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The idea is that a number of satellites have been deployed throughout the galaxy and ships use them to plot their FTL jumps. If that's the case, the thought occurs to me that someone could try and destroy one if they wanted to cut off a particular section of the galaxy. I thought of something like a "Free Travel Accord" that forbids interference with the FTL-satellite network, but you're bound to have inscrutable folk who don't abide.

What kind of failsafes could a satellite have to protect itself from being destroyed or tampered with?

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    $\begingroup$ Think about what's stopping people from bombing air traffic control towers today. Would those methods work for you? $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Sep 7 at 8:29
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    $\begingroup$ How did the satellites get there in the first place? I mean obviously they had to be placed in position somehow. Depending on the setting that means either (A) FTL is possible without accurate fixes, its just harder/riskier/has to be done more cautiously i.e in slower increments or whatever but hey, that's what scouts, the galactic survey corps etc are paid for. Or (B) FTL is not possible without buoys being in place first and it takes decades/centuries/whatever to place them in position at sub light speeds before FTL jumps can be done. $\endgroup$
    – Mon
    Sep 7 at 10:52
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    $\begingroup$ Part (2) Point is if its (A) then destroying nav stats is at best a temporary inconvenience to anyone wanting to enter that part of space. If its (B) then if the people responsible destroy ALL nav sats in ALL directions in and around the particular portion of space they're concerned about then they're also marooning themselves. And if other people if that space don't want to be isolated they'll be pissed of as well. $\endgroup$
    – Mon
    Sep 7 at 11:05
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    $\begingroup$ The FTL folks can just travel to before the vandalism occurs and wait to catch them red-handed. $\endgroup$
    – John O
    Sep 7 at 15:23
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    $\begingroup$ You know, what would happen if one sattelite malfunctions and has a bug in its calculations? Suddenly you would never really be able to reach it anymore unless you can remote-deactivate it and use something else. I doubt anyone would want a system that is a couple of bugs away from denying an entire region of FTL, so some backups is an easy answer. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Sep 7 at 16:09

29 Answers 29

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Their area is not included in the FTL grid.

Your satellites are sitting in the depth of space where there is no reason to stop (besides, the exact location won't be public knowledge). So any calculation that would bring a ship in their neighborhood would not be necessary except for maintenance.

A mathematical failsafe* causes any ship that tries to FTL into such an area to land somewhere else, the local police station for example. Maintenance ships either use a specific position with highly secure pre-coded calculations to always land at such a satellite or use a specific added calculation to compensate for the mathematical failsafe. Naturally such codes are highly restricted and likely stored as partial codes in different locations and can only be requested by specific people with specific codes.

In case all that is compromized anyway... your satellite system must have backups in case of malfunctions or for extended maintenance to one satellite. Overlaps of the FTL area and backups would be scattered all over the place.

If all else fails you use a satellite deployment ship. These would simply move to the edge of an area they can still calculate their FTL to, deploy a satellite, then when that satellite has adjusted to its position use its calculations to FTL farther and get to where they need to be.

* I assume that a portion of the calculations would be done by the satellite, so the mathematical failsafe would also be in the satellite.

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    $\begingroup$ You can immediately add a ton of defences, so even if you would arrive there it would quickly seem rather futile. $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Sep 7 at 17:39
  • $\begingroup$ What do you mean by "mathematical failsafe"? Perhaps I don't understand what you mean by the phrase, but I don't see a way to implement one. There's going to be some paper somewhere that describes the math behind FTL navigation, and anyone could just implement navigation without the failsafe. $\endgroup$ Sep 7 at 18:48
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    $\begingroup$ @BillThePlatypus Think of GPS. Civilian uses of GPS get corrupted signals; only with the right decryptiong keys do you get military precision. Now make the satellites deliver signals that, when you do the math (possibly modified to deal with the signal corruption), properly get you from known launch spots to known safe destinations. But, if you try to use them to plot a course to the satellite themselves, you get nonsense. Similarly, imagine sending a FFT of an image; you can corrupt the FFT so that the reconstruction gives garbage near certain spots, but is good elsewhere. $\endgroup$
    – Yakk
    Sep 7 at 18:53
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    $\begingroup$ @Yakk your explanation helps. Your comment gives me an idea. GPS doesn't require military keys to get full precision since 2000, instead GPS satellites can turn off availability in certain regions. I thing a solution more similar to that would work. The beacons could use directional antennas, so that areas where people shouldn't be don't have coverage. Encrypted signals could allow authorized access for maintenance or other uses. $\endgroup$ Sep 7 at 19:52
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    $\begingroup$ Another GPS example is upper limits on altitude and speed for civilian devices so you can't use your Garmin to help build an ICBM. These limits are implemented by GPS manufacturers, and at what exact level (chip/module/finished device) I'm not sure, so circumventing may not be all that hard $\endgroup$
    – Chris H
    Sep 8 at 12:04
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The FTL beacons are stars.

