Economic Systems and Space Corporations

another of mrxak's infrequent topics

I've been thinking about economies and corporations, and how they may evolve into space. I've come to several conclusions to present to you, as I do from time to time, for your discussion. I hope perhaps some of the ideas contained or generated by this topic will aid you in your plug-in endeavors.

The emphasis on huge interstellar governments in many plug-ins (or science fiction in general) strikes me more and more as a convenience instead of a realistic vision. Assuming all creatures of a planet achieving sentience socialize in a progression from tribes to city-states to nations, with barriers between rivals ever-increasing, I wonder how likely it really would be for a unified planetary government. The expansion of NATO antagonizes Russia despite many similar goals. The expansion of the EU causes problems with existing members. It is a well-known concept in international relations: the stronger you become, the more people ally against you to balance the power. Assuming no one power is capable of truly conquering all others, and the weak will gather to oppose the strong, the best any planet (at least any origin planet) can achieve is a stable bipolar system.

We can also reasonably assume these governmental powers will be most concerned with national security and seeing to the needs of their people. The simple truth is that there's always more problems for governments to fix, and seeming-luxuries will always take a back seat. The government will always choose to fix health care or fix the economy before they see that everyone gets a free plasma TV in their home, no matter how many of their citizens really want one. Similarly, pure science will not be emphasized, unless there is a national security demand. Specifically, I speak to the space race during the Cold War or concerns that x nation is falling behind y nation in test scores.

NASA is poorly funded, certainly woefully funded compared to the potential benefits NASA might achieve for our species. NASA remains the only organization to get a human being onto another planet or satellite. NASA will continue to be poorly funded so long as it does not provide a national security benefit or fulfill a major need. There's simply too many other problems that need governmental attention. The same can be said of other governmental space programs. The Chinese and Japanese currently believe space programs are important for their national security or national pride, and thus are both working towards manned moon missions, but their overall impact is unknown.

On the other hand, governments are not the only agents capable of spaceflight and exploration. While governments are primarily designed to see to our basic needs, companies are designed to see to our less-basic needs, even our luxuries. We have already had a manned spaceflight with entirely no government funding or assistance. SpaceShipOne is only the beginning. The same X PRIZE Foundation that rewarded the venture is offering a $20 million reward for a non-government moon rover. There's 14 teams registered now. We may very well see a team win the prize before 2013 or 2015. It's a significant step towards a manned trip to Luna.

The commercialization of space is a given. There are already people buying their way into space on government-funded craft, and soon companies may be applying what they learned on X PRIZES and such do to full-blown space tourism. Companies, trying ever to become more efficient, will make space travel cheaper and better. How soon is it before the first commercial colonies get set up on the Moon or Mars? When will the first orbital Space Hotel start having permanent residents? The answer is clear. We we see these things happen long before the world's governments fix all of our problems and turn their eyes to colonizing space.

While space tourism is certainly a potential source of profits on its own, I do not think it is the real money maker. Energy drives the world's economy now, and space has quantities of cheap reliable energy we can only now dream of. Imagine a massive solar panel array set up at a Lagrange point to collect energy and later beam it to where it is needed. Imagine harvesting hydrogen off of Jupiter to bring back to Mars or a space station to power some kind of fusion reactor. Companies may also find that the low gravity of the Moon or another location is ideal for heavy construction. Materials mined from moons or planets will also provide what is needed for various products or equipment. Perhaps we are able to grow food much easier in low gravity somewhere the sun shines year-round and doesn't have off-seasons. Perhaps there are companies that can conduct pure research and sell their patents to companies that depend on the latest edge over their space competitors. The possibilities are quite endless, and beyond the intellectual scope or imagination of most world government leaders.

So when the call goes out for volunteers to take part in an expedition to colonize a distant planet in another solar system, I doubt it will be a government, certainly not a world government, that will be funding it. Assuming FTL travel is possible, space is probably big enough that a few different mega corporations can divide up the local stars, then a few more might branch out and divide up a few more distant stars. I imagine entertainment will become/remain our most valued luxury item, and the more digital it is, the better. While a trip to another habitat might be a nice vacation, people will mostly use some form of virtual reality, perhaps even holographics of some sort, for their R&R. These digital programs will be sold directly to space-faring corporations which will in turn sell them to colonists for a licensing fee. Because they take up no physical space and can be transmitted without wires, they will become the cost-effective solution to keeping workers happy on their off-shifts. Other luxuries may include better living spaces, or even the ownership of land.

So I do not see massive interplanetary governments fighting with each other over resources. I see one company owning a system or two here, another company owning another few systems over here, and so on. Should government exist, it would remain local, and mostly to keep order. A legal system for criminals, a few public works not provided by the modular habitats, etc. These governments would likely form out of labor unions on commercial colonies, or agreements by private colonists. Should space travel become cheap "enough", there may be non-commercial colonies that set out on their own by pooling resources to buy a space ship and some habitats. These non-commercial colonies would likely remain small for hundreds of years, and wouldn't be worth bothering with.

Because large overarching governments or legal systems would not exist out in space, actual warfare between corporations might occur. It might start small, like the destruction of a scout probe in an already-claimed system, or the occasional colonist massacre in the deep space between stars. There could be corporate sabotage or theft. In any case, corporations might arm themselves and conduct war, and it would no doubt be irrational (space is big). Through that, there might be colonial militias, planetary defense systems, and even warships in space, all paid for as a corporate expense as part of doing business. A hostile takeover of another corporation might take on a completely new meaning. But would one corporation truly be able to take over even a large portion of known space? I go back to what I said about international relations theory. The weaker will ally against the strong. Corporations, as greedy and hostile as they might become, will be unable to exert much control over their neighbors. It comes down to profit, risks and rewards. Without government ideologies to make the other guy out to be evil (or worse yet, needing help to become more civilized, etc.), war will be a purely economic matter, and most corporations wishing to survive to profit another day will not let their minor skirmishes become all-out fights to the death. Still, I have no doubt arms dealers will do quite well in the future. Privateers and anti-privateers will also burgeon.

