With guest co-host Emma Kent!
Pew pew. That’s the sound of lasers whipping past your head in new space shooter Star Wars: Squadrons. Don’t worry, it’s all make-believe. Or is it? For this episode, we speak to an expert of space militarisation about the weapons and strategies used by Earth nations to snarl at other governments in orbit. Victoria Samson is a political scientist at the Secure World Foundation and she is here to tell us that war in space is (surprise surprise) a very bad idea indeed.
Click on for links and a full episode transcription…
SFX from Star Wars: Squadrons promo material and aforementioned US Space Force recruitment propaganda
[spaceship zooming past]
Victoria Samson, political scientist: They can interfere with anyone’s ability to use space. The country of Ecuador, they launched their first satellite a few years ago, and within… almost immediately, it was taken out by a piece of debris.
Imperial commander (sound bite): You are the Empire’s strength. We do not accept defeat.
Brendan Caldwell: Welcome to Hey Lesson, the podcast where we ask clever people silly questions about video games, the goal being to learn things by mistake. In this episode, we’re talking about the laser saturated space combat of Star Wars: Squadrons. And we’re going to ask if there is any truth at all to the idea of having a big war in space. Keep listening and you’ll hear from a bonafide “space diplomat”. At least that’s what I’m calling our expert this week. She is a political scientist whose job it is to keep war in orbit as far as possible from the minds of national leaders. But before that, we have a guest on to help us learn about Star Wars: Squadrons itself. Say hello to Eurogamer reporter, Emma Kent!
Emma Kent: Hello!
Brendan: How are you? How are you doing?
Emma: I’m doing well. I’ve kind of spent about a week in VR. Um, so obviously it’s a little bit distorted for me, and now I kind of feel like I’m in the Star Wars universe as a pilot. Yeah. Surfacing back in now.
Brendan: Are you a big Star Wars fan or like just a things-in-space fan in general?
Emma: Star Wars fan, for sure. Like literally years now. Like I remember in the playground just really getting into it and ever since then, it’s been like, all the films and, uh, you know, playing Star Wars: The Old Republic as well. I love that because of all of the stories in it.
Brendan: That’s the old-school RPG one, isn’t it?
Emma: Uh, yeah, it’s the MMO.
Brendan: Oh yeah.
Emma: Yeah. I played it as a single player game basically. Because you could do that. You just get away with ignoring everyone else.
Brendan: But this game, this new one, Star Wars: Squadrons is not really like that. You reviewed it for Eurogamer. Can you explain to any estranged Star Wars fans exactly what Star Wars: Squadrons is?
Emma: Yeah, for sure. So it’s part multiplayer and part story campaign. And the campaign is kind of about 10 hours long, uh, eight to 10 hours, depending on how good you are. And it’s set, uh, after the battle of Endor. So, like, the second Death Star. So like the empire is kind of significantly weakened and then the New Republic is starting to build itself and… I’m going to have to give away a bit about the prologue because otherwise I won’t be able to talk about anything…
Brendan: That’s fine.
Emma: But basically the New Republic is building a new weapon because it’s Star Wars and that’s what happens in every story apparently. And to do that, they’re kind of using old Star Destroyer scraps to create this big ship. And obviously the Empire doesn’t want them to do that. So you’ve got these two opposing squadrons: Vanguard squadron on the New Republic side and Titan squadron on the Empire side. And you kind of alternate between them for various chapters. And there’s a personal battle going on between the leaders, because one of them defected from the empire. And then the other one is resentful of that because she was, uh, under his tuteluge when he defected, and then she got punished for it. And the character you play is… you don’t really say much to be honest. You kind of just watch what the other characters are doing and participate in blowing various things up over space battles.
Brendan: So you’re not walking around with a lightsaber. Like this is not an adventure game. Like the, the most recent [game]. You’re in the cockpit of a spaceship, right?
Emma: Exactly. Yeah. And actually there’s no walking in the entire game because they’ve basically designed it for VR. And uh, if you walk around with VR, that is a disaster for nausea. You kind of teleport between the rooms and then stand there and people talk at you and then you go in the cockpits and just fly around and do star-fighting. And it’s mainly in space as well. Motive studios who made this, were trying to separate it from the Battlefront games, which are a bit more like planetside, and boots on the ground kind of thing. This is very much space battles, like on a big scale, and then a five versus five dogfighting, which is what the multiplayer is about.
Brendan: Uh, the multiplayer. Is that a bigger component of the game than the single-player or… If I didn’t really like multiplayer games, is this going to be for me?