Artificial pulsars to be precise. Some were already pulsars and their rotation speed adjusted and a couple were made from scratch.

This was no mean feat, even in your future world. It is the future equivalent of the Panama Canal or the Apollo moon landing. These FTL beacons are the product of galactic cooperation on a scale not seen before. They are massive and robust, and intended to last for millions of years.

The terrorists just cannot bring to bear the kind of energy it would take to meaningfully change one of these artificial pulsars. Extinguishing one or changing the rotation speed is far beyond the capabilities of anyone other than the galactic consortium, and maybe not even them anymore.

There is in fact one FTL beacon that is out of position as regards site and sync because it was hit by a comparably massive object. It cannot be repaired and so is ignored by navigators. Although it is still recognized by navigation software and so might still have its uses...

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    $\begingroup$ What do they need artificial stars (or pulsars) for ? The universe has plenty of the real things lying around doing practically nothing that could be employed for this purpose. $\endgroup$
    – StephenG
    Sep 7 at 19:02
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    $\begingroup$ @stepheng Pulsars aren’t guaranteed to be well distributed in a galaxy. There may be regions that cannot see through dust clouds or core glare. Building a galaxy with plentiful natural pulsars is completely plausible, as is a galaxy with relatively few. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Sep 8 at 4:22
  • $\begingroup$ @SRM You are not limited to pulsars. Really the first thing you'd do as a culture when exploring is make a map of maybe a billion brighest objects (computers are wonderful) as references (including those brightest outside the visible spectrum). These can include an extensive set of stars. This is trivial by comparison to building your own pulsars. $\endgroup$
    – StephenG
    Sep 8 at 4:38
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    $\begingroup$ @StephenG I was presuming there was value in the actual timing pulse of the pulsars, not just the geographic arrangement, seeing as how FTL futzes with time potentially meaning you need to establish location within 4D not just 3D. Thus other bright objects might not suffice. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Sep 8 at 12:40
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    $\begingroup$ Sligtly related: the Galactic Positioning System is a serious real-world far-fetched proposal to use pulsars for navigation is space, anagolously to GPS satellites. spectrum.ieee.org/… $\endgroup$ Sep 9 at 17:33
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Backups and "secure mode"

StarLink sends up 60 at the time

StarLink satellites go up 60 at the time

There is no reason to deploy just one navigation buoy (*). You can deploy 2, 4, 64, 1024 at the time. These backups sit silently, more or less "invisible", impossible to spot in the deep vastness of space. When the main goes offline, no longer broadcasting, the next kicks in.

This is not only sensible from a sabotage perspective but in general; equipment fails, and it is a long way to the nearest shop.

Second, the system can have a safe-mode of sorts, so that when the main and — say — the first backup have been destroyed, the next in line will not broadcast the navigation data, but instead only reply to "pings" that have the correct signature.


(*) "Satellite" is something that orbits a celestial body. These can be artificial or naturally occurring (like Luna, our moon).

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    $\begingroup$ You might add to your answer that any given navigational satellite might be usable for more than just jumping to just one star or region (this assumes ships can communicate with them over large distances). I'm thinking of the beacons mentioned in the James Schmitz novel 'The Witches of Karres", published in 1966. You might then be able to plot a jump using any three or four out of hundreds of beacons, each located in a different system. If someones starts destroying the beacons, it will be noticed long before it becomes a problem. $\endgroup$ Sep 7 at 15:48
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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps the Galactic Navy have a destroyer on standby, waiting to immediately warp in to any system where multiple beacons have gone offline in a suspiciously short time, drop some new beacons and shoot anybody who interferes. Then the only way to isolate a system would be to either blow up every beacon simultaneously, or come with enough forces to take on the Navy. $\endgroup$
    – Robyn
    Sep 8 at 5:58
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    $\begingroup$ I'd have some of the backups operational too - if it takes 3 buoys plot a course, the authorities try to have 5 or 6 online in any given area. This is more resilient to both malfunctions and bad actors. $\endgroup$
    – codeMonkey
    Sep 8 at 14:11
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    $\begingroup$ @Willk - Basic cryptography says "no". We already have the technology to prevent this. $\endgroup$
    – Vilx-
    Sep 8 at 16:14
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    $\begingroup$ @Willk Yeah well that is because a basic lighthouse's signal is "1". Not hard to fake that. Even when the lighthouses started having coded signals it was easy to simply copy that. But we have progressed quite a bit since then. Vilx is absolutely correct: basic cryptography solves this problem easy. Using PKI ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_key_infrastructure ) it is child's play to make a signal that everyone can authenticate, and that no-one can replicate. $\endgroup$
    – MichaelK
    Sep 8 at 18:14
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The "satellites" aren't accessible from normalspace

They are submerged into the Hyperspace (or their own pocket dimension if you use some other means to FTL), and don't really have a physical connection to the real space once they're activated, or their mode of operation prevents them from interacting with the real space in some other means. So once you activated the satellite - you can't ever shut it off again. Not all hyperspace beacons were even built by the current residents of the galaxy, and some are very ancient, though backups were constructed nearby out of fear of these old ones breaking down.

