Get Your Stealth On (or, How Can My Firewall Team Sneak up on the Enemy Habitat?)

Here's the first of what will hopefully be many posts on running Eclipse Phase. Advice here is based on our experience running our own EP campaigns and shouldn't be taken as a canonical interpretation of the rules. Hopefully it will be helpful to GMs feeling their way around situations that the rules don't yet cover in detail.

This post started as a reply to a discussion in the forums about the role of spacecraft in covert operations. As my reply got more detailed, I decided it might merit a blog entry.

The problem posed, broadly, was whether it's possible to sneak up on a ship or hab in space. How would a Firewall team go about boarding and infiltrating a habitat or spaceship if egocasting in and getting resleeved weren't an option? And if their target were an asteroid or moon, would it be possible to do an orbital insertion undetected? I'll save discussion of how one boards a habitat or ship for another time and concentrate here on the issue of sneaking up on things over the vast distances of space.

Detection Methods
Radar and infrared detection remain the primary means of detecting ships in space in the Eclipse Phase universe, so reducing the RCS (radar cross section) and IR signature of your ship are the two best ways to not be seen. From there, other factors come into play, like the visibility of a craft to the naked eye or lidar, but dealing with these challenges is trivial compared to avoiding electronic detection.

Avoiding Radar
Stealthing a spacecraft or vac suit against radar is not difficult with the level of technology in the game. For vac suits, hard suits, and small vehicles, raising the cost by one category to reflect non-metallic construction, smaller form factor, and radar absorbing materials is about right. Stealthing something large like a GEV should be more expensive, and stealth construction on really large vehicles should not be possible (unless your plot really needs it). For any vehicle, anti-radar stealth should involve a reduction in cargo capacity (and probably fuel and life support range, as well). Since we don't list costs for ships, we leave it to GMs what sort of hoops PCs will have to jump through to get a ride. Just keep in mind that stealthing large vehicles is a design challenge, and therefore not cheap.

A ship stealthed against radar won't show up on radar screens. If a character actively monitoring radar has reason to believe something is there, they can try to use Interfacing (probably with a big negative modifier) to look for pings that the device AI discarded as ghost signals.

Foiling Visual Spotting & Lidar
Coating a vac suit, vehicle, or ship with a non-reflective coating to foil lidar and visual should be cheap, from Trivial for something small up to Moderate for a ship. Lidar won't bounce off a non-reflective coating. Characters in vac suits should receive an Infiltration test against visual spotters. For small vehicles, Pilot [Aerospace] with Infiltration as a complementary skill works well.

Infrared
Avoiding infrared detection is the big challenge for both sneaking up on a hab and orbital insertions. EVA Sleds and Thruster Packs have no appreciable IR signature. Rocket Packs and ships do; firing rockets will light up the IR sensors on a habitat's tactical network like a Christmas tree.

Orbital Insertion
How hard it is to do a stealthy orbital insertion depends upon how good the target's network of sensors is. A surface installation on a large body with only ground-based sensors is easier to sneak up on than an installation on a small body with a network of satellites or ground-based sensors covering the whole surface. A ship entering a planetary atmosphere will always generate a bright IR signature at the point of re-entry, but once in the atmosphere, it can stay hidden if it doesn't use rockets and isn't already locked on radar.
We have ships that can re-enter a planetary atmosphere and land without thrusters already. The most familiar are American space shuttles. (And here shall be one of the rare instances where I defense said sorry piece of technology!) On re-entry, a space shuttle uses the planetary atmosphere to brake, then performs a series of S-turn maneuvers to further slow itself. It then lands like a glider. The space shuttle requires a long runway, but if you build a ship that can do a gliding re-entry and is stealthed against radar, then firing rockets to brake when you're either very close to the ground or on the other side of the planetary body from the target's sensors becomes a viable option for stealth insertions.
The bad news is that this still relies on there being an atmosphere. The good news is that even a very thin atmosphere, such as Titan's, was sufficient for a combination of atmospheric braking and parachutes to bring the Huygens probe safely to ground. We don't describe ships that can glide in the rules, but GMs are welcome to introduce them. Bringing a ship in on a glide approach should require some tricky Pilot [Aerospace] rolls, along with Navigation rolls to land close to the objective. Groundside monitors watching sensors that could detect the spacecraft should receive Interfacing checks to spot the IR flare of a ship on reentry. From there, they may attempt to get a radar lock. Generous GMs might make this an opposed test.

Stealth Approach in Space
Sneaking up on a habitat or ship in space is the most difficult task described here, and in some cases might not be possible at all. The best option is to use RCS reduction and visual camoflauge in concert with cold gas thrusters like we have on present-day EVA suits. This mostly eliminates the IR signature and is really the only way to sneak up on a space habitat in a ship or EVA suit. The problem here is that the delta-V from a cold gas thruster is pathetic compared to a rocket, so the approach has to be really slow. If the target is a wide-open region of space with no cover than can occlude the incoming ship from sensors, the amount of time to cover the distance might be so long that the characters need to consider other options. Characters with Navigation or appropriate professional skills should be able to figure out whether such an approach is feasible very easily.
If the target is situated in an asteroid field, a character who's a stone player with orbital mechanics can probably figure out how to use rockets while hidden behind another object to decelerate to a speed where the ship or EVA suit can drift toward the target and then use thrusters to stop. This should require some very difficult Pilot [Aerospace] and Navigation tests with detection by the target or missing it completely likely consequences of failure. If the characters succeed and avoid visual detection, though, sneaking right up to the target and then decelerating with thrusters is possible. Due to the huge distances involved (even within an asteroid belt), this should be a very slow method of approach, possibly taking days of game time.

