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Ask Slashdot: What Would Real Space Combat Look Like?

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the small-things-throwing-smaller-things-at-small-things dept.

Space 892

c0mpliant writes "Two friends and I were up until the wee hours of the morning over the weekend debating what real space combat would look like. I've spent some time looking it up online, and there doesn't seem to be any general consensus. So, I thought I'd ask a community of peers what they think. Given our current technology and potential near-future technology, what would a future space battlefield look like? Would capital ships rule the day? Would there be equivalents of cruisers, fighters and bombers, or would it be a mix of them all?"

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Laser Beams (2)

busyqth (2566075) | more than 2 years ago | (#39102843)

Laser Beams.
That's all.

Re:Laser Beams (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39102877)

Laser Beams.

That's all.

my mirror shields will take the day

Re:Laser Beams (1)

zero.kalvin (1231372) | more than 2 years ago | (#39102993)

Quantum torpedoes, tetryon beam weapons, metaphasic shields and some neutronium hull plating... Wait a second, I thought this was a Star trek episode!

Re:Laser Beams (5, Insightful)

exploder (196936) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103101)

Laser Beams.

That's all.

my mirror shields will take the day

I think this exchange about sums it up. Your great-great-...-great-grandparents could have sat around 150 years ago wondering what air combat would be like. With hindsight we know that the relative strengths of propulsion, maneuvering, aiming, homing, countermeasures, and automation have been constantly changing, with the result that air combat has looked different in each successive war.

There's no reason to think that the qualitative nature of space combat wouldn't change just as drastically as the eternal arms race continued. Of course, that doesn't mean it's not fun to think about or that there's nothing meaningful that can be said. The exercise is to make a few essentially arbitrary assumptions about available tech, and then try to extrapolate consistently to their implications. AKA writing sci-fi, minus the character development. AKA writing sci-fi.

Re:Laser Beams (4, Interesting)

Peristaltic (650487) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103103)

Or ablative shielding, or maybe even spray dust down the anticipated threat axis. If the enemy laser emits visible light and you have an idea of the laser's frequency, maybe coat the dust particles with something of the same color, or spray multi-colored dust if you don't.

Re:Laser Beams (5, Interesting)

durrr (1316311) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103119)

No such thing as perfect wide spectrum mirrors. Even with massive heatsinking they'll burn out as soon as anything worth the title of a space combat grade pulse lasers winks at them.
As for capital ships, unlikely, they are too big targets and no amount of armor will really prevent a dedicate enemy from putting peppering them with hyperkinetic pinballs.

Barring exotic supertechs spaceships would probably operate on the basis of being relatively small vessels, axial gunmounts with minimal cross section towards the enemies, very powerfull lateral engines and heavily networked to sensor and targeting grids to allow them to simply strafe to whatever tiny safe zone the sensor grid suggests is availible from that metric fuckton of spacegravel coming your way at 120km/s.
As for lasers, sure, they might work at short distances. but as soon as you can do a random walk flight and escape the beam targeting due to the 0,6second light-lag they too turn rather inefficient.

My vision of space combat is rather few ships, but very nasty and advanced supermunitions to blow the shit out of the enemy staging area/home base, and some additional to clear any ships or large munitions passing in the no-mans-land that is the cold black vacuum.

Re:Laser Beams (2)

wagnerrp (1305589) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103123)

Mirrors are not perfect reflectors. Pump enough heat into a sufficiently small area, and you will destroy the mirror and breach the protection. Mirrors are only good over a certain frequency range. Use a free electron laser such that you can modulate the frequency to whatever you please, and you can choose one that will heat the mirror will heat up much faster. The higher reflectivity your mirror, the more fragile it tends to be. Use a relativistic particle beam instead, and the mirror is useless.

Re:Laser Beams (1)

AK Marc (707885) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103129)

If your ship is 100% covered in perfect mirrors, then you'll never be able to fire back, or even see where you are going.

Re:Laser Beams (3, Funny)

zugmeister (1050414) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103023)

But... But... Where do you put the sharks?

Had to say it.

Re:Laser Beams (2)

Dyinobal (1427207) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103041)

I have to agree Lasers make the most since if you're fighting at any distance in space, that is unless you have some sort of weapon that travels faster than light by even a small magnitude. Though the Honor Harrington series does make interesting use of missiles and small fighter craft.

Re:Laser Beams (2)

zero.kalvin (1231372) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103117)

Highly unlikely! reflecting materials can defeat it. Most likely MASER's http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maser [wikipedia.org] , kinetic weapons for fast attacks, and nuclear weapons for more destruction.

Re:Laser Beams (1)

zero.kalvin (1231372) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103153)

Wait Masers wasn't what I was looking for... I was going for charged particles, like a super LHC beam or something.

