These are realistic larger warships. For smaller fighter-scale warships go here.

Adam Burch

stunning images can be found on SciFi Meshes. He has studied this website while designing his ship.

The Cerberus Class Frigate was designed as an Air Force operated, armed multi- purpose deep space vehicle. Ships operate as part of the Deep Space Command network and carry out scientific, military, law-enforcement, transport and errand-of-mercy missions throughout the solar system.

The ship consists of a forward sensor module, crew module, a variable number of fuel modules and a reactor and propulsion module.

The name "Cerberus" denotes both the multi-mission capability of the spacecraft, as well as the physical resemblance of the mythical three headed dog formed by the forward radome, railgun and forward operations module protruding forward from the crew section.

The forward sensor module consists of a suite of extremely powerful digitally scanned array radar apertures housed in a ballistic-protective aeroshell, as well as housing various multi-spectrum optical trackers. While radar capabilities and ranges remain classified, it is widely accepted that the radar arrays can isolate millimeter sized objects at several tens of kilometers away. Forward radar capabilities are augmented by secondary arrays that project aft and perpendicular.

The crew section consists of one half of a pair of tetrahedral "blades" mounted to the central axis of the ship. The ship's CIC, Crew Hab, Airlock, Operations Deck and Gravity Module are mounted between 0 and 45 meters from the ship's central axis between a sandwich of kinetic and radiation shielding. When the ship is spun on it's axis, 1g can be maintained in the extreme interior surface of the upper gravity module at only 6 rpm, more than adequate for a military trained crew.

The opposite blade houses a magazine of kinetic projectiles and missiles that can be launched from a pair of forward/aft facing railguns. Interception ranges vary with target capabilities and maneuverability, but the guns have enough power to provide hyperbolic orbits given the right launch circumstances. The autoloader, magazine and guns comprise the bulk of the "Tactical Blade". Projectiles range from unguided tungsten rounds to multi stage guided-chemical rockets. Nuclear weapons are only carried with the direct authorization of the President of the United States as a political consideration, but are generally unnecessary given the destructive capabilities of the kinetic and energy weapons mounted aboard the ship.

Blade modules also house water and oxygen tanks, with loads pumped between blades to maintain center of gravity as crew move between upper (zero g) and lower (gravity) modules during spin. Each Cerberus "head" is assembled on Luna and launched into low lunar orbit via industrial magrail.

The fuel modules actually consist of four tanks centered around a multi-line structural spine housed within a hexagonal ballistic shell. External hard points on the fuel modules frequently house radiator modules or Autonomous Kill or Re-entry Vehicles too large to fit inside the missile magazine. Modules can be jettisoned and re-docked utilizing either the ship's RCS thrusters or robotic arm. Six or more modules provide enough propellant to reach Mars in an average of just under two months (during windows of close approach), the average local Jupiter mission will mount eight or more for added security.

The spine formed by the fuel modules also houses a track for the Remote Manipulator Arm, providing manipulator access to 100% of the exterior surface of the ship.

The nuclear propulsion and thrust module houses a 4 Triton-Class Oxygen Afterburning Nuclear Propulsion Units and two Hermes Liquid Oxygen/Hydrogen Chemical rockets for high-response tactical maneuvering. A single Hermes unit is also mounted on the tactical blade for emergency maneuvering. 4 large folding, gimbaled radiators can be deployed perpendicular to the ship's axis for additional heat dissipation. An RCS and gyro array provide rapid maneuvering capability.

In addition to the ship's offensive armament, Cerberus Class Frigates also mount an array of laser turrets for meteor and KEW point defense. Coupled with the ship's radar and battle management computers, Cerberus Frigates can be flown by just one crew member, though normal crew compliment can range between 6 and 14. The first ship was launched in 2123, and are projected upgrades and life extension programs will allow the crew modules to remain in the inventory until at least 2250.

Ships are named for various USAF, USN and USCG Rescue and Pararescue Members, emphasizing their space-rescue capabilities. On December 18, 2130, the USS Rowland Rainey suffered a direct collision when a glitch in the ship's battle management array failed to detect and allowed a 4m ferrous-iron asteroid fired from an unregulated Chinese space mining operation to collide with the ship. The ship suffered little damage and no casualties, a testament to the Frigates' survivability.

BDM Manned Space Battle Cruiser

This is from Advanced beamed-energy and field propulsion concepts (chapter XIV) by the BDM Corporation (1983). Unsurprisingly the study was performed with support from DARPA under contract number DAAH01-80-C-1587.

The point of the report is to figure out the Technology Readiness Level of using nuclear reactors in manned combat spacecraft armed to the teeth. Granted there is currently no pressing need for such spacecraft, but DARPA is all about not allowing the military to get caught with its pants down. Again.

As an interesting side note: the report specifically mentions that since the battle cruiser is equipped with a gigawatt laser, it can be used to assist small laser thermal craft to boost into orbit. In other words, a laser-launch system where the laser was located in orbit instead of on the ground. Report specifically mentions a single-stage-to-orbit laser-powered spacecraft called a "Monocle Shuttle."

This would also be useful to energize laser-powered space fighters, like the Hegemony Interceptors. It could also energize combat mirrors and other powersat weapons. Or other beamed power applications. Oh, did I mention that the Monocle Shuttles could also be used as mobile laser combat mirrors?

The difference is that powersats generally have no propulsion system, but the battle crusier is mobile. Oh, and the unfortunate fact that powersats have unlimited power by virtue of solar arrays with the surface area of Rhode Island, but the battle cruiser has drastically limited amounts of reactor coolant.


The study spacecraft would be armed with a free-electron laser, a particle-beam weapon, a railgun, and possibly a microwave weapon. All of these weapons were purposely selected because they are power hogs, and would need plenty of nuclear power. The power requirements would be in the range of tens of megawatts to a few gigawatts, in a "burst" mode that will run from one to a hundred seconds in duration. The power demand will be instant: within no more than a few seconds.

The spacecraft will require multi-mode reactors. The reactors can operate as [a] a high-thrust nuclear thermal rocket, [b] a peak power electrical generator, and [c] a lower powered stationkeeping electrical generator. As a peak power generator it will operate in open-cycle mode and energize either a MHD generator or a turbogenerator.

Since open-cycle mode wastes reactor coolant at an alarming rate, the instant the weapon no longer requires electricity the reactor will switch to closed-cycle mode. This will allow removal of reactor decay heat without blowing precious coolant overboard. Open-cycle cooling is required for burst mode because closed-cycle is not up to the task of preventing the reactor from melting. Closed-cycle can handle cool-off or stationkeeping reactor levels, since the power levels are only about 3% or 4% of burst mode.

The report comes to the conclusion that solid-core reactors cannot handle burst mode without going all Chernobyl on you. It will have to use fixed or rotation particle bed reactors (RBR). Burst mode will create such high thermomechanically induces stresses on the solid core elements that it will cause immediate core failure. At least without gradually powering up while wasting even more coolant in open-cycle mode.


Obviously such huge power levels are going to create ugly amounts of waste heat. Both from the reactor and from the weapon system. The burst power and weapon heat will be dealt with via open cycle cooling. Reactor decay heat will be taken care of by heat radiators. Lots and lots of heat radiators. So much heat radiator that you'd better be using the most lightweight radiator design possible.

This looks like a job for Liquid Droplet Radiators (LDR). Not only due to the low mass, but they are also the hardest to damage with hostile weapons fire. Which is always a plus on a warship.

The radiators are 60° triangles. The droplet collector is hinged so it can retract into the body of the spacecraft fuselage during surface-to-orbit launch. The generator is rigidly attached to the hull, and is divided into a large number of droplet generator modules. Each module has its own piezoelectric shaker and electromagnetically activated shut-off valve. The large number of droplet generators gives gracefule degradation and redundancy, always a plus for any equipment that the enemy is going to be taking pot-shots at.

There will be three heat radiators, one for each of the nuclear reactors.


The spacecraft has three nuclear reactors/engines, three triangular LDRs for the three engines, and two smaller LDRs for the habitat module. It is 150 meters long. A Space Shuttle orbiter is shown docking to the command module for scale.

Each of the three multi-mode powerplants uses a rotating bed particle reactor (RBR) design. Each produces 2,500 MWth and has its own 100 MWth liquid droplet radiator (LDR) with a closed-cycle conversion system. The triangular LDRs are 100 meters on a side. They take care of the waste heat when the reactor is being used in low-power housekeeping mode. In this mode, the three reactors produce a combined total of 75 MWe. Each reactor has an anti-radiation shadow shield, to protect the crew and ship structure from reactor radiation.

The LDRs are mounted to the aft 100 meters of the 150 meter long spacecraft. Inside the 100 meter core of the ship are mounted six LH2 cryogenic shuttle External Tanks (ET). The liquid hydrogen is used for open-cycle cooling and for engine propellant. The reactors, powerplants, and propellant tanks are bolted on to the space-frame trusses of the ship's spine. They are protected with light-weight anti-laser ablative armor.

The forward 50 meters of the spacecraft is the Command Module. This contains the habitat module the crew lives in. It has smaller LDRs that are only 40 meters on a side, used to keep the habitat module environment temperature comfortable. The Command Module is separated from the rest of the spacecraft by a secondary radiation shield. Hey! There are three nuclear reactors back there, and they blaze with blue radioactive death in burst mode.

The Command Module contains two "bridges" (actually CICs). The main one is a 20 meter diameter artificial gravity centrifuge that provides 1 gravity (it will have to spin at 9.4 rpm which is right at the nausea limit).

The smaller "heavily shielded forward bridge area" is where the crew shelters when they fire the particle-beam weapon (PBW) or the free-electron laser (FEL). Those weapons create radiation even when they are operating perfectly. But the PBW has a worst-case failure mode where the beam is misdirected back at the crew. The thickness of the bridge shield is designed to mitigate the maximum inflicted dose before the PBW can be shut down. The crew might be safe from the FEL if they are in the main bridge and only protected by the secondary radiation shield. But they MUST shelter in the secondary bridge if the PBW is going to be fired.

The three reactors are mounted on short struts so to keep the large LDRs within the shadow of the shadow shield. Otherwise they will backscatter radiation into the crew. The LDRs may backscatter radiation from the FEL onto the crew, which is why it might be a good idea to play it safe and shelter in the secondary bridge anyway.


The Free-Electron Laser proper is located in the rear of the spacecraft, nestled among the LH2 tanks.An accelerator is used to move the free-electrons. An RF LINAC, a storage ring, or an induction LINAC electron accelerator can be used. They create dangerous radiation so you want them away from the crew. The FEL "wiggler" is located halfway between the aft end of the spacecraft and the grazing incidence resonance optics.

The beam travels forwards, passing along the belly of the command module. It hits the grazing incidence secondary optics and is directed "upwards" into the telescope mount and the extended beam expander. This is basically a huge laser turret. The beam expander had been focused on the enemy target, and directs the laser beam to burn a red-hot hole in it.

The large beam expander has its back side (the non-mirror part) armored, to protect against hostile weapons fire. The entire expander is designed to be retractable in case the enemy starts throwing nuclear weapons around. The high-reflectivity multi-layer film coating of the expander is rather delicate.

The neutral particle-beam weapon (NPBW) will be mounted parallel to the FEL. The only difference is it fires directly backwards. The blasted beam is basically radioactive, so you want it as far from the crew as possible. The NPBW is in a spinal mount unlike the FEL, so you aim it by rotating the entire ship. Actually aiming the ship's rear. Remember the worst case failure mode is the weapon firing in reverse, directly forwards into the crew.

The length of the railgun depends upon how fast you want the projectile to go, and how much acceleration the railgun can manage. It will fire forwards, and it too will be in a spinal mount.

      For one thing, we think a real battle cruiser will probably have to cruise the deeps of space with only occasional support, in true dreadnaught tradition. It will be on-station, call it picket duty if you like, for long months. It will require a crew of at least a couple of dozen. And if it has to operate on its own, it will have to carry its own power. Well into the next century we may have antimatter engines, and then all that onboard power will be a cinch. But like it or not, until then we will have to use more well-developed technology. As with their deep ocean submersible counterparts, our first space cruisers will probably ply the void with nuclear power plants.

     Many years ago, we developed solid-core nuclear reactors for the rocket engines of the NERVA project. We learned a lot from it—including the fact that solid-core reactors would almost certainly not serve us for the cruiser. For weapon energy, we have to put sudden, extreme power demands on our cruiser's engines. The heat buildup in solid-core elements would cause tremendous stresses inside the reactor. It might fail the first time we made a heavy demand on it. Sorry.

     A particle bed reactor is another matter, though. It could accept those sudden peak demands, assuming we have some means for radiating waste heat away from the reactor after it’s shut down.‘That is a mighty big assumption, because we will need humongous radiators. There are lots of radiators that could handle the waste heat of a few gigawatt-rated reactors, but most radiator designs would mass more than the rest of the entire cruiser. That, to understate the case, is no small mass. Figure 8-2 shows a three-view of our space cruiser.

     This critter is big. Notice the old NASA shuttle, docked under the chin of our cruiser in side view? We have a craft 500 feet long (150 meters), with radiator return manifolds like enormous legs. Each return manifold extends about 300 feet (90 meters) from the cruiser’s centerline. It has to, because smaller radiators would let the ship fry in its own waste heat.

     These radiators are very special gadgets, originally proposed by Mattick and Hertzberg. They are called liquid droplet radiators, designed to dispose of prodigious amounts of waste heat in moments. Here's how it works: each particle bed reactor sends its waste heat to a fluid-filled heat exchanger. That hot fluid, which may be a lightweight metal or an oil that is stable at high temperature, is then pumped to an array of nozzles lying along the fuselage of the cruiser. This array, like a very elongated (linear) showerhead, sprays the hot fluid into space. But not very far into space, because every one of those spray nozzles is aimed at a collector scoop on the end of that long, extended radiator return manifold.

