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Would it be possible to have a collapsible whipple shields that can extend far out of a spaceship and be held in places with super conducting magnets? My rough idea is to be able to absorb more damage without the bulk with standard whipple shields, while adding more layers/distance between each metal plate, which would enable the ability to rearrange amount of protection when in combat with other spaceships.

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  • $\begingroup$ Please don't modify your question to invalidate existing answers. You may also want to keep in mind that we have a strict one question per post policy. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    May 13, 2022 at 0:50
  • $\begingroup$ Whipple shields are for particle collisions. There's no reason to suspect they are any good against weapons. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    May 13, 2022 at 2:38
  • $\begingroup$ How do super conducting magnets hold something in place? $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    May 13, 2022 at 2:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Daron - not quite. Modern systems are designed for objects of up to 3-5 cm in diameter, so not really a particle. But then again - you're correct that it will not work against weapons. Properly designed projectile would have no trouble penetrating multiple layers and still cause huge damage. $\endgroup$
    – AcePL
    May 13, 2022 at 13:30

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You definitely can use magnets to keep the layers of the shield in place but what benefit does an active system like this over a passive system?

In a passive system you get a significant reduction in weight compared to a solid protection system at the cost of taking up more space inside your launch fairing.

In an active system you cut into your weight savings by adding the components necessary for the active system, while needing constant application of power to keep the shield operational. This extra power requirement needs additional hardware, to provide the power and thermal infrastructure needed to keep the system constantly powered, cutting further into the weight savings. In exchange for this you can somewhat reduce the amount of space needed inside the launch fairing.

Engineering is about tradeoffs. Passive whipple shields are designed to balance the needs of protection, mass budget, and volume. An active system may provide more protection, but if the existing system already provides good enough protection, there isn't a reason to add weight and power requirements for even more protection.

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  • $\begingroup$ My thought was that maybe the layers could be rearranged to change amount of protection in each area, which might help cause you know where the enemy spaceship. Also I thought the prospect of being able to extend the space between layers could be useful, to help reduce the rotational inertial to make the spacecraft more maneuverable, maybe for missile dodging? $\endgroup$ May 13, 2022 at 0:27
  • $\begingroup$ The mass of a whipple shield designed to be as low as possible making it's effect on rotational inertia limited. However the further away from the center of gravity it is, the greater rotational inertia it will have. So limited effect but extending it would make rotating more difficult not easier. You could move the shield around as needed but since whipple shields are designed to protect against projectiles smaller than 1 cm and traveling up to 18 kilometers per second. You don't have the ability to track incoming debris or time to react. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    May 13, 2022 at 0:50
  • $\begingroup$ I guess what I was going for was to have the shields extend out when engaging, then pull back in when running away or maneuvering towards away. Would that be viable at all? $\endgroup$ May 13, 2022 at 0:58
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think it makes much sense. The particles a whipple shield is designed to protect against are too small to track, and moving to fast to react to. Given how light weight they are, and that there is no drag in space there is no reason to add complexity and weight to be able to extend and retract the shield. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    May 13, 2022 at 1:19

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