Re:Laser Beams (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39103167)

Don't forget space-sharks.

noise (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39102849)

It would be a lot louder than what you see on TV

In Space no can hear you scream (0)

Dupple (1016592) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103031)

Only in the craft itself briefly. Sound needs a medium to resonate.

Re:In Space no can hear you scream (2)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103085)

There's always the interstellar medium. There's not much of it, but its there. With all the cheesy "turn images and graphs into computer generated sounds" that I've had to suffer thru over the decades, that is one that I've never heard but would enjoy hearing. Sample, Fourier transform, play back at a substantially accelerated speed, all done.

First! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39102853)


Re:First! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39103203)

guess again

Whatever you smoked... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39102857)

I want some of it.

semi-hitchhiker's (1)

alphatel (1450715) | more than 2 years ago | (#39102859)

The equivalent of a diode, with billions of apps and micro adapters, warp cores, micro-nuclear power generators and packs a punch that would cause more damage than all of this little planet's resources combined.

The war in space will be the smallest race.

Re:semi-hitchhiker's (1)

pinfall (2430412) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103029)

IPhone vs Android with great big pointy teeth!

If the matrix taught us anything... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39102863)

There won't be any space combat, it will be tied into the matrix :)

Space Debris. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39102865)

Lots and lots of space debris.

swift, distant and anonymous (5, Interesting)

sg_oneill (159032) | more than 2 years ago | (#39102867)

unmanned drones sniping the shit out of each other over ridiculous distances using lasers and maybe perhaps anti-matter "nukes".

It would be brief, anonymous, and if any of the targets where manned, mercifully swift. It'd make a boring anime.

Re:swift, distant and anonymous (2)

Fallingcow (213461) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103099)

Yeah, pretty much that.

Little to no action inside line of sight. Probably a lot of use weapons that can hit indirectly (flak shells, nukes, etc.) Area denial (spreading a bunch of ball bearings all over the place) likely as a last-ditch MADD-type effort. My money'd be on cheap, small, one-time-use smart missiles being the most common weapon, probably just trying to get close enough to fire a ton of shrapnel in the direction of their target rather than actually hit it. As a rule, the bigger the object the faster it's dead.

Given the vastness of space... (5, Insightful)

AngryDeuce (2205124) | more than 2 years ago | (#39102869)

My prediction: slow and boring.

Re:Given the vastness of space... (4, Insightful)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103131)

My prediction: slow and boring.

Based on my experience in the military 20 years ago, it will remain the same as today... 99.99% boring as all hell; a bad dilbert cartoon would be better, and 00.01% holy cow. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Peers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39102873)

What makes you think we are your peers? You Earthlings are pitifully weak, un-evolved, and generally dull-witted ...

Are we talking human on human battles? (3, Interesting)

danbert8 (1024253) | more than 2 years ago | (#39102881)

I'm pretty sure space combat would consist of humans trying to kill each other in space considering if there are aliens, we are unlikely to ever meet them, and if they make it this far, they aren't going to waste their precious resources trying to kill us.

And as far as mankind on mankind action, I'd guess it would amount to throwing small masses at high velocity at each other (throwing rocks in a glass house).

Re:Are we talking human on human battles? (4, Insightful)

snarkh (118018) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103107)

> and if they make it this far, they aren't going to waste their precious resources trying to kill us.

Actually, if they make it this far, killing us (if they are inclined to do so) would be a trivial exercise, like shooting fish in a barrel.

Re:Are we talking human on human battles? (4, Insightful)

dcollins (135727) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103179)

Better comparison -- Like spraying insecticide on an ant nest.

Not sure what it would look like, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39102883)

I know it wouldn't sound like Doppler shifted engine revs or "pew-pew" lazars.

At least until Lucas digitally re-mastered it...

some sort of guided explosive device (1)

walterbyrd (182728) | more than 2 years ago | (#39102891)

I suppose missals that could detect the other vessel, and guide themselves there, would make the most sense.

Re:some sort of guided explosive device (5, Funny)

Bill Hayden (649193) | more than 2 years ago | (#39102995)

And what would these missals [wikipedia.org] contain? A harshly worded message from the Pope? I will grant you, though, that a missal travelling at some fraction of the speed of light would still do quite a bit of damage.

Re:some sort of guided explosive device (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39103051)

Sombody please mod parent up, this is probably the funniest comment I've ever read on slashdot.

Re:some sort of guided explosive device (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39103127)

LOL, Amen brother! This comment made remember the missals in the pews when I was Roman Catholic.

Re:some sort of guided explosive device (1)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103177)

I would like to add to this: proximity fuse, and lots of hard objects packed in with the explosives. It is going to be hard to guide a missile to a spacecraft (which can and probably will be moving very fast), so you are going to want to have the missile get close enough to punch lots of holes in the craft's hull. Additionally, you do not actually need to "blow up" a spacecraft, you just need to depressurize it, assuming there are human occupants, or mess with electronics etc.