So, how might this work as a plug-in? Perhaps with a galaxy populated by many different gรถvts of many types, each a corporate entity with its own missions at odds with each other. The player could do any number of these in any order, conducting raids or espionage on another corporation, getting colonists or supplies to various planets. Perhaps the suppression of a rebellious union is in order. There might be companies that do supply runs or shipping for a number of different corporations, competing with another shipping company. There might be some mercenary organizations that need help fighting pirates or just doing work for the highest bidder. Perhaps the player will want to work for himself to manipulate markets or find secrets somebody will pay for. The player might gain a reputation as a privateer hostile to a particular corporation, and find himself fired on if he enters certain systems, or being hunted by a group of corporations trying to wipe out a corp you're friendly with. I don't know, but it might be interesting for you to think about.

I should be going to sleep, so I can't provide the type of reply that I'd like (nor have I spent enough time pondering your post to come up with such a reply), so this will be pretty brief for the moment.

First, where there's people, there's government. Perhaps not the national government, but in the literal definition, it's there. Unless everyone who goes out into space to live all become hermits and isolate themselves from everyone, there'll be some type of government and I'm sure, once corporations have a reasonable hold out there, like a colony, Earth governments will slowly attempt to intervene on some level, whether it simply be a few regulatory laws to trying to seize the colony from the corporation. Most likely it'll be some sort of less extreme example, like the former. If no practical applications that'd demand immediate government investment comes up, particularly in military fields, since lots of new technology comes from armies, they'll likely make their moves quite some time after corporations have set things up and got things to be reliable and cost-efficient. Just as we've gone from city states to countries, humans will naturally expand from there.

A good example would be the European expansion around the world, such as into areas like North America and Africa. People looking for profit, new lands to explore, or some other motive will be those going about first. Some will have government backing, others will find funding elsewhere. Eventually, colonists sent both by the government and those who have other reasons will go out and settle elsewhere. Any given colony will likely identify with a parent government and may continue to do so for quite a long time (like Canada) or could sever the bonds quite quickly (like the U.S.).

Overtime once colonies are established and have their own governments, whether it be independent or subservient, a similar progression from city-states to countries will occur. It won't be a fast process in the least bit, many settled worlds will likely have their own countries, which I'm going to say far, far less than Earth and cover much more territory, perhaps whole continents, for a long time. "Planet states" will be much farther down the line, and I bet Earth won't be the first. Most likely it'll be a country more akin to Russia or Australia who happens to have lots of territory and little competition for it. For a long time those will be out of the ordinary while others are continental nations (say, like the European Union being a nation or something like a United States of North America, encompassing the U.S, Mexico, and Canada). And even when "planet states" become the norm, you'll still have the out of the ordinary smaller state that may be continental or less, or perhaps even a city state. Countries like modern-day Monaco and San Marino suggest this could be a possibility, albeit rare. From there, it'd be another long and slow process to governments eventually claiming multiple worlds. And then another long and slow process to multiple star systems. And, if your universe is set extremely far in the future (random guess of 20,000 A.D. bare minimum, likely much, much longer), eventually whole galaxies.

All in all, for TCs, it'll depend on the year. After thinking about it for a bit as I wrote this, sub-3,000 A.D. for multi-star system governments seems extremely unlikely. Assuming we're colonizing in the next century or so and we don't get nailed by a Dark Age equivalent, we should be hitting the first "planet states" at a random guess of about 3,000 A.D. at the earliest. This assumes fast expansion and little competition for new territory.

Consequently, I think I might revise the date in my novel thanks to my own thoughts on this after reading your post and writing mine. Luckily, it hasn't been mentioned anywhere in the text, so that'd just be changing some notes.

And... that came out MUCH longer than I planned. Maybe that is the response I'm looking for...

Much like Josh, I disagree with your first statement, mrxak. I believe that planet-wide governments are possible, and by extension also pan-system governments.

The problem lies in how you conceive a government, and you put the accent on "Nation-States".
If there's anything the EU has shown so far, it's that States don't need to be the only level of government. Of course, it's easy for me to use the example of the EU as a student in EU Law, and anyone can say "it's not working", "it's not a State",
The point of the EU, at least right now, is not what it once was. Unification is not the ultimate goal anymore. As the current structure improves, so will the way Member States (and the people) relate to the EU. But it isn't trying to become a State, as it will likely never be a State in the current meaning of the term. After all, the linguistic and cultural differences are such that it would take many decades or centuries (if the EU exists that long) for the people to consider themselves European more than their nationality.

Now, I won't do an explanation of what the EU is and how it is currently working, with its different powers, competent fields and so on.
The main idea is that what can be best achieved at national level remains done at national level, and it's (theoretically) only when it's necessary to have a coordinated action that the EU adopts rules (which aren't even necessarily legislation).

Well, guess what: that theory can be transposed to planetary governments. Preposterous, one might say. But the idea of the EU was as preposterous right after WWII. The EU started at six, and is now at twenty-seven Member States, with all the changes this entails.

So let your imagination run wild. We're a few centuries in the future. Regional entities have formed here and there, perhaps based on continents. Then they decide that they want to try out a similar structure at the planetary level.
Planetary governments are possible, as long as the idea is not to unite by squashing differences.

By the way, I believe that at the very least regional entities will form before any expansion into space: because of the cost involved in such an expansion would considerably weaken a State or group of States in the short term, it is much more interesting to first ensure peace and economic stability before setting out on such an operation.

Now, regarding the role of corporations, I believe that they will play a role, but that they might transform little by little into (forms of) governments themselves, as you say. If you create a mining facility on one planet or a space station around it, a community will be created with time, and so a certain governance will be required. This means that corporations will likely become something they weren't cut out to be.
The result of this commercialisation of space would be a plethora of different natures of government, and in the end, it would lead to enhanced cooperation, and perhaps after a few more centuries to the creation of a system-wide form of government.

The main point is that governments will always exist. It's just how you define a government that matters, not its origin.

I believe it is a matter of scope. We're thinking on terms where you have to get in a plane and fly to get from one end of the country to the other. In EV Nova terms, it's as easy to get from Sol to Wolf 359 as it is to get from LA to Washington DC. A planet is no longer held in the same significance. A planet is a state, a province; and while there may be many factions and many people and many ideas within each province, they each report to a central government. They all behave in generally their best interest and in the best interest of their affiliate government as well.

As for corporations, they will no doubt play a large role in the future. Corporations do not wish to be governments, though. Managing people is unsettling difficult business best left to people who are in the profession of compromise and manipulation. In short, politicians are good at handling people and CEOs are good at generating wealth. If you can use your generated wealth to control politicians so much the better (tad close to home).

