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PhD Candidate Talks About the Physics of Space Battles 361

darthvader100 writes "Gizmodo has run an article with some predictions on what future space battles will be like. The author brings up several theories on propulsion (and orbits), weapons (explosives, kinetic and laser), and design. Sounds like the ideal shape for spaceships will be spherical, like the one in the Hitchhiker's Guide movie."


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PhD Candidate Talks About the Physics of Space Battles

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  • I predict... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hatemonger ( 1671340 ) on Thursday December 17, 2009 @03:41PM (#30477668)
    Assuming technology exists to accelerate space ships to interplanetarily practical speeds, what's to stop warring planets from accelerating an asteroid in the same way and in the direction of the enemy planet? Or take that acceleration technique and speed up some ball bearings to ridiculous speeds and send them on their way towards something with a predictable position like a space station? Hell, you could use millions of ball bearings like a mine field, because any ship traveling through the bearings will have such a high speed relative to them. I just wonder that if we currently get so butthurt about orbiting space debris, a space war will focus on simple kinetic weapons at huge speeds and from huge distances.
  • Ideal shape (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 17, 2009 @03:43PM (#30477720)

    The ideal shape will depend on the materials available and what its capabilities need to be. eg. does it need to be able to fly in an atmosphere, what type of lift propulsion is available, etc.

    Spheres are great but also difficult to design and build around. In other words, complicated and expensive. Sometimes a cheap, simple, easy to build box is the best.

    Could end up being anything because we aren't even close to actually creating something like this.

  • by nschubach ( 922175 ) on Thursday December 17, 2009 @03:45PM (#30477732) Journal

    You make a point, but I would like to add a bit on that subject...

    All you have to do is knock the Moon off orbit and Earth could be in for a fun ride... You wouldn't need to directly attack Earth. Just an object big enough (or a small object traveling fast enough) to change or degrade the orbit of the Moon. If you planned it well enough (and I'm assuming computers in that time would be able to calculate multiple trajectories...) you could simply upset the balance of the meteor belt and send objects hurling at us without us knowing where it came from.

    In fact, it's making me wonder why we'd want to remain on such a fragile environment (when/if space travel becomes viable) and we start a conflict in space or piss off the natives of a more advanced society.

  • Re:Peace (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Xphile101361 ( 1017774 ) on Thursday December 17, 2009 @03:58PM (#30477970)

    They said this after the American Civil War. They said this after the first world war, the war to end all wars.... War will never end. "Let him who wishes for peace prepare for war" ~ Vegetius

  • by Z00L00K ( 682162 ) on Thursday December 17, 2009 @04:38PM (#30478594) Homepage

    It also depends on the size and if it's going to be a new way of creating artificial gravity aside from spinning the ship.

    Space battles wold be much like battles between submarines.

    And then - there may be other reasons to not have spherical ships - like requirements for propulsion. It may be easier to keep the engine away from the habitation part than to have a lot of heavy shielding.

  • Re:Babylon5 (Score:2, Insightful)

    by cthulu_mt ( 1124113 ) on Thursday December 17, 2009 @04:41PM (#30478644)

    psychics and alien space-gods, and messiahs coming back from the dead

    Did you miss the memo about sufficiently advanced technology? I believe it was sent by Mr. Clarke in the Long Term Projects department.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 17, 2009 @04:44PM (#30478706)

    You'd actually need to attack from 3 very different directions for a saucer shape to be a liability. From any two directions, you can orient your ship so both attackers are on the plane of your lowest profile.

    Plus, large surface area in one direction confers a key advantage- more space to mount weapons. A saucer-shaped ship would have the flexibility of being able to offer both a broadside of heavy fire or a small target to any given enemy position.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 17, 2009 @04:55PM (#30478888)

    central command will be your planetary feudal lord.
    See the Roman Empire or the Kzin, from Larry Niven. The farther away the local ruler is, the more authority and autonomy he will (have to) have.
    Might lead to a situation similar to the german empire before Napoleon came: lots of splintered Kingdoms, city-states, fiefdoms sometimes fighting each other, but nominally part of one empire.

  • by Arthur Grumbine ( 1086397 ) on Thursday December 17, 2009 @05:19PM (#30479296) Journal

    If you're looking at it purely from the perspective of presenting the smallest profile possible, your best bet would be a needle-shape. Very long, and as thin as possible. However, that runs into other problems, such as maneuverability.

    Let's examine that claim a little closer:
    Sum of Profile Surface Areas from the each end of each (x/y/z) axis:
    10x10x100 Ship (pick your own units) = (1000x4 + 100x2) = 4200
    Spherical Ship with Radius of 14 = ((pi x 14^2) x 6) = 3,694

    Volume of Ship (kind of a top priority, even if the quantity changes according to the purpose/application of the ship):
    Rectangular 10x10x100 Ship = 10,000
    Spherical Ship with Radius of 14 (same units) = (4/3 x pi x 14^3) = 11,494

    This is leaving alone the fact that the profile for the rectangular ship inreases from the above values when looked at from from any angle besides perpendicular to the plane of each side. Any way you cut it a sphere is the most efficient in terms of the ratio between volume and profile area. In fact, a cube is actually the most efficient of all possible rectangular prisms (hence the genius of Roddenberry with the Borg). Remember a ship (space or sea) is just a container to protect the contents from exposure to the medium, and the most efficient container (leaving aside the shapes of the contained objects) will always be a sphere.

  • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Thursday December 17, 2009 @06:53PM (#30480716) Homepage

    You're talking about reducing man-hours. What you mention, things like computer-driven machines, actually increase the material and part dependency web.

    Pick a seemingly simple random industrial process and start to trace back every component that goes into it, every consumable, every part that breaks, etc. And then start tracing those back, and so forth. It never ends.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 17, 2009 @10:28PM (#30482786)

    If the places are light years apart, and we have no FTL drive so the message lag is also years... then we won't *have* multi-system governments.

"Well, it don't make the sun shine, but at least it don't deepen the shit." -- Straiter Empy, in _Riddley_Walker_ by Russell Hoban