     The smaller a droplet, the more surface area it has per unit mass; and we are spraying billions of tiny droplets per second. As the droplets fly through the vacuum of space, they radiate their heat away. But we are not through yet. The droplets continue through space for a moment, then we catch them with the collector scoop and pump them back into the system, recycling for the next thermal load. Here is where we may have to get cute with the fluid. If we mix exceedingly tiny particles of iron or magnetic iron oxide into the oil, every droplet can be dragged along by a magnetic field. We embed magnetic coils in the collector out at the tip of that extension, and simply let a moving magnetic field sweep all those billions of droplets into a scavenger collector pump. The pump returns the cooled fluid back to the reactor heat exchanger, and we are ready to reuse it.

     Notice the end-view in Figure 8-2; we have three separate engines, and for reliability each engine has its own reactor. These are multimode engines; we can use them all for propulsion, or for electrical energy to power onboard weapons, or some of each simultaneously. Each reactor is rated at about 2.5 GW; and the engines need propellant, and weapons require coolant. Much of the rearmost two-thirds of our cruiser's hull will be filled with tanks of liquid hydrogen. In between the tankage we install: the big guns.

     For weaponry, the space cruiser may carry a massive free-electron laser (FEL), a neutral particle beam weapon, perhaps a microwave weapon, and an electromagnetic cannon. There is no doubt that you can accelerate lumps of material to meteorite velocity using a mass driver. In space, it could spit anything from steel pellets to compressed garbage without releasing much of a weapon signature. The projectiles would be slow in comparison to an energy beam, but they would be hard to see coming, and at several miles per second, a little dab would do you. If we installed an electromagnetic cannon fifty yards long (46 meters) in our cruiser and accelerated its projectiles at 50,000 g's, each projectile would emerge at about 4.3 miles per second (7 km/s). If a projectile the size of a golf ball hit a piece of enemy hardware at that speed, the kinetic energy of the collision could do terrific damage (if steel golf ball, about 7.7×106, equivalent to the detonation of an entire freaking kilogram of dynamite. In one golf ball.).

     The free-electron laser is a whopper, as you can see in the cutaway, Figure 8-3. Its linac runs most of the length of the hull and the wiggler magnet is near the midpoint of the hull. As an alternative accelerator, we could use a storage ring which would also be located at the hull midpoint. We can call for whatever wavelengths we want against a given target, and the High Energy Laser (HEL) beam is fired from final optics that retract into a turret near the forward end of the cruiser.

     The neutral particle beam is another matter. It pours out radiation like clinkers from a tin horn, and we want to avoid firing it past the crew up front. So we fire the particle beam generally rearwards, and shoehorn its accelerator and optics into the hull near the FEL goodies.

     We have a pretty potent cruiser here, self-sufficient and capable of long missions. We need enough crew to stand watches around the clock—at least two dozen people. Except for inspection and repair, the entire crew will probably live and work in the command module, which is the forward fifty-yard (50 meter) segment of the cruiser. We know that long space missions without gravity tend to rob our bodies of calcium, and several long missions may cause irreversible weakening of our bones. Well, how would you like to volunteer for a career that's guaranteed to cripple you? Or, looking at it from another angle, why spend huge sums to train our best people, knowing they will be good for only one or two missions?

     This is depressing; it’s wasteful and tragic and, with something the size of a space cruiser, it is unnecessary. The solution is in Figure 8-4: a one-g centrifuge for our crew quarters. Crew members will probably be ordered to stay there for a certain portion of every twenty-four hours when not on alert. The centrifuge is over sixty feet in diameter (9.1 meter radius), and at its outer wall you feel Earth-normal force—a synthetic gravity (I don't know. To produce 1 g will require a spin rate of a whopping 9.9 rpm, right at the nausea limit).

     Near the front of the command module, up ahead of the crew quarters, is the bridge, where the crew stands duty watch. The cutaway shows how we integrate the bridge, the centrifuge, and the FEL turret. The bridge windows give us a fair idea of the scale. It might get a little cramped for two dozen people after a few months, but submariners have it worse. And no one can complain about the view! The entire command module is fitted with radiation barriers, but the fighting bridge is especially well-armored. This is necessary protection both from enemy weapons and from stray radiation coming from our own onboard weapons. When the klaxon calls for battle stations, the entire crew will probably strap down in the armored bridge section.

     One day we may have the power to boost cruisers of this size up from Earth and return them intact, but it will not happen in the next fifty years. Our prototype cruiser must be built in segments, probably here on Earth, then boosted to orbit piecemeal for final assembly. The big brute was not intended to fly in the atmosphere; it's a pure spacecraft. Even during major overhaul it will hang in a parking orbit.

     We have become used to pure spacecraft looking like an orgy of granddaddy longlegs with pingpong balls, without any need for aerodynamic shape. Yet we must boost this monster up through the air for initial assembly, even if we do it in pieces. Don't be surprised, then, if it ends up looking pretty slick after all.

     The command module is one segment we might boost up using a lot of today's hardware. Instead of orbiting a NASA shuttle, we might consider the option shown in Figure 8-5. Yes, the fifty-yard-long command module is a monster, but it's light. And we can leave the crew centrifuge out for the time being. In fact, we can bring up all the radiation shielding and other heavy furnishings later in conventional shuttles leaving the module stripped for its first voyage. We have a second good reason for leaving the centrifuge out momentarily, because we can fill the void with extra propellant tankage. We might even use elements of those tanks later as separate pressure chambers, just as submarines have several sealable compartments in the event of a hull rupture.

     There is one infuriating detail about external tanks that you may already know: the biggest single piece of the NASA shuttle, its leviathan external tank, does not have to be thrown away during each launch! We deliberately discard it, letting it fall into the ocean, when we could easily carry it into permanent orbit. We have heard the arguments and consider it little short of criminal. There is still a lot of extra fuel, and many tons of structure, and potentially a lot of storage room, in that expensive tank we throw away. "No-deposit, no-return," is a bankrupt idea even for beer cans. When your deposit is in megabucks, you have a right to ask why it isn't stashed in orbit for later use. Our space cruiser would be able to use nine of those liquid hydrogen tanks for interior propellant storage, and perhaps others as exterior strapons. What other uses would the empty tanks have? Too many to list here.

     Some of our cruiser hull structure might be largely constructed in orbit but, as we see in Figure 8-5, we could boost the entire command module in one shot. Our next step would be to clear out the empty bay and install the crew centrifuge, radiation shields, and other interior furnishings. During the entire final orbital assembly process, the assembly crew can spend their off-duty hours in a one-g environment.

     Did we hear someone say we need a pilot module like the shuttle’s to boost this hunk into orbit? Right; and we have one. The command bridge is already installed in the cruiser's forward segment, and there’s plenty of room for several mission specialists. Just don't forget to kiss this vehicle goodbye; it isn't coming back. It will soon be the smart end of a very large space-superiority cruiser, fitted out for long-duration missions in near-Earth space.

     We could bore everybody to tears with discussions of trade-offs, and the "small" retractable liquid droplet radiators up front for environment control, and refitting our cruiser for antimatter engines and the Alpha Centauri trip; but we have to stop somewhere. Even if our military space cruisers never fire a shot in anger, some of them will make dandy vehicles for cargo and exploration.

From THE FUTURE OF FLIGHT by Leik Myrabo and Dean Ing (1985)
ISBN: 0-671-55941-9 / 978-0-671-55941-0

Mass driver weapon: projectile the size of a golf ball moving at 4.3 miles per second.

4.3 miles/s = 7 km/s = 7,000 m/s

Radius of golf ball = 0.021335 m.

volumeSphere = (4/3) * π * radius3

volumeSphere = (4/3) * π * radius3
volumeSphere = (1.3333) * 3.14159 * 0.0213353
volumeSphere = (1.3333) * 3.14159 * 0.000009711312770375
volumeSphere = 4.07×10-5 cubic meters

Say the ball is composed of steel. The density of steel is about 7,700 kg/m3. So the mass of a steel sphere with a volume of 4.07×10-5 cubic meters is

massSteelGolfBall = 7,700 * 4.07×10-5
massSteelGolfBall = 0.31339 kg

Steel golf ball is moving at 7,000 meters per second. Kinetic energy is:

kineticEnergy = 0.5 * mass * velocity2
kineticEnergy = 0.5 * 0.31339 * 7,0002
kineticEnergy = 0.5 * 0.31339 * 49,000,000
kineticEnergy = 7,678,000 = 7×106 Joules

Go to the Boom Table. Look up 7×106 Joules. You will find it is approximately equal to one kilogram of dynamite.


I tried to make a Blender model of the battle cruiser. It was not easy since the scans in the report are beyond terrible. About as good as a forth-generation photocopy. So don't blame me if the ship looks wonky. If anybody has access to a better scan of the report, please get in touch with me.

Blue Max Studio Liberty Bell

Liberty Bell
ParamLaunchLunar Run
6.18 MN2.2 MN
10.5 (4.2)*1.56
Accel10 m/s24.58 m/s2
1,132.4 kg/s1,000 kg/s
5,457 m/s2,200 m/s
556.2 s452.3 s
770 s105 s
≈2 hrs5.56 days
Δv7,842 m/s4,947 m/s

The Liberty Bell is a tramp freighter created by Ray McVay for his Black Desert universe

The Liberty Bell proper is a command module with a dry mass of 50 tons, and 50 tons of propellant. It has a power plant, life support, and thrusters. It can carry a crew of five plus up to 20 passengers from the surface into LEO.

On the nose is an airlock with an androgynous docking port and a maneuvering unit.

On the tail there are four couplers, each of which can hold one cargo container. The containers are cylinders 9.5 meters long and 5 meters in diameter. They are rated to carry a maximum of 62.5 tons of cargo each.

There are four remote manipulator arms used to handle cargo containers. The arms are not permanently attached, they can move like a giant inchworm over the spacecraft's surface just like the Canadarm 2 on the International Space Station.

The Liberty Bell is boosted into orbit with an L-Drive assembly. This is a laser launch system. At the spaceport, the launch pad has a huge stationary laser built into it. The L-Drive assembly is attached to the bottom of the Liberty Bell. The L-Drive is an air-breather, it scoops up atmosphere and sprays it into the mirrored dish-with-a-spike. The laser beam from the launch pad heats the air, creating the thrust to boost the spacecraft into orbit. The laser beam tracks the L-Drive as it climbs into the sky. When the L-Drive reaches an altitude where the air is too thin, it switches to its internal propellant tanks.

Typically the L-Drives are owned and maintained by the spaceport, they cost $1,250,000 Black Desert dollars. The spaceport will rent an L-Drive, laser boost time, plus fees and taxes to the captain of the Liberty Bell. This will cost the captain $100,000 total to boost the Liberty Bell into LEO.

Upon reaching LEO, a Liberty Bell generally makes a rendezvous with an orbital transport nexus, unloads its four cargo containers (250 tons of cargo total) and 20 passengers, loads new cargo and new passengers to be delivered to Terra's surface, pays the spaceport for laser landing services (including fresh propellant for the L-Drive), and rides the laser beam back down to the spaceport.

However, our Liberty Bell is heading to Luna.

The Liberty Bell jettisons the L-Drive, delivering the rental vehicle back into the hands of spaceport personnel (the orbital representatives). The captain knows that when they make the return trip, the spaceport will be more than happy to reserve them an L-Drive for the trip down.

On this trip, instead of carrying four cargo containers, the Liberty Bell only has two containers (125 tons), a translunar rocket engine (20 tons, thrust equivalent to a SSME), and a small cobbled together weapons package (105 tons). The total payload tonnage is 250 tons, same as four cargo containers.

The weapons package contains two Kinetic Kill Vehicles (KKV) at 40 tons each, two Caltrop space mines at ten tons each, and a laser turret with power supply at five tons.

The Liberty Bell then moves into a higher orbit, to make a rendezvous with a transfer space station. In the Black Desert universe, the orbits are patrolled by the astromilitaries of various nations, all looking for trouble and whatever they can get away with. This is the main reason for the Liberty Bell's weapons package.

At the transfer station, the Liberty Bell outfits itself for the Lunar trip. It leases four propellant tanks to feed the translunar rocket engine. It also leases or purchases a cupola.

Using the remote manipulator arms, the translunar rocket engine and the airlock/docking ring swap positions. The rocket engine is mounted on the nose and the four propellant tanks are attached. The docking ring is mounted next to the other cargo, and a cupola installed on top. For the rest of the trip, the cupola will serve as the Liberty Bell's cockpit.

As it turns out, one of the captain's business partners had three cargo containers waiting at the transfer station to be delivered to Luna. The remote manipulator arms install these as well.

The Liberty Bell is ready for the trip to Luna. The command module now faces opposite the direction of thrust it had at launch, with the cupola and the weapons package aimed at the new forwards that used to be backwards. It is carrying three hundred tons of cargo.

It has enough life support and consumables to haul five crew and twenty passengers on the five and a half day trip to Luna or one of the La Grange stations.

Ray McVay version of Rocketpunk Patrol Ship
Ray McVay
Rocketpunk Patrol Ship
Dry Mass76.2 metric tons
Wet Mass384.6 metric tons
Mass Ratio5
Length Z73 meters
Length Y20.1 meters
Length X15.2 meters
Enginex2 F-26-A LH/LOX
Thrust7.7×106 N
Acceleration0.5 g
ΔV8,200 m/s

This is the same one from the other day, only dressed up with a nice logo and some stats. These are realistic capabilities made courtesy of the charts and other information available from Atomic Rocket and inspiration from Rick Robinson's Rocketpunk Manifesto.

My PL differs from the one in Rick Robinson's article in a few key areas. The main difference is that it is not made for long hauls. It only has a delta v of about 8200 m/s. This will not get one far in the solar system but it allows a forward deployed Patrol Craft a sufficient "range" to perform many of the missions we discussed in the last post on Building a Space Navy. Our little A-Class has enough Delta V to shape a light-second orbit around a convoy in deep space, conduct SAR missions anywhere in cis-lunar space, or to reach any moon of Saturn from any other moon. Obviously, this rocket is mostly propellant (mass ratio 5). If you drew lines through the side view of the rocket that bracket the docking rings, you would encompass the entire pressurized volume. I've got to say, it's nice to work on a warship for a change — I don't have to make it economical to run!