I believe another interesting discussion is how the rights of the individual will continue to evolve into the future. When the jurisdiction of one planetary governor contains 10 billion people and a government's realm spans four hundred billion people. It's easy enough to fall down the rabbit hole today in a country of 300 million... Will we all see fit to expect fewer liberties in the interest of our safety and public order?

I will reapproach this topic tomorrow... interesting points, mrxak.

@joshtigerheart, on Dec 12 2008, 01:58 AM, said in Economic Systems and Space Corporations:

First, where there's people, there's government. Perhaps not the national government, but in the literal definition, it's there. Unless everyone who goes out into space to live all become hermits and isolate themselves from everyone, there'll be some type of government and I'm sure, once corporations have a reasonable hold out there, like a colony, Earth governments will slowly attempt to intervene on some level, whether it simply be a few regulatory laws to trying to seize the colony from the corporation. Most likely it'll be some sort of less extreme example, like the former. If no practical applications that'd demand immediate government investment comes up, particularly in military fields, since lots of new technology comes from armies, they'll likely make their moves quite some time after corporations have set things up and got things to be reliable and cost-efficient. Just as we've gone from city states to countries, humans will naturally expand from there.

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Overtime once colonies are established and have their own governments, whether it be independent or subservient, a similar progression from city-states to countries will occur. It won't be a fast process in the least bit, many settled worlds will likely have their own countries, which I'm going to say far, far less than Earth and cover much more territory, perhaps whole continents, for a long time. "Planet states" will be much farther down the line, and I bet Earth won't be the first. Most likely it'll be a country more akin to Russia or Australia who happens to have lots of territory and little competition for it. For a long time those will be out of the ordinary while others are continental nations (say, like the European Union being a nation or something like a United States of North America, encompassing the U.S, Mexico, and Canada). And even when "planet states" become the norm, you'll still have the out of the ordinary smaller state that may be continental or less, or perhaps even a city state. Countries like modern-day Monaco and San Marino suggest this could be a possibility, albeit rare. From there, it'd be another long and slow process to governments eventually claiming multiple worlds. And then another long and slow process to multiple star systems. And, if your universe is set extremely far in the future (random guess of 20,000 A.D. bare minimum, likely much, much longer), eventually whole galaxies.

I believe there may be local government, perhaps even eventually one encompassing a planet, but likely it will be heavily influenced by the corporation that set up the colony or starbase, and I don't think it will spread beyond the colony. That's the main point. In terms of interstellar government, I feel corporations will take its place. If Earth governments do finally get around to colonization, they may very well try to exert their influence on other existing colonies out in space, but I think largely they will leave such things up to corporations, and then attempt to simply tax them. After all, I expect Earth to remain the most populated planet, and thus the biggest market for space products. By controlling customs and tariffs, governments can influence corporations, but ultimately it will be the corporations that exert sovereignty in space. If they allow local organization of colonists and workers, that might be something that turns into a legal system, police, even militias. I just don't see one colony set up by a corporation going and attacking another one set up by the same corporation, especially considering it's likely the corporation itself will be controlling all space travel.

@pace, on Dec 12 2008, 04:10 AM, said in Economic Systems and Space Corporations:

Now, regarding the role of corporations, I believe that they will play a role, but that they might transform little by little into (forms of) governments themselves, as you say. If you create a mining facility on one planet or a space station around it, a community will be created with time, and so a certain governance will be required. This means that corporations will likely become something they weren't cut out to be.

The result of this commercialisation of space would be a plethora of different natures of government, and in the end, it would lead to enhanced cooperation, and perhaps after a few more centuries to the creation of a system-wide form of government.

The main point is that governments will always exist. It's just how you define a government that matters, not its origin.

The elements of government already exist in a corporation. There are shares that equal votes. There are CEOs, with "cabinets" of CFOs, CIOs, etc. There are services provided, such as health plans, pensions, etc. Perhaps a colony will be set up as a corporation itself, with each family holding a set number of shares, and the whole thing is ultimately owned by a parent corporation that provided initial supplies, training, and transport. As a colony profits, the colonists receive dividends and the parent corporation also earns money.

@spoony, on Dec 12 2008, 04:18 AM, said in Economic Systems and Space Corporations:

I believe another interesting discussion is how the rights of the individual will continue to evolve into the future. When the jurisdiction of one planetary governor contains 10 billion people and a government's realm spans four hundred billion people. It's easy enough to fall down the rabbit hole today in a country of 300 million... Will we all see fit to expect fewer liberties in the interest of our safety and public order?

I'm not sure if liberties will necessarily decrease. I think with populations as large as you are describing, it becomes more an issue of keeping most people mostly happy, lest there be riots a billion strong. I believe with so many people, it's much too difficult to keep track of everyone so easily, so essentially people will generally feel pretty free, if insignificant. Levels of law enforcement in countries like China and India may give us some idea of what to expect. My guess is corruption will only be more rampant, but authoritarianism would be much more difficult to enforce. Punishments may be extreme, however, but I don't think a death penalty is likely, at least on the less-frontier-type planets. If you're a major population hub, sending out colonists of your own, perhaps give criminals a chance to go to another planet and struggle to live through early terraforming efforts or whatever. A topic on crime and punishment could be an interesting discussion to have another time.

Since a single person is so insignificant, I think the value placed on life will decrease. When waging war means you nuke a planet from space (my last EVDC topic talked about planetary sieges), you're talking about winking out hundreds of millions of lives in a single flash. If organizations (be they governmental or corporate) wage such a war, that will say quite a bit about the value of life.

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That's the main point. In terms of interstellar government, I feel corporations will take its place. If Earth governments do finally get around to colonization, they may very well try to exert their influence on other existing colonies out in space, but I think largely they will leave such things up to corporations, and then attempt to simply tax them.

For the shorter run, I pretty much agree with you. In longer terms, governments will likely expand to take over for the corporations, or the corporations will turn into governments, more likely the former since I can't think of any latter historic examples. History will repeat itself, except this time in space. Just as Europeans went all over, settled, and claimed territory, forming massive entities such as Britain did when it pretty much became an empire, such will happen in space eventually. Of course, the "overthrow" of corporations won't be immediate and they'll have significant influence for quite awhile, like the East India Trading Company did. Sooner or later the space version of Alexander is going to come along and try to conquer territory and succeed. It's happened countless times in history (Mongolia, Rome, Britain, Germany, etc.) and I can assure you it'll happen again.

