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Space combat seems pointless to me.

What exactly would they be fighting over?

Presumably you want to reach space for resources, so asteroids, planets and moons with minerals, stuff like that. You might also want planets/asteroids/moons that are 'good' for colonization (easily terra formed or already life sustaining).

You probably wouldn't see many fights where you are firing at the resource itself. No one with the money to fire at earth, will actually fire at earth, because it is more valuable as an inhabitable planet. If each side can obliterate whatever is being fought over, you basically have an instant MAD scenario.

Similar with moons/asteroids. I'm not going to fire a massive kinetic weapon at a moon or asteroid (and blow it to pieces) if my objective is obtain that object to profit from it. More likely I'll pay people very well to infiltrate and sabotage it, repeatedly. I wouldn't even bother trying to invade.

Why not an invasion force? Well, you could send an invasion force, but that would be fairly pointless. It is easy to defend an entrenched position that your enemy does not want to shoot at (sabotaging just the defenses might be too obvious, and i think would have too high a possibility of failure). On top of this they can use massive force to repel you, and you cannot (you don't want to obliterate your objective). So an invasion fleet is probably not likely.

A far more likely scenario would be to simply drive your competitor out of business. If they keep getting sabotaged, it becomes unprofitable for them to operate (it becomes a 'cursed' outpost, wages go up, you have to make repairs). Then you can easily take their stuff (or buy it on the cheap when they are going out of business).

This gets you into interesting things, you would end up with extensive background and history checks, genetic tests to prove that you really are who you say you are, mental/psychological screening, mind-reading, brainwashing, complex hacking of the computers that do background checks, genetic 'doping' to make a person pass as someone else, brainwashing.

Your competitors will also likely try to assassinate you if they every figure out that you are the one ordering the destruction of their outposts (it should be easy to figure out, as there will be few entities with resources to profit from this).




People have been making the argument that war makes no economic sense, and therefore won't happen, since at least 1898:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jan_Gotlib_Bloch#Research_and_a...

Sixteen years later, they had the first world war.


It didn't really make much sense, either. Nor the next one.


You can argue this over in your head a lot, but it's really quite simple in my mind.

If we assume space travel becomes relatively easy (that is to say it is used for more than initial colonization) there will be interstellar commerce. If there is unprotected commerce, there will be pirates. Any time there are pirates, protection will develop. Let us call these peace-keepers the Navy.

If you engage in commerce and you have a powerful Navy, you can influence or even control commerce.

Do you see where I'm going? Most wars are about resources. Commerce is about resources. Anywhere you have commerce, you are liable to develop conflict.


I think you're looking at this with a 20th century viewpoint. There doesn't seem like there'd be a lot of physical matter that an advanced civilisation might want to pirate. Perhaps some form of exotic matter, like a black hole, might fit the bill, but that would be particularly hard to steal because everyone could see where you were taking it.


Until you can fabricate matter in your MrFusion6000, material resources in some form or another will continue to be valuable.

Once you CAN fabricate, Einstein tells us you will need a TON of energy to do so. So, even if that day comes, you will still need to acquire energy.


Sure, but even today, raw material resources tend not to be the sort of things criminals target directly. You rarely get thieves trying to steal lumber, or iron ore, for example, because they have a low price-to-weight ratio.



1. None of those things are strictly raw materials; they've all been refined, cut or treated in some fashion.

2. Coming up with a several examples doesn't show that such thefts aren't rare in comparison to other thefts.


He's talking about raw ore, and you're citing articles about concentrated/refined/treated metals and construction lumber.


How about copper? We had someone steal it from the crawlspace of a house we rent out.


It's a question of scarcity, platinum, gold, silver, and copper still have value, salt does not.


Read TFA, it argues pretty convincingly that there will not be pirates because A) you can't hide in space and B) Any ship is a WMD, so governments will do anything to keep them out of the hands of criminals, and protection rackets would be a far more profitable use for them than raiding commerce.


Pirates are generally noted as coming after privateers. Privateers had plenty of places to hide. Notably privateers with letters of marque against Spanish shipping had British, French and Dutch ports to hide in.

