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Subject: The Problem with Pirates rss

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John Reiher
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And the problem with pirates is that they aren't a problem... as people imagine it to happen.

For one thing, as the book states, Space is big, really big. It's so big it's next to impossible for a pirate ship to sneak up on a cargoship, and not because "There Ain't No Stealth In Space" it's because "Space Is Fraking Huge!" The travel times are so long, it's highly improbable that the pirate ship is in the right place.

Here's an example: We're in the Sol system, and Earth and Mars are in opposition, so the T2 cargo ship, Bountiful Booty, (With V-Shift 2), is making the trip to Mars full of cargo from Earth. It will take 2.5 days to get there.

At the same time, the Space Pirate Base on the asteroid Pallas, is also at opposition and at perihelion, 2.132 AU. They see the Bountiful Booty leave Earth for Mars. They hop into their T2 pirate ship, the Lusty Lady, (Also with V-Shift 2) and overburn to intercept the cargoship.

Based on the Continuous Thrust Travel Time Calculator, they will arrive in 3 days at Mars, (2 days, 17 hours).

See the problem there? They can't catch them in space, even if they tried.

If the pirates don't turnaround and decel, they will intercept the cargo ship in deep space. But, alas, they are going in the wrong direction! Combat would be a quick jousting match, leaving one or both ships terminally disabled from the encounter. And even if it didn't, the pirate ship would have to turn around and catch up. They will have to travel the same distance again before they can head back. By that time, their radiators are glowing cherry red, and they are low on fuel. (And no, they don't have the Extended Range stunt, they had to overburn to intercept.)

"So John, are you saying that space pirates are impossible?" you may ask.

My answer is "No." They can still operate, but not in deep space. The problems of hiding your base of operations (Impossible) and traveling fast enough to intercept the target (highly improbable and dangerous), means that pirates will not be hiding out in the asteroid belt, but on the planet itself.

In real life, most pirates sailed in sloops, fast and maneuverable, and mainly used their reputation to terrorize cargo vessels and only deal with the really valuable cargo.

So the pirates aren't piloting big space ships, they are flying interface craft, aerospace fighters and cargo shuttles, and after threatening to destroy the cargoship, the shuttles dock and load the valuable stuff, and they all drop back down into the planet's atmosphere and then hide amongst the ground clutter.

You'll want to use my Orbital Combat Minigame for this.

The pirates will have a ship in orbit during Opposition around Mars to keep an eye out for traffic from Earth. When they see the Bountiful Booty fire up it's drives and climb up Sol's gravity well for Mars, they will alert the pirate base on Mars and by the time the BB shows up, the corsairs are in orbit waiting for her.

Of course the Martian constabulary will have their patrol vessels in orbit, watching out for the corsairs, but it's not as easy to spot something in orbit, since it's out of sight half the time. And it still takes time to change orbital levels and intercept a ship.

So here's a couple of pirate interface ships to play around with:

T2 Pirate Orbital Corsair
V-Shift 2, Beam 0, Torpedo 3, EW 3, Trade 0

Hull OOO O
Data OOO
Heat OOO

Air and Orbit Only: Is not designed for deep space, orbital and atmospheric only. Can land on planetary bodies. (2bp)
Vector Randomizer: Base defense 2 against Beams.
Firewall: Base defense 2 against EW.
Small Crew: Only has a crew of 2-4 (1bp)

T2 Pirate Cargo Shuttle
V-Shift 2, Beam 0, Torpedo 0, EW 2, Trade 4

Hull OOO O
Data OOO
Heat OOO

Air and Orbit Only: Is not designed for deep space, orbital and atmospheric only. Can land on planetary bodies. (2bp)
Vector Randomizer: Base defense 2 against Beams.
Firewall: Base defense 2 against EW.
Small Crew: Only has a crew of 2-4 (1bp)
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Yeah, the deep space stuff is a bit unlikely. I like the idea of them bailing up a remote station while the law (if any) is docked and vulnerable.
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Piracy works just fine... so long as one ignores the popular myth of storm-n-board. It's just too hard to board.

Meeting up is easy but pointless. Meeting up with matched vectors is obvious, not nearly as easy.

If both start at the same point, the higher acceleration ship determines whether or not they stay in range. If it's a long trip, the higher delta-V total can escape if they survive the early encounters.