For a good description of the logistics of sneaking up on a spacecraft undetected, Stephenson's description in Anathem of the Avout boarding the Daban Urnud is pretty good stuff.

And what if they get spotted?
Well, then your PCs are in space combat. And as they should know by now, that's bad. Make the risks clear before they try this at home.

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7thSeaLord 7thSeaLord's picture
Re: Get Your Stealth On (or, How Can My Firewall Team Sneak ...

Interesting stuff, but a couple of quibbles regarding this part:

"A ship entering a planetary atmosphere will always generate a bright IR signature at the point of re-entry, but once in the atmosphere, it can stay hidden if it doesn't use rockets and isn't already locked on radar."

To argue semantics, "point of re-entry" kind of implies that this is a "Blink, and you will miss it" kind of a deal. It isn't. During the several minutes of this portion of the reentry phase, a shuttle will be radiating a lot of IR. Afterwards, when maneuvering at speed in the upper atmosphere (basically, SR-71 territory), heat build-up might be comparitively less but is still significant in engineering and detectability terms. Even allowing for exceptional insulation and some very clever means of heat-dispersal, it suggests to me that the shuttle may be a pretty good IR source all the way to touch-down.

Plus, thinking on this, it has just occurred to me that current radars are pretty good at tracking clouds and weather systems. With this in mind. it seems conceivable that a more refined system "might" be able to detect and track the trail of super-heated and hyper-disturbed air that a spacecraft leaves behind it on reentry.

jackgraham jackgraham's picture
Re: Get Your Stealth On (or, How Can My Firewall Team Sneak ...

Yes, the biggest problem the post doesn't explain is how to get around blazing IR signatures. I think this is probably just something where GMs have to make the call about how realistic they'd like to be, but if anyone has any clever ideas...

GMs who want to go with a squishy/hard SF angle can always have the Factors make some sort of super awesome heat dissipating material available at obscene prices.

7thSeaLord 7thSeaLord's picture
Re: Get Your Stealth On (or, How Can My Firewall Team Sneak ...

Some sort of semi-ablative protection, with a nanotech component? A highly expensive one-shot item, I guess.

Whern subjected to the heat of reentry, this activates the (limited) nanotech in the heatshield. Instead of ablating away competely, it forms into an ultra-thin and highly heat-conductive mesh extending for some distance behind the craft and for some distance to either side. This bleeds off a lot of the heat - it doesn't make the ship IR-invisible, but it does turn one small intense IR source into one big very diffuse IR source.

Not sure if this makes a lot of sense to others. Can sort of picture the idea, but my description may not do it justice.

Fledi Fledi's picture
Re: Get Your Stealth On (or, How Can My Firewall Team Sneak ...

What about radiating the heat away in some specific direction? Gamma-ray lasers? Probably not perfect, one might still see the path of the laser in the atmosphere, but better than storing all the heat.

Anyway let's first find out a way how to do a proper reentry without having to do some major maintenance work afterwards and think about way of cloaking it later ;-)

Hmm after I think about it why not just store the heat in some sort of advanced container (neutronium-walled for example) inside the ship?

wagemage wagemage's picture
Re: Get Your Stealth On (or, How Can My Firewall Team Sneak ...

I think some of this misses the point of a stealth approach. The goal is not to remain unseen per se. Just to prevent the target from realizing that you are a sentient, hostile force. For example, it is not that odd for space debris to fall into planetary atmospheres, so the matter is not "How do we become invisible?", but "How do we make ourselves look like a meteor?".

A free floating space habitat would be the toughest, but again I think the best approach might be the slow, "don't mind me, I'm just space junk" approach. It worked for Han Solo...

7thSeaLord 7thSeaLord's picture
Re: Get Your Stealth On (or, How Can My Firewall Team Sneak ...

wagemage wrote:
I think some of this misses the point of a stealth approach. The goal is not to remain unseen per se. Just to prevent the target from realizing that you are a sentient, hostile force. For example, it is not that odd for space debris to fall into planetary atmospheres, so the matter is not "How do we become invisible?", but "How do we make ourselves look like a meteor?".

... And, more to the point, "How do we survive a meteor-velocity impact with the ground?"

The point to understand above all else is that meteors and generic space junk all come in FAST, and they do not maneuver / decelerate. A suitably designed shuttle could conceivably mimic this during reentry, sure. But what happens when it gets to the ground? In a word, Boom.

The shuttle must reduce its speed considerably before the actual landing. Given that there seems to be no major breakthroughs as regards dealing with extremely high G-forces, this rules against some kind of "last-minute" deal. Therefore, the shuttle needs to start decelerating higher up, which would single it out from standard space junk.

Two possibilities I can think of for inserting a covert group to the surface of a planet with atmosphere. Both involve some kind of small one-use landing pod for the groupmembers (probably individual):

(1) Standard shuttle poses as "space junk" but, instead of a full-on reentry, merely skips across the top of the atmosphere and back into space (something that fast-moving meteors are known to do). The landing pods are released as part of the "debris trail" left by the "meteor", and are on their own.
(2) "Throwaway" automated shuttle, built for a one way trip. It poses as a meteor or space junk ALL the way down, right up to impact (like I said, it is "throwaway"). The groupmembers are, again, ejected in landing pods during the descent.

In either case, we can infer that these landing pods are very small (1 person + gear), and use passive systems like aerofoils and/or parachutes to slow their descent through the atmosphere to a (comparitively) soft landing. Radar and other sensors can still detect them, but they need to be fairly close or with a direct line of sight. For those reasons, it is recommended that this form of descent is done only into comparitively remote areas. Do this stuff close to a major port, for example, and they will spot you and figure things out right away.

