97 thoughts on “Aircraft Carriers In Space”

  1. I remember suggesting to a colleague, “The first Star Wars movie is a space-opera reenactment of the Battle of Midway” followed by a look of realization and recognition”I never thought of it that way. My Dad fought in the Pacific in WW-II and I always told the Battle of Midway as a bedtime story to my son, but I didn’t recognize the connection.”

    And of course a Battlestar is an aircraft carrier, and that the Vipers have to be launched with an electromagnetic catapult that snaps the pilot’s helmeted head against the headrestraint, that a Viper has to be “trapped” with similar arresting gear when it returns to the Battlestar, and how trapping a battle-damaged Viper is a dramatic proposition, all of that is kewl and everything. But I never understood why recovery of Viper wouldn’t be like that recent video of the new F33B vertical-landing variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, pulling up abeam of the landing deck, translating sideways, and then setting down, something that could be equally kewl in a science fiction setting.

    1. Viper was a poor design in terms of deceleration. Three huge thrusters in back, none in front, no drag, but then again, one could pivot…

      1. I agree with Zach. You want all that acceleration in one direction so it’d be inefficient to have your primary thrusters point in different directions.

    2. The attack on the Death Star in Star Wars is not based on Midway, but on the British attack on German dams in WWII, as shown in “The Dambusters”, a 1955 film.

      1. George Lucas has stated that it was based on the movie “633 Squadron” starring Cliff Robertson. The plot involved a squadron of Mosquitos having to fly up a Norwegian fiord lined with flak batteries to destroy a German rocket fuel plant while simultaneously fending off the Luftwaffe.

        It is something of a cult favorite in Britain and needless to say, pure fiction.

        1. And 633 Squadron is based on (in part) the exploits of 617 Squadron, AKA the “Dambusters” who used bouncing bombs to take out German dams in WWII. (Another mission that required flying straight and low into heavy flak.)

          1. 617 flew Lancasters, not Mosquitos. The Dambusters flew many specialized missions including dropping the Grand Slam bombs to destroy hardened targets like sub pens and viaducts.

            BTW: A restored Mosquito flew for the first time in New Zealand last week! This was the first flight by a Mosquito anywhere in the world in 15 years. Such a beautiful plane and so incredibly versitile. I’ve heard there are some reproduction Mosquitos in the works also.

          2. Larry J – yes they did. I didn’t say it was an accurate depiction. I said it was “based on” as in “we couldn’t afford Lancasters so we rented Mosquitoes instead.”

          3. Actually, 617 squadron flew several aircraft types, including at least Lancasters, Mosquitos, and P-51 Mustangs! The lighter aircraft were used by leading pilots (sometimes the squadron commander) who dropped flares close in to the target, so that the bombers would have a far more accurate aim point for the British equivalent to the Norden bombsight at night. The Lancasters would not have survived at the low altitudes these mission commanders in the smaller aircraft flew at, while dodging flak guns big enough to reach the Lancasters at their high altitudes. There were at least some missions where the squadron commander stayed in the area in a P-51, directing the bombing, to get highest total accuracy possible.

    3. Mixed metaphors – or rather, mixed MOVIE metaphors. “Viper” fighters were launched and recovered from the eponymous Battlestar Galactica; Star Wars had X-wing fighters launched from land bases, vs the Imperial Star Destroyers and the Death Star and its TIE fighters.

      BEST EVER enactment of space combat? The Star Fury fighters launched from mother ships and from the space station Babylon Five.

        1. Silent Running was pretty good, but the explosions in the old TV show Space: 1999 were better (the first season, not the wretched second season)

  2. Well, to be fair, the Viper operations cycle you describe is from the 1978 Galactica. In the 2003 version, Vipers are launched from tubes (to get them off the ship ASAP) and “trap” by vertically soft-landing on both sides of a single deck (i.e., some Vipers land “upside down”).

    I have worked in one aspect or another of the entertainment industry for some 25 years, and based upon that experience I can say with some confidence that one can’t expect intellectual rigor of any kind from TV. From cop shows to cowboys, TV gets it wrong time after time, because “getting it right” requires research, time, and a high-IQ writing staff ( = $$$ ). The realistic depiction of police procedures, cattle ranching, space combat, etc. would also be visually dull, at least in the hands of your average TV-level director. So showrunners cut corners with verisimilitude and jazz up the action level of the scripts in order to fit the intellects and tastes of the typical TV viewer… with results you see.