But the most typical pirate run involves suborning crew and/or smuggling armed men aboard; this is all while it is on the ground. The takeover is done while it's about to exit.

And a lot of historic so-called piracy in the wet isn't piracy at all... but contested claim customs enforcement.... both sides claim the turf, and both deny the others' shipping... usually an offer to divert and sell, or leave the cargo and depart, or fight it out. This, too, likely translates quite well, especially given the system of slipstream points provides only 2 points to enter/exit the system. And those can be (usually obviously) guarded... and pickets can then do the storm and board in such cases.
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Kedamono wrote:
In real life, most pirates sailed in sloops, fast and maneuverable,
Dinghy is the word, I believe. The golden age of piracy wasn't in the 17th century, it's now. Lots of pirates have been active in the past 100 years, and they tend to use small motor boats to quickly sneak aboard, and take over the ship.

The main problem with spaceships is that they are closed and go fast. It's about as easy to board a spaceship as it is to board a jetliner. It's easier to board the ship while it's still in port and then hijack it once it's in deep space, rather than try to board it in flight.

Another thing about historical pirates is that their base of operations was rarely a big secret. Dunkirk was a pirate base in 1600. We knew that very well. But how do you get rid of them? In fact, the Dutch did send a land army to get rid of the pirates, but they encountered a Spanish army instead, and never got around to fighting the pirates. Right now, plenty of pirates operate from Somalia. But who is going to stop them?

The big problem with piracy in space is that it requires a much bigger investment. A dinghy won't get you to orbit. You need a shuttle, and a fast one at that. And you either need to be able to dock and cut through the hull while your target tries to prevent that, or you need enough weaponry that you can credibly threaten to blow them out of the sky in order to force them to surrender.

So that leaves 3 scenarios:
* Hijacking
* Fast shuttle, intercept, dock, and cut through the hull
* Fast warship, and threaten with heavy weapons

Also keep in mind that piracy is rarely a smart business investment or a good career move. Pirates are usually people who got the short end of the stick, and lost even that. They're desperate, and they're willing to risk their life in order to carve out a living. Take the Somalian pirates, for example; many used to be fishermen, but big supertrawlers from wealthier countries emptied their seas, making it impossible for them to make a living. But they still have those little fishing boats.

Pirates certainly don't buy a ship. If they can afford that, they can afford to do something less dangerous. Likely they start by hijacking a ship, and if it turns out to be a fast one, they use it to pull in bigger fish.
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The current crop of pirates just hold the ship for ransom, they don't even bother to steal what's in the hold. The money is far more important.

The pirates don't even need to leave the surface of the planet, they just need to have surface to orbit capability. They launch a space mine (A hunter-killer satellite or a bomb covered in shrapnel making material.), park it near the cargoship with a threat of detonating it if the ship changes orbit, and then issue a ransom threat, payable in precious metals to be delivered to a very open location.

Right now we have amateur rocketry folks that have built suborbital rockets. It's not too much of a stretch to imagine that a T1+ society would have commonly available launchers that can put things into orbit.
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People keep forgetting that real pirates didn't just patrol aimlessly their territory in patient wait like hollywoodian pirates do. Most of the time of a pirate's life is spent gathering intelligence on possible targets, and only after that they set up an ambush.

That cargo ship will have a cargo manifest, and a scheduled departure/arrival time just like any other cargo ship in existence.
Any half-brained astrogator can calculate its course well before it departs, and calculate an intercept course. And then hop on his craft full of marines and start the intercept course's burn a day or so before the cargo ship has even been filled of goods.

And here is where stealth becomes a problem. They see pirates in an interception course, so they may decide to wait a little or send a Navy ship to greet pirates instead.
So the pirate craft must look like a civilian vessel and be disguised as one legally too. Its course must be different enough from the target's to not arise a lot of suspicion but close enough that with a relatively short burn they can get on the prey.

Then stealth becomes a problem again. You cannot really hope to escape in a "secret hideout", so your best bet is to reach a space nation with corrupted or nonexistant law enforcement (like Somalia) and hope that your enemies aren't so pissed off to start a war with the abovementioned nation over your piracy.
As long as you just steal some insuranced goods, noone will really give a damn, but when you start stealing ships or murdering crews, you may attract too much attention.
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Kedamono wrote:
Right now we have amateur rocketry folks that have built suborbital rockets.
You don't really need to put stuff in a stable orbit to damage ships in orbit. Just throw your kinetic high enough but without it having orbital speed (that saves loads of propellant). You get only two chances to hit the target though (one while it is going up and one when it is going down again).

