Star Fighter Command and Control

Feasibility Study Research Group

War in space is nothing like what is depicted in movies and on TV. A laser fired at Earth from space is less effective than a rod of tungsten just dropped from the same height. Ships designed for combat will be heavily armored even if a true force field could be invented.

Fighter craft designed for operation in space have no need for wings. But, as long as a space based fighter is required to enter an atmosphere from time to time they will keep putting wings on them. Currently, all theoretical and current working models require the ability to work inside an atmosphere. Some working models of space planes have been tested at near hypersonic speeds in the upper atmosphere with success.

Without a major breakthrough in propulsion technology, combat spacecraft would likely get around the same way the Apollo spacecraft went to the Moon and back: with orbit changes effected by discrete main-engine burns. Greater speed from something like burning a chemical, nuclear, or antimatter rocket in a single maneuver is a better option. The trouble with rocket propulsion is that there will be relatively long periods during which Newtonian physics govern the motions of dogfighting spacecraft, punctuated by relatively short periods of maneuvering.

Combat in orbit is very different from combat in deep space. Around a planet, the tactical advantage in a battle is determined by orbit dynamics. There are only a few ways to maneuver the attitude of a spacecraft around –  fire an off-center thruster or to tilt a gyroscope around to generate torque. For attitude maneuvers it would be critical to point the main engine of a space fighter to set up for a burn. The same is used to point the weapons systems at an enemy. Concealing the attitude maneuvers of the space fighter is important in order to gain a tactical advantage.

Gyroscopes is a better way to go. They exist entirely within the space fighter hull, and wouldn't need to be mounted on any long booms to get the most torque on the craft. With a big enough gyroscope, a spacecraft could flip end-for-end in a matter of seconds. If you come upon a space fighter with some big, spherical bulbs near the midsection, they are probably whopping big gyroscopes and the thing will be able to point its guns at you no matter where you go.

To mitigate some of the directionality of things like weapons fire and thruster burns, space fighters would probably have weapons and engines mounted at various points around their hull. But, efficiently mass-producing space warships with so many precision parts for a relatively fragile vessel,  the craft would likely only have one main engine.

Star Fighter Command and Control

Feasibility Study Research Group

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To damage a spacecraft to put it out of action explosions are basically a waste of energy in space. On the ground, these are devastating because of the shock. In space, an explosion just creates some expanding gases that would be easily dissipated by a hull. The best ranged weapons are kinetic impactors and radiation.

A kinetic impactor is basically just a fancy bullet that goes really fast and hits the enemy fighter, tearing through the hull, damaging delicate systems with vibrations, kicking gyroscopes out of alignment so that they spin uncontrollably and explode into shards, puncturing fuel tanks and other consumables directly or indirectly killing the pilot and crew.

The simplest way is to use some kind of machine gun or cannon. Those will work in space (ask the Soviets, they tested a cannon in space), and they will do plenty of damage if they hit anything. The most effective kinetic space weapon is flak shells. Flak shells explode into a hail of fragmented shards, able to tear through un-armored systems of many craft without the shell directly hitting its target, even if the ship tries to evade with a last-minute engine burn. The downside to kinetic weapons on a space fighter is that they would impart momentum to the fighter.

Radiation based weapons require heavy shielding to protect the pilot and crew and lasers require a lot of power. That is something only a large spacecraft might be able to supply with current technology.

Drone space fighters would be great for close support of a large main spacecraft, but they would start to have communication issues the farther away they got from the main ship. A time lag a live pilot could exploit.

Compared to the reality, the public’s concept of war in space is pure science fiction. - excerpts from The Physics of Space Battles by Joseph Shoer

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