It is a scifi space opera setting skewing more towards realistic consequences of its breaks from the reality - quite similar to The Expanse.

Considering the situation outlined below, would it be feasible for piracy to exist in any capacity in this setting (of any kind, from the classic space pirates being their own faction, to something closer to real-life Somali piracy)?

The setting has the following conditions of space flight:

  • Spaceships fly obeying physical laws - and distances, - the only things being handwaved away are the FTL, propulsion efficiency, and heat generation.
  • Only relatively large spaceships can go FTL (60m in length and larger). There are no man-manned fighters, but there are drone ships trying to fill a similar role (Expected to be expendable).
  • Usual weaponry target range is from several thousand kilometers up to one light second of distance.
  • FTL is not instantaneous and is of "shortcut through a wormhole" variety, travel time takes from a few days to a week of transit, and you arrive in a random spot within a sphere of up to 1 au in diameter from your targeted destination location in the system (More expensive ships have much better accuracy, but the precision limits are still at tens of thousands of kilometers in ideal conditions). To go from one star system to the other, the spaceship must chain several jumps, each of which should end not too far or too close to a star or other similarly massive body (no more than 60 au and no less than 5 au for a star of a solar mass, the local large scale spacetime curvature is the deciding factor). Before proceeding with the jump, the spaceship must match the predicted orbital velocity and vector of the destination's star as close as possible, and there should be no planetary objects in the vicinity, on in the line between here and the destination. Most ships travel out of the ecliptic for a week before making the jump.
  • Considering the massive scales involved, there are no defined routes or lanes of travel, even if ships tend to use relatively small portions of galaxy to travel between two known destinations.
  • STL speeds are defined by the ship's acceleration capabilities; most ships don't risk accelerating faster than 2G under normal circumstances.
  • typical length of the journey can clock up to a couple of months of travel, and in extreme cases up to a year.
  • There are no FTL communications except dedicated messenger ships, and no FTL sensors.
  • There are virtually no privately-owned spaceships sans for few rich assholes. Every spaceship is rented along with the crew from either the government or licensed companies. Furthermore, spaceship maintenance is quite expensive.
  • All ships and all space stations can't reach true self-sufficiency and need to renew their resources.
  • Since any ship in the setting can accelerate for months at a time fast enough for that to be used as means to simulate gravity onboard, this means that every ship is a potential relativistic kill missile capable of wiping out continents. Any suspicious activity in an inhabited system immediately gets the attention of police forces and defense systems, with reactions up to immediate termination of the suspiciously acting vessel.
  • The only kind of stealth in the setting is "go on a passive ballistic trajectory with a shutdown reactor and pray your current position won't be extrapolated out of your last known positions and velocity or be spotted against CMBR by chance anyway"
  • Space is explored very sparingly, out of a few billion star systems technically within reach, only a fraction of a percent was ever even visited by a passing ship or a mapping probe. Planets with biospheres are relatively rare, not all of them have friendly biochemistries.
  • Most spaceships are not designed for an atmospheric flight, shuttles are used to get to and from the surface. Shuttles are vulnerable during reentry.
  • There is a unified UNN-like government handling interactions between civilizations and police actions, but a large travel time coupled with a lack of instantaneous communication means that every star system far enough from the administrative centers is de-facto a self-governed independent nation.
  • Interactions between these various civilizations are more or less peaceful, there's no open hostility or competition for the resources.
  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Aug 21, 2021 at 3:33

10 Answers 10


Let’s look at this history and present state of piracy for examples.

Piracy isn’t done in the deep oceans. It happens along coastlines, usually within sight of shore. This isn’t just modern piracy. Daniel Defoe documents piracy working this way in ‘Robinson Crusoe’, published in 1719.

Even further back in antiquity, Robber-Barons were men in the actual employment of the local ruler. They were sent to intercept passing ships along the rivers, or waylay travelers along the road.

