Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer
The Jupiter’s Cup is the most famous and most prestigious graviton propelled regatta in the solar system. Graviton sailing enthusiasts were particularly excited this year because of the rare celestial positioning of Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus. Each gas giant was located at the apex of an equilateral triangle. This configuration, in combination with the Sun’s overpowering gravity well, was ideal for racing Graviton Propelled Sailing Ships (GPSS). The four billion mile regatta starts at Jupiter, loops around Saturn and Uranus, and then finishes at Jupiter approximately a week later.
By convention, the ships are required to be single hull Dalton Spaceyachts, with a Newtonian “mainmast” mounted on the waist deck. Newtonian mainmasts are rigged with four graviton lugsails. The lugsails are arranged in a tetrahedral, that is, each of the four lugsails is oriented exactly 109.47 degrees from the other three. The lugsails project extremely large (one million square mile, maximum), invisible, teardrop shaped force fields into space that are designed to “catch” the gravitons, and/or antigravitons, associated with astronomical bodies. The beauty of this technology is that each of the lugsails can be targeted to the characteristic exchange particles from a specific astronomical body. For example, by targeting the Alpha-sail to Jupiter’s antigravitons, and the Beta-sail to Saturn’s gravitons, the ship will be pushed by Jupiter, and pulled by Saturn, achieving tremendous velocities. For additional propulsion, or for navigational control, the Gamma and Delta-sails can be targeted to other bodies, such as the sun, a moon, or another distant planet. Under the optimal conditions, a skilled crew could achieve velocities of over 30 million miles an hour.
There are few moments in a GPSS race that are more stressful and strategically more important than the start. The nine ships in the regatta were jostling for position in the gap between the orbits of Ganymede and Callisto. The SS Vigilant held position near Ganymede’s western hemisphere, electing to take advantage of the moon’s greater mass. Some ships chose to take advantage of Callisto’s more distant orbit, which was almost a million miles closer to Saturn. Others meandered between the orbits of Ganymede and Callisto, trying to build up kinetic energy, rather than potential energy. Although risky, they could get both, if they guessed the time of the starting signal correctly.
The Vigilant’s Navigator and Tactician carefully watched the sensor data, mentally keeping track of the other eight ships, and the exact locations of the four Galilean moons. Even distant Io could provide an additional antigraviton boost if the start of the race was delayed by an hour. The Helmsmen stood at the controls ready to adjust the ship’s course at a moments notice. The Grinders and Trimmers were at their stations awaiting the command to deploy and/or modulate the graviton sails. The Skipper stood proudly in the center of the main deck with his hands clasped comfortably behind his back. He smiled with anticipation as he looked out the forward viewport. As he watched, a fourth “star” suddenly appeared in the Hunter’s Belt in the Orion constellation; it was the flare signaling the start of the race. “Inertial dampers on full,” he ordered. “Execute the sprint, Mr. Burton.” The Skipper reached out and grabbed the handrail to steady himself against the upcoming forward surge.
“Aye-aye, Skipper,” replied Burton as he signaled the crew. The Vigilant leaped from Ganymede’s clutch as it accelerated outward toward its eventual rendezvous with the distant ringed planet. At present, the Vigilant was behind the other ships, but she was quickly closing the gap.
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