A Steampunk History of a World at War

Space navigation

nimda's picture
Monday, 18 May 1896

All larger space-going vessels have a radio beacon so other ships know where they are.

Without a beacon actually finding another vessel or space station would be very hard. General navigation (position of stars, the sun and planets) gets you into the right area, and then the beacon will guide you in. Of course the equipment can only give a rough indication of direction and could be 180 degrees wrong.

Directional loop

A directional loop antenna gives you a line in space; usually a navigator would have a rough idea of the right direction so even one line ought to be enough to locate the target.

However Royal Navy Standing Orders require a second reading from another location, where the two lines intersect is the target.

The directional antenna is gimballed to move in three dimensions so you still only need two lines, as you would on land. However it is complicated by needing to know where you are actually taking your second reading from in relation to the first and if you;re not sure of your velocity it becomes educated guesswork. A ship's navigator must be very competent, and having an operational [Bad Link: Plugin Not Found] on hand is a great help.


These transmit on specific frequencies and emit a repeating Morse code identity. The beacon is a dedicated transmitter with a little motor that drives a cylinder containing the Morse identity – which makes the cylinder important and also means a ship could pretend to be another ship.

General navigation

Finding one's position in space is not easy. Hopefully you know where you started from but in the midst of battle things can become unclear.

The position of the sun is the first point of orientation. The position of stars then provides information about where to look for planets for further orientation and one's angle in respect to the plane of the ecliptic (the position of the sun relative to the star field gives you a good idea of the line you are on, the size of the sun gives an indicator of distance).

Then you look for planets. Saturn and Jupiter are good choices since they are easily recognised and move relatively slowly in their orbits. Their position against the star field will allow calculation of position within a relatively small area.

The next difficulty is if one has an unknown intrinsic velocity. There are two solutions. Wait (without thrusting) a certain amount of time and see how the sun and planets have moved relative to the starfield. This will provide information about current intrinsic velocity.

If delay cannot be brooked one must simply thrust in the required direction to provide a known velocity vector. Then predict one's position over time then take readings. The difference between one's predicted position and one's actual position will again provide information about unwanted velocity elements.

The Navigator and [Bad Link: Plugin Not Found] must work together efficiently.