So, scale this to space : asteroid stations like Ceres, or Bennu pass as close as one-day’s travel to Earth for a “piracy season” once per year. This is likely true of other asteroid belts around other planets that people want to go to. Also true of the Kordelewski clouds operating at +60 and -60 degrees offset from the orbits of each major moon, or planet.

Putting that together, I think you’d see your pirates are “solid citizens“ of a remote place that sometimes passes close to a world that people want to trade and do business with. When a traveler passes by close enough to reach, these “solid citizens” launch off in a borrowed or rented ship to “inspect and seize contraband” as well as assure that “duties and taxes” are fully paid.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ +1 for mentioning how Defoe described piracy. $\endgroup$ Aug 20, 2021 at 11:22
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ “duties and taxes” are fully paid. -- suez canal entered the chat, lol $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Aug 20, 2021 at 11:30

A strong yes.

I'll get into some of the reasons why and hopefully that's enough to get the ball rolling. Going off your list:

A lot is going to hinge on the mechanics of this FTL system. In classic Battletech for instance, a jump is detectable in the arriving system as a huge burst of IR radiation (detectable at short ranges) and a large EM pulse that can be detected from further away, delayed by the speed of light. In that universe jumping takes a lot of energy and a ship has to spend days recharging before it can jump again. That would be a dead giveaway to a group of pirates that there’s a potential score stuck in realspace they could possibly intercept.

Considering the massive scales involved, there are no defined routes or lanes of travel...

This complicates things from the pirates’ perspective, although if the ships do have to stay near relatively massive bodies to anchor their jumps then it’s all going to come down to picking the right location to hideout.

typical length of the journey can clock up to a couple of months of travel, and in extreme cases up to a year.

This implies non-perishable / preserved goods, which is a point in favor of piracy

There are virtually no privately-owned spaceships sans for few rich assholes.

This is a pro and a con. On the pro side, that’s fewer craft to hear distress signals, observe signs of battle, interfere or summon aide. On the con side, said government and corporations are going to keep a watchful eye on their craft as they represent a huge investment and high risk. It’s going to be harder for would-be pirates to get their hands on such a spacecraft, especially an FTL capable one. Granted, you don’t need an FTL vessel to catch another FTL vessel, all you really need is to get a boarding party aboard. But you do need to sell the cargo somewhere assuming you successfully capture it. But capturing the ship is just the first step. Next you've got to get its goods to market without being caught, and that implies a whole black market for fencing said goods. Step 2 is get the ship somewhere you can offload the goods, ideally sell them to a 3rd party. But the real prize in this case is the vessel itself if its in good condition, or its stripped parts if its too badly broken down.

Since any ship in the setting can accelerate for months at a time

This is one spot I’ll raise a reality check flag. The only way to sustain that kind of acceleration would be with a highly efficient, low impulse technology like an ion engine that uses very little physical fuel. Once you go to high impulse fuels, the math simply does not support this mode of travel because more and more of your vessel would have to be dedicated to storing fuel. Then you need bigger engines to push the increased mass, and then more fuel for the hungrier engines. Pretty soon you no longer have a cargo ship but a fuel tanker.

Faster ships that build up a lot of speed by accelerating like that only makes sense for time-sensitive cargo. But that is also going to increase the cost of transport considerably. Freight is a competitive business, so a ship that can dedicate more space to cargo room and burn less fuel overall (also avoids having to refuel) is going to save a lot of money. The long travel times and limited replenishment also favors the smallest crew practical, and in turn less storage for food, water, oxygen. This is also a plus for piracy since a smaller crew is easier to overpower

The only kind of stealth in the setting is "go on a passive ballistic trajectory with a shutdown reactor

Getting a bit into the weeds of tactical details here. If you were already being tracked by radar / IR / optical telescope at short-medium range its not going to matter much whether you suddenly shut down. You’ll still be visible. Your engines will even still be warm. One way to try to shake a pursuer detecting you at medium-long range might be to enter a region of space that sufficiently masks your signature change course or stop and then shut down. But that would be a drastic action that costs the fuel needed to decelerate / enter an orbit and abort your current course. The better option would be to just burn the fuel and see if you can outrun them. The lost fuel is cheaper than having to alter course / abort the transit.

