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?”

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”

The Novella is Done!

It took way longer than I had planned, but the prequel novella, The Worth of a World, is finally done!

I sent out emails to my subscribers today, letting them know how they can download a free e-copy.  It’s not yet available on Amazon, as we’re still working on the cover (it’s just a simple temporary cover for now), but it’s free as an incentive for people to sign up for my email list (note: that is separate from blog followers).

For this blog post, I’m going to describe the various tools I’ve used to get here, for those of you interested in the mechanics behind self-publishing.  First, I used Scapple Screen Shot 2019-08-30 at 3.05.11 PMto map out  the plot before I started writing anything.  Scapple is a mind-mapping tool that’s great for “doodling” up anything, including the progression of a story.

Scapple is made by Literature and Latte, who also make the amazing Scrivener, the most incredible writing tool ever.  Someday I’ll do a whole blog post on how helpful this tool is to writing.  I would never be able to write a novel just using Word.

Once the book is all written in Scrivener, that tool also has a compile function to generate an e-book format as well as PDF for the print-on-demand paperback version.  Once it generated the e-book file (.mobi), I used Amazon’s Kindle Previewer to see how it will look in an e-book reader.

Next step: uploading the book to a site where my subscribers can get it.  BookFunnel is the choice of most independent authors.  It’s cheap ($20/year for beginning authors) and helps. the end users get the file installed on their various e-readers.  I don’t want to think about how many people would be asking me to help them figure this out. Eventually, I can use BookFunnel to promote the book and gain email subscribers, but for now I’m just using it to deliver the book to subscribers I gain through this website or the Call-to-Action at the end of Star Riders.

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Finally, I need to let the subscribers know where to get it.  I use MailChimp for my email list.  It’s free for lists of less than 1,000 (I currently have 53, two of which are me).  They changed up their pricing methods lately, and a lot of people left them for MailerLite, but for now, I’ll stick with them.  I may change it up once I go big 😉

Screen Shot 2019-08-30 at 3.08.21 PMIn MailChimp, I set up a “campaign” to send to all the email subscribers telling them about the book and giving them the link to BookFunnel.  Then I updated the signup form so that new subscribers will also get the link.  Then I can sit back and watch MailChimp’s report showing how many people have opened the email, and how many clicked on the link.

What’s next?  I plan to:

  1. Publish on Amazon, both e-book and paperback
  2. Run a sale on Amazon of Star Riders (probably $1.99) to gain some readers and hope that they are enticed to join the email list in order to get the prequel.
  3. Run other promotions of The Worth of a World to get people to consider buying Star Riders.
  4. Go back to working on the sequel.

So what do you think?  Any thoughts or questions?  Leave a comment!