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Space is filled with all kinds of things that are unkind to cloth, such as dust and radiation, and they are the reason why sticking a nylon national flag on the moon isn't permanent.

In my world I would like my space pirates to compete for territories and even collaborate with corrupted government bodies, but that means they must leave their mark for a very long time. For this very reason they need flags — durable and easily noticeable flags that can withstand hundreds of years.

The tech level is 100 years from now and I have considered using holographic projection, but that might not work in empty space.

Question: What can I use to make a permanent flag (call it a "trademark" if you will, pirates aren't picky) that will mark a spot or territory planetside or in space?

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    $\begingroup$ Define your "permanent". Nothing is forever. Also, define your "easily noticeable". Regular sized flag is really hard to spot on the moon, from even a quite low orbit. Last but not least, define what "flag" even is for you. For most people it is a piece of fabric or thin flat rectangle, and here you write about holograms. $\endgroup$ – Mołot May 9 '18 at 7:11
  • $\begingroup$ I would also like to know what exactly is meant by "flag" in this question. It is presumably different from the "flags" we know but has some characteristics that still make it a "flag". What are these characteristics of flagness? $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi May 9 '18 at 7:15
  • $\begingroup$ Something you can see in space to identify a ship? Send out a constant transmission of some kind unique to your faction. a flag-like object for visual identification? I personally am not a fan of going into technical details and the inner workings of impractical if not completely insane ideas, but I guess that's just a matter of style $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 May 9 '18 at 7:30
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    $\begingroup$ They could go for the classic approach and carve their name into the moon's surface with a high-powered orbital laser? $\endgroup$ – F1Krazy May 9 '18 at 7:42
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    $\begingroup$ Pirates care not about property rights. That is the very definition of "Piracy", to say "sod your property rights, I do what I want with this property!". So why would a flag of any sort make them behave differently? All it does is say who they will be stealing the property from. $\endgroup$ – MichaelK May 9 '18 at 14:01
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Best flag, that any ship will notice is your ships' transponder signal.

Flags or even holograms are obsolete. Having a hologram would give away your location, but if you are a pirate, you want to appear out of nowhere, attack, plunder and disappear again.

The corrupt goverment would ignore pirate ships that turned off their transponders, so other ships can not detect them (in exchange for not attacking important cargo, I imagine) and pirates would disguise their ships as rocks and debris, when they are not looking for conflicts. (Checking for the rocks magnetism and power radiation can give away the disguise.)

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  • $\begingroup$ Why is this even accepted as an answer? You asked for "— durable and easily noticeable flags that can withstand hundreds of years." Then someone pointed out a transponder? $\endgroup$ – Mr.J May 10 '18 at 23:52
  • $\begingroup$ Not OP but I think that - Transponders serve the same purpose as flags, they are just from a different era. Using holograms to display flags might not even work in space, or the image will be still too small for ships to notice. remember we are in space, there could be hundreds of kilometers between the ships. Cloth flags do not work in space for obvious reasons and using a digital display on a ship that is likely to enter combat is not a good idea. So transponders are the answer, simply because they make sense and they are more versatile than all the other options. $\endgroup$ – Nuloen The Seeker May 11 '18 at 4:59
  • $\begingroup$ But as you said, its not the answer. Your is like, shouting "Hey I'm a Pirate" in a classroom wearing school uniform, you chose to shout it because your teacher is not there, and too scared to let them know you are a pirate. Don't mind me though, I'm just confused with the OP. $\endgroup$ – Mr.J May 11 '18 at 5:13
  • $\begingroup$ I said that trasponders are the answer to the OP's problem. But anyway, lets wait if OP answers you. I don't want this to escalate into an argument. $\endgroup$ – Nuloen The Seeker May 11 '18 at 5:18
  • $\begingroup$ Don't mind me please, I actually thought that the OP asks for something "Physically" present? but anyways, its also a good answer. $\endgroup$ – Mr.J May 11 '18 at 5:58
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This may seem mundane to us on here because Earth has thousands of them

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satellite

Satellites:

A satellite (even small) in a stable orbit with a basic solar powered transponder would be a tell-tale sign to anyone that a planet/territory had been visited, and give information about the visitor. Destroying and replacing satellites (aking to masting and unmasting flags) would be a sign of transfer of ownership, and a careful traveler may avoid a planet/territory that had any kind of orbiting transponder at all (though an adventurer/pirate may not..)