Another big challenge is going to be avoiding all the debris that would be created during the battle. I expect that the battles will involve moving very quickly away from previously destroyed spacecraft, and so you will see groups of ships moving parallel to each other while deploying whatever weapons they have. Perhaps the battles will be very quick shootouts, with each side retreating from the debris, regrouping, and preparing for the next shootout.

To put things in perspective: a painchip can create a small crater in the space shuttle's wing. Imagine what a ball bearing could do.

Big Bang Theory meets... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39102899)

This is like the Big Bang Theory meets the Pineapple Express. My question: when you began consuming the brownies, did you know they had hashish in them?

Try Project Rho/Atomic Rocket... (5, Informative)

stoicfaux (466273) | more than 2 years ago | (#39102901)

Lots of good data here, from reality to various levels of sci-fi.: http://www.projectrho.com/rocket/spacewarintro.php [projectrho.com]

Re:Try Project Rho/Atomic Rocket... (1)

stoicfaux (466273) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103115)

It's not overly clear, but you'll want to click on the "Show Topic List" in the upper right corner.

If you want to jump directly to conventional space weapons: http://www.projectrho.com/rocket/spacewarintro.php [projectrho.com]

Red and blue lasers obviously (1)

Liquidrage (640463) | more than 2 years ago | (#39102903)

Maybe some green ones, but I think mostly red and blue.

Or, given our current tech, nukes and explosives missiles and small ships? Just going out on a limb there.

Far future? I'll let you know when we invent the tech that lets us easily have space fights.

Humans or no? (5, Interesting)

Kickboy12 (913888) | more than 2 years ago | (#39102905)

I always thought the idea of having humans on board a "space battle cruiser" were really weak on imagination. It's very likely space battles would take place with autonomous robots, controlled from a distance, so as not to sacrifice human lives. This, in general, is probably the future of military combat. A million little nano bots would also be much more effective in waging a battle than 1 or 2 giant ships with laser beams (also weak on imagination).

Re:Humans or no? (1)

sirsnork (530512) | more than 2 years ago | (#39102979)

When talking space distances controlling them remotely quickly becomes impractical due to the time it takes for commands to be sent.

The Babylon 5 creators spent a lot of time thinking about this too. So from that aspect the show is quite good, except they put sound in space.

Re:Humans or no? (1)

SJHillman (1966756) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103139)

I imagine AI will continue to advance quickly. If AI was developed enough and foolproof enough that you could just issue strategic commands (proceed to sector A, engage any object with a threat level above 9) and leave the tactical decisions to the drone. Any problems about not being able to change or rescind commands quickly would hold just as true for a human crew.

Re:Humans or no? (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103193)

When talking space distances controlling them remotely quickly becomes impractical due to the time it takes for commands to be sent.

Literature/culture problem. We are only permitted binary thinking, so robots must either be radio controlled cars with weapons, or they must be more human than some humans, like Cmdr Data or Cherry 2000. It is a thoughtcrime to have a robot exist somewhere in between, just as its a thoughtcrime to not be a devout republican or democrat, or christian or anti-christian.

The real world is most likely to have them be fairly autonomous. A bit smarter than an off the shelf air to air missile, but probably not a heck of a lot smarter.

Re:Humans or no? (1)

PlatyPaul (690601) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103019)

That, plus you wouldn't have to worry so much about a particular "ship" hitting or generating debris.

Re:Humans or no? (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103021)

Yeah that takes care of the battle part. After the battle the losers, military, civilians, pets, and all get genocided. I donno if you want to count that as part of the battle.

The other problem is own goal action, the problem with a million little nano bots is making sure they all attack the enemy and not yourself by either being reprogrammed, or fooled. Millions of them, yikes. At least with 2 giant ships you only need 2 really intelligent commanders.

Most likely is two giant ships filled with clouds of ultra short range nano bots. Ultra short range so they don't accidentally hit the fatherland.

Re: Humans of no? (1)

PaulMorel (962396) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103083)

People wouldn't give up a fight unless there was a human cost. So the idea that it would be drones is ridiculous. Why would an institution/government waste time killing drones? That won't end the war. If space-war was only drones, then one enemy would take the fight to the population. Basically the concept of space war is a little ridiculous.

Oh boy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39102913)

It wouldn't look anything like in the movies, at all. There is no such technology. A few kinetic kill vehicles to harass the enemy's resources, while the real combat happens below, as always. Besides, it's all about the information nowadays, jam a few transmitters, send out a few viruses, that's it. The hardware-intensive fantasies of the 1960s to 1980s were never anything more than that: delusional fantasies.

lame (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39102923)

Slow news day, eh?