Emma: I’ll be honest. I thought the story was okay. It’s very good at the kind of immersion side of things, but basically because of where it’s set in the Star Wars universe, I think they were kind of constricted with what they could do in terms of the stakes. And then beyond that, I think a lot of the characters just kind of fade into the background and you’re like, Oh, okay, this just like a generic fighter pilot or whatever. Um, a couple of them are interesting and you’re like, Oh, okay, that’s a cool conversation telling me about the lore. But I think the multiplayer is actually really good and where like the heart the game is. And… it’s a bit messy. Like there’s definitely problems with it. There’s been some bugs on launch, but it’s just got… it’s just really gripping. I don’t know why, I think mastering the controls first is kind of a bit daunting and then you kind of get to grips with it and then you start doing really difficult stuff like space drifting. So, the controls are based around shifting your power in your ship between the engine and weapons and shields. And you can learn how to space drift by putting all the power on like the engines and kind of cutting out the engines as you turn and things like that. And obviously you apply all of that to a battle situation, either in dog fights, which is five vs five – just shoot as many as you can – or in fleet battles, which is a little bit more complicated and strategic. You have to kind of destroy the other team’s ship, their big Star Destroyer or whatever. And to do that, you need bombers, you need support ships, you need good communication with the squad. So yeah, that is where it gets more interesting for me, I think. And you actually need really good squad communication to do that. Otherwise, everyone just goes in as like a Tie Interceptor, wherever, and tries to dogfight in the middle.
Brendan: It’s more war among the stars, basically.
Emma: Pretty much. Yeah, no, it is not subtle at all. It’s all dog-fighting. But that’s, that’s fine. I like that. So yeah.
Brendan: In our world, there are no X-wings. There are no Tie Fighters we have to make do with satellites and space stations and rockets and stuff like that. Uh, but we wanted to know if space war was inevitable. Like: are we going to see earth countries fighting each other in space? To that end, we spoke to Victoria Samson of the Secure World Foundation. She’s basically part of a group who keep an eye on what various militaries of the world are up to when it comes to space. So let’s hear from her about how space war really is a cause for concern…
[Expert interview begins]
Fighter pilot (sound bite): Giving engines full power!
Brendan: So, Victoria, first of all, can you tell our listeners who you are and what you do for a living?
Victoria Samson: My name is Victoria Samson. I’m the Washington office director of the Secure World Foundation. We try and work as an organization to promote policies and best practices that allow space to be accessible to and usable for all over the long term. So, you know, things like: you don’t want, you know, satellites cluttering up orbits, you don’t want trash being created in space. You don’t want people shooting at each other’s satellites. You don’t want interference, you know, broadcasting interference, that sort of thing.
Brendan: So you are a, you’re a professional knower of space.
Victoria Samson: I am a political science scientist by training. I am not a space scientist. Um, but yes, I mean, there are a lot of policy issues involved in space. I think people tend to, you know, think about space solely as rockets and engines. And clearly that’s a crucial part of that. But if you don’t have the policy and legal decisions behind, you know, the technology, you can’t use it. So that’s where I like to think we come in. Yeah.
Narrator (sound bite): The Empire chose to destroy Alderaan in order to spread fear and douse the fires of rebellion.
Brendan: That that’s good. That’s good for what we want to discuss. As you know, we’re going to discuss a video game, Star Wars: Squadrons, which is about space politics of a sort…
Victoria Samson: [Laughter] Sure.
Brendan: How far are we from seeing people shooting at each other in space with laser cannons?
Victoria Samson: Um, a ways away. I mean, here’s the deal… I grew up with Star Wars and so I think, most people, that has shaped how [they] would envision battles being held in space. Um, you can’t actually have fireballs in space. You need to have air for there to be fire. So that’s your first problem. Um, and then I think the next thing is people tend to think, okay, we’re going to see basically the equivalent of fighter jets having battles up in space. And again, that’s nowhere near what we talk about when we talk about interference with space capabilities. Um, it’s nowhere near as sexy. I mean, it’s basically the idea of interference, but that’s like frequency jamming or that sort of thing. That’s really where we’re at. There are no plans to have Starship Troopers in space, as far as I know. Um, again, if you see the US Space Force commercials, you might think otherwise…
Space Force advert astronaut (sound bite): I see my country finding new horizons out there. And I see giant leaps making a comeback.
Victoria Samson: There has been discussion about satellites being able to target each other. And so I think that’s probably the closest thing [to what] you’re talking about, Brendan, in terms of, you know, laser cannons. But again, not as exciting, these are things like satellites looking at each other and trying to figure out, okay, what sort of capabilities does the other satellite have? Who are they broadcasting to? Um, there has been some discussion about possibly interfering on a… from a physical perspective, you know, like arms reaching out and undoing the other satellite, but we have not seen anything like that.
