The Necessity of Shields in Space
In so many science fiction stories involving spaceships, they almost always include shields on the vessels. Even in a real world scenario they’re important to have. Outside the protective magnetosphere and atmosphere of our planet, cosmic rays lurk. If a spaceship’s crew is exposed to them long enough, more than a few weeks, they will sicken and die. And let’s face it, a trip to Mars is going to take more than a few weeks. Then there are those pesky micrometeorites. Depending on the speed of your ship and the speed of the meteorite, something the size of a sand grain can hit with the power of a bullet, or a howitzer shell. So, whether considering science fiction or real spaceships, it’s good to have shields.
Spaceship Shields in Science Fiction
Often, in a scifi show, we hear a phrase like, “Shields at 42%!” I’ve been wondering about that and why it would work that way. Obviously, it adds dramatic tension, but would it really work that way when spaceships and their shields become a reality? I tend to think not. I’m not an engineer, so anyone who is out there can correct me, but I believe shields would either be working or not, operating at 100% or not at all. I understand that you could shift energy from one shield to the other in the trope, but why build in that capability? While in a battle, why not just run the whole thing at max capacity? Then you could focus on maneuvering and not bother with that detail. If your power plant could not run all shields at max, that would suggest you need a bigger power plant.
If we consider electronic components that we have now like the diode, for instance, they work at spec until they burn out and don’t work at all. Same for capacitors, resistors, etc. When the power supply on my computer died, I didn’t get a message saying, “Power at 42%, Captain.” It operated at its rated power level until something, perhaps a diode, stopped working and the power supply croaked. Shouldn’t shields operate similarly?
Plausible Spaceship Shields
When I wrote, The Huralon Incident, I imagined shields that were directed by a number of emitters. The devices project a small shield each until they absorbed more energy from a weapon than they could handle, and burn out. That’s it. Either it’s working or it’s not. These emitters would cover a ship, so even when you lost one, only a small portion of total shield protection went down. In such a case the report wouldn’t be, “Shields at 90%, Captain,” because that wouldn’t be very informative. The report would be like, “Emitter down on the ventral port quarter, Captain.” This would work better because the Captain now knows not to present the ventral port quarter to the enemy’s weapons.
So, what do you think? Does the idea of shields, that when hit, decrease in strength by degree make sense or not? How would you imagine a shield working? Let me know in the comments.
If you’re interested in a different way to see how shields might work in the future, check out my book, The Huralon Incident. It’s a military space opera with detailed space battles, a superspy, nanites, humor, sociopolitical world-building, and plenty of descriptions of food. You can find it below: