In the Gundam anime
universes, the existence of the giant
known as mobile suits
is entirely due to a set of imaginary new discoveries in physics
known collectively as "Minovsky particle
physics." In the main Universal Century time
line, year UC 0047, Nobel Prize
-winning physicist Dr. Y. T. Minovsky founded the Minovsky Physics Society
on Side Three to develop a clean, cold fusion reactor
based on his recent discoveries. Most fusion
reactions (in both the real world
and the Gundam
one) pour out neutrons
as by-products: these heavy particles
are impossible to manipulate with magnetic
fields, and cause tremendous damage
to living tissue
, necessitating enormous amounts of shielding
. Minovsky and his colleagues developed the Minovsky-Ionesco fusion reactor in UC 0065, which fused the rare isotope
Helium-3 with Deuterium in an energetic and totally clean reaction
. This reaction is possible in reality
as well - the only problem is coming up with much He-3. The reaction equation
2He-3 + H2 -> 2He-4 + p (energy released 18.35 MeV)
This is where Minovsky physics diverges from real-world physics.
The scientists working on the Minovsky-Ionesco reactor noticed a strange electromagnetic field being produced by the reactor. After careful experimentation, they determined that the field effect was caused by the emission of a previously unknown subatomic particle from the reactor, which they dubbed the Minovsky Particle. These little things had fantastic properties: posessing virtually no mass, they can hold either a positive or negative charge (though +Minovsky particles and -Minovsky particles are not antiparticles). Furthermore, when left to their own devices they spontaneously form a 3-dimensional lattice known as an Interlace-Field, or I-field. This field repels all charged particles, as well as interfering with low-frequency electromagnetic radiation. The I-field's repulsing properties also allow it to be used as the basis for a hovercraft-like system called the Minovsky craft. In UC 0071 Zeon nuclear scientists refined the reactor, using its own Minovsky particle output to generate an I-field to contain the reactant fuel. These refined reactors could be built almost one fifth the size of an old-style reactor, without sacrificing output.
From that point the pace of Minovsky physics-based research accellerated dramatically. That same year, Zeon scientists discovered that when forced together and excited, paired + and -Minovsky particles would fuse into large, energetic, electrically neutral "Mega-particles." Suddenly free of the constraining influence of magnetic fields and I-fields, said particles immediately fly off at near the speed of light, damaging anything they come in contact with tremendously. Both the Principality of Zeon and the Earth Federation develop devestating beam cannons based on this effect, but while the Federation designs bigger and bigger ships to carry their titanic nuclear guns, the Principality sends its researchers in a different direction.
Foreseeing the reduction of combat to visual range by the radar-jamming properties of the Minovsky particle (which, remember, is being spewed out constantly by everything with a reactor), the Principality begins work on the mobile suit, a gigantic humanoid fighting machine designed to provide short- to mid-range skirmishing cover for its warships. The mobile suit, while large by today's standard of weaponry, is far more adaptable and agile than anything in the Federation's fleet of nuclear-armed behemoths. The first combat-ready mobile suit, the MS-05 Zaku I, is finished in 0075. While the Federation catches on and begins its own mobile suit development project in 0078, by the time war starts on the third day of 0079, the Principality is still far ahead in MS technology. At the Battle of Ruum on 01/15/0079, Zeon ace pilot Char Aznable dramatically demonstrates the value of the mobile suit by single-handedly destroying five Federation cruisers while piloting a Zaku II.
From then on it was obvious that mobile suit technology was key to victory, and the Federation swung its MS development V-Project into high gear. Brilliant weapons designer Tem Ray developed three prototype mobile suits under the project - the short-range skirmisher Gundam, the medium-range Guncannon, and the long-range artillery Guntank. Each of these mobile suits was heavily armored and tuned to perfection, but the real trump card of the V-Project was the new mobile suits' weapons. The Gundam and the Guncannon both carried "beam rifles." A misnomer, beam rifles aren't actually rifles - they just look like them. Instead, they are warship-class mega-particle cannons shrunk down to mobile suit size. By storing high-energy Minovsky particles in "e-cap" magnetic bottles just this side of fusing into mega-particles, the beam rifle allowed a mobile suit to carry around an absurd amount of firepower without burdening itself with the large reactors necessary to produce mega-particles from scratch. Furthermore, the Gundam came equipped with dual "beam sabres," sword-like weapons consisting of high-energy plasma held in a bladelike shape by I-fields. This weapon allowed the Gundam to destroy nearly any short-range target with nuclear fire, as well as deflect enemy melee and beam weapons.
A more in-depth look at the later forms of beam weaponry follows. It was originally written by the fine folks at the now-defunct Gundam Project website - after the site's demise they released it into the public domain, and it can now be found all over the net.
PART V: THE BEAM RIFLE
In order to work around the mega article cannon's energy demands, the Earth Federal Forces develop the E-cap (a contraction of "energy capacitor"). This device stores Minovsky particles in a high-energy compressed state, so that only a small amount of additional energy is required to trigger their fusion into mega particles. The E-cap is charged by energy condensers at the mobile suit's home base or arrier ship, and then functions like a battery until its supply of particles is exhausted, at which point the weapon becomes useless. During the One Year War the Federal Forces perfect the E-cap and use it to create a miniaturized mega particle cannon called a beam rifle, with which their first prototype mobile suits are equipped.