Interactions between these various civilizations are more or less peaceful, there's no open hostility or competition for the resources.

Here’s another spot I’ll raise the reality check flag. Colonization efforts will have met with wildly different levels of success, with some colonies thriving while others struggle and others fail. Interstellar commerce between these colonies means there are goods are in demand all over the place. Colonies might have a good deal if they can export raw materials like noble metals or radioactives that are hard to come by on other planets. In exchange they’d want to import fresh bodies, manufactured goods and supplies needed for a colony to succeed. Terraforming equipment, fusion reactors, mining equipment, vehicles, colony domes, life support stuff, communications gear, spare parts, tools, all of these would be hard to come by on the frontier. And where there’s scarcity, there is opportunity. That’s where both legit traders and pirates get interested.

One obvious place to start would be the scarcest good of all: the ships themselves. The list here suggests there would be a strong market for shady secondhand ship parts, and salvage / chop-shop operations that make the authorities curious.

Another ripe opportunity is that the government / colonial powers aren’t at war. This suggests wars by proxy instead – pirates that are very well armed and equipped for instance with military grade equipment quite obviously supplied by someone so they can go raiding on a sponsor’s behalf without incriminating them.

Then there’s the saddest category: unemployed sailors are by definition pirates. Let’s say one planet is great at making cars, but some shipping mogul brought in a mega-cargo full of cars, flooded the market to drive down costs and drove most of them out of business – then bought them out at firesale prices. Totally believable scenario, which gives the natives a strong and legitimate self defense interest to blow up said shipping vessel and its cargo. You get the idea. Trade wars are nasty.

So in conclusion, there would be pirates in developed inner core / worlds rich space trying to get a market advantage, and pirates in the frontier just trying to survive. Either way you’ve got to catch one of these ships somewhere along its transit, --intact--. That means boarding it with assault shuttles and maybe escorting / raiding it with smaller craft like fighters to disable its defenses, jam its transmissions. Doing it with the least expenditure of fuel, weapons, loss of life and damage as possible is how to do this profitably. I imagine some captains scare easier than others, since they know they’ve got valuable crew and if the pirates get aboard they’re probably dead. Gives a strong incentive to run.

  • $\begingroup$ Good answer, among preset ones the strongest analysis of pirate side of things so as some of the ops conditions. Solid answer. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Aug 20, 2021 at 12:06
  • $\begingroup$ "This complicates things from the pirates’ perspective, although if the ships do have to stay near relatively massive bodies to anchor their jumps then it’s all going to come down to picking the right location to hideout." Well, the massive body, in this case, is "a star", and "near" generally means "somewhere within 30 AU from it". It will take a week to cover ~10 AU under 1g acceleration (without slowing down), so I don't think that ambushes are possible, even if pirates are lucked out and the ship selected their system to transit instead of hundreds of neighboring red dwarves. $\endgroup$ Aug 20, 2021 at 20:22
  • $\begingroup$ I imagine pirates are going to be accelerating at a lot more than the 1-2g other ships usually stick to, but you have a point that unless they start out close-ish it wont matter. The art of finding these vessels, predicting where and when they will be is going to be the biggest factor in success. $\endgroup$ Aug 20, 2021 at 23:14
  • $\begingroup$ @DarthBiomech ambush is possible, the travel guye arrive in a sphere 1au, so in some cases of distribution average distance is 0.8au upon exit, if pirate is at the border of that sphere they have ~4% chances of interception(0.2 au radius of interception spot on that sphere). Depending on what that aligning vector means, let say they need to head in direction of a star, at 25au in that star direction(if star is guessed) their propability of interception may be close to a 100%. So there are some scenarios based on probabilities. That 30 au condition opens a window of opportunities. 10 ships 40% $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Aug 21, 2021 at 6:30
  • $\begingroup$ @DarthBiomech And those 10 ships do not have to be ftl ones, you just need to deliver them in a system, and them lay low and activate once vector and position of a target is rigth and act according to a strategy they have. It can be small drone like ships, with no crew only guide system, dormant missile like, so they can have ~0 energy signature. If transport capacity is rigth one can flood a system with those drone missiles. Which also one of the ways to reinforce security of home system for lawful factions, except they do not need to conceal anything. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Aug 21, 2021 at 6:37

Piracy as extortion

No need to match speed, your not after the cargo or the ship, just the wealth.

