What would the navigational conventions in near-planet space be?
As I’ve been contemplating a crowded human space, in the Deacon Carver series of novels. I’ve started dwelling on how ships of various sizes and maneuvering capabilities would co-exist in a gravity well.
No, I don’t buy the “hand it off to the computer and forget about it” approach.
On a simple, one-on-one basis, many of these questions have been answered by NASA and the various space agencies, but in a crowded field where every obstacle has free will and may not be 100% knowledgeable, this could become a very tricky proposition. Sailboats in a harbour with ocean-going transports is scary enough. Think about solar sailors that have no keel-in-water to counteract or mitigate the vector of thrust...
A few years ago, I got certified as a Day Skipper though the Royal Yachting Association’s Cape Town affiliate, Yachtmaster. I have to say that there’s a hell of a lot more to navigating at sea, and especially near shore, than you would ever think.
I probably wouldn’t have thought about any of the issues related to near-planetary navigation if I hadn’t done that sailing course. But, because I have, I’ve been exposed to (and had to learn some parts of) the “International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea” (ColRegs for short).
This book is extremely detailed on how navigational elements on a vessel are to be configured, used, and interpreted. This goes for both visual and audible signals (For example, if you ever hear five loud blasts from a ship’s horn, observe closely, because he’s telling someone to do their part to avoid a collision.).
So I’ve been giving thought, and valuable writing time, to trying to figure out not only what would be obvious to the lay observer, but what special skills and knowledge a space harbour pilot or on-board navigator would need. And what kinds of stories would those navigators have from their school days?
In deep space, it seems easy, using fixed channel markers and lines of transit. But around a platform that's orbiting a planet, how do you define navigational channels and rights-of-way?
I know that Star Trek has paid lip service to this problem from the beginning, with their ships having basic navigational lights but other than an occasional nod in Star Trek: Enterprise, they rarely dealt with these issues beyond Sulu pushing a button and the computer doing the work.
How this kind of navigation would work is something I hope to address fully in the first Deacon Carver novel. In the mean time, if you’ve read or seen a good example of spatial navigation, mention it in the comments.