Space is so hot right now. The past year has seen a flurry of activity from all over the globe with regards to space and orbital operations, and with the recent announcement of Russia’s plans to install 11 new military satellites by 2015, it looks like things won’t be slowing down any time soon. Besides SpaceX’s first commercial satellite, a milestone in itself, this year saw the launch of the US government’s newest spy satellite, complete with creepy mission badge, and the launch of India’s first defense satellite and their new Mars Orbiter. The last two years have seen more countries put their first satellites into space than any other two years combined. Right now there are more than 1071 operational satellites in Earth’s orbit, and more stuff tends to mean more junk as well, which has military experts and orbit otakus quaking in their moon shoes. On July 20th, the Chinese government launched three new satellites which many observers believe are the next stage in China’s growing ASAT, or Anti-Satellite, capabilities. Satellites form the backbone of our most valuable communication and signal relay networks, yet are suspended completely defenseless in orbit. In the future the destruction of key satellites, as well as a barrage of cyber-attacks, could act as the first salvos in a major conflict between nations. And while this may seem like forced moves from a strategic viewpoint, a chaotic dismantling of our orbital infrastructure could have a lasting impact measured in decades, potentially leaving a legacy more destructive than any atom bomb.
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Today the spaceship MMO EVE Online, colloquially known as Spreadsheets in Space, experienced its largest battle to date, with more than four thousand individual players duking it out to the bitter end. The players of EVE Online, each controlling their own spaceship loaded with weapons or utility modules, are no strangers to fights or fleet actions, but battles on this scale are rare and usually turn into historical events that separate the newbies from the veterans. A space rumble this big isn’t all action, explosions, and heroic bravery as many sci-fi films would lead you to believe, and the fighting here looks more like a swarm of insects or a jam-packed disco dance floor (complete with lasers) than a World War II dogfight or naval engagement.
What makes this fight special and EVE Online distinct from other MMOs is the scale of these completely player-driven engagements. World of Warcraft is the largest MMO to date, with some 11 million subscribers at its height, but even then those players were divided over a bunch of different servers; parallel but completely separate versions of the same world, each with around 3-4 thousand players. EVE has the entirety of its subscriber base, about five hundred thousand people, on a single server, with everyone playing in the same world. This allows for larger groupings of players and greater bouts of tension between them, resulting in massive battles like what we’ve seen today.
This clash between two massive groupings of players is neat to read and look at without context, but understanding why this battle is occurring and the factors at play can tell us a lot about the game itself. It’s safe to say that while EVE has a steep learning curve and requires a massive time investment to really get going, it is one of the deepest and certainly the most dynamic MMOs out there now.