And you can't ram them in hyperspace either because that's how they actually work as destination points - just plucking whatever ship is nearby them from the hyperspace into normalspace.

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  • $\begingroup$ I wonder, what would happen if you were to try and send something into hyperspace at the sattelite's location? Since its a destination point many ships would also leave nearby the area. A semi-solution would be "it pushes you out again", but that begs the question "if it pushes you out, how does the sattelite itself stay in?". A different solution is that going into hyperspace "on top" of the sattelite is like hitting the gas while standing against a heavy object (in this case an object with hyperspace physics). Try and ram it by going into hyperspace next to it would just let it push you out. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Sep 7 at 15:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Demigan there is no reason why things would interact with each other in FTL. It can obey some different rules, or any slightest tweak off will push them into different phases/dimensions that they will pass each other like they never touched. $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Sep 7 at 17:41
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No one destroys the satellites because doing so wouldn't actually accomplish your objective of cutting off a region of space.

These satellites are quite similar to our modern GPS system. They make FTL navigation significantly easier, but they're not necessary in any sense of the word. Without them, pilots can still navigate the old fashioned way, by observing the stars (and other celestial objects) around them, cross-referencing against maps, and manually plotting their course. Destroying the satellite wouldn't make your sector unnavigable, it would just irritate anybody who tried to come visit you.

Modern navies still teach their cadets how to navigate by the stars, and many pilots can do so as well. Technology isn't 100% reliable, and anyone navigating through large, unsettled expanses has to have a fallback plan should their technology fail - whether that be a destroyed navigation satellite or a faulty antenna on your vessel. Being stranded in the wilderness can be deadly. Every long-haul pilot worth their salt will be capable of navigating without the satellites, albeit more slowly and with a lot more manual work.

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Ridiculous Redundancy:

A wide variety of conditions mean that while you could destroy the beacons, it wouldn't make a bit of difference.

  • FTL navigation beacons are cheap and easy to make, and their function can't be corrupted - their simple existence tells people where the beacon is.
  • Every major species in the universe has a network of beacons they maintain just because they don't entirely trust everyone else to do it.
  • The network of the ancients are considered galactic cultural treasures, and anyone damaging them would provoke an interplanetary war.
  • The effective range of the beacon network extends well outside the grid laid out by the beacons. So a network of beacons inside a distant empire are detected at faster-than-light speeds, from thousands of light years outside the empire, and STILL allow a ship's exact position to be determined. Destroying all beacons inside your territory doesn't stop others from easily entering.
  • The basic function of the beacons is such that you can use even your RIVAL government's beacons to guide you. So if an enemy destroyed ALL your beacons, you could guide ships anyway.
  • Any ship is capable of operating their engine as a beacon. All that is needed it for them to run their engine into hyperspace without GOING anywhere. Energy consumption only occurs if you move.
  • Ships can still blind-jump into deep space, removing the risk of ending up in a star or landing where they don't want to be. At that point, they can either drop a beacon (fixing position relative to other beacons) or lacking a beacon, the ship can operate as one for other ships.
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Heavy defenses

FTL beacons are very valuable to whoever owns them, so they are heavily defended. Basically, there are military bases built around each beacon. (Possibly trading hubs are in the vicinity too.) To destroy a beacon, you would need a considerable military force. And the military defending the beacon will encrypt the beacon's communications, denying you (and civilians) FTL, while still being able to use FTL themselves. They will bring in reinforcements from all over the galaxy and make you regret your decision.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 Sometimes the simplest solution is the best solution. $\endgroup$
    – Anketam
    Sep 8 at 14:47
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Take a look at https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/90377_Sedna

At a apohilion of 5 light-days away from the Sun, it is the most distant known dwarf planet.

We are starting to learn that the number of reasonably large chunks of ice extends very far out from the center of our solar system. And, if we’re a representative case, most star systems.

Your FTL navigation station might be ground-based. Right next to it might be a small town of people who live on the dwarf planet. They maintain and inspect the station, and will defend it if the situation requires.

Or the station could be underground, taking advantage of the ice overhead as protection from radiation (which is harmful to both people and electronics).

Or the station could be a few kilometers above, in orbit, so that the blind spot caused by the planet’s shadow (if there is any) is minimized

The advantages are easy access to supplies and raw material, a caretaker staff with a little bit of room to breathe, and an armed force that can be mustered instantly to defend the facility .

