Thursday, November 24, 2011

Space Ships

There’s an interesting article over at the Register about the progression of the design of spaceships in science fiction. This comment struck me:

“The silliest thing about alien spacecraft, which are designed only to travel in space, is that they are made to look aerodynamic, which is of course unnecessary, since there is no air… remember the Apollo LEM? That is how aerodynamic a spacecraft needs to be...”

Well, no, actually. In fact that statement in and of itself shows a lack of imagination. Certainly, something that’s travelling slowly through vacuum doesn’t need to be aerodynamic, but if you’re nudging the speed of light it’s probably not a good idea to present a large flat profile to even disperse interstellar matter, in fact streamlining seems like a good idea. And who says ‘designed only to travel in space’? Why shouldn’t these ships also be designed to enter all sorts of atmospheres, penetrate dust clouds, even surf in the fire of a sun?


And let’s not forget that the statement above is all about utility, about what ‘needs to be’. If you are capable of building interstellar vessels I submit that you’ve probably moved a bit beyond that. Why shouldn’t you do the Klingon thing and make your vessel in the shape of a hawk or similar. Why shouldn’t you, if you want, build your starship in the shape of a sailing ship, a shark or even a Ford Fiesta?

There is a large gap between what you must do and what you can do. And, let’s face it, when it comes to interstellar flight, we’re a long way from knowing what needs to be incorporated.

Update

Nice interview here at the Register on the same (sort of) subject: Gavin Rothery was visual effects supervisor on the British sci-fi smash Moon, and has been a creative force on a welter of hit video games, and so has a lot to say on the subject of spacecraft design.

16 comments:

Graeme said...

Agreed. What a nob.

Neal Asher said...

Succinct and to the point, Graeme.

AngryMurloc said...

All aboard the USS Capri?

I expect some nebulae can get pretty dense as well. Try flying a tactical birg cube through that without having a drop in speed.

Carbonize said...

Doesn't necessarily need to be aerodynamic if you have good force field technology. I mean even the enterprise was designed with a deflector dish to generate a field to prevent hitting small asteroids, meteors etc.

Neal Asher said...

Angry, as we know a Borg cube would just perpetually regenerate damage, or phase matter, or squerval the interspace wingle gnosher.

But then, Carbonize, why is the Enterprise aerodynamic? Perhaps as a secondary measure should the deflector dish fail. Our cars have seat belts, but also air bags.

robann said...

Outer space is NOT a perfect vacuum. The author could have looked this up in wikipedia - "But no vacuum is truly perfect, not even in interstellar space, where there are still a few hydrogen atoms per cubic centimeter."

There might not be much in it but if you were travelling at 10% the speed of light for a few hundred years that's a lot of wear-and-tear. Personally I like the idea of interstellar ships using a forward scoop to collect this. This avoids damage and could be used for fuel/material.

Hussain said...

Most ships are designed with zero imagination: they have your classic cigar shape with nacelles or something tacked on.
Sure, you need to present a minimal surface area to navigate through dust clouds, so let's have triple-linked oblong spheres or, the all-time best I-stop-for-no-one monster: The Star Wars Star Destroyer.

Neal Asher said...

Precisely my point, Robann. Reynolds' take on it is to stick a few million tons of ice on the nose cone. And what you describe is the Bussard ramjet.

Hussain, I have to hold up my hands and admit to the same (The King of Hearts etc) but I did do wormships, bacciliforms and all those others involved in the Line War.

Huan said...

What about navigating through an asteroid field like in Star Wars?
Surely a sleeker vessel would be an advantage there?
Millenium Falcon is a good example.

Neal Asher said...

Huan, we see artistic impressions of things like the Asteroid Belt that look very like that asteroid field in Star Wars. The reality is that the asteroids are millions of miles apart, and only kept from flying further apart by being shepherded by big gravity fields. I suspect you'd only see asteroids gathered closely together shortly after the break-up of some larger object they were part of.

Bob Lock said...

Ford Fiesta? never...
perhaps a
Vauxhall Nova, yeah!

Neal Asher said...

... or if you were flying through something like the rings of Saturn maybe...

Just grabbed out of the air, Bob. for me it would have to be a Sherpa truck.

Mark Hughes said...

My favorite ship design is the "antimatter ring pulling a capsule" of Charles Pellegrino's Flying to Valhalla. Simple, efficient, and weird all at once.

Neal Asher said...

I've never heard of that one, Mark.

Theo d'or said...

Streamlining will not save your behind or any other part of you when you're travelling at relativistic speeds. The radiation from particles striking the ship - and there is no bow wave at that speed - is like standing in front of a linear accelerator. A physicist, you know, someone who actually works at CERN described the effect of standing in front of the beam as being similar to 80kg of dynamite.

In fact, it actually is a VERY good idea to have a big, thick disk, or better yet, cloud of dust ahead of you to absorb the radiation.

Neal Asher said...

Yes ... if you're talking today's materials and today's technology. You're falling into the same trap as the guy in the original post.