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Say a novel is set 100 years from now, when a confederation of nations establishes a unified military force. (Yes, I know, but this is fiction after all) Would a military academy, training astronaut fighter pilots for combat in interplanetary space, in a space station in geostationary orbit automatically raise a red flag as not being credible? Would the natural environment at that location be a disqualifying factor?

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    $\begingroup$ Would you accept an answer of the form, "location is fine, but space fighters are all kinds of silly, especially around a geosync orbit"? $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime May 25 at 11:37
  • $\begingroup$ @StarfishPrime. Yes, and why silly? $\endgroup$ – Bob516 May 25 at 12:03
  • $\begingroup$ I'm actually now hesitating to write it because it might get a bit ranty ;-) But basically: missiles will nearly always beat spacefighters, because meat transport is expensive, vessels that need to be retrieved are really expensive and meat is delicate. Also at the huge long lines of sight you find at geosync altitudes, fighters can be seen and swatted long before they could do any fighting. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime May 25 at 12:08
  • $\begingroup$ @StargishPrime Unless there is some reason that missiles can't be used. Maybe they don't have enough resources to waste them on things designed to blow up. $\endgroup$ – Bellerophon May 25 at 12:21
  • $\begingroup$ @StarfishPrime, we already have questions asking how to justify manned space fighters, they're always a third class option. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix May 25 at 12:32
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100 years is a long time in technology; we've gone from Goddard's home-made liquid-fuelled rocket to plasma drives in that time, so even a relatively conservative extrapolation of current technologies will give you lots to play with.

TL;DR: it'll be fine, more or less.

The main issue with putting people in geosynchronous orbit is radiation exposure. There are three main sources of this... the van Allen belts, the sun, and the whole of the rest of the universe (approximately). In all cases, your station, your fighters and your fragile meaty crew will all be subjected to a continuous slew of high energy particles. You'll need decent shielding, both physical and ideally electromagnetic. The technology for the latter is lacking today, but various things are in the pipeline and in a century's time will surely be standard equipment. Don't forget to keep an eye on the space weather forecast, and head for the shelters if a CME is in the offing!

The second issue is rocket technology. Chemical rockets will require continuous supplies from somewhere, so that's either a massive and continuous spacelaunch program or in-orbit fuel refineries fuelled by some extraterrestrial source like asteroids. Nuclear rockets are hazardous radiation sources and need fuel that will probably have to be brought up from earth. Fusion-powered rockets would be best of all, but that's a breakthrough technology and in any case will still need supplies of specialist fuel and reaction mass. Probably you'll have to handwave in asteroid mining, too.

The final issue is "why?". What's great about geosync, other than the rule of cool? Low orbit is safer and cheaper to get to, and lines of sight are much shorter making use of transatmospheric fighters less implausible. What are your fighters fighting out there? If you want to be further away from earth for safety reasons, I'd sit in lunar orbit instead, or maybe in a Lagrangian point.

Answer those three questions, which aren't super challenging (except maybe the last!) and you'll be fine.

The issue of whether spacefighters make the slightest bit of sense I'll leave for another question, but suffice to say I think that missiles, lasers and coilguns are better, easier and probably cheaper, though I appreciate they take the human element out of things so they dono't always make for good storytelling.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yes, good storytelling. That is my starting point. As for the location, it is a political decision, not a military one. The location also serves as symbolism for the story. $\endgroup$ – Bob516 May 25 at 12:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Bob516 I'd posit that you can still have good human-centric storytelling and slightly more plausible space combat without space fighters. Nothing wrong with warships. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime May 25 at 12:57
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    $\begingroup$ @Bob516 - Since you mentioned that the choice of location is political (I assume "so it's always over our country"), note that you can only have a geostationary location above a point on the equator. If you're not over the equator, the satellite will oscillate north and south with each orbit. $\endgroup$ – Dave Sherohman May 25 at 13:26
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    $\begingroup$ @DaveSherohman. Thank you. I'm aware of that. I picked an equatorial location. $\endgroup$ – Bob516 May 25 at 13:33
  • $\begingroup$ @StarfishPrime Now I'm reading about the High Voltage Orbiting Long Tether which might be able to remove the high energy charged particles from the Van Allen Belt. Maybe it won't be any more dangerous to be at GEO than in interstellar space, and probably less so. $\endgroup$ – Bob516 May 25 at 16:48
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Lower A Cable!

If space elevators exist in your world it would become very easy to justify the station being at geostationary altitude. Since space elevators must be based from a geostationary point, it is almost natural for your station to exist here.

This would also give a credible explanation for how massive amounts of material and personnel are moved out of the gravity well. Unless you have some very efficient propulsion systems or are building spacecraft in space from materials in the solar system it will be hard to convincingly have a fleet based on using rockets to travel to and from Earth.

