A jaunt to Jaques!

Posted by on Oct 14, 2016 in Progress Report

The Elite Dangerous Galaxy...

The Elite Dangerous Galaxy…

Being an astronomer I felt I had a fairly good grasp of the scale of the galaxy. It’s big. Bigger than that. Multiply what you’re thinking by 100. Square it. Times by PI… you’re still not there, trust me.

Suffice to say it’s beyond huge. The diameter of the galaxy is 100,000 lightyears, that’s pretty much 6 x 10^17 miles. That’s impossible to get your head around.

One of the best parts of the Elite Dangerous game is that it simulates the real galaxy with a remarkable degree of verisimilitude. Distant but recognisable stars and nebula are present. The gaps between the spiral arms are less dense with fewer stars, as you’d expect. There are different types of stars, depending on your location.

The distance is ‘real’.

Many explorers don’t need a reason to go venturing off into the galaxy. Many might give the same answer George Mallory did when asked why he climbed Everest… “Because it’s there.”

With the novel workload I don’t have too much time to play the game, but when I heard that Jaques station had been found earlier in the year, that a series of community goals had been arranged to repair the station and that a new community was beginning to form out there – a new ‘bubble’ – I knew I had to see it myself as it formed.

So I decided to go.

I could have asked FDev to teleport me out there for ‘research’, but that would be cheating. So I decided to make the trip myself. I needed to keep my main account in the vicinity of the core worlds for other reasons, so I new shiny Elite Dangerous account was procured and – after a little bit of circumspect rare trading – I had a reasonably outfitted Cobra Mk3.

Named after a real explorer (read about her here) the ‘Lady Jane’ was prepped at George Lucas station and painted in Canadian colours. I was born in Canada, so wanted to fly that flag for this trip. I wanted to use a Cobra for a few reasons. It’s big enough not to have to compromise too much and you can fit it out with a good exploration build. Mostly though, it’s the iconic ship from the Elite franchise and it felt appropriate to use it.

An exploration loadout was finalised. I only had limited cash so had to compromise. A 4A Frameshift drive was non negotiable, but other aspects of the ship were trimmed for efficiency and lightness. I retained a limited shield, but no weapons. I prevaricated on whether to take an extra fuel tank or an AMFU and decided on the fuel tank. For maximum range I forewent heatsinks too.  I spent money on the advanced discovery scanner and the surface scanner. Money was now tight, the best fuel scoop I could afford was a 4C. It would have to do.

Open mode all the way. 24 light years max range. 22,000 lightyears to cover, somewhere near 920 hyperspace jumps. Something like 25-30 hours of game time.

I set out on the 29th of August.

Departing George Lucas Station in the Leesti system

Departing George Lucas Station in the Leesti system

There were some remarkable sights along the way. Unscheduled, I came across an undiscovered T Tauri system only 1,500 lightyears out from Leesti and stopped for a little reconnaissance. T Tauri stars are non main-sequence variable stars that are very luminescent. They look rather desolate places in Elite Dangerous.

The Lady Jane in Orbit around a T Tauri star

The Lady Jane in Orbit around a T Tauri star

On the third day of the outing I rued my decision not to take heatsinks. The Lady Jane materialised ‘inside’ a star as it came out of hyperspace in a quaternary star system. Heat jumped to 140% and sparks flew. I managed to wrestle the ship out of range, but suffered 7% hull damage in just a few seconds. Modules took a battering too. Now I was lamenting the lack of the AFMU. No stations means no repair. If this sort of thing happened too often my ship was going to be toast long before I reached Jaques.

Retreating from a star with systems overheated. Too close a call.

Retreating from a star with systems overheated. Too close a call!

But I made the 1/3rd waypoint without further incident. This was the Eagle nebula. A familiar marker for Elite Dangerous explorers and home of the famous ‘Pillars of Creation’ Hubble space telescope image. It’s about 7,000 light years out from Sol. Many explorers had been this way before, I found no undiscovered stars in this region.

Arriving at the Eagle Nebula. 1/3 of the way.

Arriving at the Eagle Nebula. 1/3 of the way.

I voyaged straight through the heart of this nebula, finding a little cluster of bright white O type stars within. No time to stop though. This was just the first waymarker on the route and I had a long way to travel.

In the heart of the Eagle Nebula...

In the heart of the Eagle Nebula…

Then I ran into another problem. As I left the Orion arm of the galaxy, in which Sol lies, the stars began to thin out dramatically. With increasingly regularity I hit unscoopable stars, brown dwarfs for the most part. This is entirely correct astronomically speaking and shows the level of attention that’s been paid to the science in Elite Dangerous. The age of the components of the galaxy’s various zones are not the same – there are older and younger regions. That affects what stars you find out there and can present navigation challenges.