    Frankly, the wonder is that TV gets it right at all.

    I got rid of my TV when my kids came along*, but from what I hear the programming of today’s television makes the days of Gilligan’s Island and Bewitched look like the Stratford Theatre. They don’t call it the Idiot Box for nothing.


    * Full disclosure: I watch AMC’s Mad Men on the computer screen via download.

    1. Actually, we’re in the mists of a second golden age of television right now. Unlike the pap of the 70s (I’m watching Hawaii 5-0, Quincy, ‘n Emergency! on NetFlix: guilty pleasures), modern show have pretty good long form story telling w/ characters that actually grow and change. Also there does seem to be a stronger effort to get the tech either correct or at least consistent.

      1. How can you say we’re in a golden age of television when Revolution isn’t yanked off the air 3 minute in?

        1. I agree completely. The writing for the central character is beyond stupid, certainly her decision-making never reflects any lessons learned living for 15 years scavenging and eking out an existence in a suddenly pre-industrial world

          1. This is not to say there isn’t HUGE swaths of stupid. I’m looking at you “Last Resort”. But there is also a lot of good stuff. Ya gotta look beyond the big 4 networks though.

        2. A screenwriter read one of S. M. Stirling’s “Change” books and thought, “Neat idea. How can we avoid paying him royalties?”

          Hey–it isn’t The Starlost.

      2. I don’t know about golden age but Sons of Anarchy, The Walking Dead, Justified, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Hell on Wheels, and several other shows are pretty good entertainment. And who doesn’t like Archer?

  3. How does Babylon 5 fare in realism? I recall reading that the producers got JPL on board to help ensure the physics were right. But I suspect that only the Earth Alliance was bound by reality. All the more advanced races employed magic.

    1. I’m just now systematically watching Babylon 5 (which I’d only seen here and there in its original run)–I see a lot in space combat that reminds me of the later BSG. At least for the non-super races.

      1. I’m a huge B5 fan. It’s a great epic story of the rise and fall of nations and the politics therein. W/O all the angsty soap-opera stuff that turned me off the new BSG. However, the only seasons you need to watch are 2-4. The first season has some setup but they were really still finding their feet. And the 5th is completely expendable. A casualty of being unexpectedly renewed and having to stretch out a 5 ep subplot into a whole season. Do watch the last ep, “Sleeping in the Light”, it’s an excellent closing to the series.

        1. I’m enjoying it quite a bit–the second season really started rocking. I find it a lot easier to overlook its deficiencies with the strength of the stories and the characters.

        2. The best episode in B-5 was “The Illusion of Truth”. We’re kinda living through it right now. The last episode I am still waiting for in my lifetime.

      2. B5 is IMO one of the best sci-fi series ever. The only Star Trek series I actually liked was TNG. Other than that I guess I would have to add Stargate SG-1 and Doctor Who to the list. Anyone remember Space: Above and Beyond?

        The latter BSG series had some annoyances I could never get over in it. The leaders were seldom inspiring and the story seemed to keep going on and on forever. Still it was an improvement over the old series which was less interesting, to me at least, than Buck Rogers in the 25th century.

    2. I did a bit of technical consulting for Babylon 5 back in the day, so I’m a bit biased, but they were and I believe still are at the top of the list for realistic (detailed) space warfare. As far as “magic”, everybody had FTL drives and some races had artificial gravity. Humans and Narns did not; either everyone is strapped in, or the ship has a rotating section.

      Newtonian physics, yes, and that applied to everyone. It wasn’t immediately obvious because the camera angles are set to track the ship and provide dramatic visuals; you can’t assume that the TV-screen reference frame is inertially fixed (unless there’s a massive foreground object, e.g. Babylon 5, centered on the screen, and then they tried extra hard to get it right).

      B5 was also among the first to seriously depict space battles at beyond visual range. Check out the second season’s “Long Twilight Struggle”, the battle between the Narn and Shadow fleets. You’ll see Narn cruisers and Shadow Battlecrabs, but never both at the same time – and energy weapon fire is seen to either disappear into or come out of infinity.

