In C. J. Cherryh’s Heavy Time & Hellburner (also published together as Devil to the Belt), there seems to be some sort of propulsion used by in-system ships called a “beam”; it’s controlled by Belt Management (A.K.A. “Big Mama” and less-flattering names):

So Mama redirected a beam off the R2-8 relay, boosted them up along what Mama’s charts assured them was a good safe course, and they chased the signal…

What sort of propulsion is this referring to? Is it a scientifically plausible one or (unusually for Cherryh’s SF) a literary convention I’m not familiar with?

  • Your excerpt makes it sound like some kind of energy is being directed at the ship (bounced of relays?) which in turn pushes the ship to its destination, or at least assists with acceleration. But this is just a guess. – Xantec May 30 '12 at 4:12

My gues would be something along these lines: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laser_propulsion


'Beams' (presumably high energy laser beams) are used to push objects around the solar system using light-pressure. It's abundantly clear that this represents a physical push rather than a navigational guide.

“Approach Control, this is Two Twenty-nine Tango. We copy that decel. We’re go.” He shut down his mike, yelled: “Dekker! Stand by the decel, hear me?”
“Break his damn neck,” Ben muttered.
There was no time for debate. They had a beam taking aim. Approach Control advised them and fired; pressure hit the sail and bodies hit the restraints—they weren’t in optimum attitude thanks to that ship coupled to them, and it was a hard shove. Dekker yelled aloud—hurt, maybe: they had him padded in and tied down with everything soft they could find, but it was no substitute.

Heavy Time

  • I knew it was that, but don't have the books handy to chase down a concrete quote. Thanks. – DavidW Apr 23 at 20:42

I always thought it referred to a navigational beam they followed for guidance.

  • Was there anything that suggested this to be the case in the books. – Edlothiad Feb 17 '18 at 20:59
  • 1
    The books are pretty clear that beams are propulsion, NOT guidance. – JRE Feb 18 '18 at 11:57

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