04 May 2012

FWS Topics: Hard Science Space Fighters

Damn you George Lucas! You filled my childhood with space dogfights between odd-looking TIE fighters and sexy X-Wings. Filling an entire generation with the desire to be a Jedi Starfighter pilot. Damn you for creating the wildfire over space fighters that swept over science fiction causing nearly every sci-fi show I watched be colored by space fighters and their cool pilots, everything from ROBOTECH to Buck Rogers. And double damn you over making me pay for your plastic creations of said space fighters, and invest hours of my life playing X-Wing and Wing Commander. But nothing hurt has much as the day I read that in the real-world, space fighter will not exist on the Atomic Rockets website. So, damn you, Mr. Lucas for breaking my heart. And so I write this hard science point-of-view on space fighters and all of the cold hard realities.

Sources:
Hard science blogposts can be differcult for a history major like me, and without the below sources, I could not have written this one...many thanks. 

The Cold Hard Realities:
No, Virginia, there is no space fighters, Mr. Lucas lied to you, and here are the reasons why an X-wing wouldn't work in outer space. Often in sci-fi, fighters are seen zipping through the bigger capitol ships, darting in and out, making the audience green. That always bothered me when I was developing rules on some custom space battle games, if capitol ships have FTL and massive engines, why would a smaller ships be faster? And that seems to be the cold hard reality of the situation, there would be no difference between the speeds of warships and space fighters. The real difference between warships and space fighters would the greater ability for space fighters to unitize Delta-V due to to their lower mass. Of course, these smaller, short range ships would have to carry into the battlefield. This means we COULD have a vehicle like a battlestar, and fielded something like fighters. But would you need to?
There is some debate among hard science sci-fi sites that future space fleets may not even need space fighters. The reality is that since energy shielding does yet not exist, and you could not wield enough armor onto a space fighter to make resist to capitol ship sized armament, it seems that if and when a gunnery computer locked into a space fighter it would be toast. And dodging is out of the question, according to the Rocketpunk manifesto blog, at Earth-to-Moon distances, about 238,855 miles, a space fighter jock would have 2.5 seconds to dodge the incoming fire. At a more realistic combat distance, say 20,000 miles, Rocketpunk Manifesto states that the pilot would have .25 of a second to dodge. That means either you the Force on your side, or your frozen corpus will be floating. If the fighters is struck with a laser, there is the possible  that the fighter could use its Delta-V to avoid the beam from settling, but if the Capitol ship filled local space with with simple kinetic AAA fire, like what the Yamato or the Pegasus did against incoming raiders or missile, an attack space fighter would be unable to avoid being hit. In space, the KEW is the preferred killer, the ability for the kinetic projectile to transfer its energy to lethal killing power is greater than DEW systems. So, small limited armored space fighter would be toast if a 60mm AAA round came slamming into it.

Even the Good Guys will use Cylons!
The space fighter pilot is, according to sci-fi, one fo the coolest job you could have, besides Orion Slave Women dealer. But would it still be cool in a hard-science space war setting? The short answer is no. If space navies did field manned space fighters, their lives would be short, one good clean shot by a AAA round and they are gone, and if the carrier is destroyed, than the entire air wing would die slow deaths, and if they are fast enough on the trigger, than...well, you get the point. If that is true, than why are space pilot so romanticized? Burnside's Zeroth Law of Space Combat comes into play here. The 1st Law of Space Combat in sci-fi  states: that combat is more interesting if involves human beings and not drones or Cylons. This is done more for the audience and writer, and for reality.
In practice, given the mass, power requirements, cost of training a pilots, space fleets would choice to  pilotless craft, either remotely controlled by trained pilots, like our Predator UAVs of today or A.I controlled drones (Cylons anyone?) or even A.I. controlled kinetic missiles (kinetic buses as one site calls them). With the possibility of the pilots remotely controlling the hardware, the heavy requirements for attack jet pilots could be lifted, making the field more open to historical less qualified applicants. Even hard-core younger video gamers would be a good choice for remote pilots, like in the 1992 Robin Williams film Toys.
So, it seems there will be no Roy Fokker or Starbuck, or even Derek Wildstar. Damn. However, this would make the main control ship for these remote piloted space fighters, a juicy target for the enemy, making it a popular. At least, in that aspect, George Lucas got it right with the Phantom Menace.

