Aaron Pollyea’s Science Academy—Bussard Ramscoops

After taking a long hiatus, mainly due to some interesting feedback on my thought experiments involving transporters, I got an idea of something that everyone should think is really simple, Bussard Ramscoops.

[Side note: I’m glad I didn’t begin to go into the other way of being immortal with transporters or how Star Trek 2009 literally made starships a waste of resources with their transporter upgrades. So now let me give you some ideas on how to get the most out of those glowy bits on the front of your warp nacelles!]


At its most basic, a Bussard Ramscoop produces a powerful magnetic field that funnels particles, usually hydrogen atoms, into a collection device. A Ramjet is actually the scoop, a reaction chamber, and an exhaust port that would propel an interstellar spacecraft across the void.

In Starfleet vessels I link the collection system with the navigational deflector. The deflector would push away larger particles that may impact the vessel and cause damage, but it also could ionize smaller particles to better be caught up in the magnetic field generated by the collectors. As the starship moves through space, even at warp velocities, the deflector beam scans outwards, ionizing atoms. The particles that normally intercept the warp bubble and enter it would then be pulled in towards the collectors.

Bussard RamScoop ship in action.  

Why do starships in Star Trek need ramscoops? To put it simply:

  • Having ready access to spare matter from the interstellar medium means less refueling stops to gas up your deuterium tanks.
  • You can use the abundant collected hydrogen in your fusion reactors in the impulse drive.
  • Heavier elements that would be much rarer could be added into your ship’s stores for the replicators or provide additional material for life support.
  • On long duration missions this collected material could mean the difference between staying out for a full five-year mission or having to return to spacedock to refuel after only a couple years.

What other things can you do with a Bussard ramscoop? Most of the ideas that I’ve thought of or come across would normally be able to be accomplished by other starship systems, but when there’s been serious damage to your player’s starship, those glowing caps may come in handy.

Since the collectors generate a massive magnetic field, anything involving the use of a magnetic field would be able to be accomplished in some form, and with quite a bit of modification. For example, I had in an online game. Sensors were blown out. So we utilized the collectors like a metal detector. The magnetic fields would be disturbed by large amounts of conductive material in the area. The range would be highly limited, but it would be entirely possible to detect starships this way, figure out of a nearby rock contains large amounts of metals, or possibly even detect a very close by cloaked vessel.

A highly energized plasma or ion storm could be better shielded against by using the ramscoops to assist in diverting the charged particles into a safer area or away from the vessel more than just by using the shields alone. It’s also possible for the field to be directed in such a way as to point any incoming charged particles to areas of the outer hull, ‘sand-blasting’ off material or acting like a very low powered energy weapon.

“Red Dwarf”, a famous Bussard Ramscoop vessel from another sci-fi franchise.

Inducing an electric current in material can be useful. Lighting up the gas of a nebula to distract an enemy at a critical moment or perhaps acting like a signal flare for rescue teams. That same induction could be used to transmit data at a very low bandwidth like using an old telegraph machine when open communication might be impossible to a nearby starship.

Hopefully some of these ideas are ones that could be starting points for you as a player to jump off from and use to solve problems in your game. As a Gamemaster, it’s always possible enemy ships can use these tricks against your players. Be careful out there!

For those of you who want more tecnical details on the Bussard ramscoop…

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