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I just don't see one colony set up by a corporation going and attacking another one set up by the same corporation, especially considering it's likely the corporation itself will be controlling all space travel.

I do. Just sprinkle in some rebellion and civil war to the mix and watch. Likely, it'd be after the colonies have "matured". But, if people get greedy or desperate enough, they'll resort to violence against whoever they think they can get something out of, whether they have the same leader or another.

On a related note that's not a reply to the above quotes, I don't think the typical political hierarchy of a country today will vanish. Instead, it'll get expanded. Today's leadership positions kind of go like this: nation -> state/province/territory -> county -> city. In a a big interstellar government, I think it'd look more like: nation -> region of space -> planet -> continent -> modern day country sized territory -> state/province/territory -> county -> city. In other words, there would be more levels.

So, I was going to reply to this topic when it was posted, but I managed to get distracted and stuff, but now I've managed to get enough time to sit down and write out a response that I think is worthy of this thread, instead of a few quick comments. (I also have a pseudo-commitment to make at least one post a year here, and I can't think of a better topic.)

Apologies for the thread necromancy...

I'm going to treat this topic in two different manners: as if I were dealing with a more hard sci-fi setting (who knows, maybe someone's interested in writing a TC like that some day); and the more common space opera setting, such as Nova. Hopefully organization isn't too big of an issue in my response. (Disclaimer: I am not actually an expert in any of these fields, so take it stuff with a measured grain of salt, but I try to be accurate.)

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In a space setting, energy is supreme. From that, everything else is made possible. Hence the acquisition of new sources of energy, or fuels for current means of generation is top priority, be they nuclear (probably fusion-based), anti-matter (although whether this is actually efficient is debatable), solar, or some other means. Nuclear seems most realistic in the short-term, as solar power is limited by distance from stars (obviously this doesn't apply to planets, but I'll treat those later), and anti-matter has containment issues and the question of whether the creation of anti-matter results in a net energy gain is still debatable-- currently, one puts more energy into the creation of anti-matter than one gets out. These provide perhaps the greatest source of contention and possible conflict. Strategic targets in a hypothetical total war would be mining and energy infrastructure.

Followed by acquisition of energy, the efficient use of it is paramount, and this leads to numerous conclusions about the possible shape of society. First of all, all major infrastructure is likely to be space-based, and there will probably be little physical communication between planetary-based bodies and those in space. This is due to the energy costs. Likewise, sprawling empires across hundreds, or even thousands, of star systems are unlikely, as shipping materials that distance would be expensive to say the least. The surface escape velocity for Earth is 11.2km/s; from the same position (Earth), the escape velocity to escape the Sun's gravity and leave the solar system is 42.1km/s. Such speeds require large amounts of energy. To compare these costs with examples from today, the US Space Shuttle program (note that these statistics are off-the-cuff and may be wrong, but they should be within an order of magnitude) costs approximately five-hundred million dollars per launch, all told, and can put about 20 tons into orbit; unmanned launches are considerably cheaper, anywhere from twenty million to one-hundred million dollars, and tend to be able to put anywhere from two to six tons in orbit at the lower end, to twenty to twenty-six tons (or so) at the higher end.

This is not to say that planets will be abandoned completely, more likely they will end up in one of two categories: slums of the poor who cannot afford to go into space, or havens for the rich who can afford to enter and leave orbit on a semi-regular basis. Planets have several advantages, however: they are close to stars, and so have easy access to solar power; they are large masses and therefore useful as material for construction; they provide a gravity well to anchor satellites around in large clusters; and they, in the case of Earth for humans, are currently where we are living, and thus the near space requires less energy to reach, and would therefore be more densely populated. This nearness to stars means that orbiting satellites, and less so, planets themselves, are ideally suited to stationary solar energy transfer stations, with energy being transferred via microwave beam or some other means.

Of course, the solar power can be taken to the logical extreme with construction of a Dyson sphere ( not a Dyson shell). Building one piecemeal is possible, and construction could be theoretically begun with today's technology. This is also where the fact that planets are masses is useful; Dyson originally calculated that there was enough matter in the Solar system to construct a Dyson sphere one AU in radius. However, this is not actually feasible without large-scale matter transmutation technology, as the majority of that mass is in the form of hydrogen and other unusable elements.

So what does this mean for any economic systems or corporations? Likely, trade will be primarily between space stations, and only the greatest and most valuable of luxuries for the rich will be transported or traded from planet to station or other planets. Melange from Dune is a good example of such a product.

Similarly, asteroid belts and small moons are likely to be the greatest sources of resources, and those who control them will be those with the greatest power. These bodies make for ideal mines because they, unlike planets, have negligible gravity and would require little energy to transport the resources. Complete mining of an asteroid would yield anywhere from a few tens or hundreds of cubic metres of matter to hundreds of cubic kilmetres in larger asteroids, and since asteroids are primarily solid, they are a valuable source of material. Gas mining from the upper atmospheres of the gas giants is also likely to be productive, especially as hydrogen is useful as a fuel source.

Realistically, any conflict would be short and brutal, and probably involve very little, or even no, involvement of a "space navy" simply because such a thing costs a great deal in resources (fuel, ship construction, crew training, etc.) and would be easily destroyed. The weapon of choice is likely to be redirected asteroids and other chunks of rock. Planets and stations have predictable orbits, and it is fairly trivial to calculate them years or centuries in advance, then attach boosters to a rock and let it accelerate until it hits its target-- a kilometre-diametre asteroid at 2 500km/s would yield 3.13 * 10^9 megatons of TNT-equivalent (impact calculator).

Most people expect there to be some modicum of space combat for excitement, though treatment will be brief. For this, faster-than-light movement, communication, and sensors are assumed possible (but not more exotic technologies such as stealth-- these are the domain of space opera and treated later). Engagement distances are likely to be lightsecond ranges, although several lightminutes are presumably feasible. If ships are hit, much as in modern-day air or submarine combat, the likely outcome is destruction. Space also introduces a "soft-kill" method, wherein ships can be sensor-blinded and effectively taken out of combat-- space is far too large for blind shooting.

