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Interstellar trade at a relativistic timescale?

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Setting: Humanity has established a colony on a exoplanet orbiting Tau Ceti, 11.9 light years from our solar system. Spaceships capable of nearing the speed of light can bridge the void between in 12 years, though only a year passes for those aboard the ship. These spaceships, operating on staggered schedules, are the only contact between the solar system and the colony.
 
- What does trade look like when a round trip takes 24 years? While the timescale is extreme, the situation is not unprecedented: early colonies in the Americas often waited a year between ships bearing needed supplies. How does supply and demand work, when demands are 12 years out of date, and supplies won't arrive for another 12 years?
 
- What are the cultural and political effects on a colony of being isolated in time as well as space? News, fashion, scientific advancements... all arriving 12 years after they were new, with no ability for the colony to influence the culture or politics of the solar system inside of another 12 year span.
 
- What effect does time dilation have on the spaceship crews? Their families would grow old and die within a couple of voyages, while they themselves remain young. Fashions change, languages evolve, nations rise and fall within the span of a single voyage. Do crewmembers make one voyage and then reintegrate back into society, or do the crews become a separate culture, permanently travelling among the stars?
 
(I feel like I have read science fiction along these lines in the past. Bonus points if anyone can point me to it)

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Very interesting scenario, though I find it difficult to think of a realistic setup at all without more information. How big is the colony?

 

If it's something of an off-shore platform out there, that would likely make the colony rather small, and I would expect the crew on the spaceships to also rotate the crew on the colony.

So basically the decision to go work on the colony is a 10-20 year contract in "your time", but a ~ 30-40 year contract in "real time".

 

If it's a major settlement, I would expect their primary objective is to establish self-sufficiency, and after the first century or so these trade missions will probably mostly be about luxury items or scientific exchange that would impact production on the colony during the decade after the ship arrives. (Depending on whether several ships arrive during the 24 years, or if there is just one or a few ships that go back and fourth).

 

There is also the question of political stability in the solar system. Are there still economic problems?

I suspect some competition for a chance to jump 24 years into the future whenever there's some form of unrest. If scientific achievements are still happening at the rate they are now, this would likely be extremely appealing even in good conditions for a lot of people, especially if they could go with their families.

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- What does trade look like when a round trip takes 24 years? While the timescale is extreme, the situation is not unprecedented: early colonies in the Americas often waited a year between ships bearing needed supplies. How does supply and demand work, when demands are 12 years out of date, and supplies won't arrive for another 12 years?

Maybe it would look like oil trading. The oil is being shipped to a habour which will arrive in weeks/month but the oil is already traded as "futures".

 

 

 


What are the cultural and political effects on a colony of being isolated in time as well as space? News, fashion, scientific advancements... all arriving 12 years after they were new, with no ability for the colony to influence the culture or politics of the solar system inside of another 12 year span.

There will be most likely their own culture, based on raw resources which will not change (a stream of raw resources will be delivered by a stream of trading ships). Like gold. Some very unique items will be traded as valuable antique, but only for the rich.

 

 

 


What effect does time dilation have on the spaceship crews? Their families would grow old and die within a couple of voyages, while they themselves remain young. Fashions change, languages evolve, nations rise and fall within the span of a single voyage. Do crewmembers make one voyage and then reintegrate back into society, or do the crews become a separate culture, permanently travelling among the stars?

Maybe the crew will only consists of young or independent people hunting for quick money and adventures. An other model would be, like the small container ships on the Rhine (Germany). A river where small container ships transports goods, most often a whole familly own the ship and dwells on it. This could be similar, whole families living on interstellar ships, depending on the size of it.

Edited by Ashaman73

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with the american colonies (or any time communication is no faster than slow transportation) and their one year lag in getting news, one of the big issues was just knowing who was at war with who.

 

supply and demand issues would require more planning and forethought. shortages might be more common, as well as runs on goods when they finally do hit spaceport.

 

with 24 years for round trip contact with the homeworld, politics would be almost all local. a governor from the homeworld perhaps, with a  rather free hand as to how to run things, and little guidance, direction, or oversight from the home world.

 

you also need to consider the frequency of trips. a ship every year means you can send info and goods every year. but you still have that 12 year lag.  and 24 years for supply requests to be fulfilled. so more frequent trips keeps the colony more up to date, with a minimum of 12 years behind being the best case scenario.

 

crews would most likely consist of two types: short timers, and long timers. short timers would sign on for a one way or round trip voyage. a round trip voyage is 24 years, so a cadet aged 20 would be 44 years old after their first round trip voyage.  and a two trip veteran would be 68 years old at the end of their second voyage.  so a crew might be 10% vets, 80% new cadets, and 10% short timers on a one way voyage.  families living on and running private ships is a distinct possibility.

 

political control, keeping the colony supplied, and dealing with emergencies would all be negatively impacted by the long travel times.\

 

long sea voyages in the age of sail where the ship is out of contact for extended periods might be a good example of how a small floating "colony" gets on without aid and comfort from the homefront.  self-reliance and resourcefulness would be the watchwords of the day.

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How big is the colony?

Let's assume it is large enough to be self-sufficient, but only barely. If entirely cut off they could grow enough food, produce enough energy, increase their population, etc. But without the supply ships they would operate at a near subsistence level.

 


I suspect some competition for a chance to jump 24 years into the future whenever there's some form of unrest.