Brendan: What would a warlike incident or an act of war in space even look like?
Victoria Samson: Uh, you raise a very good question, Brendan, because we actually… the international community has not figured out what that would be. There have been no red lines, you know, drawn in terms of like, what will war be in space? And for a very long time, actually it was kind of thought that, you know, “satellites don’t have mothers.” That was the thinking. Right. Um, and so it would be less escalatory. It’d be less, um, likely to lead to conflict if you targeted satellites. But the problem is that satellites serve a very distinct purpose, not just for national security, but for economic stability, um, how our society functions. And so there is a concern that any interference with the satellites working could lead to some sort of conflict. There’s a whole school of thought called international humanitarian law, basically the law of armed conflict. How does that apply to space? And there are all sorts of discussions going on and we just have not sorted that out.
Pilot (sound bite): Let him have it.
Brendan: What would the nightmare scenario be? However unlikely.
Victoria Samson: For me, I think a nightmare scenario would be where there’s unintentional interference, but it’s misinterpreted and it leads to armed conflict, whether it’s on the ground or an orbit. You know, something like maybe there’s a solar flare, for example, that accidentally fries, a satellite instrument. And it happens at a time where there’s increased hostilities between two countries on the ground. Let’s pull two countries at random, let’s say the US and China, for example. And so we misinterpret that satellite not working as being a deliberate attack by the Chinese. And then we respond either in kind or even, you know, escalate things a little bit. I think that definitely there is that possibility
Brendan: Space is a shared resource, right? Like, no country owns space. Right? Right!?
Victoria Samson: Right! There are very few treaties involved in this issue, but there’s the outer space treaty in 1967, which basically says like, no one can appropriate space, space belongs to everyone. And so the question is, well, what does that mean? Does that mean that everyone gets a, you know, a free ride up to space? Does everyone get to own the space orbit over them? Um, some countries on the equator try to argue that they own the satellite slots above them, just by sheer dint of it’s above them, whether it’s, you know, 30,000 kilometers or not. So there’s a lot of nuance involved in that.
Brendan: I assume then that there are lots of space laws that will stop countries from acting in kind of aggressive ways.
Victoria Samson: You would think that. But no, unfortunately there are basically… there’s four treaties that deal with space issues, specifically. The Outer Space Treaty, which is nine articles long, basically it’s nine paragraphs. Like, it’s not super long in terms of treaties. Um, and then you have, you know, treaties about registering satellites, about liability, um, astronaut return, that sort of thing. The Outer Space Treaty does have, uh, one clause that deals with security issues. And it says you cannot put weapons of mass destruction in orbit, or on the moon. I mean, essentially, you know, a weapon of mass destruction is a nuclear weapon. It doesn’t really say anything about military use of space. And that was done specifically because, you know… the whole space age was kicked off because of superpower competition. Like, it always had a military element to it.
Pilot 1 (sound bite): Making my attack run now!
Pilot 2: Let’s make this count.
Brendan: What I’ve taken from that is: Yes, nations are quietly militarizing space in a… in a subdued way. But: no nukes on the moon.
Victoria Samson: Yeah. Let me just correct you on that. Space has been militarized from the very beginning. The question is: has it been weaponized?
Brendan: Ah, okay.
Victoria Samson: So whether you’re launching a missile at a satellite, whether you’re trying to broadcast radio frequency interference, that whole field is called “counterspace capabilities”, you know, the US, Russia, China, we’ve all developed those counterspace capabilities. We’ve all tested them. This is not new, but there’s a couple of things that are new. France has talked about putting lasers on satellites, which is a whole, yeah, that’s a whole conversation in and of itself.
Brendan: Those are presumably not the kind of pew pew lasers that the Star Wars: Squadrons will have. Right?
Victoria Samson: Yeah. Um, and unfortunately nothing near that exciting… The French, uh, the minister of defense talked about it. She did talk about having, you know, lasers on microsatellites, which… I’m not a scientist, but even from my very basic knowledge of the science, it’s almost a technical… it’s technically infeasible. Um, what I think they’re really talking about is the idea of having small satellites that can look at potentially threatening satellites, you know, could do a close approach, that sort of thing. And then just ground-based lasers that could either jam, blind, or temporarily dazzle other country’s satellites or other space satellites.
Brendan: In the video game, uh, you have a fighter ship that has the ability to jam the electronics of other enemy ships. And that’s something you’ve mentioned. Jamming or spoofing GPS information in reality. Is that something that you have to worry about?