      1. Very interesting. I knew the EA and Narns were limited by Newton. I always figured they played looser w/ the older races since they were more advanced. Guess the tracking shots threw me. I worked a few days for B5 huffin ‘n gruntin’ back when was freelancing. They offered me full time but I couldn’t take it. Frackin unions!

    3. All the more advanced races employed magic.

      Yes, well, sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, right?

      Loved the Vorlons’ living ships. When Dr. Jacobs emerges from Kosh’s ship, where he was forced to hide, he says while I was asleep… the ship… it sang to me

      Brilliant and poignant imagining.

  4. Is it a given that combat will be at long distance and you can’t hide?

    So ballistic weapons are pretty much out. They can be intercepted (with sand) or the target ship can just move out of the way.

    Guided weapos may still be ok. Which runs out of fuel first, the torpedo or target? The torpedo would use laser targeting from the firing ship and save its fuel for terminal guidence. The firing ship would use an electric gun to give the torpedo its initial velocity saving fuel.

    I guess that leaves lasers and laser shields (dust) which let’s you get rid of heat from your own lasers returning fire. How often could a laser fire and what would be the recharge time? Would fighters be able to close the gap before being fried? Could a fighter get close enough for bullets to work? How many would you lose for just one to get through? Sounds like a high attrition rate. I wouldn’t want to be a fighter pilot.

    1. Which runs out of fuel first, the torpedo or target?
      Postulate -10- torpedoes with higher acceleration. -> Some get there barring other countermeasures than just moving.

      Would fighters be able to close the gap before being fried?
      Think ‘Drones’ not ‘fighter-with-pilot’. And think (again) of swarms. Tough to decide without knowing the relative numbers of both – quite similar to trying to take out a modern destroyer with missiles.

    2. Sand = mass for the defending ship, so you take a performance hit lugging it around, not to mention potentially running out of it.

      I’m not sure sand would be that good of an anti-laser defense either. Any laser powerful enough to hurt a ship would melt through the sand very quickly, and even a powerful laser (megawatt-level) would need a couple of seconds hold time to burn through a hull.

      1. Any laser powerful enough to hurt a ship would melt through the sand very quickly
        If I recall correctly, I think that just makes it -worse-. That is: Congratulations, you’ve converted solids to gases. And then energized gases. And then dissociated monotomic particles. And possibly plasma.

        My spectroscopy days are fading from memory, but the electron-promotion rules for the -ground- state electrons are much stricter than for already-excited electrons. And plasma does wild things.

        But regardless: All of the material is still there. All you’ve done is raise the temperature. Higher temperature means higher spherical heat dissipation as T^4. The sand doesn’t have any particular physical structure to be disrupted.

        Hitting the -hull- of something does mean the material is losing its connection to the ship. Which is a problem.

        Getting -enough- sand in the area is a problem though.

      2. Why sand and not water, which serves other purposes? It was the proposed solution for long duration travel to Mars. Create a hollow column of water for the crew to crawl into when exposed to a SME beyond the Van Allen belts.

        I do accept that heated sand could likely fill a hole created by a penetrator while water would just jettison through the hole.

        1. Water is easier to deploy and if you can get it to freeze you’ll get a nice reflective cloud.

          I still think any militarily useful laser would go through the cloud like grass through a goose. It might be useful to block the fine visible targeting you’d need for a laser to score a hit.

          1. Tradeoff – sand can be replaced between battles from asteroids, other debris; if given a vector toward the laser source, it remains between source and target but is less likely to become a plasma jet aimed at the vessel. A slower laser-firing missile/drone can get through the sand, but gives more time for other countermeasures to target and remove it…

  5. They don’t use “Shipping Containers”, “Shipping Pods(1)”, or seatbelts in general either.

    The ships mostly seem to get all of their crap through woefully undersized “cargo hatches” either by hand-carrying or the occasional pallet-jack analogue.

    Just imagine actually -loading- the Millennium Falcon. There’s a ramp. That seems to lead immediately to a tight crossroads. Serenity: -Large- ramp (Good!) leading to a single almost-decent sized room. Partially (10%?) filled with puny boxes piled one or two deep. And all the exits are one-man-wide and appear to be too small for even the small crates we’re talking about.