Space Fighter or Space Lancer?
One of the primary issues with the popular sci-fi image of space fighters is their armament. Due to the small size of the space fighter, power generation becomes an issue, even if it Cylon-piloted. Most directed energy beam weapons like Lasers, Particle, or plasma would require too large of a power generation system to be feasible on a space fighter, and at low-output, the DEW system would be of little use to harming a capitol ship. This power issue would also plague KEW systems, like Gauss or Rail, needed for true anti-capitol ship work. So, what does that leave us? According to Rocketpunk Manifesto, space fighter would unitize rocket-propelled kinetic impactor slugs, thus eliminating the need for large power plants. This weapon system would speak to the realistic role of space fighters and the need for a name change. These hard science remotely piloted space fighters would more akin to the World War II torpedo bomber aircraft of the Pacific theatre, than Veritech pilots. Having space fighters be the errand boys of the warships, delivering anti-ship kinetic slugs would make some sense, especially if you watch the episode of Star Gate Atlantis, where the Terran warship Daedalus could not punch through the defensive screen of the Wraith warships, and they used teleporter to beam the nuclear warheads inside the ships. Hard Science fighters could do the same, space fighters could be the way to avoid defensive fire screens, using their Delta-V and size to get through the ship's defenses, and crack the enemy warship with some kinetic love.
But are they still fighters then?
Within the Rocketpunk Manifesto blogpost about the dim reality of space fighters, the author mentions that there was another term that could replace the word space fighter: the space lancer. It seems that the term space lancer originated with Henry Cobb over at the hard science Yahoo! group, SFConsim-1. He came up with this new term because of the mission that a hard science space fighter would perform over the classic sci-fi imagine. These space lancers would be like jousters of old, rushing at the target ship or base at maximum burn, like a Knight at a jousting field, then releasing the kinetic impactor missile directly into the path of the enemy ship or base, then using their Delta-V to prevent collision.

 Realistic Designs

If the traditional science fiction view of space fighters is wrong, dead wrong, than what would a hard science space fighter or space lancer look like?
The only close to realistic design seen in popular sci-fi was the SA-23E Mitchell-Hyundyne Starfury of  Babylon 5.
The entry for the original B5 Starfury on the Babylon 5 wiki states that Ron Thornton and Steve Burg based the Starfury on real space physics and a homage to the Gunstar from The Last Starfighter. Speaking of that classic 1984 film, the design of the Gunstar is not complete soft sci-fi, the gunner pod, being a 360 degree able targeting system is dead on. This could be also said of the Star Wars B-Wing cockpit being about to rotate. Another space fighter of note was the UNSC YSS-1000 Sabre,  not for the overall design, but of its realistic portray of how a space fighter would be launch from the surface up to space with a chemical rocket booster system.

Space Fighters of the Real World
To date, no nation has deployed a true space fighter that us fans of science fiction would equity to the X-Wing or the Viper, but there has been several attempts at space planes, with several successful models: the US Space Shuttle and the USSR Buran Shuttle, the USAF X-15, X-37, and the civilian SpaceShip One. However, during the Cold War, there were attempts by both sides to field a space fighter-like craft.

USAF/NASA X-15 (1959-1970)
At the beginning of American manned space flight, there was already attempts to develop a reusable space plane, and the X-15 rocket plane was a portion of that research that led to the Space Shuttle. The X-15 was a more direct testbed for the SR-71, but also was good template for a dual-atmospheric space fighter, given that the X-15 had systems for atmospheric flight with wings and space flight with an RCS system. There are rumors, the Fox Mulder kind, that the X-15 legacy extends to the Aurora and the Blackstar projects.

Soviet Union  Uragan/BOR-4/MiG-105 Space Plane (1969-1988?)
There are many rumors swirling around this odd-looking Soviet-era space plane, and I can remember this very image in an issue of National Geographic. It seems that the Soviets were attempting to field an small reusable space plane since the late 1960's, but it reached fever pitch during the 1980's, when the US Space Shuttle was flying military missions and Reagan was talking about Star Wars.
There are sources that claim the USSR was looking at the Uragan program to develop manned space planes that could delivery space-to-space missiles, countering the US SDI program. According to these reports, six Red Air Force pilots were selected for test flights beginning in the mid-1980's.
Some sources claim that the BOR-4/Uragan was a test-mule for the larger Buran Space Shuttle program, that used these pilotless craft to test systems like the heat shield, and there was never an secret Soviet military space plane program.

DARPA/NASA/Boeing X-37/X-40 Space Plane testers (1999-2011)
In 1998, the USAF began testing a testbed craft, known as the X-40 for space plane that could replace the aging shuttle. By 1999, the USAF began testing the X-37, the full prototype of  a robotic reusable space plane that could field military satellites, repair damaged ones via robotic arms, and other missions to further the goals of US Space Command. In 2010, the first two X-37's were launched from a Atlas V rocket and successfully landed. It is unknown if the X-37 will mount any offensive weaponry, but it does possess the needed Delta-V to change orbits. The secret program was spotted by amateur skywatchers and the USAF later came clean about the X-37 program...causing China to warn of the "militarization of space."

DARPA/US Navy "American manned combat spacecraft" (1973)
In the 1970's, the US Navy and DARPA explored the possibility of fielding a manned space cruiser for a pre-SDI orbital defense system. Its mission would have been to intercept incoming Soviet ICBMs with its own space-to-space missiles or some sort of KEW system. This manned combat space craft would have been launched by a submarine via a Poseidon missile making the maximum ability for this craft to be launched covertly. In the advent of an national emergency where Soviet nuclear launch or full mobilization was looming . This craft would be launched to either intercept ICBMs or knock out Soviet satellites that could track US Navy movements. In a interesting turn of technology, the role of this military space vehicle was replaced by the anti-satellite ASM-135 ASATmissile launched from F-15 fighter.   

