Designing a Starship

In Star Trek, the starships are all very elegant looking and quite beautiful.  They just look really good.  They are also advanced and have had a couple hundred years of history, so the designs tend to be more aesthetically pleasing.

I’m designing a starship for Journey to Ariadne.  I’ve made a sketch which looks a bit clunky, but I’m not entirely satisfied with it.  I don’t want it to look beautiful.  It shouldn’t look beautiful.  It should be built for function, not form.  Take a look at past forms of transportation in their first incarnations.

The first automobile, an 1885 Benz.
The first automobile, an 1885 Benz.
The Wright Flyer, the first airplane from 1903.
The Wright Flyer, the first airplane from 1903.
The Vostok I capsule that brought Yuri Gagarin into space in 1961. Photo taken by SiefkinDR and used under Creative Commons License.
The Vostok I capsule that brought Yuri Gagarin into space in 1961. Photo taken by SiefkinDR and used under Creative Commons License.

Notice a theme?  None of them are particularly attractive.  They weren’t built to look good.  They were built simply to work.  It’s only in the years and decades after that design became important (cars are now made to look good, planes are made to be aerodynamic and fuel efficient, and the space shuttle ended the utilitarian spacecraft era).  So it’s only logical that the first interstellar spacecraft will look more like a collection of modules connected by a framework and various instruments extending from the main body.  This is what I need to consider when designing a starship.  Think about function first, then refine it a bit.

I’m going to have one ugly spaceship.  And it’ll be a massive one.

6 thoughts on “Designing a Starship”

  1. The last science fiction convention I went to had a panel about something I was interested in that I think had something to do with world building. Don’t recall exactly, but I do recall one of the panel members getting there early and remarking he was trying to figure out whether some (incredibly technical) detail about spaceships would work but he didn’t know where to look for the info. Several nerdy types immediately started throwing out suggestions and before long I was listening with fascination to engineers and scientists having a free wheeling brainstorming session that everyone hated to have ended by the panel discussion starting. This sounds like a great idea for a panel discussion at one of the cons. Going to have to make a note of it. My brain is already buzzing with my own ideas for a spaceship… The things you have to keep in mind, as the guys at the con pointed out: the effect of the propulsion on the form, the gravity from objects in space, collision impacts with meteors and other things, waste disposal, food and water, oxygen and other gases, neutrinos, lighting, transport inside and out, emergency measures, weapons, defense, living and work quarters…boy, maybe you should look up some battleship engineers. A submarine engineer might be even better.

    1. Submarines are a good analogy to a spaceship. That’s what the designers of the original Enterprise in Star Trek were going for. Even the sonar ping sound is used on the bridge (though not sonar in space).

      That panel discussion would’ve been fascinating. There is a lot to think about. My ship’s propulsion system uses a current theory about gravity, but I’ll be altering it. It’s science fiction, so I can if I want.

  2. Love the post and pictures but I can’t offer advice on starship design – except perhaps to ask you not to make it saucer-shaped! (A very over-used template.) It should possibly should be streamlined, though, as the word ‘ship’ would imply: no handlebars or unwanted wheels sticking out everywhere. Happy designing.

        1. Yes, they are. My design is for a ship that is used for only one purpose: to transport thousands of people in suspended animation to a planet 30 light years away to form a new colony. The ship won’t enter the atmosphere. However, I have a lot to think about in terms of systems. I have the propulsion system figured out, I just need to design how it looks.

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