Thoughts on designing a scifi spaceship

Freehauler Alcione - 3d model in progress
Freehauler Alcione – 3d model in progress

Continuing  to work on Alcione using Blender.  As a proper render doesn’t come out properly (no doubt I’m not doing something correctly), this updated screenshot is posted here instead.  While it doesn’t show light and shading, it does show the various modules more clearly.

The front is the right, with the chionic (quasi organic)  module that helps pull the ship forward in paraspace.  As currently I’m assuming one blender unit = 50 meters, this puts the forwards module at about 125 meters, not including the orphiopluteuii (long arms facing forward, named after  a type of echinoderm larva with similar structures), although I may increase the size of this forward element.

The other structures at the front are sensors and twin gauss guns.  Originally Alcione was going to be unarmed apart from an anti-meteor laser or perhaps a token anti-piracy gun, but I wanted to give her some nerd love and the story some excitement and battles.  The idea is that she is a sort of armed merchantman and part time privateer that travels between civilised space and the lawless outer colonies of the human diaspora.

There follows the bridge crew quarters, forward hanger, thermal panels, etc, with a holographic logo on the side (I’m using Jacques Cousteau’s design until I can create my own).   This module extends for another 160 meters.  When I was doing deck plans using MS paint I was thinking in these terms (although with less space), so I’ll try to reuse some of that older material.

The large sphere is biospherics, about 80 meters in diameter on this plan, followed by 16 spherical water tanks around the central axis.  With the exception of Silent Running, cinematic spaceships don’t seem to have biospheres, and for that matter most literary ones don’t.  Everything is austere and mechanical and functional, or if spacious and comfortable it is in the way a Star Trek federation vessel is; all sterile corridors and lounges and holodecks.    It’s as if nature doesn’t exist in these universes.  I remember being impressed reading something Lynn Margulis, the co-inventor of the Gaia Hypothesis, said about this upon watching Star Trek.  Thanks to the magic of Google, I was able to recover her comments:

Until recently, when I visited the Star Trek commemorative exhibit at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, I had never seen a single Star Trek episode.  For ten minutes, indolent curiosity, nostalgia for the 1970s, and the crowds at my back induced me to watch it: very United Statesian and very dated.  I was struck by its silliness. The lack of plants, the machinate landscape, and in the starship, the absence of all nonhuman life-forms seemed bizarre. Humans, if someday they trek in giant spaceships to other planets, will not be alone. In space as on Earth, the elements of life, carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, sulfur, and phosphorus and a few others, must recycle. This recycling is no suburban luxury; it is a principle of life from which no technology can deliver us. Human voyages into deep space require ecosystems composed of many nonhuman organisms to recycle waste into food. Only very short stints in constant contact with mother Earth are possible in the absence of ‘ecosystem services.

– Lynn Margulis, The Symbiotic Planet: A New Look At Evolution

When I encountered those words (it probably wasn’t the entire quote) some decades ago, they really impressed on me how unrealistic much of science fiction is (more comments alongside the above quote here).  I just cannot envisage spaceships without ecosystems., carrying little portable versions of Biosphere 2 along with them wherever they go .  Of course, a lot depends on worldbuilding; if FTL starflight is as quick and easy  as it is in low realism TV and movie space opera, essentially equivalent to a modern intercontinental jetliner, or even a drive to the local shopping center, there isn’t a need for ships to carry their own biosphere.  My own preference however is for outer space to be very large, very hostile, and very difficult to traverse.  Even if this is as much about plot devices and cosmic anxiety as it is about actual hard science.  Some space operas, like the Alien(s) franchise, do have that sense of loneliness and danger, even if their monsters are biologically absurd.  There is little appeal in space opera that mimics today’s crowded Earth.

After the biospherics section (I wonder if this also is too small, or if it should be kept small for crapsack world reasons) there is another module with the machine shop, large shuttle hanger, and what have you, this is about 110 meters long and 40 meters wide.

Then four large colourful hexagonal cargo modules (each about 75 x 175 meters) , which give an overall carrying capacity of four of the largest modern container ships combined.   Of course such comparisons are unfair, realworld surface ocean container vessels are limited by canals, port facilities etc; assuming a medium-hardness (say 6 or so on the scale of scientific hardness/realism) handwavium reactionless drive, a staple of a lot of science fiction, space opera ships need have no size limitations at all, other than those arbitrarily imposed by worldbuilding and plot devices..

Following is the weapons, sensors, and manufacturing module, which is based partly on the standard Wet Navy capital ship space opera design, of the Blender Shipyards, which I incorporated because I want to get away from the rigid radial symmetry of the earlier designs.  This measures about 150 x  150 x 40 meters.

These measurements are to help with deckplans.  Nerds like myself love these little worldbuilding details.  My idea in writing and worldbuilding is of a ship big enough to easily get lost in, or for an enemy or scary monster to hide in, with some parts much older than others and associated with a history and urban legend, such as being haunted, but not so large as to be unmanageable.  Hence a bit over a mile (say between 1.6 and 2 km), a mile being the length of a Star Wars Star Destroyer, seems a good size.

It’s interesting here to think about the difference between military scifi/SF (Star Wars, the later Star Trek), which has mile long ships full of officers and ratings walking to and fro, pilots dashing their fighters, and stormtroopers marching aimlessly about, and the space  horror (Alien(s), space comedy (Red Dwarf) ships which, while equally huge, are mostly deserted, with only a handful of crew or misfits struggling to manage the whole thing.  My approach is midway between the two, and it is likely that automation will make it easier for smaller crews to manage larger vessels.

Further on is engineering, the reactor, and the drive system, but I’ll leave explaining that for another day.  My next project is to use Blender to render Freedai Reynofar, the protagonist of Up the Well, the first novel in this series

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *