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Suppose, because I can't be bothered explaining the exact setting, that someone showed up tomorrow and started handing out spaceships with reactionless drives to anyone who asked for them. These ships are capable of arbitrarily high acceleration, the drive is integral to the hull and moves the whole ship not just some point on/in it so structural stresses are not a limit to acceleration. What they don't come with is integrated protection for things added to the ship, like the crew. As the crews of ships will be subject to whatever acceleration they choose to undertake if they want to survive they must moderate their ships' performance accordingly.

To that end what technologies (both in terms of material artifacts and techniques) would military/policing forces faced with this new reality need to keep out of general circulation to maintain an edge in their ability to match or exceed the acceleration of civilian vessels?

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Nov 17 '21 at 7:47
  • $\begingroup$ Seeing the repeated "Not even an attempt at an answer." comments from Ash to various answers, I VTC as missing details or precision. It's very likely nobody understood Ash's question. $\endgroup$ Nov 17 '21 at 7:58
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    $\begingroup$ Your edit invalidates all of the existing 7 answers. That's a big NO NO. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Nov 17 '21 at 8:02
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    $\begingroup$ @Ash, I suggest you close/delete this one and open another question. As it is right now, you invalidated 7 answers based on an unclearly formulated question. Of course now my answer (and all the other 6) are invalid. $\endgroup$ Nov 17 '21 at 8:02
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    $\begingroup$ If 7 answerers didn't get your question right, you should probably consider how you have worded it, not blame the answerers for not reading your mind. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Nov 17 '21 at 8:06
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By definition a reactionless drive has no fuel and there is no cost to travel, that's why they're on the "friends don't let friends have" list for writing sci-fi.

Ash

Frame challenge: there isn't anything that any military or police can do to prevent abuses of a reactionless drive that doesn't require fuel and produces nothing else but unlimited amount of force**

** it needs to be force, otherwise the passengers would not be in danger of high acceleration

Some examples of destructive actions neither military or the police can prevent or have any control, no matter how they will try to give themselves an advantage:


MAD? Forget Mutual, it's only Assured Destruction. You won't have time to react when some of those drop from orbit at huge acceleration over your major HQ. Guess what? Even your run-of-the-mill obscure Apocalypse sect can trigger it. With the mush of their martyrs spread thin on the back wall of the hull after they engaged the throttle on a precomputed attack vector.

If the fuel is too expensive for your Apocalypse sect, no worries, some petty dictator will find the money (or one of his decrepit generals that just realized he wasted his life for nothing).

Or an African chieftain, with a diamond mine on his controlled territory, who is just annoyed of those peace keeping operations, who are they to tell him his abuses aren't OK?


You don't yet know what road rage is. Never before you tried it at a non-trivial fraction of the speed of light, but now you can. Guaranteed unique lifetime experience, kids-friendly, take them with you.


Remember those flashmobing that were popular enough before covid pandemic? Imagine one with all the comancheros bikies from all over the world, one that you can't restrict on a 2D space of the planet's surface. How much police do you say could mobilize?


Did you say you can deliver custom size hulls? May I have about a thousand of them, in 4 inches/10cm form factor, with an RasPi connected to the controls? Oh, none at all, no RC option, thanks. Just an USB port, please, I want to pla... errr, conduct my research into AI. Pure defensive purposes, I want to see how long will take the police to disable a whole swarm AI, driven by simple individual rules that keep track of their neighbors, when you give the entire swarm a purpose. Sure, just academic work.


That acned hacker in his mother basement? He's bored after he hacked FBI's email server yesterday (and his heart-crush is still not impressed). So how about hacking today through the police/military system that keep the technology in check for civilians. Just for the lulz, see?


Maybe it's time to realize the consequence of:

