STAR WARS introduced a standard of spaceship design.
And it’s a standard that really makes no sense. The deck plans are parallel to the axis of thrust, leading to airplanes and seagoing ships in space. Most of it came from a simple “rule of cool.” George Lucas wanted to replicate old WWII gun camera footage for the trench run, as well as evoke old war movies, most notably The Bridges at Toko-Ri. It was purely aesthetics.
But over time, it’s become a standard. Granted, Star Trek does the same thing, I think largely as “Horatio Hornblower In Space.” (Hornblower was an inspiration for Captain Kirk.) All of the ships are glorified surface navy cruisers, even if they are styled like airplanes or flying saucers.
“But technology will be more advanced then!”
That seems to usually be the response. Technology will advance, we’ll get artificial gravity, and then we can have World War II battleships in space. That’s how we got the Standard Human Spaceship. (Warning: TVTropes. Time Sink.) You know what I’m talking about: big, battleship gray flying bricks with engines at one end and a bridge either in the front or mounted in a superstructure on the arbitrary “top.” Because to some people, that’s a “realistic” space warship. Because vacuum. And because Rockets are out of date.
Rockets are out of date?
Yep. Rockets as space cruisers are the stuff of ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s pulp sci-fi, the likes of Tom Corbett and Flash Gordon, not modern science fiction. Even if you wanted to get more realistic than Star Trek or Star Wars, you should still have spaceplanes and starships that can never touch down on a planetary surface or even go near the atmosphere. That’s where the spaceship designs get really weird. Artists start introducing all sorts of weird asymmetries, “because there’s no air in space.” Apparently, there’s no physics of torque and axis of thrust, either…
Now, even if you point this out, the idea of a starship that can never land can make some sense. Getting in and out of a gravity well requires a lot of energy. Why not just stay up on the fringes of it, where your ship only needs enough delta-v to get in and out of orbit?
Well, in the spirit of my earlier post on scale in space opera, I ask, “If you’ve got enough power to travel faster than light, why wouldn’t getting in and out of a gravity well be child’s play?”
The Return of the Rocket Cruiser
So, with The Unity Wars, the starships are towering, massive rockets, some bigger than skyscrapers, their decks perpendicular to the axis of thrust. “Down” is toward the engines. Why wouldn’t it be? Why spend the energy to try to balance out two different axes of force (as would be necessary in your Standard Human Spaceship with artificial gravity)? The ship’s drives provide gravity while under acceleration. And with the kinds of power curves these ships have, there’s no reason not to do a constant one-G trajectory anywhere you want to go.
Take a look at the Starships page. Those ships are old-school rocket cruisers, scaled up, and can land on their tails on any planet in the galaxy. And before you scoff at a ship landing on its tail, check out what SpaceX just did:
Here’s a longer video of the test flight:
Rocket cruisers aren’t out of date. They’re only now becoming a reality. It’s the Standard Human Spaceship that’s out of date.