Piracy developed when the pirates could appear easily as privateers. If you didn't piss of your host nation, then you were free to loot the ships you wanted. Then pirates gained enough money and power that they could start their own micronations. Note that privateer ships were often enlisted by the military during wars, so it's safe to assume an assault on a pirate haven was out of the question for the military. Especially when pirate controlled settlements were often cleared by privateers issued letters of marque on condition of clearing the settlement.

I don't see how governments will keep ships out of the hands of criminals when governments show little desire to exploit space, where as corporations do. Corporations will grow very quickly in space, governments won't. Governments are likely to spread via colonies rather than commerce or expansion.

The guy doesn't argue convincingly that there won't be pirates, because his argument should have meant pirates wouldn't have existed in the 1700's. The Spanish knew where the pirates and privateers were running to, but they were well enough armed that you wanted superior numbers. So it was a matter of attacking a solitary ship with more fire power before it could reach a safe port.

Even though Port Royal and Tortuga were known as lawless ports, there was plenty of law there. The Spanish weren't about to invade a port with cannons on its battlements and dozens of privateer and pirate ships docked. Many of these pirate ships were better crewed and equipped than their respective nations military ships. Stede Bonnet had a sloop with 120 men and 16 guns. He was captured when he only had 50 men and was beached in a harbour. Notably the military brought 2 of the same tonnage ship, notably 8 gun vessels which Bonnet's ship had originally been at the start of his life of crime. [Edit: IIRC Rhett had 130 men on his two ships and simply outlasted Stede whose crew surrendered - Stede wanted to blow his ship up rather than surrender]


I'm not sure you've understood the poster's arguments.

The worst a pirate captain could do with a single ship in the 1700s was to sink a few merchant ships.

The worst a pirate captain could do with a spaceship is to destroy an entire continent.

In the 1700s, a pirate captain could hide his ship from government navies, and take merchant ships by surprise.

The location of a spaceship is public knowledge; it cannot take anyone by surprise, and the authorities know exactly where it is.

You can see how there might be a little bit of a difference? There's a considerable incentive for any planet-side government to make sure pirate spaceships don't exist, and there's nowhere the pirate can hide.


This idea that you can't hide in space betrays a lack of imagination. As a rule, ships will operate near objects such as planets, asteroids or nebulae. These objects provide plenty of opportunity for cover and ambushes. There is also the possibility of minefields and other unmanned devices that can easily be shielded from detection. And those are just the things we can realistically grasp with our current technological understanding.

The other point that a rogue ship can wage war against an entire planet is correct, but it's also misleading because the assumption only works if the planet has no defense systems appropriate to the threat. The other argument that ships will be highly regulated because they're dangerous, powerful, and profitable is probably correct but at the same time it's important to remember that being outlawed per se doesn't stop anything. We should know better, because we tried this with drugs, terrorism and copyright violations - all of which are still going on despite the massive amount of resources employed to eradicate them.


> As a rule, ships will operate near objects such as planets, asteroids or nebulae. These objects provide plenty of opportunity for cover and ambushes.

Maybe in science fiction.

The main problems you have are:

1. Space is big and mostly empty. A few hundred probes could cover every blindspot in a solar system.

2. Going anywhere requires venting hot gas that's highly visible. Even small ion drives are detectable light minutes away with current technology.

> There is also the possibility of minefields and other unmanned devices that can easily be shielded from detection

Shielded how, exactly?

Also, how are these unmanned devices going to get close to their targets? Space is big, so a ship isn't going to blunder near one by chance. Perhaps if you knew the ship's route ahead of time, but then even a small randomizing factor introduced into the route would prevent that.

> we tried this with drugs, terrorism and copyright violations - all of which are still going on despite the massive amount of resources employed to eradicate them.

Drugs, C4 and digital files are small, easy to hide, and relatively inexpensive.

A spaceship is none of these things.


Don't forget that motor vehicles are well regulated, dangerous, powerful and profitable. It still doesn't mean dad won't hand the keys to his 17 year old kid and said kid won't try doing 160 and take out a hotel lobby.

We wilfully put aeroplanes in the hands of thousands of pilots. It doesn't stop them coming to work drunk, or falling asleep at the wheel, or heck snapping.