Victoria Samson: Oh, that happens, jamming absolutely happens. Now everyone has that capability. Everyone does it. Um, we see that happening in conflicts. Now it is actively being used because it’s perceived as not being that threatening in terms of escalating things further. And frankly it’s extremely useful… as a tool in combat. So, jamming is there…. jamming communications, jamming, uh, position navigation and timing, like the GPS jamming you mentioned – that happens. Um, those are all things that are extremely useful and that we do. And so from a policy perspective, it’s concerning just because, as I said before, you don’t really have any red lines. At which point is it perceived as being so threatening that you need to respond with some sort of, you know, kinetic strike?
Pilot (sound bite): Jamming the enemy – sensors can’t spot you.
Brendan: And when you say kinetic strike, what do you mean by that?
Victoria Samson: Kinetic strike… basically, um, yeah. Having a missile launch or dropping a bomb or basically anything that’s a physical entity you’re using to use as a weapon.
Brendan: Has there ever been any incident that has involved, like, a physical weapon, for instance, like a missile being fired at a satellite or anything like that? Has that ever happened?
Victoria Samson: There have been missiles fired at satellites, but they’ve always been… from the satellite owners as part of a test. Basically the US has done that sort of test where you launch a missile from the ground at a satellite, um, the Chinese have done it, the Indians did it last year. The Russians have tested something like that in a similar capacity. Uh, so basically those four countries have done that type of actual test. No one has actually used an anti-satellite weapon in any kind of hostile conflict or against another person’s satellite. Yet.
Brendan: Presumably that causes a lot of debris in orbit and junk to fly around. Isn’t that dangerous?
Victoria Samson: Yes, absolutely. And in fact, um, you know, as you go further out in orbit stuff stays up there longer. Um, if you have a test that’s pretty close to where space starts, ie. a hundred kilometers. I mean that stuff’s going to re-enter pretty quickly, and even up to maybe 500 kilometers, it’s down pretty soon. But once you get to a certain point, it’s going to be up there for years, decades, possibly centuries. At those orbits, they’re going at pretty fast speeds. And so even a small piece of debris can be very damaging, if not mission-ending, for a satellite. India had their anti-satellite test last year in 2019. And at the time they said: “Hey, look, we did this in a fairly responsible manner, as far as you can do these things. We did it at a low altitude. We did it at an angle where the debris is going to come back down pretty quickly. You don’t have to worry about that. It’ll be all be back down within 45 days.” And that actually was not the case. I mean, it created maybe a hundred-plus pieces of debris, and we’re still tracking about a dozen roughly. We’re still tracking pieces of debris from that today. So, and that was, you know, a year and a half ago. And so that’s why there’s a real concern about these tests. It’s not just: “Okay, they could interfere… in terms of a conflict with my ability to use space.” They can interfere with anyone’s ability to use space. I always talk about the country of Ecuador. They launched their first satellite a few years ago. And within… almost immediately, it was taken out by a piece of debris.
Brendan: Yeah. And if you’re a small country like Ecuador, having big countries batter each other, and cause a lot of space litter, is not really going to be very helpful for you.
Victoria Samson: Absolutely. Yeah. These, these countries are, you know, basically innocent bystanders.
Pilot (sound bite): We’ve lost our capital ships!
Brendan: A lot of people listening up until now, might’ve been thinking, uh, you know: “Star Wars! Space war! That’s cool, very cool science, very sci-fi!” But it’s still war and war… isn’t good. It results in a lot of suffering. So what is the best way from your perspective to stop space war from breaking out?
Victoria Samson: That’s the very good question. Um, we haven’t solved it yet. There will be no silver bullet in terms of how do you prevent war from happening, you know, in space or happening on the ground and extending to space, but there’s different ways in which you can try and mitigate that. You can try and have agreed-upon and responsible behavior, right? Because right now, if a country does something that is weird in orbit, unless they put a weapon of mass destruction in orbit, or, you know, that sort of thing, you really can’t criticize them because what rule are they breaking? There’s no actual rules up in orbit, so the idea is you try and say: okay, we’ll have these international discussions and we’ll try and say, okay, this is what a responsible space actor does. And then you can have ways of verifying behavior in orbit. You have, you know, radio telescopes that are monitoring what’s happening in orbit. And that way you can see: okay, I saw this country doing something strange and here’s the proof of them doing it. So that’s another option as well.
Commander (sound bite): Titan 3, take out those fighters.
Pilot: Understood, I’ll handle it.
