Guns in Space


February 18, 2003, 01:18 AM
Couple of interesting questions.

For one, will conventional firearms (including gas-operated designs) work in a vacuum?

Two, will recoil-operated weapons work in microgravity? Think about it. If you're just floating there, and you fire a pistol, the recoil energy against your hand is going to cause you to move backward; actually, rotate, since it's asymmetrical and off-center. You'd essentially be unable to avoid limp-wristing your pistol. Recoil operated handguns, as far as I can figure, won't work properly in zero gravity.

Revolvers will work fine, though, ironically enough.

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February 18, 2003, 01:25 AM
For one, will conventional firearms (including gas-operated designs) work in a vacuum?

I think without oxegon, combustion can't occur? So, since space is pretty much a vacuum I don't think a firearm would work too well. Correct me if I wrong.

February 18, 2003, 01:25 AM
Some manufacturers can't make their products work on earth:what:

February 18, 2003, 01:29 AM
Laser guns, beam weapons, and plasma rifles are for space. :D

February 18, 2003, 01:32 AM
Electromagnetic "rail" guns might work in space too?

Flying V
February 18, 2003, 01:33 AM
Both black powder and smokeless powder are self-oxidizing. They will work quite well in vacuum. Centerfire metallic cartridges are pretty much airtight, so it isn't as if they're dependant on atmospheric oxygen on earth.

February 18, 2003, 01:34 AM
Since a cartridge is sealed anyway, I think it contains enough oxygen for combustion.
I'm not sure about the limp wristing thing. Seems like your mass is still much greater than that of the pistol, so it should work if you hold it firmly.
Of course if it does work, then you will be propelled back with no gravity or wind drag to stop you.:scrutiny:

February 18, 2003, 01:38 AM
Gunpowder contains its own Oxygen. Nitrate (NO3) is the Nitro in nitrocellulose.

Also, mass and weight aren't the same thing. No gravity doesn't mean the ideas of inertia are negated. You will feel the effect of recoil, but you won't limp wrist...unless you already have that problem. Recoil will move you, backwards and rotationally, but WAY to long after the slide cycles to make a difference.

Recoil springs don't care too much about gravity.

February 18, 2003, 01:52 AM

That's ok, if you start moving back, just fire another round in the opposite direction!!

F=mA! :-) Check them vector math!

yes, as everybody else has said, most bullets are self contained, and doesn't depend on external oxygen supply for it's combustion..

Navy joe
February 18, 2003, 02:02 AM
So if you fire John Woo style in opposite directions off-center to your body's vertical axis will you spin around fast enough to create your own gravitational field? Obvious problem I see is I can't pick up my brass, no telling where it went.

Does Marvin shoot back? If so, we're screwed. "This is the illudium Q-36 explosive space modulator, the most powerful handgun in the universe. So, you may be asking yourself did he vaporize 5 galaxies or was it six. To tell you the truth earthling I don't know. So do you feel lucky punk, well do ya?"

I may be a gun nut, but if I got a chance to go into space I would not worry about taking a gun. I'd be much more interested in the whole sex in space research project. The elusive 220 mile high club ;)

Finally, will astronomers be able to see it when the Glock blows up?


February 18, 2003, 02:18 AM
with those big honkin' gloves on you would not be able to touch the trigger anyway:neener:

February 18, 2003, 02:24 AM
I seem to recall reading somewhere that in the early moon landing missions that they took a rifle with them.
Can anyone confirm this?

I'd be really interested to see what shooting a rifle match on the surface of Mars would be like. (600 yards?! Bah, that's for beginners!)

February 18, 2003, 05:15 AM
I belive gun powder makes Its own oxygen.

February 18, 2003, 06:36 AM
A shooting range would not be effected by any space noise ordinances.

In space, no one can hear you shoot.

They will, however, be able to hear you go on about how the 1911 is the best thing since sliced bread, or about how the Glock is a cheap piece of plastic which will blow up in your hand.

The dead horses we beat on the Internet will certainly be dragged into the new frontier.


