Eclipse Phase | AUSTIN, TEXAS | 2015-2019 A.D.
Search and Rescue
Interplanetary space is huge region that can easily swallow the unfortunate for decades before they are found. There are a number of precautions that are taken both prior and during space travel that help increase the chances of rescue if something does go wrong. The first is the filing of a proper flight plan (see page 35) with the local space traffic control center. This gives searchers some idea of where to start looking for a vessel if something happens. The second precaution is to provide position, course and status updates in regularly scheduled communications with other vessels and automated navigation beacons. Since communication systems keep the previous 72 hours of message traffic in a recording loop, searchers can use this information to shorten their search by beginning at the missing vessel’s last known location. The final precaution is to ensure that the vessel is properly maintained, especially its safety systems.
Once a vessel misses making regular communications, is overdue without notification, or declares an emergency via radio, the vessel is declared missing. If there are other vessels in the area the missing vessel was last reported, they are required by international law to perform active sensor sweeps of their local area and attempt to re-establish communications. Any debris or other evidence of the missing vessel’s possible location or condition is transmitted on open frequencies and to the Solar Cross. Once dedicated search and rescue (SAR) vessels arrive (like the Salvation Il-class and Geneva-class ships that perform long circuits through common orbits), they begin by following any reported evidence. Since momentum will cany a missing vessel in the general direction of its last known course, SAR vessels will attempt to catch up to the vessel’s projected course before widening the search area. The typical search pattern is a corkscrew that places the search vessel in the space adjacent to the progression of the original course; the corkscrew is gradually widened if there is evidence the missing ship is off-course. Multiple search vessels increase the area covered by running parallel search patterns to cover a larger volume of space. Rescue vessels will often carry surplus exo-armors (with weapons and armor removed in favor of upgraded sensors and more reaction mass) to conduct search and recovery operations.
A major part of locating a missing vessel is detecting the signal from the vessel’s Emergency Location Transmitter (ELT). An ELT (Comm +I, range 2000 km, operating duration 48 hours) is installed on all vessels, and contains an independent power supply, system status monitor, navigational computer with related sensors and a transmitter. Large vessels will often incorporate a separate ELT in each major component as backups. The ELT can be activated manually, or it will activate itself automatically in the case of major system malfunctions. As a secondary function, the ELT has a 24-hour memory loop that records critical system information that it will transmit to inform search and rescue crews of the vessel’s status.
The first priority of the rescue crews is to assess the condition of the target vessel and stabilize it. This task is the most important, since endangering the lives of the rescue crews only makes the situation worse by making it necessary to rescue the rescuers. Most search and rescue technicians have some technical training to deal with these situations, but SAR crews also include dedicated technical personnel for stabilizing vessels in distress. While rescue crews are dealing with the crippled vessel, additional craft conduct sweeps to recover any missing emergency life boats and escape pods.
The next step of the rescue is to locate a suitable access point. Airlocks are the preferred point of access, but the SAR crews have other options available depending on the situation. Modified Hardsuits ( Core Rulebook p. 334) are sometimes used to board and evacuate vessels. These are equipped with a detachable airlock that is left on the hull after the crew manually cuts through the vessel’s hull; the SAR pod can then make multiple trips to this point to shuttle victims off the vessel.
A Hardsuit can almost be considered a miniature spaceship. Hardsuits look like large metallic ovals with jointed arms and legs. They are quite heavy, but the user can move relatively easily due to servo-assist motors in the major arm and leg joints. Unlike other vacsuits, they are solid and can resist both vacuum and up to 100 atmospheres of external pressure. Characters wearing hardsuits can safely explore the upper atmosphere of a gas giant. They are well armored against punctures and radiation and possess miniature plasma thrusters capable of delivering 0.01 g for 10 hours. A built-in high-quality maker produces sufficient food, air, and water for a user to remain in a hardsuit indefinitely. Explorers have used them continuously for up to 2 months. Their gloves incorporate smart materials that allow each hand to use the equivalent of a utilitool (p. 326). Hardsuits also contain radios and sensors equivalent to those on standard vacsuits. These suits are maintained by a fixer nanoswarm (p. 329), are instantly self-sealing of any breach unless more than 30 points of damage are inflicted at once, and protect the wearer from temperatures of –200 to 180 C. Hardsuits have an Armor rating of 15/15. Occupants may only wear armor with an Armor rating (Energy or Kinetic) of 4 or less; this worn armor is cumulative without layering penalties. [High]
Once the SAR crews have gained access to the vessel, rescue crews will locate and remove any survivors; failing that, the crews will remove any bodies. This stage also requires the crews to proceed with caution, since exterior inspections seldom reveal interior conditions. It may be necessary for the rescue crews to conduct some repairs to stabilize the vessel before proceeding with a search for survivors.