  • any powerful tool is a powerful weapon too
  • the moment a technology is available to the masses, you can no longer exercise absolute control of it. Look, Apple is controlling the iPhone ecosystem in almost every aspect of it: you can still jailbreak their devices;
  • access to space involves handling levels of energy far beyond what a lot of the humans (of today) can handle responsibly
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    $\begingroup$ @Demigan, "You expect the projectile to be discovered in orbit while it moves at 99c," at that speed, I'm not in orbit, because... heh.. I'm beyond any sane escape velocity. Which means, yes, I started in orbit moving at orbital velocities with the engine down. But then I set the vector to the target to vaporize, I dialed the acceleration to 10^6g, and I'm already dead after I pushed the OK button. How much reaction time do you have until I (meh, the hull with the me-muck smeared on it) hit my target from just a couple of light-seconds away? $\endgroup$ Nov 16 '21 at 13:20
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    $\begingroup$ "Nice moon you got there. Would be a pity if something... happened to it." Pats cannon gauged to fire tiny reactionless-drive ships originally designed for hamsters. $\endgroup$ Nov 16 '21 at 19:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Ash do you want to put a big explicit "frame challenge" in front? There isn't anything (short of not allowing anyone have it) that police or military can do to prevent abuses of infinite energy. $\endgroup$ Nov 17 '21 at 7:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Ash there you have it $\endgroup$ Nov 17 '21 at 7:54
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    $\begingroup$ Technically reactionless drives don't produce thrust that's kind of the point. Sorry I AM that guy. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Nov 17 '21 at 8:01
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You don't need to worry about the crew if there is no crew.

Therefore army and police will strictly control all the means of transforming a human guided vehicle into a remotely controlled one. In this way anybody using the reactionless drive on a vehicle to escape would be limited by the human inside it, while the remotely operated one would not suffer this limitation.

More or less what used to happen with IR camera in late 2000's, which were sold to the general public with severe limitations in their resolution, to prevent them being converted into IR seeking devices.

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    $\begingroup$ Could you please link to sources concerned IR camera limitations policy? I am aware of no such thing. $\endgroup$
    – John O
    Nov 16 '21 at 15:36
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnO, in late 2000's I attended a course on using an IR camera for building inspection, the trainer said that resolution was limited to 640x480 pixels because of military concerns. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Nov 16 '21 at 15:51
  • $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch 2000 was a looong time ago though $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Nov 16 '21 at 16:07
  • $\begingroup$ Doesn't even try to answer the actual question. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Nov 17 '21 at 7:41
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In the world of 1g acceleration the 2g acceleration man is king.

The military is gonna have to keep anything that lets humans withstand more gs out of civilian hands. Gene mods to make people tougher, goo pods to cushion sharp turns, cybernetics to limit trauma.

This will let military and government ships endure much harsher acceleration than civilian ships. If they can take 20 Gs of acceleration, and civilians can take 4 at best, they can outspeed them and counter their efforts.

Keep ships away from habitable worlds.

A suicidal person can just put in the max acceleration the ship can handle, be turned to mush, and kill a ton of people. Anyone coming to a world will have to go to orbital facilities, and will have to decelerate to a slow speed to intercept. If they don't, the 20g ships come and shoot them.

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    $\begingroup$ "Anyone... will have to decelerate to a slow speed to intercept." Ummm... can you see me? I'm at 0.99c, so I'm quite close behind that blue-hued light wavefront that makes my image on your retina. I got there about one year of acceleration at 1g, so eff you, I can't decelerate without becoming a muck on my front wall of the hull. Good luck with your 200g, by the time you catch up to shoot at me (heh, I'm suicidal, why would I care?), I'm already at my suicide destination, taking out that b'tard that upset me, both a very hot plasma expanding in space. See ya, in the afterlife. $\endgroup$ Nov 16 '21 at 13:07
  • $\begingroup$ It takes a year of acceleration at 1 G, or around 90 days at 4G to reach light speed, so they have a while to shoot you. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Nov 16 '21 at 17:12
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    $\begingroup$ @NepeneNep - The point being that you started from somewhere outside detection range, and reached .99C by the time you entered it. $\endgroup$ Nov 16 '21 at 19:29
  • $\begingroup$ OP didn't say they're ignoring other existing science, so stealth is still unlikely. We can detect infrared radiation at immense distances, and this would be very power intensive. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Nov 16 '21 at 22:40
  • $\begingroup$ @NepeneNep We can detect infrared radiation of celestial objects bigger than stars at immense distances. And if you're going at 99% of the speed of light, it doesn't matter how bright you glow. $\endgroup$
    – wizzwizz4
    Nov 16 '21 at 23:07
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Marko Kloos's Palladium Wars series confronts this exact question. In this space opera series, ships do indeed have reactionless drives. And what restricts the ships' comparative power is acceleration compensation (a kind of anti-gravity) and structural design.

That is, anyone can pump enough power into the drive to accelerate at 25G, but if your crew is smashed to jelly and your hull comes apart with stress, it doesn't do you much good.

So, the main lever of military control (just as it is in Kloos's series) would be access to stronger ship manufacture and better acceleration compensators. It also becomes a plot point in book two when the "fastest" ship is instead in civilian control.