Apple a Day
February 18, 2003, 06:53 AM

February 18, 2003, 07:55 AM
I seem to remember Orson Scott Card dealing with the rotation from recoil question in Ender's Game. In military school, Ender figured out it was best to have his troops attack like they were body surfing (prone firing position) -- the force would travel along the lengths of their bodies rather than through it perpendicularly, minimizing or eliminating any rotation. At worst, it would drive them backwards, but they'd still be facing the correct way to bring fire.

This position also made them smaller targets.

But it's been about a decade since I read the Ender series, so I might not remember all that right. And I don't think it was powder weapons, but the recoil problem would be the same.

February 18, 2003, 08:14 AM
With no air friction and no gravity the range of bullets fired in space would be far greater than on earth and much more of a perfect line. No rainbows.

Someone here posted recently on automatic airguns so I went to the site.
Cool stuff.
Might be exactly what you would want to use to shoot down the BGs satellites with your satellite.
Compressed air powered they were.

David Roberson
February 18, 2003, 09:22 AM
Justin, I've heard a similar story. My father was an Air Force pilot in the 1960s and an acquaintance of some of the guys who went through astronaut training. He said he was told that a .45 went up with Aldrin and Armstrong and was actually fired on the moon in part of the same series of experiments as hitting the golf ball. Supposedly this was kept secret because of fears that it would be exploited by those worried about the militarization of space. It would be great to confirm whether this really happened.

February 18, 2003, 09:32 AM
Hmmmm....maybe....most of the energy is imparted by the action of the bow straightening out....but I'm sure there must be some thrust opposite the direction of the arrows flight....

February 18, 2003, 09:41 AM
For one, will conventional firearms (including gas-operated designs) work in a vacuum?

Revolvers should be OK...:D

February 18, 2003, 11:59 AM
Important Safety Tip:

When orbiting the earth, you are already going around five to twenty times faster than the muzzle velocity of any firearm. No matter which direction you fire, you might shoot yourself. It might take an hour or so and isn't that likely, but the bullet is now in orbit at roughly your altitude. Gives a new meaning to the term down range.:eek:

February 18, 2003, 12:05 PM
If you safety tip is true, why is that a fly taking off near the back windshield of your car to fly to the front seat doesn't get smashed on the rear windshield on take-off?

Me thinks you are pulling our collective leg.


February 18, 2003, 12:22 PM
If the rounds are sealed at atmospheric preasure, wouldn't they rupture in the vacuum of space?

February 18, 2003, 12:43 PM
I'm not exactly up to speed (ha!) on orbital mechanics, but I think that shooting yourself is unlikely. Your orbit is directly dependent upon YOUR mass and YOUR velocity. The bullet, while launched from you, has a velocity of your velocity + muzzle velocity, and is of wildly diferent mass. I think your orbits would part ways quite rapidly.

If the rounds are sealed at atmospheric preasure, wouldn't they rupture in the vacuum of space?Hmmm! Thats an intersting point. The atmosphere in the cartridge is not necessary for combustion (as has already been mentioned, the oxygen is provided in the powder itself), so presumably they could be loaded and sealed in a vaccuum. The seal at the crimp would be the most likely spot for a pressure-related failure....I think it would either vent the contained atmosphere safely or just push the bullet out. Or, possibly just forward, causing a malfunction. I dunno.

February 18, 2003, 12:47 PM
Alright, I can use my space-age techno-polymer guns now!!! :D

February 18, 2003, 01:04 PM
the extreme temperature swings found in the vacuum of space. ;)

For a little more entertainment, this same thread happened over on TFL:

and here:

Flying V
February 18, 2003, 01:04 PM
If the rounds are sealed at atmospheric preasure, wouldn't they rupture in the vacuum of space?

Atmospheric pressure is 14.7 psi at sea level. If that was enough to rupture a cartridge, every gun would explode the first time it was fired.

