Thursday, August 13, 2009

Space Warfare

Upon discussion with a group of my colleagues from the Rodent Wars, it appears that there is some question about how a real war in outer space could occur. Let's see if I can put a few misconceptions right.

Unfortunately, we are limited by the actual laws of physics and our technology as we know it. This seriously removes us from worrying about such things as warp drives, hyperjumps, cloaking devices, and black hole weapons that are found in Star Trek, Star Wars, and similar science fiction.

Instead, we are limited to the cold reality that two things define space war.

First, you have excellent visibility in space. In general, you can see me and I can see you (unless you are hiding behind a moon).

Second, changes in speed and/or direction of travel (commonly called velocity) are expensive and limited by our engines and fuel supply.

Let's look at some basic issues.

Imagine that some Mouse wants to shoot at my spaceship. In the most basic method, the Mouse shoots an armor piercing bullet at me. A single bullet moving at 10,000 miles per hour will rip a hole through any currently existing spaceship, causing a major air leak and possible systems damage which depends upon exactly where I am hit. Thus, the effect is similar to a human being hit in his body by a .22 caliber bullet - probably not fatal, but severely damaging.

My radar will detect this incoming bullet with time to spare - our fastest projectiles have thus far traveled at less than 40,000 miles per hour (roughly 65,000 kph). Thus, even in a low earth orbit (LEO) of 100 miles, my spacecraft has about 9 seconds to avoid the incoming bullet.

Avoiding the bullet is easy - simply pulse the main engine for a second or so. This will move me out of the path of the bullet, which whizzes past without harming me. If I were in a higher orbit, dodging would be child's play.

Thus, we conclude that the simple bullet is not such a good weapon.

"But," you say, "what about a powerful laser beam?"

This old cat sighs and points out that if I know that you have a powerful laser beam, I can simply surround myself with multiple sheets of aluminum foil to act as a serious of mirrors. In fact, if I put a sandwich of aluminum - water - plastic, then the aluminum will reflect some of the laser, then the water will vaporize into steam, which will be a longer lasting fog. A second sandwich lies behind the first sandwich, and so on for as many layers as I need to effectively armor myself from your laser. Meanwhile, I shoot back and manuever.

However, if the Mouse gets really smart, he'll see that he can put a canister of BB's in my path, which I cannot avoid. At an impact speed of 10,000 mph or higher, I'll be ripped to shreds, and there really isn't anything I can do about it except to retreat to an extreme distance. Of course, the orbit I was in isn't useful for anyone until those little BB's have been removed.

Some of you younger cats may say, "Why not put armor plate on your ship to stop the BB's?" The simple reason is that armor plate is heavy. Heavy objects have lots of mass. Our moving equation is Force = Mass x acceleration. That's physics for heavy ships require a lot of fuel and big engines to change speed and direction. Getting mass into space is very expensive - remember, you have to get your fuel and engines into space!

If you make your ship massive with heavy armor, you end up with something that can't be manuevered well, and becomes a sitting duck for a guided nuclear missile - which WILL destroy your ship.

But what about shields!

Fine - tell me how to make shields - our physics cannot make shields which will defend against electrically neutral hunks of metal - only systems that can guard us against charged particle beams.

More another day - General Thomas. MEOW!