Self-propelled, autonomous munitions (1)

ZaMoose (24734) | more than 2 years ago | (#39102929)

There are two great perils to ship-based weapons that I could foresee, regardless of ship size: heat dissipation and conservation of momentum. Any energy-based weapons would need to dump a tremendous amount of thermal energy off rather short-order, so your ships might have to drag some sort of radiator array behind them, leaving a sweet juicy target.

If you committed to projectile weapons, you would need to have some sort of recoil dampening mechanism/thrust compensator every time you fired the weapon.

So, ideally, you would have semi-autonomous self-propelled munitions that could be dumped, ala chaff or depth charges, and then directed towards their targets at the appropriate time.

Ranges (1)

Anrego (830717) | more than 2 years ago | (#39102931)

Weapon ranges might be an interesting topic, and so might countermeasures, given the lack of gravity.

Beyond that, assuming the ships can generally move, communicate, and fire weapons I imagine a space battle would probably be very similar to naval warfare. The fact that someone can be 3 miles in any direction vs 3 miles in a compass direction I don’t see as really changing much.

Donaldson (1)

Jahf (21968) | more than 2 years ago | (#39102935)

Donaldson tried to tackle this in his Gap series. While no one will get it perfect, he hit on a lot of points (trajectories, small masses at high velocities) that most authors have neglected. Not the best scifi series in the world, but one that didn't get as much respect as it deserved.

Re:Donaldson (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103069)

Mainly because by the time you got to the end of the series, you began to suspect there was something very wrong with Stephen R. Donaldson.

But yes, he did take inertia into account.

Re:Donaldson (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39103143)

I'll nod to this and toss in Peter F. Hamilton's Night's Dawn. Ignoring the crazy Edenist space coral fantasytech, the idea of spherical capital ships spewing dozens of unmanned wasp-fighters that can maneuver at Gs that would crush living things to attack each other while mounted defenses attempt to screen the enemy's wasps seems appropriate. Even this model is broken by the zero-tau chambers being used as a free inertial dampening gimmick so that the big ships can jolt around at mutually insane relative velocities.


Dodging capital-ship class fire, or intercepting it

Sending in close-range drones from a 'safe' distance to do dirty work

and then there are the atomic-level options that don't care what your ship is made of or how fast it is.

I think is time... (1)

lsolano (398432) | more than 2 years ago | (#39102941)

That you and your friends stop playing that video game and have a different hobby.

Over before you know it... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39102949)

Given the possibility of rail guns being on these ships - it would most likely be completely infeasible to design a hull that could take those kind of hits and keep it's structural integrity without massively over sizing the ship, thinking conventionally.
So maybe ships designed to allow impacts to pass right through and auto repair damage would actually be the only way to combat this?
Even so - I'd guess whoever fires first wins. (As long as they aim at the habitable section / bridge / engine )

Re:Over before you know it... (1)

SJHillman (1966756) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103213)

This is sort of how light carriers were built in WWII. I forget the battle, but the Japanese attacked a poorly protected American light carrier group with armor piercing rounds because they expected a heavy battleship escort. The armor piercing rounds passed right through the American ships without exploding, so the carriers were able to retreat. It's much MUCH more effective to only armor the bridge, munitions storage and a few other key systems and leave the rest up to bulkheads to prevent flooding (navy) or decompression (space) rather than armoring the whole damned ship.

Slow and distant (2)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 2 years ago | (#39102951)

First, actions would take place over distances of 1000's of kilometres. Maneuvering would be slow and expensive in fuel use - as would any change in course or speed. In that respect it would be like a naval action from the days of sail.

However the weapons would be directed energy, rather than projectile and the vessels themselves would be almost impossible to detect - partly because of the distances and partly because of the stealthy designs they would employ. Visual detection methods would be almost obsolete, the only exception being to look out for occultations.

It would likely be shockingly simplistic (1)

jayhawk88 (160512) | more than 2 years ago | (#39102957)

...Assuming current level of technology. Like "fire a handful of small rocks at the enemy from a torpedo tube" or "launch several unmanned drones on a collision course". Without any kind of energy shielding tech, you either make your ships incredibly fragile, or cost prohibitive to get into space.

Re:It would likely be shockingly simplistic (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103093)

With current level of technologies; "launch contents of bilge at high velocity" becomes a pretty whiz bang weapon. Death by shit pellets. 'elluva way to go.

Re:It would likely be shockingly simplistic (1)

The_Crisis (2221344) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103151)

either make your ships incredibly fragile, or cost prohibitive to get into space.

Just build it in space. Utopia Planitia perhaps?