Using a landing pod on a world without enough atmo for decent braking is much more difficult from a sneakiness standpoint. They need to fire rockets pretty much all the way down for a survivable landing, which would seem obvious to anybody on the look-out for such things. VERY remote landing spots needed, in that case.

... And then, all we need to think about is how to get 'em off when the mission is done. ;)

wagemage wrote:
A free floating space habitat would be the toughest, but again I think the best approach might be the slow, "don't mind me, I'm just space junk" approach. It worked for Han Solo...

The extra-slow approach via EVA sounds fairly doable.

Trouble is that space habs and stations need to keep a close watch for any space junk that gets too close and (therefore) could pose a potential threat to them. Even a moderate-sized piece of rock moving at a low relative speed has the potential to do real damage. Add to that, the Solar System in general is digging itself out of the rubble of a very nasty war (from which there is still a lot of fall-out and "lost" hardware) plus the institutionalized paranoia about TITANs.

With all this in mind, I tend to believe that just about all habs and statiions (and probably many moon/planet-based concerns) have some sort of built-in system for tracking and zapping anything that drifts too close uninvited. Seem strange to me if there wasn't.

jackgraham jackgraham's picture
Re: Get Your Stealth On (or, How Can My Firewall Team Sneak ...

Yes, the space junk approach is more or less out. My group wanted to try that last week, so I had the one guy in the group who's an experienced spacer make some tests and then informed them that'd get them killed. (Good enough as roleplay, though... They're playing a bunch of groundling British intel agents who've never really been in space).

The meteorite disguise bit is quite clever, though, and I could see variations on it working.

7thSeaLord, I also like your description of the stretchy, heat-dissipating mesh. And I think you punched a good hole in my description of aerobraking. The Space Shuttle, which I used as an example, actually has to begin its aerobraking maneuver half way around the globe from the point where it lands, meaning a vehicle using a similar mechanism would leave quite an IR trail smeared across the sky. So it seems a faster re-entry using rockets to break at the end is needed -- and you then run up against how much g force the vehicles occupants can take.

7thSeaLord 7thSeaLord's picture
Re: Get Your Stealth On (or, How Can My Firewall Team Sneak ...

Thanks. It now occurs to me that Earth has a very thick atmosphere and high gravity, compared to most terraformed worlds in EP. May be some implications there for reentries.

I'm guessing that less atmo makes for a "good news, bad news" situation - your shuttle won't get as hot during reentry but there is much less to slow it down. Pretty certain space junk would still come in at horrible speeds, but unsure what less gravity would do for shuttle-style landings. I am guessing that lander-style descents would be aided by this, with somewhat less burn-time (and fuel) needed on the way down, probably.

As an alternative to the lander pod, there were ideas floated during the 1960s for enabling astronauts to make unassisted emergency reentries. The simplest one I know of was called MOOSE (Manned Orbital Operations Self-Rescue Equipment). Basically, it was a small propulsion unit, a parachute, a baggie and some expanding foam. The idea was that the astronaut would use the baggie and the foam to create an ablative heatshield that he would then recline in, rather like an oversized beanbag. He would then use the propulsion unit to deorbit and steer the reentry (apparently, all that was needed here was to keep the Earth's horizon lined up more or less "just so"). Assuming all else went well during reentry, he would then use the parachute for the final descent.

Oddly enough, this system was never actually tested ;).

One could infer, given EP's tech base and the lower gravity of some worlds, that this concept could actually be made practical. Maybe.

I'm also guessing that EP tech has developed stuff that can protect people from a basic terminal velocity impact. Maybe something like the quick-deployed full-body airbag I saw on ... it was either 'Smash Lab' or 'Prototype This', recently. OK, there is a HUGE differance between terminal velocity and meteoric velocity, but it might be something to consider.

wagemage wagemage's picture
Re: Get Your Stealth On (or, How Can My Firewall Team Sneak ...

All in all it sounds like the squishy meatbags are the problem. How about you put all your gear in a lander that can come in like a rock and maybe deploy airbags at the last second and then the squishy meatbags go in as tourists or new hires or something.

I suppose you could get a synth morth that could take the blast with a little tweaking. G forces might be less of an issue.

7thSeaLord 7thSeaLord's picture
Re: Get Your Stealth On (or, How Can My Firewall Team Sneak ...

wagemage wrote:
All in all it sounds like the squishy meatbags are the problem. How about you put all your gear in a lander that can come in like a rock and maybe deploy airbags at the last second and then the squishy meatbags go in as tourists or new hires or something..

Pretty much. Having the PCs arrive more or less normally (either via egocasting, or as regular tourists or whatever), and then arranging for their less-than-legal gear to arrive via other means would seem a reasonable ploy.

wagemage wrote:
I suppose you could get a synth morth that could take the blast with a little tweaking. G forces might be less of an issue.

There is an absolutely horrendous amount of Gs involved (tens of thousands, I'm pretty sure - maybe more). I suppose that a really savvy genefixer might be able to cobble together some semblance of a morph to withstand this kind of treatment. Trouble is, considering all the bracing and reinforcement needed just to survive impact, whether this "frankenmoprh" would be even vaguely usable for anything else beyond that one thing - such as basically walking around or using standard equipment.

wagemage wagemage's picture
Re: Get Your Stealth On (or, How Can My Firewall Team Sneak ...