Aha. I hadn't thought of it this way. Yes, we effectively have forward-only time travel. Compound interest also could work great over a span of 24 years - take a 2 year round trip, come back rich.

 


you also need to consider the frequency of trips. a ship every year means you can send info and goods every year. but you still have that 12 year lag.  and 24 years for supply requests to be fulfilled. so more frequent trips keeps the colony more up to date, with a minimum of 12 years behind being the best case scenario.

Yes. For simplicities sake, let's assume that there are enough ships for one to arrive every year. That way the communication is continuous (but still high lag).

 


a round trip voyage is 24 years, so a cadet aged 20 would be 44 years old after their first round trip voyage.  and a two trip veteran would be 68 years old at the end of their second voyage.

Ah, but for the people on the ship, only 2 years pass for a round trip! Relativity is a wonderful thing. So all your friends who stayed on Earth are 68, but you are only 28...

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CJ Cherryh  Alliance-Union and Chanur series

Andre Norton Solar queen series

Poul Anderson Van Rijn Books

Robert Heinlein The Rolling Stones, Citizen of the Galaxy 

Arthur C. Clarke Rendezvous with Rama - slightly offtopic from trade ships but very much in keeping with what effect a "supply" ship from Earth may mean to an isolated colony's culture and society.

 

These are just some of the more accessible ones that will have easily found synopsises on the web. I can point you into more individualised books if you need.

 

However you may find this particular site of most use to your needs. A lot of the legwork has been thought out by someone who scarily may have read more scifi than I have :(

 

 

Trading over extended time periods would lend itself to unobtainable luxury goods on the other surface - for example Brand name liquors, rare perfumes, seeds(rare/exotic plants), technological advances, rare woods and other organic materials. Cultural materials, fashions, entertainments.  Basically what is unique to one environment that can be desirable in the other environment.

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It's an interesting question, and it seems like depending on a few variables it could work out in very different ways.

 

Economic Growth - Is the Earth economy still growing, such that compound interest makes interstellar travel inherently profitable? Or have we reached a steady-state equilibrium where I can preserve wealth in abstentia but not grow it? Additionally, a steady-state economy might be more predictable, allowing supply and demand to be estimated out 20 years.

 

Social Stability - At one extreme, is there any point in leaving any wealth behind on an interstellar round trip? At the other, could I bring a deed to property on Earth and trade it on Tau Ceti with the buyer confident they aren't being scammed and social upheaval won't have seen the land seized or devalued in the interim? This should impact how coupled the two economies can remain.

 

Power Relationships - Is the colony wholly beholden to Earth? Are the tradeships free entrepreneurs or government sent? Who has the more valuable goods? What are the preconceptions of each group (do they both emulate the fashions of the other? or not care? Or one copies the second?)

 

Dangers of Space Travel - What's the odds of me making it to my destination? Are there longterm health consequences of exposure to cosmic radiation?

 

Difficulty of Space Travel - Can a person decide one day they want to become a space merchant, or are they a highly trained elite company?

 

Cost of Space Travel - How much does a ship cost, and how much does a voyage cost? If both are high, for example, you might need to send ships round trip with full cargo holds. If ships are cheap, you could have one way journeys, allowing Earth to send less higher value goods and receiving more one way shipments of raw resources. Depending on voyage costs you might be able to transfer wealth in material form with you, or you might have to start from scratch at the other side. Is it feasible to bring spouses and children along?

 

Cooperative Spirit - Is Earth willing to subsidize the colony? Are both sides willing to overlook trade imbalances in the interest in keeping trade flowing? Or is both side ruthlessly capitalistic?

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Using relativistic speed space travel only for a single point to point 1/12 year trade route between Sol and Tau Ceti is an unnatural constraint on the use of technology.

Instead, I would expect spaceship owners and spaceship crews to find something useful to do with their vehicles.

  • Extra worthwhile stops at less terrible distances. Destinations could include other colonies on less habitable planets, completely automated operations (e.g. asteroid mining), and maybe some kinds of major artificial space stations (e.g. deep space military shipyards, with lots of people and large deliveries of various resources). Reduced travel times (e.g. 1/12 months) mitigate all problems, allowing flexibility and stability without creating an obstacle to those who can accept, or desire, the "time travel" of a long trip.
  • Exploration, including SF staples like prospecting for minerals and contact with alien races, at all scales of time, cost and organizational complexity: a casual detour of a few days to investigate a mysterious sensor reading, fanatics or amateurs who go "out there" with their own means, systematic public initiatives.
  • Living on ships permanently as a nomadic lifestyle for whole families and tribes, with little interest for the landlubbers they leave behind in fast time. It could be the lifestyle of the vast majority of mankind, stabilizing society from the bottom up because everyone is away and any change or initiative needs years to spread.

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I'm sceptical about trade if the return of investment will be seen in 24 years, it's too long for corporations since the CEO that arranged it will be fired/retire in the meantime :) Maybe asian corporatrions could do it, but western ones, no way :D I think it would be more into a form of transports than trade. I mean, since the schedule is so terribly important in this case and because it requires such high political stability it would need to be about something else than simple monetary gain. Also I suspect a planned economy system.

 

The route probably yearly (a new ship sent each year), cargo simple and strictly standarized and predictable (you have to change the cargo 12 years in advance).

 

Probably emergence of spacing guilds. Since it takes 1 year relative time to travel, the simpliest solution is to form a new class of citizens that live in a relative time and form a separate society (they all are from the "old era", after like 2 trips).

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