One of the interesting things about this design is actually the freedom the little carried craft gives me. It was a throw-away touch, originally — a design borrowed from another project. But as I got to looking at the little thing, I realized that it's about the size of the Saturn V stage/Apollo/LM stack. That means it should be able to go from Earth Departure to Lunar orbit. That means that it has the Delta V to ferry crew to and from a Patrol Craft on station away from the convoy. That means, like submarines, our Patrol Craft can have two crews and stay out for a lot longer than otherwise. This is one of those realistic touches that I hope add to the charm of the rocket's design.

ed note: a 1500 nanometer near infrared laser with a 10 meter fixed mirror can have a 4 centimeter spot size out to 220 kilometers or so. A 4 meter mirror can have a 4 centimeter spot size out to 87 kilometers or so.

Charles Oines

Charles Oines is an emergency stunt artist who has been producing game-related digital artwork since 1990 for a variety of high-profile game companies. Do go check out his portfolio. The artwork displayed below was created for the game Attack Vector: Tactical.

The spherical mesh is a species of fusion drive, the spikes are propulsion system heat radiators. The rectangular vanes are the power reactor and weapon system heat radiators. The forward part of the propulsion system is a lead and concrete radiation shadow shield.

Recently, Mr. Oines has mastered the art of creating 3D meshes suitable for rapid prototyping. He now offers a selection of starship miniatures suitable for starship wargames from his print-on-demand ship.

He also has a paper-and-cardboard starship wargame that offers valuable lessons in maneuvering spacecraft under Newtonian physics.

Daniel McIlvaney

Daniel McIlvaney's impressive artwork can be found on SciFi Meshes, where he goes by the handle "TheUnlogicalOne". The first set of images are of a patrol ship, and second is of a destroyer. Mr. McIlvaney hastens to add that these are all works-in-progress, not finished works.

Patrol Ship


THE EXPANSE Ship Types by Spacedock

Spacedock: A series where we look at the specifications, history and lore of fictional spacecraft from science fiction. Any Spacecraft, any Sci-Fi.

Recently they entered into a agreement with the TV show The Expanse to produce the series FORCE RECON: THE SHIPS OF THE EXPANSE about the various spacecraft. The series is produced in collaboration with The Expanse team and constitutes official Expanse canon (meaning Spacedock is not just making up fan crap on their own, the TV show considers this to be official). Please note that while the videos are canon to the TV series, they may or may not be compatible with the book series.

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Truman Class Dreadnought

Morrigan Class Patrol Destroyer

Razorback Racing Pinnace

Leonidas Class Battleship

OPAS Behemoth

Scirocco Class Assault Cruiser

Amun-Ra Class Stealth Frigate


Juho Kesala

Artist Juho Kesälä is a long time fan of this website, and uses it ensure the reality of the artwork.

Artist Statement:

My scifi setting originated and still serves as a vehicle for storytelling, art and gaming, but I've also found worldbuilding in on itself an enjoyable pursuit. One of the things I like to do is design spacecraft with some level of realism. I strive to keep things at least physically plausible with the fairly significant exception of faster-than-light travel. Call it hard scifi space opera, if that's not too much of an oxymoron. Much of my inspiration for these designs comes from setting myself design constraints and then coming up with ideas to satisfy them.

In terms of artistic influence I'd have to mention Homeworld.

Currently all this stuff exists mostly in my head, a few story and gaming related projects, and a folder on my computer. Though the worldbuilding isn't collected anywhere online I do have a Tumblr and a DeviantArt account where I'll post my artwork.

In-A.22 Nikto-ega class interceptor

PropulsionCascade drive
ΔV1,013,000 m/s
Wet Mass6,590,000 kg
Dry Mass2,012,000 kg
Mass Ratio3.28
Exhaust Velocity852,800 m/s
Specific Impulse86,900 sec
Thrust309,568,480 N
Thrust Power132 terawatts
Acceleration4.1 to
6.7 g
Acceleration40.2 to
65.7 m/s
Length66 m
Beam18 m
Armament2 x ion cannon

This is a design by Juho Kesälä, artist and long-time student of this website. It is amazingly good! I cannot find anything scientifically inaccurate, and only minor quibbles with the design.

The propulsion system is called the "cascade drive", which from the description appears to be a species of antimatter-catalyzed-microfission Hydrogen-Boron fusion. The specific impulse for the cascade drive is a bit more than the info I have about the HB drive but it is in the same order of magnitude. Fuel pellets containing Hydrogen-Boron and Uranium 235 (in a 9:1 molar ratio) are fired into the center of a magnetic nozzle. Antimatter beams shoot streams of antiprotons at the pellet. The antiprotons cause the uranium to fission. The fission energy ignites the hydrogen-boron fuel into a fusion reaction. The magnetic nozzle turns the fusion energy into thrust. The pellets are ignited at about 1 second intervals.

In fleet combat, the tiny Nikto-egas are interceptors. Their relatively high acceleration and delta-V give them a huge reach. The main function is to intercept hostile missile fire in the early boost stage. The idea is the threat of the intercepter forces the missile to shed their high delta-V boost stages, or be destroyed by interceptor ion cannon fire. Without the boost stage, the missiles can no longer reach their original target, so they have to retarget on the relatively low-value interceptors. The interceptors are designed to survive this, but interceptor attrition rates are inevitably high.

To endure the savage four to eight gee acceleration, the 3 man crew uses liquid breathing. This is appropriate since "nikto-ega" is a species of small predatory fish.

The interceptor can carry up to four mission-specific payload pods. These include missile pods, electronic warfare, sensors, and drones.

Marnix Rekkers

Marnix Rekkers is a hot young concept artist who has worked for quite a few clients, currently with Hades 9 and Impeller Studios. His eye for scientific details is very sharp.

Michael McCollum


      Like her dead namesake, Conqueror II was a giant cylinder of a ship, shaped more or less like the cans in which coffee is shipped.  When under thrust, everyone and everything aboard was pulled toward the aft bulkhead, making “down” the direction opposite that in which the ship was accelerating.  However, when the engines were shut off, as they had been ever since the fleet established itself athwart Spica’s lanes of commerce, the ship was spun about its central axis to provide artificial gravity.  In this configuration, “out” became “down,” and everyone lived on the curved outer decks and studiously ignored the various furnishings and pieces of equipment retracted into the aft walls of compartments.

     It was this need to generate “centrifugal force” — a mathematical fiction with no reality in the universe, but a concept that human beings stubbornly refuse to discard — that drove the design of virtually every system aboard the big blastship.  The ambidextrous arrangement of the living quarters was only the most visible accommodation to the ship’s need to fight and function whether thrusting or spinning.  Both modes required a high degree of dynamic balance in three orthogonal axes, a balance continuously adjusted by transferring fluids between tanks via a complex network of valves, pumps, and pipes.

     Farthest aft were the fuel tanks.  They took up nearly thirty percent of Conqueror’s interior volume and consisted of six large cylinders wrapped in meter-thick layers of mirrored insulation that were arrayed in a Star-of-David pattern just outboard of the big photon resonator tube that drove the ship through vacuum (some sort of absurdly powerful photon drive powered by a mass converter. Capable of accelerating the ship at multiple-gees for weeks on end. Yes, it's a torchship.).  Forward of the fuel tanks were the other consumables.  Mirrored spheres tinted green contained liquid oxygen.  Most were paired with larger cryogenic tanks tinted blue that contained liquid nitrogen.  White spheres contained potable water while slate-gray held wastewater waiting purification.  All of these liquids were sufficiently dense that redistributing them among the various storage tanks had an effect on the ship’s balance.  The system was so precise that it even compensated for the perturbations caused when off-duty crewmen used one of the main circumferential passageways as a jogging track.

     While spinning the ship to provide artificial gravity solved a variety of problems for the crew, it presented the original designers with any number of difficulties.  Many of the weapons and sensors objected to being spun like a can at the end of a rope.  For these, the ship had two large outrigger booms that extended the full length of the hull.  The booms were mounted on bearings, and remained steady in space even when the central cylinder of the ship was rotating.  Another problem had been where to locate the large open volume in which the blastship’s auxiliary craft were stored.  When the ship was spinning at nearly two revolutions per minute, the only safe place to take a smaller vessel aboard was along the spin axis, and because the engines monopolized all of the available real estate at the stern, Hobson’s choice dictated the location of the hangar bay.  It was forward, with the doors inset at the center of the concave bow.

     Like the ship herself, Conqueror II’s hangar bay had been constructed oversize.  It was a hollow cylindrical cavern stretching from the bow halfway back into the cylindrical hull.  In fact, the six big thrust girders that were the blastship’s backbone formed part of the hangar bay’s structure, making it one of the strongest compartments in the ship.  The main cylinder of the bay was intersected forward of its midpoint by three smaller circular openings.  These were Conqueror’ssally ports,” unobstructed shafts leading to space doors in the outer hull and used to disgorge auxiliary craft quickly during battle.

     Normally the bay was crowded with the various smaller ships necessary to keep a blastship operational in enemy space.  There were the armed scouts, vessels with six-man crews that swept space in front of the fleet, engaged enemy scouts, and harassed the enemy out of all proportion to their size.  There were inter-orbit ferries, the ugly collections of geometric shapes to whom fell the mundane tasks of transporting personnel and supplies between the larger ships.  There were small repair craft with grappling arms and oversize thrusters, as well as other specialized craft.

     Because the hangar bay was not airtight, operations inside the bay were overseen from one of the three observation galleries inset in the inner bay wall between the thrust girders.  Roofed over with armor glass, these gave a panoramic view of everything going on in this miniature spaceport at the heart of the blastship.

     Drake felt a spring in his step as he entered the Number 2 Gallery.  This close to the axis, spin-gravity was only one-quarter what it was at the outer hull — just enough to keep everyone attached to the deck.  He strode to the center of the gallery and tilted his head back to take in the panorama of the bay overhead.

     With many of her auxiliaries away on missions, Conqueror’s bay was as empty as Richard had ever seen it.  Forward, the big hangar doors were retracting slowly into their recesses, revealing the black of space beyond and a small scout boat waiting to enter.  The boat was stationary with respect to the open doors, having matched its roll rate to that of the big blastship.  The universe beyond cartwheeled.  Although the stars were invisible, the angle of the sunlight streaming through the open doors changed continuously, making a complete circuit twice each minute.

     As he watched, a long, multi-segmented arm came into view, reaching up toward the nose of the scout.  The grapple mechanism on the end of the arm attached itself to the ship’s bow, and several green lights blinked to life along the scout’s hull.  The lights signified that the small ship’s controls had been locked and its engines disabled.  Had they not, Conqueror’s traffic control officer would not have allowed it inside the bay, a paranoid attitude of which the commanding admiral heartily approved.

     The arm pulled the small ship slowly inside.  The hangar bay doors began to slide ponderously closed as the arm moved the scout ship to the docking port just forward of Gallery Two.  The scout had appeared tiny compared to the scale of the bay, but now that it was docked just beyond the gallery’s armor glass roof, it looked like the capable interplanetary craft that it was.

     There were the usual noises as the docking fixture latches engaged and the disembarkation tube filled with air. Drake watched as the airlock telltales blinked from red, to yellow, and then to green.  As the lock made the customary soft sighing sound, he signaled the Marine in charge of the band standing by opposite the airlock.

     Richard Drake lay in his acceleration couch and listened to the labored pounding of his pulse in his temples, along with all of the other noises that are present aboard a ship at high boost.  Somewhere deep within the cylindrical core of Conqueror II, massive pumps were delivering liquid hydrogen to the engines, where it was being converted into an intense beam of pure light which drove the blastship toward its destiny.

     The photon drive is the most efficient means of propelling a ship through space ever devised.  In fact, it is the most efficient drive that is even theoretically possible.  The drive’s efficiency, measured in terms of its specific impulse, derives from the fact that the “mass” of photon is a measure of its energy content and not its “rest mass,” of which it has none.  Conqueror II and her consorts propelled themselves with beams of light that were fifty thousand times more efficient than the engines of the first space shuttles.  Despite their efficiency, however, photon drives were not without their problems.

     The primary problem was thrust.  The first truly efficient space drives had used beams of ions accelerated to near light speed by electric fields.  And while these “ion drives” were hundreds of times more efficient than chemical rockets, their inherent thrust was never more than a few thousand dynes.  Photon drives were even more efficient than ion thrusters, and with correspondingly low thrust.  To overcome this deficiency, Conqueror II’s engines had to spew forth trillions of photons every nanosecond, and even then, the ship’s maximum thrust was barely one standard gravity (which is still freaking huge).

     For high-speed runs like the one they were on, a stream of superheated hydrogen ions was introduced into the raging beam of light to augment the ship’s thrust ("shifting gears", basically trading specific impulse for thrust).  As a result, the massive warhorse gulped hydrogen at a rate approaching that of the early chemical rockets that were her distant ancestors.  Luckily, hydrogen is the one element the universe has in abundance, and Strike Force Spica was accompanied by dozens of cryogen tankers.

     The hum of the pumps was more sensed than felt, a barely discernible vibration that suffused the ship.  Other noises were louder.  There was the soft hum of the ventilators as they strained to drive denser air than normal through the ship, and the various clicks, whistles, and buzzes that have accompanied electronic displays since the beginning of the computer age.  Then there was the subdued buzz of voices as the various technicians manned their duty stations despite the three times normal gravity that tugged at them.  The mood aboard Conqueror II, which had been tense in the minutes before and after the last foldspace transition, had settled down into one of dull routine, which was a source of never ending amazement to Drake.  That the human animal can be bored and in mortal danger at the same time shows the resilience of the breed.

Michael Nuclear Pulse Battleship

RocketCat sez

Oooooh, Yeah!!! The Orion-drive Michael Battleship is the biggest meanest son-of-a-spacer in the cosmos! Well, maybe second to the Project Orion Battleship.

Just look at that bad boy! Can't you just see that unstoppable titan blazing into orbit on a pillar of multiple nuclear explosions, ready to kick that alien bussard ramjet's buns up between its shoulder blades? The drawback to Orion-drive is that it don't scale down worth a darn. So they didn't even try. No "every gram counts" worries here, they freaking chopped the main guns off the freaking Battleship New Jersey and welded them on!

