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"What Would a Real Space Battle Look Like?" Topic

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Tango0108 Jun 2019 10:07 p.m. PST

"Star Wars wouldn't be the same without the screams of TIE fighter engines or the flashes of brightly colored lasers crisscrossing space battles, but we know that no real space battle would go down the same way. Sound gives outer space character, in Star Wars--and in most science fiction--but real space battles would be soundless and a whole lot less flashy. In fact, they'd probably look nothing like the battles of Star Wars or Star Trek, which are filled with futuristic (but hardly realistic) technology…."
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zircher08 Jun 2019 10:47 p.m. PST

There were some holes in that article that made me flinch. For example, to get a 10kton ship up to a yield of 84.5 gigatons requires hitting 69.5 percent of light speed. That just doesn't happen in hard science fiction since you never have that much fuel unless you have a magi-tech drive. (I have a RKV calculator here if you want to play with the numbers,

Space combat would be far from soundless, but it would be a different set of sounds. The whine of servos and capacitors, the crack of (chemical) laser systems igniting, the mechanical undocking or launching of missiles, the noises all ships and stations make. The sounds of threat indicators, damage control alarms, explosions due to enemy action, and phalanx defense systems and counter measures going off. All that will carry though the hull even if the air has been pumped out to reduce decompression effects and stop fires.

ISS ambient sounds… YouTube link

Patrick R09 Jun 2019 3:52 a.m. PST

I once heard a pretty good description of a space battle.

Go into a large, fully darkened building at night, you and your buddies are equipped with a stethoscope and a bazooka, go hunt your buddies …

The description of an interstellar conflict :

"The war began with the customary barrage of a quadrillion smart relativistic kill projectiles towards the planet."

A starship capable of traveling between stars with any amount of self-respecting firepower would hose down a planet with a capacity equal to a gatling gun shooting nukes. Once you reach a certain point there are no "unarmed ships"

Lion in the Stars09 Jun 2019 3:55 a.m. PST

I'd honestly expect the tactical computer to add surround-sound effects inside the bridge or inside the various crew's helmets, just to help with situational awareness of what is out there.

And you don't need gigaton kinetic impactors, 'mere' megatons will work. The Barringer Meteor Crater in Arizona was a ~3.5 megaton kinetic strike. The 10kton freighter would need to be going all of ~387kps for that, if I've done the math correctly. And that's a totally achievable speed in a continuous-burn drive, something getting 0.1m/s/s will be four times that fast when it hits Earth after failing to turn-over on the trip from Mars. 1342kps at impact.

Even if it just failed to burn after turnover and kept on closing at it's midpoint speed, it'd be traveling at 670kps, enough for a gigaton impact. Scale of damage from something like that? 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

skipper John Supporting Member of TMP09 Jun 2019 5:44 a.m. PST

But what would it sound like?

Ahhh, zircher; I missed that the first time through…

williamb09 Jun 2019 6:37 a.m. PST

A much better site with more thorough analysis of space warfare
Click on "green" site menu near top of page


Mobius09 Jun 2019 6:56 a.m. PST

I too have a rocket simulator you can download.
It uses anti-matter as fuel but it heats an inert material to eject for propellant.
Basically, this is 90% of it's initial mass.

Now, with the SF writers discover that a suicide ship moving at very high speed can destroy anything else they have to come up with ways to stop this. Like only humans can navigate hyper-space so no AI pilot such ramming ships.
Here is a video on TIE fighter battles.
YouTube link

Lion in the Stars09 Jun 2019 2:19 p.m. PST

This author discovery of kinetic energy is usually a failure to do the math of their rocket design. A failure to figure out how much fuel/reaction mass/power they need to use to get the acceleration they're describing.

Like I said, you don't really need much acceleration at all to be trundling around the solar system in reasonable travel times. Well, weeks to go someplace, so think train travel across Europe or ocean liners.

Tango0109 Jun 2019 4:39 p.m. PST

Thanks for the links….


ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP10 Jun 2019 4:41 a.m. PST

I believe that when space combat becomes common there will be in interstellar treaty requiring that a 'sound effects radio frequency' be established and every ship must broadcast 'pew-pew!' noises when their weapons fire.

Aethelflaeda was framed10 Jun 2019 5:09 a.m. PST

Conflict in space will be conducted by AI or remotely piloted drones. The craft will look like little blocky suitcases with weapons pods and communications arrays, and an occasional solar collector deployed. Not a hint of streamlining or similarity to manned aircraft. There will be nary a sentient biological participant.

Legion 410 Jun 2019 7:29 a.m. PST

Well if I'm ever involved in one … I'll let you all know !

Aethelflaeda was framed10 Jun 2019 7:34 a.m. PST

Legion, I think infantrymen will have no chance of that, the sentient part at least, now for artillerymen that might be another story….

Legion 412 Jun 2019 6:39 a.m. PST

frown Well we might be needed for boarding actions … evil grin

Lion in the Stars12 Jun 2019 1:57 p.m. PST

Yeah, I wouldn't want to be involved in a boarding action.

Read this little blurb for reasons why: link

Legion 413 Jun 2019 12:49 p.m. PST

I probably wouldn't either ! evil grin Like having a firefight on the Moon or any place with no atmosphere !