February 18, 2003, 01:12 PM
Brass casings don't rupture even when fired (think tens of thousands of PSI) in a partially unsupported pistol chamber. Why would 14.7PSI rupture them?
Regarding the worries about junk in orbit-fire them down towards the earth-they'll burn up. Firing them away from the earth's gravity would put them in a higher orbit, but with a lightweight object, the orbit would decay pretty quickly. Shooting towards earth is the best option. I think shooting clays in orbit would be a riot. PULL!

February 18, 2003, 01:16 PM
Along these lines, would a frag grenade work in space? I know that no atmosphere=no shockwave, but would the explosive charge be able to break the hull of the grenade and launch the shrapnel in a vacuum?

Sleeping Dog
February 18, 2003, 01:28 PM
A fragmentation grenade would work just fine in space. The bits would just fly farther.

So would the .45 bullets. To keep them from coming undone due to the vacuum, just handload them on earth in a low-pressure area, and keep them vacuum packed. You and I don't have work areas like this, but I'm sure NASA or the Air Force have a few.

The militarization of space? With 1911's? :)


February 18, 2003, 01:41 PM
i recall reading something about .22 ammunition that has no powder, but is fired from the force of the primer alone. how would that work in the vaccum?

February 18, 2003, 01:59 PM
NASA should have this as a project.
They need some positive assignments right now.

This would also open up a whole new field of threads to discuss:
-What gun would you bring if you were an austronaut.
-Low or high velocity rounds when there is no bullet drop.

Mal H
February 18, 2003, 02:41 PM
I doubt that the residual atmospheric pressure in a cartridge would cause any obvious effect on the bullet. Even if the pressure didn't slowly bleed off, it would only be pushing on the bullet with a force of around 2 1/3 lbs (for a .45 cal). As Flying V points out, the case is capable of withstanding a lot more than 1 atmosphere of pressure, even when not enclosed in a chamber.

spacemanspiff - Shouldn't you already know things like this? ;)
The powderless .22's should actually work better in space. You'll get the same amount of internal pressure in the cartridge, but they won't have to push any air out of the way to exit the barrel (same for all bullets in space) so you'll get a slightly higher velocity out of them. With the added benefit of straight line trajectory, it should be a pretty effective long range space rat gun. :)

Freedom in theSkies
February 18, 2003, 03:07 PM
I think that in an effort to deal with the recoil issue and cyclical problems, you could use a recoilless type perforated case with a minimum of 3 gas bleed ports (left right & top) and electrical solenoid operated action.:D

Current bullet design could combine micro wire wiskers on the bullet nose that would extend to in effect create a "larger diameter bullet" as the centrifugal forces inparted upon it by the rifled barrel would cause the whiskers to extend.

Huh-woh mr wabbit.... BLAMO!!!!!!!! HeHeHeHeHe!!!!!

February 18, 2003, 03:30 PM
Nope, not kidding. Believe it or not, the bullet has a remote chance of hitting you. You and the bullet (and your shuttle) are already orbiting at about 30,000 FPS. The thousand or so FPS you are adding (or subtracting) from the velocity of the bullet is not enough to change its orbit to a substantially different altitude. The new orbit of the bullet will vary depending on the direction you fire it. It will likely be an elliptical orbit varying about your own altitude. Again the chance of hitting yourself is virtually nil, probably about the same as getting hit by any other piece of space junk left by someone else.

Don’t forget that the muzzle velocity part is not the biggest danger, the biggest danger is YOU impacting something when you are going that fast. They have even had to replace windshield panels in the shuttle because of damage from paint chips floating around in space.

Poodleshooter, I just read your response. Even firing straight at the earth is not enough. All orbits decay eventually, but the bullet would orbit in a wobbly ellipse for quite a while.

February 18, 2003, 03:42 PM
okay, this is way outside my area of expertise, but if one wanted to avoid shooting yourself down (which hasn't happened socially since I got married!:D ) in outer space would than not mean you would have to fire only at targets that were *not* on the same orbital path you are? f'rinstance if I fire at a right angle to my orbital path?

