Dragonfly Carrier

by Annie Stein
Welcome to Solaris, traveller! Let me get you up to speed.
Solaris is a soft science fiction webcomic set in our own universe, kind of. Learn more by continuing to read, or click here to be taken to the comic.
Q:Where am I?   You're still in the system known as Sol. Except this time each planet is habitable and developed its own life. The people are humanoid, mostly.
Q:I heard something about a comic?   Oh yes! The main comic is still in development, but you can read the first few pages of the Expanse if you click here.  
Q:What's going on?   Sol is invading. The resentful sun sends its angelic armies: the Scourge. For now, they're being held back at Mercury by Penumbra.
by Annie Stein
This article is a stub . It will be expanded upon later.

Written by skairunner

A titanic spacecraft laden with thousands of brightly painted containers filled with the works of millions accelerates out of the station, joining dozens of other craft like itself in years-long journeys between the planets.
  Dragonfly carriers are spacecraft that carry cargo in standardized containers. They are most commonly used to carry massive amounts of cargo between planets, though smaller models are often employed on particularly high-traffic routes within a planet's gravity well, and are almost always the cheapest method of moving things from one point to another in the Solar System.
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Dragonfly carriers are named after the distinctive appearance that practically all container carriers have converged to: a long, largely hollow spine with a bulbous 'head' to the fore and powerful engines towards the aft. Containers in the form of trapezoidal blocks are then mounted encircling the spine and locked into place. Upon arriving at a destination, the containers are transferred to smaller tugs for transport to local shipping facilities.   Dragonfly design takes advantage of the unique characteristics of space to accomplish cheap shipping. Spacecraft can afford to take very long times to accelerate due to lack of resistance from water, air or ground, and do not need to provide further acceleration once underway. Additionally, because there are no constraints of either gravity or standing friction, Dragonflies can have abysmal thrust-weight ratios compared to typical spacecraft and still accomplish their journeys. These savings in fuel and hardware cause Dragonflies to have the absolute lowest shipment costs per unit mass of any other interplanetary transport method.
Four trapezoidal shipping containers
Dragonfly Shipping Containers by Annie Stein

Advantages and Drawbacks

  Cheapest method of transporation
Can be fully automated
Infrastructure well developed in most of the Sol System  
  Slowest form of transit
Not suitable for perishables
Requires specialized infrastructure
Dragonfly carriers are the slowest form of transit currently in use in the System. This is because they generally take ballistic routes between planets rather than burning more fuel for direct approaches, like courier or liner transports do. Transit times are typically in the range of months to a year, compared to liners which range from weeks to months. As a consequence, Dragonfly carriers are not suitable for perishable goods.   Many modern Dragonflies are unmanned and operated by computers. Although automation is not without its own costs, the benefit of not requiring a life support system is considerable. Additionally, the extended isolation required by a typical cargo route tends to take a toll on the mental health of pilots, as well as carrying a risk of Deep Space Syndrome.   The biggest challenge of an automated Dragonfly is in the 'last mile' of entering port. So far, most cargo ship operators have solved this problem by sidestepping it: Dragonflies are maneuvered to a healthy distance from stations, and containers are unloaded by a small fleet of shuttles. Destinations where this is not possible are either avoided, or necessitate the use of tugs, as Dragonflies are incredibly unmaneuverable thanks to their extreme mass compared to their propulsion.

Dragonfly Carrier




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2 Aug, 2022 11:58

I like the description, though I think I have a general liking for vehicles that resemble animals and such. I also think it's neat that they are so specialized that they aren't very useful beyond their single purpose. They can traverse the vast distances of space on the cheap, but they'd be useless for short distances.   I did get a little confused on the bit about the benefits of being unmanned. I understood that the ships were automated, but I didn't understand right away the context of the sentence about Deep Space Syndrome, as this shouldn't apply to an unmanned Dragonfly Carrier. But I think you're comparing the drawback that other (piloted) types of transport have? This confusion might clear up if you replaced "additionally" with "for example," but I'm not sure, so you might want to get some more reads and find out if anyone else was confused. (Maybe it's just me :D )

Reading Circle Temple Because magic isn't just fiction
5 Aug, 2022 13:23

Thank you! I also like the idea of hyperspecialized vehicles in sci-fi settings. They're already quite fascinating in the real world, and it's fun to think about analogues in a different one.   I think you're right that the paragraph is not written the best it could be. Alas, I cannot edit it until after the editing embargo is lifted.

14 Aug, 2022 01:47

lol I'm running into the same problem my own self, on the editing front.

Reading Circle Temple Because magic isn't just fiction
Sage SailingOcelot
Sailing Ocelot
2 Aug, 2022 22:44

I really enjoyed this article. I love the concept of the dragonfly vehicles, and your visual description. I can almost imagine them with their shipping containers... Such a fun idea! This seems like a very useful bit of lore for the worldbuilding itself, I am sure they could be mentioned in passing between characters through casual conversation. I love the right side summing up some stats for the Dragonfly Carrier, and on the left the advantages and disadvantages. Clever!

~~~~~~~~ SailingOcelot
5 Aug, 2022 13:26

Credit for the little sidebar goes to annie! I agree that it's a very cute and neat feature for the vehicles in Solaris.

3 Aug, 2022 21:02

HUGE fan of the organization and presentation of the article. I love exploring space infrastructure with real consideration for the constraints and needs of the society utilizing them.   The idea of the way logistics would change when you stretch the chain out to a year or more for transit and the level or organizational and philosophical change that would happen because of that is awesome and mind boggling to think about. Would supply chains still operate on a "Just on time" philosophy or would they shift to something else entirely. Would there be a macro and a micro logistical environment coming from this where local logistics operate on one time scale with a tempo that is loosely set by the system wide logistical reality?   Super interesting things to think about, great article.

5 Aug, 2022 15:09

It really is interesting to think about it. There *are* other forms of shipping that are faster but pricier, so I imagine container shipment via Dragonfly would mainly be for things you know how much you will need (or have a good guess for) and will need regularly rather than on-demand. Bulk goods would probably work perfectly with Dragonflies.

5 Aug, 2022 15:47

Yeah! Thinking of things like...fertilizer for the next years harvest. A farm or even a world likely has at least loose projections for that out for years. Things like...Vehicles for instance would likely be shipped like that as well. Housing parts, unrefined goods. Super interesting, often overlooked and maligned as boring (to be fair, logistics IS kind of boring XD) aspect of worldbuilding.

Eternal Sage AmélieIS
Amélie I. S. Debruyne
19 Aug, 2022 12:04

I really like how you just don't list the parameters of the vehicle but also explore the consequences for logistics of interplanetary trade. This is fascinating to consider :D

To see what I am up to, here is my civilisation challenge article.