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Old 02-09-2009
 
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Default The Physics of Space Combat

So, feller BFers, I can assume that you are all huge nerds, as I am. We've all seen and played our fair share of Star Wars, Star Trek, Starcraft, etc. and thought to ourselves "fuck yeah! space combat is going to be hella sweet!".

Well, no. Space combat will not be hella sweet, because the reality of the situation is that a lot of what we do see isn't going to happen. Starting with

1) no strike craft. Yes, piloting an X-wing would be awesome, but think of the reality of actually flying one; you're in your little cabin, surrounded by a near endless vacuum. If there's some problem and you need to bail out, well, you're fucked. Even if you were to wear a space suit so you can eject, you're left to float in space until you're picked up. Which might never happen.

Anyways, there'd never be dogfighting in space. No air to react against. It looks cool in movies and games, but ain't going to happen.

2) no "close" combat. Assuming we develop space combat ships, we'd probably have weapons to match that technology. Nuclear missiles, lasers, etc. Light travels at 186,000 miles per second. There's no reason you have to park your giant-ass spaceship next to your enemy so you can fire a weapon that moves at literally the speed of light. Instead, we're going to see space battles where opponents can be at opposite ends of the solar system. Even with non-laser weapons (nuclear/antimatter missiles, plasma based weapons, etc.), the distances are still so great that you'll probably fight your opponent head to head.

There's also really no way to "hide" in space, so any kind of tactical acumen is also out the window. You could try hiding behind a planet, but at enough of a distance, your enemy doesn't need to travel that far to see past the planet. "Asteroid belts" are actually pretty empty. Space itself is really empty.

3) No cool laser show. Light requires something to bounce off of to be visible. Lasers are no different. Lasers are only visible at, say, a rock concert because of dust that's pumped into the concert area.

So, unless you're fighting in a nebula, you're not going to see your opponents laser until he hits your ship with it. I really don't think any space-weapon would realistically be more powerful than a really big laser; moves at the speed of light, silent, practically invisible, and can cut through anything if you make them powerful enough.
 
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Old 02-09-2009
 
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Default Re: The Physics of Space Combat

Try here to find a few more reasons why space combat would be nothing like in the movies.
 
 

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Old 02-09-2009
 
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Default Re: The Physics of Space Combat

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1) no strike craft. Yes, piloting an X-wing would be awesome, but think of the reality of actually flying one; you're in your little cabin, surrounded by a near endless vacuum. If there's some problem and you need to bail out, well, you're fucked. Even if you were to wear a space suit so you can eject, you're left to float in space until you're picked up. Which might never happen.
During WWI, many people considered aeroplanes to be deathtraps. When the planes get gunned down, there was no ejection and so you would plummet to your doom. Even when you don't get shot down by machine gunners or other planes, you even had the chance of your plane fuxing up. But as long as there was a need, people improved the system and continued on. No matter what you're in, if you get hit, your doomed either way.

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Anyways, there'd never be dogfighting in space. No air to react against. It looks cool in movies and games, but ain't going to happen.
You don't need air to react. There can still be dogfights, just not as elegant with all the banking. Instead, ships would require multidirection thrusters on all sides, allowing for complete directional turning, and then the main boosters to thrust them forward. So basically, a lot of wide banking, or sharp turns, where the ship turns itself around, and tries boosting into a new direction. Not very elegant, but very possible.

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2) no "close" combat. Assuming we develop space combat ships, we'd probably have weapons to match that technology. Nuclear missiles, lasers, etc. Light travels at 186,000 miles per second. There's no reason you have to park your giant-ass spaceship next to your enemy so you can fire a weapon that moves at literally the speed of light. Instead, we're going to see space battles where opponents can be at opposite ends of the solar system. Even with non-laser weapons (nuclear/antimatter missiles, plasma based weapons, etc.), the distances are still so great that you'll probably fight your opponent head to head.
Well, with that logic, people that invest entirely on long ranged weaponry will be at quite a loss if someone dared to send a small craft to wedge between large missiles and laser beams. But yes, there'd be no reason to park your larger ships next to each other.

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There's also really no way to "hide" in space, so any kind of tactical acumen is also out the window. You could try hiding behind a planet, but at enough of a distance, your enemy doesn't need to travel that far to see past the planet. "Asteroid belts" are actually pretty empty. Space itself is really empty.
Yes, space is quite empty. In fact, it's empty, you wonder how anyone will have weapons accurate enough to hit an enemy lightmonths away. Because there's rarely any resistance in space, I assume ships will be in constant motion, which would be a pretty wide margin to hit someone with weapons that takes eight minutes to hit a distance between the sun and the earth. Well, yes, that's pretty far and 8 minutes is nothing. But if a ship is in constant motion, even one minute will be too long.

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3) No cool laser show. Light requires something to bounce off of to be visible. Lasers are no different. Lasers are only visible at, say, a rock concert because of dust that's pumped into the concert area.