Zinkala14 Jun 2019 11:15 a.m. PST

Lion in the Stars, I liked that article. I was thinking about boarding actions in the winter trying to come up with reasonable scenarios for them. Agreed that going through the airlock would be a bad choice as you're heading into a prepped kill zone. My thought was small craft carrying maybe a platoon that could land/latch on where it wanted and then blowing/cutting a way in to avoid the traps. My main question was what kind of cutter/weaponry could a small craft carry that would be able to quickly get through armour plating designed stop capital ship weapons? Any ideas people?

Mobius14 Jun 2019 11:51 a.m. PST

@Zinkala, you'd probably have to wait for the plating of the heavy ships to be breached before trying to board through the openings. Ships with powerful lasers must have heat radiators and cutting through them then into the ship may be a weak spot.

Borderguy19025 Jun 2019 9:06 a.m. PST

Boarding actions will involve gene-hanced, power armored marines using boarding torpedoes with multi-melta nose cones. Duh. You guys must not read the historical documents from the 40th millennium.

joedog04 Jul 2019 10:24 p.m. PST

I thought that Joe Haldeman had a pretty good idea of what starship combat would be like in "The Forever War".

EJNashIII05 Jul 2019 7:09 a.m. PST

Zinkala, if a technology exists to make, form and cut an armor plate to attach it on a vehicle, then the technology can be used to breach the plate system. Time is the only real factor to contend with.

Lion in the Stars05 Jul 2019 9:03 a.m. PST

Lion in the Stars, I liked that article. I was thinking about boarding actions in the winter trying to come up with reasonable scenarios for them. Agreed that going through the airlock would be a bad choice as you're heading into a prepped kill zone. My thought was small craft carrying maybe a platoon that could land/latch on where it wanted and then blowing/cutting a way in to avoid the traps. My main question was what kind of cutter/weaponry could a small craft carry that would be able to quickly get through armour plating designed stop capital ship weapons? Any ideas people?

Shaped charges work quite well.

Modern antitank rockets like the US AT4 will punch through WW2 battleship plate and are man-portable.

But your underlying assumption is that military spaceships will be armored enough to stop incoming fire is probably utterly flawed.

It is nigh-impossible for any ship to carry enough armor to stop incoming weapons fire, said stopping needs to happen much farther out. A modern tank sabot is moving at a mere 1500m/s, and can punch more than a meter(!) of steel armor. A 1x1x1m Steel cube masses nearly 8000kg. Yes, 8 tons. But kinetic energy goes up with the square of velocity, and spaceship velocities of 30km/s are nothing (you can get that traveling from Earth to Mars, today). If you were traveling from Earth to Mars at a constant thrust of 10cm/s/s, a little over 1/100gee, your speed at turnover would be over 74km/s. 10cm/s/s thrust is something that is right at the ragged edge of our capabilities today with a VASIMR drive. link

The same setting I got that boarding operation article from has some massive capital ships ( and link though the carrier does technically share the same basic spaceframe as the dreadnought), and a 3km-long, 2.5million-ton-mass dreadnought hull carries 30m of armor. Which isn't enough to do anything more than absorb the fragments of whatever the laser point defenses have shot up.

As is also usual, the apparent outer hull of the vessel is entirely composed of armor plating, which in the case of the Leviathan is a little over 30m thick, comprised of multiple layers of heavy plate, Whipple foam, radiation-absorbent material, thermal superconductors, dilatant shock gel, flexible spreader trusses, and other necessities for survivability in the modern high-energy battlespace, many of which remain classified.

(The important thing to remember about this armor plating is that it is not there to protect against a direct hit from an opposing capital ship. No practicable material will do that. It's there to protect against the spallation debris left behind after your point-defense grid sweeps the sky like the hand of an angry laser-spewing god.)

(And yes, thermal superconductors are apparently allowed by modern physics. Or at least not explicitly disallowed. The Eldraeverse setting is really good about mostly sticking to that which is physically possible.)

Zinkala06 Jul 2019 10:01 a.m. PST

EJNashIII,I understand that but was thinking that time would be a major factor for a successful assault. You don't use airlocks because they'd be the obvious spot for setting up a kill zone. If it takes too long to cut through in another area then any defending marines/sailors could set up kill zones at the expected entry points. The attacker doesn't have a lot of options the way I see it to avoid walking into heavy fire unless they're fast and lucky.

Interesting reading, Lion in the Stars. You're probably right my thinking is flawed. Falling behind on my knowledge of current weapons let alone thinking ahead. I was imagining something similar to a modern infantry platoon with light weapons attacking a WW2 battleship except it's sealed with no light doors to easily pop open. Didn't realize that a man pack rocket could blow through that already. Of course there's a bit of a difference between an armour piercing rocket (thinking small diameter hole with deep penetration) and cutting a hole big enough to move through easily but it's just a matter of scaling up.

zircher07 Jul 2019 2:06 p.m. PST

Hit the airlocks and then burn through the interior walls making your own path. :-)

12thFoot08 Jul 2019 6:09 a.m. PST

An interesting aspect of the Expanse TV series was seeing shot whizz straight through the space ship Rosinante whilst she was attacking an installation
YouTube link
David Weber's Honorverse" books use the multiple missile broadside approach
YouTube link

And Jack Campbell incorporates the impact of light speed across vast distances into his tactical manouevring
His fleet fly past each other at 0.2 light speed with computer controlled firing, chucking everything at each other in the brief time they are in range.

Daricles09 Jul 2019 8:27 p.m. PST

Everyone knows a real space battle looks just like a WWII escorted bomber run to blow up a dam in enemy territory complete with manned fighter craft executing bank turns.

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