7thSeaLord wrote:

There is an absolutely horrendous amount of Gs involved (tens of thousands, I'm pretty sure - maybe more). I suppose that a really savvy genefixer might be able to cobble together some semblance of a morph to withstand this kind of treatment. Trouble is, considering all the bracing and reinforcement needed just to survive impact, whether this "frankenmoprh" would be even vaguely usable for anything else beyond that one thing - such as basically walking around or using standard equipment.

I'm not suggesting you would have to hurl the poor guy out of an airlock in high orbit and say "remember to tuck and roll!"
I'm just suggesting that a synth morph in general would probably be able to take a buttload more Gs than your average humanoid. Thus putting together a crash pod that could keep one or more synths alive and functioning would be a ton easier than doing the same for a bio-morph.

In the end though, given the tech level of EP, I suspect a fair bit of handwaving would be acceptable in this case. As a GM I'm not sure I'd put it to the PCs to solve this, but rather make the descent part of the mission brief with Firewall providing a descent vehicle that just works.

This is one of the problems with hypertech futures, there is a certain amount of stuff that we just can't conceive of from our vantage point, even it the tech is available in some limited form. For example, the laser existed around world war two, but the idea of fiber optic data transfer was just not really conceivable at that time. It took all the subsequent advances in computing and telcoms to make it as obvious as it is now.

7thSeaLord 7thSeaLord's picture
Re: Get Your Stealth On (or, How Can My Firewall Team Sneak ...

Even a synthmoprh would have to be extremely tough and specialized for that sort of thing, IMO.

-----
A side thought. If the PCs are in Firewall, they are part of a very extensive organization. Seems plausible to me that a Firewall hacker could be ordered to get into a world's defense net in advance - and then arrange for a "window" or "corridor" to be open for the PCs' arrival at a specific time and place. That way, assuming the hacker did his / her / its job, the party could get in undetected.

Or maybe Firewall could have a man ... er, transhuman, placed on the inside of the local law-enforcement / traffic-control organization, who will arrange for sensor alerts for a certain place and time to be ignored.

Something like this could also be done in reverse for a scenario, so to speak. Instead of being the people to sneak in, the PCs are given the job of helping another team do so. They have to hack into the defense net or otherwise find its weaknesses, arrange for equipment to be cached at specific locales, do some preliminary recon (snooping) around the target, act as back-up for the actual operation, and so on.

The Sandman The Sandman's picture
Re: Get Your Stealth On (or, How Can My Firewall Team Sneak ...

Why not have some other egos wear the morphs of the characters in via legal means, then have the incoming projectile be a computer running the egos of the characters in a nice simulspace to kill time while they plummet through the atmosphere? I assume that you could build a computer for those purposes and provide just enough ablative shell that the computer makes it down. All you need to do then is find some way of transmitting those egos to the bodies they're going to be wearing on-planet.

Heck, set the thing up as a one-time use egocaster. It might be expensive, but it should be doable; the egos get beamed out as soon as the incoming shell gets close enough to the target morphs/network and then the emptied shell either disintegrates in the atmosphere or disintegrates when it plows into the surface at meteoric speeds, leaving no evidence behind.

For that matter, if your group is less concerned with ethics and also has access to a healing vat, all you need is one sleeved ego and the cortical stacks of their comrades stored somewhere safe. Then just go and find new morphs, destack them, run the disembodied egos in a simulspace at maximum time compression to get all the information you need out of them quickly, then upload the information into the stacks of the other members of the team and physically put those stacks into the emptied morphs. The healing vat is so that you can repair the physical damage caused by the process of stack removal.

7thSeaLord 7thSeaLord's picture
Re: Get Your Stealth On (or, How Can My Firewall Team Sneak ...

By my understanding of the rules (far from fallible, admittedly), ego-casting and resleeving not only require very specialized equipment under careful monitoring at both ends, but take roughly an hour to accomplish. Planetary reentries take a lot less time.

Here's a thought. Have some lesser "harmless" NPCs act as "mules" (exact circumstances depend on your tastes, general nastiness and sense of humour). They use ghostrider modules to smuggle in the PCs' egos.

The Sandman The Sandman's picture
Re: Get Your Stealth On (or, How Can My Firewall Team Sneak ...

7thSeaLord wrote:
By my understanding of the rules (far from fallible, admittedly), ego-casting and resleeving not only require very specialized equipment under careful monitoring at both ends, but take roughly an hour to accomplish. Planetary reentries take a lot less time.

Well, that would make it trickier, although if you blew the money for a quantum farcaster you still might be able to do it (IIRC, those can get your ego out of harm's way very quickly, given that they're designed to squirt you out of a situation where your morph is about to die and your stack isn't going to be retrievable).

Quote:
Here's a thought. Have some lesser "harmless" NPCs act as "mules" (exact circumstances depend on your tastes, general nastiness and sense of humour). They use ghostrider modules to smuggle in the PCs' egos.

Why not smuggle them in as cortical stacks instead? I would assume it would be easier to fake up a shell for one of those than it would be to explain what the ghostrider module is for when the border patrol scans your mule for implants.

7thSeaLord 7thSeaLord's picture
Re: Get Your Stealth On (or, How Can My Firewall Team Sneak ...

The Sandman wrote:
Why not smuggle them in as cortical stacks instead? I would assume it would be easier to fake up a shell for one of those than it would be to explain what the ghostrider module is for when the border patrol scans your mule for implants.

Another valid possibility, certainly.

Thing is, would law enforcers routinely check such things? Or more specifically, on any Egos riding in said module? It seems obvious that they might, but then this kind of raises the question of just how much point there is in having Ego Hunters as well.

