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A normal trade ship can arm themselves with cannons, in order to deal with pirates. However that is merely 2 dimensional, and the pirates will be seen when they are in range to hit the trade ship (they obviously can't use a laser to snipe from afar). However, what will a trade spaceship do? Pirates can snipe at them from afar, or launch a very small particle at very high velocity in order to damage the ship.

Assume it's a spaceship which has a cargo of some very rare metals (even in space) and near-futuristic space weapons. How will it deal with space pirates?

(It can just alter it's route, but going the long way to avoid pirates instead of taking the route you always take wastes fuel. And the pirates will realise and go after you)

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  • $\begingroup$ Do you have FTL? If so, how does it work? $\endgroup$ – AmiralPatate Jul 4 '16 at 7:17
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    $\begingroup$ You need to specify the tech level and weapons available to both sides. $\endgroup$ – Aify Jul 4 '16 at 7:18
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    $\begingroup$ Stupid question -- but why can't the trade ship pack the same laser weapons as the pirates? Or even stronger ones, because the trade ship doesn't care whether it vaporizes the pirates or not. The pirates, on the other hand, must take care not to vaporize the cargo they're getting... $\endgroup$ – subrunner Jul 4 '16 at 7:32
  • $\begingroup$ @AmiralPatate : No there is no FTL $\endgroup$ – King of Snakes Jul 4 '16 at 10:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Aify : Near-feature. So a powerful laser will do, but not blackhole-generators $\endgroup$ – King of Snakes Jul 4 '16 at 10:01
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I think the only real option for the traders is to upgrade their weapons, have escorts and/or have security forces patrol the cargo routes. Yet even better to scout for the home bases or planets of the pirates and get rid of them. Boils down to superior combat power (impenetrable shields or armor are a nice option, too).

If that is not possible one could try to go the sneaky route: build vessels with cloaking capabilities or that are at least hard to scan (but that technology would fall into the pirates hand sooner or later) or divide the cargo onto dozens of small vessels and hope that at least some get through the pirate systems (the pirates could adapt to this and switch to more and smaller vessels, too. If they have the manpower.).

As a pirate i see a large arsenal of options for me: mines, ambushes (hiding, silent-running, fake distress calls, ...), tractor beams, boarding and taking hostages for ransom, using the environment (asteroid fields, nebulas, ...), hunt in packs, ...

It might even be an option to blow the trading ships up and collect the floating scraps (most of the metals will not vaporize but be salvagable). It's just a sorting/filtering problem.

As long as the traders don't succesfully fight the pirates, every technology the traders start to use will fall into the hands of the pirates, sooner or later and will be used against the traders. So it's a pointless arms race, unless you hit the pirates steadily with superior combat power.

Update: removed FTL Option, there is no FTL in OPs universe

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  • $\begingroup$ Very nice answer. +1 $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Jul 4 '16 at 13:29
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If it fits your story, consider that the captain (and certainly the crew) is not the owner of neither ship or cargo. So the shipping company might opt not to arm the cargo ships against pirates at all, but rather design their ships in a way that pirates cannot capture a ship without destroying vessel and cargo. No loot => no pirate attacks.

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Orbital mechanics argues against pirate attacks, you need a specific deltaV to move from one orbit to another, and changing orbits means using more fuel, reaction mass or energy. In other words, you are essentially on a slot car track going to Jupiter, and the only way anyone can intercept you is to somehow get into the same "slot".

This also means pirates won't be able to get away easily; their ship is now also committed to the same orbit that you were, and they will either get a very nasty reception by customs when they arrive, or use a massive amount of energy getting into a new transfer orbit to somewhere else. A Space Navy or "coast guard" will easily see this (no stealth ion space) and can either set out to intercept, or radio ahead so the pirates will be getting a warm reception wherever they go.

There would be very few items of value that a space pirate would be able to seize that would cover the costs of running a spacecraft and all the intricate orbital manoeuvres needed to actually reach a ship in space, do the piracy then go somewhere else to sell the cargo.

Space pirates may well exist, but rather than sailing the space lanes, they will be hidden away at the space docks, manning tight beam communications platforms and probably hidden away in banks, import export offices and futures traders. In other words, successful space pirates will be taking down scores from the "inside".

The Future trader discovers a long term trend that would drive up the price of ice from Saturn's moons. They communicate to the traders, who start manipulating orders to take advantage of the market. Meantime, pirates manning the comm centre intercept the communications and pass on orders others to substitute worthless cargos on the shipping end, or stealing them from the docks on the receiving ends.

Spaceships ply the space ways in peace and serenity (indeed they might not be manned at all), while the skulking and piracy takes place in the docks and offices surrounding the spaceport.

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