If your pirate obviously outguns the target or has built a deadly reputation, they order the ship to transfer crypto currency (or whatever your secure anonymous cash method is) to their account to allow for safe passage. The victim complies or is destroyed.

They stay in kill range long enough for confirmation of transfer.

  • $\begingroup$ I like that one, though I wonder given how valuable the ship is whether many Captains would call the bluff $\endgroup$ Aug 20, 2021 at 12:41
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Spoken like an actual EVE pirate. $\endgroup$
    – dhinson919
    Aug 20, 2021 at 12:49
  • $\begingroup$ @dhinson919 yep, ops setting is basically EVE without immortality and clones, lol $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Aug 20, 2021 at 13:11
  • $\begingroup$ Haha, never played Eve. I just extrapolated from the intersection of the RPG Traveller and crypto currency $\endgroup$
    – Allan
    Aug 20, 2021 at 13:21

There is great difficulty in matching speeds between two spaceships when one or both of them is relativistic and their velocities are not originally aligned. If ships do not have super-strong shields, which you didn't mention, it also doesn't take a lot for either to simply destroy the other once at close range. Therefore, space piracy requires cooperation on the part of the victim. The pirate and victim will need to perform a delicate dance of mutually-assured destruction and reputation management.

The logistical requirements for space piracy are:

  • The pirate must get in a position where he can certainly kill his victim if he wishes. He may achieve this by loitering around a typical FTL end zone.
  • The pirate must be able to communicate with his victim and credibly reveal his capability and willingness to kill the victim. This credibility is improved if the pirate has a documented history of killing non-cooperative victims.
  • The victim must voluntarily change course to allow the pirate to board. This chance is improved if the pirate has a documented history of releasing cooperative victims.
  • When the pirate and victim get close, the victim likely has the capability to just kill the pirate. If the victim has a weapon that can kill at a distance of 1 light second, it could kill almost instantly at a distance of 100m. For the piracy to be successful, the victim must refrain from doing this. The only reason the victim would refrain is if the pirate has a credible threat of mutually-assured destruction (MAD).
  • Under this continued MAD threat, the pirate must board the victim's ship and acquire items, persons, or information of value. Excessive resistance at this stage by the victim needs to trigger the pirates' MAD threat, and the victim needs to be convinced of this.
  • The pirate must release the victim, with his ship, at the end, to maintain his reputation so future piracy attempts will succeed.
  • The pirate must either escape law enforcement by jumping to a different system, or have local law enforcement in his pocket. He may be a privateer with tacit government support.
  • The whole process, including the cost of fuel and the risk of death, needs to be profitable for the pirate.

It is conceivable that the victim could turn the whole process on its head. Since both ships are assumed fragile, and both parties probably have weapons capable of killing a ship at close range, MAD goes both ways. The pirate is relying on his reputation for MAD if the victim does not cooperate or retaliates, but the victim could build up the same reputation for MAD if the pirate tries to carry through with his plot.

So the pirate needs to know the identity of his victims, and if the prospective victim comes from an organization with a reputation of death before dishonor, the pirate needs to just kill them before the victim gets close enough to kill them back.

Reputation must be managed at the level of firms of pirates or firms of merchant ships, not individuals; after all, it's hard to build a consistent record for MAD when the first time you use it, you die. The pirate or merchant firm can demand certain behavior from its employees, and build hardware failsafes into all its ships, with guarantees of execution if the employee fails to uphold the code of behavior, and payouts to the employee's family if the employee dies upholding it.

  • $\begingroup$ Way too difficult way you choose, it can be done much easier, easier than drop a capsule to satisfy us way. Never let pirates in, on board of your ship, with no communication no one will ever discover how you disapeared. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Aug 20, 2021 at 11:35

Yes to local system piracy.