Brendan: In Star Wars, the conflict is very much black and white. There is a bad empire and there’s a good rebellion, but conflicts and relationships between nation states on earth is far more complex. Who then do you think is likely to be the most combative space actor as you would put it? Like who seems to be puffing their chest out a lot?
Victoria Samson: I would say US, Russia, and China are the major ones that are a) developing these capabilities, and b) finally talking about them more. And then, you have the US saying that it’s developing a Space Force and… standing back up it’s space command, and then you have Russia and China doing their own thing. Um, and I always say that, you know, even though space is a vacuum, politics do not occur in one. And so you really have to look at, okay, what’s happening on the ground? How are these countries interacting? And that’s going to shape, and that’s gonna, I think, affect how you view what they’re doing in orbit. You know, for example, with China, anytime China does anything, the US media goes nuts. You know, when the US does something, the Russian and Chinese media come, you know, and talk about it… The thing that’s been really interesting for me is seeing how much the discussion of Chinese lunar plans have been used as evidence that they want to have, you know, the moon as the ultimate high ground, whereas whatever the United States does is well, “Hey, that’s just, you know, natural. And we’re on a scientific mission”. You know, NASA this, human exploration that. But when the Chinese do it, it’s seen as extremely pointed at the United States and military in nature.
Brendan: Um, you mentioned there briefly the, this new US branch, the Space Force. Are they a precursor to the space fighter pilots of Star Wars? I mean, what do they do? I don’t even know.
Victoria Samson: See, and that’s on them. That’s not on you.
Brendan: [Laughter] Thank you.
Victoria Samson: It’s really not very exciting. So they’re trying to basically organize everything from bureaucratic level. That’s, that’s my perspective. Um, because it used to be like 60 organizations in the US military that had some sort of say in space capabilities and… investment in space usage. And so the idea is that they wanted to get it all in one institution, um, monitored by the space command. But of course, that’s not how it’s perceived, right. As you said, it’s perceived as, you know, we’re basically developing our own Starship Troopers. But that’s definitely not what’s happening
Narrator 1 (sound bite): Five pilots.
Narrator 2: One squadron.
Narrator 1: The galaxy’s finest.
Brendan: I guess, uh, finally, just to, to round things off… Ultimately, why is it important to stop space war from happening?
Victoria Samson: I think it’s really important to make sure that space doesn’t become a place where things are weaponized and where war happens, just because we get so much benefit from space. We use it to communicate. We use it for banking. We use it to keep an eye on disasters. We use it to share information all the way around [the world]. For how our culture functions, how our economies function, and you know, how our national security functions. And so it is part of how we, as a society, work. Um, and so it’s going to be complicated, but I don’t think it’s definite that it has to become a place where war happens. We have a chance to get out ahead of this. And I think if we approach it in a shared cooperative fashion – which, it is possible for that to happen – we can avoid war in space.
Brendan: Victoria Samson, thank you very much for joining us.
Victoria Samson: A pleasure, Brendan.
Brendan: That was political scientist, Victoria Samson. If you want to hear the full interview with her, where she talks a lot more about space war than we squeezed in here, you can hear that by subscribing to our Patreon. It’s $2 a month and it lets you hear all the interviews that we do with our experts. They’re completely unabridged, so much longer than that 15 minutes we inserted there. Go to patreon.com/heylesson, or check the link in the show notes, and you too can become one of our Fact Rats, which is a term of endearment. I promise. All right, Emma, having listened to Victoria tell us all about the dangers of conflict in orbit. Are you still thrilled by the idea of war in space?
Emma: It’s a lot less exciting than Star Wars would have you believe. It’s a lot more about, yeah, just unmanned satellites and the threats that they can pose and that’s definitely not like, Oh yeah, pew pew with a big gun. Which is probably a good thing to be honest, I’m not sure how I would feel about everyone getting into big spaceships and heading off to their deaths in space. So at least we can kind of just argue about satellites instead.
Brendan: Do you think it’s something that a lot of people think about even? Like, that this is a new theater of war or is it just considered so far fetched that most people on earth probably don’t care?
Emma: Well, yeah. This is the interesting thing actually. And I mentioned to you Brendan, but, um, I studied a little bit of international security at university and remember some of the more modern theories in this go into stuff like pandemics and space security. And it was always kind of framed as the things that would never happen. And yet here we are in 2020, uh, and governments don’t really want to think about stuff that isn’t immediate, and also people, um, as well are the same. I think it’s just a human condition to not really think about threats until they are almost imminent. And I think this is why it’s going to be a problem to actually get governments to act on this. Because when there’s like a big, you know, like a pandemic preoccupying the world and we’re going, Oh, hang on, look at satellites. It’s going to be difficult to get the attention of people who are already kind of stretched looking at a lot of other resource things. But really they should be.