One small rock (3, Insightful)

reezle (239894) | more than 2 years ago | (#39102959)

One small rock accelerated for a long enough time then steered at a large ship (or moon or planet) would pretty much be the end of it.
Can't really imagine much combat going on when it's a mutually assured destruction scenario any way you look at it.
Most mass entertainment scenarios make sure that the attacking force needs to capture (not destroy) what they are attacking to make sure this doesn't come up.

I suppose lots of tiny enclaves (small hollowed out asteroids) on both sides could duke it out with small ships. Still can't imagine a large enough industrial base to keep things going very long, though. Anything big enough to build ships would just be destoryed.

Nothing like sci fi (1)

onyxruby (118189) | more than 2 years ago | (#39102971)

For starters ships would look nothing like what you see on sci-fi shows. For example they always put the bridge exposed to the outside with panoramic views. In space that would gain you nothing and be a huge liability. Ships would not have wings and there would be no point in having a ship that was pointy on one end or the other like a sea going one.

The concept of maneuverability in space is completely unrelated to what you would have on the surface. Nothing is gained from having something that is nimble, handling in space is completely unrelated to what you would have from a ship, car or plane on the surface. Form follows function and surface type functions largely are absent in that scenario.

To answer your question you have to look at function. Are you talking about a current theoretical battle between nations in the orbit of our planet or are you talking about deep space? The answers to your questions depend entirely on the scenario and the requirements.

Silent (1)

arth1 (260657) | more than 2 years ago | (#39102973)

It would be silent.
And based on projections, not actual imagery. Because with vast distances, once you see something, it hasn't been there for a while from your perspective.

My guess is that it will be all about hitting bases, and ignoring spacecrafts.

Inertia would be a major factor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39102975)

Just like in sea battles, ships would have to plan way ahead to to their direction, except even more so because there is no water to slow them down.
Since we haven't gotten ray guns working yet, we'd have to use bullets and rockets. Launching anything big enough to do damage to a heavily armored space ship would affect the yaw, pitch and roll of the ship in ways that would make it hard to handle, so we'd want a lot of help from a computer to fire the thrusters to keep the ship on course.
Maintaining even an orbital fleet would probably cost 100 times what it does to float a navy, since you'd have to lift everything first, so not many countries could pull it off.

Same as always (2)

nairnr (314138) | more than 2 years ago | (#39102977)

Well, first come out of your mother's basement and check out what we like to call "daylight". Then go back and roll for damage...

Single exchange of nukes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39102989)

If I had to design a space warship based on modern-day technology, it would probably look probably somewhat similar to a sojuz capsule, except with nuclear missiles instead of solar sails.

The Nuke warheads would be encased in styrofoam or aerogel (to create a nice plasma pressure ball), spiked with depleted uranium or tungsten balls as splinter projectiles.

The whole thing would be painted black, as black as possible, to avoid early detection - because the important thing in a modern space battle is to obscure your precise orbital parameters. The battle itself would probably not look anything like what you know from a scifi movie: Using as many passive sensors (such as telescopes, radar recievers, etc), the first one to notice an approaching foe fires his comple lob of nukes into the approximate orbital plane of the target. He would then eject a couple of realistic-looking inflatable decoys of his own ship, and perform a retrograde burn for rapid re-entry into the atmosphere (since his nukes are spent, what's the use in sticking around?).

The warheads detonate, distributing liquid tungsten at near-relativistic speeds in the vicinity of the target. Most of them won't hit, but some will. No armor possibly protects against them. And if the attacker is very lucky, the other side will not have shot back, or miscalculated his orbital reentry trajectory. That's all.

Notice all of this can easily be done by robots as well. No need to keep humans around.

These lunar tritium freight-shippers will never know what hit them.

Projectile and Particle Weapons (1)

CFBMoo1 (157453) | more than 2 years ago | (#39102999)

Space based rail guns and hitting ground targets are a matter of coaxing the right asteroid to a proper corse to impact a target on a planetary body using a combination of oribital gravity nudges from the gravity of your ship and possibly heating the asteroid/comet at the right locations to vent off material and push the rock to target.

Size Matters (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39103005)

Like every other type of warfare, it depends on the tech available. David Weber's Honor Harrington series has a lot of well-thought-out space combat. Missiles rule the day during one point-in-time but later on miniaturization allows for smaller craft to take down capital ships, allowing for the use of aircraft-carrier style combat.

The main factor will always be: What is the smallest thing we can produce that will carry enough punch to destroy an enemy.

Where is it Happening? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39103013)

Combat in near-Earth orbit would be nothing like interplanetary combat, and in turn in-stellar combat would be vastly different. The distances, velocities, and the weapons would all differ as land, sea, and air combat do.