Weaponry would probably consist of lasers, missiles, and kinetic-kill weapons. Fighters are inefficient are would be scrapped in favour of missiles. The lack of an atmosphere and gravity means that there is an advantage towards larger ships and smaller the benefits of smaller ships tend to be only in resource usage and acceleration. Forcefields (in the scientific sense, not the Star Trek/Star Wars sense) are plausible, if weight- and energy-intensive. Armour is likely to be no greater than that required to stop standard radiation and micrometeorites. Point-defense systems would probably be employed. Stealth is non-existant in space. Maintaining an environment warm enough for life easily makes a ship stand out like a beacon against the background temperature, and even just maintaining essential electronics generates sufficient heat, not to mention maneuvering thrusters. Current technology can conduct a full-sky search in about four hours, and this can be lessened by adding either more telescopes or more data processing power. Decoys are a waste of time.

Static system defenses are ineffective, as they can be destroyed from beyond their firing range. Mine fields are a total waste, as it is virtually impossible to effectively cover all of space, or even a small area. Against approaching enemies, scattering small rocks (from a crushed asteroid or the like) in predicted paths has the potential to be effective as it can efficiently cover a large area of space while remaining undetected, and can easily destroy incoming ships traveling at high speeds. Static defenses have a greater potential for effectiveness if whatever method of FTL travel creates some sort of choke point; if this is not the case, then approach can occur from any direction in a huge volume of space.

That said, any combat is likely to be of the "mutually assured destruction" type.

Colonization is likely to be government-based, not corporation-based, except in settings where economic libertarianism and free-market policies have led to the creation of mega-corporations, but in such cases, they can be effectively treated as no different than government bodies. The reason for this is that it is unlikely that any corporation could finance a vast space development program, especially given the long-term perspective that is needed. The limited space-tourism of today is feasible, but development of space habitats and colonies is orders of magnitude greater.

Governments are the only bodies that have the ability to spend the immense sums of money without immediate returns if needed. Indeed, a large amount of the private space development is financed by govnerment contracts, grants, or prizes.

Depending on the speed of communications, large governments may not even be possible due to time delays in messages; even transmitting at the speed of light, it will take over a year for messages to reach the nearest starsystem.

The most likely situation is for a civilization to remain within its own solar system or possibly spread to nearby ones. It is not that conflict would not exist, but organized conflict on large scales would be expensive and deadly (especially deadly if any planets get bombarded by high-velocity asteroids). Energy, as stated before, remains the primary limiting factor and the most valuable resource.

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So... this was a little longer than I thought it would be going in. Hopefully it isn't too dense and off-topic (I know I went into more than just economics), and provides some useful ideas. I guess I'll split up this in to two posts, and do the "space opera" analysis later (tonight or this weekend, hopefully).

The space opera version will probably be the more applicable of the two, but, again, I thought I'd do this in case anyone was considering some sort of hard sci-fi TC. In my opinion, such a TC could focus greatly on the story, since ships and weapons would be almost secondary by virtue of the setting.

That said, there's just something cool about space opera, with extended battleship- or carrier-era-style fights (and eight-foot-tall, power armoured, bolter-wielding soldiers, but I digress outside of the realm of EV...).

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I would say that a cloaking device would be possible. It wouldn't be an energy field or anything, but if you were to super-cool the ship's hull, would that not counteract the effect of the systems? It would take some fine-tuning to match the background radiation, but it could work.

Sure, cloaking would work until infrared sensors are brought to bear. The differences in the temperature between what's needed for a crew to live and surrounding vacuum is comparable to a raging fire in the middle of Antarctica. You would need a lot of ice to hide that fire. Internal components, particularly the engine, make things even worse. A ship firing it's engines would be as visible on thermal imaging as a nuclear bomb set-off in Antarctica. Imagine how much ice you would need to hide a nuclear explosion from thermal imaging (ignore the size of the blast and the fact that the bomb would destroy the ice). You need a ridiculous amount of exterior cooling to hide yourself (or you could position yourself close to a star, but that tactic is rather pointless at best, dangerous realistically). And not to mention that cooling equipment generates heat too...

In an atmospheric situation, however, cloaking is much more plausible due to the surface temperature. The hotter the planet, probably the better.

From a literary standpoint, I don't like cloaking there either. It's much more fun to write about large-scale space battles as opposed to invisible needles in a massive haystack hunting for other invisible needles in the same haystack. Though this leads me to wonder how space battles occur to begin with if cloaks work well enough for ships to remain hidden. It'd make more sense for ships to fly up to their target (planet, space station, ship stupid enough to be visible), unleash their payload, and fly away without ever being noticed.

This post has been edited by JoshTigerheart : 31 January 2009 - 06:04 PM

Space opera tends to be broad enough that you can (and people have... oh have they, some not as well as others...) do just about anything. I differentiate "space opera" from general science fiction in that space opera tends to be set mostly in space, or have space an important aspect. This encompasses everything from Tytania to the post-scarcity utopianism of The Culture (Iain M. Banks) to the space settings of the Grim Dark FutureTM of Warhammer 40,000 (where there is only war) to everyone's favourite, Escape Velocity.

Given the other post's length, this one will probably be around the same. Hopefully someone finds some of this useful (or at least informative).

--

Space opera provides a setting in which many of the unfortunate limits imposed by the real world have been done away with, either via writer's fiat, radical alterations to the laws of physics, introduction of unobtainium of various sorts, or, more usually, a combination of the three. When dealing with space opera, the primary goal is to tell a story that the general populace will find entertaining, rather than to maintain technical and scientific accuracy. However, stories are often better if one takes some time to think about what various technologies within a universe will do-- their implications and effects being more important than the details of how they function-- and maintaining consistency across this. While not related to economics, this quote provides a basic pattern for consistency: "Causality, Relativity, FTL travel: choose any two."

Depending on the advancement of a civilization, economics will likely vary; this will deal with two development levels: Post-Scarcity (likely somewhere above a Type II civilization), and Type I and Type II civilizations.

Post-Scarcity:
A post-scarcity society is just that, one in which energy and material is in such abundance that scarcity no longer occurs-- in short, anything and everything one can want, one can have. This has drastic impacts upon any economic system; further, perhaps the biggest impacts will be had by that which is scarce in the society.

Traditional market economies probably will not function, nor would capitalism. It is quite likely that the very concept of ownership will disappear, as the only objects with value will be those that a person finds sentimental for some reason. Indeed, it is possible that, given time, even the concept of "setimentality" will disappear from a society which can produce anything its citizens desire.

