’ll have 67,000 words a month from now, and should have the first draft done in mid-January rather than early March.

I’ll do a quick post every week to let you know how I’m doing.