So, unless you're fighting in a nebula, you're not going to see your opponents laser until he hits your ship with it. I really don't think any space-weapon would realistically be more powerful than a really big laser; moves at the speed of light, silent, practically invisible, and can cut through anything if you make them powerful enough
Wrong (I think). All laser beams emit radiation from all directions, just at a very small level. If you're going to shoot laser beams to sheer though massive armored ships (and if they had shields!), you're going to need a really big and powerful one. And at that size, there's enough radiation emitting from the beam for a really good show. An even better one if you're on the receiving end... oh wait.
 
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Old 02-09-2009
 
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Default Re: The Physics of Space Combat

As my link points out, fighters are used today for over-the-horizon attacks, but once you remove the horizons (there are none in space), fighters drop back to a position as second-rate missiles, slow (pilots can take far fewer gravities than toughened electronics), bulky (you're carrying the pilot, his life support, his control interfaces, his flight suit, etc.), and carrying a minimal payload.
 
 

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Old 02-09-2009
 
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Default Re: The Physics of Space Combat

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Originally Posted by MattII View Post
As my link points out, fighters are used today for over-the-horizon attacks, but once you remove the horizons (there are none in space), fighters drop back to a position as second-rate missiles, slow (pilots can take far fewer gravities than toughened electronics), bulky (you're carrying the pilot, his life support, his control interfaces, his flight suit, etc.), and carrying a minimal payload.
Actually, I take the "no strike craft" point back. There might be robotic strike craft for when you need something specific blown up that can't be handled with a missile or laser. But as for manned strike craft? Hell no.
 
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Old 02-09-2009
 
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Default Re: The Physics of Space Combat

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Originally Posted by MattII View Post
As my link points out, fighters are used today for over-the-horizon attacks, but once you remove the horizons (there are none in space), fighters drop back to a position as second-rate missiles, slow (pilots can take far fewer gravities than toughened electronics), bulky (you're carrying the pilot, his life support, his control interfaces, his flight suit, etc.), and carrying a minimal payload.
Well, I'm not too trusting on theories (but since all we are doing is theorizing) as with the perfecting of the missile, almost every military analyst predicted dogfights to cease, as missiles would take out enemy bogies with the first shot, both ways that is. The military so strongly believe in this, that they removed all weapons on their jets (vulcans) except missiles. However, with the entry of the Korean War, it proved all theories wrong. Dogfights did not become obsolete, in fact they became more intense. The MiGs still equipped with their guns became a costly threat and forced to USAF to reequip their vulcans.

While this apparently has nothing to do with what you said, where jets may appear to have a niche, all weapon systems imagined do nothing in a real combat situation. Point defenses may have trouble coping with radiation/heat, vectoring the expanse of space, and missiles may be easily jammed/disrupted. Not to mention, as long as we cannot improve computer systems, drones may be easily fooled by small things like phantom signals or reflected images, whereas a human pilot may not.
 
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Old 02-09-2009
 
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Default Re: The Physics of Space Combat

I like your point of view Kacaier. As it happens I am currently programming a space flight combat game with realistic physics and let me tell you it certainly is hard to get the ship to do what you want it to do with all the momentum. But it is not impossible, just really unintuitive.
 
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Old 02-09-2009
 
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Default Re: The Physics of Space Combat

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Originally Posted by Kacaier View Post
While this apparently has nothing to do with what you said, where jets may appear to have a niche, all weapon systems imagined do nothing in a real combat situation. Point defenses may have trouble coping with radiation/heat, vectoring the expanse of space, and missiles may be easily jammed/disrupted. Not to mention, as long as we cannot improve computer systems, drones may be easily fooled by small things like phantom signals or reflected images, whereas a human pilot may not.
*sigh* Fighters will be obsolete, that's unavoidable. This is especially true when we're making much bigger steps in computers than in propulsion (we've not advanced much in propulsion since the days of the Apollo Project, whereas the computer I'm typing this on has more power than was available to the whole of NASA at the time). Read further here.
 
 

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Old 02-09-2009
 
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Default Re: The Physics of Space Combat

Quote:
Originally Posted by JT View Post
So, feller BFers, I can assume that you are all huge nerds, as I am. We've all seen and played our fair share of Star Wars, Star Trek, Starcraft, etc. and thought to ourselves "fuck yeah! space combat is going to be hella sweet!".

Well, no. Space combat will not be hella sweet, because the reality of the situation is that a lot of what we do see isn't going to happen. Starting with

1) no strike craft. Yes, piloting an X-wing would be awesome, but think of the reality of actually flying one; you're in your little cabin, surrounded by a near endless vacuum. If there's some problem and you need to bail out, well, you're fucked. Even if you were to wear a space suit so you can eject, you're left to float in space until you're picked up. Which might never happen.

Anyways, there'd never be dogfighting in space. No air to react against. It looks cool in movies and games, but ain't going to happen.
What if you could use light to steer a spaceship?
 
