This is the fifth installment in this blog entry. Early entries can be found at:
Trafalgar in Space, Part 1: Beam Weapons.
Trafalgar in Space, Part 2: Missiles.
Trafalgar in Space, Part 3: Defensive Fields.
Trafalgar in Space, Part 4: Other Defenses.
Now how will ships maneuver in space, especially when they are shooting at each other? Will it be like Star Trek where, though moving at an appreciable fraction of light speed, they will run through each others positions firing away? Or will they go broadside to broadside as in Star Wars? I think if they are going an appreciable fraction of light speed they will not get too close to each other, not within a thousand kilometers, since one mistake could slam ships together. I think that even ships in the same fleet will have some spread both for safety and so a heavy warhead weapon won’t get more than one of them. That still does not answer the question of how they will maneuver. I guess it depends on several factors, the first being the type of engine they have. A fusion engine and even some types of ion devices might be deadly downstream of the engine. Fusion plasma and radiation might cause all kinds of problems to a ship that is hit. So maneuvers would have to be planned so that this radiation doesn’t hit the friendlies. Conversely, it might be advantageous to play fusion flame over an enemy. In the Exodus series I use a device I call grabbers, with a slang name of Ether Paddles. They work on the fabric of space itself to move the ship. There is no exhaust, and no need to carry exhaust mass. It would still take a lot of engine to operate, but also allows the ship to thrust in any direction without a change in orientation. I just believe that along the way we will find a better way of propelling our ships through space than sending matter out the back.
Another factor is how fast we can decelerate/accelerate. In Star Trek they go to light speed in an instant and to a stop in another instant. They use the invention of inertial compensators to accomplish this, and while I like the idea, I don’t think in the reasonable future we will be able to accel/decel at such incredible rates. But let’s say that they can accelerate at high levels, and we don’t have compensators. It still limits the abilities of a manned vessel. At three gees the crew is going to be very uncomfortable. Above that they will only be able to move around in mobile couches, which takes human damage control out of the equation. Robots could still do the job though. To accelerate at higher rates humans would have to use fluid filled acceleration tanks that would allow them to survive at thirty gees and maybe a bit more. But they still wouldn’t be able to work the ship, meaning get their hands on things to fix or repair. So we add in inertial compensators to give them the ability to accelerate at hundreds of gravities (I use over four hundred for most warships in Exodus). It still takes time to build up to high velocities. And if the compensators go down and the engines don’t we have a crew of jam on the ship, as they are crushed out of existence. So we have a warship accelerating at hundreds of gravities, heading into a system. At some point, unless they intend to just fly past the target or destination, they have to start to decelerate at around the halfway point. And it takes just as long to decel as it did to acel up to speed. If something gets in the way that something gets hit. And if it is even a moderate mass it might go deep into the vessel causing all kinds of damage. Something really heavy like a bog rock (asteroid sized) and the ship is gone. There’s also the problem of radiation while traveling fast through matter filled solar systems. At high velocity just about anything coming at you can be called radiation, and it’s all harmful. So ships will have to have strong screens to shed charged particles. Uncharged particles are another matter and can only be stopped by heavy pieces of matter.
So how would ships approach each other in battle? I can think of three most likely scenarios. One would be that they stay at maximum effective missile range at let loose at each other. They would be boosting in about the same orientation and maintain distance. The second would be a fast boost toward each other, firing missiles, then beam weapons when the range got into about five light minutes. The fleets would pass, then start to decel, which might take days, until they could head at each other again. Poul Anderson called this the day of boredom, followed by an hour of intense activity and tension, followed by days of boredom. The third would be the most unlikely, where the fleets decel at each other so they could spend the maximum time pounding the crap out of each other at close range. It would take two to adopt this strategy, and I wouldn’t want to give up my ability to maneuver at speed just to get in some extra licks, and take them. Only in a situation where I had to defend something, like a planet or stationary base, would I ever contemplate such an insane tactic. But it does happen in Exodus.