27 comments:

  1. While it is true that the generic "space fighter" is not very realistic, I do not agree with everything that the hard SF websites say, although Atomic Rockets is generally accurate. A good case can be made for a small spacecraft being more maneuverable than a huge space cruiser- the small spacecraft has less mass to accelerate and a much smaller moment of inertia. Thus, a "space fighter" might accelerate much faster than a big cruiser.

    A massive rocket cruiser has the same problem a large boat does- such a massive craft can only turn so fast. The more mass is spread over a longer distance, the worse the problem, just as spinning a wheel with a heavy rim is harder than spinning a wheel with most of the mass located at the center. For more information, go to the link below the paragraph, or read Isaac Asimov's short story "Hide and Seek".
    http://www.projectrho.com/rocket/spacewardefense.php#id--Evasive_Maneuvers--Moment_of_Inertia

    In some cases, a smaller craft might make some sense. I wouldn't bet on one taking out the Death Star or swooping around in the vacuum, though. I don't recommend using remote control space interceptors, though- far to easily jammed. Using intelligent computers to pilot the "space fighters' is an even worse idea. If you give AIs space fighters from the outset, you deserve the robot uprising you will get.

    What really complicates "space fighters" is that they operate in the same environment as the bigger ships they deploy from. A F-15 Tomcat does not float in the ocean, and a nuclear powered carrier can't fly in the air. Spaceships operate in space, so there is no real dichotomy- other than size- between a "space fighter" and "space gunboat". Space is a different environment from air or sea, so the carrier mentality will not carry over into space. However, that does not mean we won't see some small "space fighter" like spaceplanes or space interceptors.

    Arming space fighters is a little more difficult. Perhaps they can carry kinetic slugs and/or missiles. Gas-expansion guns aren't much use, since the shells travel so much slower than spacecraft do. Electromagnetic projectile weapons and lasers require power supplies- although I have heard about plans to mount lasers on fighters and spaceplanes.

    The Rocketpunk Manifesto calculation only shows us the lower limits on how fast a laser can lock on a space fighter. Real weapons are never perfect, so lasers will miss some (if not most) of the time. John Schilling mentions a list of reasons a laser may miss- some sensor-related and other mechanical- on the Conventional Weapons page at Atomic Rockets. Bottom laser- I mean line- space fighters may have a chance at jinxing, unless the enemy has really good lasers. Recall the debate over whether SDI could really stop Soviet missiles.

    http://www.projectrho.com/rocket/spacegunconvent.php#id--Laser_Cannon--Accuracy

    Christopher Phoenix

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    1. Very glad to here from you, Mr. Phoenix!
      While I think that the Atomic Rocket website is a resource, I and others I know agree that the website is designed to promote the 1950's rocket ship idea...which I'm not a fan of. One thing that bugs about Atomic Rocket ship is that the science, of course, is based on what we know today, something will not change, but technology will alter our understanding and operation in space...so maybe I will get my Battlestar one sweet day!
      There were plans to mount a laser to a C130, my uncle-in-law worked on the project, and that was workable, so I think you could mount a DEW on an space lancer. You raise a good point about the jamming of remotely controlled space lancers...didn't think of that. If they were justed remotely, I can see a cyber-warefare expert being needed against cyber-attacks...like Ghost in the Shell in space. I think that the bulk of AAA in space combat would be the more effective KEW, DEW would be easy
      Most of my own MSF does not deal with space combat that much, mainly due to Atomic Rockets making me feel stupid. But it is extremely hard to get over the idea that space fighters, in their classicly sense could not exist, after all, I want my Gunstar!
      Thanks for commenting...keep'em coming!

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  2. Hi William!! Your uncle-in-law worked on a laser weapons project? That is interesting- I'd love to hear some more about that...

    I enjoy the 1950's rocket ship aesthetic- especially since all near-future interplanetary ships are indeed "rocket ships", but it is a bit dated. One thing that clouds the issue is that both Whinchell and Rick Robinson are fixated on a particular aesthetic. Winchell likes 1950's rocket ships. Rick is fixated on stuff that looks like Apollo, only with a "plasma drive", so he ignores even ideas from the 50's and 60's that don't fit in his preferred aesthetic- like nuclear pulse propulsion. While they make good arguments, they aren't unbiased. Even some scientists don't agree with all of Winchell's conclusions, mainly because he so fixated on 1950's single-stage Polaris-style "rocket ships".