Still, unless the spacecraft is in low orbit, any rocket will need from dozens of minutes to hours to reach its target, and in that time your ship can thrust to dodge it or simply deploy a counter-kinetic. (throwing some random matter in the course of your missiles)
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mcvos wrote:
Also keep in mind that piracy is rarely a smart business investment or a good career move.
Well, pirating the competition will be a good tactic for a corporation. Not with pirate openly displaying the corporate logo, of course.

Otherwise "letters of marque" could be issued again to space corsairs.

Quote:
The main problem with spaceships is that they are closed and go fast. It's about as easy to board a spaceship as it is to board a jetliner.
I wouldn't say it is so harsh. Spacecraft are simply helpless if they encounter an enemy with better engines (i.e. that can mirror each and every move while still closing). Also, to the contrary of jetliners (just like wet ships), they don't fall down if their engines are shot.

And the boarding will be done using airlocks. Cutting hull to gain entrance is silly for wet navy, and even more so for spacecraft.
You risk compromising structural integrity and to blow away air for what exactly?
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bobafetthotmail wrote:

And the boarding will be done using airlocks. Cutting hull to gain entrance is silly for wet navy, and even more so for spacecraft.
You risk compromising structural integrity and to blow away air for what exactly?
Actually, for military teams, evacuating the hull removes the risk from all but well trained crews with personal suits. If reliant upon rescue balls, they are effectively neutralized. If not in suits, dead or injured, or tied to their O2 source. And the boarders will most likely be in militarized suits, which the quarry likely won't be.

Now, any crew with suits is likely to already be in them at boarding.

If the cutting system is a precision system, a pre-prepared folding cap can be a quick way for repressurizing after.

And if using laser or slugthrowers, if it will go through a man, it will go through a pressure hull.

In short, it's a quick way to pin down some of the crew. If you're boarding by force, it's obvious they are not surrendering.
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bobafetthotmail wrote:
Then stealth becomes a problem again. You cannot really hope to escape in a "secret hideout", so your best bet is to reach a space nation with corrupted or nonexistant law enforcement (like Somalia) and hope that your enemies aren't so pissed off to start a war with the abovementioned nation over your piracy.
It isn't so much an issue of being pissed off, but more one of it costing too much money to root out the pirates. Somalia is an excellent example. You can go in there and kill or capture a few people, but it will cost a lot, and not really change anything. Creating a rule of law, or any semblance of order, is nigh impossible. It's a huge money sink. Paying the ransoms is far cheaper.

Quote:
As long as you just steal some insuranced goods, noone will really give a damn, but when you start stealing ships or murdering crews, you may attract too much attention.
Not only that, but if you want people to surrender, a reputation for proper treatment of the crews is worth more than anything else.

And of course they lose less money than it would cost to fight you, they're less likely to try and stop you.
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bobafetthotmail wrote:
Well, pirating the competition will be a good tactic for a corporation. Not with pirate openly displaying the corporate logo, of course.

Otherwise "letters of marque" could be issued again to space corsairs.
Oh, definitely. With the support of nations or megacorporations, it becomes a completely different game. Then the goal is not so much to profit from the piracy (though that's a nice bonus), but to hurt him economically and drive him out of business. And corporate/national backing also means you get your safe hideout.

Quote:
And the boarding will be done using airlocks. Cutting hull to gain entrance is silly for wet navy, and even more so for spacecraft.
You risk compromising structural integrity and to blow away air for what exactly?
Wet navy is open from the top. Spacecraft aren't. Why would they let you in? You need either the credible threat to blow them out of the sky, or the ability to force yourself through the hull.
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mcvos wrote:
Wet navy is open from the top. Spacecraft aren't. Why would they let you in? You need either the credible threat to blow them out of the sky, or the ability to force yourself through the hull.
Most serious wet craft have hatches to keep water from storms and waves that brutally splash on the deck during such storms from getting into the ship.
Generally real boarders blow away such doors to gain entrance (that the crew should have closed to slow them down) and don't waste time cutting through the steel of the deck or of the steel walls of the structure the bridge is.
On frail small civilian vessels that would compromise the hull's integrity, on something bigger you would need a load of time to cut it.