Any casaba howitzer weapons? Naw, spears of nuclear flame are too feeble. They are using full-blown freaking Excalibur bomb-pumped x-ray lasers! Not infrared, not visible light, not even ultraviolet. X-rays. Just like Teller intended.

What's that you ask? What about the pumping bomb? Well, this is an Orion-drive, moron. That's whats driving the ship. Spit out a few Excaliburs, they aim their hundreds of laser rods on their targets, then the next pulse unit simultaneously thrusts the ship and energizes the graser beams. Another jumbo-sized order of crispy-fried elephant, coming right up!

Still have megatons of payload allowance left over? Well, how about carrying a small fleet of gunships with nuclear missiles? And all four space shuttles?

The look on the elephant's faces was priceless! Michael is coming. And is he pissed!

Battleship Michael
PropulsionOrion Drive
Height226 meters
Diameter113 meters
Massbetween 35,000
and 50,000
metric tons

Warning: spoilers for the book Footfall by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle to follow. On the other hand, the novel came out decades ago in 1985. I mean, in the novel the U.S.S.R. still exists. It takes place in the far flung future year 1995.

Footfall is arguably the best "alien invasion" novel ever written. Just like The Mote in God's Eye is arguably the best "first contact" novel ever written. But I digress.

Aliens (called "Fithp") who look like baby elephants arrive from Alpha Centauri in a Bussard ramjet starship (hybrid Sleeper ship and Generation ship). The starship is named "Message Bearer." They immediately ditch the Bussard drive module into the Sun, destroying it. If the Fithp are defeated, the humans can jolly well build their own Bussard drive from scratch to travel to Alpha C and attack the Fithp homeworld.

The Fithp evolved from herd animals, unlike humans. They have a very alien idea of conflict resolution. When two herds meet, they fight until it was obvious which one was superior. Then everybody immediately stops fighting, and the inferior herd is peacefully incorporated into the superior tribe as second-class citizens. Fithp do not comprehend the concept of "diplomacy".

They make the unwise assumption that human beings operate the same way. Big mistake!

The Fithp have somewhat superior technology compared to humans. They attack and seize the Russian space station (the ISS was not started until 13 years after the novel was written), annihilate military sites and important infrastructure with rods from God, then invade Kansas. The Fithp think "Look, humans. We are obviously superior. Now is the time to stop fighting and be peacefully incorporated into our herd." The Fithp calmly wait for the human surrender.

Humans don't work that way (and they have no idea that the Fithp have such a bizarre way of interacting). They savagely counterattack with the National Guard and three US armored divisions. The Fithp are taken aback, and beat off the counterattack with orbital lasers and more rods from God. The humans respond with a combined Russian and US nuclear strike on Kansas, obliterating the Fithp invasion force and most of the Kansas heartland.

The Fithp start panicking. What is it going to take to make these crazy humans surrender?

Finally the Fithp decide to forgo all half-measures. They drop a small "dinosaur killer" asteroid on Terra. The asteroid is called "The Foot." This causes global environmental damage, and more or less kills everybody living in India. Surely this will make the humans surrender!

The Fithp obviously don't know humans very well.

The humans have their backs to the wall, since surrender is not in their nature. The US president has a tiger team of advisers, who were drawn from the ranks of science fiction authors. After all, they are the only experts on alien invasions (in the novel, the various advisers are thinly disguised versions of actual real-world authors. Nat Reynolds is Larry Niven, Wade Curtis is Jerry Pournelle, and Bob Anson is Robert Anson Heinlein). They have got to find a way to carry the battle to the enemy: the orbiting starship and the fleet of "digit" ships. But how do you get thousands of tons of military hardware into orbit quickly enough not to be shot down while in flight using only technology they can develop in a dozen months?

There is only one answer. Project Orion. Old boom-boom. And to heck with the limited nuclear test-ban treaty that killed the project in 1963.

Orion has already been developed. Orion is mass-insensitive, it doesn't care if you are boosting tens of thousands of metric tons. This also means you can use quick and dirty engineering, since you are not stopping every five minutes trying to shave off a few grams of excess mass. You don't have to spend a decade trying to engineer featherweight kinetic energy weapons, just go tear the gun turrets off the Battleship New Jersey and weld 'em on. You can also carry a fleet of gunboats. And all four space shuttles.

The gunboats are going to be quick and dirty as well. Spaceships built around a main gun off a Navy ship, firing nuclear shells. Yes, a spinal mounted weapon

What about the Orion drive battleship's main weapon? Heh. Another cancelled project rises from the grave.

Back in the days of the Strategic Defense Initiative, Edward Teller et al came up with Project Excalibur. What was that? No less than bomb-pumped x-ray lasers. But wait, what about the bomb you need to pump the laser? Well, Orion is an nuclear-bomb-powered drive, remember? Make the propulsive bombs do double duty.

The weapons are called "spurt bombs." Dispensers on the pusher plate eject a flight of the little darlings. The spurt bombs unfurl their 100 laser rods apiece and aim them at Fithp ships. The next nuclear pulse unit is positioned, then detonated. This simultaneously gives thrust to the spacecraft, and pumps all of the spurts bombs. The Fithp ships are sliced and diced by a hail of x-ray laser beams. Spurt bombs look like fasces, "bundles of tubes around an axis made up of attitude jets and cameras and a computer."

Note that the nuclear pulse units will have to be specially designed. Standard Orion pulse units are nuclear shaped charges, designed to channel 80% of the x-rays upwards into the pusher plate (well, to create a jet of plasma directed at the plate but I digress). The battleship's pulse units need to be designed to also direct x-rays at the spurt bombs.

What is the battleship's name? Michael of course. The Biblical Archangel who cast Lucifer out of heaven.

The Michael launches through a cloud of Fithp digit ships, cutting them to pieces but suffering serious damage. The Fithp defecate in their pants and frantically rip the starship out of orbit and start running away. Their superior acceleration make escape possible, up until the point where the crew of the Space Shuttle Atlantis commits suicide and rams the starship. The main drive is damaged, and their acceleration is no longer higher than the Michael. Who catches up and starts pounding the living snot out of the starship.

There is something breathtaking about the Michael that captures the imagination of science fiction fans. On pretty much every single online forum about spacecraft combat, it isn't long until somebody brings it up. There have been many examples of fans trying to make blueprints, illustrations, or even scratch-build models of the battleship.

The original Michael diagram was made by Aldo Spadoni, president of Aerospace Imagineering. Mr. Spadoni is an MIT educated mechanical/aerospace engineer with over 30 years of experience designing and developing advanced aerospace vehicle and weapon system concepts (with most of the more advanced work being classified). He is also a personal friend of Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.

Mr. Spadoni did the Michael diagrams around 1997, working directly with Niven and Pournelle. They went through several iterations to arrive at the resulting diagrams.


However, this does bring up a good point that Scott alluded to. Footfall is a novel of course, not an engineering proposal for a space battleship. You glean details regarding the various Footfall spacecraft from the conversations of characters in the story, many of which are not experts wrt what they are describing. As Scott also pointed out, there are inconsistencies in the descriptions that are either intentional or simply mistakes on the part of the authors. Thus, the design of the Footfall spacecraft are open to interpretation.

As an engineer and concept designer, I particularly like the way Larry and Jerry write their stories. They provide enough big picture detail to determine the general design direction for their concepts, but leave the smaller details and the system integration issues to anyone willing to take a crack at envisioning their concepts. Fun stuff! So, I think my overall design captures what the authors intended, but many of the details are open to different interpretations, as some of you have done here.

As I move into discussing some of Michael’s details, I want to note that my primary design goal was to be true to the novel and the authors’ intentions as I understood them. I have my own vision of what a space battleship might look like, as I’m sure many of you have. But that’s not the subject of this design exercise.

As did Scott (Lowther), I struggled to determine Michael’s overall dimensions, given the novel’s inconsistencies. Whatever they wrote, Larry and Jerry envisioned the most compact possible vehicle that would get the job done. Note that Scott is showing an older version of my drawing that shows Michael with the shock absorber array fully compressed along with incorrect dimensions. The final dimensions I came up with are somewhat larger, on the same order as those Scott mentions in a separate post.

Regarding the comment that this is a slick ILM Hollywood design, I think this is reading quite a lot into a hemisphere, a rectangular prism and a shallow cone! Perhaps the commenter is confusing vehicle configuration design with render quality. These drawings were never intended to portray Michael’s actual exterior finish, surface markings, etc. These drawings were created way back when using an ancient vector-based illustration software application called MacDraw Pro. They look pretty awful and it’s certainly not the way I would render Michael today. In hindsight, I should have left them as line drawings and avoided the use of MacDraw Pro’s primitive shading tools.

Regarding the battleship-derived gun turrets, I agree with Scott’s assertion that the text of the book is vague in this area. But based on my discussions with Larry and Jerry, the authors definitely intended for Michael to include two of the full-up 16-inch Iowa class turrets, as well as some smaller gun turrets, not the guns alone.

Regarding the Shock absorbers array configuration, I disagree with you guys. Thinking that Michael is a straight extrapolation of the conventional Orion design configurations is incorrect. The primary purpose of the shock absorber array is, of course, to smooth out the “ride” for the payload/passenger portion of the vehicle. Most of the Orion designs were configured for non-military applications, whereas Michael is a maneuvering warship with massive nuclear pumped steam attitude thruster arrays. In addition to primary Orion thrusting, Michael will be subjected to multi-axial mechanical loads that are NOT along the longitudinal axis of the ship. Also consider that Michael’s design incorporates a pusher “shell” that is far more massive as a fraction of total vehicle mass than the typical Orion pusher plate design. When Michael is thrusting under primary propulsion while engaging in combat maneuvers, an angled shock absorber array design is a good choice for handling the inevitable side loads and for stabilizing the shell wrt the passenger/payload “brick”. Consider a high performance off road vehicle, which must provide chassis stability while the wheels and suspension are being subjected to loads from many directions. You don’t see any parallel straight up and down shock absorbers in the suspension system, do you?

If you look carefully at me design, you can see that that central shock absorber is longitudinal and more massive than the rest. This one is primarily responsible for handling the Orion propulsive loads. Perhaps it should be a bit beefier than I’ve depicted it in the original drawing. The remaining angled shock absorbers handle some of that propulsive load while also providing multi-axial stability. Admittedly, these 2D drawings don’t convey the Shock absorber array configuration that I have envisioned very well.

Since the time these drawing were created, I’ve discussed Michael with Larry and Jerry on a number of occasions. I’ve reconsidered and refined many of Michael’s technical aspects and I’ve designed a more detailed and representative configuration, including an updated shock absorber array. I’m also involved in creating my own high fidelity 3D model of Michael with a few fellow conspirators. I’m looking forward to sharing that with everyone at some point.

(ed note: one of those "few fellow conspirators" was me. Another was Andrew Presby, who is featured on one or two pages of this website.)

From a comment on the Unwanted Blog by Aldo Spadoni (2012)

Around 2010 Andrew Presby and I were commissioned by Aldo Spadoni to turn his Michael blueprints into 3D renders. Click for larger images.

Scott Lowther, author of Aerospace Projects Review is working on a book about nuclear space propulsion. Of course he wouldn't dream about leaving out the coolest Orion Drive spacecraft of all.

Now, strictly by the novel, the Michael is a mile high, which is ludicrous. The protagonists would have to have built a mile-high dome to cover it, which the aliens might have found a bit suspicious. In the diagrams below, Mr. Lowther shows the "large" Michael (one mile) and the more reasonable "small" Michael (1/8th mile).


Nightrider is a fascinating novel by David Mace. Nightrider is a military spacecraft with an experimental gravity drive, along with more conventional fusion drives.

In the Nightrider universe, military ships can be easily tracked by their brilliant fusion drive plumes. After each burn, the ship can no longer be detected, however this does not matter since its future posiiton can be easily calculated for any time. A telescope monitors the theoretical position of the ship, watching for any future burns. Whereupon the new trajectory is calculated.

The point is that there are no military strategic surprises. The enemy knows exactly where every one of your ships are, and when they will arrive at their destinations.

Nightrider's top secret gravity drive will change all that. It will allow the ship to make changes in trajectory invisibly, without any bright fusion plumes. Ships so equipped can thrust with fusion drives, the enemy will calculate the future trajectory, the ship will sneakily change their course with the gravity drive, and the enemy will have a rude surprise when you ship appears at an unexpected location. The drive can only accelerate Nightrider 0.25g, but that is plenty. Since it is a reactionless drive, low thrust is not a problem.

Alas, in reality, this won't work. Because there ain't no stealth in space. Specifically because even though there is no brilliant fusion drive plume, the gigawatt fusion reactor powering the gravity drive will emit enough megawatts of waste heat to be just as easily detected.

Be that as it may, the Nightrider is still very interesting in its internal arrangement of deck plans.

Nightrider had two propulsion systems. One of them radiated no light, no heat, no anything but a ghost of gravity, left no detectable trace other than an infinitely small shift in the net momentum of the rest of the cosmos—an invisible driving force, hence Nightrider's name. The other blazed with the violent furious fusion light of the stars—a torch flame streaking heaven.

From Nightrider by David Mace (1985)

Nightrider was all drive system and power reactor and support functions, feedstock, fusion booster ring, flight control mechanisms and a minimal payload. The payload consisted of a two-deck crew module capped with a planetary lander, and seven human beings. The lander and most of the passenger-crew had been opportunistically added to take advantage of the main mission target...

Nightrider's guts were a continuous flow fusion reactor burning a deuterium and helium-3 feedstock. Deuterium and helium-3 produced no energetic neutrons during fusion, and thus none of the associated severe radiation problems. The reactor's continuous feed plasma did produce helium-4 nuclei and protons, produced in other words a charged plasma which served as a raw induction generator capable of inducing massive currents in the encompassing electric pick-up coils. The monstrous quantities of electrical energy went to feed the heart, the drive unit, where gravitons were kicked into infinitesirnal existence, pushing the drive unit, pushing the vehicle built around it. Nightrider's heart was Nightrider's secret, operational for the first time ever. There was no exhaust trail, no light flare, no ion stream and associate synchrotron radiation, no magnetic field disturbance, no hard radiation beacon. There was no way to detect the black dragon in the lightless night of space.