However, there are fundamental limits on mass and energy in a universe, which may provide an upper limit to such an economy. Depending on universe such a society exists in, even this may not be a limit, as the civilization can tap into alternate universes for energy and thus mass (note that this would put such a civilization far beyond Type III). Excepting this, energy may become the medium of exchange, and the more energy one has, the more power one can obtain. This leads to a reliance upon energy sources, although probably exotic: black holes, stars, even entire galaxies may be used as power sources and exchanged or consumed for production.

Other, less tangible and more society-dependent means of exchange may also develop. Status or reputation may be exchanged for goods. Another unusual means of exchange could be game-playing (as in The Player of Games , although that does not directly relate game-playing to material access).

The limits in a post-scarcity are essentially scale; while the basic definition of "post-scarcity" implies that all basic needs are met, this may not be the case for luxuries. Traditional markets may still exist for luxury items, or at least ones more like the economies of today. Likewise, a civilization that can meet any desire of an inhabitant would be essentially utopian, although the impacts of that are well beyond this. Citizens could construct planets to live on or engage in such recreational activity as stellar lifting. Space is unlikely to be an issue.

Industry would probably be automated, although not necessarily. Regardless, near-infinite supply would result in corporations, if they exist, having to essentially give away their products. The most likely situation is for corporations to simply not exist at all in any way that we can conceive them.

A post-scarcity society is, however, an outside-context problem and a full treatment of its economics is difficult at best, and highly dependent upon the basic premises of the culture which spawned it, as a lack of resources provide no incentive to remove anachronistic activities in the name of efficiency.

Type I and II Civilizations:
A Type I civilization is one that is capable of harnessing all the power of a planet (approximately 1016W); a Type II civilization is one that is capable of harnessing all the power of a star (approximately 4*1026W). While this is a great deal of energy, such a civilization still has scarcity (if it does not, it is better dealt with by the post-scarcity section). This energy is likely obtained through large-scale application of highly efficient power sources such as fusion or small-scale space solar platforms for Type I civilizations, or a Dyson sphere for Type II civilizations. In either case, it implies that the civilization has large amounts of energy and construction capability.

Traditional economic models would still be valid in such a civilization, as supply is not yet effectively infinite. What economic model is actually used depends on the civilization-- any model is theoretically valid, though some would be more practical than others. Laissez-faire capitalism, mixed-market, and nationalized markets are more likely than communal holdings.

Trade between planets, systems, and space habitats would be highly important. Specialization can occur at the planet- or system-level, leading to planets devoted entirely to production of certain products. Transport of goods themselves through space is likely to be the purview of either the government or a few large trading conglomerates. While small, private shippers may exist, they are likely to be contracted to the major corporations, serve as couriers to select groups, or be smugglers.

If transport is provided by a government body, depending on the government, it may be either funded via taxes, a cut from profits, or some other means; regardless, this control provides the government with great control over information and resources. Such a situation is most likely to occur in a planned economy, wherein the government also controls the industries and coordinates them with its space shipments for maximum efficiency.

If transport is primarily provided by corporations, then it is they who effectively control planets. This control may extend to any corporations gaining control of the corporations for which they provide shipping, leading to giant verticle and horizontal monopolies and conglomerates. If any government exists, it would be either an ineffectual puppet government of the corporations, or a direct oligarchy controlled by the dominate corporations. This is most likely to occur within a society of economic libertainism and laissez-faire capitalism.

Lastly, the most probable situation given current world politics is that of mixed corporation- and government-provided shipping. In order to maintain its power, a government may develop a large logistics and combat fleet for its use, perhaps with its own national industries, while civilian corporations control the remainder and offer their services to private individuals.

The trade fleets needed to support such specialization would need to be enormous, with comparable support facilities and manufacturing industries. Fuel acquisition and resource acquisition will still be a necessary component. Trade lanes, if they exist, would be among the most valuable resources and defended heavily against either enemy incursion or pirates.

Three industries would be dominate: agriculture, space engineering, which would include both production and maintenance of ships and habitats, and resource harvesting, which includes everything from energy generation to mining. Given energy needs, a portion of any production will be devoted to acquiring more energy and resources, while the remainder is used to satisfy the consumer.

Production of goods is likely automated given the efficiency increase this provides and the energy available to either a Type I or Type II civilization. This means that workers will be almost entirely in knowledge-based services industry, which requires a correspondingly large educational infrastructure and investment from interested parties, either or both governments and corporations.

Energy, overall, however, is not a significant limitation to the average citizen, but rather a resource managed on a macro scale.

--

So that's that, I guess. It's a fairly broad overview, in retrospect-- any area could probably have large essays written on them.

The Nova races all seem to be in the Type I civilization range, although the Polaris are the only ones with the potential to rapidly grow to Type II. Hopefully this provides some ideas or insight for plugins.

EDIT: I guess this is easier than double-posting...

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I would say that a cloaking device would be possible. It wouldn't be an energy field or anything, but if you were to super-cool the ship's hull, would that not counteract the effect of the systems? It would take some fine-tuning to match the background radiation, but it could work.

Well, in theory it is, but theory is far different from practice. For such a thing to be feasible, you would have to super-cool your ship's hull to about 2.3 Kelvin (IIRC). Cooling to far below that has been done in labs, although I don't know the details, but lab conditions are far different from practice. Then you have the trouble of keeping the hull this cool despite maintaining life inside of it.

Not only that, you wouldn't be able to maneuver at all. No thrusters. The exhaust plume would be easily detectable (current technology can detect a Space Shuttle's thrusters from beyond the asteroid belt). Sensors of any sort would also be unusable, as they would generate enough energy to raise the temperature of the hull, even just moving a telescope, although it may be minor enough to allow your ship to elude detection.

So now that you're limited to coasting in blindly, you have to figure out what to do with the heat that is generated inside of your ship, since it's not just going to go away. Directed radiation has some application here, but that compromises your cloak. Heatsinks inside of the ship could work for a time, but eventually you will have to drop your "frost cloak" and radiate the excess heat away, or watch as everyone inside the ship cooks, and then your ship eventually melts from the inside out ...

The technology for such a thing probably requires sufficient unobtainium to not be possible in real life. Besides, in real life, chucking an asteroid at your target is a far more effective use of energy than maintaining such a cloak. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Overall, though, I'm more interested in any comments regarding the main "meat" of this, not that this type isn't welcome.