    The only ships with things like a standard shipping container that I can recall are so large they’d need a wall of containers daily. “Sneaking around the hanger bay” on things like the Death Star occasionally has something container-like in size. But no provisions for loading or unloading hundreds of them.
    (1) Where ‘Shipping Pod’ is just a larger variant of a shipping container – something with standardized dimension, standardized external hardpoints, and standardized loading gantries etc.

    1. The Firefly class design is pretty good, as you mention. It wouldn’t be optimized for standard containerized cargo, since many deliveries would be to colonies without mechanized handling equipment. The ship would need to have all unloading equipment. Serenity is more like a small tramp cargo ship operating on the African coast, not the container ships that move from the US to China or Europe.

      Also, on runs where Serenity was full of cargo containers, nothing interesting happens, so we don’t see them. We only see the smuggling operations, where the cargo is small and valuable.

      1. But it’s -almost- good.

        Like you said, when it’s -full- it would be uninteresting. And nothing too wrong with “Big damn room” when you’re shipping cattle. But the room’s vertical space seems to have no particular method of utilization. There would seem to be room for -three- decks of cattle for the cattle run episode. And shelving/scaffolding/tie-downs for all of the ‘cargo for somewhere else’. The cattle -who-aren’t-getting-seatbelts- would probably be pretty freaking happy to find out the ceiling is only a foot above their heads.

        I’ve worked on an actual tramp freighter to the Aleutian islands. (Beer in, fish out.) The whole point was stuffing from the deck to the ceiling, end-to-end. If you’re ‘partially unloading’ somewhere, you’re strapping the hell out of the wall-of-crap that you’re not offloading.

        Or. You have a -mountain- of crap sitting on the dock. Not three crates.

      1. One of my favorite science fiction ships. Someone should license the design for lunar transports 🙂

    2. If they ever put the Millennium Falcon on screen again, they could retcon a logical cargo loading system without changing the Falcon’s external appearance.

      This is not an official blueprint (the missile tubes were my first clue), but it solves the cargo loading issue by installing a large cargo elevator in the hold. Problem with the design is that you can’t load the elevator area all the way to the top. I would install a top hatch, and loading would be accomplished by antigrav droid loading pallets.

      Placing the cargo bay at the end of the ship opposite the main entry ramp was dumb.

  6. I concluded the purpose of slingshotting Vipers was (as stated above) to get them away from the base ship ASAP and at a great enough delta-vee that they needed to be targeted separately from the base ship, thus creating additional strain on enemy fire-control processing.
    Leaving base too slowly would make it too easy for enemy guns to pick them off as they launched.

    As for supply lines, that was the point of the base ships — though they would best be kept well back from the point of contact, far enough that they could evade long-range direct attacks in spite of their mass. Flying Pegasus into the midst of a concentration of Cylon base ships, as was done in both series, was pure suicide (though at least in the later series the command staff and crew had an escape scenario in hand).

    1. I’ll also suggest that an arrested Viper recovery would be a quicker evolution than requiring the Viper to slow down to the Battlestar’s speed. You could recover the vehicles faster, reducing their vulnerability to hostile fire.

      1. Yep. There might not be this necessity if the base ship has a defensive force field that extends out a significant distance, somehow repelling enemy munitions but not friendly spacecraft, but such technology would more likely be used as part of a redundant process that would still use high-speed traps. Why put your men and materiel at the mercy of one counter-measure if you have several?

  7. Actually, coarse sand and fine gravel would be a damn good offensive weapon. Fire a warhead on a torpedo filled with such sand, and a nominal bursting charge. When the torpedo is close enough, you detonate the warhead, and now you have millions of tiny, high speed projectiles expanding in a cone on the direction of travel. Some will hit the target, and you could even make up for inaccuracies by detonating one or more well away from the target, and count on the density to get you at least a few hits.

