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Subject: A Different type of space battle.
Miles    3/7/2007 12:35:36 AM
What kind of space battle could you think of, which is different from Star Wars, Star Trek, and Halo. It can be an idea, fact, or something you made up. But it can not be from a novel that you read. It must be different and new.
 
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TrustButVerify    Atomic Rockets   3/7/2007 10:13:35 AM
A good site which discusses space battle in  realistic terms is Atomic Rockets although they're not particularly romantic about it. It sounds like space battle would resemble submarine combat rather than the carrier warfare-esque combat we're used to from Star Wars and Babylon 5.
Missile warfare (analogous to torpedoes in present-day sub combat) would dominate long-range warfare, and passive sensors would be favored over active sensors (as sonar does today). The best way to track and detect a ship would be through thermal imaging- spacecraft give off a lot of  heat. (It might be possible to temporarily channel this heat into liquid nitrogen canisters or some other non-radiating "sink", but this can only be maintained for so long.)
Eventually one side would detect the other and get off a first missile shot, at which point everyone would light off their active (radar) sensors. If the two sides survive long enough to close with each other, directed-energy weapons and "slug throwers" would dominate. Lasers are likely. Particle beams are not.
Things get interesting when you start talking about decoys and long-range sensor droves.
The actual form factor of the ships depends on lots of factors, such as what sort of drive system is being used. Atomic Rockets posits a ship in which the crew and essential functions are surrounded by a torus of  fuel containers (fuel in pellet form is preferred).
With all this in mind, I suggest the submarine battles in Red Storm Rising are as a good starting point as any.
 
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Jeff_F_F       3/7/2007 10:40:52 AM
Conventional explosives are of limited use in space because there is no shock wave and the vast distances involved means that you practically have to hit your target for fragmentation to have any effect and even with nuclear weapons only a very near miss will have any effect.
 
It seems to me that if a civilization were able to create artificial gravity (basically, a graviton generator) perhaps they could find a way to pump a destructive level of power through a graviton generator to create a graviton pulse. Depending on how powerful this graviton pulse is it could potentially create an artificial singularity. If you aren't worried too much about strictly realistic physics you could invoke "tidal forces" to tear stuff apart. (tidal forces require significantly different forces acting on different sides of an object, usually because the object is sufficiently large--like a planet--that the side closer to the gravitational source is much closer and hence more strongly attracted than the far side.) Large ships could be effected though, and planets certainly would. Even if the forces weren't strong enough to tear a planet apart it could create earthquakes at the very least.
 
Another aspect of a singularity generator that could be useful is that it would allow very efficient conversion of matter and antimatter to energy. Normally trying to combine matter and antimatter is problematic because a reaction only occurs between the actual subatomic particles that are in contact, thus even a large chunk of antimatter might produce a relatively minor explosion because the amount of actual subatomic interaction between it and nearby normal matter would be quite low. Inside a singularity all of the matter and antimatter involved physically occupies the same space, so an extremely powerful explosion could be generated.
 
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andyf    heat sinks   3/7/2007 10:50:59 AM
you can always hide the heat sinks, keep em away from the enemy so that their IR output is invisible. this is only practical of course if you have an idea where the enemy is..
aerogel would make good armour, but you'd want it spaced- on pylons distant from the actual hull.
big old magnetic coils would protect nicely from any sort of charged nastieness, i.e. solar wind, charged particle weapons. maybe even plasma.
i was toying with the idea of shaped nukes.
fit a serious bad ass magnetic coil - pumped with a homopolar generator, around a tactical nuke.In theory the plasma of vapourised bomb would squirt out the ends of the coil field< just before the lot vaped>
don't know it it would have enough of an effect to be worth it tho.
and I had an idea to make long range railgun weapons practical.
the weapon would have to be a spinal mount on the ship- so as to limit the peak acceleration to bearable levels.
the warhead would comprise a tank of metallic mercury <frozen> small solid state heaters and batteries and a little tiny sensor package, radar? lidar?
when fired the heaters come on after acceleration is over, the weapon wakes up. now, with the propellant it can adjust its aim.frozen mercury as reaction mass would be utterly solid and be able to survive launch.
of course if it didnt have to steer , all the more smash when it arrives.
missile warheads, Stealing the concept of combat wasps- could be made much more lethal.
several warheads on one weapon.
- detonation railguns, cued by a radar reflection- aim and fire < probably in a pattern>
-sand- ballistic after warhead burst, tiny particles of radar absorbant material. at high speed.
-EM pulsers- inflatable half-silvered balloons.at the focal point is an EMP warhead< E-bomb>
idea being the warheads deploy- em pulsers fire, fry the targets sensors. and produce a big old radar reflection for the railguns to fire on. being as the railguns would deploy behing the pulsers they dont get EMP.
what think you?
 