This post has been edited by general11 : 31 January 2009 - 08:17 PM

I take it these speculations are free to incorparate into a plug-in if one had the inclintion?

Sharx.

That's really awesome, General. I applaud you. One of these days I'm going to need to take the time to sit down and analyze all of that...

Well, cloaking isn't so much about minimizing the radiation signature as it is about causing the background radiation to sort of "flow" around the object and hide the radiation signature. I recently read a fascinating physics paper on this subject. While it is extraordinarily far from a workable "cloak," scientists have managed to get microwaves to do this on a nanoscale, effectively cloaking a .005 micron piece of something (I don't recall off hand what) from microwave sensors. It is conceivable that this concept could be applied on a larger scale with a broader spectrum of EM radiation. So, stealth isn't absolutely impossible, but certainly improbable and likely impractical, at least in the near future.

Sharx1 said:

I take it these speculations are free to incorparate into a plug-in if one had the inclintion?

Sharx.

Absolutely, use or abuse as you want.

If i couldn't make anything good out of this matirial i would leave it to someone else. This is a very good idea to have as a halfhearted attempt and im curently experimenting with makeing mission strings lol got a probem with EVNEW though but thats in another topic. If i see something productive comeing from it i'll post it ๐Ÿ˜› but for now dont hold me to it.

Edit: Well i guess i could use this idea as a base for learning missions properly but i wont release anything unless im proud of it.

This post has been edited by Sharx1 : 02 February 2009 - 05:10 AM

@shlimazel, on Feb 1 2009, 07:46 PM, said in Economic Systems and Space Corporations:

That's really awesome, General. I applaud you. One of these days I'm going to need to take the time to sit down and analyze all of that...

Translation: tl;dr

Oh good, I'm glad this topic got some more discussion.

@general11, on Jan 30 2009, 07:46 PM, said in Economic Systems and Space Corporations:

<snip>

I agree that energy is the main thing for any space-faring civilization.

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Weaponry would probably consist of lasers, missiles, and kinetic-kill weapons. Fighters are inefficient are would be scrapped in favour of missiles. The lack of an atmosphere and gravity means that there is an advantage towards larger ships and smaller the benefits of smaller ships tend to be only in resource usage and acceleration. Forcefields (in the scientific sense, not the Star Trek/Star Wars sense) are plausible, if weight- and energy-intensive. Armour is likely to be no greater than that required to stop standard radiation and micrometeorites. Point-defense systems would probably be employed. Stealth is non-existant in space. Maintaining an environment warm enough for life easily makes a ship stand out like a beacon against the background temperature, and even just maintaining essential electronics generates sufficient heat, not to mention maneuvering thrusters. Current technology can conduct a full-sky search in about four hours, and this can be lessened by adding either more telescopes or more data processing power. Decoys are a waste of time.

I strongly disagree about lasers. They're highly ineffectual as they scatter over long distances and they do only heat damage, really. A far better option is some kind of particle stream accelerated to as near to light speed as you can. A particle weapon, is in essence, a kinetic weapon, and has the potential to be incredibly devastating. Missiles are certainly good for hitting a moving target, particularly one doing a "random-walk" defensive maneuver to avoid getting tracked effectively over large distances (aka space). Assuming FTL travel is possible, but FTL sensors are not (save for some kind of probes sent out at FTL, take a snapshot, and return at FTL), the only way to break a random-walk (assuming it is truly random) in space is to saturate the area, get close enough to speed up reaction times and increase kill angles, or send an ordinance that can react to enemy course changes.

I think the concept of a fighter isn't a bad one, but an unmanned fighter is much more likely than a manned one. The reasons are simple. You don't have to provide life support to an automated fighter. You don't have to worry so much about G-forces either. A fighter still has some advantages over a simple missile, and that is adaptability. These drones could get close to a target, change targets and even ordinance upon getting close, and potentially they could be more maneuverable than a missile, thus harder to kill before they can do their damage. Still, the line between a missile and a fighter tends to blur when the fighter is unmanned. These kinds of classifications are much less relevant and their capabilities are quite similar.

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Static system defenses are ineffective, as they can be destroyed from beyond their firing range. Mine fields are a total waste, as it is virtually impossible to effectively cover all of space, or even a small area. Against approaching enemies, scattering small rocks (from a crushed asteroid or the like) in predicted paths has the potential to be effective as it can efficiently cover a large area of space while remaining undetected, and can easily destroy incoming ships traveling at high speeds. Static defenses have a greater potential for effectiveness if whatever method of FTL travel creates some sort of choke point; if this is not the case, then approach can occur from any direction in a huge volume of space.

I agree that static defenses are ineffective. In a previous topic I discussed how from even lightyears away static defenses can be observed and an attacking force would be completely prepared to defeat them. However, if a defending force can hide their numbers, positions, and strengths from the enemy, perhaps by hiding in hollow asteroids, in stations, or on local bodies, or by remaining mobile (on the other side of a planet or star, you can hide a force, if you know what side the enemy is looking at you from or set up so you can be observed from multiple sides and not be completely seen), it would be possible to have some surprises for the enemy. I imagine a layered approach works best. Assuming the enemy is hurtling large things at you at near the speed of light, you might have time to mobilize your inner forces by the time you realize your outer forces aren't communicating with you anymore. But remember, space is big, and even if you're sending a wave of attackers or kinetic weapons at .99 the speed of light, you're going to be seen before you get there.

As for ship-to-ship defenses, I think some kind of large ablative armor, or a shell of moving drones around you would work best, especially combined with a kinetic point defense system. The energy requirements of course could be astronomical.

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That said, any combat is likely to be of the "mutually assured destruction" type.

<snip>

So... this was a little longer than I thought it would be going in. Hopefully it isn't too dense and off-topic (I know I went into more than just economics), and provides some useful ideas. I guess I'll split up this in to two posts, and do the "space opera" analysis later (tonight or this weekend, hopefully).

The space opera version will probably be the more applicable of the two, but, again, I thought I'd do this in case anyone was considering some sort of hard sci-fi TC. In my opinion, such a TC could focus greatly on the story, since ships and weapons would be almost secondary by virtue of the setting.

That said, there's just something cool about space opera, with extended battleship- or carrier-era-style fights (and eight-foot-tall, power armoured, bolter-wielding soldiers, but I digress outside of the realm of EV...).