The limited capacity of the E-cap proves to be a significant shortcoming. The RX-78 Gundam, for example, can only fire about 15 shots from its beam rifle before exhausting the E-cap's supply. Shortly after the end of the war, the beam rifle is further refined to use a removable E-cap module called an E-pack. A mobile suit equipped with spare E-packs can thus swap them in during a battle to replenish its beam rifle's particle supply.
Mega Particle Cannon Variants
The basic principles of the mega particle cannon and beam rifle are employed by a long list of spinoffs. Here are a few variations on this weapon design...
----The self-sufficient mega bazooka launcher used by the MSN-00100 Type 100 combines a powerful mega particle cannon with a dedicated reactor. The mega bazooka launcher even has its own thruster system, making it independently mobile - the only thing it needs the mobile suit for is aiming.
----The FXA-08R Mega Rider, a development of the mega bazooka launcher which also serves as a support craft for transporting mobile suits, has its own cockpit so that it can be operated independently. Meanwhile, the MSZ-006 Z Gundam's hyper mega launcher is a scaled-down version of the mega bazooka launcher. Lacking its own propulsion system, the mega launcher must be carried by the mobile suit.
----The MSA-010 ZZ Gundam's hyper mega particle cannon is a powerful built-in mega particle cannon, powered by the mobile suit's own reactors. Its mega particles are produced by a highly compact mega condenser. However, firing the weapon depletes the ZZ Gundam's energy reserves, rendering it powerless and immobile.
----The beam smartgun used by the MSA-0011 S Gundam and MSZ-006C1 Z Plus is likewise powered by the mobile suit's reactor. The frame structure that connects the beam smartgun to the mobile suit serves as a conduit for both energy and sensor data, making the weapon highly accurate.
----The Variable Speed Beam Rifle or VSBR, a new type of beam weapon introduced around UC 0120 and first installed in the F90-V and F91 Gundams, lets the pilot change the velocity of the emitted mega particles. A slow beam produces increased raw damage over a wider area, while a fast beam yields higher penetration - in this mode, it's capable of piercing a beam shield! Despite the "beam rifle" nomenclature, the VSBR is actually connected directly to the mobile suit's reactor. It's typically integrated into the mobile suit's movable frame structure, and is equipped with apogee motors to increase the mobile suit's manueverability.
----The beam launcher is another application of this speed-control technology. This bazooka-like weapon, powered by an ordinary E-pack rather than by the mobile suit's reactor, fires slow-moving mega particles for increased damage. It's introduced simultaneously as an optional weapon for the F90III-Y Cluster Gundam, F91 Gundam and XM-07 Vigna Ghina, and later becomes a fairly common weapon.
----At the same time, the RX-99 Nu Gundam and its Generative Beam Rifle Device, or G-BRD, are introduced. This VSBR-like weapon is powered by its own built-in reactor and includes supplemental thrusters, enabling it to serve as a booster for the Nu Gundam's core fighter.
----The mega beam rifle used by the LM312V04 V Gundam and LM314V21 V2 Gundam, and the mega beam cannon wielded by the ZMT-S29 Zanneck, are later applications of the VSBR's mega particle acceleration technology. The Zanneck's cannon, capable of firing on ground targets from the stratosphere, is likely the most powerful weapon ever wielded by a mobile suit.
PART VI: THE BEAM SABER
Unlike the beam weapons discussed above, the beam saber doesn't use mega particles. Instead, it emits high-energy Minovsky particles to form a blade-shaped I-field, and then fills this I-field shell with superheated plasma to produce a lethally effective cutting blade. The Minovsky particles are stored by E-cap in the beam saber's hilt, which is recharged by the mobile suit's reactor when the saber is returned to its socket. Thus, once activated, beam sabers don't rely on the mobile suit's reactor and can be thrown or discarded as decoys (as demonstrated in Gundam 0083).
As the beam saber's I-field enclosure repels plasma, it not only keeps the blade's contents in but also keeps other blades' contents out, allowing one beam saber to block another. And, since the I-field can be formed into a variety of simple shapes, it's pretty trivial to create exotic variants like the beam tomahawk, beam sword, beam sword/axe, beam fan, beam mace, beam cutter and beam tonfa etc.
PART VII: THE BEAM SHIELD
The first defensive application of beam saber technology is the beam barrier projected by the RX-93 Nu Gundam's fin funnels. This barrier creates a geometric shell around the mobile suit, with a fin funnel at each vertex and planes of energy akin to beam saber blades forming the surfaces of the shell. Unlike the classic I-field barrier, this beam barrier deflects physical attacks and missiles as well as beam weapons. It can, however, be collapsed by a sufficiently powerful attack.
By about UC 0120, the decreased size and increased power output of modern mobile suits make it possible to use a simplified version of this barrier on all mobile suits. This beam shield is composed of a simple plane of energy, radiating from a central generator unit, which can be used like a physical shield to deflect enemy attacks. Since the edges of the beam shield are as deadly as a beam saber blade, the mobile suit's computer automatically deactivates sections of the shield that would otherwise lop off the mobile suit's own limbs.
Though it's limited to a single direction - and, like its beam barrier ancestor, can be collapsed by a powerful attack - the beam shield's lower energy requirements and effectiveness against every type of weapon make it a perfectly satisfactory alternative to the I-field barrier. By about UC 0150, even some warships are equipped with beam shields.
The mega beam shield wielded by the LM314V24 V2 Assault Gundam is a throwback of sorts to the Nu Gundam's beam barrier. In addition to a central generator unit, it uses three remote-controlled barrier bits to form the vertices of an oversized beam shield.