Brendan: If there wasn’t a big pandemic on, certain governments would probably be very interested in getting a step ahead of another government. So do you feel like space war is going to happen eventually?
Emma: Yeah, I think it’s probably going to be like a mini version of the cold war, in that people will kind of have a panic because they’ll see other people starting to arm their satellites as a preventative measure. And then: “Oh, hang on. If they’ve got something on their satellite to take out other satellites, maybe I need to put something on my satellite before they take out my satellite.” And then before you know, it you end up with a lot of people who have the capabilities to take out other satellites… and it’s just like an increase in tension that you don’t really want. And then at that point, I think we might be more likely to actually see people take it seriously. Yeah. It’s basically like a security dilemma in space.
Brendan: It’s like, um, what was it… The space race, but space race 2.
Emma: Yeah, exactly. I think it won’t be as worrying as when people were talking about nukes being on satellites and stuff, which is when the original treaty to deal with space kind of came about … in the sixties, uh, in the height of cold war, when people were seriously worried that there are going to be nukes flying over their heads. And they were like, okay, hang on. That’s a little bit too much. We don’t really want that. Um, maybe we should not do that. So yeah, we won’t have that, but it could definitely be a problem. And I think something that actually scares me more, that maybe Star Wars doesn’t really cover because it’s about two sides clashing and like a big war, is the impact of private parties and like, you know, capitalism and what happens when people start putting their own satellites in space and there’s not the regulation there to make sure that they’re doing it appropriately. We know that like Space X and Amazon are already doing these big… almost constellations of satellites, which create global internet. And that’s great for people down on the ground, but what happens if we start having problems with debris and they’re taken out or, um, they increase the chances of debris in orbit and things like that. So that’s something that Star Wars doesn’t really cover again, is third party interests… like private sector. Apart from in The Last Jedi, maybe.
Brendan: I guess the closest we came to that is like the Trade Federation. Is that… are they, are they a capitalist entity?
Emma: Yeah. That famously thrilling film about trade politics. I liked it but I’m a nerd, so that’s fine.
Brendan: It’s interesting that you bring up the private companies and their place in it because Victoria did speak to me about it. I think I edited it out of that small segment, um, just for time, but she was, she was talking about that. So it’s good to hear. It’s good to hear that at least you’re clued up on it. I didn’t know anything about this.
Emma: Yeah, yeah, no, I’m always most worried about the private sector. Just never know what they’re going to do next. Yeah. And I guess another thing that Star Wars doesn’t really discuss is kind of the impact of hacking and cyber crime. What happens if satellites start getting hacked and held to ransom or used to crash into each other and things like that? Because apparently there was a rumor that that did happen in 1999. So, the British government… their satellite was hacked and like the Ministry of Defense denied it. But, um, yeah, a newspaper came out with a report saying that someone has hacked it and held it to ransom. And it’s, that is quite far off, I think, but it is something that could happen. And that’s probably, again, more likely than any gun wars that we would see.
Brendan: Are you disappointed then that real space militarisation lacks the glamour of X-wings and so forth?
Emma: Kind of, yeah, I think… well, no, not really. Because, actually, war is bad. So I prefer it to be in the films [Laughter]. There’s something more comforting about seeing a physical threat than being like, Ooh, there’s this unknown space phenomenon that could happen. You know, like the Kessler effect, which is the theory that all the debris could kind of keep crashing into each other and it spirals out of control like in Gravity.
Brendan: Oh my God, what?
Emma: Yeah, no, that’s an actual theory that obviously they can’t prove it yet, but they’re worried that it will just, if there’s enough debris in orbit, stuff will start crashing into each other and it will keep doing that. And then some bits of orbit will be off limits to satellites.
Brendan: What did you call it?
Emma: The Kessler effect, I think it was.
Brendan: That’s worrying.
Emma: Yeah, Kessler syndrome or Kessler effect. Yeah. Just checking I’ve got it right. But yeah, a theoretical scenario – we don’t know whether or not it could happen yet.
Brendan: To go to the video game for just for a second. Uh, what was the most memorable moment that you had flying through the game?
Emma: Well, probably, actually just flying through a debris field.
Brendan: Just the Kessler ef– The thing that you just described!