I guess "political considerations" could trump logistics but that seems unlikely for a military base when there are so many better options. Of course this is also assuming you create credible shelter against the radiation environment at that altitude (covered well in other answers). A space elevator requires you to be located in geostationary orbit and the political considerations could determine where along the equator its base lies.

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  • $\begingroup$ Space elevators may violate the "100 years in the future" requirement. Setting one up on earth is extremely difficult, to say the least. I'd posit that other spacelaunch megastructures are probably more plausible (star tram gen 2, launch loop, etc) and also provide reasonable heavy lift facilities. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime May 26 at 9:26
  • $\begingroup$ @StarfishPrime fair enough, it was an optimistic answer but I don't think an unbelievable one. Of course if you're right about launch loops or electromagnetic launchers happening first, these developments could either hasten or delay the development of space elevators. If the latter, my answer wouldn't be a very good answer. $\endgroup$ – ben May 26 at 19:29
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Assuming this means said fighters will be operating and fighting in space, then the most economical way to put human pilots in a starfighter cockpit is to base a trainer squadron on a space station. Not necessarily at geo-sync but at least already-in orbit, as this would save the fuel and risks of ascending from the surface and re-entering every training flight. In that case the best solution would be to fly up a fresh class of junior pilots for a few months. But probably this would be the last part of flight training with the rest of it taking place in-atmosphere and in flight simulators.

Basing a squadron somewhere means you're also basing their maintenance department there. That means of parts, personnel, food, fuel, tools.. a squadron goes through a lot. Training squadrons especially as n00b pilots tend to be hard on the planes and the flight schedule is non-stop. That would be a busy space station, so if there's an isolation / psychological conditioning aspect of the training that should probably be done elsewhere. Hope that helps

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  • $\begingroup$ What are your thoughts about the location of the psychological conditioning. $\endgroup$ – Bob516 May 26 at 22:46
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    $\begingroup$ There’s lots of places on Earth suitable for that. I was stationed at a base called China Lake in a remote desert of Southern California. It’s near Death Valley and is about as remote as you can get in the continuous US. There’s plenty of other options though if you don’t need to include an airfield. Arctic research station, Alaska, the Adirondacks, an underground base.. he’ll even prisons have isolation wards $\endgroup$ – Adam Coville May 26 at 23:14
  • $\begingroup$ On Earth those make sense. Assuming cost is not an issue, if pilots will be doing the majority of their flying in interplanetary space, wouldn't they do most of their training in orbit, and wouldn't the conditioning best be done in space? $\endgroup$ – Bob516 May 27 at 0:26
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    $\begingroup$ Cost is always an issue when it comes to the military. Flight training is highly selective. The first phases of it are going to be theory instruction in classrooms, physical conditioning, practicing crash landing, escape from water... time in simulators. Actually setting foot in a starfighter in space would be the last part of the training I'd think. $\endgroup$ – Adam Coville May 27 at 1:20
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    $\begingroup$ Cheers. I was an Aviation Electrician’s Mate in the US Navy. Happy to help if you have any more questions just PM me $\endgroup$ – Adam Coville May 27 at 3:56
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Yeah! In a salvaged alien space ship!

If you have a Star-Wars type world where space aircraft carriers sally out and are defended by little space fighters manned by humans, it makes sense to have some safe base of operations from which to train your fighter pilots.

Rather than just repurpose the ISS for this, you should use a space aircraft carrier for your orbiting school. Best: it is a carrier thought to be from your opponent, discovered adrift and towed back to Earth for study. Study of this giant craft goes on, but there is a lot of useful space on board which various factions of the military have commandeered for their own purposes. One of these purposes is your space school.

Siting a school full of enthusiastic young people in an alien environment orbiting the earth will be great for the story. Is there already an anime about that? It practically writes itself. The students and teachers interact and give the human energy to the story. The presence of spooky scientists / other military factions / weird stuff from poorly explored areas of the ship will inject lots of energy.

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    $\begingroup$ The question is whether geostationary orbit is a good location for the school compared to other orbit types, not what type of structure should it be - how is this answer addressing the question? $\endgroup$ – KerrAvon2055 May 26 at 0:30
  • $\begingroup$ @KerrAvon2055: there is no mention of a comparison of orbit types in the question. The OP wants to know if a space station in orbit would be a credible school or if "the natural environment at that location be a disqualifying factor". $\endgroup$ – Willk May 26 at 0:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Willk Right, I'm interested in whether that location is problematic for a military school. I do not see how your answer addresses my question of whether geostationary orbit is problematic. Your idea is very creative. You should write that story. $\endgroup$ – Bob516 May 27 at 0:43
  • $\begingroup$ I did not realize you wanted comparisons of different orbits. The upside of geostationary is that it is the same path to get there from a given land base each time. The only downside I can think of for geostationary is that it must be over the equator although if you are traveling in a ship you do not have to start at the equator to get there. $\endgroup$ – Willk May 27 at 1:11

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