The skies around the ship were dark, the ship hard to see in the dim light. Only the occasional bright star broke the monotony. Now the additional fuel tank came into its own allowing me to continue on, but I had to make several detours to refuel which slowed down progress through this region. I was glad to leave it behind.

Cross the inter-arm void...

Crossing the inter-arm void…

Eventually I made it across though, only to bump into my first Neutron star. This was unexpected and chucked me out of Frameshift again. More damage, hull down to 91% percent and (worryingly) the Canopy down to 82%. Without v2.2 I didn’t even get the benefit of some new special effects! Still, it was a salutary lesson to review the route that was plotted. Each 1,000 lightyears was about 40 jumps and I managed to avoid a few other problems by checking in advance of jumping.

Not even the halfway point yet, but on the plus side, stars came back into view and I reached the next spiral arm, which I would proceed down until I reached Jaques.

The sky came to light once more!

The sky came to light once more!

And then I’d reached it! The halfway mark. 11,000 lightyears down, and 11,000 lightyears to go. It felt like a massive climb to get this far, but psychologically I felt a little bit more optimistic. I’d learnt how to plot more efficiently and safely and the ship was running well. I felt confident I could keep going.

I reached the halfway point on the 28th of September. A month after setting off.

I reached the halfway point on the 28th of September. A month after setting off.

But confidence is a fickle mistress. It was shortly after this I encountered my first blackhole of the trip. The crushed remains of a giant stars, blackholes are merely a tiny point in space, but their gravity is so strong they can distort the light that passes around them, giving them a strange effect when seen against the backdrop of the galaxy. This one didn’t cause any damage as I spotted it because of the gravitational lensing effect, but had it been against the blackness it would have been much harder.

This was a moment in the game when I genuinely felt my stomach clench. It was *scary*. The game doesn’t do anything with the gravity (perhaps in a future release?) but cautiously approaching the blackhole in frameshift, seeing the milkyway distort around it as it grew closer and knowing that such a strange object was out there was tense. I enjoyed the experience, but was glad to leave it behind!

A cautious approach to a Blackhole!

A cautious approach to a Blackhole!

Another nebula was growing ahead of me. The Skaude Nebula. This one is procedurally generated, but no less pretty for that. It’s another well known marker on the way to Jaques, and well worth a visit.  There are a number of blackholes and neutron stars in the vicinity.

The Skaude Nebula.

The Skaude Nebula.

Then the sky around me began to brighten considerably. The further on I went the greater the effect became. I was entering a region where the density of stars was increasing dramatically and most of the stars were O or B type stars, very bright and distinct. If only we had skies like this on Earth!

This would be an amazing night sky.

This would be an amazing night sky.

I encountered some amazing vistas along the way. Here is a ringed brown dwarf star in orbit around a bigger O type star. The ring system was almost three times wider than the one around Saturn in the Sol system.

A close inspection of the rings, with the Milky Way behind.

A close inspection of the rings, with the Milky Way behind.

There were also more mundane locations, the fiery light of a Red Dwarf and an asteroid field.

It was cold... and there was kind of atmosphere!

It was cold… and there was no kind of atmosphere!

The trip proceeded without further incident. I reached the 2/3rds mark on the 5th of October. Somehow it started to feel like a downhill run after that, with 7,000 lightyears remaining.

The 2/3rds mark.

The 2/3rds mark.

And then… as just a faint smudge in the distance, the Colonia nebula finally came into sight. With a bit of time on my hands I had a chance to make the last few thousand lightyears in a single stint. It was October 13th, seven weeks after I’d set out. I gave a heads up to the Colonia network that I was on the way in and hoped for the best.

Destination in sight!

Destination in sight!

I was quickly contacted by two familiar Commanders who were already at Jaques. CMDRs Stephen Usher and Kerrash need little introduction and CMDR Kerrash headed out from Jaques towards me to provide an escort. We rendezvoused about 1,500 lightyears out. There was a palpable sense of relief in seeing another ship for the first time in weeks. The galaxy felt a little smaller for a moment.

Meeting up with CMDR Kerrash

Meeting up with CMDR Kerrash in his Asp Explorer.

Rendezvous complete we headed on in, the Nebula growing before us.

Approaching the Colonia Nebula

Approaching the Colonia Nebula

With the wonders of social media, twitch, discord and the like, news of my arrival seemed to have spread. I started receiving messages indicating that a few folks would be turning out at Jaques station to welcome me in. Some warned that I might be griefed as a result, but that’s par for the course. It’s Elite Dangerous after all…

Then with a final wing-up, I arrived at Jaques station with Kerrash and Stephen Usher in escort. 22,000 lightyears of travel and adventure concluded.

The Lady Jane arrives at Jacques station.

The Lady Jane arrives at Jacques station.

But there was one final surprise. The good folks of the Colonia Citizen’s Network had turned out in force to welcome me in. After a little difficulty with instancing, we managed to make it work. Ships were chaffing and boosting all around. I felt very honoured to be part of this adventure in a distant part of space, having been part of this brave new outpost far out into the core of the galaxy.

