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In the universe in question, interplanetary travel has just about been perfected: a type of fusion reactor that doubles as an engine can produce large thrust on account of the extremely high exhaust velocity and volume as well as very large specific impulse (around 50,000 seconds), and using these engines most of the Solar System has been colonized. If a country on Earth can afford a space program, they have one: for a select handful of (richer) countries like the USA or China or for groups like the European Union, space agencies mostly focus on colonization, scientific research, and generally expanding the human domain to the other planets of the System, while for others, economy is key and asteroid mining and resource exploitation yield huge profits, as well as allow the construction of an enormous number of spaceships (to the point that owning a personal spaceship that can house you plus whoever you want to bring with you is roughly equivalent to owning a high-end car). Instead of actually drilling the asteroids, stations are placed in orbits near Mercury's and use the immense solar power associated with being so close to the sun to fire lasers at the astroid belt with specifically-chosen frequencies; these stations essentially act as giant scanners that, by the resulting reflection or absorption of the laser light, can detect valuable metals in some asteroids, and then mining craft can cherry-pick just the minerals they want access to.

Here's the issue: I can't think of a reason why it would be difficult for pirates (or other countries, for that matter) to blockade the asteroid mines and take control of the resources for themselves. Space travel has improved substantially, but so has weaponry; in a peaceful universe, there would be no "warships", but even then it also wouldn't be very difficult to just stick a high-explosive autocannon on a regular shuttlecraft, approach a mining vessel, and call out on all frequencies "hey, we're going to blow up your reactor unless you give us all your ore".

So, here's the question: how do you prevent rampant space piracy in a world where space travel is cheap and the entire Solar System has been colonized?

Some details about the world that may prove useful:

  • Some mining operations are controlled by states, and metals and resources produced at "state-ops" go entirely to the state. However, some corporations control independent mining and colonization operations, albeit much smaller ones and only with the permission of the state under which they operate.
  • In order to allow regular citizens to fly spaceships without having to learn the intense mathematics behind orbital mechanics and spaceflight, ships are controlled by AIs (some simple LLM-based "controllers" and some semi-sentient AGIs) that can be told how to fly the ship: "take the ship to Ganymede" instead of "input 401.2 m/s dV prograde in 102.9 seconds". (Yes, this is set in the same universe as my other question.)
  • UN treaties still prevent weapons of mass destruction (like nukes) in space, but simpler weapons like autocannons and missiles are still allowed. Plus, scanning technology allows for the detection of such weapons by the electromagnetic spectra of their explosive charges at a distance up to 5 km.
  • The sub-Mercurian stations, being deeper in the gravity well, are easy to navigate to but harder to navigate out of; at higher orbits like around Earth, it does take a fair bit of delta-V to transfer to the station, but transferring from the station even to Venus takes even more because of the station's very high orbital velocity around the Sun.
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    $\begingroup$ "How do you prevent rampant space piracy in a world where space travel is cheap and the entire Solar System has been colonized?": How do you prevent rampant high seas piracy in a world where ocean travel is cheap and the entire Earth has been colonized? Can you think of a reason why it would be difficult for pirates (or other countries, for that matter) to blockade an island or a commercial hub and take control of the resources for themselves? $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jan 15 at 18:50
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    $\begingroup$ Minor nit-pick "Plus, scanning technology allows for the detection of such weapons by the electromagnetic spectra of their explosive charges at a distance up to 5 km." 5km is peanuts in space. It is a laughably short distance. At interplanetary velocities, that's a fraction of a second before impact. $\endgroup$
    – jdunlop
    Jan 15 at 19:10
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    $\begingroup$ I mean this more in the sense that it would be possible for another ship to detect weapons on a ship once they have matched velocities, i.e. before docking. Minor detail, and good point! $\endgroup$ Jan 15 at 19:26
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    $\begingroup$ "some simple LLM-based "controllers" and some semi-sentient AGIs" That is very much the wrong tool for the job. There are closed form equations for computing transfer orbits, and even with continuous burns, you could use very straightforward numerical approaches if you don't want to solve the differential equations. If you must throw a language model in there, let its task be translating the natural language/voice inputs of the user to a formal language (e.g., "Fly me to the moon!" -> "RENDEZVOUS Luna FROM (current-location) (current-velocity)"), then just do normal math from that point. $\endgroup$
    – Ray
    Jan 16 at 18:00
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    $\begingroup$ "A million tons is awfully large - why not equip a thousand ships with the same engines and distribute the million tons of cargo across each?" A 200 000 tonne container ship is awfully large - why not build a thousand 200 tonne breakbulk carriers and have them sail freight routes? Economy of scale. There's a reason container ships keep getting bigger - laying down a keel is expensive, and unpacking ships takes time and dock space. So you want fewer, larger ships for cargo. $\endgroup$
    – jdunlop
    Jan 16 at 19:38

