The Amber Nebula - Realspace Travel

Traversing small distances (up to 0.1 AU or so) is usually done in realspace if there is no planetary gravity well to overcome. (Longer in- system trips and leaving a planetary surface are much more efficient using hyperspace.) Ion drive engines are safe to use outside planetary atmospheres, but ships which must manoeuvre within atmospheres usually use higher thrust molecular exhaust, such as water, to do so. This includes any ships which take off rather than skew from planetside.

Both hyperspace and realspace travel involve weightless/microgravity conditions. Gravity can be simulated either by constant acceleration or spinning of the ship. Space stations generally spin to produce simulated gravity, but ship crews usually operate in free fall.

Some in-system ships use solar sails, vast sheets of thin polymer material, to catch and deflect incident sunlight, thus providing thrust. Such ships play much the same role as yachts on an ocean plied by powered ships, as playthings of the rich.

The easiest realspace method for leaving a planetary gravity well is to use a beanstalk. A beanstalk is a thick cable tethered to the ground at one end, and to a satellite in geostationary orbit at the other, up and down which cars carrying passengers or cargo can travel. Constructing a beanstalk is a mammoth engineering effort, taking several years, but once built it allows cargo simply to be driven into space along the cable.

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