 
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TrustButVerify       3/7/2007 4:15:15 PM
Lots of interesting ideas floating around out here.
You can use magnetic fields to shield against electron beams, but what about protons? I suspect there's some method of giving a ship a positive charge which would have a similar effect. Particle physicist I am not, but using antiparticles would be an interesting counter- though highly energy intensive IIRC. It would be easier to use the gigawattage to power lasers, HPM, or electromagnetic mass drivers (railguns, yo). Directionally radiating your heat signature is a good idea IMO- but it assumes you know which direction the bad guys are looking from, and the three-dimensional nature of space might make this difficult. Of course, they have heat signature too.
A smart opponent would deploy a wide net of well-camouflaged probes, which would sit around and observe with thermal sensors until they had a definite detection before transmitting their data. As said before, knowing where the other guy is first would be critical.
Naturally these probes would be subject to deception and camouflage as well, particularly if an adversary knows the algorithms and heuristics the probes use to decide what is worth reporting.
Damn, but this stuff can get deep.
 
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TrustButVerify       3/7/2007 4:19:36 PM
A further thought- a wily opponent might disguise their probes and miscellaneous platforms as comets, asteroids, or other space junk. This means that having highly accurate space maps would be a keystone to any defense policy.
Astronomers would find themselves swimming in oceans of cash.
(And consider the skirmishes between Germany and the Allied over meteo stations in the Artic during WWII.)

 
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Jeff_F_F       3/8/2007 1:08:58 AM
I'm thinking that a rail gun would be very useful. Not as a weapon but as a zero launch signature method for launching small probes. You could use either passive or active probes. I'm thinking space analog to sonar bouys. Using an active sensor has the disadvantage of revealing your position, but if you have an active probe emitting the EM signal you get the benefits of not relying on the enemy's emissions, but not revealing your position either. On the other hand, if the enemy knows that their position has been revealed they will start maneuvering so that any firing solutions you develop will be in error. Remember that at the distances we are talking a space craft will have moved significantly between the time an EM signal leaves the enemy craft and the time that signal reaches your sensors. By the time an EM or particle weapon pulse gets back to the target they will have moved even more. You could also use a passive sensor probe and then have it transmit the location of any enemy ships it detects. If you can prevent the enemy intercepting the transmission so much the better. If not, with the transmission at least encrypted the enemy won't know for sure if they have been detected or not and will then have the choice of maneuvering and certainly revealing their position and sitting tight and hoping that they haven't been detected.
 
Passive EM sensors do have the disadvantage that they only give a bearing to a target. If multiple sensors were all transmitting bearings to targets, those data could be combined to give a more complete picture of enemy locations. The enemy would surely try to destroy as many sensors as possible, but the idea would be to send so many that not enough could be destroyed fast enough to prevent their positions being compromised.
 