Actually, I am unsure what the story is when a PCs' EGO is riding passively in somebody else's Ghostrider module. Do they still register on Mesh tags and so forth? A case could be made that they do so ONLY if they actually do anything whilst in that Module, or something is done directly on their behalf (such as use of Rep). I dunno.

jackgraham jackgraham's picture
Re: Get Your Stealth On (or, How Can My Firewall Team Sneak ...

Ego mules. I like this term.

Many habitats can and do check new arrivals for implants. If you're in privacy mode in a ghostrider module, you don't leave any mesh traces. But you do have to worry about customs spotting the module in your mule and demanding to know who's in there. If they're suspicious enough, they can instance the ego in a simulspace and run a brainwave pattern match to establish ID, if the ego's pattern is on file.

7thSeaLord 7thSeaLord's picture
Re: Get Your Stealth On (or, How Can My Firewall Team Sneak ...

jackgraham wrote:
Many habitats can and do check new arrivals for implants. If you're in privacy mode in a ghostrider module, you don't leave any mesh traces. But you do have to worry about customs spotting the module in your mule and demanding to know who's in there. If they're suspicious enough, they can instance the ego in a simulspace and run a brainwave pattern match to establish ID, if the ego's pattern is on file.

Which, as I said, if this is commonly done, may raise questions about just how viable 'Ego Hunter' is as a steady job.

Cheesefondue Cheesefondue's picture
Re: Get Your Stealth On (or, How Can My Firewall Team Sneak ...

It seems to be that you can do high speed approaches (cling to an asteroid or piece of junk, or simply glide in discreetly), and you can do discreet low speed maneovering. The problem is that a low speed approach would take far too long while a transition from high speed to low speed cannot be done discreetly.

I'd suggest using a large mass (asteroid, junk, etc...), a lightweight approach module, and a very long cable. Connect the large mass to the module with the cable, and then accelerate the mass to a speed of v, while the module is accelerate to a speed of 2v (relative to the target). The objective is to get the large mass rotating, with the module describing circles around it. The whole system will approach the target at an approximate speed of v, while the module's speed will varry from 2v to zero.

It the system is timed correctly, the module will reach the region around the target with an effective relative speed of zero. Then simply detach the module at that point, and manoeuver close to their objective.

The longer the cable, the lesser the acceleration on the module; with a long enough cable, the g-forces will be barely perceptible. Unfortunately, the longer the cable, the heavier the large mass needs to be, so that its centre of rotation remains credible to an outside observer.

Any thoughts?

7thSeaLord 7thSeaLord's picture
Re: Get Your Stealth On (or, How Can My Firewall Team Sneak ...

Errr. I'm having trouble following this one. The most I can say is that it doesn't sound very stealthy.

Thinking on it, this does remind me of references to "monowire" in some SF and (I think) G K O'Neill's 'High Frontier' - using SUPER-strong cable as part of a very energy-efficient means of shifting orbits and planetary ascent / descent. Kind of a "giant yo-yo" effect, if I recall correctly. OK, getting a little clearer now. Does EP's tech include anything like monowire? Possibly, is my guess.

Yeah, might be onto something here. Maybe.

7thSeaLord 7thSeaLord's picture
Re: Get Your Stealth On (or, How Can My Firewall Team Sneak ...

As regards "meteor-style" arrivals, the following may be of interest:

http://www.lpl.arizona.edu/impacteffects/

However, note that it is calibrated specifically for Earth gravity and atmosphere. No idea how variations in gravity and atmosphere density might affect outcomes, or to what degree.

Cheesefondue Cheesefondue's picture
Re: Get Your Stealth On (or, How Can My Firewall Team Sneak ...

The cable need not be very strong, just long - the longer it is, the slower the rotation, and the smaller the force upon the rope. All the difficulty is in the initial phase, of getting these objects moving at the right speeds.

Cheers for the link on meterors.

7thSeaLord 7thSeaLord's picture
Re: Get Your Stealth On (or, How Can My Firewall Team Sneak ...

Thinking on it, the cable / "space yo-yo" idea has real possibilities as a means of transfer between orbit and planetary surfaces. I'm less certain about its utility for covert operations. Yes, very little IR signature, but ...

... That's an awful lot of cable, plus counterweights, which would (as far as I know) have a respectable cumulative cross-section for detection via radar or lidar. May not show up as clearly as a regular delivery vehicle, but there will be a fair amount of return, and in a form that is most definitely NOT something natural.

... The other thing too, this seems like an "all or nothing" proposition. Presumably, shuttles and landers can do things like abort approach and run back to orbit if they choose to, or at least alter approach to touchdown someplace else.

Hard to see how the cable transfer can be as flexible in this regard. Horse around with parameters during operation can mean a differance between being unloaded a hundred-plus metres above your intended arrival point (watch out for that first step ... :) ) - or a hundred-plus metres BELOW your intended arrival point (CRUNCH!).

####

As a form of rescue / recovery / retrieval, cable transfer would be especially effective, I think. In contemporary terms, think of it as like a helicopter pick-up - your covert operatives signal that their mission is accomplished and they should be picked up at such-and-such coordinates. The vehicle that has been quietly waiting in orbit all this times deploys and (all going well) soon scoops up the party and carries them back to orbit. Everybody is happy.

nezumi.hebereke nezumi.hebereke's picture
Re: Get Your Stealth On (or, How Can My Firewall Team Sneak ...

Sorry for thread necromancy, but is there a reason no one discussed putting the PCs into smaller synthetic morphs? If for instance each PC was in a small, flying, robotic morph the size of a beach ball or smaller, the ship necessary to carry them shrinks significantly in size, reducing their IR, LIDAR/RADAR and visual footprint.