    1. I always imagined rockets with ball bearings loaded in such a way to blast in a cone. Get the rockets close enough and the cone could be wide enough that the ship cannot maneuver out of the way. It would only take a BB sized pellet at high speed in space to ruin somebodies lunch. Put enough armor on the ship to protect against this type of attack and the fuel cells to move and slow down the weight of such a ship would be enormous

    2. The problem with that as an attack is the mass penalty of the missile that has to accelerate the shrapnel warhead to the KE required for reliable leathality, versus the need to retain enough in-flight delta-V to match perpendicular accelerations of the target ship so it doesn’t just sidestep the attack cloud. As the ranges become very large, the flight time of the missile is also very large, exposing it or the fragments to an extended burn with laser counter-fire that will defeat the warhead and vaporize the incoming sand. The missile has to deploy the shrapnel before it gets close enough to have its guidance and propulsion defeated by beam counter-fire, and the greater that range is, the easier it is for the target to evade the unguided portion of the shot’s flight.

      The sand particles have a highly predictable trajectory, so the ship only has to vaporize a ship size hole in the incoming shrapnel, given tracking unknowns or any small residual delta-V in a smart-grain with a tiny chemical engine. Reducing the flight time of the missile, to get through the effective kill radius of counter-missile beams more rapidly, requires increases the initial mass of the missile, and as the design game works out, the beam weapons are gaining power and range much faster than heavier missiles are gaining kill probability.

      There’s a stage where the ball-bearing attack works well (poor laser defense and very limited target maneuverability), but that stage wouldn’t last very long if technical evolution was making continuing advances.

      1. Actually, it seems to me that you could cut down the warning a potential target might have to almost nothing, making any attempt at countermeasures problematic.

        First, you can design a “nose cone” for the missile that reflects almost all of the radar energy away from the target. It doesn’t even have to be fancy, a simple pyramid shape would work fine. Also, to minimize the chance it would be detected visually, you could paint it black, and by using a backward looking sensor, you could actively heat or cool that pyramid to the same temperature as the background, minimizing the infrared signature.

        Seems to me we could implement something like that now, and rather cheaply. Use a coil-gun type launcher to minimize the signature on launching, and use cold gas jets for what limited maneuvering it may need to do.

        Also, given the rather limited maneuvering capability of any spacecraft in the foreseeable future, you could also fire this thing towards the vicinity of the enemy craft, and it could have enough intelligence to aim itself. So if for instance the target applies some delta-V in any direction after the round is fired, it can offset that by changing its orientation so that when it detonates, the target will be within the “pattern”. In essence, a flying shotgun that aims itself.

        1. Ah, I had thought along similar lines, but there’s an interesting corollary; those missiles are hard to take out by the target, but another ship at a distance will have a better angle – they defend each other. Now it turns into a game of formations…

        2. Yes, the formation game gets very, very interesting, and leads into formations that maneuver against each other.

          The stealth missile problem is that cold-gas thrusters have a very low specific impulse, greatly limiting the delta-V of the missile to track a target with a more-efficient drive system with greater potential delta-V. If the missile is traveling along the X-axis, the target just moves along the Y-axis, and if the missile can’t follow in Y, it misses.

          If the target is just using chemical propulsion, you could of course just run it out of fuel by firing a sequence of missiles it has to dodge. But if the target has an efficient nuclear propulsion system the attacker has to expend an enormous number of missiles before getting a chance at a hit.

          That means there’s a technlogical window where the missile attack can work well (No laser defense and target and missile are both using chemical propellants), and a level where it starts failing because a more-efficient target can use frequent periodic maneuvers that the missiles have to track, and that forces the missile designers to adopt high ISP propulsion systems that ruin their stealth.

          But there’s also an interesting design region where you could use some of the same stealth techniques as penetration aids to get the missile through intense counter-missile laser fire, such as the needle-nose grazing angle missile, where 100% of the incoming photon energy from ahead just glances off. Those missiles have to be hit from off-angle, again creating formations for mutual-defense. The needle-nose can be turned into a pie-plate to survive against a single-plane of laser batteries, but keeping a third defender out of plane defeats the pie-plate attack.

  8. One factor to consider regarding ship concealability: real-life detection technology (radar, radio telescopes, infra-red detectors, etc). are not instantaneous. FTL ships could exploit that IF they knew the location of the enemy target in advance.

    If we develop FTL tech based on artificial “wormhole” generation (a la Carl Sagan’s Contact, and apparently the BSG jump drive and the Stargates), Earth better have defenses against waves of missiles instantaneously appearing in its atmosphere. The missiles themselves wouldn’t need FTL – the launching ship could open the wormhole.