Mal H
February 18, 2003, 06:47 PM
griz - For the sake of argument, let's say the orbits of the bullet and you are indeed roughly the same altitude. I believe your time estimate of when the bullet would reach you is off. I think it would be closer to 12 to 13 hours for a high powered rifle firing a 3K fps bullet at an orbit of 150 miles. You separation distance is only 3K fps. Your velocity before firing doesn't enter into the equation so the bullet has to chase you around the globe for roughly 12 orbits before it hits you in the back. I don't believe it will make any difference if you fire ahead or behind, but I'll have to noodle on that a little longer.

Now, in reality, I think the orbit of the bullet will be slightly above or below you (shooting ahead or behind) due to the orbital velocity difference.

February 18, 2003, 07:13 PM
I don't believe it will make any difference if you fire ahead or behind
Wouldn't it be you hitting the bullet, and not the other way around if you fired it "backwards", against the direction you are traveling? :confused: :p

Mal H
February 18, 2003, 07:31 PM
I was wondering if anyone would bring that up. ;)

It's all relative. The two objects (you and the bullet) are closing on each other at 3,000 fps. I's sort of a matter of semantics, one usually thinks of a bullet hitting a target and not the other way around.

February 18, 2003, 08:32 PM
Has anyone asked History Channel's "Mail Call"?

February 18, 2003, 08:52 PM
FYI, there is a handgun orbiting the earth right now. It's in the survival kit in the Soyuz capsule docked to the International Space Station. Purpose is defense of the capsule from wild animals if they come down off course. (This has happened. One cosmonaut in the '60s spent a night in his capsule because he was surrounded by wolves.)

At least two of the early "Salyut" space stations were actually military installations using the civilian program as cover. Word is that a couple of these were armed with a 20mm recoilless automatic cannon (using some sort of rearward gas venting to negate recoil). I think one was test fired by remote control after the crew left.

The Russian 'Polyus' military space station that was destroyed by a booster malfunction ca. 1990 had lots of wild weaponry on board (it was a test bed for various anti-ICBM technology). Supposedly had an automatic cannon, an experimental particle beam weapon, and prototype interceptor missiles. The guidance platform on the Energia booster upper stage failed and the insertion-to-orbit burn was made in the wrong direction, causing the unmanned station to reenter. Oops.

Mark Wade's Encyclopedia Astronautica has photos and diagrams of some of these.

Regarding shooting yourself down--if I recall correctly, shooting a gun in orbit would put the bullet in an elliptical orbit that would intersect your orbit only at the point at which you fired the weapon, i.e. if you fired upward then the perigee of the bullet's new orbit would intersect yours at that point. To put it in a non-intersecting orbit you would have to accelerate the bullet again some time after it was fired, or just do like the Salyut/Almaz plan was and maneuver your spacecraft immediately after firing your gun so you don't hit the projectiles later.

IIRC, one of Robert Heinlein's early stories involved a gun battle with Nazis on the moon, which brings up an interesting point. IF I remember correctly from Apollo mission writeups, the velocity necessary to orbit the moon is around 2000 mph, which is well within the range of high-velocity centerfire rifles. So theoretically, if you shoot a .223 or .220 Swift on the moon parallel to the surface, the bullet will orbit a few times if you do it right (i.e., if the 'perigee' doesn't intersect the surface first), until the orbit gets perturbed enough to hit a mountain or touch the surface. Alternatively, you could make a higher angle shot and drop a round halfway around the moon.


February 18, 2003, 08:59 PM
Actually, in the Ender series, Ender commanded his troops to fire as if they were on there backs, with there knees bent and their gun between their legs. Also, the guns had no recoil, they were like laser pistols.

February 18, 2003, 10:16 PM
One thing's certain... tactical black outfits would get quite warm in sunlight in orbit... mall ninjas beware.