I imagine launching a dumb projectile - no electronics, no rockets, only the bare minimum for course correction, if anything, outfitted with absorbing materials to blend in with space. It's launched from a larger distance, using a calculated trajectory (so no guidance is needed). With so little equipment, it's little more than a shell, and can be extremely small and light. Loaded on are our PCs, each in a tiny synth body, as small as can operate their stacks, using the simplest directed flight/gliding method available. Perhaps also equip a device which permits each synth to plug directly into another synth sock puppet and drive it. The hacker might have to do some work, but in regards to the hardware, it can't be too difficult. The PCs are put into long-term sleep while in transit, or can spend their time playing chess or whatever.

To anyone watching, IF they see the object, it's just one more piece of space trash that'll burn up in the atmosphere - not even worth shooting down. The rocket hits the outer atmosphere and opens up - for a moment its signature increases, but already the PC drones are away. They fall through a near-vacuum for a bit until they reach the toposphere, and begin getting some lift. Being so small and using something like streamers or small wings means almost no signature. They can either take advantage of the altitude and glide to their target, or emphasize stealth and drop below the horizon ASAP. The rocket burns up, leaving pretty colors.

Once the party lands, they have to find a synth sock puppet somewhere and latch on - the hacker first. The device on the PC's body establishes a physical connection, the hacker overcomes any software limitations, and zombifies the synth, now giving him a full-sized (if not quite appropriate) body for him to help his friends with. Better still, the party has perfect disguises - they're the miners/guards/whatever that already work on the base, and so have access.

Thoughts?

7thSeaLord 7thSeaLord's picture
Re: Get Your Stealth On (or, How Can My Firewall Team Sneak ...

Maybe because other people hadn't thought of it?

SEEMS plausible. though I'd wanna think about it some more. The trick would be putting together a very little synth that is sneaky, reasonably tough AND has the capability to glom onto and hack / "take over" a larger synth.

That last requirement troubles me. Ego-casting typically requires specialized equipment that is not exactly hand-portable. OK, this isn't ego-casting - more like ... what would one call it, "Puppeteering", perhaps? I dunno, but this kind of capability rasies questions as to where and how it could also be (mis)used, and what countermeasures could be taken?

Some people might point out "Hey, misusing tech is part of this game", which I will not argue. But my expressed concern is more about game mechanics, balance and general consistency with the overall background. This sounds like one of those things that, if introduced and combined with just a little imagination, could really alter the face of the game.

Xahn Borealis Xahn Borealis's picture
Re: Get Your Stealth On (or, How Can My Firewall Team Sneak ...

And now some more thread necromancy, for anyone who reads this topic and still can't figure out a definitive way to get a morph from orbit to terra firma.

Sunward features a High-dive suit for just this purpose on p. 167. There is also various other gear therein which may help with negotiating atmospheres. Also of note is the entry on "Getting to Earth" on p. 174. Those who recommended various ways of hitching rides on meteorites, etc. were apparently dead on. Who wants to ride a lunar mass driver shot?

Frag Frag's picture
Re: Get Your Stealth On (or, How Can My Firewall Team Sneak ...

Radar & IR counters
Just making stuff non-metallic does not by itself make something stealthy.
A lot has to do with shape, to reflect radar so that it doesn't return to the receiver.
I wouldn't even bother trying to stealth a vac suit, too many edges, instead I would make a acute pyramid shield to hide behind and drift in behind it on a ballistic trajectory.
Shield would be a multilayer composite with highly reflective internal baffles so that any IR radiation absorbed from the astronaut doesn't get to the front where it could be seen.
This would make you practically invisible to Radar, Ladar and IR

Coarse correction could be made with bursts of compressed gas and gyros for orientation. I would use Helium since it is still a gas at extremely low temperatures ie <10Kelvin
Unfortunately, because of the low atomic mass and pitiful exhaust velocity you will not get much Delta-V from cold gas rockets so you will have to decelerate over a long period, days, weeks even.
Once you get really close, ie behind the search envelope you can blaze away with hot chemical rockets to reduce your terminal impact velocity. eg pull 4g's, maybe more before you go splat.
I wouldn't want to do this without computer control.

You will need a wideband radar detector to map the threat radar coverage and strength
Laser detectors to map Ladar and good guess work for passive IR sensors. For sensitive IR sensors thy are going to have to be shielded from being blinded from their own habitat leakage.

But why do this yourself when your could just walk in the front door and have your illegal gear/spare bodies in a pod do all the risky EVA stuff.
Or the Trojan Horse approach with some farm machinery etc
Or have an EVA module detached from your ship once it has docked to the space station.
Or do background checks and just bribe/blackmail/coerce someone on the inside.
Or ride inside someone else s head as a ghost rider and get a body when you get there.
Or have some one carry a backup cordical stack

Reentry through an atmosphere
Reflect the heat like the ceramic tiles on the space shuttle does or absorb it.
A 5km square array of nickle iron mesh will absorb a lot of energy before the temperature rises high enough to weaken/melt the mesh. You wont get the super hot bloom of say a space shuttle reentering. In theory you could cool your mesh by venting compressed gas ie gas cools when it expands. reference Scientific American, re-entry from space 1960-1980?
5km square of mesh isn't cheep or stealthy to radar but is about as stealthy as your going to get vs IR during reentry.
I would just try to map which areas are under radar surveillance an try to come down in a blind spot, failing that come down with lots of debree and take my chances. Even if your spotted it may take weeks for someone to take note of the event.

Mars atmospheric density drops off quite gradually unlike earth so you could in theory just fly right in or out. No hot reentry. Also your angle of reentry is much more generous with the lower gravity.