    On a different topic, I’ve pondered the challenge of interplanetary communications. My solution is a merger of hypothetical wormhole-drive tech with IBM token ring LAN architecture. The “token,” a small data-ferrying ship, bounces from system to system via “stargates.” (Or, since each system would have military starships defending the system, one of them can send the token ship to its next destination. Might as well give those ships some peacetime duties.) It would require cheap energy, perhaps a number of solar satellites collecting energy and sending it via microwave to the stargate/starship launching the token.

    The token system is necessary for transporting large volumes of information at once. For a brief transmission such as emergency military communications or a distress signal, the sending ship can simply open a wormhole to the intended destination and broadcast into it.

    1. defenses against waves of missiles instantaneously appearing in its atmosphere. This is why most SF, especially written SF, tends to have limitations to their FTL drives such that they don’t work right up close to a planet. Being able to come out of FTL on top of a planet makes for short wars and short stories.

      1. That sounds familiar, and it wasn’t a short story. If I recall it was suicide, with the last transmission being “Allah akbar” I think. Caused a tsunami. Driving me somewhat crazy because googleing/amazoning I can’t find it.

        1. Curt,

          Perhaps you are thinking of the Lensmen series? One neat strategy was to open a worm hole by a planet and send another planet into it. All that was left was a debris field that would eventually form a much larger planet. Hmmm, maybe that is where Super Earths come from…

          1. The solution to launching a planet at another planet was to put an inertialess drive on the second planet. The solution to the solution was to pancake the target planet between two planets with opposite intrinsic velocities–there’s nowhere for the target to move to.

  9. Years ago when I was still blogging, I wrote a half-dozen or so posts on the physics of space fleet combat, from the fundamentals of ships maneuverability, speed, and size affects tactics (galleons or fighter planes) to missile and laser physics. From the page views, the Air Force Academy might’ve been using it in a course.

    It might make an interesting background for a sci-fi novel since it provides a readily understandable basis for a natural evolution of ships and weapons.

    Beams beat missiles, a typical post.

    Basically, the implication is that something the size of an O’Neill colony, contrary to previous assumption, would give total military dominance over both missiles and direct beam weapons becasue it could track and destroy anything that could threaten it – unless someone got very clever with grazing-angle hulls and nested spinning hulls, and perhaps uni-directional mirror tricks. Aside from that, the best attack strategies are hacking, sabotage, and infiltration via the colony’s supply lines. There’s bound to be some good plots in all that. 🙂

    1. For those who missed it, free ice cream geek food at George’s link.

      I do think there is a miss between the precision shot capability of beam vs the shotgun affect a missile can provide. I think the concept most are bringing up with missile is accelerating a fragmenting mass that does wide damage.

  10. George,

    Ben Bova already used infiltration themes in his Grand Tour series to threaten an O’Neill habitat around Saturn. A similar mini-O’Neill at Ceres was destroyed by laser but it had no defense. The best weapon however was a small package of assorted Nanobots of the Gobbler Type that was used to take out a harden facility in the asteroid belt.

  11. Create a species of genetically modified birds, give them an irate demeanor, and then use a large sling shot to catapult them into the ship and break it into pieces. *scratches chin* Call them: Furious Avians.

  12. Any target that can’t maneuver, like a planet, is dead from a kinetic hit. So you need a phalanx of ships (which you really never could have enough of) to form a picket. The problem then is that the weapon isn’t heading straight in, it’s in orbit around the sun and will probably come from the sun side to hit.

    Add FTL and all targets are dead once detected. Kinetic weapon appears a millimeter from your hull. No time to react. The only defense would be random FTL zigzags like Warships in WW2.

    I read a story where the fleet would arrive in a system and know that they couldn’t be detected for several hours because they arrived FTL. The defenders once moving would have the same advantage. The tactical question becomes how much time it takes to prepare for FTL and how long they can stay in it.

    Could a ship in FTL drive even be hit?

    1. It depends on the assumption about the FTL methods. NASA plans some experiments on a theoretical FTL system based on expansion and compression of space – recent article.