SWAT usually forces doors and not walls for the same reason.
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aramis wrote:
Actually, for military teams, evacuating the hull removes the risk from all but well trained crews with personal suits. If reliant upon rescue balls, they are effectively neutralized. If not in suits, dead or injured, or tied to their O2 source. And the boarders will most likely be in militarized suits, which the quarry likely won't be.
I don't agree a lot on the "depressurize the craft" point. I think moving around a vessel in a spacesuit will be rather hard (a little like boarding a sunk wet navy ship with scuba gear). In case the defenders have some weapon drones, you will be in great disadvantage.

Quote:
If the cutting system is a precision system, a pre-prepared folding cap can be a quick way for repressurizing after.
Assuming you did find a sweet spot where no pipes nor electric cables nor equipment run close to the hull (good luck for navy vessels). Accidentally puncturing oxygen tanks AND a main electrical line will result in a disastrous fireball, puncturing a sewer pipe will spray frozen shit everywhere, damaging an electrical line may electrify the hull, frying computers, sensors and whatnot. And I'm not adding plasma conduits ala star trek to the equation.
Blowing away an airlock (or hacking it) would be much safer for you, the people you are boarding, and the spacecraft.

Quote:
And if using laser or slugthrowers, if it will go through a man, it will go through a pressure hull.
A good reason not to use AP rounds.
Pressure hulls stop normal pistol bullets and you aren't going to need rifles or MGs in a corridor fight. The main problem is stray shots hitting equipment like O2 tanks, power lines, and computers.
For this reason imho boarding will see more hand-to-hand fighting than shooting contests.

Quote:
In short, it's a quick way to pin down some of the crew. If you're boarding by force, it's obvious they are not surrendering.
Its's overly tricky to execute because space suits are heavy and restrict movements, it is difficult to cut through hull without blowing yourself up or damaging internal components, and vacuum damages internal equipment that wasn't designed for vacuum operation in the first place (otherwise why are they placed there? cooling computers will become impossible for example).
Not to mention that you may damage sensitive cargo (living cargo, or a precius and frail one like paintings or art, or blowing up liquid containers due to difference of pressure).
Most plastics and stuff that are solid on Earth becomes glass-like and shatter in vacuum. That will also damage furniture. The ship's Capitan will be enraged by this.
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mcvos wrote:
It isn't so much an issue of being pissed off, but more one of it costing too much money to root out the pirates. Somalia is an excellent example. You can go in there and kill or capture a few people, but it will cost a lot, and not really change anything. Creating a rule of law, or any semblance of order, is nigh impossible. It's a huge money sink. Paying the ransoms is far cheaper.
Yup, who said that Space Pirates were silly? arrrh
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The other problem with trying to board an unfriendly space ship is something called the "Kzinti Lesson"

External image


It states "a reaction drive's efficiency as a weapon is in direct proportion to its efficiency as a drive." If you haven't disabled the unfriendly's drive and maneuver jets, it will be nigh impossible to dock and breach the hull in any way whatsoever.

As long as those maneuver jets are active, the pilot or the ship's computer can twist and spin the hull, preventing you from getting a handhold and into the ship.
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Kedamono wrote:
"a reaction drive's efficiency as a weapon is in direct proportion to its efficiency as a drive."
It is more referred to the kinetic energy it can give the spacecraft.
Most drives's dangerous zone is limited to a few km from the spacecraft (for nuclear ones like Orion and fusion torches, while chemical, ion drives and similar have a much smaller danger zone).
You can safely use .50 sniper rifles at that range, and missing something with antiship weapons at this range is kinda hard.

Btw, That image above is a spacecraft using its onboard photon frikkin drive (in practice a giant laser) to cut in half an admittedly silly invader craft.

If your enemy has the ludicrously huge power generation needed by photon drives in a ship-portable generator, RUN FOR YOUR LIFE.

Quote:
As long as those maneuver jets are active, the pilot or the ship's computer can twist and spin the hull, preventing you from getting a handhold and into the ship.
The problem of most engines is that they are highly vulnerable to weapon damage, and cannot really be armored. Fusion drives are the pinnacle of fraility to avoid being melted by their own exaust.