    Back to space fighters... As I pointed out, a small, low-mass combat spacecraft will be far more agile and potentially capable of much greater acceleration that a huge space cruiser. The problem with space fighters, however, is that they need to be recovered- otherwise they are some sort of manned kamikaze missile- and it is not entirely clear what their mission is. One contributor at Atomic Rockets says that manned space fighters are not efficient because they need four times or more the propellent to fly to a target, maneuver in the thick of things, and return as a missile does to do a fly-by shooting. Obviously, unless there is a reason we need a manned craft, we would fire a missile instead of risking human life in a much more complex "space fighter".

    The space-fighter mounted laser will need to be compact and powerful, otherwise it will just weigh down the fighter without providing much firepower, thus undermining the whole point of having a space fighter. Don't forget big cruisers can carry bigger lasers, so unless a space fighter can evade enemy fire, it will have a problem. Maybe a "space fighter" could carry a bomb-pumped laser or Casaba Howitzer warhead instead.

    Rick Robinson assumes that lasers are not good for space fighters, but I do know that the military has been working on the idea of "photo-fighters" that will fry enemy targets with powerful laser zaps, even going so far as having pilots fly simulations of such craft. If an atmospheric fighter can carry one, why not a space fighter? Perhaps the hard-SF community is wrong on this one. I might get my Mark IX Hawk one day...

    All I can be sure of is that when space combat arrives, it will be unlike any form of air or sea combat that preceded it. I can also be sure that if there are "space fighters", they won't look like, fly like, or fight like atmospheric jets. Space fighters don't even need streamlining if they don't land on planets. We will almost certainly see fighter-like aerospace craft used in orbital combat, along with streamlined hypersonic "drop boats" and shuttles.

    Personally, my favorite "space fighters" are from the Robotech scenario- especially those ones we see in the first episode when the Armor space platforms are destroyed. The Lancer II space fighter is a unique design- it is the one with the huge guns that makes up half of its total length. The Vulture is pretty neat as well- you can check out the Robotech aircraft, including the space fighters, here: http://ptn.home.xs4all.nl/Aircraft/aircraft.html I don't want a Gunstar, but piloting a Lancer II or Vulture would be pretty neat...

    Christopher Phoenix

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  3. You know, I came this close to putting the RDF SF-3 Lancer II space fighters on my list of favorite space fighters! These fighters did make it into the comic ROBOTECH: From the Stars. Love those things, and I think the Armor spacecraft got robbed...of course, in the original Japanese Macross series, the Armor spacecraft are attached to the SDF-2 Overlord instead of the seaborne carrier. According to Robotech RPG fansite: http://www.kent.net/robotech/vehicles/rdf/lancer.shtml
    The Lancer were robotic controlled mobile space cannons. I really should have put the SF-3 Lancers in the blogpost. Sigh.

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    1. The RDF SF-3 Lancer II space fighters are a unique, plausible design that really look like they are designed for combat in space. Another one of my favorite designs is the AF-1 Vulture space fighter. Odd- the Robotech Technical Files say that the Lancer II is a crewed space fighter, while the RPG fansite say it is an A.I. controlled drone. Still, if it is manned by an intelligence- however rudimentary- doesn't that make the Lancer II a piloted craft? I prefer thinking of the Lancer II as manned craft, still...

      A real space fighter may very well resemble the Lancer II, since it would have a set of main engines to the back, the pilot's pod, sets of maneuvering thrusters, and one or two main weapons pointing forward. Larger, less maneuverable ships would likely tend either toward a spherical design or the long "cigar" shape and possess many clusters of weapons pointing in many different directions, since the ship can't turn fast enough to bring a turret to bear on an enemy.

      While Atomic Rockets argues against space fighters, I feel that compact craft have a role in space combat due to their increased agility and higher attainable acceleration. The scale law operates in our favor here- the huge ships will accelerate slower for any given thrust and have the agility of the late Exxon Valdez. Smaller craft can reorient themselves rapidly and have much less mass to accelerate. The larger a ship is, the more mechanical stress it will experience for a given acceleration. Size does matter, and there is no question that small fighters can do things huge space cruisers- let alone giant battle stations- can never do.

      The essay "Size Matters" at Stardestroyer.net explains the scale law, and how it relates to science fiction, rather well. http://www.stardestroyer.net/Empire/Science/Size.html

      Christopher Phoenix

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  4. I"ve given some thought to the question of whether space fighters will actually be useful craft, and I've realized that the arguments against space fighters are important for analyzing all the ships that might be used in space warfare. The fact is, there is nothing physically impossible about space fighters. I could build a small, one-or-two person spacecraft, arm it with some missiles, and set out to battle hordes of alien craft. However, that is probably not a very good idea.

    Joseph Shoer, the author of the "The Physics of Space Battles" (featured at Gizmodo), says that there are good arguments to have both small and large craft in the space force. Larger craft can carry more fuel, weapons, and armor but are less maneuverable. A smaller craft accelerates faster for any given thrust and can flip around much quicker. Thus, shouldn't we get our space fighters? The question now becomes one of cost-benefit analysis, not just physics.

