Space is a very dangerous place. Even if you aren't in a business where you get shot at regularly, space itself is constantly trying to kill you. Solar and cosmic radistion, micro-meteorites, various forms of man-made debris moving at many kilometers per second. There are a lot of ways that a person's spaceship can be made into so much Swiss cheese without getting into a fight. That's why most ships come equipped with armor plating, which does provide decent protection, but the wear and tear on even the best hull plating can require regular maintenence. And that's not getting into the kind of damage that a ship can take once someone decides to test your armor with bullets, or lasers.
That is where technology of the 24th century can lend considerable assistance in the form of energy shielding. Advances in the understanding of how to generate and control fields of energy has allowed the creation of barriers of concentrated force that can provide addtional layers of armor that can be created and dispelled with the flick of a switch. Shielding can be as subtle as a reinforcement of existing armor plating, or as elaborate as a shaped energy field that can hold air inside of an airlock, or an nigh-impenetrable bubble that can protect a city from orbital bombardment.
Shields do tend to be power hungry, and they are not universally available....some factions have more advanced technology than others. And the military, of course, always has the best technology. The average spacer living job to job likely will have to settle for less.
Energy shields are classified into four Types based upon their general function and overall degree of sophistication.
Each Type represents a step in the evolution of shield technology, yet each is distinct in its particular intended use. Each successive type does not replace its predecessor so much as it develops the technology in a new direction. Less advanced cultures might have only the first one or two Types, while the more advanced cultures will use all four in different applications.
- Reactive Hull Plating. The earliest form of energy shielding, Reactive Hull Plating utilizes emittters built into the very fuselage of the ship. The emitters produce a thin cushion of energy that coats the skin of a ship, acting as an additional layer of hull plating. Reactive Hull Plating was developed as a means of protection against radiation as well as micro-meteorites. It also has some limited usefulness against weapons fire, though severe impacts against the hull plating can channel energy through the shields and cause structural damage to the ship.
- Reactive Hull Plating has a relatively low power requirement, making it reasonable for most ships, regardless of power plant. Anything with a decent fission reactor or better can make use of it, without having to divert significant amounts of power from other systems.
- Most starships and space stations feature this variety of shielding, which is quite valuable for protecting hardware and personnel from the everyday hazards of space. It is widely regarded as a good addition to ship armor, but not as a replacement for it.
- Navigational Shield. Also known colloquially as an Umbrella Shield, this particular kind of shield was developed along with the advent of near-relativistic sublight travel. A Navigational Shield is projected from an emitter that is mounted facing forward on a space craft, rather like a particularly powerful headlight. It casts a broad, conical, directional energy field in front of a spacecraft that blocks, diverts, or vaporizes incoming particles. This kind of shield is especially useful when a ship is traveling at exceptionally high sublight speeds, where debris as small as a grain of sand can cause severe damage to a ship's hull.
- Umbrella Shields are not very useful against particles much larger than a centimeter in diameter, and they are not an effective defense against weapons fire.
- These shields can be more demanding of power than Type I models, usually requirng a slightly greater investment of a ship's resources.
- Membrane Shield. This variety of shield creates a solid barrier where desired, the solidity of which can be adjusted to either allow the passage of objects of certain compositions or to block any object trying to penetrate it. Membrane shields are limited in range to the confines of its emitters, which are usually built around a door or portal. There must be at least two emitters within range of each other in order to generate the shield in between them Arranging rod-shaped emitters in a circle or line can create a fence of energy. Emitters shaped around an opening can create a door of energy.
- Membrane shields can serve as an airlock, the energy barrier holding in gasses but allowing solid objects to pass through, with some minor effort. They can also serve as emergency barriers in a heavily secured location, creating an impassable barrier when a lockdown goes into effect, preventing anyone from passing through. This variety of shield is largely invisible unless touched, in which case a webbing of crackling light becomes visible. The edge of the shield, where it eminates from the emitter, also typically glows faintly.
- This variety of energy shielding tends to be very demanding in energy, requiring a nuclear power source to sustain it.
- Some high tech jails like to make use of membrane shields to keep prisoners in their holding cells. It is very impressive, and they are quite effective at containing people. That is until the power suddenly goes out. Wise engineers will usually use membrane shields as a supplement for more conventional barriers, but not a replacement.
- Variable Zone Shield Network (VZS Network). Commonly known as "Battle Shields". The most powerful variety of shields, the Battle Shield projects a solid energy barrier that protects the a limited area within the range of its emitter. Multiple emitters placed around a spacecraft can create a "bubble shield" that completely surrounds the ship. Power can be spread evenly amongst the networked emitters, providing a consistent field strength around the ship, or power can be diverted to specific emitters, increasing the defensive strength over a specific area. Stress on a shield from a particular direction can stress the emitters responsible for guarding that section of the ship, creating a temporary weak spot in the overall shield. Exceptional stress on a shield can cause an emitter to overload and burn out, possibly collapsing the entire network. The quality of shield emitters and their supporting electronics is crucial in maintaining the stability of the overall shield under stress.
- A variant form of the VZS Network utilizes emitters that are capable of moving, causing the projected shield move around the ship as desired. This is called a Point Defense Shield. Point Defense Shields can concentrate greater energy over a specific area, making it useful in situations in which the direction from which an attack is coming can be predicted.
- Battle Shields provide the best protection for a ship from solid objects, radiation, and energy weapons. They are the most highly prized of sheild technology, but are also by far the most power hungry. They create a significant demand on a ship's power supply, rapidly draining power away from other systems unless the ship has a very potent power generator.
- This variety of shield can be used for starships and space stations, but can also be used planetside to form protective domes over cities. They require dedicated power generators in order to maintain, but they can repel attacks from orbit. Theoretically it's possible to create a barrier surrounding a planet, but the power requirements would be astronomical.
Talesian defensive sheilds are among the most efficent and powerful in Neospace. The main contributing factor is their useage of antimatter reactors, which allows them to dump massive amounts of excess power into their battle sheilds while still having power to weapons, computers and engines.
The robust power grids aboard Talesian military ships allows them to quickly divert more power to shields and even shift it to a section of the ships battle sheilds on the fly. Talesian sheilds, while having more "capacity" then their confed counterparts; are still not infalliable, and their ships have much thinner physical armor underneath. Weapons effective at weaking sheilds such as particle weapons, or penetrating; such as high velocity torpedos, are the bane of Talesian commanders,