Its a lot easier to reenter a robot than a squishy man

Some other ideas
say you want to travel from earth to mars, the most energy/fuel efficient method is a hoffman transfer orbit, ie a giant ellipse with earth on the minor axis and mars on the major axis.
efficient but you can only do it when the planetary alignments are just so.
If you want to go when its convenient to you it will cost more fuel.

The problem with changing your delta-V is you waste most of your fuel accelerating the mass of your fuel. Here is an alternative. Take a long boom with rockets on either end to spin it. Pump fuel in at the axis, spin a bit faster, you can do this gradually if you wish. Faster and faster you spin but your not wasting fuel to spin the extra mass of fuel. If you get your dimensions correct you could even have it that you experience 1G at the end of the boom. When you detach you will fly off at some huge speed, enough for the first part of your orbital transfer. Rather than experiencing High-G's you go from 1g to 0g as you detach.
Use a similar process to match velocity with your destination.
Of coarse ever action has an equal and opposite reaction so when you fly off the boom will react oppositly. If it chucks two equal masses in opposite directions it wont recoil.

And why risk yourself when you can send a spare body which you just transmit too.

Radar cross section (RCS)
Don't think stealth as a yes no thing, think of it as reducing the detection range of the hostile radar. Rather than being spotted at 40km the same radar set will only spot you at 10km or 2km depending on what your RCS is.
You can get a good idea on what the detection range of a radar system is from the power and durration of its output pulse and the size of the receiving antenna, all which is relatively easy measure or spy on.
Signal processing can improve detection and target resolution quite a lot but is you can listen in on the broardcast waveform to get an idea of what tricks in processing their performing.
Of coarse once your detected they may change modes or hand you off to another radar/ladar system which is specialized in tracking, resolution or target identification. ie a fire control radar is a different beast than a search radar.

cheers

logain_ logain_'s picture
Re: Get Your Stealth On (or, How Can My Firewall Team Sneak ...

I think simple would be the way to go.

1) Let’s put all your infiltrators into a swarm morph (just saw the flexbot idea in 'swarm mind' i think, this might and i say might be able to work)

2) Entry via a small craft (my suggestion would be meteorite shot, flung or the like at target location)

3) After first part of entry to atmosphere start "ejection" of swarm morphs (would look like brake up on entry) [need help with flixbot entry], meteorite ether breaks up on entry or lands for a bit of a distraction

4) Use rotor movement to take you to the ground (i would hope that this meets your hard to detect requirements), if you manage to work out how to get a flixibot to the ground safely you have a psyical body on the ground.

All right i guess this is where i say go infiltrate as you are but many will say need more physical form (maybe you got your flixbot to the ground, in that case you already have physical form) and or gear.

Well i guess that would depend on you mission in any give location but it might do for some/most at least.

I would then say get creative and aquire everything else you need from the area, i would take blue prints and hacking to make it if i can't get it any other way.

Fleshharvester Fleshharvester's picture
Re: Get Your Stealth On (or, How Can My Firewall Team Sneak ...

There's always the option of a one-way trip to the surface as well, a la starship troopers (the book, not the movies).

ablative egg with thrusters, compressed gas would probably be best to avoid IR signature. radar absorbing materials, etc etc. once it has deformed enough... and i think it would be possible to use superconducting materials and very low temperature gases to 'cool' the burn, it breaks away and the person riding it in deploys a chute, possibly followed by a glider.

of course, this assumes that it's a one-way trip. not that anyone would tell the person inserting that they would have a pickup and just not even bother to do so...

nonesuchplace nonesuchplace's picture
Re: Get Your Stealth On (or, How Can My Firewall Team Sneak ...

Total harebrained scheme for a stealthy planetary insertion here:

You have the bare shell of a synth, something rugged, probably entirely metal and plastic. You fill that up with a high-density gel, and place a cortical stack (with the personality of the soldier) and canister of nanobots at the center. Curl it up in the fetal position and cover it with impact/reentry foam (similar to what they use on the space shuttles.) Next, you fling it at the planetoid you want to land on. This would remain completely inert until impact, where the nanobots go about constructing the fragile bits of the synth (from the raw materials that make up the gel,) a basic set of equipment (read: a gauss rifle, some clips, maybe a melee weapon,) and waking up the passenger in the stack, who then controls the shell, and starts their mission.

There would have to be a lot of the impact foam, and the whole object would have to be intentionally un-aerodynamic (and designed to self-decelerate, think flaps that open when enough of the foam has burned away.) Maybe a parachute close to the interior of the foam, or attached to the synth (rigged to deploy at a certain altitude, once the apparatus has decelerated enough.)

Of course, you would have to hope that the shell landed somewhere safe. And that the stack didn't get crushed by the impact. And that the shell didn't rupture (causing the gel to leak, and leaving the nanomachines without the raw materials they need to build the finicky parts of the synth.) Oh, and that nobody routinely checks on meteorite strikes. That could be a real bummer.

Momo Momo's picture
Re: Get Your Stealth On (or, How Can My Firewall Team Sneak ...

You need to have the ship take the brunt of the damage of the landing; in that it's collaspable. The ship is coated in some heat-resistant crap, yadda-yadda, sci-fi-whatever goo, then also make it that it literately breaks off into premade sections/pods when they reach a certain point that is not -as hot- as whatever re-entry point you have. (Given some atmospheres might be different, or not even exist on your planet you have.) That way, to stick with the meteor-esque idea listed far above, you still have a heat-signature, but as you break up, the guy watching the monitor is like: "Oh snap, it's breaking up....must have been a really effing big rawk. No big." And so on and so forth...