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    $\begingroup$ This solution makes it very vulnerable to good old sabotage, though. $\endgroup$ Sep 7 at 13:07
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Time dilation

Since FTL travel violates causality (as we know it), the FTL beacon satellites rely on unobtanium to keep the time-space continuum stable. A set of satellites in a solar system effectively creates a time dilation bubble that somehow enables non-paradoxical time travel.

As a side effect, each satellite can create a highly localized time dilation bubble around itself. Any ship or weapons fire approaching the satellite can (and shall) be subjected to either being "frozen in time", or accelerated so it undergoes heat death. The satellite will probably look like a weird black hole to an external observer (since light gets trapped), and not like a chunk of metal.


Optionally, FTL travel works by entering the satellite's bubble (akin to Mass Effect's "mass relay"s) - FTL jumps are made by carefully plotting a collision course with a satellite. Any course that approaches the satellite too close makes matter get trapped in a dilation bubble - the bubble either fulfills a FTL jump (if planned), or destroys the approaching object/energy (depending on course planning). Either way, it's impossible for any object to reach the satellite.

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    $\begingroup$ Obviously we are talking hypothetical here, @ash , but the consensus of vetted physicists on this site and many others is that FTL must cause causality violations somewhere. You need to cite counter arguments instead of just declaring naysaying. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Sep 8 at 4:32
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    $\begingroup$ This is science-fiction, not reality-check. And in my sci-fi universe, FTL travel breaks causality unless unobtanium is applied. $\endgroup$ Sep 8 at 9:21
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    $\begingroup$ @Ash changing frame of reference is trivial, you just need to change speed. or (classical example) you send a radio message to a different ship on a different course, which then jumps to your origin to deliver the message in your past. $\endgroup$
    – ths
    Sep 8 at 13:53
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    $\begingroup$ @ths You don't get to make a shorter trip home because you changed your speed, that is what the causality violation model represents; a shift in topological frame that lets you take a route home that has a different universal curvature to the universe you were traveling in. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Sep 9 at 6:36
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    $\begingroup$ @IvanSanchez Exactly you can't break causality within known physics, even if you could go faster than light, that's my point. Also when answering a question you need to put aside your universe and play by the rules the OP is running. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Sep 9 at 6:39
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Economic worth and FTL assistance

The sattelites might be valuable. Extremely valuable. So much so that destroying it would be absolutely foolish. Imagine being on Earth at a remote location where the only way in or out is with helicopter. Destroying the helicopter would just be foolish. It'll have plenty of defences on it's own or placed by the ruling party. The FTL sattelite might be near impossible to replicate, making it one of the best resources available.

This immediately gives a second reason. If you destroy one, it might only remove outbound traffic. Other people might still come inside your area, possibly with a new FTL sattelite. That means destroying an FTL sattelite would be tantamount to suicide.

If you destroy an FTL sattelite, thousands, if not millions or even billions of parties, big and small, might be affected. They will respond. You have destroyed your only option of moving away, making the fury that will arrive to annihilate you easy to find you. If they use something like timed charges to FTL away and blow them, the remaining sattelites might still have the data where you travelled. That is, if you can even do so. Again, they are likely to have plenty of defences as they are so valuable.

So it is economically unfeasible to destroy them, difficult to do as well as a near futile thing to do. You'll be hunted and destroyed in short order, having only accumulated a financial bill for a new sattelite that is borne by many parties that use the sattelites.

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They move around randomly.

They're not satellites; the beacons are on automated FTL ships. They stop in an area, pinpoint their exact position, broadcast for a while, then FTL-jump to a new location. By the time the broadcast has spread far enough to be picked up and located, they're already gone. But they leave behind a multitude of expanding FTL waves that continually sweep through the whole area, like raindrops on a pond.

Youngsters with a wild streak sometimes try to chase them, to get as close as they can, and boast of who got nearest. But the all-time record, if you believe the data wasn't faked, was still more than two weeks away, and most never get closer than three or four months.

It's rumoured that there is a pattern to the random jumps - some combination of the as-yet unexplained movement of nodal points in the chaotic turbulence of FTL-space and mathematical sequences of ineffably alien higher-dimensional complexity. Some of the older and more inscrutable alien civilisations go very quiet when the subject comes up. Nervous glances are exchanged between them, as if there is something deep and dark hidden here of which they dare not speak. But space is full of campfire ghost-story rumours like that, and only a fool goes around believing them all...

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Second answer: its virtually impossible to succeed.

To properly calculate where you are and what route you need to take, sattelites are in contact with one another. That means that each sattelite has 2 or more other sattelites it is in contact with and that can send a ship to it with FTL.

Should you destroy sattelite 1, then sattelite 2&3+ will instantly prevent anyone with a location nearby the sattelite from leaving by simply not giving the calculations necessary to leave to any ship with a location nearby the sattelite (or recently nearby the sattelite). A location you have to send over to properly FTL out of there.