One thing I can tell you: no dogfights (a la Star Wars and Battlestar), there's no friction or air in space; accordingly, the maneuvering is as easy as thrust vectoring to turn around. Got a bogey on your tail? Turn around and blast him!

The specifics I would hazard: lasers, lasers everywhere! Ballistic and missile weapons are HEAVY, they have recoil, and are subject to extreme travel times at the distances that one encounters in space. Only the largest (likely space-only) ships would have a prayer of using them effectively.

Star based (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39103033)

All our most abundand energy comes from the stars, a good mirror can focus more power than a BIG ass laser.

I foresee colony ships, probes, long range sensor ships, and mirror ships to 'cook' the enemy.

History Channel did it (2)

PrescriptionWarning (932687) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103039)

"The Universe" documentary series had an episode on "Space Wars". Pretty interesting actually, and its up on YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tYvVmPJ-HYE [youtube.com] Space dogfights in particular were pretty crazy in that video, it mostly centered around combat that moved so fast only robots would be able to perform these maneuvers.

Don't forget to bring a towel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39103045)

It would likely resemble the the bong that was being smoked while staying up all night debating what space combat might look like.

Nice reference site (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39103061)

Project RHO has a wonderful compilation of information on this topic, the url below is at the introduction. Just mouse over the top right to get the topic list to see the rest. (The site used to be much easier to navigate, but is a bit stranger since they updated it.)


Or computer space combat? (1)

JCPM (2577407) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103063)

In a combat rich vs poor, the rich always wins.

Blast to the past (2)

SJHillman (1966756) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103071)

I imagine it would bear a resemblance to the old sailing ships. Any maneuvering would have to be done before you engaged the opponent, as it takes quite a bit of energy and fuel to maneuver inside of a vacuum. Ships would try to come at their opponent at a T while firing large mass drivers. Although lasers are more effective in space than on land, I don't think they would be nearly as effective as huge chunks of mass. Electronic launch systems would solve many of the problems with recoil. Lasers would only make sense if the fuel required to power them is more mass-efficient than the combination of fuel required to power mass drives plus the mass itself.

Fighters/bombers like we traditionally think of them probably wouldn't be used. Instead, small single-manned ships could be used to stealthily deliver a single-shot payload - they would operate more like mini-subs carrying a single torpedo.

Read David Weber's Honorverse books (1)

hargrand (1301911) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103073)

David Weber does a fair job at incorporating physics into his space battles... it's a place to start perhaps.

Re:Read David Weber's Honorverse books (1)

Raul654 (453029) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103209)

I've read all the honoverse books and I like them a lot. But the question per-supposed a level of technology that exists today or will exist in the near future. The Honoverse books are set 2,000 years in the future for good reason. With the exception of life-prolonging techniques (Prolong in the books), we're not going to see invent of that technology anytime soon.

Gunbusta! (4, Funny)

Malenx (1453851) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103075)

If I've learned anything from anime, it's that space battles will consist of giant armadas of robots piloted by people who all get slaughtered until a random girl in a giant robot suit with infinite capabilities eventually achieves the self esteem she needs to take the fight straight to the bad guys and wipe them out, escaping at the last possible second.

antimatter cannon (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39103077)

Shoot antimater through a vacuum.
First normal matter it meets - utterly obliterated

then we have the landmines problem on a bigger scale;
after the war there will be unreacted antimatter floating around

Two ships (2, Insightful)

Inda (580031) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103079)

Two ships would face each other, head to head.

The first ship would power the weapons.

The second ship would not, so as not to seem hostile. There's a sense of bravado; manly posturing, but dialogue is the weapon of choice.

The first ship fires a single anti-graviton phase beam.

The second ship explodes because Picard is a pussy.

That's how future space battles are fought.

It would be causalty free. (1)

wbr1 (2538558) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103081)

Mostly SMALL remote control and semi autonomois craft doing things to each other. Since we cannot seem to to get humans out of LEO.
And space opera comes to slashdot.

Seriously? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39103087)

Right now,space battles would look a bit like cowboy showdowns:

One spy satellite encroaches on the territory of a 2nd spy satellite. First satellite to shoot will probably win, with some unknown chance that they both get destroyed. Person with the most armed satellites probably wins, but there's some room for good tech and smart choice of targets to trump numbers.

No humans die outright, though the resulting destruction of communication and navigation satellites may create secondary casualties. It is unlikely that satellite debris creates any serious issues for those planet-side.

Alternative: One unarmed shuttle rams into another unarmed shuttle. The more massive shuttle will win, or it will be a tie. A small crew will die. Unarmed shuttle could knock space station into a death spiral toward the planet, but then the shuttle crew will probably die and the space station crew might die (if a huge hull breech happens and everyone gets vented to space) or evacuate (in any non-instant-death scenario).