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Your flag is going to be invisible to the human eye. The thing making your flag is going to look like this. AN/PRC-117G If your only goal is to have some kind of space age "I was here!" then you're not going to get any better than a radio hooked up to a small, long-lasting nuclear reactor. Just record yourself claiming the territory, set the radio to play that on a loop, and bury it in whatever moon or asteroid your heart desires. Bonus points for adding a nuclear anti-tamper charge to dissuade people from messing with your beacon.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 to your answer, but: Bonus points for adding a nuclear anti-tamper charge to dissuade people from messing with your beacon. might blow up on your face when you start serving another side and you get tasked with changing the "flag". $\endgroup$ – Renan May 9 '18 at 21:21
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    $\begingroup$ @Renan Sounds like a job for the intern. $\endgroup$ – UIDAlexD May 10 '18 at 15:18
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Best Flag that you can get, that is permanent, noticeable specially from afar, and a sign of territory will be your Ship Insignia

Painting the hull of your ship with your insignia will be the noticeable flag, because as Molot pointed out, a regular sized flag will be unnoticeable in the moon, and when space debris falls on it, its over.

To iterate more about my reasons:

Visibility

So you want a visible flag? So visible if it is spotted from afar, terror will strike the hearts of anyone who spots it. Specially if you are one of the ruthless pirate that lives.

Territorial

As long as your ship is afloat, and it governs that area, anyone who approaches it and sees your ship, or ships will know that this area is owned by you.

Permanent

It actually depends on how you protect your ship, as your insignia is attached to the hull. Any devastating blow might destroy it, so as a captain, you really have to take care of your ship.

The best part is, even though your ship gets destroyed, your crew killed and all your treasures are looted, you insignia will never fade on everyone's memory, specially if your one of the most terrifying or most honorable pirate that ever lived.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think painting the flag on the hull is a bad idea, unless the flag is painted with some type of electronic ink or paint so that one can press a button or whatever to switch the pattern from design A to design B. So when the ship approaches another ship it will transmitt the transponder beam of a harmless ship, and also transmitt a video signal of the flag appropriate for that harmless ship, and also have the flag image area of the pirate ship showing that flag, and then suddenly they shut off the transponder and change the flag design in both transmission and hull to the jolly roger. $\endgroup$ – M. A. Golding May 9 '18 at 19:18
  • $\begingroup$ @M.A.Golding My answer only pertains only to the details that OP wants, a flag that is permanent, Visible, and Territorial, why hide something if you can strike fear in an instant. $\endgroup$ – Mr.J May 11 '18 at 3:47
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Flags were the primary means of communicating over distance at a time where radio didn't exist.

Pirates flags were psychological tools. Until the start of an engagement the pirates would fly a flag of convenience to allow them to close the distance without raising suspicion, then switch to either a red flag or a black flag.

Red flags traditionally were used as signals by the British navy to mean the ship was about to attack and the crew on the target vessel would be allowed to live if they co-operated, should they resist however, no quarter would be given. Over time pirate flags slowly evolved until arriving at the Black flag with skull and cross bones - the colour and design were both symbols for death, but also personalised so ships would be aware which notorious pirate was planning to attack allowing the pirate to leverage their fearsome reputation as well.

So - distance communications + message conveying a promise of death by a notorious individual

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A radioactive brick with your insignia on it. Fairly easy to find, who the owner is will not be easy to see but that it is owned will be. There is a reason we use marker stones on earth. But really these will just be physical markers to compliment a digital network record.

In history it was not the first one to stick their flag on a piece of land that owned it, it was the first to do so AND return to register/record their claim, the future should be the same, otherwise people can just pull up your maker and put down their own and no one will be able to dispute it.

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Radar or laser reflectors (like ones placed by Apollo that are still working on the moon) provide unmistakable evidence of visitation, and can have unique characteristics that can be used as a signature.

They have no moving parts, are purely passive, and can be made of robust materials. While we obviously we haven't proved them over 100's of years, there isn't any obvious reason why they couldn't last that long. Setup for some kinds can be as simple as dropping it so they could be easily used anywhere, on a planet with atmosphere transparent to at least one frequency, on airless bodies, or free space.

There is also the possibility for modifying the reflection to carry some data like RFID to carry more data though that requires local power which probably reduces the usable lifetime.

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