If a craft cannot outrun the enemy its best bet is to stop, set internal barricades and try to isolate/kill boarders while trying to counteboard their pirate vessel.

But generally professional pirates try to avoid that mess by having a good reputation and by yelling "i'm here for your boss's money, not for your life".

The noob pirates or the crazed psychopath pirate captain are usually the biggest threat.
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bobafetthotmail wrote:
aramis wrote:
Actually, for military teams, evacuating the hull removes the risk from all but well trained crews with personal suits. If reliant upon rescue balls, they are effectively neutralized. If not in suits, dead or injured, or tied to their O2 source. And the boarders will most likely be in militarized suits, which the quarry likely won't be.
I don't agree a lot on the "depressurize the craft" point. I think moving around a vessel in a spacesuit will be rather hard (a little like boarding a sunk wet navy ship with scuba gear). In case the defenders have some weapon drones, you will be in great disadvantage.
ANY fight aboard a spaceship using anything stronger than blades is by necessity going to be in space suits. Non-issue; you're fighting in suits in either case.

You're either blowing a hatch or cutting through the hull. On current designs, the hatch is actually tougher... in either case, that will still depressurize at least the section entered.

getting aboard without depressurization requires any of the following:
1) override the controls
2) collusion from inside
3) cooperation from the victim
4) insecure designs (like the Soyuz, Salyut, Mir, or ISS... no locks)

In case of cooperation, it's quite possible that it's a trap; you still go in in suits just in case.

Further, a boarding vacc suit is more likely to look like dirtbike armor than an Apollo Moon Suit. See http://www.space.com/businesstechnology/070716_sleek_spacesu... Look at the photos, then add SWAT armor.

There is no way to fight aboard a ship without potential for fighting in vacuum.
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Boarding a hostile vessel without a space suit is suicide. The defenders could easily wear suits and depressurize their own ship.

Of course you could still have the power to blow up their ship if they kill your boarding party, but in that case you'll be demanding their surrender before you send anyone in. Much easier that way. And then it's still smart to keep your suits on until you control the actual ship.
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aramis wrote:
ANY fight aboard a spaceship using anything stronger than blades is by necessity going to be in space suits. Non-issue; you're fighting in suits in either case.
As I said, you don't really need weapons that can puncture the hull.
Since we are talking about vacuum boardings, what kind of weapons will you use in vacuum? The general wisdom indicates slughtrower revolvers, or slughtrowers that don't need lubrication (like that automatic shotgun, a-12? don't remember)

On a tangent, I would like to see people using swords in freefall. Usually the target has enough time (hours for ships in the OP's example, days with more realistic engines) to stop the ship rotation/gravity generators after realizes it cannot escape your pursuit.

Quote:
You're either blowing a hatch or cutting through the hull. On current designs, the hatch is actually tougher... in either case, that will still depressurize at least the section entered.
I was assuming docking a small heavily armored but decently nimble shuttle to the hatch and opening it without depressurizing stuff (both ends of the hatch are a pressurized environment, one is the shuttle and one is the ship).
It may need time, but you can also hack it, and it is less dangerous for you (already listed all the damage you can deal to the defender and yourself by cutting in the wrong place). Any crew will have time to set up a warm welcome regardless of where you are cutting/hacking.

Why I thought of a shuttle? Because suited astronauts are in major danger while travelling unprotected so close to another ship. One thrust of the fusion torch and they all die by radiation or by heat. One sniper from another hatch or a hidden .50 remote turret and they are all doomed (you know, no stealth, they are in ballistic trajectories, no gravity nor air that deviates the slug).
One maneuvering thruster burn and they get smashed by the ship's hull that comes down like a giant mace on them when they were close to touching it.
And the same applies to another ship parked nearby (1 km more or less). You need a specialized boarding shuttle, fitted to resist such kinds of abuse, or you expose yourself too much.
If the boarding party is killed, the pirates can only kill the prey with ship guns or go away, no more capture of the prey is possible.

Quote:
Further, a boarding vacc suit is more likely to look like dirtbike armor than an Apollo Moon Suit. See http://www.space.com/businesstechnology/070716_sleek_spacesu... Look at the photos, then add SWAT armor.
yeah, I was already assuming those kinds of suits.