The reason governments won't strictly regulate space ships will be the same reason governments don't strictly regulate driving. It costs too much.


There's just a slight difference between taking out a hotel lobby, and removing an entire continent filled with billions of people off the map.


You've completely missed my point, like took the highway to the next state missed the point.

> The worst a pirate captain could do with a single ship in the 1700s was to sink a few merchant ships.

It wasn't that they sank the ships. Stede Bonnet is noted for capturing around 30 ships in under 2 years, noted in that there's a record of the ships he plundered. The money he took from this went to the ports he traded in.

> The worst a pirate captain could do with a spaceship is to destroy an entire continent.

Depending on the size of the vessel, it's a possibility, but not likely. It's going to be easy to tell if someone's approaching you at ridiculous speed. Also, this means anything you hit them with hits harder. When you're driving at a bullet at the speed of sound, it's definitely going to hurt a lot more. You're not only making yourself more obvious, but more vulnerable.

> In the 1700s, a pirate captain could hide his ship from government navies, and take merchant ships by surprise.

How? Is there some magic cloaking device that prevails the Caribbean ocean? Sorry, but the Navy can't stop drug smugglers by boat today with satellites, radar and whatever else.

They knew where they were going. Do you not think the Spanish knew that Henry Morgan was headed for Tortuga? He didn't have to hide from the British or the French, in fact he ended up an Admiral of the Royal Navy.

They took the merchants by surprise, because the merchants didn't know they were pirates, they thought they were just crossing paths with another merchant ship. Stede Bonnet captured three ships by pretending to trade with merchant ships (notable for their short crews) and rushed them with his 130 men.

> The location of a spaceship is public knowledge; it cannot take anyone by surprise, and the authorities know exactly where it is.

Again, yes and no. Just because you can see everything, doesn't mean you can watch everything. You're assuming one universal government and data sharing between governments or agencies.

Sorry, but it's eventually going to be in one nations best interest to economically harm the other and harbour privateers.

> There's a considerable incentive for any planet-side government to make sure pirate spaceships don't exist, and there's nowhere the pirate can hide.

Earth based governments, maybe. Do you think the colonies are going to turn down building materials for 1/2 the cost? Or protection for harbouring pirates? Anything that increases government revenues will be protected.

Governments will harbour pirates because they have before. The French made piracy rampant by issuing letters of marque simply to damage everyone elses economic ability.

Governments war over limited resources, but they sabotage when there's plentiful resources.


> Depending on the size of the vessel, it's a possibility, but not likely. It's going to be easy to tell if someone's approaching you at ridiculous speed.

So if you a voting citizen of Earth, you'd have complete confidence in your planetary defences, and see no reason at all to send the military after the rogue spaceship that could potentially destroy your country?

Can you imagine a national government saying today, "Yes, we know the terrorist has nuclear bombs, and yes, they're currently in a remote location within strike range of our aircraft, but no, we're not going to take them out because we're 99.9% sure they'd be unable to get those bombs into our country."

> How? Is there some magic cloaking device that prevails the Caribbean ocean?

The atmosphere, the curvature of the earth, primitive communications, and obstructing land masses are all problems 18th century ships had to deal with.

> Sorry, but the Navy can't stop drug smugglers by boat today with satellites, radar and whatever else.

And how many large, hard-to-hide pirate vessels do you see nowadays? How many pirate battleships, or pirate aircraft carriers are there?

Pirate vessels today are small, short-range craft that can be easily hidden, because communication and observation technologies are so much better today than in the 1700s.

> They took the merchants by surprise, because the merchants didn't know they were pirates, they thought they were just crossing paths with another merchant ship.

That trick would only work once. Once the pirate attacked, everyone in the solar system would see them, and their little green icon would permanently change into a little red icon.

> Sorry, but it's eventually going to be in one nations best interest to economically harm the other and harbour privateers.

Why? That doesn't happen today. The US doesn't sponsor pirate battleships to attack the French, for instance.

Privateers made sense in the 1700s, where raw materials still had a lot of worth, and war could be waged between world powers without mutual destruction.

But today, piracy doesn't make economic sense for anyone with any wealth. It's much more profitable to invest than steal.