    A space battleship can easily spot another space battleship in the uncluttered environment of deep space, given the right instrumentation. It could launch space fighters to attack the enemy battleship- but is it cost effective (or indeed effective at all?). Why not just send a missile, instead of a complex, delicate fighter that must fly back to be recovered after the battle?

    A missile does not need to be recovered, it does not need propellent to return, and it does not need a highly trained pilot. For the same amount of mass penalty required to support an "space wing" of fighters- including docking stations, propellent tankage, repair facilities, spare parts, etc.- we could probably carry a larger number of missiles than the space fighters could deliver. Don't forget that the propellent requirements square with an increase in the delta-v requirement, so a space fighter that requires at least two times as much delta-v to fly out, attack, and return to the mother ship needs at least four times as much propellent!!

    The only way to justify space fighters is to find a mission that requires a human intelligence right at the scene of the battle in a small, maneuverable craft. Otherwise there is not reason to carry around a miniature spaceport for servicing a bunch of tiny space fighters instead of shooting off dozens of missiles. If lasers and particle weapons enter the picture, fighters must also deal with point-defense lasers. Lasers will probably push combat ranges out to hundreds of thousands of kilometers, so you would want a huge battleship with dozens of laser cannons, not a tiny fighter.

    Real space warfare has yet to happen, so we don't know how space warships will evolve to fit their tactical environments or what exotic technologies may be invented. Maybe small fighter-like craft will find a niche- but the general SF concept of dozens of fighters zipping across space to engage enemy "carrier fleets" does not make sense. Hey, at least we can expect huge battlecruisers bristling with laser cannons, electromagnetic guns, and missile launchers!!

    Christopher Phoenix

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  5. Thanks for the link! Stardestroyers.net is one of the better sites for space warfare, I recently read their article on m/am torpedoes. Like you, Mr.Phoenix, I can see a future where space fighters are used, I just do not know if they will be manned. The idea of AI missiles are okay, I have used them in some of my MSF works, but they are unsexy.The recovery of manned space fighters is more complex than most sci-fi has led us to believe...the only time I really saw the complexity of space fighter recovery was in the new BSG.
    I also think that you are correct about the uncertainty of the real future and our role in space. Right now, I am worried that humanity will not get out into space until Terra is completely unlivable.
    Thanks for the comments!

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    1. Hi, William!! I read their article on m/am torpedoes too- obviously, photon torpedoes are more complex devices then Star Trek will have us believe. AI missiles are unsexy- and I'm sure that the AIs won't be so excited about making a kamikaze dive into an enemy ship if they have any free will!! The crew of the Battlestar Galactica would have something to say about having AIs fight our wars, too. How good is the reimagined BSG? I only ever saw a few episodes of the BSG TOS, and a few clips of the new series. I like the reimagined Viper, from what I've seen of it.

      Space fighter launch and recovery systems will be quite complicated. The fighters must be launched somehow- either by direct thrust or a catapult system, as BSG shows. Later, the fighters must return and land in the hanger decks- which is probably more complicated then it sounds. Remember what happened when an out-of-control Progress resupply capsule crashed into Mir. The fighters must be repaired, rearmed, refueled, and prepared for launch again. All of which gives the engineers something to do.

      Our future is very uncertain- not just whether we will have space fighters, but whether we will ever do big things in space at all. I find it interesting that the technology required to reach another star implies both incredibly powerful sources of energy and some means to completely recycle all our resources in a closed ecosystem- both technologies that could obviously alleviate many of our woes on Earth. Might it be that the future where we make Terra unlivable is the "closed" future without space colonies? We had better invest both in supporting our fragile planet and reaching the stars.

      Many people get confused about this, seeing space travel as the "alternative" that lets us "leave the planet", but if we can't live on a big planet that takes care of her own ecosystems without causing massive harm to our own home, how can we live on comparatively tiny spaceships that require a much finer understanding of closed ecologies and recycling?

      Christopher Phoenix

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  6. Very true, Mr. Phoenix, if we, as a race, cannot learn to live on such a rich world like Terra, and how can we expect to live on other worlds without having the same effect?
    BTW: the new BSG is very worth your time, it is one of the greatest sci-fi shows of all time.

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  7. That is exactly my point- and don't forget prospective interstellar settlers must live in small spaceships for an extended period of time- maybe even centuries. Remember the saying "Wherever you go, there you are?" The same thing applies to space- if we can't learn to live on our own rich planet, forget trying to reach others. Not only would we have the same effect on an exoplanet as we are having here, but we can't hope to survive- or even start- the journey behaving as we are now!!

    The new BSG looks pretty neat- I'll have to check it out sometime. I find the "naturalistic SF" look interesting. I love the old Star Trek, but SF shows can't keep relying on parallel universes, evil twins, and PSI powers for plot ideas forever. What about Babylon 5? I've seen bits and pieces of Babylon 5 now and again, but I am not very familiar with it- is it a good series overall as well?