Ships could ambush other ships among asteroids or routes from planets to planets. Gravity dictates the cheapest route, so it would be easy to travel along a route. After they get their loot they could simply go to a place with lots of ships, and then no one could track them. Pirate havens.

This would require some degree of tolerance among systems, either from nationalistic pride (e.g. the ships target foreign ships) or from a megacorp sponsoring the pirates and discouraging defense forces from targeting them.

Yes to colonial piracy.

A few people with heavy weapons could easily go to a new system with a few ships and steal all their stuff, away from dedicated system defenses. Fixed defenses are inherently inferior to mobile ship defenses because you can just toss rocks at them till they break.

No to interstellar piracy.

With no fixed routes pirates would need to search for decades to find decent prey. This wouldn't be profitable so they wouldn't.

If you want interstellar piracy you need to change the ftl system so that ships need to travel along fixed routes for fuel efficiency or safety reasons.


For a given value of piracy

Maritime piracy is defined as an act of robbery or criminal violence by ship against another ship or a coastal area.

As others have said, matching speed with another ship in space might be extremely and even prohibitively complex. From playing KSP I can tell you that a miscalculation of even a fraction of cm/s in a burn meant to intercept a faraway body can mean you won't ever get close to it, so a ship can defend itself against piracy by doing small accelerations in random directions along its course.

Planets don't have this luxury, though. Pirates could insert themselves onto low orbit and demand credits in order to not jettison debris. If their demands are not met, they let go a lot of dust which is sure to wreck some satellites and orbital stations. And when the orbital guard arrives, the pirates can just FTL out of the place. They can run from military spaceships the same way that other spaceships run from them.

  • $\begingroup$ "From playing KSP I can tell" - if you didn't use selfpropelling glitches then not applicable, really, the OP has 'any ship in the setting can accelerate for months' under 1-2g acceleration capacities. Gravitional influence looses its meaning in less than a 1 hour. Soo as result your bar is little bit much lower that restrictions placed by OP allow it, lol. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Aug 20, 2021 at 11:44
  • $\begingroup$ @MolbOrg it's not about that. You have a heading for an intercept point that is light years away from you assuming the target is moving at speed X, and you will meet them in Y days; If they change their speed by any amount, by the time you reach the intercept point they are light years away from you again. $\endgroup$ Aug 20, 2021 at 13:01
  • $\begingroup$ Man, their landing spot 1 au around star, what are you talking about. 4 ships, or 25% chances worst you have is ~0.7 au as starting persuit condition. If they use any reactive propulsion, there is no challenge at all in detecting them and follow, set intercept course and correct it in realtime. There is no strategy for victim besides floor the pedal and pray they jump before interception and in the most cases outcome will be clear for them very soon after doing acceleration, long before they reach their goal. Delta-v is 72km/s per hour, less than in a day there will be no suspense left. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Aug 20, 2021 at 13:30
  • $\begingroup$ Strategies may be possible if exit out of a jump is stealthy and the ship is cold, then decoys are possible and room for other strategies which may in some cases include what you are talking about, but the necessity to go beyond 12 au(week at 1g) for a jump curbs a lot of things, limits usability of a lot of things. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Aug 20, 2021 at 13:37

In a realistic setting bulk cargo is out of the picture. Shipping costs are way too prohibitive. If a colony cannot manufacture anything that is heavy they are not going to get them. This limits types of shipment. I will assume most ships will be carrying high value, highly processed goods such as micro controllers; or people.

Pirates should account for these to select locations for ambush. They should stay close to a planet, likely on a moon or a captured asteroid over a planet that is in process of colonization or expansion. Once the target vessel is in range and the position of moon/asteroid is in between the planet the target, they will start the burn towards the ship. Hopefully for the pirates, the target ship will not have too much extra fuel to do a full evasion. Once they close the range, they will either extort credits, or they will try to board and take the goods. First will be much more preferable. Some pirates will destroy the vessel without boarding. They may also request some cargo to be thrown overboard for pirates to pick.