12 Answers 12

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There’s nowhere to hide in space

You established that your universe has sensor technology that can detect the specific material composition of asteroids from 2-3 AU away (mercury orbit to the asteroid belt). The things that enable piracy are the ability to perform hit-and-run tactics with impunity, and to have a safe place to retreat to, both of which are eliminated with that kind of sensor technology.

As for who does the policing, it’s the nation states. The cost of a spaceship is approximately that of a high end car ~$250,000+.

To a nation state, that’s peanuts. US tanks cost $4-10 million dollars each, and they have more than 5,000 of them. That’s not the kind of budget pirates want to be up against. Plus, the US has a history of protecting shipping lanes with heavy ordnance – ask the Houthis.

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    $\begingroup$ I would assume that all legitimate shipping would maintain constant "course and status" messages to whatever the equivalent of the Deep Space Network is in this world, since if something does go wrong, you'd rather have a deadman's switch than have to signal with equipment that might have stopped working. $\endgroup$
    – jdunlop
    Jan 15 at 22:01
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    $\begingroup$ @gs the point is that if your sensors are that good at 3 AU, there is definitely no way to hide from pirate hunting navies, which have the pirates vastly outgunned to boot. $\endgroup$
    – Daniel B
    Jan 15 at 22:26
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    $\begingroup$ The idea that filling up the solar system with telescopes is necessary is obviously excessive. If these telescopes have any reasonable arc of visibility, it's easy to get an entire sphere with under a dozen $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Jan 16 at 2:59
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    $\begingroup$ @Mary Telescopes/sensors don't though. You can either see a wide arc or you can see far, but not both. But you don't need to scan the whole solar system, only the space around each of your ships (which presumably file flight plans) to give a heads-up for anyone approaching who isn't expected. That would make the problem much more solvable. $\endgroup$
    – Graham
    Jan 16 at 11:05
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    $\begingroup$ Indeed. On the other hand, you'll find piracy -- well, theft -- at the harbor locations, possibly with a dose of corruption: containers will mystically disappear without trace, and good luck finding the contents in an already overcrowded area. $\endgroup$ Jan 16 at 16:26
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If you eradicate Poverty and Inequality, combined with improved living conditions and technology, Piracy no longer makes sense.

Piracy only makes sense if it improves the lives of those ordering or conducting it - but it is also actually not a terribly profitable enterprise to modern day Western society Standards. The average pirate obtains only 900 US dollars per ship captured in Indonesia - to a society with an average wage of $10,000 / year this might be an ok 'living' if you happen to miraculously pull off a dozen ships a year without injury, but to anyone else this is a terrible rate of pay. This is why it only normally occurs off the coasts of Somalia, or near poor quarters of Indonesia.

Combine this with the difficulty of:

  • Being 'marked' by authorities, so having to spend your life paying for things at a premium to be 'under the radar'
  • Having to sell stolen goods. Pirated products can only be sold to other unscrupulous people, who won't pay full price for them anyway, so the ability to get profit from pirated goods is significantly diminished
  • Steadily increasing difficulty of overcoming heightened security, monitoring and defense abilities from organisations with a lot more resources than you would ever have.

In your society it appears human society has advanced to a fair degree. It would actually be conceivable that such commonly produced fusion reactors would produce also much cheaper energy and enable:

  • Food production and distribution to be a lot cheaper than it is today (ie. Reducing the rate of hunger and proportion of income on essential food)
  • Construction manufacturing and production to be more accessible (again, reducing the proportion of income on shelter)
  • Increased distribution of educational services, allowing poverty-stricken people to have access to more wealth and improved incomes
  • Improved minimum convenience and living standards for most people on Earth, and making 'above board' and lawful living decisions a much more desirable option than traumatic and unprofitable crime.