    Christopher Phoenix

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  8. Babylon 5 was a product of its time, and unlike DS9, was done with early CGI and for a lower cost. Painting were used to show the vast, mostly unseen O'Neil station interior. However, what B5 lacks in SFX, it makes up for in overall plot, and some interesting long-term storytelling. B5 is best enjoy with that in mind. I thought, at the time, that B5 did a much better job of using a space station as the certain of a story than DS9 did. There are many very cool, more hard science warships as well, especially the Earth Alliance Omega Class and the Narn warship. If you are interested in B5, watch the 1996 TV TNT movie, "in the beginning" it is one of the best programs B5 ever did.

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  9. I haven't seen much DS9- I never watched much beyond Star Trek TOS and some TNG. What I have seen I find hard to watch simply due to all the stupid things the characters do, and the Trafalgar-range space battles. DS9's space battles made Star Wars battles look long range. As for ground combat- you'd thing that Starfleet's best and brightest would have heard of a barbaric but effective weapon called a machine gun, and how useful it is for mowing down soldiers who come running in a solid wall though a choke point.

    I am more impressed by the harder SF human ships in Babylon 5 than the DS9 station. I just wish they had made the alien ships more realistically, too. I hear that the Omega Class Destroyer is modeled off of the Alexei Leonov from "2010, Odyssey Two". Goes to show that harder SF ships are actually much cooler than glitzy Star Trek ships with gravity plating and the crew lurching in unison around the bridge. I don't mind lower SFX- it is the story that counts in the end.

    Christopher Phoenix

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  10. A M60 or MG42 would even the odds in the ST universe! Just look at what Picard did agains the borg drones with Thompson! Take that, borg!
    Yeah, the very kewl Omega class destoryer was more or less ripped off of the Leonov from 2010,but check out the EarthForce Explorer class...very nice design! Some of the EF ships didn't even have AG generators, and the crew was strapped down.

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  11. I've seen pictures of the Earthforce Explorer class, and I think it is a very cool design. Strapping the crew down in a combat ship is probably a more practical solution for a warship than dragging around a big rotating section.

    The biggest problem with using rotating sections to create gravity on spaceships is that the direction of down under thrust differs form the direction of down while under spin- so you must design the spinning sections to operate with gravity first one way and then the other, like a FLIP ship, find some way to pivot the crew module so the direction of down is always aligned with the floor, or to just deal with everyone lurching about every time you fire the rockets. The section on artificial gravity at Atomic Rockets has some more details.

    I find it even more embarrassing that your weight in a rotating spaceship is velocity dependent- that is, if you run in the direction of rotation of the space station, your velocity will be added to that of the floor and your weight will increase. If you run opposite the direction of rotation, your velocity will be subtracted from the velocity of the floor and your weight will decrease. If you ran fast enough, you might even lose weight altogether in a ship that rotated very slowly!!

    Christopher Phoenix

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  12. Hello,
    a nice approach to the fighter dilemma is seen in the Canadian RPG Jovian Chronicles. It's a hard sci-fi approach to the Gundam series, and in its setting has a rather realistic (if a bit anime) vision about mecha units, fighter units and capitol ships.

    Electronic Warfare, countermeasures, acceleration and vectors play all a huge role in space wars. Fighters and interceptors have better accelerations than ships and exo-armors (robots). Targeting and destroying such a vehicle is difficult thanks to its speed, armor and electronic countermeasures.

    In Jovian Chronicles the targeting systems of every ship is often disturbed by every kind of ECM so a lot of shots miss their intended targets, so to have the job done you need to get close and personal. This is where fighters and exo-armors come into play.

    Exo-Armors fill a gap between capital ships and fighters, they can accelerate at great speed, but not as fast as a fighter, however they carry more weapons, systems and are heavily armored and more manouverable.

    Fighters are simply long range missiles carrying a lot of short range missiles. And as you say above they act like jousters. Accelerating at ludicrous speeds against their targets, they overwhelm their point defense systems with clusters of rockets and missiles, delivering a huge amount of damage in the process. After that, they get away as fast as they can to initiate another run or return to base.

    In this universe fighters rarely engage against other vehicles of their kind, so dogfighting is almost non existant; instead the most immediate threat is the more manouverable Exo-Armor, often lurking nearby. There exist some kind of interceptor, but its main role is to disrupt a bombing run instead of destroying the fighters, leaving this role to the more armed Exo-Armors.

    Exo-Armors are more rounded vehicles, capable of engaging ships (in small squadrons) and smaller vehicles like fighters.

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  13. I will have to explore the Jovian Chronicles! Thanks for the tip and information!

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  14. You left out the one class of weaponized military spacecraft that has actually flown: the Soviet Almaz craft, otherwise known as Salyut-2, Salyut-3, and Salyut-5. Since they lacked propulsion units, they weren't fighters, but they were intended for a similar role. From Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Almaz):

    In addition to reconnaissance equipment, Almaz was equipped with a 23mm Nudelman rapid-fire cannon mounted on the forward belly of the station. This self-lubricating cannon was modified from the tail-gun of the Tu-22 bomber and was capable of a theoretical rate of fire of 850 rounds per minute. Each 200 gram projectile flew at a speed of 690 m/s relative to the station. To aim the cannon, which was in a fixed mounting, the entire station would be turned to face the threat.