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Old 02-09-2009
 
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Default Re: The Physics of Space Combat

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*sigh* Fighters will be obsolete, that's unavoidable. This is especially true when we're making much bigger steps in computers than in propulsion (we've not advanced much in propulsion since the days of the Apollo Project, whereas the computer I'm typing this on has more power than was available to the whole of NASA at the time). Read further here.
I don't give a hoot about links. Because what we're doing now is pure speculation, evidence (besides physics) has no bearing, meaning there is no imperative for me to look up facts and indisputable evidence. Why not just formulate what you think on here? Because whatever is on that site is the same as whatever we think here. Though the other guy probably has some more physics behind it (but even that is all speculative application). I'm not saying this to be an ass, but it's hard to theorize with someone... that's not there. Plus, I guess I'm kind of 'stoopid', but that site doesn't really tell me much. Maybe I'm supposed to click another link? Anyhow, summarizing would be best.

And the rate of growth of computers means nothing in the face of progress. I'm sure in 1990, people expected us to have artificial intelligence by now. Yet even though we have created computers with computational power beyond their wildest dreams, we achieved nothing but that: computational power.
 

Last edited by Kacaier; 02-09-2009 at 11:49 PM.
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Old 02-10-2009
 
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Default Re: The Physics of Space Combat

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Maybe I'm supposed to click another link? Anyhow, summarizing would be best.
Fine then, be like that. Missiles can accelerate faster than fighters, can pull tighter turns, and since they don't carry a pilot, don't have to carry all that extra junk (life support, cockpit, interface, the pilot him/herself, the pilot's space suit if they have one, etc.), or return to the ship (cutting fuel requirements to a fraction of what a fighter would need, and thus saving further weight). Furthermore, even if you were (ignoring physics) able to get a fighter performing as well as a missile, it would still be larger and more massy, and thus the exhaust would be much bigger and more noticeable, and far easier to lock onto.

On top of all of that, fighters can't carry any better a sensor package than a missile (the inverse is likely to be true in fact), react slower (a missile doesn't have to flick switches), and are no less falliable (a pilot's still relying on his sensors).

Further, fighters are also less efficient to carry than missiles, as they require facilities for refueling (and the fuel itself) and accomidation and supplies for the pilots.

To summarise, fighters are larger, slower, bulkier, and don't see any better than a missile, and you can fit a whole bevy of missiles into the space taken by a single fighter. Of course, humans are better at judgement than computers, but that can be solved by sending in a single shuttle beforehand to provide close-range support, thus requiring a fraction of the resources a wing of fighters, or launch a small wave of missiles first to see what the reaction's going to be, then reprogram the rest of the missiles appropriately.
 
 

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Old 02-10-2009
 
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Default Re: The Physics of Space Combat

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""
And what about the case of jamming? Though a missile could be designed to be autonomous, it would require some sort of ID mechanism to prevent locking onto the wrong object. If say, a medium-to-small sized craft is pursued by a missile. If the craft were to launch a flare or decoy missile that acts like a craft and returns to sender. Through various more technobabbling (flare dissipates, self-destructs) and the missile assumes that the target had not yet been eliminated and continues its course in a U-turn.

There can be really only three options:
1) Your ship emits an ID signal
2) It is operated remotely (or given commands remotely)
3) Uses sensors to ID target by itself

All three of these can be easily manipulated by an enemy with strong electronic warfare capabilities, which I assume will become a technological norm. ID signals can be fabricated, remote activity is easily hijacked, and relying on sensors can be fooled. All the enemy ship needs to do is launch a large EM-wave pulse missile that emits the same heat and other waves as the ship. And considering you would fire volleys of missiles, it wouldn't be that expensive in ratio of decoys-missiles. You'd waste more missiles than they would decoys.

How would a human pilot fare better? They would equip themselves with straight-fire missiles and leave all the aiming, flying, and judgment to themselves. Also, besides missiles, they would have every other weapon a robotic drone would have. Drones are also as susceptible as missiles (if not more).
 
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Old 02-10-2009
 
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Default Re: The Physics of Space Combat

So the missile queries home, and gets confirmation that new target is a decoy, or a portion of the missiles break off to engage new target while the rest continue. Don't assume that missiles are going to be dumb enough to be fooled by decoys (flares won't work if the missile also has radar, and decoys won't work if a missile's been programmed to lock onto its target beforehand), and don't assume that fighters are going to fare any better (that signal coming towards you could be a drone, or it could be an anti-fighter missile, in which case you're stuffed).
 
 

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Old 02-10-2009
 
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Default Re: The Physics of Space Combat

Query jamming, false confirmations (enemy signal hijacking), and stealth are three technologies that would counter any of the 'intelligence' of a missile. Both jamming and stealth are existent technologies, and I wonder how much better they'll fare in the far future.

If a missile cannot see the target (Radar stealth) and there is a decoy or flare, the only option they have is to pursue that lone decoy/flare. One can break off, but where will the others continue to? If radar stealth exist (they've already come up with partial microwave cloaks), then a sensor system can only rely on emissions, which are easily replicable without the need to recreate the mass or surface area of the primary object. I am confident it will be a short while before they come up with a a device that can bend radio waves.
 

Last edited by Kacaier; 02-10-2009 at 03:15 PM.
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Old 02-10-2009
 
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Default Re: The Physics of Space Combat

thats why we have mass effect weapons, wait what
 
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