Without a need to conduct privacy there would be no piracy - and then you would only need to deal with other dissident organisations that have agendas other than money (such those with political motivations) - however such agendas would likely be reduced also as a result of a similar reduction in inequality and poverty.

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    $\begingroup$ I dunno, Being a space pirate sounds fun to me.... Also, I don't see how eradicating poverty would prevent space piracy. Space ships are expensive... Space pirates wouldn't be a bunch of people whose only option is to go pirating or starve. They are people who are flying at least a space ship that (if it is at all comparable to modern pricaes) that is worth a couple million dollars... They could literally sell their space ship and live like kings for a decade. instead of being pirates if poverty was their concern. $\endgroup$
    – Questor
    Jan 16 at 19:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Questor That is a romantic view of pirates - romanticised by movies like Pirates of the Caribbean - the reality is piracy is aggressive, murderous and full of despair. No pirate exists because it 'sounds fun', they are there because they need to be, not because they want to be. If you do it because it 'sounds fun' you need to be prepared to murder a lot of people (not just men, but women and children), you need to be prepared to take them hostage and yes, even torture them to achieve goals and not just when things get messy. It isn't a whimsical enterprise, and done by men driven to extremes. $\endgroup$
    – flox
    Jan 17 at 0:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Questor Why would space pirates need to purchase their ships? Sailing ships weren't cheap either, but in the real world, pirates during the golden age of piracy mostly acquired theirs via mutiny (generally in response to extremely dangerous and degrading working conditions and low pay) or capture. $\endgroup$
    – aethyr
    Jan 17 at 0:44
  • $\begingroup$ Obvious problem with this answer: Rich people still can and do commit theft. Sure, they don't have the motivation of needing the money, but they can do it as thill-seeking, or because of a personal grudge against whoever they're stealing from. $\endgroup$
    – dan04
    Jan 17 at 17:38
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    $\begingroup$ @Questor Crazy? They would prefer...ambitious. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Jan 17 at 19:38
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The barrier to entry is too expensive.

Space ships are expensive which makes it too difficult for pirates to obtain and operate ships unless they are well funded and well established. This means piracy is only possible through organized crime, and organized crime doesn't just go around taking random stuff from random people, or take kindly from small-time crooks and randos causing chaos on their turf further raising the risk to an already expensive and risky venture for entrants.

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  • $\begingroup$ This doesn't really fit with the question: "owning a personal spaceship that can house you plus whoever you want to bring with you is roughly equivalent to owning a high-end car" $\endgroup$
    – Syndic
    Jan 25 at 13:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Syndic Owning, sure. What about fueling? Operating? Every legit fusion drive will be heading toward somewhere known. Halfway there, they need to turnover and slow down. So every endpoint will have fusion exhaust blasted towards them, hardly ideal for any biosphere, let's just ignore that for now. The star you are riding is visible to all. So how are YOU going to deal with the opportunists who are waiting at your possible endpoints? With an organization, of course. $\endgroup$
    – chiggsy
    Jan 28 at 13:15
  • $\begingroup$ @chiggsy "it's easy to find and hunt down the pirates (for the reasons in this comment)" is quite a valid answer, yes. Your answer as written though reads as "it's too expensive to own and operate a space ship", which clashes with the scenario. $\endgroup$
    – Syndic
    Jan 29 at 7:17
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Physics and Sneakiness

The parties interested in preventing piracy (nation states, probably), make one in ten of their cargo haulers Q-ships.

By the time the would-be pirate gets close enough (5km!?!) to their target to show off their weapons to their prey's sensors, they're inescapably within the effective envelope of the Q-ship's weapons. The pirates need to capture their prize intact if they want to make off with the goods. The Q-ship can simply open fire.

If one successful hijacking is enough for a pirate to retire, then maybe the calculus still works, but otherwise, your risk/reward is waay too high.

