Emergency Ship Data Recorders

While many people state that space is not an ocean (and they’re admittedly right once you look at it), that didn’t mean that a lot of good ideas didn’t cross over from naval ships to space ships. When travel (and commerce) finally came to the stars in force, a lot of the old safety requirements followed along. One of the first to get finalized was the Ship Voyage Data Recorder. Already designed into the bridge module of most ships, it was decided that this would also be married to the ship’s Emergency Locator Beacon to provide as much information as possible.

All ships carry at least one Emergency Data/Rescue Buoy (more commonly called an Omega Buoy), as mandated by shipping regulations. Larger ships (including military vessels) often carry more than one of them. Originally they were designed solely as stationary message bouys that were designed for maximum detectability, usually via a body that was engineered to have as big a radar return as possible for their size. Additionally, the main data module is also encased in an ablative heat shield, making it capable of surviving reentry and landing onto a planet with up to 3 g. of surface gravity.

Over time however, an active broadband locator beacon was added. As technology improved further, it was possible for the buoys (now fully fledged drones) to actually head back down the course they had taken to the nearest colony or base. Even with all these protective measures, the Omega Buoys/Drones were sometimes not recovered until long after the loss of the ship, providing only a bit of closure to investigators and family.

The information recorded in the unit(s), sometimes also called Black box for ship, usually includes the following information (All entries with * are retained for 30 days at minimum):

  • Identification – Ship’s Name, registry number
  • Position, date, time – Location/identity of last time check
  • Speed log – Speed through space or speed over ground (when in orbit or in planetary flight)
  • Nav compass – Heading (both relative in-system and absolute galactic)
  • Radar* – As displayed + raw navigational feed
  • Electronic chart display / Navigational plot* – A screen capture every 15 seconds and a list of navigational charts in use every 10 minutes or when a chart change occurs
  • Audio from the bridge, including main duty stations on seperate tracks
  • Full Communications log of all voice/data transmissions
  • Proximity sounder* – Distance to nearest objects (less than 2km)
  • Main alarms* – All mandatory alarms
  • Hull openings* – Status of hull doors as indicated on the bridge (including cargo doors and airlocks)
  • Airtight & fire doors* status as indicated on the bridge
  • Hull stress* – Accelerations and hull stresses
  • Maneuvering Thrusters* – Order and feedback response
  • Main Drive* – Order and feedback response
  • Engines* – Status, direction, amount of thrust % & Power settings
  • External Environmental Sensors – space particle density, approximate charge, speed and direction (includes atmospheric sensor readings when relevant)
  • Small Craft Bays* – Main bay security footage

Warships retain additional data:
All the below are retained for 24 hours (recording is activated during general quarters)

  • Combat Sensors – Targeting logs, sensor data, target sensor emissions
    Magazines – Magazine load, ammunition consumption
  • Weapon/Launcher – Status, operation logs, error messages
  • Flag Bridge – full audio, including main duty stations on seperate tracks
  • Launch/Small Craft Bays – Munition levels, maintenance records

Warship Omega Drones also come with a sophisticated one-time-pad encryption system that only allows the data to be decrypted by Fleet Command or an appropriate pre-designated administrative body. Failure to provide correct access causes the memory units to be wiped and then destroyed. Note that the bouy/drone will still broadcast the ship’s ID and time of loss in-clear; you need to decrypt the in-depth data before accessing it.

Game Design Note:
I’ve never been truly happy with some of the restrictions of drones in Starfire. For all the advancement of technology, drones remained less competent than a 1980’s cruise missile in memory capacity and capability. Looking closely at the systems for Omega Drones just adds more to my annoyance on the sheer incapability of the system in general.

In this case, Omega Buoys/Drones operate either for 24 hours or until they arrive at their destination, then self destruct. Which means that in almost all cases, the civilian investigation team/Fleet Command will be hard up on trying to find out just what happened to their ship. Or finding it at all later on. It’s worth noting that modern civilian ship data recorders have acoustic beacons with 90 day functional lifespans. I’d think with basic Bouy2 and DEEP technology it should be possible to have an Omega Buoy/Drone last at least for a month before losing main power, and still be recoverable later.

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