> Do you think the colonies are going to turn down building materials for 1/2 the cost?

Yes, because everyone will see them doing it, and in a high-technology civilization, raw materials are ultimately not that valuable.


The minute someone says "that's impossible, there is absolutely no way that will happen", someone else begins to devise a way to make the "impossible" scenario/product/achievement possible. Incedentally, the typical HN reader falls into the latter category - so carry on space pirates!


You could apply the same arguments to why wooden naval combat shouldn't have happened.

You'd think there is nowhere to hide on the ocean- but there is the horizon to hide behind (planets anyone?) and weather (electrical or magnetic storms?) to hinder visibility.


All you need is a few hundred monitoring stations scattered throughout the solar system and you'd have 100% visibility.

There's no phenomenon in space equivalent to planet-side weather that would regularly obscure or inhibit any monitoring system stationed in space.


I think your argument is aiming at the right target, but is using the wrong ammo.

The essay outlines why piracy is not possible (or at least practical) for space commerce. However, it is very plausible that nations will fight over shipping routes and try to destroy each other's freighters and merchant ships. Like you said "Anywhere you have commerce, you are liable to develop conflict." This will be true, but probably only between political states.


Incidentally it was the nations of England, France, Spain and Denmark that caused piracy. Not only did they give charters to captains to give them the right to attack another nations ships, but they harboured them.

The British ports were notorious for this. Spain had control of the gold, so Britain allowed their pirates to attack the gold galleons and haul it back to British ports. The pirates would eventually spend said gold in the port buying items imported from Europe and transferring wealth back to the old world (incidentally this actually faired better for England than it did Spain, as the Spanish gold went into the governments coffers. The stolen gold entered the economy).

I agree, piracy isn't likely to happen just randomly. Without ports harbouring pirates the oceans became clear pretty quickly. The European superpowers didn't want to go to war with each other, but it was still in their own best advantage to sabotage the other.

Remember the majority of 'pirates' were privateers. Many privateer ships were commissioned when their host nation went to war and decommissioned when the war ended. Whenever you see in the movies a pirate ship landing at Port Royal or Tortuga, then they likely had letters of marque from Britain or France against the Spanish, if not they would be real pirates and even then they'd have safe harbour if they didn't piss off the authorities.

Steed Bonnet for instance was a pirate attacking British/any vessels. However he received an official pardon (along with Blackbeard) from his life of crime. However (unlike Blackbeard) he set sail for a Dutch settlement to buy a letter of marque and become a Dutch privateer against the Spanish. However, this didn't happen. He turned to all out piracy very shortly after his departure and when news got back that it was him, then the governor that pardoned him sent the military after him. Then he did the neck hanging dance.

Privateers were even known to reclaim colonies from pirates for being issued letters of marque.

IMO piracy and privateers have a very strong likelihood of occurring. We're already seeing signs that it's going to be companies to exploit space before governments, similar to in the Caribbean. It will only take one nation permitting privateers to operate before all nations and companies of size will be operating privateers. It's the logical step if governments aren't capable of exerting their force more than corporations.


True, but probably only until space flight becomes less prohibitively expensive, or the commerce that happens in space becomes more "interesting", to pirates.


Unless we can effectively teleport, there won't be any interstellar commerce. Everything is too far away.

Interplanetary, maybe, but within our solar system.


There was commerce between the Romans and ancient china that took around 10 years one way. I don't remember what was being traded, except for the silk from china, but it shows that distance and time are not absolute limiters for trading.


Here's a good article about traveling to Alpha Centauri[1]. It posits that it would take 85 years best-case-scenario technology and 81k years using current technology.

Absent the discovery of new physics that allows us to travel through wormholes or something of that ilk, traveling to the other side of the galaxy for a vacation will, sadly, not be happening. Instead long-distance space travel will likely involve putting humans into cryosleep and then waking them up when they reach their destination; hundreds of thousands or millions of years in the future.

[1] http://www.universetoday.com/15403/how-long-would-it-take-to...


Why send humans at all? By that time I'd assume we'd have reasonable AI; just send it along with a bunch of frozen embryos anywhere you please. The AI can incubate and raise the children. It could even terraform the planet until it was habitable. You wouldn't even need to explore; just send out probes willy-nilly. If they never reach a suitable location, then it's no big loss.