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    $\begingroup$ There's also no reason for space ships to EVER get close to one another, unless docking at the same station. Any ship moving to intercept would be immediately detected, warned to course correct, and reported to the Transit Space Authority with full sensor sweeps of the offending vessel. The vast distances makes RF jamming ineffective also, as any target ship that is suddenly bombarded with Noise can send and SOS beam directly to the nearest TSA relay, which can't really be jammed without revealing the precise location of the pirate as well. $\endgroup$
    – abestrange
    Jan 15 at 21:10
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    $\begingroup$ To be fair to the OP's world, @abestrange, it might not matter if the attacked ship gets an SOS off, given that depending on where the ship was being waylaid, it could take weeks for rescue to arrive. Here potentially Daniel B's answer comes into play, since even if the ship were taken, it could be tracked once it had alerted someone to do the tracking, but it wouldn't help that particular ship in the moment. A battery of anti-pirate missiles hidden behind some hull plating, on the other hand... $\endgroup$
    – jdunlop
    Jan 15 at 21:59
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Drone ships

You already have AIs piloting space ships, which means it's not profitable to sit in a cargo ship for the long trip from the asteroid belt to wherever the mined resources are shipped to. It's all done by automated ships.

"Give us the loot or we shoot" only works if the crew on the other side of the deal values their lives. A ship controlled by AI would open fire on sight, and in case it loses the ensuing shootout, it would be programmed to blow itself up when it gets boarded by pirates. Problem solved. You lose a few ships, but they're cheap.

Likewise, you could have drone space cops.

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  • $\begingroup$ The cargo rockets wouldn't necessarily need to be boarded by pirates in order to blow up. The door latch could be rigged to explode if anyone attempted to open it outside of a planet's atmosphere. Or, in case the pirates try to tow the rocket somewhere, it could blow up on any unauthorized change in course. The ships are unmanned and low-cost, so it's no big deal if the anti-pirate bombs get a few false positives. Perhaps the explosive package could be jettisoned upon landing so it doesn't hurt the legitimate recipients of the cargo. $\endgroup$
    – dan04
    Jan 17 at 19:35
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how do you prevent rampant space piracy in a world where space travel is cheap and the entire Solar System has been colonized?

The answer is in the question itself:

stations are placed in orbits near Mercury's and use the immense solar power associated with being so close to the sun to fire lasers.

Let me elaborate. The vast majority of asteroids in the belt is 1km across or smaller (see the Wikipedia article on this), and we kinda have them mapped out today. In the future, we should be able to map and track them better.

So you know where they are and which ones have the ores you want to mine. Anyone getting close to them needs a permit.

If you enter a trajectory that could eventually lead you to an approach with one of the richer asteroids, and you don't have a permit, then for all purposes you are lawfully and willingfully identifying yourself as an ore-rich asteroid too. The mercurian lasers will vaporize you and the mining bots will recover the debris for smelting.

Things to consider: there is no stealth in space, you don't fly faster than light (and therefore lasers) and since you only see light when it hits your retinas, you won't be able to dodge.

Also notice that you don't even have to get close to an asteroid to be shot. You could be just exiting the SOI of Pluto or even coming from outside the solar system. Calculating your trajectory is quite simple, a human can do it with pen and paper. If you have a suspicious trajectory (i.e.: it has an intersection and close approach with certain asteroids' orbits), then a laser is fired towards a point in your trajectory relatively "in front" of you. You can either take a detour immediately, or die a few minutes or hours later. At least it will be painless.

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    $\begingroup$ I think you are perhaps overestimating the power of the lasers being used. My impression was that they're good for LIDAR, long-distance laser mass spectrometry, and laser sail propulsion, not "vaporize things in Jovian orbits." $\endgroup$
    – jdunlop
    Jan 15 at 23:38
  • $\begingroup$ @jdunlop if you are that close to the sun and orbital mirrors are so cheap, I see no reason preventing someone from making some huge laser cannons for law enforcement and war. $\endgroup$ Jan 15 at 23:53
  • $\begingroup$ Albeit an interesting proposal, I would argue that @jdunlop is correct here; even in close proximity to the Sun, the inverse-square law drops off the brightness of the laser with the square of the distance, making them less useful for LIDAR at increased range, let alone lasing a target from an AU away $\endgroup$ Jan 16 at 0:02
  • $\begingroup$ @controlgroup the civilization you describe in the question is bordering on Kardashev II. At that point they could make a stellar engine. Making interplanetary lasers would be easy, compensating for the square cube law by sheer brute force. $\endgroup$ Jan 16 at 0:50
  • $\begingroup$ By the way, I recently finished reading Children of Ruin, a great sci-fi work that got the BSFA award for best novel in 2019. As part of the plot, a species which is waaay less advanced than the one described in the question does exactly this. They have solar reflectors orbiting a planet in the outer edge of a star's goldilock zone. In order to obliterate a spaceship in interplanetary transit, they focus the reflectors on a point right on the ship's path, with partial success. $\endgroup$ Jan 16 at 2:58
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It's just not worth it

"If a country on Earth can afford a space program, they have one" - this still implies that space programmes / ships are very expensive for private individuals.