However, there is a huge issue in this setup. Once a pirate ship is identified, it will be very difficult for them to refuel, event if it takes a while to get messages to nearby star systems. For this setup to work, you need pirate friendly systems that the pirates can refuel and trade.

Pirates should either be locals or some informed people that know about expansion events. Locals will have difficulty in returning back to planet it is difficult to hide your intentions in space. Only way to get this work is again pirate systems. You pound on the target, get everything, jump to the pirate system. Grab a legitimate transport from there back to your world. Which could take many many months.

Interplanetary attacks that doesn't end in genocide is almost impossible. Thus pirate systems cannot be effectively dealt with by legitimate authorities. UN equivalent will only be able to do surgical strikes to deal with particularly dangerous pirates. But most of them will be spared.

To summarize, piracy would be easy to pull off in your system. But it will be more difficult to plan, execute and get around. Most likely you will never get caught but chances are, you will not be very rich either. Thus expect a few pirates, but they will basically be untouchable.

  • $\begingroup$ Pirate systems can be visited by peacekeeping fleets though? Do not need to genocide, just pick off the vessels that match recorded pirate signatures or demand the local authorities to surrender them voluntarily. Thanks for focusing on this, way more important, aspect. Sea pirates have something space pirates just don't - the ability to set up the shop anywhere along almost any shore, in space your only place of repair and resupply is somebody's space station. Many miss that very important part and go straight to thinking of who pirates would be mugging and how. $\endgroup$ Aug 21, 2021 at 15:42
  • $\begingroup$ They could visit them, but it is possible for pirate lords to fire on them on the spot. A planet will always have more defenses than an invading fleet. Surgical strikes can succeed, but I don't see authorities taking control of the system to force the hand of the lords. Though, there might be some understanding between them as well. Like stay in line, don't kill anyone and we will look other way kind of understanding. In that case, pirate lords might be willing to let go of a few pirates that cause too much ruckus to keep their heads. $\endgroup$ Aug 22, 2021 at 18:54
  • $\begingroup$ Um, why would there be "pirate lords"? what must go so wrong for the system to become a pirate-ruled hellhole with more guns than a military fleet? These guys should be able to subjugate an entire planet worth of population (from tens of millions to billions of people) + all the stuff they have in space - I don't think they'll even keep pirating, because what's the point - they're a nation now. $\endgroup$ Aug 23, 2021 at 4:36
  • $\begingroup$ I will not think these systems will have billions of people. Imagine a newly developing system. Probably they will have a few thousand people in there. They must regress in technology before they can thrive. They cannot produce everything from the start and they will not prioritize weapons. Then a group of pirates comes in. Weapons in hand, and probably valuable cargo on board to bribe. They declare themselves as the lords of the land. For their citizens, these pirate lords are entrepreneurs bringing in valuable cargo through trade. Though their support towards piracy will make them outlaws. $\endgroup$ Aug 24, 2021 at 6:27

The reason piracy exists currently, and in the past, is because it's cheap.

Pirates with "nothing to lose" and cheap equipment going up against targets with "everything to lose".

Spaceship piracy, as an independent effort, puts this premise on it head.

I don't know how much spaceships cost in your universe, but I have to assume "a lot". "A lot" to the point that if you weren't pouring millions of Interstellar Ducats in to the spaceship, you'd instead be spending your time on the beach of some exotic planet with dual suns sipping cool refreshment from a drink container with an umbrella in it.

Since spaceships are expensive, they're expensive to maintain and, more importantly, expensive to repair.

"Should I spend a million ducats on repairing the space drive, or retire?" starts become viable questions. As an independent contractor (as pirates tend to be), the participants start to really struggle with "what am I doing out here in the first place". If they have the money to maintain a spaceship, why aren't they just getting out of the business (especially one as dangerous as piracy) and spending the money on that instead.

One successful haul, using a hijacking, or fraud, or a rigged poker game to get a ship that can be sold on the black market, is enough to set most anyone up for life.