A fire-and-forget method of human space colonization is not only far more feasible, but also far more economical.


Why are you always supposing that ships would be firing at valuable planets, then debunking that? Just extend the idea of a nation's airspace to a planet's "spacespace." Establishing space supremacy around a planet would obviously be a useful military tactic. You can stop extraplanetary supplies and commerce (think the blockade from Star Wars) and eventually take over a valuable planet by starving them out (assuming that the planet relies on space travel for a significant part of its economy, which is pretty much te assumption of this whole debate). That planet in turn will want its own space fleet to protect its spacespace. When the two forces meet, you have space battles. It seems simple to me.


Well, let's say I want to gather minerals from an asteroid.

My primary defense would probably be to paste a big honking weapon on the asteroid and shoot anyone who wants to take over my valuable mining facility.

If I put my defenses on something next to my planet, I'm an idiot. If he destroys my defenses, I want him to also have a high chance of destroying whatever he's attacking me for.

So I build a big weapon as well as commensurate defenses. It isn't unimaginable that the destruction created by future weapons in order to penetrate future defenses would be immense. High velocity and mass will be the only way to do this... mostly in order to prevent deflection/destruction. You have accelerated a projectile to significant fraction of the speed of light in order to get it through the target's point defenses (think missile defense shield). Anything that can penetrate the missile defense system will have extreme destructive force, without needing a warhead.

Generally the point of a blockade/siege is to starve out the opponent so that you can eventually take whatever they are squatting on. Your opponent has a big weapon that you don't want to shoot at (you aren't looking to destroy what you are fighting over). Your blockade would be a sitting duck unless you destroy the weapon, and you significantly reduce the value of the planet/asteroid if you destroy the weapon.

In addition he also has perfect visibility due to the empty nature of space... he can see and shoot at you whenever he wants. If you intercept his transports, he shoots at you. If you stop to refuel, he shoots at you. If you start taking out his less valuable assets, he shoots at you. He can shoot your other assets too. Your space armada has to refuel at a fixed point in space... likely visible to his weapon.

If there were a fight, it would likely be very short and involve both sides having their logistical assets completely annihilated... Which ultimately would defeat the purpose of attacking in the first place.


Two things: First, I don't think that huge kinetic weapons would be the ideal choice for this kind of combat. If I'm attacking an asteroid with a huge ass gun on it, I'd first like to have some type of EMP type weapon developed to simply shut down the tracking/aiming/power supply of the asteroid's defenses. Just the threat of an attack like that from orbit would probably be enough, as it would likely shut down life support on the rock as well.

Secondly, assuming that such a weapon isn't developed, depending on what you're mining, it seems likely enough that it won't matter what shape the asteroid is in. For mining solid materials, it would probably be best just to blow these asteroids into manageable pieces and send the whole lot through your enormous space processing plants for extraction and refinement. In this case, you'd need space fleets to protect your "planet crackers" and to protect your processing vessels from other companies, pirates, etc.


What if the goal is to eliminate the planet-side species?

Plus I'm willing to bet you could obliterate the surface of the planet using kinetic weapons and still have plenty of resources left over.


Why would that ever be a goal?


You should read The Killing Star: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Killing_Star

Spoiler Alert!

In the late 21st century, Earth is at peace, sending fleets of Valerie spacecraft to the stars. Without warning, relativistic kill vehicle obliterate the surface of every planet, and a mop-up fleet of ships begins hunting down the humans that remain.

The last two humans on Earth are kept as zoo specimens. They ask why their planet, and all its species, were exterminated. The squid-like aliens explain their logic thusly:

1. Every space-faring civilization is capable of planetary extermination.

2. If given the choice, every species will choose to exterminate another species rather than their own.

3. Each side knows that the other has the same choice.


Classic case of MAD. "The only winning move is not to play".


The problem is that any development of interstellar vessels constitutes "playing".


Because people are irrational. Why did Hitler try to kill all the Jews? Because he felt like it and had the means to do something about it.


It was for racial purity. At the time eugenics was a big deal, it stated that some genes which were exhibited as external traits were superior. Hitler was attempting to create a better world by performing artificial selection.