Quote:
There is no way to fight aboard a ship without potential for fighting in vacuum.
But that doesn't mean all boarding ops will be done in vacuum. As I said it is much more damaging for the defender's equipment than it is for the attacker's boarding party. It will be done mostly out of desperation, and if you got suits it won't be done at all. (maybe even if you have fake suits that give you more mobility)
But anyway if you push your prey to be desperate like that, you fail as a pirate.shake
This is more a law enforcement situation, police vs arrrh.
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mcvos wrote:
Boarding a hostile vessel without a space suit is suicide. The defenders could easily wear suits and depressurize their own ship.
Yeah, that's a funny situation.
You go in without suits? They depressurize.
You go in with suits? They don't bother to depressurize because it is pretty damaging to the spacecraft's internals and won't hamper you a lot anyway.

Quote:
Of course you could still have the power to blow up their ship if they kill your boarding party, but in that case you'll be demanding their surrender before you send anyone in. Much easier that way. And then it's still smart to keep your suits on until you control the actual ship.
As Kedamono said above, parking close to the ship and threaten it with guns until someone pays a ransom (or they eject some cargo crates) remains the better way to go pirate.
Also, they can have access to the prey's general status, by getting documents on its category, its broad performance and all installed stuff that requires a permit (guns mostly).
Hacking and Customs bribery will be part of a pirate's life.

If I remeber correctly, most real pirates of the high seas didn't fought a lot. When they boarded, it was just a formal show of force, after the other had already surrendered.

Boarding is a mess on hard-ish spacecraft.
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A little off-topic, but worth thinking about for some alternate takes on Space Pirates is Charlie Stross' recent comments about a plot thread he was going to use, but dropped: Books I will not write #4: Space Pirates of KPMG. Might be some useful material there.
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William Hostman
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edige23 wrote:
A little off-topic, but worth thinking about for some alternate takes on Space Pirates is Charlie Stross' recent comments about a plot thread he was going to use, but dropped: Books I will not write #4: Space Pirates of KPMG. Might be some useful material there.
He overlooks a lot in his accusations of General Causality Violation for FTL. That's only true of FTL that doesn't remove one from N-Space whilst doing it.

In other words, it's a pile of sophistry.

Further, the most recent physics text I looked at had FTL particles listed: tachyons... and if nature has FTL particles, then FTL isn't a GCV.
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John Reiher
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aramis wrote:
Further, the most recent physics text I looked at had FTL particles listed: tachyons... and if nature has FTL particles, then FTL isn't a GCV.
Unfortunately the lag time between publication and current theory, means that listing in a textbook doesn't mean it's true or even current.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tachyon

Yes, it's the fount of all knowledge, Wikipedia, but the cites are all current, especially, when you do a little research, tachyons violate special relativity and therefore more than likely don't exist.

http://scienceworld.wolfram.com/physics/Tachyon.html
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Sarah Garrett
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Maybe less space "pirates" and more space "wreckers" would be to hack the computers performing the ship's maneuvering calculations such that everything appears to be superficially okay, but unless someone takes notice and manually controls the maneuvers, the ship is in fact being sent on a trajectory into someplace hazardous for the spacecraft.

That might be into a planetoid or asteroid belt. Areas of intense gravitational tidal forces such as near a neutron star or black hole might severely damage or disable a ship. Someplace with intense radiation, beyond that which a ship would ordinarily be shielded against might kill or incapacitate the crew. Such a place might be near an accretion disk or through one of various types of astrophysical jets of x-rays or near a pulsar. Any high-energy astrophysical object would certainly be deadly to the crew and probably damage the ship.

Once the ship or crew is disabled, the hacked computer settles the ship into orbit someplace convenient, the pirates mop up any survivors (or maybe just leave them for dead), load up the cargo, and zoom away! Depending on how brutal or confident the pirates may be in their ability to combat any resistance aboard the targeted ship, they might just have the hacked computer bring the ship into orbit around a convenient object and raid them, without necessarily even disabling the ship. That would be a much more high-risk endeavor, though.

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Dunno, maybe the crew cannot detect it (if the hack is very good) but the Space Police will probably notice the change of course if they keep an eye on space traffic.

And if the craft doesn't answer their calls (again due to hack) they will keep an eye on where it goes, and what ships encounters.
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