Maybe an organised crime gang can get a spaceship or two, but of course, if they can put weapons on them, then so could the people doing the mining, who would no doubt be countries or large corporations with much deeper pockets and therefore access to purpose built spacecraft for deterring, catching or destroying criminals.

And let's say pirates do manage to gain control of a mine. What exactly are they going to do with a million tons of bauxite or iron ore or whatever it is they're mining? They'd also need access to massive tankers needed to transport it, and a refinery willing to deal with criminals. These aren't hi-res Blu-ray players or cigarettes they're mining that they can just sell on the black market. (OK so maybe their tactic changes to hi-jacking the tankers but presumably these could easily be tracked down by the authorities)

As for other countries doing it - well it appears UN treaties are respected somewhat, and a country attacking and stealing from another would be an act of war. And the price of a war could be more than the profit gained from attacking a mine.

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  • $\begingroup$ The pirates need an ore carrier, and hey! there's one riding at anchor. They radio their demands to the mine office and to the carrier. The Q-ship "carrier" uncovers a dozen shipkiller cannon and atomizes the pirates. $\endgroup$
    – Mark Wood
    Jan 16 at 14:51
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In the universe in question, interplanetary travel has just about been perfected: a type of fusion reactor that doubles as an engine can produce large thrust on account of the extremely high exhaust velocity and volume as well as very large specific impulse (around 50,000 seconds),

In a way you answered your own question. If EVERY ship is fitted with such engine, then:

A- Every ship can instantly accelerate away from the pirates, forcing them into endless chase.

B- if the pirates somehow sneak close enough for boarding or cargo theft to be even possible, the defending craft can just position their exhaust to aim at them, hit the pedal, and vaporize the pirates with lance of nuclear fire.

In your scenario, every ship is a basically a weapon of mass destruction perfectly designed to atomize the craft chasing them, and to outrun everything short of a laser beam. It makes piracy impractical; is the equivalent of Willy E.Coyote chasing the Roadrunner, if the Roadrunner also had a backward facing nuclear railgun.

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    $\begingroup$ Larry Niven wrote up part B in The Warriors. It's effectively the first shot in the First Man - Kzin War. It's been expressed as a natural law: The Kzinti Lesson $\endgroup$
    – Mark Wood
    Jan 16 at 15:02
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    $\begingroup$ The more efficient the drive the more effective the weapon. $\endgroup$
    – Questor
    Jan 16 at 23:07
  • $\begingroup$ The Kzinti Lesson depended on pacifistic humans, fractional g laser drives, and alien telepaths. Oh and the Kzinti gravity planer, which enabled the Kzin to survive the accelerations necessary to match trajectories, without turning to goo on the inside, The gravity planer, or the Outsiders inertialess drive, is what "pirates" would need to have to become a viable threat, since OF COURSE you would track every fusion drive in the sky, and OBVIOUSLY you would flag unknown torchships or ships suddenly lighting their torches and changing trajectories from known endpoints to nowhere. $\endgroup$
    – chiggsy
    Jan 28 at 5:54
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    $\begingroup$ @Questor for a reaction drive certainly, follows from the second law of thermodynamics . Is this true for all drives? I feel like no? $\endgroup$
    – chiggsy
    Jan 28 at 6:08
  • $\begingroup$ I forgot to mention the Romulan Cloaking device. Pirates need to be able to either run or hide. $\endgroup$
    – chiggsy
    Jan 28 at 13:21
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There are 3 factors that you need for lots of Piracy:

1: Lots of Commercial Shipping. Think the Straits of Malacca, the Persian Peninsula, and historically - The Carribean - there are a number of natural choke points where major shipping routes converge - these are the ideal places for Piracy to occur.

This is our first problem - we aren't exactly swimming in interstellar traffic. In fact, we have, to our knowledge, no interstellar traffic - So without any shipping to prey on, there's no point in Pirates being here.