      For that type of drive, the speed of light outside the field is normal so there’s no way to see the ship coming or predict a firing solution within any conceivable non-FTL firing envlope (no taret information in places where a beam could be sent on an intercept path, and it outruns any beams from the narrow cone where its path could be determined).

      The only solution is to have another FTL ship track it from within the narrow light-cone to the rear (like staying in a submarine’s baffles) and overhauling it until its field could be disrupted by the field of an FTL torpedo approaching from the rear, which would probaby result in a collision with extremely high KE.

  13. A drone with FTL capability that can suck another ship into its warp field and drag it into a star.

  14. Perhaps these exotic weapons are the answer to the Fermi Paradox. Once a species obtains FTL they scatter to hide from each other. And never reveal themselves, even to the primitives, in case its a trap.

  15. One of my favs these days is Starship Operators. The premise is totally out there (Cadets running a guerilla war against the people that conquered their planet after the regular crew decamps) but they made something of an effort to get the physics more or less right.

    Equally enjoyable was Elizabeth Moons’ Trading in Danger series.

  16. TV writers rarely get space anywhere near right. About the only place I’ve seen it done well is in games. I’ve long been a fan of how the BattleTech universe (board games & novels) handled spaceborne combat. Speed comes into play only as a boost for any ballistic weapons used (which are a majority of weapons on most ships, but far from the only option), and then only in “high-speed pass” battles in deep space.

    More often you fight in orbit around a planet, where you need to worry about gravity, acceleration and heading (if I expend so many gee of thrust – always through the tailpipe – but start my turn flying sideways through space at so many km/s, what’s my new vector going to be? Should I spend a half-gee of acceleration with OMS thrusters to adjust my heading relative to my trajectory, and another half-gee to keep from spinning like a top during the main-engine burn? Do I even have enough reaction mass to make the main-engine burn? And what about the pull from the planet I’m orbiting? Etc). That’s basic spaceflight, but in combat there are other considerations. Like, how far can my weapons reach in a given (“1 minute”) turn, and how far can the enemy’s? How much armor have I got left, and how much does he have? With the damage I’ve taken so far, what happens if I hit the atmosphere (where a different ruleset comes into play for atmospheric flight). Can I safely land this wounded bird, or are we in for some “deconstructive lithobraking” today?

    The areas where it falls down are that it’s only 2-D (as a tabletop game, 3-D movement is theoretically possible but a royal pain in bookkeeping, so the game models only a 2-D-ish space), and that they don’t do an effective job of targeting radiators (“heat sinks” in the game jargon) to limit your opponent’s energy-weapon options – it’s strictly “heat neutral” over the duration of a turn.

    (Side note: there’s also no artificial gravity in the setting: “If you don’t want to float around, you either turn [spin] for it, or burn [constant thrust] for it.”)

  17. IIRC, Steve Den Beste did a humungous write-up on ship-to-ship space combat several years ago. It’s still worth looking at, if anyone wants to search his archives.

    1. That’s what my posts were about. Steve Den Beste made some assumptions about heat signatures and I backtracked to the more fundamental aspects of how you decide whether to design for dodging or maneuvering, and then went into the dynamics of combat (position, velocity, acceleration, energy delivery, etc), and how the physics determines the weapons and tactics.

      As an aside, I’m pretty sure that the physics will produce layers rotating hulls in any type of long-range beam combat where the counter-rotation rate of the layers is comparable to the cutting rate of the weapon. For a simple analogy, an oxy-acetylene cutting torch can cut through thick steel, but it’s stymied by two steel disks that are rotating in opposite directions.

      If it tracks the movement of the first disk, the hole it made presents it with a second disk that’s scrolling past the hole so fast that the torch barely warms the second layer. So to effectively burn through the second layer it has to cut an entire ring out of the first layer. Add a third disk and it has to cut out two rings to make a hole. Basically, each conta-rotating layer forces the cutter to cut a ring or a large slice, instead of punching a hole, to be able to target and track a specific spot on the layer underneath. We don’t currently use any such technique because our kinetic and shaped charge weapons attack over millisecond scales to defeat inches of armor, whereas long range laser weapons would be more like a cutting torch.

        1. You constantly resurface with oil as described for Orion propulsion. However it’s done, the laser has to keep on target until the oil runs out or the laser runs out of power.

