Suppose there was a conflict between 2 spacefaring civilizations and one is capable of cloaking their ships beyond the sensor capabilities of the other side. As countermeasure you'd need a weapon which works regardless of whether you know where the enemy is or not. Naturally I thought about a mine field. But tripwire and pressure plates are ridiculous in space and proximity mines require you to be able to detect your foe.

So what about lightings? The make the jump through vakuum if the charge difference is high enough, and don't require any targeting which would be as far as I know impossible in space anyway. So my current idea is an array of satellites which continually build up a charge by radiation. Either positive or negative, depending on the kind of radiation. I assume the civilization advanced enough to basically split any atom so the satellite consists eventually of hardly any elctrons or protons at all but a massive amount of the other one. And even if the mine/satellite would be destroyed from afar it would remain active as the debree would keep the charge (although with lower range due to lower mass).

Would such a setup be feasible? If my understanding of physics is correct the trigerd mine should get additional charge by other nearby mines bringing eventually the entire minefield and the target to the same charge, essentially creating another mine (asumung this would destroy the ship) , right?

Would be positive or negative charge more dangerous?

What would be the effects on a ship being hit? I assume it would be extreme heat development and destruction of basically any electronic systems. Is there something I am missing?


2 Answers 2



A vacuum arc does not have infinite range. I shall leave a detailed mathematical analysis to those better qualified, but the important issue is that long before an arc occurs there will be a significant attraction of opposite charges or repulsion of like charges occurring. This means that if there is a minefield of identically charged "mines", they will all be repelling each other furiously and disperse long before a ship happens along. If there are both positively and negatively charged "mines" then they will be attracted and mutually annihilate each other by arcing once they get within near-touching distance.

Further, the solar wind and similar movements of charged particles would mess with the minefield even if there were a handwavium method of forcing the mines to maintain their relative positions.

Hope someone with more time can do the calculations, but at a rough guess the maximum arc distance is so short (cm or metres at most) that an equal or smaller number of contact mines would cover the same volume and are less inclined to mutually annihilate or disperse themselves.

Finally, one of the fundamental problems with a space minefield is that everything is in some kind of orbit but no two objects will be in the same orbit - which means that slightly different gravitational forces will be acting on each object in a "minefield". The objects will disperse in a relatively short period of time unless they expend considerable fuel on constant station-keeping to negate these tidal effects.


Lightning - actually, a stream of charged particles - would likely do no damage whatsoever to a starship, which already has to move in the presence of charged particles; also, due to the so-called skin effect, the charge will just flow "around" a metallic or conducting starship.

On the other hand, this minefield concept can be adapted to detect the starships. The lightning satellites need to be in line of sight of one another, and every satellite has to be aware of its neighbours. So, they can continuously image the sky; the enemy starship, when passing between a far star and a hidden satellite, will briefly occlude that star. By triangulating the stars the satellites can see, communicating between themselves using distributed low-power lasers, the satellites can calculate the exact position of enemy starships.

Once a starship position is known, the satellite can start navigating towards it, and act as a mine. Or it could, I don't know, deploy an Excalibur lance. Or, if practical, throw a cloud of ultra-high-velocity steel balls (a Claymore satellite).

  • $\begingroup$ Although the charge won't do any damage the ship is still hit by a particle beam, right? As I don't have any numbers for this setup I looked up the natural ocurung lightnings in storms. Assuming my numbers are correct and I understand and converted everything correctly a regular lightning averages at 5,4 grams of electrons transfered within 0.2 seconds moving at 100.000 km/s. This would result in an kinetic energy of 27 Terra Joule. 3 orders of magnitude higher of modern day tank projectiles, jet peaple regularly survive that. I feel like I am missing something important. $\endgroup$ Jul 30, 2020 at 0:05
  • $\begingroup$ The telescope array might be the easier solution, I'll think about that a little more. $\endgroup$ Jul 30, 2020 at 0:06
  • $\begingroup$ Not lightning but perhaps a Nuclear shaped charge. $\endgroup$
    – Mon
    Jul 30, 2020 at 0:26
  • $\begingroup$ @OliverBergau I think the part you're missing is that the particles do not stop on the target but go onwards, so they don't deposit their kinetic energy on the target itself. The current just flows around and the target might be jolted, but isn't greatly damaged. $\endgroup$
    – LSerni
    Jul 30, 2020 at 17:17
  • $\begingroup$ @LSerni Makes sense $\endgroup$ Jul 30, 2020 at 20:33

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