Subsequently a police/military force will be created and use the sattelites in range of the area to go there. they will inspect any ship, question the crew and impound any half suspicious ship until they can be 100% certain who blew it up. In the meantime a crew is send with a new sattelite. All that work for nothing.

Ofcourse you could try to rig up something with time bombs and get away before they blow. That would still mean you have to do so at several sattelites without being caught, while a log of your movement would be kept with every interaction. You would have to mask that and not be obviously stopping at each individual sattelite without an alarm going off somewhere and have your deployed explosives go unnoticed during each maintenance period, which would be hard since a scan of the relative mass of the sattelite would reveal its change in mass.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'll note that this approach is vulnerable to kamikaze attackers (or autopilot). $\endgroup$
    – Brian
    Sep 7 at 17:38
  • $\begingroup$ You could create n cheap drone ships stuffed with explosives, send them all at once and destroy n satellites before anyone can react. $\endgroup$
    – user31389
    Sep 7 at 18:35
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Because they're small, difficult to damage, and redundant.

They're nearly impossible(or at least not practical) to destroy. Think the black box of an airplane. These FTL buoys, satellites, whatever you call them are actually only about 12" side-length equilateral triangular prisms of titanium alloy 2" thick, with near perfect insulation of the internal components.

There are several hundred (thousand?) in orbit around the same celestial body, with the same orbiting each body within a quarter light year. You can knock some of them out of orbit with a bomb... maybe even damaging the internals of those closest to the explosion... but good luck knocking them all out before the intergalactic federation shows up and destroys you, your ship, and everything near you.

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  • $\begingroup$ Black boxes are perfectly well destructible, they're just reinforced to survive plane crashes. $\endgroup$
    – user253751
    Sep 10 at 13:27
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Seems no one thought about that yet, so I'll add it to the long list of answers :).

If you need the satellites to move your ship around at hyperspeed, then two points arise when you destroy them :

You become stuck in Deep space

As the satellite is now destroyed, you lose yourself access to the FTL grid, meaning you're now stuck in deep space. And no-one can reasonably help you out, because, well, you destroyed the satellite. In other words, you sawed off the branch you were sitting on.

Any newly built satellite after alter the activation sequence code and the coordinate systems, meaning that you cannot access back to the grid when it is repowered (you don't know the code), and inputting the old coordinates into the new satellite will give the wrong location so you can't pick the enforcers up.

The relay itself is quite well-protected, which means any small forces (such as "inscrutable folk" and terrorist attacks) won't be able to pierce them and cause enough damage before destruction. Bigger ships, while being able to tackle the defenses, will face the issue of finding a large enough crew to go on this suicide mission.

You become the top-most wanted pirate/corsair

Even if you did manage to find a way back, you get to know that all ships entering the satellite area are registered during the time they're in range. If the satellite signal is lost for any reason (emphasis on any), any marked ship at that time are black-marked and their galactic ID and crew name/ID spread publicly, which in turn prevents FTL access to any of the crew and ship. This also means that :

  • On the individual scale you'll be hunted down by many bounty hunters, prevented from fleeing. You can't even change ship as you need both a wholly identified, non-criminal crew's ID and a new ship ID to engage FTL with the satellites.
  • On a larger scale, any nation will get to know that these guys did it, engaging necessary retaliation in such case. Don't underestimate the power of international treaties, they are much stronger than what one could think on the diplomatic front, especially if backed-up by military forces.

All of this should deter any force of any size from trying to attack the FTL nodes in the first place. Either countries and individuals will find it to be a too high the price for the benefit it gives.

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  • $\begingroup$ Much of this can be bypassed by using FTL-capable drones/torpedoes. $\endgroup$
    – Erik
    Sep 9 at 8:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Erik Hm... They're not manned by a captain, so they would be FTL-denied by satellites? Thanks for bringing that out ;). $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Sep 9 at 16:32
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It's not just FTL

Those satellites also provide internet access to places, as well as processing financial transactions. Anyone who takes such a satellite down is also harming the economy.

for the same reason, there should be a lot of redundancy among satellites. It might be that taking just ONE satellite down has negligible impact on the network - you'd need to take hundreds of them down, and they are distributed among many parsecs. It's just too much effort to be worth it.

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Perhaps the navigational beacons only exist at or about large colonies which have the means to repair or defend their FTL beacon.

If there's nothing there, why take the effort to construct a beacon?

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You can't attack one let alone destroy it. The satellites are themselves FTL capable, they're self-repairing and controlled by sophisticated AIs that jump them, and only them, so even if you got something attached to the outside of one it would be staying, at the first sign of tampering or attack. It's almost impossible to get close enough to image one of them due to their paranoia, if you get that close without permission they tend to lock you out of the navigation system and leave you to starve in deep interstellar space. Attacking them is impossible and because everyone knows it's impossible you can't find anyone stupid and desperate to try it.