February 18, 2003, 11:18 PM
You could always eat a chimichanga before you shoot the gun. Just have to make sure your ghillie spacesuit has an 'exit port' ;)

February 19, 2003, 12:46 AM
Alright, I can use my space-age techno-polymer guns now!!!
I don't need space age polymers, I have a Gyrojet! :D Old technology just begging to be used in outer space. :D

February 19, 2003, 02:29 AM
okay, this is way outside my area of expertise, but if one wanted to avoid shooting yourself down ... in outer space would than not mean you would have to fire only at targets that were *not* on the same orbital path you are? f'rinstance if I fire at a right angle to my orbital path? Actually, that's what you want to do if you want to shoot yourself...

If you shoot at right angles to your orbit, the bullet will be in the same orbit, with a rotated axis. One orbit later, you and the bullet return to exactly the same place, at the same time. Ouch!

If you shoot in the direction that you are moving, that will rise the position of the bullet on the far side of the earth. This will result in a longer orbital period, so the bullet will return to the same place, but later than you do. (Yes, by making it go faster in the direction of the orbit, you actually increase the orbital period.)

Similarly, if you fire back in the direction from whence you came, you will lower the position of the bullet on the far side of the earth, resulting in a shorter orbital period. That is, unless you've lowered the orbit enough that it re-enters the atmoshpere.

I believe the firing straight up or straight down will also just rotate the axis of the orbit.

February 19, 2003, 09:02 AM
I believe your time estimate of when the bullet would reach you is off.

You are probably right, I have no idea how many orbits is would take. I had a hard enough time accepting the fact that you could not aim straight at the earth and hit it. A target that is 7000 miles wide and pulls the bullet toward it, and I couldn’t hit it!

February 19, 2003, 10:14 AM
I'm surprised nobody has discussed the danger of cabin depressurization when an ND occurs... Just a LITTLE bit different than here on earth... I wonder if they'd have enough time to utter "Oh Crud!" before they did their personal black hole impression.

February 19, 2003, 10:17 AM
Just imagine, if you were travelling at 860 FPS, and fired your trusty .45 (handloaded to exactly 860 fps :D ) behind you, you could swoop back in one orbit and pluck that sucker from space... at 860 fps of course.

Mal H
February 19, 2003, 02:52 PM
... except you'd have to do a darn good swan dive into the atmosphere since the bullet has long since headed for Earth since it's orbital velocity is ... well, there isn't any orbital velocity. :D

(Ignoring the fact, of course, that you would also be Earth bound long before you even fired the gun since 860 fps is roughly 30 times slower than the velocity that could sustain an orbit.)

February 19, 2003, 03:10 PM
and you think your ejected casings fly far now ... !:scrutiny:

February 19, 2003, 04:02 PM
Gyrojet pistols come to mind here.

February 19, 2003, 04:21 PM
Gyrojet pistols come to mind here.

Why? Gyrojets would be just as overcomplex and ineffective at short ranges in space as they are on earth. Firearms, however, would excell, since the bullets would maintain muzzle velocity for their entire flight, and there'd be no drop to bother with.

February 19, 2003, 05:20 PM
And another thing... you don't need to worry about ballistic coefficient since there is no atmosphere to worry about. Spitzers or boattails will go just as far as round balls and wadcutters!!!

February 19, 2003, 05:24 PM
uhhh whats a gyrojet???

February 19, 2003, 05:33 PM
Well, the guns won't exactly be flat shooting. The gravitational pull of the earth is about the same as if you were standing on the earth. Orbits are pretty neat. You are going so fast that your plummet to Earth....misses.

Vacuum won't be a problem for unseating bullets.

Force = Pressure x Area

Pressure = 14.7 psi at sea level

Area = pi*radius^2
Area of a .45 caliber bullet = 3.1416*(.452/2)^2 = .159 in^2

force on a bullet caused by air pressure in the cartridge = 2.33 lbs

the ammo probably doesn't need a crimp.

Shooting the gun will change your current orbit slighty because of the change of velocity due to Newton's laws.

As far as the bullet hitting you, I'm going to have to sharpen up my partial differential equations, but the bullet should be in a much different orbit, because of the difference in velocity.
Aiming over any great distance (like a mile) will require a heck of a computer, because the trajectories will be anything but flat in the Earth moon system.

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