Such rhetoric frequently elicits gasps and winces from many of my American friends and several Russian ones — especially as I lived in the States for most of my life.
Orion Pirates expansion for the computer game Star Trek: Empires at War Somali pirates did not put to sea to further the cause of space opera, but space opera is an unintended beneficiary of their depradations, because we now have an excuse to reconsider a time honored trope: Reread this recent post, and this older one.
I have usually distinguished hard SF and retro-hard rocketpunk from space opera, but of course it is nearly all space opera at heart, no matter how well we tart it up with realistic details. And because we do want to tart it up, we can look to the waters off Somalia for lessons.
Apart from piracy as such, one of my commenters brought up another traditional form of malfeasance at sea, barratry, a name given to many crimesthe one of special SF interest being scuttling a ship to cover theft of its cargo.
As I noted in the comments, this is an eminently practical space crime, indeed one that could already have been committed. If a commercial space launch blows up or sends its payload into the Indian Ocean, who knows if there was really a satellite aboard?
For that matter a launch sabotaged by commercial rivals surely also counts as barratry. One form of space piracy is a first cousin of barratry. If you can divert cargo spacecraft onto orbits to nowhere, under the right conditions you can divert one to Port Royal.
Unlike barratry, there's no concealing this crime, no uncertainty whether a crime was committed, and you know the address of the receiver of stolen merchandise. How you serve a warrant is another matter, but like barratry this sort of piracy is a white collar crime and requires an insider. What about 'real' piracy — forcible hijacking of spacecraft?
The strategic lesson of Somalia piracy is a timeless one: It thrives along lawless coasts. And the first tactical lesson is that real pirates don't fly the Jolly Roger. The traditional image of space pirates striking out of the interplanetary vastness is unlikely, because a pirate ship on a nonstandard orbit is declaring itself to the entire solar system, putting potential victims on alert and giving any patrol force weeks to respond.
Pirates will strike in crowded space, where their mother ships are indistinguishable from a host of civil craft.
Contrary to SF tradition, the asteroid belt makes a lousy pirate lair. It is vastly too big, a billion kilometers across, its shipping lanes likewise farflung.
But since space piracy is brazen wherever you commit it, why not Earth orbital space? This will surely be the most crowded part of space for centuries to come, and the first to have a shadow side.
Given hundreds of spacecraft, many in similar orbits, and a steady flow of inter-orbit shuttle craft moving among them, we have suitable physical conditions for brazen piracy.
Distances in Earth orbital space are hundreds of times greater than in the waters off Somalia, and the Space Patrol can't be everywhere. Boarding in space has its challenges.
You can't board a spacecraft simply by bringing a small craft alongside and scrambling up a line — or can you? The defenders can easily jam the airlock, and cutting your way in is difficult, at minimum requiring costly specialized equipment.
But pirates don't have to break into the pressure cabin to threaten passengers and crew, and effectively hold them hostage. Cut the power supply, disable the radiators — technically sophisticated pirates might even be able to hotwire the propulsion system and divert the ship without needing to directly overpower the crew.
Future versions of Captain Phillips will improvise 'nonlethal' means of defense. Evasive maneuver is a classic means of defense; attitude thrusters might also be used as fire hoses to keep boarders at bay.
Putting defensive armament on civil spacecraft will be problematic for all the same reasons it is today. The real challenge for our orbital pirates is not making captures, but where to take them. Pirates need a Port Royala place where the art of asking no questions trumps orbital mechanics.
So why doesn't the Space Patrol simply blast it out of orbit?
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