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When the FTL navigation satellites are tampered with or destroyed, the FTL related energy has to go somewhere. And it's usually not nice when it does.

The satellites best defense is not having an easily accessible "Off" switch on the outside, and have them run at full power continuously.

Because, in order for them to provide information to FTL travelling pilots, they have to have FTL travelling communication measures, which requires the same FTL engine as a pilot's FTL capable spaceship would - possibly more as they need to be able to communicate to many other ships at a moment's notice, and be able to coordinate FTL jumps to avoid collisions.

Spaceships would be a bit different, in that they try to keep their FTL drives safely stored and kept shielded so that if they go off, they don't throw FTL energy radiation into nearby allied ships - giving it an emergency shutoff, failsafes, etc., to ensure that they don't leak too much radiation to vaporize nearby groups.

Your satellites? Less so. Why would they need it?

If they put a satellite in a hostile territory, they're main course of correction is to move it physically out of the area - but if you make the satellite fragile enough that non-certified and internal rocket boosters push it out of orbit causes it to start to malfunction, then they're out of luck. At which point, it's on the hostile territory to protect the satellite as best as they can.

You'll likely want at least some shielding from micrometeorites, cosmic radiation, solar flares, EMPs, etc., to avoid accidental tripping of the satellite going off and exploding with all of the FTL energy generation in side of it, but otherwise? "Go ahead, feel free to tamper with it, if you want to end up like the Forbidden Destroyed Quadrant."

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Who’s going to destroy them?

Vandalism or terrorist attacks

Do what we are doing for all kinds of infrastructure today. Think about public roads, railroads, aircraft&airports, electric cables, gas pipelines, internet cables etc. etc.

Messing with any of those systems would cause lots of damage but is very rarely done.

First of all, make it illegal and socially unacceptable to mess with them. Second, make casual vandalism (or accidental damage) hard. For example traffic lights are usually mounted too high to reach with your hands. For really important or vulnerable infrastructure you add protection: Fences, guards, keep-out-zones, armor etc.

Stealth can also help. The precise location of pipelines or cables is often hidden on purpose.

Warfare

The above protections won’t be enough against a well armed opponent who can gain a serious advantage from destroying your infrastructure.

You have to add some serious protection (think anti aircraft guns, bunkers, encampments etc. in today’s world), redundancy, stealth or a combination of all three.

Redundancy can also mean that you have fall-back technology and are able to survive without the infrastructure. For example aircraft are able to navigate without GNSS, in case the GNSS satellites are unavailable.

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    $\begingroup$ IIRC, three ocean going internet cables are cut per day, and yet the internet still works 24/7, and that's at light speed. At FTL, the route is completely arbitrary. I'm pretty sure New York could be a smoldering hole and I'd still be able to reach the UK via China or wherever, from Chicago. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Sep 8 at 8:30
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The "satellites" are not physical objects; they are focus points for a communications network.

Assuming that because you have FTL travel you have FTL comms, and in much the same way that GPS works by comparing time signals from multiple sources, the "satellite" network is actually just a pan-galactic grid of comms intersections. Information is transmitted from a vast network of sending stations in a tight-beam format, focused on various points in the galaxy/federation/empire/whatever; at these nexus points many, many beams emerge from their FTL travels and become available for navigation calculations. If there are at least two beams emerging from any intersection, a ship's navigational computer can use the information they contain to plot a course through hyperspace/subspace/whatever.

It's obviously pointless to try to destroy something that's not physically there and as each nexus is the focal point for at least 128 inbound beams there's also no point trying to take out enough senders to disable it. With thousands of senders all over the inhabited galaxy/federation/empire/whatever, many of them on planets or stations with their own defences, there is absolutely no way to brute-force a nexus out of existence. One great galaxy/federation/empire/whatever-wide web of navigational points and zero physical deep-space presence.

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To do this with satellites, you need enormous radiated power, very difficult on a galactic scale. It's even difficult to do this in the Solar System. But nature provides powerful objects that are excellent beacons, with timing that can be extremely well calibrated: pulsars.

We are already developing this for Solar System navigation. I was involved in the successful SEXTANT test on the International Space Station.

Destroying a pulsar is difficult.

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Those satellites serve as anchor points, places that you can jump to and from FTL at virtually no cost beyond fuel. Calculating a bepsoke trajectory would be computationally prohibitive. The FTL anchor network allows fast and exact calculation inbetween known points. They're highway rest stops, island harbours in the middle of the ocean. They're of vital importance. Strategically, it allows your fleets to move much faster without having to use their computers. Economically, it makes interstellar commerce faster and easier, which is generally good, if only because that can be taxed.

So how do you protect them?

With big battleships.

You should generally assume that an attacker with physical access has compromised your system. The only reliable and surefire way to ensure physical security is maintained (and know if it's not) is by guarding it 'round the clock.