        2. You could also just actively cool your surfaces. Remove enough heat fast enough and the laser can’t make a dimple. I’m thinking a beryllium plating over whatever the hull material is along with some fluid pumped behind the plating.

  18. I think the first shields will be physical. A thin advanced material, maybe reflective, that you hang off of your capital ships like a picket of destroyers. Maybe the moments of burn-through would be enough to deploy a movable secondary layer, and counter-fire. More like an origami shield than tank armor.
    It would also prevent precise targeting, which could be a problem with lasers, even at distance. Hate to have all the sensors and assorted vital nubbins burned off in the first volley, since no matter how thick your armor is, something is going to stick out.
    For fighting in a planetary system, I would think mini-drones mixed with thousands of tons of small rocks would be the best offense. Too many little targets, too hard to differentiate rocks and robots. It would make a mess of navigation in that area for a while, but space is big.

  19. The Lost Fleet series by Jack Campbell has a lot of material on the subject of space combat over extended distances, how weapons are employed, logistics and travel time within and between star systems, etc.

    1. In that setting, carriers are pretty much written off, on the logic that fighter craft can’t match the thrust-to-mass ratios of small warships (which can also carry more weapons and armor).

  20. There is a false dichotomy here between laser weapons (easy to deflect or scatter by simple means, lots of waste heat, but can’t be dodged) and kinetic weapons (much more difficult to stop, less waste heat but can be dodged). After all, there is a continuum between big projectiles with velocities comparable to real-world artillery and lightspeed weapons; how about milligram-sized projectiles travelling at large fractions of c?

    The logical end point of that train of thought is atomic beams – something like a beam of lead or uranium atoms at something like 0.99c. Atoms, because the beam doesn’t scatter by self-repulsion as an ion beam would; heavy atoms because scattering by diffraction is less of a problem that way. Also, ion beams would eventually become unusable because the ship would acquire an opposite charge.

    The problem of accelerating atoms is actually not really a problem, because it could be addressed by accelerating ions and then injecting electrons at the emitter. As a side benefit for visual SF fans, this would also lead to visible weapon beams – by the light emitted during atomic recombination. 🙂

  21. On a sort of related topic…ever give much consideration as to what it would actually take to invade a planet? Not wipe it out as in Independence Day or Starship Troopers…but invade and conquer, leaving the inhabitants mostly alive. Logistics would be a b…uh…nightmare.
    My idea? Plant a heavily defended factory ship in a resource intensive area…then co-opt the local population via bribery to be your army. Rinse, repeat…until the whole planet is defeated.

    1. One of the most frightening possibilities for the inhabitants might be the simplest. Go sunward of the planet and deploy reflective mylar to create a giant sunshade (using thrust to keep it in position in the closer solar orbit). The planet will face permanent night, plummeting temperatures, and the knowledge that everything but deep ocean thermal vent communities and a few guys huddling in a nuclear reactor complex setting up grow lights, is going to die.

      Assuming the shield is placed about halfway to Venus, we’d know that any rocket we possess would take months to reach it, and then they’d just punch a few holes with nukes (perhaps a mile or so in diameter because nukes don’t work well in space). Such holes could be automatically repaired in a few hours.

      A few day’s demonstration, a week at most, should suffice to bring unconditional surrender. You could also use the mylar segments to focus a planet’s worth of sunlight on a few urban areas and fry them like ants, then let the beam wander around a bit to make sure the message gets across.

      Then of course you fry their space-launch complexes and rocket factories and forbid them from developing any further space-flight capability, so they can’t remove the mylar threat hanging over them. Then you force the entire population to make cat toys. (You can guess where this plan originated.)

      1. Wow…now I’m going to be staying up all night to come up with a counter straterdgy…as my hero Bugs would say…

        1. I’ve never figured out a counter-strategy that could be acomplished with less than several month’s warning, if not several yeas. The shade works at ranges where even beam weapons would have trouble making an impact.

          However, keeping the shade in place either requires constant thrust or a balancing of gravity and light-pressure (it is just a giant solar sail) that might not be practical.

          One cute literary angle on the attack is that in blocking the sun, it also stops the day night cycle, so you get nightfall, the last nightfall, end of days, the age of darkness, etc. 🙂

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