Nightrider was a bulky flat-ended cylinder sixteen metres across and forty metres long housing feedstock, the reactor, the drive chamber, and the solid mass of associate and support systems. Inside its uppermost end, protected from the fusion sun fires by the shielding plate, was the brain and all the sensitive peripheral electronics and autonomous control functions. Attached to the top, equally protected by the radiation shield, was the two-deck crew module, eight metres wide, surrounded by a ring of all-frequency active and passive sensors, eyes that covered every part of the spectrum from X-ray through visual to radar wavelengths. Mounted on top of the crew module was the broad truncated cone of the planetary lander...

Apart from the lander team's small arms, Nightrider currently had only one weapon. The main hull was completely enclosed in a girdle of huge expendable pods containing thousands of tonnes of deuterium-tritium propellant feed pellets. Four of the pods were nothing more than propellant tanks, four more were propellant tanks with through-flow fusion reactors mounted—four monstrously powerful rockets that could exert a continuous 10g thrust. Such high-gee manoeuvrability might prove to be as valuable tactically as the drive invisibility on target approach was strategically, but that was not the purpose of the fusion boosters. The combined plasma jet, a searing flood of charged ions and massive neutron flux and sheer sun heat, was a weapon trailing torching kilometres of absolute lethality...

The booster pods one to four each had their own hundreds of tonnes of reaction mass propellant, but the four pure tank pods alternating with them in Nightrider's girdle had to be drained first for jettisoning. The fusion thrust steadily reduced auto­matically as propellant mass was expended and pods dumped, keeping constant the gee forces on the tolerance limited structures—five gee with the lander docked, ten without it...

From Nightrider by David Mace (1985)

Ali fingertip tugged himself along the ladder, past the break at the forward hatch seal—the upper hatch seal when pulling gee—and into the transfer tunnel...

The tunnel was narrow and the ladder reduced the free space still further. It was three metres long, but you couldn't quite comfortably turn round in it. Ali coasted on to the open docking hatch leading into the lander...

At the moment, in free fall and with all the hatches open, the ten metres from the lander's crew space ceiling to the deck of the transfer lock made by far the longest uninterrupted linear dimension aboard Nightrider...

She touched briefly, straddle legged, on the airlock deck (inside the lander), then she let herself fall again through the lock well, the docking collar, down the transfer tunnel, braking and guiding with her hands sliding down the ladder sides. Through the top hatch of the transfer lock onto solid deck.

From Nightrider by David Mace (1985)

The lander was a truncated cone, eight metres across its base, four metres across its top, and five metres high. Docked, its circular roof represented Nightrider's nose, flat to friction-less space. The lander was mostly propellant and oxidant tanks, with a narrow crew space tucked up under its roof and a centre axial lock below connecting with the transfer tunnel.

The lander's maximum structural tolerance was 5g—if Nightrider pulled a full 10g burn the lander would collapse, along with the overloaded supporting structure of the crew module...

All went through the deformable docking rim section, through the lock well and into the broader lock. He caught a rung of the ladder continuation, turned a somersault, and then headed back into the docking tunnel. Samson had managed to coax the suit's head and shoulders through the transfer lock hatch...

Passing through the tunnel, they passed through the hollow centre of the lander's ring-booster, a support stage eight metres across and two metres deep (ed note: I think 2 metres is a mistake, should be 3 metres deep). The ring-booster was just motors and propellant-and-oxidant tanks and pumps, good for a 180 second 3g burn, then only good for dumping. But three minutes at 3g would take them most of the way down from a low or grazing incidence orbit, and leave the lander proper with enough reaction mass to finish the descent, hover for minutes on end to check the terrain at the landing site, then launch up into orbit again and do as much orbital manoeuvring as could foreseeably prove necessary. It was good to know when you made your first touchdown fifty-one billion kilometres from home, with nowhere to go but back, and that only possible after redocking with Nightrider, that you had more than twice as much fuel aboard as you actually needed to get up into orbit again. It allowed for margins. And the lander had four rocket motors delivering 3g together. If one of them failed you just shut down the diametrically opposite motor for the sake of stability, and you still had more than enough thrust to get up again.

Ali hauled the suit through the docking rim section and through the lock well into the lander's lock. There he had more room and pulled it in beside him. The lock was also the lander's wash down space and toilet—the toilet just a fold-away suction abort—and a hard stores space. Ten backpacks were racked in one side on recharge and replenishment, two suits were stowed opposite each other in support clamps because they would be "standing" when the lander fired manoeuvre burns or rested at touchdown. The fourth side accommodated the toilet and wash towels dispenser, and stowed ground equipment. The ground equipment could tolerate vacuum...

It was a constant three gee burn, the systems computer automatically reducing thrust as they lost mass through propellant expenditure. The lander tipped to ten degrees down from tail forwards, and fired the ring-booster motors at minus 210 from site hover. At 15:20:25. After exactly three minutes the thrust cut, the ring-booster kicked free, and then thrust resumed on the lander's four main engines. The landing legs deployed, hydraulic insect limbs. The radar altimeter aimed obliquely at the target site ground and adjusted the burn accordingly. After 210 seconds all lateral velocity had been shed and the lander tipped to vertical with respect to Hel to kill the residual fall. Six and a half seconds later they were hovering thirty metres off the surface at one fifth of full thrust...

The crew space was going to be cramped for five people. It was three and a half metres by two metres by one point seven metres, a rectangular place just under the lander's roof. The closeable hole in the centre of the deck opened from the airlock, the panel in the centre of the ceiling concealed the emergency hatch, the route by which they had entered Night-rider three hundred days ago before the voyage began. Through the transfer lock, and through the lander when docked, was the only way in or out of the crew module.

The crew space wasn't empty, even with Ali as the only human occupant. On each side of the airlock hatchway the deck rose as stores lockers that ran out to each end wall and bent L-shaped to fill up the deck in the rear outer corners. Every square centimetre of the locker sides and the four walls was equipment drawer or storage door. Besides all the expendable and non-expendable equipment for use after touchdown, the lander had crew consumables enough to keep five people alive for twenty-two days (110 person-days of consumables).

Acceleration couches were mounted in two pairs on the lockers—just padded and lightly contoured couches, these were intended to help a human being through a mere 3g manoeuvre. The left-hand pair were for Ali and Kim, beside their seat sections were set main thrust regulators and attitude motor joy-stick triggers, just in case real flying was ever called for instead of pre-programmed computerized sequences. A fifth couch was stowed against the forward wall at the deck: it could be mounted in the gap between the lockers over the airlock hatch. The two outer fixed couches were deployed flat, reaching headrest to footboard right across the two metres from rear to forward wall. Their partnering data screens mounted on ceiling slides waited blankly level with the headrests. The two inner couches were tipped up as seats facing the forward wall, their data screens dropped perpendicular as wall panels at the forward ends of their ceiling slides. The screen for the stowed fifth couch was flat up against the ceiling...

Samson tipped the couch right back to its flat mode, lying on it lazily. As he tipped the couch the attendant screen folded up along the ceiling and slid backwards until it was placed directly above his head...

Ali shrugged, stood up stooping and stepped to the hatch. The composite ladder led down a narrow eight metre drop.

Samson slipped out the key pad recessed in the side of the couch. Each couch had a key pad...

Kim stood up stooping under the low ceiling, pausing between the footrests of the flattened couches. The four fixed couches made a second, contoured deck bridging both halves of the crew space from front wall to back. Only the space between the floor lockers showed a strip of the real deck, and that divided in two by the open airlock hatch...

From Nightrider by David Mace (1985)

(Upper level)

(Sleep cubicle) A very little space—two hundred centimetres long, one hundred and fifty wide, one-hundred and thirty high. Not that long and wide and high and floor and ceiling and wall meant anything. Afloat you are as you are, you orientate the world according to your own direction, it tyrannizes you less directly...

Set in the side walls, softly padded, were the white fold-down doors to the personal lockers. She twisted around herself so that she could reach, grasped one of the recessed handles, and rotated herself in a wrist-twisting somersault, pushed herself with a last touch towards the corner screen, towards the little door beside it...

The ring corridor was octagonal, was a generous metre wide. In the centre was the transfer lock giving access to the lander wedded to the top of the crew module, was the ladder down to the main deck of the module, were the two flanking halves of the module's structure and service core, all very compact. Around the outside were the seven sleep cubicles and the hygiene room. The private world ended at the hatch door, was confined to the cocooning little nest box inside. The night-lit ring corridor was public space...

(Hygiene room) Another little box, but one you could stand up in when pulling gee. There was just enough room to rotate yourself between the screen door of the shower, the recessed hand douche with its mounted mirror, and the toilet sitting like the smooth rim of a high hollow saddle...

She glided into the corridor again and closed the door behind her, leaving the lights in there to Nightrider. She pushed off for the grab handle opposite Shapir's cubicle, pulled herself around it to the recessed ladder across from the hygiene room, changed grip and followed the ladder through its hatch rim into the main deck light. She arrived nominally upside down to it all, facing the ladder. To her left was the narrow doorway into the empty day room, to her right the doorway into the galley. Only doorways—on the main deck there were no doors, just partition walls separating the circular space around the central core.

(Main Level)

Kim hated the weights and the exercise periods. Always had. Round and round the main deck, hopping the partition door­ways, jogging the continuous curve. Round and round and round (counterclockwise). Ten times round. Exercise space (yellow), galley (orange), ladder space (red), day room (blue), workshop (orange), exercise space. Round and round...

Over the sill, into the workshop. Stupid sills. Just six centimetres at every doorway. Stupid little six centimetres...

(Exercise space) the exercise space was opposite the day room. Strapped to the bike saddle against free fall, Sandra faced the central core, had the galley doorway to her left. In the workshop Ali was buckled into one of the rotatable chairs, dividing his attention between a bench anchored tester module and the inverted, hovering, oversized shadow of a night-black suit...

The exercise bike was usable in free fall because of the saddle strap; the treadmill beside it was only practicable when pulling gee. The work bars with their torsion pulleys mounted on the outer wall to the other side of the bike were equally good in free fall or gee...

None of it was relevant to coping with Nightrider's maximum 10g, for that you needed an acceleration couch. There were three of those for the lander team against the outer wall over in the day room; the other two were here in the exercise space, one against each partition wall, outwards from the doorway...

(Day room) They sat on the curved couch in the outer corner of the day room at the workshop end. Most of the rest of the arcing outer wall was taken up by the three acceleration couches rowed head to tail, ten gee refuges for Akira and Samson and Yasmin. Halfway round the tight curve of the central core, inset into the split bench seat at its base, the door of the flight centre hatchway was rolled closed. Sandra was in there rehearsing manoeuvre games across a simulated Hades System. That they had done now in months of specific mission training and months of eventless flight. The day room swept a full third of the curve of the main deck. From the couch corner at the workshop end they could hardly read the chronometer over the ladder space doorway at the far end, and had to lean forward to read the one up on the partition wall over the workshop doorway. And the ceiling mounted screens partnering each of the high acceleration couches were dead...

(Galley) Most of the galley was filled by the little table alcove, the rest by the through-way to the adjacent exercise space...

Sandra pulled at the doorway rim to turn herself, hovered in front of the larder. She rolled up the door of the cool cupboard, eased out the weightlessly running yogurt drawer and coaxed a tub out of its clip. She left the tub tumbling vaguely more or less towards the table, fingertip swapped the yogurt drawer for the fruit squashes, selected sweetened pineapple and lime, let the drawer sail home, rolled down the door.

Then he looked hard at the larder roll doors and the microwave and thermal cookers filling the narrow wall behind her between the two doorways...

The main stores were behind the table alcove, a solid packed volume between the galley and the outer wall of the crew module, inside the central service core, and inside most of the space between the workshop and the outer wall on the opposite side of the main deck. Replenishing the larder meant opening freezer hatches and extracting packets, variously rehydrating or thawing to reconstitute the contents, and then loading them into the keep drawers in the galley. A fully automated service waiter would have been possible, retrieving, reconstituting, and where required cooking everything, but then the crew benefited from something to do and above all from a feeling of involvement in their own sustenance...

(Flight Center) The entrance to the flight centre was in the day room at the base of the central core. Seventy centimetres square, and angled at forty-five degrees to floor and inner core wall, it was , more a hatchway than a doorway. Not that the distinction mattered in free fall. A little crypt of highest technology, more than half recessed below the main deck level underneath the central core, the flight centre lay exactly on Nightrider's longitudinal axis, a location selected so as to minimize the disruptive effects upon the two pilots of sudden attitude changes during manoeuvring. Flush with the bottom deck were two acceleration couches like a pair of waiting sarcophagi, arranged almost as a "V," heads quite close together about half a metre in from the entrance hatchway, feet further apart. There was a strip of the padded deck between the two couches down to mid-thigh level, then they were seperated by an intrusive part of the solid structure that kept the crew module from collapsing at maximum gee. The flight centre was a split space, a tomb for twins, featureless except for the human shaped deep indentation in each couch, and a pair of fiat and silvery screens in the slightly sloped ceiling an arm's reach above. There were no littering control interfaces, no running readouts.

There was a handle under the upper hatch rim. When pulling gee you went in feet first and then pushed yourself legs extended into the waiting couch. In free fall it was easier—you swung in feet first and steered yourself straight down the narrow slot that belonged to you. Sandra went in first, sliding to the right. The lighting came on, triggered by Nightrider.

She dug her heels into the couch recesses before letting go of the handle inside the hatch, then with ankles gripped by the couch, she had enough purchase to slide her hands into the arm troughs and wriggle neatly into place. Getting into the couch was one of the few things that was easier when pulling gee—getting out was easier in tree fall. You fitted perfectly into the couch, flush with the padded floor. Its quilted material completely covered over your arms and legs, lapped round your sides, cupped your head so that you could only hear through the built-in earphones. Nothing pressed against you, it was like floating in a dry fluid, but the couch held you. It was essentially a water bed, an immersion tank. A layer of water a mere centimetre thick circulated around you, kept you hovering sweetly between cool and warm. The water layer could have been a millimetre thick if it wasn't for the risk of localized pinching of the immersion film because of a creased overall or a tensed elbow. Afloat was afloat. And afloat meant immunity to Nightrider's maximum ten gee.