Shoving them into deep space in a secret location isn't an acceptable substitute. Security by obscurity is bad practice. You shouldn't care who knows where you beacons are because nobody can approach them without getting vaporised.

Putting weapons on the device itself may not be desirable. For one, it boils down to what do you trust to provide security: your sworn officers and some automated system? For two, your satellite would be limited to defending itself, while a military presence would defend the satellite, it would deter piracy on these rest stops, and it would provide assistance to ships that need it.

And while it's good to separate your beacon and your defense mechanism because you can replace one without having to replace the other, it might be interesting if your defence ships can act as beacons on a pinch.

And what if an opposing army attacks your satellites?

You close all FTL lanes, you recall all merchant ships, and you enact your contingency plans for the defence of your planets. Your bigger, more immediate concern shouldn't be the loss of FTL lanes, it should be that you have an invading army on your turf. If you have reasons to expect an invasion, then your military ships should already be fully capable to travel in a timely fashion without the help of beacons.

In fact, you probably should have contingencies to physically disable those beacons in war time, so they can't be used by the enemy. It's the space equivalent of blowing the bridges, and ensuring their security is largely irrelevant then.

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Because they are manned, owned and operated by the Intergalactic Federation of Stars, and attacking one is tantamount to declaring war on the rest of the known universe.

Also, they are more than just the FTL beacons. They are also the FTL comms relays, which means one being destroyed silences more than your slice of the galaxy.

You could expand on the above fairly easily. Not only comms, but finance, etc.

They would necessarily have pretty hefty protection, perhaps a quick reaction force, etc. Or, depending on plot, no protection at all.

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They not satellites, they are very energy hungry and maintenance heavy beacons hosted on habitable planets. Thus to attack one is to attack an entire planet, which would have its own defenses. These defenses include turning off their beacons when being attacked, thus preventing the attackers from arriving.

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Nothing if that's the plot you want

It seems you have created these satellites specifically to have such a weakness, much like Schlock Mercenary's star gates and Red Mars' space elevators. There's no real point having them except to create a weakness in the system. Stars may move fast in the absolute sense, but not for navigational purposes.

Nobody digs up the road outside their house

Except when they do. The road is beneficial to yourself as well as to others, so much like the star gates and space elevators, you need them to get out as well as to get in. As such the first thing a rebel group is going to do is cut the system off from the network to prevent government reinforcements from getting in.

The same is going to be true of a government under attack, the first thing they'll do is cut the system off from the network to prevent more attackers arriving. A busy system may have redundancy and multiple access points, but ultimately you're not going to find a government who will tolerate not having a kill switch.

The simple option

Someone had to get to that system in the first place to set up the beacon. There are two ways to use your star drive, beacon driven or course calculated. The latter option is harder work and may only be available to military and exploration vessels, but it still works. Shutting down the satellite just annoys everyone a bit but makes no real difference in the grand scheme of things.

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Self Preservation

FTL beacons don't just help guide spacecraft, they also stabilise space.

FTL beacons are distributed much more densely than is required for navigation. Navigation can be achieved successfully using just a few wide spaced beacons around the edge of the galaxy, although to do that would require more expensive sensor suites.

Cost aside the main reason to have more beacons is that the same effect that allows them to be located and used via FTL sensors over interstellar distances also stabilises the space between then, though over a much smaller distance. This creates roads between beacons where travel is safe, both for ships themselves and the systems they are travelling between.

Too much travel off the roads between beacons weakens the local ylem and allows eldrich abominations/fatal radiation to penetrate. Remove the beacon from your system and passing traffic can cause local leakage that will kill all the local inhabitants.

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(TL;DR: we don't need them.)

Let's consider for a moment how these things might actually work. From your question it seems that these are navigational beacons rather than a vital part of the FTL process. Why do we need them? How are they used?

"Space," it says, "is big. Really big. You just won't beieve how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is." - The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

OK, yes, we all know that space is big. What's not quite so obvious is the effects of the vast distances involved. Sitting just outside of Sol's heliopause we can spot a number of pulsars and other navigational reference marks... but due to the speed of light we're seeing where they were 500 years ago (for the closest two) or more. Sure the average deviation over time is low, but it exists... and you have to factor it in for every new location.

And this is where our FTL beacons come in. They broadcast a complex FTL signal that can provide extremely precise positioning information across thousands of lightyears. We can not only figure out where we are but get some idea of the way space is warped between ourselves and the beacon, which is invaluable for calculating a jump route that doesn't end up in the heart of a wandering star. We get almost real-time mapping of spatial distortions in the area as well, which makes our job so much easier. No more plotting a jump against predicted proper motion and getting lost in some nebula or flung south of the galactic disk because space didn't act quite the way we expected.

