In a previous post we talked about small-ish space weapons. Here lets look at the big boys. The ship mounted cool ones that involve all sorts of alien tech…or are just giant laser pointers…
The Fun Part
Come on baby…you got this
*Ping* Target Locked, Weapons Ready
Shit! Shit! Shit! Incoming projectiles!
Sir, we have incoming projectiles from the pirate ship
Yes, I got that Ensign, come down 1 degree and maintain heading
You heard me Ensign, maintain heading, and fire as she bears
Roger sir. Firing.
Projectiles passing above us, target rotating. Aperture visible on its ventral side
Fire now! Fire and dive! Get us out of here now!
New heading is down-well sir
Good, pass random maneuvers to the computer, and plot an escape velocity once we get around the moon.
Roger sir. Sir if you don’t mind. Why did we turn so fast?
Azamara, it is easy enough to dodge that ship’s grapeshot, but that aperture is only used for one thing…a ship-killer laser…and Azamara, you aren’t dodging that.
The Real Deal
This is the largest class of weapons, and those that are going to be installed on vehicles or ships. This is where railguns become more practical, and where lasers are probably going to be viable from the outset.
I know I know. This whole post was supposed to be about what we do until lasers are in vogue/possible. But honestly the challenges of fighting in space means that most non-laser weapons are going to be lucky to be used in a ship-to-ship confrontation. Oh sure, taking a tank to mars to fight the insurgents is still workable. As is taking artillery, rockets and all our other sweet arsenal of mounted weapons.
But ship to ship. Yea…lets walk through that…
Giant Space Guns
Point gun at baddie
Issue in space: You are both moving really really fucking fast….like 25,000 km/hour+
Solution: Use aiming computers
Yea in theory we could use super awesome computers…or just our phones…to project where our target is going to be when we fire our gun. Easy peasy
Countermeasure: Move out of the way as soon as you see the bullet/projectile coming
This is less fanciful than you might think. Here is why:
If you are REALLY lucky, you can fire your projectile at 7,000 meters / second (current railgun prototypes aim for up to 3,500 m/s but lets double that to remove air friction’s effect — yea I know that isn’t how it works…but lets go with it).
Also assume you are travelling TOWARDS the baddie at 8 km/s (a little more than maintenance speed in low earth orbit). That means your projectile is going to be moving towards your target at about 15 km/s. That is REALLY REALLY fast
How far away is this bad dude? Just for the ease of math lets assume they are less than 50 km away. Or 3-4 seconds of flight by your projectile.
So light moves ~300,000 km / second or 186,000 miles / second. A tad faster than your projectile. So your opponent will know basically instantly that you have fired, making dodging easy.
Wait you ask…but they only have 3 seconds to get out of the way.
Yes…3 seconds to move their ship about 500 meters…while travelling at 8 KILOMETERS a second. yea…Thats going to be easy
As you might have noticed, unless you are SUPER close, the light heralding the arrival of your super mega awesome space gun firing is going to get to your opponent in enough time for them to get out of the way. So space fighting without lasers is going to look a bit like ballet by two bulky dudes firing shotguns at each other. Each trying to dance out of the way of the giant cloud of pellets in time.
Pretty uncool looking.
But I said space lasers are probably going to be a thing on space ships soon. Seems a tad bold. I’ll back it up.
Steps to use a laser weapons in space
- Big ass laser
- Method to charge said laser
- Method to keep laser discharge from melting your ship
- Ability to point laser at target
Big Ass Laser
The big ass laser is honestly the easiest part. The US and Soviet Union both built megawatt class lasers in the 70s / 80s. These are big enough to really really ‘eff up a space ship. Granted it isn’t as easy as just putting one of those in space. But most of those details are boring. So suffice to say…big ass laser…check
The charging is going to be a little tricky because you need something that has both high capacity, and high dischargability. This is known in the technical world as ultrahigh discharge efficiency and energy density. Next you are going to need to take said material and make sure it is ok to work in space where there is radiation and stuff like that. I’m pretty confident that since we had the ability to build capacitors able to store cities worth of energy in 2010, that we are cool with putting something like that in space here in the next 20 years.
Ok so the melty part. Yea…lasers melt shit. Hence their usefulness as weapons. But a little known, but kinda obvious side effect is that the laser itself gets REALLY hot. So then how do you cool down your laser? Personally I would have a radiator to pull the heat (using piped liquid) from near my laser to the exterior of the ship. Not a perfect solution, but good enough to work for a handful of shots.
This is a slightly more complex issue than you would have in firing a projectile. The good news is that NASA and other space agencies have been testing shooting lasers from satellite to satellite for a while now. Ok ok, so they are communication lasers. But still. It is the same principle.
You need to be able to direct the laser onto the target ship, and unlike with a projectile, hold the laser on the target long enough for it to do its melty work. How long you have to keep it on target depends on how powerful your laser is and how good the target is at diffusing the heat from your laser. This is likely to be longer than an instant (a technical term referring to any amount of time that is really really short), so you will probably need the ability to track your laser along the path of your target which does allow for your target to evade.
Even assuming the target does evade after you hit it. You. Still. Hit. It. That is more than can be said for any of the other weapons talked about. Hence why I say lasers are probably going to be our primary anti-ship space weapons.
The End Parts
So there you go, you now know that space weapons are probably going to be mega boring until we get lasers. You also know that lasers in space are a definite possibility. Oh and you know that lasers melt things…they don’t make them explode. I didn’t go over the not exploding part…but…yea…they don’t