    Salyut 3/OPS-2 conducted a successful test firing on a target satellite remotely with the station unmanned due to concerns over excessive vibration and noise.

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  15. The Soviet 23mm space cannon was added on a pervious blogpost about the history of military space programs that I wrote around 2011. I found this to be one hell of interesting but forgotten chapter in space warfare. Thank you for posting it. I wish there were more pictures of it. Those crazy russians!

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  16. Really enjoyed the discussion here. It's a welcome break from the no-fun-allowed fest courtesy of those people who think Atomic Rockets is some kinda Gospel.

    Don't misunderstand, I found AR immensely useful, but it's a bit biased to some subjects. At least it doesn't hate on mecha...

    My take - there's nothing wrong with space fighters, although how they would look and what they would do is another question. If space combat takes place over Stupendious Range of half a second (150 000 km) or more, then a fighter would have to spend most of the time flying in a straight line, shooting at the enemy with missiles, then double-timing it back to the carrier. Or it would hang around the carrier to protect it against enemy fighters/missiles. Both cases don't really require human pilots, and even if they do, a fighter is more a missile boat than a WW2 piston aircraft in space, and dogfighting would hardly be possible. In this case, it might be more prudent to replace fighters with unmanned drones (certainly not remote controlled, though, although you can upload the pilots' consciousness into the drone if the tech allows, leading again to space fighters), or with missiles and counter-missiles altogether.

    At a smaller range of some 50 000 km or less, it's an entirely different story. Less time spent flying to target - more possibility of evasion, and while it would hardly look like a WW2 dogfight with lasers, but more like a modern BVR engagement... fought between strategic bombers stuffed full of air-to-air missiles.

    Of course, a fighter can be a bigger craft. There's no clear distinction between a space fighter and a space gunship. Or a space corvette or destroyer. But that, of course, implies a tech level vastly over what we may reasonably expect in the next 200 years or so.

    Not like we would have space fighters really soon, though. Although they probably won't be manned, but unmanned drones only make for boring reads. I'd kill for a space sim game where you control an X-37 craft, or something like that, in exciting bullet hell space action. Even if it cuts down on the simulation aspect.

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  17. awesome article. space fighters would certainly noy be possible with todays technology but perhaps with some form of very compact power source the possibilities open up. it is right to say that space warfare will not be like sea or air war and that the only differences between ship classes(fighter,destroyer,cruiser,etc) will be a question of size and mass, so with this the spoace fighter will not be able to execute any maneuvers that are beyond the heavy ships BUT it will, if a small enough power source is found, be able to do them much quicker. the starfury is one of the more probable designs as it features pleanty of thrusters to maneuver and they are spaced as far from the centre of mass as possible to create the maximum torque(moment(torque)=force x distance from line of force to pivot), another one i like is the thunderbolt also from babylon 5 which is atmosphere capable as well with more a streamlined design than the starfury. a craft like that(space/air capable) would be seriously awesome! the weapons used by a fighter would depend on the power source that one had available to it, if a small fusion/fission reactor canot be developed to be onboard then beam weapons are a non starter but if enough power can be provided then lasers start to look like a fairly good idea. the real problem facing star fighters would be the engines, the engines needed would need to be low mass and gain colossal amounts of energy from burning on a small amount of propellant. a high exhaust velocity for the engines would also mean less reaction mass is needed and the fighter can have a greater delta V as the same mass of fuel/reaction mass will allow it to undergo far greater changes in velocity(delta V. this could perhaps be achieved through some form of fusion reactor, a bussard ramjet type thing would be even better as it would not require fuel/reaction mass to be carried BUT that is very unlikely due to the extreme low densities of gas in space (10 atoms per cubic centimetre at most). in the near(ish) future about a century or two away a rocket launched orbital fighter using kinetic weapons may be possible, perhaps 5 hundred years away we may have so0mething more like the starfury/thunderbolt it is a nice idea after all.

    send in the jagdpanther

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  18. I've enjoyed reading this but I have three things to add:

    1) the biggest obstacle to spacefighters will be fuel/engines, you have a tradeoff between accelerating quickly but burning all your fuel in a few minutes and accelerating really slow but for a longer period of time, if you want to make a spacefighter that can strafe and dodge enemy fire you would need a radical new fuel with a huge energy density and/or a incredibly strong power source that still fits into a spacefighter, though of course catapults like those on the Galactica would help a bit

    2) using remote controlled aircraft like UAVs only works because the Taliban live in the dark ages, in space combat such craft would easily be jammed, using smart AIs as pilots is one solution but any society that treats its smart AIs as conscripted cannon fodder risks a rebellion, so I think we would have dumb AI, or human pilots or perhaps smart AIs will have human rights and freedoms but will choose to become fighter pilots because they are naturally better at it than humans, are heavily incentivized by the government and actually do stand a chance of surviving their fighter getting blown up, after the battle their floating heads could be retrieved from space and attached to new bodies

