The Tech Side #4: Tech To Die For – Corsair Rail-Guns

In this series of articles – The Tech Side – I’ll be continuing talking about various bits of different tech, what gave me the ideas for them, and a little about what I did with them in various stories.

This time, I’ll be taking a look at the rail-guns used on Corsair ships!

Corsairs – space pirates… terrors of the space lanes! I’ve written – well, books about them, but until now I’ve never really illustrated or put any actual designs about their tech on paper! In this edition I’ll be discussing perhaps the weirdest weapons used in any of my books – the Corsair rail-gun.

[Incidentally, in order to see the rest of these articles in this series, click on the category name The Tech Side.]

First off, a little about the Corsairs – who are they?

The Corsairs are the descendants of people who’d had quite enough of all this World War Three bullshit on Earth back in the 21st century, and toddled off to make a fresh start. Gradually as they moved further and further away from Earth, they became less and less connected to Earth as their home – and once they’d spent a couple of decades struggling to eke out a living on the rough backwater worlds they’d colonized in deep space, they started to look at Earth and its flourishing colonies with envy.

Pretty soon they realized there wasn’t much need to develop entire industries of your own to build things you needed – when you could just drop in at the Terrans newest, most under-defended colonies – and take them.

The Corsairs all wear black – at least the ones on their raiders (what they call their raiding ships) do. In terms of Corsair ship’s crew, it’s the color itself that’s the uniform, not the items of clothing they wear. Often a Corsair will also add something more colorful to his ensemble, like a red bandanna or a green waistband for example. Mostly they aren’t the typical parody of old-world sea pirates, with the occasional exception who fancies themselves a worthy successor of Black Beard, and dons period dress and a tricorn hat!

Since they are highly individualistic, Corsairs generally use a mix of all sorts of personal weapons, they typically use a mixture of conventional firearms, hand blasters, knives and swords etc. Their ships are black too, also as a statement, but more than likely as camouflage against the black of space as they run without ID beacons or navigation lights.

The Terrans and the Corsairs played a game of cops and robbers that spanned hundreds of star-systems  and the better part of a century! If you like, you can read more about the Corsairs in the following books:


Now, to kick off – what is a “rail-gun” and how does it work?

A rail-gun is something that actually exists! It’s a device used to launch a magnetic object (such as a steel ball or pellet – a projectile) at high speed using a successive, progressively applied electromagnetic force! Phew – sounds complicated, right?

There are a shit-ton of differing technical explanations – which vary from the very basic to detailed instructions on how to build your own (if you’re really that adventurous and have good insurance and the equivalent to the GDP of a small country in your bank account). How Stuff Works has a reasonably easy to grasp explanation here that probably won’t give you a headache – not even the bit about the Lorentz force!

Rail-guns are typically constructed as weapons, and the projectiles used normally don’t contain explosives, instead relying on the projectile’s high speed to inflict damage. (Wikipedia) However, in Galaxii, they have a variety of warheads to choose from – because, well – why not?

You can catch a glimpse here and here of why rail-guns are being considered by present-day military forces as a potential wunderwaffen (wonder weapon) that might give them an edge in wars of the future!

Why would the Corsairs want use a rail-gun? Isn’t this the future? Where are all their blasters?

The Corsairs are scavengers – they tend to use whatever they can get – with little or no efforts going into OHS or standardization. Unlike the Terran Space Fleet, the ships of the Corsair’s Black Fleet don’t have a huge tax fund behind them and largely operate on a shoe-string budget! Whatever they can’t make for themselves or buy off the black market, they steal – and they usually steal from the Terrans. They rip off tech and supplies from Terran colonies, outposts – and they prey on commercial shipping.

Advanced energy weapons like lasers capable of slicing through a Terran warship’s hull plating are rarely available on the black market, and very difficult and expensive to build from scratch, so while most Corsair ships still have one or two of these systems installed, they tend to rely primarily on improvised weapons such as heavy industrial cutting lasers – and the humble rail-gun.

On Corsair raiders, rail-guns are usually installed on a specially adapted gun deck where all the rail-guns are installed in rows, bakc to back facing outwards (port and starboard) along the sides of the ship. Since these things are improvised, they don’t reload automatically, but need to be reloaded manually, by the gun-crew, who inserts an appropriately sized iron-rich meteorite or specially cast steel projectile into the breach-loading port. The only way these things can be aimed is to point the appropriate side of the ship towards the enemy, and to fire off a barrage. Aside from being able to elevate or lower the muzzle-end of the gun, there isn’t much in the way of aiming!

A Corsair Rail-Gun – Left side view

A Corsair Rail-Gun – Top view

A Corsair Raider’s Gundeck Layout – Top view

The muzzle of each rail-gun is mounted opposite an opening in the ship’s outer hull, called a gun port. Because the ship is in space and in a vacuum, as soon as the gun port is opened the air would rush out, not so? Well, if it weren’t for a force-field installed at each gun port, that would be the case. Instead, the air stays in, and only the projectile fired from the muzzle of each rail-gun goes out!

The rather archaic layout of these weapons evokes the antique ships of the line from seafaring days, doesn’t it!

Ammunition Types

Though archaic, these are still extremely deadly and potent weapons, despite appearances. Aside from being able to fire off a few hundred shots of iron meteorites – which can be easily cut to the appropriate size with the tools available to Corsair crews, there are plenty of good-sized chunks of iron-bearing rock to be found out in deep space!

The weapon can also launch solid cast projectiles manufactured for the purpose, as well as specially built armor-piercing HE warheads, if and when these are available. In modern test prototypes it appears that terms like “mach 5” are bandied about quite a bit, so it seems that in the vacuum of empty space, a rail-gun blasting its unlucky target with a mix of solid shot and depleted uranium tipped HE warheads, would be a fairly devastating weapon!

In Closing

That about covers it! I hope I’ve explained all this in a way that’s easily understood! I really enjoyed translating my original hand-drawn sketches into digital blueprint diagrams, and I think they look pretty neat that way!

Feel free to email or message me via Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn if you have any comments or questions!

Until next time,

Cheers! 🙂


If you’re reading this long after it was posted, click “The Tech Side” to see a list of all the articles posted in this series!

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