Emma: Well, actually the debris doesn’t really move, um, it’s quite static in the game. You kind of fly into the debris. There’s not really anything moving in the environment, which is good. Because I think I wouldn’t be able to deal with that if they were, like, asteroids actually moving out of place. But yeah, no, I was chasing a capital ship through a debris field and it was just this kind of very organic – or maybe just cleverly done – moment where I realized that I was chasing the ship through like a giant old bit of debris and actually hunting them down and shooting it inside. And I was like, Oh wow, this is cool. Basically. I think the whole experience of playing that in VR as well has been particularly mind blowing. I really do feel like I went to space for a few days and it’s kind of hard to describe. I think you get a sense of the enormity of the ships and just, like, the scale of these things. And also the debris fields. It was also really beautiful. I just parked my ship in like the practice mode and just had a look around and I was like, this is really nice. Just listening to the beeping of the ship. There’s no battles going on, just chilling out here. So maybe the best bit of the game is the bit where there’s no war.
Brendan: Oh, that’s actually a nice sentiment. Isn’t it?
Emma: Yeah. Maybe space is better if we don’t fight each other.
Brendan: Is there a noticeable difference between the spaceships and the game? Did you end up favoring one over any of the others?
Emma: Oh, for sure. So I’m a big fan of the Tie Interceptor, which is like the really fast, but kind of fragile, ship on the empire side. Yeah. You have to be careful with it. You can’t go plowing in, in front of these big capital ships cause it’ll just get blasted away, but it’s really good fun for chasing people. And the thing that stands out to me about it the most as a player is the kind of psychological mind games you play with people. And particularly when it’s just you and one other person, and you’re both trying to chase each other and find out a way to kind of get around the other person and shoot them. And you get quite a lot of that with the Interceptor. But I do also quite like playing as a support ships. They have some interesting mechanics on them. So you can heal other people or you can, like, target enemies so that they’re weaker and your teammates will find it easier, or use iron cannons to disable them. And that’s quite good fun. Although you are an easy target and you have to rely on your squadmates a bit to help you out. And that’s not always the easiest if you’re playing with complete strangers, but yeah, if you’ve got friends supporting you, it’s pretty good fun.
Brendan: Do you think we’ll ever get like space fighter jets like this? Or is that a stupid thing to think? I’m just hopeful. I’m just asking you [in hope].
Emma: I don’t think so. I feel like we’ll get some very kind of advanced planes and things like that. And then also I guess drones, that’s probably the closest thing you’re going to get to anything like this. I did do a bit of research before coming on to see if anyone had actually developed a proper space weapon, like the ones we’ve seen. And I, I do know that apparently the Soviet union created a cannon to put on their space station in the cold war–
Emma: … and they did fire it. Yeah.
Emma: Yeah. It can’t have been very good because the results of this test, they’re classified and the gun was kind of never seen again. And obviously it was, like, not good. But yeah, there was an article… I think the gun appeared on Soviet TV a few years ago. And then someone wrote an article about it, where they made a 3D model of what it would look like, by Popular Mechanics. And they found out that, um, yeah, so it was fired in 1975 and they had to get everyone off the space station. Because they were so worried that it would rattle the station. With all the, like, the astronauts inside, that’s not a good idea to test this cannon. And apparently they had to move the entire 20-ton space station around to aim it. So you couldn’t just move the cannon. You had to angle the entire space station in the direction they wanted to fire. Yeah. Well, I think they were worried about, um, American satellites or space stations potentially coming to do an inspection. So apparently it was like a self-defense thing because they were genuinely worried about protecting their space property. So apparently that’s what it was for, and it did not stick around. It can’t have been that good.
Brendan: Do they know what they’re shot at, in the test run or…?
Emma: I think they literally just shot three rounds, um, that kind of burned up and yeah…
Brendan: They just shot it at the ground?
Emma: I’m not sure which direction they fired it in. Because it was in orbit. So it… I’m sure they probably just spun it towards space and fired it or something. I’m not, I’m not sure.
Brendan: That would be irresponsible. Surely, just fire it at the ground.
Emma: Well, we know that people are a bit irresponsible with their space tests. That seems so.
Brendan: That’s true. That’s very true. Did you see the Space Force adverts that Victoria was talking about?
Emma: I actually didn’t see. But I can see why people get the wrong idea of a Space Force. Like the name does not make it sound like the actual very boring, bureaucratic thing it is.
Brendan: There’s something strangely sci fi movie about them. Like, it feels like they’re basically a “relocate to Mars” advert in Blade Runner or something. You should check them out. I’m going to put a link to them. Um, Victoria also talked about the laws governing space or international agreements, like treaties and stuff. You can’t put a weapon of mass destruction in orbit, for example, you can’t put a nuclear weapon in orbit or on the moon, things like that. Do you reckon the Star Wars universe would benefit from a similar set of treaties?