As much as his ideas and methods were bonkers and would never work the fact that humans have stopped evolving naturally is something that some people still want to change.

More information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Holocaust#Development_and_e...


People are still evolving. Evolution is adaption to existing conditions and is basically impossible to stop. In fact dispute billions of years of multicellular evolution the cells 'in your body' and given time will develop into cancer, then portable cancer inside your body, and given the right conditions portable cancer outside your body.

PS: Humans closet genetic relative is a single celled organism whose species started from cultures of a woman's cancer cells. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HeLa Tasmanian devils suffer from a similar disease of more natural oragin. http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/tasman...


Maybe they are spreading "propaganda" or have "weapons of planet destruction" and we can't let that unpredictable species have them!


Why wouldn't it be a goal? If you're fighting over space resources and destroy their space-based military, then its safe to assume the planet bound will soon be launching missiles at you.

The obvious plan is glass the planet, spend 50 years harvesting the orbital resources and then you'll have the infrastructure in place to strip mine the lifeless planet.


we like trees, so we kill all the birds (etc) who live in the trees.


i imagine each planet/unit of an inter-system civilization will not be self-sufficient. seige, baby. i think a study of earth's military tactics and goals will answer the questions raised by this post.


You probably wouldn't see many fights where you are firing at the resource itself.

No, but if you can control travel to and from the resource, then you can park your forces there, and say, shut off the population's air supply. Better yet, threaten to do so, unless they all get onboard a shuttle.

A far more likely scenario would be to simply drive your competitor out of business. If they keep getting sabotaged, it becomes unprofitable for them to operate (it becomes a 'cursed' outpost, wages go up, you have to make repairs). Then you can easily take their stuff (or buy it on the cheap when they are going out of business).

Plenty of precedent for this tactic. It's been used by labor unions and informal groups of workers for nearly a couple of centuries now.

Maybe someone can weaponize psychological disorders or sociological pathologies this way? It's harder to make a group work well together than it is to make a group that is dysfunctional. Maybe this is already happening?


No, but if you can control travel to and from the resource, then you can park your forces there, and say, shut off the population's air supply. Better yet, threaten to do so, unless they all get onboard a shuttle.

Sure, but the important part is perfect visibility. You and your opponent know exactly where each other are at all times. If you blockade, you will be a sitting duck for surface to ship weapons. You have to maintain a high velocity to avoid this. The alternative then is to intercept their transports, and even if you do that, you still have to refuel somewhere. (It seems like it might be better sending unmanned missiles to 'intercept' the transports anyway). And the refueling platform or space ship or missile platform will probably be a sitting duck at some point.

Maybe someone can weaponize psychological disorders or sociological pathologies this way? It's harder to make a group work well together than it is to make a group that is dysfunctional. Maybe this is already happening?

I think this is quite likely, you could even engineer people who are simply annoying and send them to cause trouble within in a small mining colony. For example, a person who chews loudly, has bad breath and terrible BO would put a huge strain on a group if you had to share sparse quarters and limited oxygen.

Throw in a sociopath with a strong will to power and you've at least got an 8 part miniseries.


If you are to try a blockade, I'd have to assume you'll bring enough matte with you to start dropping relatively heavy chunks of matter onto anything you see missiles being launched from.


If you are to try a blockade...

I'd accomplish a blockade this way:

Send a squadron of cheap robot ships that are painted in EM-absorbing materials, operate at cryogenic temperatures, communicate only on tight-beam lasers, and beam all of their minuscule waste heat in one direction. These ships would make a final course correction by ejecting cold mass, and take up station near the resource. When an enemy transport comes nearby, I'd send a command to activate one of my robot ships and have it launch a missile. Heck, since at that point it would be disposable, I'd have it spin-up to high-temp torchship mode and have it be the missile.

The enemy won't know how many of these things I have. However, the real purpose would be to get them to react and maneuver resources in place to detect my hidden ships, so that I could detect the energies of those maneuvers to set up the real attack.

Stealth won't be important, my ass!


You should definitely play EVE Online. This is totally the kind of stuff that goes on in the major corporations that players set up.




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