Unlike the solid Dyson Shell, a Dyson Swarm could be constructed in stages. Each component is itself a satellite, capable of orbiting the star. As such, it could be built over a great expanse of time, starting with a couple of solar collectors and eventually becoming an entire network that captures a sizable chunk of the energy from the star. Wireless Energy Transfer would allow this energy to be sent to the other components of the swarm, as well as to space stations, planets, and other locations outside the swarm.
Keeping a large number of variously-sized objects in orbit has some difficulties and complexities, however. Obviously, you can't just pack them in so close they might bump into each other.
- One solution is the Dyson Ring, where you put the satellites in a single orbit (a loop) all going the same speed and direction. This has a practical limit to how much energy it can gather, but it's at least a stable starting point.
- Another option would be to make multiple levels of satellites. Sometimes a satellite's power would be temporarily disrupted when another satellite passed closer to the sun and eclipsed it. As long as the satellites had stable orbits and weren't relying on the power they gained from the star to keep them moving, this would work fine.
Game and Story Use
- In a fairly hard, near future sci-fi scenario, this would be an absolutely terrifying thing to find on first making starfall in a system … clear evidence of precursor activity…
- The swarm can be built up over time. It might start as small cluster of solar collectors or a Dyson Ring, then grow into a couple layers of rings, and eventually into a full blown multi-layered swarm. As this happens over time, technology will improve, and later components will be larger and more efficient.
- If used as a setting / location, this allows you to mix technologies, and throw in some surprises.
- What starts as a minor swarm in an orbit that doesn't prevent any light from reaching inhabited planets might eventually grow beyond that, becoming dense and annoying.
- People inhabiting the swarm might not care if they're dimming the sunlight that reaches some world they don't live on any longer. Or, the swarm might exist before a more remote planet gets colonized, and the swarm occludes much of the light that the distant cold planet desperately needs. No one's in the wrong, technically, but that might not stop a war in the system. The war could be avoided by beaming energy to the distant planets, but said "energy" doesn't make up for no longer having enough light for trees to grow outside and untended.
- The layers of a swarm could be at war, too / instead, assuming the swarm is mostly habitats, not just unmanned energy collectors.
- Or, the prime real estate could be closer and closer to the sun. A lot climate control technology would have to be developed, but it's a possibility.
- A civilization that didn't quite manage to avoid destroying itself might leave ruins that include a partial Dyson Swarm. They weren't able to build it up fast enough to prevent the resource war that decimated them.
- An especially old, built up, multilayered swarm begins to have problems as the orbit of one object decays without notice. It crashes into another object, knocking it off course, and everything snowballs. Even near-misses will exert a tiny gravitational force on other swarm platforms, drawing their orbits closer to yet other platforms, compounding the problem. Note that in order for this to really become a problem, you'd need a very dense swarm, or a very poorly planned swarm.
- For more ideas, see Stellar Megastructure and Dyson Sphere.