At 10g acceleration the weight of nine additional breast­bones pressed upon your breastbones, an almost unnoticeable load. But ten times your Earth weight—your evolutionary designed weight—crushed your spine and pelvis into whatever you lay on, tugged your cheeks into your ears, clamped your tongue asphyxiatingly against the back of your throat, stressed your ribs almost until they snapped. If you were lightly muscled from your bone strength, and above all cardiac fit, then it probably wouldn't kill you unless sustained for too long, but you would pass out, which would make you useless. But immersed in a bed of incompressible fluid like water, be it only a suspending centimetre layer, the weight on your back was turned into evenly distributed pressure over your whole body. And because the human body, apart from a few air spaces, is essentially a water volume, then despite a weight gradient form breastbone and abdominal muscle to spine, the internal pressure was evenly distributed. The physical distress was largely cancelled out, you functioned the way you should.

Arms enclosed in the couch, Sandra slipped her fingers into the concealed gloves and touched the key pads, one for each hand. Each pad had five keys, you talked into it by pressing with fingers and thumb in varying patterns (a chorded keyboard). All five at once meant "activate" and "space." You could talk with the left hand, with the right hand, or allegedly with both at once, holding two distinct conversations with the computers. She had yet to meet someone who had been proved to be able to do that.

She swung her arms a little out to the side, the only movement accommodated by the couch, and found the joy-stick trigger grip on the left, the attitude ball control on the right. Those were the controls for manual manoeuvring, and they would never be used. Normally you just lay there and told Nightrider what to do. Otherwise you talked instructions into a key pad and then let the computation run the manoeuver...

From Nightrider by David Mace (1985)

Orion Bomber

This is from material from the Fourth Symposium on Advanced Propulsion Concepts parts i, iii, iii and from Aerospace Project Review Issue Volume 1, Number 5. As always, in the datablocks you see in on the edges of this page the values in black are from the source documents but the values in yellow are not. Yellow values are ones that I have personally calculated, sometimes using questionable assumptions. Yellow values are not guaranteed to be accurate, use at your own risk.

In March of 1965 the Orion program was pretty much over. Nobody was interested in a spacecraft powered by hundreds of atom bombs. In a frantic attempt to keep it alive, General Atomic released a report describing several potential military applications. Hey, Pentagon, here are some great serving suggestions for an Orion! Please don't let the program die.

It didn't work but you can't blame them for trying.

Reference Orion Configurations
Pusher Diameter (m)81012
Length (m)22.125.729.7
Thrust (N)2,360,0003,470,0004,320,000
Isp (sec)2,7203,3003,670
Exhaust Velocity (m/s)26,70032,40036,000
Weight (kg)81,700109,000172,000

The applications used all three of the standard Orion engines: eight, ten, and twelve meter pusher plate sizes. Since a nuclear launch was pretty much out of the question, each proposal used a stage of quick-and-dirty solid rocket clusters to loft the Orion to an altitude of 76,200 meters before the nukes started. The liftoff thrust-to-weight (T/W) ratio was 1.8 for all three Orion sizes. The solid rockets got the spacecraft up to 76,200 meters and 2,900 m/sec, the Orion drive kicked it the rest of the way into a 370 km orbit. The back of my envelope says the Orion has to expend 8,300 m/s of delta-V, some of that is aerodynamic drag and gravity drag.

8-meter Orion spacecraft would be lofted by a cluster of seven 120-inch solid rocket boosters, developed from the strap-on solid rockets used on the Titan III launch vehicle. They would have been more powerful than the Space Shuttle solid rocket boosters.

10-meter Orion spacecraft would be lofted by a cluster of four 156-inch solid rocket boosters. These were studied in the 1960s as possible strap-ons for the Saturn V, and as a cluster to replace the first stage of the Saturn Ib.

12-meter Orion spacecraft would be lofted by a cluster of seven 156-inch solid rocket boosters.

When the Orion drive started up at 76,000 m, its T/W was only 0.55. This meant a very ugly gravity tax, but the total payload delivered to orbit was maximized. Who cares about gravity tax, the Orion has delta-V to spare.

From a military standpoint, the Orion drive is attractive not only because of its high thrust and specific impulse. The drive is also resistant to damage. Fussy delicate chemical engines can be disabled with a handgun. Orion drives are built to be tough enough to withstand hundreds of impacts by nuclear explosions at close proximity. A handgun bullet will just bounce off. The enemy will have to use massive weapons in order to dent one of those babies. This is not as big a selling point for NASA, who generally does not have to worry about enemy spacecraft taking pot-shots at them.

For the same reason such drives are very easy to maintain and repair. You don't need needle-nosed pliers and micro-screwdrivers. A sledge hammer and a cold chisel will do. It helps that the engine is made of good ol' simple to fix steel, instead of cantankerous titanium or aluminum.

And unlike nuclear thermal rockets, Orions have very low residual radioactivity. It is safe to go out and work on an Orion drive only a few minutes after the last nuke exploded. Nuclear thermal rockets on the other hand will be unsafe to go near for a few thousand years.

Some of the applications had the Orion spacecraft stationed in space, others had them based on the ground. The former was basically using the Orion drive to loft an outrageously huge military space station into permanent orbit, in one piece. Applications stationed in space could be launched at leisure. Applications stationed on the ground on the other hand were a reaction force. The Orions would sit in their silos "on alert", ready to launch at a moment's notice. For space based system the primary concern is maneuverability and survivability. For ground based systems the primary concern is readiness.

The minor drawback of the Orion spacecraft's titanic mass is there was no practical way to land them back on Terra (short of lithobraking). Once they were launched into space, they stayed there. The crew was rotated by space shuttles or small reentry vehicles. Trying to land under Orion drive power is a very bad idea, especially on a planet with an atmosphere. The ship will be entering the center of each raging nuclear fireball with lamentable results.


  • Command/Control
  • Strategic Weapon Delivery ("Bomber")
  • Surveillance-reconnaissance
  • Space Defense
  • Orbit Logistics
  • Lunar Base Support
  • Space Rescue and Recovery
  • Satellite Support
  • R&D Laboratory


  • Emergency Command/Control
  • Space Interceptor
  • Damage Assessment
  • Space Rescue and Recovery
  • Satellite Support


ECCS Orion
Stage 2 Orion Engine
Pusher dia8 m
Isp2,720 sec
Exhaust Vel26,700 m/s
Thrust2,400,000 N
Stage 2
Payload Mass91,000 kg
Orion Engine Mass82,000 kg
Dry Mass172,700 kg
Pulse Units Mass290,300 kg
Wet Mass463,000 kg
Mass Ratio2.678
Total ΔV26,300 m/s
Reserve ΔV in LEO18,000 m/s
Stage 1 Chemical Engine
Exhaust Vel?
Stage 1
Payload Mass463,000 kg
Engine Mass?
Dry Mass?
Propellant Mass?
Wet Mass2,540,000 kg
Total ΔV3,100 m/s
Stack Height64 m
Stack Max Dia9.1 m

In case NORAD gets taken out by a dastardly nuclear first strike on the United States, the ECCS Orion was designed to survive in its secret armored launch silo. It would boost into orbit and take over NORAD's functions, coordinating the nuclear retaliation.

Actually the plan was to launch before the enemy bombs actually hit the ground. NORAD can probably predict it will be unlikely to survive an incoming nuclear strike long before the bombs actually arrive.

The ECCS was housed in an 8-meter Orion. The surface geometry was smooth to avoid creating shot-traps, since an enemy would target an ECCS with lots of hostile weapons fire. After expending all those extra nukes to obliterate NORAD the enemy will be obligated to destroy all the ECCS NORAD-back-ups, otherwise they will have wasted all those warheads and have nothing to show for it.

Since the ECCS would operate beyond Terra's magnetosphere, the crew would need radiation shielding from galactic cosmic rays. Not to mention enemy nuclear warheads, possibly including enhanced radiation weapons.

The wet mass was 2,540,000 kg (5,600,000 lbs), of which 91,000 kg (200,000 lbs) was payload (apparently "payload" is the dry mass of the Orion spacecraft, without any nuclear pulse units. At least that's what my calculation suggest). Stack height with solid rocket boosters was 64 m (210 ft) (cluster of seven 120-inch solid rockets) and a maximum diameter of 9.1 m (30 ft). The boosters loft the Orion to an altitude of 76.2 km (250,000 ft). Then the 8-meter Orion engine uses its 2,400,000 N (530,000 lbf) of thrust and 2,750 seconds of Isp to get the rest of the way to a 370 km (200 nautical mile) circular orbit. At this point it would still have a delta-V reserve of 18,000 m/sec (60,000 ft/sec) for further maneuvers. The reserve can be used to provide orbit altitude and plane changes to provide the most effective surveillance coverage and to evade hostile weapon interceptions.

The ECCS will require a silo only slightly larger than a standard ATLAS or TITAN ICBM silo.

The ECCS would carry a crew of from ten to twenty, with lots of advanced surveillance and communication equipment. Average mission was 30 days, with provisions for up to 60 days. Radiation shielding on the order of 244 kg/m2 (50 lb/ft2) would be around all command/control and crew operating station, to protect against galactic cosmic rays and possible hostile enhanced radiation weapons. The structure, life support systems, and attitude jet fuel will provide an additional 244 kg/m2 for a total of 488 kg/m2 (100 lb/ft2). By way of comparison, a storm cellar protecting the crew from a significant solar storm should have at least 5,000 kg/m2.

Several ECCS would be on constant standby in their silos. If nuclear war was immanent one would be launched as a show of force, demonstrating that the US was "not unprepared to defend itself." Along with a diplomatic reminder that there are more ECCS where that came from.

One would NOT be launched if it was only a time of crisis instead of immanent war. That would be provocative, and could precipitate matters. It is difficult to convince the enemy to stand down from DEFCON 2 when you are massing troops on their boarder, so to speak.

Deployed in low orbit allows immediate surveillance coverage of enemy territory and maximum image resolution. Deployed in remote orbits provides broader coverage of the planet's surface and also allows early warning of incoming hostile weapons fire aimed at the ECCS.


Stage 2 Orion Engine
Pusher dia10 m
Isp3,300 sec
Exhaust Vel32,900 m/s
Thrust3,500,000 N
Stage 2
Payload Mass136,000 kg
Orion Engine Mass110,000 kg
Dry Mass246,000 kg
Pulse Units Mass354,000 kg
Wet Mass600,000 kg
Mass Ratio2.439
Total ΔV29,300 m/s
Reserve ΔV in LEO21,000 m/s
Stage 1 Chemical Engine
Isp294 sec
Exhaust Vel2,880 m/s
Stage 1
Payload Mass600,000 kg
Engine Mass936,000 kg
Dry Mass1,536,000 kg
Propellant Mass2,964,000 kg
Wet Mass4,500,000 kg
Mass Ratio2.930
Total ΔV3,100 m/s
Stack Height96 m
Stack Max Dia10 m

This is similar to the ECCS but with important differences. It is stationed in space. It is intended for permanent operations, not just for 30 days. It is larger, requiring a 10-meter Orion engine.

Three of these would be placed in geosynchronous orbit to provide constant global surveillance. They would augment their coverage via inter-ship relay. This will allow the ships to randomly change their positions and frustrate enemy weapons interceptions, yet still maintain coverage. One ship will be the "flagship" but others could take over if the flagship is disabled.

The wet mass was 4,500,000 kg (10,000,000 lbs), of which 136,000 kg (300,000 lb) was payload. Stack height with the stage 1 solid rocket boosters was 320 feet (cluster of four 156-inch solid rockets) and a maximum diameter of 96 m (33 ft). The solid rocket booster has a mass of 3,900,000 kg (8,500,000 lbs). At an altitude of 76.2 km (250,000 ft) the 10-meter Orion engine uses its 3,500,000 N (780,000 lbf) of thrust and 3,300 seconds of Isp to get the rest of the way to a 42,162 km (22,766 nautical mile) geosynchronous orbit. At this point it would still have a delta-V reserve of 21,000 m/s (70,000 ft/sec) for further maneuvers, though in theory it is in its forever home.

Actually, since the SSCCS will be launched in leisurely times of peace instead of under the urgent pressures of impending nuclear armageddon, solid rocket boosters are not needed. Instead the more sophisticated (but more time consuming) liquid-fueled Saturn V's S-IC stage could be used. Especially if NASA ever manged to make the S-IC recoverable, which as SpaceX has demonstrated drastically lowers the launch cost. Such a stack would have a wet mass of 3,300,000 kg (7,200,000 lbs).

The SSCCS will require about 3 megawatts with a peak of 9 MW or so for the surveillance and communication systems. This can be provided with RTG or other advanced power source. The crew will number from 20 to 30, with six-month tours of duty. The SSCCS will stay on location for their operational lifetimes, 15 to 20 years. The long lifetimes are due to the fact that upgrading obsolete surveillance and comm systems is a snap when you are using Orion drive cargo ships. No matter how much the replacements weigh. The communication/surveillance section is basically a chassis accepting plug-in replaceable modules.


Stage 2 Orion Engine
Pusher dia12 m
Isp3,670 sec
Exhaust Vel36,000 m/s
Thrust4,300,000 N
Stage 2
Payload Mass136,000 kg
Orion Engine Mass170,000 kg
Dry Mass306,000 kg
Pulse Units Mass424,000 kg
Wet Mass730,000 kg
Mass Ratio2.386
Total ΔV31,300 m/s
Reserve ΔV in LEO23,000 m/s
Stage 1 Chemical Engine
Exhaust Vel?
Stage 1
Payload Mass730,000 kg
Engine Mass?
Dry Mass?
Propellant Mass?
Wet Mass6,800,000 kg
Mass Ratio?
Total ΔV3,100 m/s
Stack Height88 m
Stack Max Dia12 m

Strategic Weapon Delivery AKA raining nuclear warheads onto the nation that attacks us.

This would require a full blown 12-meter Orion engine, because nuclear missiles are very heavy. And because you want to carry as many as you possibly can.

