Space Battles

Battles in space are of course quite common in science fiction. While they can take many forms, when dealing with hard sci-fi there are a few things that need to be kept in mind.

The big one that almost all movies and TV shows get wrong is distance.

On earth because of the horizon, two targets have to be fairly close to attack each other directly (4 miles or so). The atmosphere also causes a good amount of uncertainty in even the best computer over enough distance.

Neither of these is a factor in space. The closer you get to the target the less options you have. There is no reason not to be light seconds (at least) away if you can manage it.

Acceleration or delta-V (delta is change, V is velocity) is one of the most important factors in a warship.

It is limited first by the ship itself, by its power generation, ect. This you have to determine for yourself.

The other limitation is that of the human body. We can only take 5-10 G’s for any length of time (and anything close to 10g is really pushing it). For very brief periods of time we can take more. Even at only 2 G’s it would start to be dangerous to walk or climb a ladder.

That said one workaround I have in my novel’s setting (I doubt it will come up in the first book, may not even in later ones) is that the top of the line military craft use a liquid atmosphere. Since the lungs are the first organ to fail due to high G’s, a liquid atmosphere takes care of that. A craft like that could go up to 20G’s or more.

Even though there are ways to work around the problem, it is still important to be aware that the problem exists.

Weapons, naturally are also important.

Probably the first thing that comes to mind to most people when I say sci-fi weapons is lasers. While being very cool, as a large scale weapon they leave much to be desired. Thanks to the inverse square law you have to be on top of whatever you are targeting for them to do any good. They also take a lot of power and generate a lot of heat.

I can see them used as a point defense weapon like shooting down missiles and such as they approach you, but as a main weapon I doubt they would do much good.

Plasma weapons (heat and ionize a gas until it becomes a plasma then fling it at your enemy) suffer most of the same problems, if for different reasons. Plasma also has the problem of being much slower then light. Again cool, but I doubt very useful in practice.

Rail guns and missiles are what I would expect to be the weapons of choice.

The main limitations of rail guns are the massive power they take and of course ammunition. While they would probably be little more then slugs of some tough alloy, having neither guidance nor explosives, they could still cause massive damage.

The main two advantages of missiles would be that they could course correct and that they take little to no power from your ship to launch. Depending on how easy it is to make power this could mean that all small ships are missile carriers.

One final thing; detection

The main way you could detect an enemy ship would be it’s thermal signature.

It may be possible to make a ship that is invisible to radar, and so black its effectively invisible in the visible spectrum. Hiding your heat would be much harder.

Radiating heat will be a major problem for any ship, let alone a warship. I am not saying that you can’t have a ship hide it’s heat signature but again be aware of the problem.

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