Agreed about MAD. Don't worry about going off topic a bit. This is for big ideas, even if they aren't quite on-topic.

@jalisurr, on Jan 31 2009, 02:30 PM, said in Economic Systems and Space Corporations:

I would say that a cloaking device would be possible. It wouldn't be an energy field or anything, but if you were to super-cool the ship's hull, would that not counteract the effect of the systems? It would take some fine-tuning to match the background radiation, but it could work.

Assuming you want to go someplace fast, after all, speed means the enemy has less time to react, you have to be expending a very large amount of energy. If you can mask that somehow, great. But sooner or later, you're going to want to slow down. And even if you have inertial dampeners or whatever else, you'll be expending a very large amount of energy (equal and opposite) to come to a stop, or at least workable speeds. It would quite simply be a very large ball of fire in the sky aimed directly at whatever it is you're moving towards. They'll notice :p. I imagine the only practical use of a cloaking device would be for something unmanned and doesn't need to lose its kinetic energy. In other words, an asteroid knocked out of orbit and sent on its way. Still, I think it's impractical. Big rocks reflect radiation from the local star. If you somehow absorb it all, it'll probably explode. If you somehow deflect it into space, it'll still be seen by somebody somewhere. Probably the best efforts in stealth would be in hiding who it was that sent the present, so another present doesn't get sent right back.

@general11, on Jan 31 2009, 08:03 PM, said in Economic Systems and Space Corporations:

<snip>

Excellent read! I don't have much to say in reply, it's all good stuff.

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Well, in theory it is, but theory is far different from practice. For such a thing to be feasible, you would have to super-cool your ship's hull to about 2.3 Kelvin (IIRC). Cooling to far below that has been done in labs, although I don't know the details, but lab conditions are far different from practice. Then you have the trouble of keeping the hull this cool despite maintaining life inside of it.

Not only that, you wouldn't be able to maneuver at all. No thrusters. The exhaust plume would be easily detectable (current technology can detect a Space Shuttle's thrusters from beyond the asteroid belt). Sensors of any sort would also be unusable, as they would generate enough energy to raise the temperature of the hull, even just moving a telescope, although it may be minor enough to allow your ship to elude detection.

So now that you're limited to coasting in blindly, you have to figure out what to do with the heat that is generated inside of your ship, since it's not just going to go away. Directed radiation has some application here, but that compromises your cloak. Heatsinks inside of the ship could work for a time, but eventually you will have to drop your "frost cloak" and radiate the excess heat away, or watch as everyone inside the ship cooks, and then your ship eventually melts from the inside out ...

The technology for such a thing probably requires sufficient unobtainium to not be possible in real life. Besides, in real life, chucking an asteroid at your target is a far more effective use of energy than maintaining such a cloak. ๐Ÿ˜‰

I agree that life inside such a contraption would not be very comfortable for very long. As for thrusters though, the question becomes, how did you get up to useful speed to begin with, and assuming it's not above the speed of light, who can see you getting up to that speed prior to your cloak activating? If they see a big flash in the sky and an object headed for them that suddenly vanishes, they're likely able to tell (especially since you can't change course) exactly where you're headed. And since you can't peek out to see where you're going, they can put something into your path and you wouldn't even know it until smacking into it at very, very unpleasant speeds.

I suppose some kind of masking screen could help, putting something much brighter in front of the vehicle prior to its cloaking, but this seems rather impractical, especially considering that any defenses around a target can't easily cloak either.

@sharx1, on Feb 1 2009, 10:42 AM, said in Economic Systems and Space Corporations:

I take it these speculations are free to incorparate into a plug-in if one had the inclintion?

Of course! That's what these topics are for precisely, to give people some ideas and stuff to think about or use.

@krugeruwsp, on Feb 1 2009, 04:07 PM, said in Economic Systems and Space Corporations:

Well, cloaking isn't so much about minimizing the radiation signature as it is about causing the background radiation to sort of "flow" around the object and hide the radiation signature. I recently read a fascinating physics paper on this subject. While it is extraordinarily far from a workable "cloak," scientists have managed to get microwaves to do this on a nanoscale, effectively cloaking a .005 micron piece of something (I don't recall off hand what) from microwave sensors. It is conceivable that this concept could be applied on a larger scale with a broader spectrum of EM radiation. So, stealth isn't absolutely impossible, but certainly improbable and likely impractical, at least in the near future.

If it's what I think you're talking about, I believe the mechanism required a "cloaking device" that it itself was cloaked. Kind of like Arbiters from Starcraft, I suppose. You can see the Arbiter, just not what it's hiding.

I think blinding the enemy works better than going unseen. Directed radiation to burn out sensors, diversionary/swarm tactics to overwhelm resources, and general blanketing of high energy sources is the best way to achieve enemy lack of intelligence.

Here is a link to an article that explains it. Somewhere, I have the paper that explains it in more technical terms, and if I can find it, I'll post what I've got. It has to do with kinds of materials that cause light to behave in some odd ways. Like I said, it's got an incredibly long way to go.

@mrxak, on Feb 13 2009, 05:42 AM, said in Economic Systems and Space Corporations:

I strongly disagree about lasers. They're highly ineffectual as they scatter over long distances and they do only heat damage, really. A far better option is some kind of particle stream accelerated to as near to light speed as you can. A particle weapon, is in essence, a kinetic weapon, and has the potential to be incredibly devastating. Missiles are certainly good for hitting a moving target, particularly one doing a "random-walk" defensive maneuver to avoid getting tracked effectively over large distances (aka space). Assuming FTL travel is possible, but FTL sensors are not (save for some kind of probes sent out at FTL, take a snapshot, and return at FTL), the only way to break a random-walk (assuming it is truly random) in space is to saturate the area, get close enough to speed up reaction times and increase kill angles, or send an ordinance that can react to enemy course changes.

I didn't think about particle beams at first-- they definitely have potential. However, there are trade-offs. While lasers do diffuse over distance, they do so far less in space than in the atmosphere; the scattering in the atmosphere is due to refraction off of atmospheric dust and such, of which space has considerably less. Particle beams have the advantage of better impact damage (care of having mass) and penetration than lasers, but their range is significantly less, since the particles spread out more. You can also deflect them with (real-world) force fields: a magnetic field can work against charged beams, although not neutral beams. Good point though.

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