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  • $\begingroup$ Specified that structure was no obstacle. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Nov 17 '21 at 7:45
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The unobtainium that powers these things. Much like today you can't get to your hands on enriched uranium, even if your really really want a nuclear powered ship. In the future whatever unobtainium that powers the spaceships will be heavily restricted to the militaries of superpowers only.

Everyone who got handed a spaceship will be ordered to hand them over to the government on threat of having everyone they own and left on Earth confiscated and if they ever set foot on Earth again, being arrested.

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  • $\begingroup$ "Reactionless drive" there is no fuel to try to restrict that's why they're broken. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Nov 17 '21 at 7:44
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    $\begingroup$ There still presumably some sort of power supply, or whatever special material the hull is made from, or whatever special components/machinery that turn the ship into a reactionless drive. Whatever it is that makes it a reactionless drive will be illegal to own and made impossible to get your hands on. $\endgroup$
    – Rob
    Nov 17 '21 at 8:35
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Localised time anti-dilation.

No one wants to come back to their wife who is now 20 years older than them after what seems like 6 hours to them. If you're the feds, you can afford to keep Ω close to 1. Millionaires are happy enough with 2.

In an alternative (more realistic) embodiment, localised time dilation is applied at home to wifey. Of course, your friends are now 20 years older, but limited budgets are what they are and in your community, you're all expected to take at least one turn as the traveller.

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  • $\begingroup$ No attempt to answer the question actually asked. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Nov 17 '21 at 7:42
  • $\begingroup$ How rude. The question asked "To that end, what technologies (both in terms of material artifacts and techniques) would military/policing forces, faced with this new reality, need to keep out of general circulation to maintain an edge in their ability to match or exceed the acceleration of civilian vessels?" If you can't accelerate without your crew quitting because their family dies due to time dilation effects, then your drive is useless. Also, in one response to another commenter, you've actually noted that this answer did address the question. So make your mind up. $\endgroup$ Nov 17 '21 at 10:11
  • $\begingroup$ Note, I've assumed the same aliens handed out time dilation technology. So don't complain about not having it, please. If you don't like aliens handing out "power steering as well as steering wheels", just move on. $\endgroup$ Nov 17 '21 at 10:25
  • $\begingroup$ It ignores the premise. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Nov 18 '21 at 2:57
  • $\begingroup$ The rephrased one, sure. $\endgroup$ Nov 18 '21 at 5:35
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Faster than light (or just very high power /accuracy) communications.

It's all very well to send your drone ship to Alpha Centauri but now you have horribly weak radio signals with a latency of years controlling your ship. Thank God that it was a drone, if it had a crew, things would be even worse.

One riff on this idea could be that the only practical way to communicate with a faster than light ship is to launch microships that act as carrier pigeons.

Or the Doppler effect means you lose comms whenever your ship's acceleration is such that your communication frequency is the same as all the radio noise out there.

Or there are jammers and signal encryption/decryption technologies that allow people to wreak havoc.

Or there are feedback loops: if your incredibly tight beam is right on target to talk to your 0.99c spaceship, then it'll go where you expect and it's easy to stay on target. Lose comms for a split second, though, and reacquiring them is a pain in the butt.

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  • $\begingroup$ Drone ship? You've lost me sorry. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Nov 17 '21 at 8:37
  • $\begingroup$ I'm following the thrust of another comment that suggested that it might be close to impossible to have people survive the accelerations involved. Regardless of whether the ships are crewed or drones, communication systems could serve to distinguish superior ships from inferior ones. If they're drones, comms latency by itself is self-evidently a huge deal. If they're crewed, then comms still makes the difference between a ship that can call for help from "nearby" allied ships or not, fight in groups, and who knows what else. $\endgroup$ Nov 17 '21 at 10:05
  • $\begingroup$ Use your imagination and invent a reason why the drives themselves need some sort of manual remote monitoring to prevent them becoming unstable and breaking. $\endgroup$ Nov 17 '21 at 10:15
  • $\begingroup$ The only issue with drones is latency. Maybe AI crews are how you a) solve the crew problem and b) distinguish between a military grade ship and a pleasure yacht, particularly if a superb AI control system is needed to keep the drives operational for some reason (e.g. incredibly fast control loops withj predictive control are needed). But let me guess: "No attempt to answer the question". $\endgroup$ Nov 17 '21 at 10:18

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