Brinker Bob Brinker Bob's picture
Orbital Entry

So, after some thought, I think the best idea is to have a stealth ship drop in PCs from high orbit in capsules a la Starship Troopers (as previously mentioned) or Halo. Hell, people make skydiving attempts from super high altitude now, so I don't see a big technological barrier here. The problem, as previously discussed, would be to disguise a half dozen capsules the size of small cars (ish?) crashing to the ground. I think the answer is much simpler than one might think. Sure, advanced stealth technologies can help this, but is that discussion even necessary at this point? You're half-way there. Getting close is the hard part.

Now, obviously, the planet you're trying to approach makes a big difference. However, given that an orbital drop is a serious option, I think we can safely assume the planet in question is either sparsely populated, or is some kind of outpost. Even the Earth-like planets discussed in Gatecrashing don't seem to have more then several thousand people on them. Anyway, the bottom line is that it would take multiple radar stations to cover the entire sky of a planet, and, in an outpost, it seems almost certain that those would be operated remotely. This gives you all kinds of options to infiltrate undetected.

First of all, who says their detection system is that great? There could easily be gaps in coverage for the group to exploit. Second, who says their system is finished being installed. Maybe they only have one station operational at the time. Third, their system might not work properly all the time. Maybe it's glitchy or astronomical or geomagnetic events cause errors the group can exploit. Finally, and this is the no duh part, why can't the group just intentionally screw up the installations?

There's a lot of options here, but they just have to get the system to ignore a few small capsules in some out of the way part of the planet. I have heard that a stealth bomber looks like a sparrow on radar. Depending on how much time the group puts into making their capsules stealthy, we might be talking about ignoring a few shoe boxes falling from the sky. There's got to be a dozen ways to do this, but I like the idea of slipping a worm into their computer system. And there's got to be a million ways to do that. "Hi, a Nigerian Prince needs your help..." Anyway, once in the system, Stuxnet 2.0 makes it's way into some obscure radar/infrared station, and, the next thing you know, it looks like it's working fine, but every day at 1am, 6 red-hot shoe boxes can streak by unnoticed.

There's more than one way to skin a cat.

Joe Joe's picture
Option 1: Sounds like there

Option 1: Sounds like there is existing tech for the radar and lidar issues. For an earth-like planet: to overcome IR, one might pump our super cool (near zero Kelvin) hydrogen or other fluid from the tip or leading edge of the craft, say something shaped like a bullet. The source of high temperatures on the skin of a craft is the impact of the ambient air on the skin. Since the pumped fluid is getting in the way, it 'absorbs' this impact and heats up instead. It is also stripped away from the craft by the impact (and replaced by more pumped out of the tip of the craft) meaning that the craft itself stays cool. (I believe this technology is actually used within existing turbines to keep the blades cool, though they use ambient temperature air instead of supercooled fluids because they don't need to keep the blades _that_ cold.) The fluid that is stripped away may become hotter than the surrounding atmosphere, but will be immediately dissipated by the turbulence behind the craft, so there won't be a very long "heat trail", and it would be at a much lower temperature than say, what you would see from an all metal meteor or other ablative structure. Once the craft's velocity slows sufficiently, wings or a parachute can be deployed to provide a nice soft landing. Venus is certainly hot enough and has enough atmosphere for this to work, if it works for Earth. It would probably also work for Mars. Outer system planets and planetoids with very low atmospheric temperatures would be more of an issue with this method, as would planetoids with little to no atmosphere for passive braking. As stated previously, characters can then ego cast out.

Option 2: In going after a space station / airless planetoid / non-maneuvering spacecraft, one could fire off a widely dispersed stream or cloud of customized nanites designed specifically to create a maker. This could be created out of whatever materials are available, either the planetary crust, or by removing a thin layer of the skin of the station / craft, or the nanites could punch a small hole through the station / craft skin and use the internal atmosphere as well / instead. The maker could then tap those same resources to make synth morphs and an ego casting receiver to upload character egos, and away you go. The biggest problem I've identified with station / craft would be if they have a guardian nano swarm on the hull to protect against intrusion. The biggest problem with planetoids would be that some research would need to be done so that the maker and morph blueprints could be customized for the available materials.

Option 3: Option 2 could be reconfigured so that the nanites were delivered by meteorite or similar to any large body with a cold atmosphere which couldn't accommodate option 1. Or even an atmosphere that _could_ accommodate option 1.

-Joe

jlc326 jlc326's picture
Ir source

It seems the main solution to the shuttle style reentry's is a Nano-coating od some sort, but what about another type of reentry? A hybrid system, half capsule half Burt Rutan's Space Ship One, for atmospheric reentries? An outer ablative shell that burns up in the atmosphere, and mimics a meteor. Inside of the shell is the feather wing lander, stealth coating it to give a smaller radar section. In Fact the outer shell could de designed as chaff to confuse radar. just a thought.

Flishard Flishard's picture
I didn't read through all the

I didn't read through all the comments here, so apologies if this was already suggested, however :

Assuming you want to get groundside undetected, and time is not absolutely of the essence..
Why not pad an ego-cast receiver and a fabber of some sort (or some Case morphs) into a rock-like vehicle; fire it at the destination slow enough to let the residents believe it will either "burn up in orbit" or like space-junk fall somewhere unoccupied.

Then ego-cast the agents in, fab the morphs they need or sleeve into the Case morphs... kind of like Star Trek Teleportation but with a few extra steps?

Add more/less padding, or cleverly obscured 'aero-braking' assistances to the vehicle... it's a throw-away, relatively cheap, and you don't need to worry nearly about G forces for meat-bags, nor structural soundness of a synth morph (though the fabber might in fact need this, but it's not living. Liquid cocoon?)...