As far as weapons go, missiles seem the logical choice due to the ability to the extreme distances which would make the lag time for even DEWs unacceptable as the target would move before the beam arrived. However point defense systems would need to be avoided, so the primary weapon would probably be missiles firing nuclear pumped X-ray lasers. One of the interesting things revealed by the articles is that although a nuclear pumped X-ray laser performs most efficiently when the longitudinal axis of the laser rod is is aligned with the center of the nuclear explosion, the rod can be aligned in any direction. Thus potentially dozens of laser rods could be aligned on the same target making the complex beam-pointing mechanisms characteristic of nuclear pumped X-ray lasers unneccessary. All of the laser rods could be aligned with the path of the missile and the missile would simply point itself at the target and detonate, blasting the target with a salvo of laser pulses even at extended range. Alternately, multiple independently targetable clusters of rods could be used. All could be focused on the same target or some could be focused on alternate targets.
 
A rail gun could be used to launch the missiles, provided the warhead and electronics could be made to survive the extreme acceleration of the launch. This would have the advantage of allowing launch with no signature whatsoever so the location of the launching vehicle would not be revealed and also the missile itself would have very little signature while traveling toward the target. The missile could search for targets using passive sensors. If a target was found that the unpowered trajectory would take within the effective range of the warhead the missile could simply coast along silently before detonating. Cold compressed gas could be stored for minor attitude corrections to minimize any warning for the target, or to make minor course corrections. If needed to make a major course correction to get within range of a distant target a more powerful thruster could be used.
 
Their are many advantages to a long slender ship design, aside from weapon mounting options. For mounting weapons the long slender design allows what is known as a spinal mount which means the long axis can be used to maximize the performance of a variety of weapons including lasers and particle beams. It would also allow either massively powerful mass drivers, or could allow a long, slow, more gentle acceleration for launching missiles. Or both. Huge telephone-pole or larger sized darts are excellent for orbital bombardment and could be fired at high velocities, or the same gun mount could be used at lower power to launch missiles. A smaller tube could be used for launching expendable probes.
 
In terms of ship class analogies, missiles actually correspond to a cross between a modern missile or torpedo, and a fighter or torpedo boat. This is because it serves the role of a missle as an expendable autonomo
 
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andyf    pumped detonation lasers   3/8/2007 10:46:53 AM
they did some experiments on the nuke pumped lasers,, turns out they dont work too well.
shielding via magentic field would deflect anything charged, i.e. the northern lights- mostly protons and electrons -going fast . deflected quite easily.
 i like the idea of using the spinal mount railgun as a missile tube.
fighters, i think , will be impractical.
your main problem in space combat is distance.
travelling across it will take time, the ;longer the range obviously the longer the time.
on a crewed spacecraft you need life support,- oxygen,cooling/heating, anti radiation shielding,
on a fighter type craft you have these functions using up a greater proportion of internal volume.
plus to be effective you need a decent sensor array , which your going to have trouble fitting on a small vehicle.
UAV <USV?> type units would fill some fightert type roles, but due to time lag on their controlling signals, jamming, RDF would have to be fully independent.
I could envision a formation of unmanned autonmous vehicles with a crewed vessel controlling it. but minimum size i'd guess is a thousand tons or so
 
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Jeff_F_F       3/8/2007 6:45:52 PM
Any UAV would almost have to be AI. I suspect that fighters will be common but they won't be what modern SF folks would call fighters. They'll be more like what we think of as destroyers or cruisers with a 1-2 person crew and the vast majority of details handled by AI.
 
Out of curiosity, what was the issue with the nuke pumped X-ray lasers?
 
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andyf    x ray lasers   3/9/2007 8:21:26 AM
we havent got a way to focus x rays- divergence is a major problem, so your laser is more like a searchlight
jitter of the targetting mechanism caused by the nuke conventional trigger- throws off your aim
all that targetting equipement, 1 set per each targettable rod- expensive and large.
 
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JohnBarry       3/9/2007 11:38:23 AM
Back in the 70's SPI produced a game StarForce or Stargate, don't remember.  IIRC Interstellar travel was in ships crewed be special telepaths(All Female) that "shifted" the ship to another part of space. Stargates also crew by telepaths could extend the range of the jump.   Warfare was a fairly bloodless affair involving the use of  the same method but focused and casted as a net over the enemy ship tranporting the enemy ship out of the contested star system to god knows where.    Hey you wanted different !
 
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