State sponsored piracy is a different problem. These folks are getting middle class salaries and bonuses. They're doing it for King and Country. But, that's effectively a covert military operation.

When folks start shooting at each other, piracy gets very expensive. Worse, commerce gets very expensive. When commerce gets expensive, the Navy shows up, because trade in general wants commerce to be cheap. And, unlike the pirates or the traders, the Navy has deep pockets. A couple of solid hits to a pirate ship completely puts them out of business, so the naval threat is very real. A couple of hits to a commerce ship puts them out of business to the point that not only does this ship no longer offer trade, nobody else does either. They can't risk it. Because nobody wants to spend millions of Ducats to move cargo if the price of moving cargo is the loss of spaceships (much less, their crew).

There's still lot of room for extortion at the ports, corrupt unions, bribed inspection officials, etc. Low enough costs to the traders to where they're in the background din of running the operation. If the operator is dumping 1 million Ducats in to ship maintenance each year, 100,000-200,000 more in "insurance" isn't enough to stop the enterprise, nor enough, necessarily, to drag in the authorities.

But galavanting among the stars, punching lasers in to each other, doing millions in damage for a cargo of out of season fur coats? No. Not a viable business plan for any participant.

Remember, the environment will adjust to the piracy threat (naval escorts, convoys, closure of trade routes completely, nation state force against the pirates, etc.).


There is some inconsistency in limitations, but not a big deal, can be explained fixed in all kinds of ways.

Situation as described is - piracy neutral. There are some difficulties to overcome, there are some advantages or helpfull things.

Incentive isn't strong, so excluding colonies (like space habitats) and planets(in the first place) traveling around looks as relatively safe activity. And what may or may not happen, mostly depends on activity of those who are stationary in the system. Depends on the means which are deployed there beforehand.

Planets are obivious targets, after them space habitats - but on the other hand they can be well protected with non FTL means and be quite safe in their systems. It has to be done, meaning it(safety) isn't some inherited property, but a result of technological activity and setting proper means beforhand.

So for uninhabited star systems, which are not under permanent control those can be converted in traps(in similar ways as inhabited ones are reinforced), it takes time and effort, and one needs somehow to predict (a mole which suggest brilliant route, treasure map, rumors, whatever) that there will be some traffic, as single ship probably won't cover the expenses of setting up such trap which worth a fleet of ships(not necessarly, but it depends on specific technologies and approaches, which I do not assume, but it not that hard to set a trap if they are present, but it requires time, years, and not that easy to hide such preparations)

So is there piracy or not depends more on what people and organisations do. If they like build safe routes, they may do that, if someone wants to conduct an attack with a planning it also possible.

But considering more than 90 perdent of star systems under no ones control then working on exploiting those systems seems to be a more profitable activity, and clashing there for reasons of to obtain control it may be more likely, as competition of establishing control over the system(if it so so attractive for some reason, as else there is 90 percent). And once control is established, it will be hard to evict those guys and they can set their own rules on passing by ships. So some taste of 400-1000 A.C. here, except of absence of obivious reasons for route preferences in most cases.

So it looks more like establishing routes, keeping control over system, enforcing rules, and taking tax, eh misspeled, ransome for passing trough. So as providing service blackjack and ...s, food and repair, oil change and all that - so just typical capitalism activity. With attempts to replace an owner, which more or less does not affect guys who are passing by and be more behing a curtain deals and activity.

Taking such tax may be counted as piracy activity, and if it is then piracy probably does exists there, or we can call it local gov tax for expenses to keep high security standarts in the local system

That unknown origin of ships is a bit of a problem in the picture I envision, and people will definetly try to solve it, and it can be done in a number of ways, including negotiation like we will keep the system safe but you give us x number of ships, or else we try our luck capturing them - I mean just regular politics here, over 9000 of ways to make a deal, create opportunities.

Capturing ships is not impossible even if one does not have ships to begin with, and only neccessarly condition is to be delivered to some celestial body in a system and have about 100t of cargo to secure the system in about 5 years, and then reroute as much ships as possible with moles, rents, whatever.