My welcome at Jaques' station from Colonia Citizen's pilots.

My welcome at Jaques’ station from Colonia Citizen’s pilots.

I wasn’t able to note down all the names – please leave a comment below and I’ll credit you all. But they made me feel very special as I arrived, even giving me a station welcome in lieu of Jaques not having a ‘voice’ yet. You can see the twitch stream of my arrival here.

What did I learn from the trip? It’s a long way, and not for the faint hearted. At times it was very boring, at others nerve-wracking. There are risks out there, the unexpected… there is beauty too. Exploration is harsh on mistakes. Seeing a nebula appear in the distance and then travel through gives a great sense of voyaging into the unknown. Jaques station is located in a very pretty part of the galaxy.

I didn’t find anything particularly unusual on my trip, no strange artefacts or lost civilisations, but it did give me a renewed respect for all the explorers out there and for the awesome scale of the galaxy. And, it was fun.

The Lady Jane resting after her long trip

The Lady Jane in the hangar at Jaques, resting after her long trip.

I made around 8 million credits upon selling the exploration data, taking my new commander directly from ‘Mostly Aimless’ to ‘Pathfinder’ in one hit. The ship was repaired and I decided to swap out the fuel tank for the AFMU and stock up on heatsinks.

My next plan is to visit the neutron star fields nearby and then head to the core and visit Sagittarius A. Then it will be back to Jaques for repairs before heading out to the edge. There’s a patch of the galaxy that’s been nicknamed “Wagar’s reach” – it would be rude not to go there…!

Now I’d better get back to the book and… well… write on, Commanders!

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    11 Comments

  1. Congrats Drew! Enjoy the beer at Jaques’ bar!

    Love from the yellow Viper of Qohen Leth.

  2. Congratulations Drew!

    As you are heading to Sag A* might I recommend teaming up with either the GNE group or the CCCE group who are both heading to Sag A* from Jaques and should BOTH arrive on the 25th/26th November?
    I’ve been doing GNE in my orca and so far I can say the group has been fantastic! I intend to complete both expeditions at the same time as they run routes that are very similar to each other.
    Glad to have you out here in the black!

  3. Great to see you in Colonia, Drew. Hopefully we’ll see you at a CCN event before long…!

  4. Red mining scout, making sure Colonias resources are accessible. o7

  5. Congratulations Drew! Sorry I couldn’t meet up with you at Colonia Hub or Jaques Station yesterday, but if you’re around the next few days I can pop in and give a few *waves* 🙂

  6. Drew,

    In a way it was a shame you didn’t see the hurried preparations for your arrival. Anyone who remembers the BBC series ‘Dad’s Army’, will understand the simile and picture the Home Guard platoon, which as ever, succeeded against the odds to pay tribute to the visiting dignitary. Fortunately they bear no resemblance to the real pilots here at Jaques ……….

    I enjoyed the chaotic excitement as word spread that the esteemed Drew Wagar, famous officially-sanctioned Elite author, was just 1 hour away (or maybe 2, ’cause space time holds many pitfalls for Earth-based timezone converters).

    After much logging on and off again, and some time later, I found myself in the same instance as a Canadian flag bedecked Cobra MkIII, which after targeting, identified itself as ‘Drew Wagar’. Success and welcome – have some chaff !

    Unfortunately at the time I was suffering with the lowest frame rate I’d ever seen – 3.4 fps, even the game was over-excited 🙂 Manoeuvring for the photoshoot was tricky So I kept a respectable distance in my Python.

    Hope you enjoy your time at Jaques, Colonia Hub and it’s soon to open , eight new stations.

    Lovely view round here isn’t it!

    Cmdr Gazer__

  7. Congratulations Drew!
    I have been following your journey on Twitter. Glad you made it safe & sound.

  8. Most glad of your arrival at Jaques and hope to see the Maple Leaf Cobra Mk III at some point.

  9. Welcome to Colonia Drew, hope to spot you around the neighborhood.

    -Outlander Devi Alar

  10. We should be out there. Exploring the universe, small fish in the pond that earth is. We are stuck on this rock with a whole universe watching down at us, from up there.

    I want to go there. Among the stars.
    And it it’s a one way ticket and I will die there, sign me anytime, I will go.

    Because no one has been there yet.

  11. I went to Jaques with the second August Exodus convoy. It felt like a truly epic voyage, I don’t think I’ve had quite an experience like it in a game before. It wasn’t quite as lonely as your trip since we were, well, in the August Exodus Convoy. I really got to intimately know the bridge of my Python the Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

    So I’m doing it all again for the December haulage convoy, which leaves on December 2nd. This time I’m doing it in luxury, in my new Beluga Liner, named James Prescott Joule.

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