2: A close friendly landmass or island chain to hide from. Most Pirates are operating relatively close to shore - so that they can zip out from a landmass in a relatively small/cheap/non-oceangoing vessel - strike and then return to shore with their prizes. Earth is the only habitable landmass that we know of - and we humans aren't exactly friendly to each other.

3: No Law Enforcement/Naval prescence. This is sort of tied in with point 2 - but if there's no local deterrent for Pirates (assuming the cargo vessels aren't armed) then this is where you'll get Piracy.

Granted, point 3 does apply, but without Point 1 and 2, yeah - we aren't going to see any Space Piracy.

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    $\begingroup$ Swimming in interstellar traffic? All the naval terms carry over I guess. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Jan 15 at 19:25
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Orbital mechanics make "space battles" far different than those in any other environment. A freighter will be following a cost optimised massively planned path. Its engine capability are sized to its mass and mission requirements but will not be able to significantly influence its destination or even course vector en route. A pirate can take part of a load with a larger delta V capable ship, but even the, making massive orbital changes, let alone reversing direction or changing it by say 90 degrees, will require massive energy and engine capability compared to the usually cost effective payload to prime-mover capability of a freighter.

Core factors:

The performance ability conveyed by a (magnificent) 50,000 s drive depends on ship mass, drive thrust (related to by independent of specific impulse), ship to propellant + drive mass-ratio and acceleration tolerance (ship and crew (if any)). These combine to make a freighter a "sitting duck" before and after capture, and a pirate unable to either run or hide effectively.
See "Warship vs pirate vs freighter" below.

Destinations and course change:

For optimum economics a freighter is liable to use gravity assist and deflection methods, even with the superb 50 ks engine technology. If final destination has an atmosphere it will use finely tuned atmospheric multi point skip braking because it makes vastly superior economic sense to alternative trust based braking. Changing the trajectory of some or all of the payload to a new trajectory will take massive increases in energy used if the old destination was atmospheric and the new one was not. Changing from one to another atmospheric destination introduces a new unplanned and unauthorised always very spectacular and unhideable braking manoeuvre.

Warship vs pirate vs freighter:

Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle's "The mote in God's eye" and "The Gripping Hand" provide excellent examples of well thought out space battles- especially the latter.

Detection:

Pirates are unable to prevent an ore freighter reporting it's state of safety or being under attack. Sophisticated spoofing will help, but "the system" as a whole has more resource. Modern day example: A well funded top hacker group against the NSA in a prolonged confrontation - who wins overall?

Physics makes a freighter an easy target - before and after capture.
A freighter is necessarily massive and expendable propellant mass must be a small fraction of its total mass relative to a "warship". Maximum accelerations are low and changes in velocity (speed and direction) are limited.

Warship:

A 'warship''s capabilities are mainly limited by cost and acceleration tolerance.

A military crew has higher long term technology assisted acceleration tolerance than all but the most elite pirates. An unmanned warship - substantially more again. Unmanned capabilities are liable to be very much up to the task of pirate interdiction, or destruction, once on target. Acceleration gets you there

Far far greater acceleration and course change capabilities than a freighter.

Bigger 'drive + propellant' : ship mass fraction, than a pirate and far far far more than a freighter.

Overall a freighter is "dead in the water with it's anchor out" compared to a pirate interceptor. And more so to a warship. Regardless of who is manning it.

And a pirate ship is absolutely no match for a warship. Largely dictated by economics and sheer willingness and ability to make a warship an apex predator.

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At the risk of sounding preachy, the short answer is that space is already infested with pirates. We just label them as corporations.

The first people to commercialize space would be those with all the resources. By the time civilian casual space travel became even partially normalized, everything that could be claimed and positively "protected" will have been done so with quite a bit of diligence. The worst things in outer space will not be the little groups trying to scam small fortunes, it will be the large groups looking to secure mining rights for eons with as little expense, and as little regulation as possible.

By the time piracy surfaces on anyone's radar, it will be small scale hijacking. Pirates tend to survive with what they have, not with what an infinite budget will allow. They will probably have weapons, but nothing that can stand up to the private security found on the mining camps and general interstellar causeways. When pirates become big enough to stand up to those kinds of organizations, they are big enough to be one of the organizations themselves and commit the worst crimes against all living things the same way they do it on Earth today. Through the legal system.