In any situation, there would be a lot of heated political planet-side rhetoric and a massive backlash from every nation on the planet against the initial aggressor. The only way to win, long term, would be to make it look like your opponent shot first.

Newsflash: we don't have combat-ready spaceships. Heck, the US doesn't even have spaceships right now, period. We (any country) don't have the capacity or money to build them. We don't have any way to fly them or arm them effectively. There are no capital ships, or even plans for capital ships. Get off Eve and back to the real world, please.

figured out in the 80s (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39103095)

Asseroids on steroids

My take (2)

Raul654 (453029) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103109)

I'm going to start from a few first principles here. First - and I don't think this one is seriously open to dispute - (A) space is an exceptionally harsh, unforgiving environment. Failure in any one of these systems: the hull, the carbon dioxide collectors, the heating unit - will render a space vehicle uninhabitable. A failure in either the engines or navigation system will likely lead to a ballistic course to nowhere.

Now, (B) if the history of human space exploration is any indicator, we really don't know how to build fault-tolerant space systems at all. Almost any malfunction tends to produce a catastrophic outcome. Putting principles A and B together, any battle damage of any sort is likely to render the vehicle unsurvivable and kill all the crew.

Now, consider the expense of launching anything of size. Remember, the ISS is the most expensive structure ever built by man. So the idea of putting large, fragile, massively expensive craft (where they can be shot down by space-capable ballistic or nuclear missiles, or damaged with a ground-based lasers) is a total non-starter.

If you want to know what a real war in space looks like with our current level of technology, it's going to involve small, expendable space-based satellites hiding from ground-based things radar and weapons.

And lastly, *any* space combat is going to dramatically increase the amount of space debris in orbit of earth (as China's test a couple years ago did, or the accidental irridium satellite collission did). Just a few incidents could turn dramatically render Earth's near space too dangerous for manned craft for a long time to come.

Junk vs Junk (1)

Lije Baley (88936) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103111)

Debris will be both a weapon and a shield, and combat will devolve into a very tedious, counter-productive affair.

It would be pretty boring. (4, Interesting)

neiras (723124) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103113)

Silence. Occasionally a small flash off in the distance as a projectile smashes into its target. No need for explosives, just high relative velocity and a high mass projectile. Actually, this is probably what a planetary defense network would look like - thousands of massive projectiles in different orbits, with some means of nudging each one to meet an incoming ship approaching from any direction.

No space fleet would ever fly in close formation. You'd probably have 100km spacing between vessels. Evasive action would be a matter of nudging your heading by a tenth of a degree, thus missing pursuers by hundreds of kilometres. Whoever can detect threats first wins, period - and evasion, not confrontation, probably makes the most sense.

Actually, fleets probably don't make sense - easier to see a cluster of ships travelling together than to see ten ships all on wildly different orbits, all arriving at a specific attack point within minutes of each other. Worse, once you deploy your ships you probably won't have enough fuel to react effectively to a change in the tactical situation. Your plan is locked in at launch. God help you if your enemy's intelligence gathering is good.

Human crew would be nearly useless, unless there were resources to be captured from the enemy which required EVA. Shock troops only, no return trip.

All the pew-pew-pew zoomy shit we see in movies with Cylons banking like fighter jets is just not workable. And honestly, the more I think about it, the less defensible a planet seems to be without massive improvement in detection tech and energy weapons. Even fleet warfare is unlikely; two fleets could easily miss each other and pass in the night.

I think the only space warfare we're likely to ever see is between two enemies sharing a planet. Whoever gets the upper hand in orbit wins.

Battle Space (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39103135)


Mass Effect (5, Informative)

theVP (835556) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103165)

I think they have it right in Mass Effect. It's going to be really really awful and boring. Gunners are going to be mathematicians, and you can turn into some sort of butcher simply by missing.

Gunnery Chief: [as the character enters the Citadel] This, recruits, is a 20-kilo ferris slug, feel the weight. Every five seconds, the main gun of an everest class dreadnought accelerates one to 1.3% of light-speed. It impacts with the force of a 38-kiloton bomb. That is three times the yield of the city-buster dropped on Hiroshima back on Earth. That means- Sir Issac Newton is the deadliest son-of-a-bitch in space. Now! Serviceman Burnside! What is Newton's first law?

Serviceman Burnside: Sir! An object in motion stays in motion, sir!

Gunnery Chief: No credit for partial answers, maggot!

Serviceman Burnside: Sir! Unless acted on by an outside force, sir!

Gunnery Chief: Damn straight! I dare to assume you ignorant jackasses know that space is empty. Once you fire this hunk of metal, it keeps going til it hits something. That can be a ship. Or the planet behind that ship. It might go off into deep space and hit somebody else in ten thousand years. If you pull the trigger on this, you are ruining someones day, somewhere and sometime. That is why you check your targets. That is why you wait for the computer to give you a damn firing solution. That is why, Serviceman Chung, we do not "eyeball it". This is a weapon of mass destruction. You are not a cowboy shooting from the hip!