The wet mass was 6,800,000 kg (15,000,000 lbs), of which 136,000 kg (300,000 lbs) was payload. Stack height with the solid rocket boosters was 88 m (290 ft) (cluster of seven 156-inch solid rockets). At an altitude of 76.2 km (250,000 ft) and a speed of 3,100 m/s (10,000 ft/sec) the 12-meter Orion engine uses its 4,300,000 N (970,000 lbf) of thrust and 3,670 seconds of Isp to get the rest of the way to its patrol orbit. At this point it would still have a delta-V reserve of 23,000 m/s (75,000 ft/sec) for further maneuvers.

  • At A the SSSWD boosts into LEO (370 km) with solid rockets and Orion drive. The crew does a systems checkout.
  • At B burns into a Hohmann transfer (blue arc)
  • At transfer apogee C it burns to circularize the orbit. SSSWD is now in a 190,000 km circular orbit (green circle)
  • At D burns to enter Patrol orbit (red ellipse). Orbit has a perigee of 190,000 km and apogee of 410,000 km (a 190,000-410,000 km Terran orbit). The orbital period is 18.9 days

The crew will number 20 or more. A semi-closed ecological system will be used to permit a six-month tour of duty, with an emergency capacity of one year. It would require about 1 megawatt of onboard power for ship systems.

The interesting details about the weapons loadout are either not defined or classified. They are not in the report at any rate. Drat!

Defensive weapons include decoys and antimissile weapons. Defensive weapons are carried because bombers are the enemy's prime targets. The enemy knows that every single strategic weapon a SSSWD carries is a mushroom cloud with their name on it.

The strategic nuclear weapons were to be carried internally to allow easy access for maintenance. That way the technician wouldn't have to wear a space suit. The weapons are probably either megaton-range "city-killer" nukes, or MIRVs of deci-megaton-range. For reference, the original Minuteman-II ICBM carried a 1.2 megaton W56 thermonuclear warhead. The Minuteman-III had a MIRV bus carrying three 0.17 megaton W62 thermonuclear warheads (170 kilotons). Scott Lowther's recreation of the SSSWD carries 25 MIRVs, each with three warheads.

The nukes could be launched in either of two ways. [1] warheads could be mounted on missiles, launched from deep space, and guided to their targets. [2] the Orion bomber could use its 23,000 m/s of delta-V to enter a close hyperbolic flyby of Terra and release the warheads when near Terra.

On the one hand, the first option means the Orion does not have to get close to the target and be exposed to hostile weapons fire. On the other hand the missiles will have very limited delta-V because you cannot cram a full sized ICBM into the Orion bomber. True, the missiles will start with the Orion's orbital velocity but still. Since the paper cites enemy interceptor missiles requiring a day or two to reach the Orion bomber, presumably any missile the SSSWD launched will require a similar amount of time to reach the enemy cities.

The second option means the Orion bomber has to go into harms way. The up side is it can use its awesome amount of delta-V to deliver the MIRVs ballistically. And it probably can deliver the warheads to the target much quicker than any missile. One can just imagine the enemy generals freaking out at the sight of a three-hundred-ton spacegoing ICBM-farm dive-bombing you at hyperbolic speeds on a trail of freaking nuclear explosions while machine-gunning your continent with city-killer nukes.

According to the paper, a fleet of about 20 spacecraft would be deployed. Presumably this will ensure that there will always be several bombers close enough so that the MIRVs travel time will be short enough to give the enemy a major strategic problem. If my slide-rule is not lying to me, a 190,000 km-410,000 km orbit has an orbital period of 1,635,282 seconds or 18.9 days. With 20 SSSWD evenly spaced, that would have a bomber passing through perigee every 81,764 seconds or every 22.7 hours. I picked 410,000 km as a nice round value "beyond Luna" since the report did not give a precise figure. They might have selected an apogree figure to make a bomber pass through perigee once a day.

Siteing strategic nuclear weapons in deep space would be a major escalation of the nuclear arms race. Such Orion bombers are much more difficult to attack, compared to ICBMs in silos or nuclear submarines. It would require entirely new strategic planning and weapons systems. The high orbits mean that enemy weapons would require a day or more to reach the orbiting Orion bombers. If the enemy wishes to take out the Orion bombers simultaneously with the US ICBM silos and nuclear missle submarines, they will be forced to give the US a day or more of warning time. This sort of spoils the surprise of a first strike. In addition the long warning gives the Orion bombers ample time to take evasive action and/or deploy decoys and antimissile weapons.

On the minus side, such a drastic escalation may panic the enemy into starting a nuclear war before the Orion Bomber network was fully established. If the enemy is only half-panicked, they will probably start a crash-priority project to make their own Orion bomber network.

Orion Battleship

RocketCat sez

This thing rulz. Period.

It can stomp both the Michael and the Thuktun Fishithy into the dirt and still have enough firepower left over to blow the Soviet Union into the Stone Age.

Orion Battleship
Pusher Plate
26 m
Height78 m
Wet Mass3,629 tonnes
(4,000 short tons)
Payload Shell
11,000 m3
Pulse unit
specific impulse
4,300 sec
effec: 3,600 sec
Detonation delay1.1 sec
(20 crew)
Space Taxi
15 km/s
30 km/s
Average initial
1.25 g1.25 g
Total engine
weight (dry)
pulse units
Pulse system
(incl. coolant)
Payload mass1,115
Mk-42 5-inch
naval turret
Missiles w/20
Missiles Silos3 banks of 30 each
90 total
Casaba Howitzer
Several hundred
Casaba Howitzer
20mm CIWS

When the Orion nuclear pulse propulsion concept was being developed, the researchers at General Atomic were interested in an interplanetary research vessel. But the US Air Force was not. They thought the 4,000 ton version of the Orion would be rightsized for an interplanetary warship, armed to the teeth.

And when they said armed, they meant ARMED. It had enough nuclear bombs to devastate an entire continent (500 twenty-megaton city-killer warheads), 5-inch Naval cannon turrets, six hypersonic landing boats, and several hundred of the dreaded Casaba Howitzer weapons — which are basically ray guns that shoot nuclear flame (the technical term is "nuclear shaped charge").

This basically a 4,000 ton Orion with the entire payload shell jam-packed with as many weapons as they could possibly stuff inside.

Keep in mind that this is a realistic design. It could actually be built.

The developers made a scale model of this version, which in hindsight was a big mistake. It had so many weapons on it that it horrified President Kennedy, and helped lead to the cancellation of the entire Orion project. The model (which was the size of a Chevrolet Corvette) was apparently destroyed, and no drawings, specifications or photos have come to light.

Scott Lowther has painstakingly done the research to recreate this monster. If you want all the details, run, do not walk, and purchase a copy of Aerospace Projects Review vol2, number 2. He also made a model kit of the battleship for Fantastic Plastic, you can order one here.


But we could have been so much farther along. After the publication of George Dyson’s book Project Orion, and a few specials, a lot of people know that in the early 1960s DARPA investigated the possibility of a nuclear-pulse-detonation (that is, powered by the explosion of nuclear bombs) spacecraft.

Preceding but also concurrently developed with Apollo, this extremely ambitious project had unbelievable payload capability. Where Apollo at 3,500 tons could only put two tons on the Moon, the smaller Orion (about the same total mass, 4,000 tons) could soft-land 1,200 tons (600 times as much) on the Moon, and the larger (only three times as heavy as Apollo, or 10,000 tons) could soft-land 5,700 tons (nearly 3,000 times as much) on the Moon, or take 1,300 tons of astronauts and consumables on a three-year round-trip to Saturn and back!1 The fission powered Orion could even achieve three to five percent the speed of light, though a more advanced design using fusion might achieve eight to ten percent the speed of light.

Most assume the program was cancelled for technical problems, but that is not the case. Few know how seriously the idea was taken by the top leadership of the US Air Force.

Because internal budget discussions and internal memoranda are not generally released and some only recently declassified, almost nobody knows how close Strategic Air Command (SAC) was to building the beginning of an interstellar-capable fleet. Had the personalities of the Air Force’s civilian leadership been different in 1962, humanity might have settled a good part of the inner solar system and might be launching probes to other stars today. We might also have had the tools to deflect large asteroids and comets.

Recently declassified internal budget documents show that, in 1962, the US Air Force had plans to build entire fleets of giant Orion spacecraft, and was prepared to commit almost 20 percent of its requested space budget from 1963 to 1967 to its realization.

It is one thing to hear Freeman Dyson, the eminent physicist and Project Orion veteran, say that the “end result [of Project Orion] was a rather firm technical basis for believing that vehicles of this type could be developed, tested, and flown. The technical findings of the project have not been seriously challenged by anybody. Its major troubles have been, from the beginning, political.”2 It is another to have that confirmed by Air Force internal memoranda.

America’s near-brush with Starfleet began with Donald Mixson and Fred Gorschboth, two young captains assigned to the Air Force Special Weapons Center at Kirtland Air Force Base. Their job was to investigate the military implications of Orion nuclear pulse propulsion technology, and wargame out a military concept for use.

They developed a plan for a three-tiered space force of dozens of Orion spacecraft deployed in either low, geosynchronous, or lunar orbit squadrons. This fleet would hold both nuclear surface attack missiles to provide a survivable deterrent without risk of being destroyed by a first strike, as well as space-based ICBM interceptors and mines (an early vision of the Strategic Defense Initiative) that could defend the United States from a Soviet attack in the event deterrence failed.3

In late 1959, Captain Mixon laid out the evidence for General Thomas Power, the commander in chief of SAC, and obviously convinced him. On January 21, 1961, General Power signed a SAC requirement for a “Strategic Earth Orbital Base” (SEOB) based on the Orion propulsion system and roughly following the space force deployment concept. The SEOB would be “capable of accurate weapon delivery” to “include the capability to attack other aerospace vehicles or bodies of the solar system occupied by an enemy.” The SEOB would also be able to orbit “extremely heavy useful payloads” on the order of 5,000 tons.4

General Power was not out there alone. He had the full support of the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Curtis E. LeMay. Writing in a 1962 letter to Power, he said, “I share your views regarding the potential of ORION.”5 Nor was it just talk: both the SAC commander and the US Air Force Chief of Staff were willing to put their money where their mouth was. In 1962, funding for the SEOB and Orion propulsion development together accounted for $1.36 billion (over $10 billion in 2014 dollars), or 18 percent of the total Air Force space development budget for fiscal years 1963–1967, as requested by LeMay in his Air Force Space Program.6

Just what was the capability SAC wanted? A ten-meter Orion ship could get a crew of eight men from Earth to Mars orbit and back in 150 days (chemical missions would require 300–450 days round trip at best) in a vehicle weighing just under 1,000 tons with a 100-ton payload. The SEOB, with a payload capability of 5,000 tons, was akin to the “Advanced Interplanetary Orion” design developed later during Project Orion, which had a gross mass of 10,000 tons and could take 5,300 tons to the same Mars orbit.7

So who killed Starfleet? Here is how it went down:

Secretary of the Air Force Eugene Zuckert approved LeMay’s space program but, contrary to his own support of it, refused to request funding for it from DOD, knowing that Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara would not be supportive.8

Upon hearing that Orion would not be funded, General Power wrote to the Defense Director of Research and Engineering, Dr. Harold Brown, and argued that “the capability to launch and maneuver truly large payloads [in space] could provide the operational flexibility… [that] could be a decisive factor in achieving scientific and commercial, as well as military supremacy.”9

Dr. Brown, the man responsible to McNamara for keeping Air Force research and development constrained to Kennedy Administration wishes, responded, “This development program would be a high risk one… If we accept the possibility that military operations will require large maneuverable payloads in space, it is still far from clear that substantial investment in ORION is warranted now.”10

And so, here we are in 2015. Fifty-three years later we still have nothing close to Orion. Rather than get to Mars and back in 150 days, with 5,000 tons, we can’t even contemplate a three-person capsule to Mars for another couple decades.

No doubt Dr. Brown was recommending what he thought was responsible at the time, and recommending spending-averse budgets to minimize risk over the advice of the capability-driven military minds. Perhaps he, like many modern voices, felt the need to fear or temper the perceived rapaciousness and expansionism of such men as LeMay and Power. With their vision would have come challenges to stability and perhaps increased risk of a nuclear conflict on Earth. We may have bought ourselves a little near-term stability, but it was not without cost.

Secretary McNamara’s and Dr. Brown’s conservatism and lack of vision has left humanity in a local minima, trapped in a gravity well, unable to access the vast wealth of the inner solar system, and left the life on our entire planet bare and defenseless against what has emerged as a credible threat: asteroids and comets.

We have traded the grand visions of 1962 for a much more tawdry reality, one where instead of going to space in ships with large crews that could roam the inner solar system in voyages measured in months, and would have laid the foundation for humans to reach other stars, our species has accepted small tin cans that may just be able to send a handful of specialists to Mars before the Apollo lunar landing centennial.

Had the US Air Force not been gelded in 1962, humanity would today be reaching for the stars.


  1. George Dyson, Project Orion (New York: Penguin Books, 2003), 55.
  2. Freeman Dyson, “Death of a Project,” Science, Vol 149, No 3680, 9 July 1965, 141.
  3. Captain Frederick F. Gorschboth, Counterforce from Space (Kirtland AFB, NM: Air Force Special Weapons Center, 1 August 1961) Original classification SECRET. Now declassified. Captain Gorschboth’s work is representative of the space force concept. Captain Mixson’s work is not yet declassified.
  4. General Thomas S. Power, Strategic Earth Orbital Base, Strategic Air Command Qualitative Operational Requirement, 21 January 1961. Original classification SECRET. Document is now declassified.
  5. General Curtis E. LeMay, Vice Chief of Staff, to General Thomas S. Power, commander, Strategic Air Command, 16 July 1962. Original classification SECRET. Document is now declassified.
  6. Launor F. Carter, An Interpretive Study of the Formulation of the Air Force Space Program, 4 Feb 1963. Original classification SECRET. Document is now declassified.
  7. George Dyson, Project Orion, 55.
  8. Gerald T. Cantwell, The Air Force in Space Fiscal Year 1963 (Washington, DC: USAF Historical Division Liaison Office, December 1966). Classified TOP SECRET. Excerpt is declassified, 6.
  9. General Thomas S. Power, commander, Strategic Air Command, to Dr. Harold Brown, Director of Defense Research and Engineering, 3 November 1962. Original classification SECRET. Document is now declassified.
  10. Dr. Harold Brown, Director of Defense Research and Engineering, to General Thomas S. Power, commander, Strategic Air Command, 15 November 1962. Original classification SECRET. Document is now declassified. Emphasis original.
From STARFLEET WAS CLOSER THAN YOU THINK by Major Brent Ziarnick and Lt. Col. Peter Garretson (2015)

Rhys Taylor

Rhys Taylor is a scientist who is also a master of the 3D modeling package Blender. His animation of a launching Orion drive spacecraft is quite famous, and has been seen by most people who type "Orion" into Google. His more recent project is a battle between US and Russian Orion drive ships out around Jupiter, and a rendition of the proposed Orion Discovery from preproduction of 2001 A Space Odyssey.