So I don't think the course of space piracy would reflect the habits of piracy on Earth. A little like how waging a war on a country on Earth now would not involve a couple hundred men standing in a grid with cannons, taking turns shooting like gentlemen. It's almost entirely auto-mechanical and remotely orchestrated, saving human presence for specialized operations that can't be handled by drones.

Pirates would adapt to the environments they have access to. Hit and run piracy would probably be converted to inside job level dumping gigs. Holding a block of an asteroid belt ransom would probably be more like a modern day hack ransom. No presence, all code based, and much more sophisticated than typical acts of piracy the way we see them today.

If you feel your story is suffering from a lack of explanation on this front, I think it might be best to minorly brush the issue in passing. Like having someone say "there are a few small piracy acts. Ransomed mining core software, jettisoned cargo. Nothing we can't handle" to more or less recognize that it is present for realism, but that it doesn't spark enough interest to explain the hows and whys of controlling something that seems like it would be a bigger deal than it is.

A closing note - Earth is currently infested with pirates. Like right under our noses, and in magnitudes that would be cracked down upon if it wasn't so profitable. Kind of says a lot about what profits can do to the law. Most items on ebay and amazon are sold on sites like alibaba, dhgate, etc. If you can find it there, it is a counterfeit. Do we stop it? Nope. Because we don't care, and Amazon makes too much money on counterfeits to care about upholding anything as unimportant as intellectual property laws. Yet, it is an act of piracy, and just one example of millions upon millions that happen every minute right here and now. This wouldn't change in space. It would just come with a different mask. But yet, on Earth here and now, we don't really showcase the sheer volume of piracy that happens constantly. It's not that big of a social issue. More like a fact of life. I'd run with that in your universe as well. Yeah, it's there. Nah, not worth talking about.

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  • $\begingroup$ People absolutely care about the piracy described in your closing note. You mention Amazon? How about Sony? Nintendo? Disney? My god, Apple even has a goon squad that will boot open your door if you nick yourself a prototype iPhone! $\endgroup$
    – chiggsy
    Jan 28 at 13:31
  • $\begingroup$ @chiggsy - Are you sure about that? Where are the swat teams kicking down doors because your ebay shop has Nike shoes with 2 layer stitching instead of 3? Yes, most companies have legal teams that swat down piracy, but they don't put a lot of effort beyond the standard cease and desist notices. Every now and then they find enough dirt on an operation to make an example of, but it is very much a low radar enterprise for the pirates and third party platforms make too much money on sales of known counterfeit items to do more than give you a few strikes and threaten to close your shop. $\endgroup$
    – Kai Qing
    Jan 29 at 16:48
  • $\begingroup$ Additionally, sites like DHGate and Alibaba are solidly filled with illegitimate products. Those 2 sites are a couple of hundreds that blatantly fill the shelves of forgers and nobody shuts them down. There are plenty of technicalities that prevent an outright removal, but you bet that if they were dealing with something higher up on the crime scale, like human or drug trafficking, they would have a more dedicated crack down team that would definitely not let you off the hook with a letter from a lawyer. $\endgroup$
    – Kai Qing
    Jan 29 at 16:53
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Inability to intercept economically

How would piracy work? You threaten some ship to drop it's cargo or it get's blown up, fine. But to get to the ship you have to intercept, not just intercept to get a firing solution but to actually reach it on it's same course.

Even if the freighter drops it's cargo, that cargo is still following the same course as the freighter, it doesn't magically stop. Everything keeps moving.

So it's very obvious from a very long distance if you are trying to intercept with any object in the solar system. The amount of fuel it would take would just be uneconomical to intercept and retrieve and then go somewhere else to stash/sell.

So taking that even aside, you somehow manage to dock with this freighter, or intercept it's dropped cargo, you are being tracked, where are you going to take this raw ore that you are going to be able to sell? There is no hiding in space and it's easy to track where you are going.

It's far more likely that any criminality will be done as much as it is done in the modern world, at legal ports via blackmail and extortion. Why risk hijacking space ore when you can just smuggle a shipment from some fabrication factory to sell on the black market, easier to bribe or threaten some dock workers than steal a shipment in space.

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