Chinese researchers claim they have developed what the media is terming a ‘force gun’ that purportedly uses magnetic plasma rings to manipulate distant objects in space, almost reminiscent of ways the Jedi in the Star Wars film franchise use the force to move objects with their mind.
Little information is available about the mystery weapon, but if it exists, it could theoretically be used to capture enemy spacecraft, alter their orbits, or even cause spacecraft to crash into each other, all from a safe distance.
Tractor Beams And The Future of War in Space
In science fiction, capturing an enemy spacecraft often involves turning on the ‘tractor beam’ and hauling them in. But in the real world, where the real estate of low earth orbit is becoming increasingly contested, such technology does not exist.
In recent years, researchers have gotten closer, including creating devices that use lasers and sound waves to manipulate distant objects without coming in contact with them. Still, those technologies mostly exist in the laboratory setting, and any practical applications in space warfare do not appear imminent.
Now, according to a report from the South China Morning Post, a team of Chinese researchers working for the National University of Defence Technology says they have invented a device that can manipulate objects from a distance without any direct contact, potentially marking a critical advancement in space warfare technology.
Force Gun Uses Highly Charged, High-Speed Plasma Rings to Manipulate Magnetic Fields
Published in the Chinese-owned peer-reviewed journal Systems Engineering and Electronics, the primary component of the frightening force gun is described as a “magnetized coaxial gun” that can generate repeating waves of hot, electron-dense, high-energy gas in the form of plasma rings. When these plasma rings are shot from the force gun at the rate of eight per second and purportedly travel at 10,000 meters per second, which is twenty times the speed of sound, they inherit an electric current, which then generates a magnetic field that is in opposition to the magnetic field being created during the plasma discharge.
Notably, this process also creates magnetic field lines, which become “frozen” in the plasma itself. This is significant since it means the effects of a magnetic field can be transported with the plasma ring as it travels through space. In fact, according to the researchers involved, this gives their force gun a range of up to a kilometer. In practical terms, that means that a spacecraft equipped with this type of device could exert an opposing force on an object while remaining at a safe distance and never coming in direct contact with the object.
The researchers note that their force gun could also affect the magnetic fields of two satellites in a way that brings them together. Their force gun could also allow them to essentially “push” on a satellite by opposing its 0own magnetic field or even draw one toward the force gun via the “magnetic wells” created within the plasma rings.
Practical Applications Exist, But Military Applications Loom
While the organization behind the force gun’s development is a military one, the written research appears to focus on the more practical applications of their device. This includes using the force gun to remove or de-orbit space debris, de-spin out of control satellites, or even bring two satellites together for combined operations. Still, the military applications of this type of device cannot be overlooked, including the ability to capture enemy spacecraft, bring them out of orbit or even smash them into each other.
No definitive timeline is offered for when this device might become practical to actually use in space, and given its military origins, those details may not be immediately forthcoming. However, in the paper, the researchers write that “the design and experimental verification of a prototype is underway.”
So, getting caught in an enemy tractor beam may not only be science fiction for very much longer.
Christopher Plain is a Science Fiction and Fantasy novelist and Head Science Writer at The Debrief. Follow and connect with him on X, learn about his books at plainfiction.com, or email him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.