Serviceman Chung: Sir, yes sir!

Atomic Rocket (2)

func (183330) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103173)

This excellent collection of pages on Space Warfare on the Atomic Rocket website goes into exhaustive detail on just that topic:


I especially love their section on thermodynamics - it's right on. :)

sci fi references (1)

grep_rocks (1182831) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103181)

In the short term there will be no capital ships or space fighters, not with chemical rockets, in the distant future I would recommend reading Larry Niven, specifically Protector or some of his known space books which depict space battles at relativistic speeds, in Footfall he depicts how an Orion type nuclear putt-putt rocket is used in combat near earth. Charles Stross in Singularity Sky also discusses space battles and tactics while trying to stick with (mostly) known physics - none of these more realistic novels depict what you would call capital ships, fighters and cruisers - space is not a 3D version of naval warfare, with projectiles moving at even a small fraction of the speed of light, you get hit you are dead, much of the battle is about not being seen until it is too late.

FFS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39103183)

Go Watch Battlestar Galactica.
The series that aired in 2006 -2008

Attack Pattern Theta Omega 4 Engage (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39103189)

Everything I know about space combat I learnt from Trek :)

More like submarines than battleships or fighters (1)

gman003 (1693318) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103199)

In fiction, you see a few different ideas of what space combat is like, almost always based on some sort of modern-day metaphor. You'll see stuff that's all carriers and small one-man fighters (Star Wars), stuff that's just huge capital ships (Star Trek).

Real-life, I think it would be more like submarine combat, based on a few simple facts:

1) Spaceships are *fragile*. A sub can be taken out by one depth charge a few hundred meters away. You wouldn't even need to be that close to take out the ISS - a fragment the size of a baseball could probably damage it enough to evacuate it. And it would be torpedo-type weaponry - you can't adjust your aim fast enough to trust in a direct hit, so you'd use warheads of some sort set to explode when close enough. Those would either be old-school explosives with fragmentation casing, or nuclear.

2) Space battle would be a long-range, stealth battle. You're dealing, literally, with astronomical distances. Even lasers would take seconds to hours to hit. It's not too hard to hide in space, if you're small and aren't actively making EM noise. I can imagine it would involve a lot of drifting with engines off, a lot of radio silence, and definitely a lot of sneak attacks and ambushes.

Screw ships, go RKVs (4, Interesting)

Eudial (590661) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103201)

Remove ships out of the equation entirely. I don't quite see what they could contribute. They're slow and inefficient, and impossible to give orders in time over large distances.

Relativistic kill vehicles [wikipedia.org] are far more menacing weapons than any ship. It's a reinvention of one of mankind's earliest weapons: The humble rock, thrown at the enemy. But this rock is accelerated very near the speed of light, making it nearly impossible to detect, and completely impossible to stop (if you blow one up, it just increases the destruction). Even a fairly modest RKV can carry the destructive force of a hundreds of atomic bombs and absolutely obliterate it's target.

realistic space combat games (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39103215)

I seem to recall that there was an effort a number of years ago to develop a more or less realistic multiplayer space combat simulator, but I cannot seem to locate it now. What I do recall from reading the site was that actual combat would be inhumanly fast due to stuff moving at relativistic velocities, and would have looooong approach periods to to the size of a star system.

Of course, if you factor in attacks on planetary installations, it becomes rather one-sided, as illustrated by a fair amount of SF treatment of the idea; just mount engines on a bunch of big rocks, accelerate them inward from the outer edges of the star system, and shatter them into fragments a convenient distance from the planet. Nearly impossible to stop, and extremely damaging.

Terrorism writ large (1)

m50d (797211) | more than 2 years ago | (#39103223)

In space, everyone knows where everyone is (scattering sensors around is cheap, and the second law of thermodynamics means there's no way to hide unless you know which direction your enemy's looking from), and everyone can kill everyone else quite easily. Just the velocities involved mean an interstellar ship is a missile (and probably one that can devastate planetary ecosystems); there is no defense other than to strike first, no way to meaningfully armour a ship (even counter-missiles are impractical due to conservation of momentum), and honestly, when it comes to war, no reason to even have ships at all - just launch missiles directly from whatever your bases are.

If we survive long enough as a race to have interstellar travel, I predict people living on artificial habitats inside gas giants and/or stars, the location/flight-plan of each a closely guarded secret (and probably communicating/trading only by meeting on neutral ground), since that seems like the only place you could hide. If you're out in the open, any idiot with a grudge can wipe out your civilization.

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