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Space mines have a glaring problem which is the fact that space is really big, But I have devised a space mine which could be used to defend a moon or small planet.

My space mine would be Casaba-Howitzer, which is a shaped nuclear charge which is used to turn a tungsten plate in to a plasma which is then launched by the blast into a particle beam which could reach hundreds if not thousands of kilometers (http://toughsf.blogspot.com/2016/06/the-nuclear-spear-casaba-howitzer.html). These space mines would deployed in the thousands in low orbit of the planet or moon, evenly spaced out and be in various inclinations. The mines would have stealth technology so an enemy ship might accidentally enter the blast area, when they lock on a ship they would orientate themselves via gyroscopes at the enemy ship, and would perhaps detonate via Antimatter catalyzed fusion to minimize the size of the warhead while still having a large yield (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antimatter-catalyzed_nuclear_pulse_propulsion).

Is this a plausible space mine?

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    $\begingroup$ I am sorry what? Is it an Antimatter device or a nuclear charge? Is it plasma or a particle beam? $\endgroup$ Jun 7 at 15:37
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    $\begingroup$ If you have space-stealth technology, then you might another glaring problem: How will the (non-contact) mines detect the enemy ship? $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Jun 7 at 16:46
  • $\begingroup$ Also keep in mind that mines are a form of obstacle. Obstacles must be supervised, and must have a purpose (block, delay, disrupt, turn, etc.). Sometimes, obstacles are enhanced by being clearly marked instead of stealthed. A detectable minefield is not your kill zone - it steers the enemy into your kill zone. A secret minefield is your kill zone, but you probably want to control it so you can coordinate your fires and achieve maximum effect. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Jun 7 at 16:51
  • $\begingroup$ what you are describing sounds frighteningly similar to Project Excalibur en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Excalibur And if you could get the focusing issue worked out , Excalibur would likely be far cheaper deadly. $\endgroup$
    – Gillgamesh
    Jun 7 at 18:47

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What Issues?

They need to be relatively passive, hard to detect, and locally effective. If active mechanisms within the mine make these easily detectible, they are not mines but highly visible hazards.

Most engineering problems are about making things cheaper, faster, and effective. (One can also argue that you only get choose only two of these things... But let's not get too cynical here.)

Fusion?

This is not ideal for a mine. Yes, it can generate a lot of energy, but it requires a lot of energy (or mass) as an input. Someone is going to notice this either way!

Fusion is effective for creating energy, but seems like the expensive option when nuclear fission is around. You can store fissile material long term and only need to get two masses close to each other (or close a neutron reflector, as per experiments and accidents with the demon core.) This can be done quickly and cheaply. Seems like a better alternative to me!

Antimatter?

Also not ideal for a mine. You need special, active, energy consuming process just to store this (nevermind just getting ahold of enough of the stuff). This is expensive and can scream "danger here" to passing spacecraft, since you will likely need to use magnetic containment of some sort.

Once again, nuclear fission seems to be a cheaper alternative here. No active storage mechanisms required!

This Isn't a Mine

This is a defense platform. If you have effectivity for up to thousands of kilometers, require active systems to maintain, and have (for space) fixed positions, a mine is not a good analogy. It's more like a static defense, like an artillery battery or a machine gun "pill box."

The fact that this is not a mine is even in the name of the weapon: a howitzer specifically has a medium-range effectiveness (whereas artillery is long range and cannons are short range).

What Needs to Change

Semantics aside, several things need to be in place for this to be an effective mine compared to our current world and technology level.

We need a better understanding of fusion and antimatter. We need reactants and raw material to be cheaper and abundant.

For fusion, hydrogen is widely available, but we lack the knowledge to do more than a few seconds and have the reaction occur quickly. Of course, we could just use the energy from antimatter reaction to vaporize that tungsten...

For antimatter, we only have found this in theory. Where are the antimatter galaxies? Likewise, our understanding of it needs to increase as well. How can we store it? Does it need perfect normal matter pairs to annihilate? How does one feed it nicely to make a quick reaction? All this needs to be answered by practical experience.

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  • $\begingroup$ That's why I put air quotes on the title $\endgroup$ Jun 7 at 15:48
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Mine ≠ Beam

When I think of a mine I think of a land mine. A dumb, indiscriminate proximity sensor and a field effect.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Land_mine

A land mine is an explosive device concealed under or on the ground and designed to destroy or disable enemy targets, ranging from combatants to vehicles and tanks, as they pass over or near it. Such a device is typically detonated automatically by way of pressure when a target steps on it or drives over it, although other detonation mechanisms are also sometimes used.[1] A land mine may cause damage by direct blast effect, by fragments that are thrown by the blast, or by both.

Your proposal is like a mine in that it is destroyed when triggered. But a beam weapon does not seem like a mine because mines are dumb proximity devices and a beam must be aimed. If the "mine" knows where I am and can aim at me that seems like unlike a mine - that is some sort of automatic suicide sentry. Semantics aside, your scheme could be sweet for an automatic sentry especially if the particle beam is good against typical defenses.

If the suicide sentry can aim maybe it can do other things too. Maybe it can distinguish friend from foe. I like the idea that the AI tasked with this job is built for a different purpose and is a lot smarter than it needs to be. It does not mind that it will get destroyed; it is a robot. But maybe its intelligence and skillset can be used against it, to trick it or coopt it. I am thinking of a character that happens to have as its body a suicide sentry casaba howitzer. Ok I am drifting now.

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Passive swarming explosive drones

One option is to have millions of small drones, painted as black as possible (to make them hard to detect), that passively observe their immediate surroundings, waiting for a ship to pass close by. Each drone is programmed with the relative location of its neighbors.

Individually, the drones are too small to be noticed without active scanning, and active scanning will set them off. Even if they are noticed, each individual mine is too small to be recognized as a threat.

But the moment one is triggered, it sends out a signal to its neighbors by laser (which will be nearly undetectable by other observers), and the signal propagates through the minefield up to a certain distance determined by the size and/or threat level of the intruder. The mines then activate and swarm toward the intruder by the thousands, exploding on impact.

The mines might need to periodically signal each other and actively course-correct in order to ensure that they do not drift out of position, but with good enough computing they could manage this with very little activity, making them difficult to detect with passive scanning.

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