Aaron Pollyea’s Science Academy—Antimatter

antimatterAnti-matter is a staple of Star Trek, and without it, the mighty starships of Starfleet wouldn’t be what they are in the show. But what is anti-matter and how can you get it into your game outside of main engineering? Why should you deal with it outside of a warp core?

To put it simply, anti-matter is just like regular matter except that it has oppositely charged subatomic particles making up its atoms. Protons are negatively charged and called anti-protons, and electrons are positively charged and called positrons.

What makes it such a great fuel for starships? When antimatter encounters regular matter it annihilates itself along with an equal amount of matter. (E=mc^2, folks) The amount of energy released from that destruction is immense.

In my previous article, I wrote about a one-kilogram amount of anti-matter being released by a shuttlecraft crash causing an explosion equivalent to a 47 megaton nuclear explosion.

Anti-matter is just like regular matter except that it has oppositely charged subatomic particles making up its atoms.

To put that into more context, a fully loaded Galaxy-class starship would have around 3000 cubic meters of anti-matter on board. Assuming it is partially frozen anti-deuterium, that would be an explosion of around 23,124,000 megatons. Take that in for a second. True, it is only 0.5% of the amount of energy expended during the K-T event (the meteor that killed the dinosaurs). However, the K-T event did not release incredible amounts of gamma and x-rays.

So we should all feel amazed when Enterprise had a warp core breach in orbit of Veridian III and the low orbit blast somehow didn’t irradiate half the planet with hard radiation, thereby causing some weird and deadly chemical reactions in the upper atmosphere that would ensure acid rain for decades to come.

antimatter blowing up
“Don’t have your anti-matter refineries on a planet!”

I’ve shown that Starfleet ships with warp core breaches are generally mass extinction events waiting to happen. How should a responsible Gamemaster put this madness into your game?

The first step is telling stories about where anti-matter comes from! Today, scientists are able to generate anti-matter in minuscule quantities using particle accelerators. How would the Federation scale this up billions or trillions of times? It all comes down to how much power you want to throw at generating anti-matter.

antimatter stationIt’s my theory that the Federation would use close solar orbiting power stations collecting immense amounts of energy and utilizing that to generate anti-matter. You would not want these facilities on or near a world (see above). You would want it near an energy source that would be far more powerful than what your own fusion reactors could make, so a star is the clear cut answer. Plus, if the anti-matter station cooks off, it’s still just a drop in the bucket against the backdrop of even a small and dim red dwarf.

It’s very possible all inhabited star systems in the Federation have one of these anti-matter ‘collectors’. Just as likely, Starfleet has dedicated facilities around stars in uninhabited systems that would be used as fuel depots of a sort. These space-based complexes would be massive, require huge solar shields to protect the work areas from the nearby star, and have truly colossal solar high-efficiency solar panels that would require little to no maintenance.

A gamemaster could write whole adventures around a crew being tasked with solving engineering issues cropping up in Anti-Matter Station 6 in Wolf 359. Or perhaps the skeleton crew of Starfleet reservists has had a murder onboard their station giving your players a new and interesting take on a closed-room mystery.

These same near-solar stations store massive quantities of anti-matter. Hence, they would be natural rendezvous points for starships as they will always need to refuel. They could even become logistical centers for Starfleet. During a war, these facilities would not only be important waypoints for starships going to the front lines, but also strategic points that the Federation would defend with passion. The construction of one of these facilities in a newly-welcomed member world’s home system could be the center for diplomatic intrigue from factions in the new world’s government or even from hostile nearby powers.

Another way of introducing anti-matter into your game is through convoys, an old staple of war stories from the mid-20th century. Even in the 24th century, it would make sense that large quantities of anti-matter would need to be moved from places where it’s produced to places its needed. Perhaps there is a shortage due to war in a sector and moving anti-matter close to the front is a better solution than having starships leave the front lines and move back a few light-years to refuel.

Perhaps a facility has been constructed that is mass-producing photon torpedoes and is in need of warhead material.

photon torpedo

Regardless of the reason, a character’s starship can be assigned to escort a specialized anti-matter transport. Nothing should put a transport or escort;s crew on edge than being near enough weapons-grade badness to crack a planet in half.

Here is where I will give a very rare piece of rules advice: if said transport is destroyed, assume that any starship inside short or medium-range is also destroyed. At long-range, a starship may survive in pieces, but her crew will likely be radioactive biological goo spattered about the remaining bulkheads.

As the gamemaster, you should always remind the players of just how bad anti-matter is to their long term health if they do not respect its power. There will be no, “Oops! Magnetic containment just failed on the anti-matter storage tanks. I better fix that!” There won’t even be a bright light. All they’ll get is an epilogue where a non-warp capable civilization a couple light-years away is wondering why there is a new star in the sky that fades away after a day.

Que the ending theme music.

7 comments

  1. So, is there a science or engineering explanation for why warp core breaches aren’t nearly as destructive as they should be? Some sort of safety feature that isn’t mentioned?

    1. Someone in the comments asked “So, is there a science or engineering explanation for why warp core breaches aren’t nearly as destructive as they should be? Some sort of safety feature that isn’t mentioned?”
      It’s my conjecture that anti-matter storage pods would have to have multiple redundant backup power supplies in the event of main power failure. When a starship is about to blow, there also has to be some sort of automated system that makes a vessel eject said containment pods at high speed away from the hull. This is assuming the launch system isn’t damaged and the computer core isn’t damaged. The system has to be so fail safe that even with extreme battle damage or sabotage, the anti-matter is still going to blow out and shoot away. In otherwords I doubt even a highly trained engineer could disable the system without the computer throwing crazy amounts of errors out for the command crew to see, along with automatic messages to Starfleet Command saying someone is toying with the anti-matter containment safety protocols.
      No one in life pods trying to escape from their ship would want even a small amount of anti-matter going up near them, so even ramming a starship into another hostile one would still result in the ship automatically blowing out those pods and that’s why we don’t see ships just going up and wiping out everything within X amount of distance when they blow up after getting torn apart by a Borg Cube or self-destructing and crashing into the Genesis planet.
      Yeah, just think about how bad the bridge crews day would have been as they watched Enterprise burning up in the atmosphere of Genesis and then the anti-matter reserves cooked off.
      *shudder*

    1. Yes, but the TechManual hasn’t been seen on screen. So it’s not technically canon. I’m agreeing with it and expanding on it.

  2. Another answer to the question is that the ships reactor is only “burning” a small fraction of total fuel at any one time. Hard to know how much that is though.

Leave a Reply to Michael Dismuke Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.