Which is all well and good, but there are probably a bunch of old-school pilots out there who remember the early millenia when pilots were real pilots, with none of this hand-holding crap. They had to slave over a hot quantum computation bank for hours to get a plot, and half the time they'd end up having to do it all over again when they missed the target. Sure, it was hard. But it was real.

Given enough time and reactor mass, there's nothing really stopping a ship from just jumping around until they get close enough to the target to make the last jump on dead reckoning. While the beacons eliminate the vast majority of uncertainty from the process, they're a convenience rather than a necessity. They're the GPS that tells you exactly where you are rather than the sextant that just gives you a pretty good idea. (Yes, I know, a very good idea when used right.)

So what's to stop someone from blowing them up? Well, we can make it expensive for them to do so, with big guns and so on, but ultimately they're just making life harder for everyone without actually stopping FTL travel. Yes they need to be spanked, but that's why we have Space Navys on speed dial.

If you really want them to quit, make the beacons cheap and easy to produce. Build up a replacement stock of a few thousand and, whenever one goes down, go out and spread some new beacons around the area. If destroying a beacon just means you get five new beacons, it doesn't make sense to keep trying.


Oh, and since beacons are now cheap enough to basically throw away, we won't bother trying to destroy them now. Instead we'll have the bad guys start knocking out repeaters and sowing them through the area. That'll play hell with your navigation, believe me.

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What are the limits to hyperspace broadcasts? Assumption: Hyperspace does not interact with objects in normal space other than by the curvature of space. If space has too much curvature across the body of your ship very bad things happen to you--it's impossible to enter/leave hyperspace until you are reasonably clear of gravity wells.

However, these are beacons. What they are injecting into hyperspace is electromagnetic energy--it's effective size is the wavelength being used. This makes it not care nearly so much about curvature--the beacons can be placed on planets.

Or, more specifically, beneath planets. They are placed a mile below ground in inhabited areas so nobody can dig down there without being noticed. (And to provide a convenient source of maintenance personnel, also--no mission to some exotic point in space to do the yearly service check.)

There is also considerable overlap, taking out a beacon makes no difference to the navigators. You would have to take out a bunch of beacons to deny an area of space to hyper vessels.

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I have a few ideas! I've been toying with a similar issue in one of my projects too, so here's what I've come up with so far:

  • Constant Security

Having a detatchment of some kind of internal security service (SPACE COPS) to protect our navigation beacons would make sense, especially in a society where security is a major concern or you're trying to convey a police state.

  • They're hidden

Maybe we don't arrive immediately next to the beacons, in which they can be hidden out in the depths of space! Since repairs will have to be done every once in a while, though, maybe the location is kept confidential? It should be easy enough to track. Perhaps it's maintained by drones instead of a possibly corrupt team of filthy, untrustworthy organics.

  • Checkpoints

In a similar vein to having a detatchment of the security force, these ensure that the beacon is well-protected by security. This could also help preventing the cross-contamination of alien organisms to one another, which is a concept I explore a lot in my sci-fi projects, or exert a higher legal authority over the people in a society seeking to do that. It also makes smuggling in your scenario a lot more complicated and, in that, more interesting. Lots of opportunities here!

  • They're really cheap and easy to quickly replace

This could be especially common in less developed systems; a small, cheap beacon with a few extras kept in storage in case of the loss of the temporary one. This one could be especially interesting with how you replenish the beacons; maybe you have a really well-aimed rocket at the nearest space station that keeps putting new ones in orbit, or there's several of them operating at once so security has more time to respond if one is attacked.

  • Not Your Grandma's Nav Beacon

Maybe it can be its own security service! Instead of just some ball of metal with a ton of scanners and antennae sticking out of it, the beacon is more a small automated defensive platform.

  • That's No Sattelite

ITS A SPACE STATION. This could be especially useful for trade and maybe more common in highly developed regions of space; you jump in, land at the huge trade hub, and you're off! I personally like the versatility this allows; a large structure serving as the point instead of a sattelite could allow for a lot more specialization of individual systems, and in wartime (or just really strict societies) could even redirect to a miliary base.

  • It's just, like, really big.

I imagine FTL technology is kind of complicated. Maybe they're less sattelite and more 'gigantic ATC facility floating around a star'? Or it's just a really, really big sattelite because guiding ships through hyperspace and communicating instantly with other beacons across lightyears of distance is, like, really hard work. In any case, this should prevent destruction by anything short of an actual fleet of enemy ships.

  • War-crime

War crimes are bad, and we try not to do them. Maybe the threat of a life sentence in the prisons of the Space ICC is enough to deter the possible terrorists and strategic war fleets of your world? This might be even more effective in conjunction with another. In fact, if you choose to go with making your sattelites space stations, I imagine this could be an easily exploited law that could cause some very interesting situations (i.e. what if all the enemies are in this one base? what if they're attacking us from that base?).

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