    3) let's talk about weapons, a capital ship could use lasers, but lasers that are so powerful they can blow up a fighter in a blink of an eye (keeping the laser trained at the fighter is difficult) may not be realistic, fighters will be able to stay out of range of flak fire and they can evade/shoot missiles, the fighters themselves would probably carry nukes (or antimatter bombs), in fact them carrying nukes will be the only reason for their existence, they can launch nukes close to the enemy capital ship and from many different directions, if there are enough fighters they can overwhelm the enemy flak fire and get nukes through, the enemy capital ship cannot evade all fighters at the same time so some will get very close, if it was just a fight between two capital ships they could keep a distance so their defenses would have ample time to lock onto all the enemy nukes, but fighters can get closer, and don't listen to the people who say nukes don't work in space, they can burn through meters of armor (and fry everything on the surface, like sensors and flak guns) if you can detonate them close enough to the hull

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  19. I wonder what would happen if you combined the traditional fighter craft or lancer with the normal shuttles or troop transports to make an all purpose vehicle......

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  20. You would get the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S, of course! Just kidding. Something like a souped-up Pelican with tons of weapon pods, I would imagine.

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  21. This is interesting, but don't be so discouraged... AI are predictable and will always be, atleast a bit, because it lacks much, it still calculates based on *if* and *when* and a human oponent will likely best AI in most scenarios ( this is more realistical than "there can't be space fighters").
    Also the peeps that you listen to calculate everything around conventional propulsion using main engines and RCS and so on ( yes, i fly in Orbiter too), alternative propulsion such as controlled atomic explosions have been researched in '58 ( project orion ) and it was promising, there are a lot of alternative methods ( just like in cars... but it's not encouraged because they can still make money with fossil fuel, they don't want to lose any by investing, ignorants), remember the action in sci fi movies isn't happening in 2012 lol... you want to blame someone for the fact that we're so unevolved compared to the potential, blame capitalism, blame oil companies, blame corporatism, they research in how to make an iphone more slim but they don't give a frak that there wasn't any manned mission above low earth orbit since apollo days. To tell you the truth, a lot of them are just speculating based on what they know, it's a long way from reality.
    Small(emphasis on small) fighters can be used as superiority fighters, zerging... if they have enough firepower, they can overwhelm the radar just enough to land a hit in the right spot.
    PS. The G force that comes into question in many discutions about dogfights is dependent on how you fly, there are some simulators for that as well, you will be surprised. For example a good fighter pilot feels how much he can take and flies smart, for example: ...if you pull up all the way jerking it fast..yes, you will blackout... ( you will take considerably less G if you do it more slowly, maybe have some technique and roll also)

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  22. In my story, shuttles and drones have to the capability to be driven by humans due to the Singularity War (an event where machines rose up and decimated earth, basically terminator). So in case of catastrophic failure, they can be flown normally

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  23. One argument for drone warfare in space is how "clean" the environment is, even if space is heavily "populated" and industrialized the density of manned civilian ships will still be few and far between. A drone fighting in such an environment does not always need to be highly intelligent, it certainly doesn't need full intelligence and conciousness, you manned command warship will see any civilian ships in the area long before your drone reaches it and if any civilians are approaching you will have time to warn the drone which ship they are in, what the spectral signature of it's engines is and such so that the drone will not kill non-combatants. You can also warn it of where your own ships are. so with that info provided remotely the drone only needs to see where enemy vessels or drones are and calculate how to destroy them before they get it, more a task of pure mathematics than cunning and deception. whether the drone is reusable will depend on how it as armed and how different costs are relative to each other, if it carries lasers or guns it will probably be reusable, if powerplants are very expensive it will be reusable, if it carries missiles then it might as well be a missile and save itself needing to come back.

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  24. Flying a space drone actually would kinda be a little easier than those believe for these reasons
    1. Fuel since theirs no air in space there's no opposite force slowing the fighter down. The only time they would need to use fuel I'd to eight or slow down cus the fighter would be using the energy of the booster engine he just used. To get their. So don't worry about the gas bill on that one

    2. Drones. Due to being a star fighter being close to a fighter in world war 1 1917. It's probably a death sentence. So drones are more useful. Also most drones have lots of wierd dohikies & what not to protect it from being jammed today so expect it to be stronger in the future. Also since you had 2 bring up Ai wouldn't the 1 Ai be able to control all the drones & protect them from jamming cus they're literally in the system. So they could. Just bitch slap that jamming signal at its max range. At close range to the mother capital starship is gonna be difficult since the fight is gonna be from earth to moon distance.

    Due to the multirolled nature of fighters today it's a safe bet that the stardrones or starfighters will be a multiroled joint strike fighter used to fight enemies planetside (lol) & in space

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