Emma: I mean they did try. The Senate did not work, as we found out in the films. Um, it became hijacked by fascists and then became the empire. So I don’t know what that says about…
Brendan: That wouldn’t happen. That wouldn’t happen. Fascists? Come on.
Emma: [Laughter] Oh no, we’ve never seen that happen before. Oh gosh. Yeah. I think it definitely makes sense to get these agreements in place before the problems crop up. It seems like an easy win, but I’m not sure whether the big powers are all going to be in agreement to kind of sign away their rights to experiment in space. And even if they do sign up to it, you sometimes wonder if people were going to stick to it and who’s going to enforce the rules. There’s lots of problems with it, but it’s definitely something you should try to do. Lord knows what else is going to work. Unless we have space police. Hmm.
Brendan: I don’t know. That… that’s a whole other problem, probably.
Emma: Yeah. Well, maybe the empire is the space police. Hmmm!
Brendan: Hmmm! If you could sit down with the New Republic of Star Wars and their enemies, the remnants of the Imperial Navy and hash out an agreement that would make a space diplomat, like Victoria Samson, proud – what would you include in that agreement? I’m asking you as a… knower of these things.
Emma: Gosh, well, I guess you’d probably try to agree for both sides to kind of disarm themselves slowly over time and like agree to be like, okay, we’re going to limit ourselves to this many Starfighters. And the New Republic would probably have to agree to stop creating massive ships out of Star Destroyers. Although, I feel like it would be hard to convince them of that because the empire has already built two Death Stars by then and they’re kind of a bit like: “Hang on, we need something to defend ourselves with here. Otherwise they’re just going to do a third one”. Which – funny enough – they do! Who knew!
Emma: Oh gosh, it just goes on and on, doesn’t it? But um, yeah, it would be a difficult one for sure. But yeah, definitely a slow deescalation, I think. I don’t think you could solve it with one treaty.
Brendan: So limits on limits on space weapons, space fighters, large cannons in space. Anything else?
Emma: Gosh, I’m trying to think if there’s anything particularly nasty…
Brendan: No blowing up planets.
Emma: Yes. I think that’s definitely… no civilian casualties. Because the empire once again is fine with doing that apparently in this game. Uh, yeah. They’re just like: “Oh, we’ll just blow ‘em up, it’s fine.”
Brendan: No draining suns of their energy.
Emma: No, you can’t have destruction of people’s solar property, I guess [laughter]. Hmm. I guess it’s difficult as well because, uh, the New Republic, I guess by that point has got to be a bit more responsible. It’s not the Rebellion anymore. It’s got to actually be accountable for what it’s doing. With the rebellion it was a bit like, they’re just hiding amongst people. They’re not really kind of a proper, proper organization, like a formal one. Yeah. I guess “no big tractor beam ships” is what they’d have to agree to.
Brendan: All right. Finally, after having played a good chunk of the new Star Wars game, Star Wars: Squadrons, would you recommend it to people? As a method of slaking their blood thirst for space war, perhaps?
Emma: Oh my goodness. I did develop a lot of blood thirst playing this game. Really worrying. I’m kind of like a Greyhound or something. Once I lock onto an enemy, it’s like, I am going to get you. I’m gonna go chase you for five minutes until I get you.
Brendan: Oh my word.
Emma: It’s not always the best for, like, the team. Uh, but it’s really good fun. Yeah. So yeah, if you’re a bloodthirsty person, I guess that’s a good place to get that out, in space, where you can’t hurt anyone. Apparently.
Brendan: That is all we have time for, I’m afraid. You’ve been listening to Hey Lesson with me, Brendan Caldwell and our guest this time, Emma Kent, a massive thanks to you for coming on Emma.
Emma: No worries. It’s great. Fun.
Brendan: Where can people find you on the internet?
Emma: Well, obviously I’m writing for Eurogamer. So you can check Eurogamer out. And my Twitter handle is @GoneEFK.
Brendan: If you have enjoyed this episode, listener, please consider supporting us. You can throw a couple of dollars our way on Patreon. You get extra goodies, including access to full interviews with the experts that we interview, like I’ve mentioned, but also you get bonus episodes and video updates from us. Head to patreon.com/heylesson. And you will also get to just enjoy supporting a show that doesn’t have any ads or sponsors. We only need our listener’s support. We don’t need that ad money. If you have any suggestions or feedback, you can email us. Please give us some stars on iTunes. It really helps us to get spotted by more people. If you like the show, tell people you liked the show, please. We’re very young. But for now it’s goodbye from me. And it’s goodbye from Emma as well. Thank you very much.
Pilot (sound bite): No time to celebrate! Move on!
[spaceship zooms away]