Not talking about more direct approaches to steal those trough infiltrations and other means.

So ships themselfs are the only interesting target here and to gain control over one it does not need piracy, it need highjaking or other similar means, until interested groups get the technology or what they want, if getting technology is possible, as one can set realistic hard limits there, but renting in such situation seems very unlikely, for multiple reasons and without hard limit tech will be cracked, there are multiple ways to do so and then even if ships stay valuable one can gain more from other star systems, and ships themselfs are just expensive(or not) tools to make things happen.


You safely can place any type of piracy, so as you safely can eliminate any piracy or anything in between in a way you see fit, and make things to be in a way you like - there is full freedom in that aspect.

Current set or constraints is quite a good vehicle which can be driven at any road, at any direction.

  • however limits on ship technology, those being non expendable units probably drives situation to order, and incentivise to suffocate the possibility at its roots. And 90+ percent space which is suitable for hiding and having own bases is not helping at all in this situation. Pirates cann't guarantee they get more ships than they loose, and it too "easy" to make the activity to be extreamly non profitable. Even a strategical genius may have hard time to break the situation, but not impossible, it depends on what people do and what they have but it will be rare exception and rather a way to establish oneself than an end goal to be a pirate for life, as this activity is gambling and can be made not sustainable in short to long run.

So, depending on how valuable ships are it affects the situation - if they are expensive they are goal but at the same time reason to enforce strict security, if they are cheap enough ships are not attractive targets and better participate in some gold rush and make crimes closer/inside where the activity happens with regular means and without ships, I mean in a usual ways and existance of ships and space travel does not play deciding role.


Time travel piracy.

It is easy to ambush a person if you know where and when they will be. This is how your pirates do it; they scout the victim then travel backwards in time to ambush them at the perfect opportunity. FTL means time travel.

Are there any ways to allow some form of FTL travel without allowing time travel?

Thus, due to symmetry, the FTL drive functions as a time machine. You can choose your spacettime axis, jump far enough to amplify the difference between time axes of different observers, and travel into your past using multiple jumps or travel into the past of another traveler.

"But it is really hard!" one might protest. "Multiple jumps! Circuitous routes! We have FTL jiggery pokery!". Lazy or stupid pirates will not be able to figure it out. Able and intelligent pirates will. Then the lazy ones will hire some of those and give it a go.

  • $\begingroup$ Not to mention that if you are able to travel faster than light, then probably quantum computing is a thing of the past for you and you have tachyonic computing available. Should make all those trajectory computations fairly easy. $\endgroup$ Aug 20, 2021 at 13:02
  • $\begingroup$ Alcubierre drive does not imply time travel, so why to jump on that wagon @TheSquare-CubeLaw ? It clear why Willk as embodiment of alternative solutions does that buuut ftl does not necessarly mean timetravel, it hollywood fiction cuz it more entertaining, but it not science, lol. Probabilities where target will be flying to can be predicted in more than one way, hacking at departure point, guessing destination etc. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Aug 20, 2021 at 14:12
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @MolbOrg please see the question Willk linked to. Any form of faster than light travel implies in time travel. It's not about the method you use, it's about relativity. $\endgroup$ Aug 20, 2021 at 14:15
  • $\begingroup$ @TheSquare-CubeLaw I just did that and upvoted two good answers which were downvoted for some reason. I know what JDługosz is talking about, there is a gap in the logic of that answer, because there is no point to talk ftl in the realm of general relativity, and if ftl is present then it fails same way as describing blackhole singularities etc. Idk, it the way as I understand it. A way to change my mind is to point out how Alcubierre drive is a time machine, I definetly not competent enough, so if scientific community says it may be then I can take it as hypothesis. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Aug 20, 2021 at 14:32
  • $\begingroup$ @TheSquare-CubeLaw By my first comment I meant if there is at least one ftl which is not neccessarly a time traveling device then FTL does not neccessarly mean time travel. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Aug 20, 2021 at 14:35

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