Tero Niemi

Tero Niemi is a freelance Graphic Designer, 3D-Technician, Artist, Writer, Computer Programmer, Zero-G Pilot (Licensed), and Webmaster from Finland.

General Notes

1) Most of the ships mass is centered on the reactor/fuel section. This section is jointed (gimballed?), so the ship can control it's attitude very quickly without any thrusters.

2) Radiators fold in when the ship gets "scared". (Impact eminent.) During this period the heat control can be done by venting some of the coolant directly into vacuum. (Vented gas could be used as IR decoy?)

3) The camouflage shield is a bit controversial. I imagined it to be made from a very thin and reflective substance that can be cooled to a very low temperature. The idea was that ship could be near "invisible" into one direction. That is enough because of the limited speed of light. No point to hide, except for near targets that can hurt.

No idea about weapons. This is probably a missile platform. Pellet cannon perhaps, or even a laser. A bag of (preheated?) nails to throw at incoming rockets?


1) The reaction control system (thrusters) are poorly positioned (or angled) if the bomb part weights nearly as much as the engine part.

There are basically two ways to fix this. First would be to use Apollo style thrusters on sides. Those things point forward/aft and they work fine near center of the mass, no problem. Second way would be moving the whole thruster section to the nose of the ship. Sideways pointing thrusters work there fine and I think that would be more efficient.

I modelled the missile this way because I wanted to keep the shape clean. Nozzle bell -- lot of junk -- and a bomb. Poor excuse, I know :) but it is low poly model so I think it is Ok to cheat a bit for clarity...

2) Sensors are quite limited. The poor thing is practically blind! Angle of view should probably be something like 340 degrees instead of current 120. That would mean installing some sort of larger sensor pack in the front, but again, clean shape -- and I'm going to render these from rear angle, so any sensor details are actually wasted.

William Black


Nuclear pulse propulsion battleship Michael from the novel Footfall by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle.

“Michaels nose was a thick shield … armored in layers: steel armor, fiberglass matting, more steel armor, layer after layer of hard and nonresiliant soft.” —from Footfall, pg. 446 and 472

“Two great towers stood on the curve of the hemispherical shell, with cannon showing beneath the lip, aimed inward. Four smaller towers flanked them. A brick-shaped structure rose above them. The Brick was much less massive than the Shell, but its sides were covered with spacecraft: tiny gunships, and four Shuttles with tanks but no boosters. The bricks massive roof ran beyond the flanks to shield the Shuttles and gunships.”  —from Footfall, pg. 432

Michael is one of the Orion based concepts I knew I would have to take a run at sooner or later. I referenced the novel, extensively, and Scott Lowther condensed all the design bits he gleaned from Footfall into an Excel spreadsheet, available here, for a project he set aside. The spreadsheet is an excellent guide to all the passages describing Message Bearer, the digit ships, Michael, the stovepipes and Shuttles, and it proved invaluable in my effort.

Most people are probably familiar with Aldo Spadoni's visualization of the iconic warship from Niven and Pournelle’s novel, but for those who are not, Aldo’s drawings are available here.

What I’ve done is meet the Aldo Spadoni design half-way with my own interpretations. My intent was to complement Aldo’s design-thought without entirely rewriting it, keeping in mind what Aldo had to say about the process. One point Aldo raised in conversation on Scott Lowther’s blog is in regards to who is providing description in various scenes from the novel.

Aldo Spadoni: “Footfall is a novel of course, not an engineering proposal for a space battleship. You glean details regarding the various Footfall spacecraft from the conversations of characters in the story, many of which are not experts [with regard to] what they are describing. As Scott also pointed out, there are inconsistencies in the descriptions that are either intentional or simply mistakes on the part of the authors. Thus, the design of the Footfall spacecraft are open to interpretation.”

Aldo makes a good case for the distinctive angled shock absorbers of his design, and I’ll provide his commentary below, the sticking point for me, however, is the parabolic pusher plate Niven and Pournelle describe—early design work on Orion solidly ruled out a parabolic pusher. With shaped-charge nuclear pulse units the parabolic plate will only heat up while offering almost no thrust advantage. Heating and impact stress on the pusher would be of no small concern, the bombs necessary to loft something the scale and mass of Michael would not be the tame little devices used to propel a dinky NASA/USAF 10-meter Orion. Heating is the cost of even partially containing the ionized plasma resulting from nuclear detonation.

Orion works because the plasma is dynamically shaped (as the explosion happens) by the specially designed shaped charge nuclear explosive, X-rays are channeled by the radiation case in the instant before the weapon is vaporized, these exit a single aperture, striking and heating up a beryllium oxide channel filler and propellant disk (tungsten), resulting in a narrow conical jet of ionized tungsten plasma, traveling at high velocity (in excess of 1.5 × 10⁵ meters per second). This crashes into the pusher plate, accelerating the spacecraft. The jet is not physically contained by the pusher, and contact with the pusher is infinitesimally brief, so the pusher is not subject to extreme heating during thrust maneuvers. So, while offering very little performance difference compared to a flat pusher design, the parabolic plate would need regenerative cooling in the bargain, adding weight and complexity to the system. Engineering such a pusher plate would be fraught with difficulties, and conditions under which Michael is built, in my opinion, rule out any eccentric messing with the baseline system. A legion of Ted Taylors would already be kept busy night and day with the mere task of readying a conventional Orion designed under such circumstances—for delivery under a one year drop-rocks-from-orbit-dead deadline.

As Aldo points out, the text of Footfall leaves room for different interpretations and here is where I took some of Aldo’s design-thought and creatively merged it with my own toward the end of addressing the design as presented in the novel. (No, not the army of Ted Taylor clones inhabiting a maze of cubicles in some deep bunker somewhere—that’s just me.)

It occurred to me that what Aldo had done (following Niven and Pournelle’s description), was move the functions of the Orion standard propulsion module down, mounting them directly on the top of the plate, so really it’s a built up intermediate platform/propulsion module. What I’ve done is run with that thought: I chose to treat the entire pusher plate as an early large Orion: a dome sitting on flat pusher plate, concentric rows of toroidal shock absorbers surrounding a core array of gas-piston shock absorbers. There is no central hole-and-bomb-placement-gun-protection-tube in my design (but there is an anti-ablation oil spray system). Instead, pulse units are shot by bomb placement guns mounted to fire around the edge; exactly as in Aldo’s design (the early large Orion had rocket assisted bombs riding tracks on the exterior of the spacecraft—imagine the show that would make). The body of the “dome” in my design is stowage for tanked pressurization gas (for the shock absorbers), anti-ablation oil, and perhaps a reserve number of pulse units.

I’ve retained the scheme of duel pulse unit magazines. Niven & Pournelle called them “thrust bomb” towers. Four “spurt bomb” towers are also mounted to the base—the “spurt bomb” Niven and Pournelle describe is a type of bomb-pumped laser using gamma-radiation rather than X-rays. All of my towers are a good deal beefier than those on Aldo’s design. Narrative in the novel describes the “thrust bomb” towers as doing double duty, providing an extra layer of armor and shielding for the CIC/control room, the nerve center of the spacecraft, which is located in the lower portion of the Brick, wedged between two large water tanks (and two nuclear reactor containment vessels). The water tanks are frozen at lift-off, providing Michael with an ample heat-sink.  

As I mentioned above, Aldo makes an excellent case for the angled shock absorbers on his design, his description below:

Aldo Spadoni: “Most of the Orion designs were configured for non-military applications, whereas Michael is a maneuvering warship with massive nuclear pumped steam attitude thruster arrays. In addition to primary Orion thrusting, Michael will be subjected to multi-axial mechanical loads that are NOT along the longitudinal axis of the ship. … When Michael is thrusting under primary propulsion while engaging in combat maneuvers, an angled shock absorber array design is a good choice for handling the inevitable side loads and for stabilizing the shell [with regard to] the passenger/payload “brick.” Consider a high performance off road vehicle, which must provide chassis stability while the wheels and suspension are being subjected to loads from many directions. You don’t see any parallel straight up and down shock absorbers in the suspension system, do you?

If you look carefully at my design, you can see that that central shock absorber is longitudinal and more massive than the rest. This one is primarily responsible for handling the Orion propulsive loads. … The remaining angled shock absorbers handle some of that propulsive load while also providing multi-axial stability.”

Scott Lowther (of Aerospace Projects Review) offers this insight in regards to angled shock absorbers:

Scott Lowther: “I remain unconvinced at the off-axis "angled" shock absorbers, but they seem to be the popular approach. However, if you do go that route, you have to deal with the central piston in the same way... ball joints fore and aft. *All* the pistons must be free to swing from side to side. If one, even the central one, is locked, then either the pusher assembly cannot move sideways *thus negating the value of the angled shocks), or it'll simply get ripped off its mounts the first time there's an off-axis blast.

Given that the ship is clearly described as having nuclear steam rockets for attitude control, I don't see the value in off-axis blasts for steering. But... shrug.”

I spent a good deal of time reproducing Aldo’s shock absorber array because frankly I think it is brilliant, going back and forth between Aldo’s drawings and my file … in the end the detail would be invisible, so I created a cutaway render with two of the “spurt bomb” towers removed to reveal the system.

True to the novel Michael’s main guns are the 16"/50 caliber Mark 7 gun and turret taken directly off the New Jersey. There is a good deal of discussion (on Scott’s blog and elsewhere) on the suitability of the guns and turrets—the mounting is rotated ninety degrees to vertical relative to the orientation turret, guns, and loading mechanisms were designed for—however, Aldo is quite clear that mounting the full turrets “as is” reflects the author’s intention, and so I’ve kept to their vision in this regard.

In the novel the guns are described firing a nuclear artillery round, this would be a modern version of the W23 15-20 kiloton nuclear round. The Mark 23 was a further development of the Army's Mk-9 & Mk-19 280mm artillery shell. This was a 15-20 kiloton nuclear warhead adapted to a 16 in naval shell used on the 4 Iowa Class Battleships1. 50 of these weapons were produced starting in 1956 but shortly after their introduction the four Iowa's were mothballed. The weapon stayed in the nuclear inventory until October 1962. Presumably under war conditions a new production run would produce the numbers necessary for Michael’s assault on Message Bearer.

Secondary batteries: a generic turret roughly based on the secondary turrets of the Iowa class.

Missile launchers based on the MK-41 Vertical Launching System (VLS).

The “Battle Management Array” is a set of phased-array radars and tight-beam communications antenna for passing targeting information to Michaels secondary spacecraft, all mounted to a pair of shock-isolated cab, each riding its own set of shock absorbers, one mounted atop each “thrust bomb” tower.  A fall-back set of communications antenna and radar are mounted beneath the overhang of the forward shield atop the Brick.

I’ve gone with the dimensions Scott arrived at, which Aldo confirmed in his comments on Scott’s blog: Length:742’ Diameter: 371’.

Different opinions have been offered in regards to Michael’s mass, between 35,000 and 50,000 tons have been opinioned on Scott Lowther’s blog. Pournelle was quoted as saying 2 million tons on one occasion, and 7 million tons on another.

Michaels launch, in the novel, is shortened for reasons of narrative brevity; one character wonders if there were perhaps 30 or more nuclear detonations. Putting Michael in orbit would require 8 minutes of powered flight and about 480 bombs lit off at one bomb per second.

The novel is clear that Michael carries four Space Shuttles mounted to their external tanks sans their SRBs. The number of Gunships is less clear. Nine Gunships are described as destroyed in combat, an unspecified number survive to confront Message Bearer in the final scene. Designing the most compact spacecraft necessary to fill the role, my Gunship measures 100 feet in length, 25 feet in diameter. At these dimensions, 14 Gunships total can be comfortably mounted to Michaels flanks.

For detail on my Gunship design see my following post, Gunship.

1 W23

From Michael by William Black (2015)

Gunship from Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's novel Footfall. See my related post Michael for additional detail.

“They take one of the main guns off a Navy ship. Wrap a spaceship around it. Not a lot of ship, just enough to steer it. Add an automatic loader and nuclear weapons for shells. Steer it with TV.” —from Footfall, pg. 354

In the novel these Gunships are referred to as “Stovepipe’s.” I was far less concerned with designing to match that narrative description than I was with designing the most compact spacecraft possible capable of the mission described. Michaels construction (including all its auxiliary spacecraft and subsystems) takes place in secret under wartime conditions, perhaps the moniker is derived from a code name picked randomly (that’s how the 1958 Project Orion was named), or perhaps dockworkers handling the vehicle sections, packed in featureless cylindrical shipping containers strapped to pallets, named the craft, and it stuck. See Aldo Spadoni’s commentary on character-delivered descriptions on my Michael post.    

I built my Gunship around the 5"/54 caliber Mark 45 gun.

Nuclear Round

The nuclear round fired by the Gunship would be something akin to the UCLR1 Swift, a 622 mm long, 127 mm diameter nuclear shell, weighing in at 43.5 kg.

In 1958 a fusion warhead was developed and tested. At its test it yielded only 190 tons; it failed to achieve fusion and only the initial fission explosion worked correctly. There are unconfirmed reports that work on similar concepts continued into the 1970s and resulted in a one-kiloton warhead design for 5-inch (127 mm) naval gun rounds, these, however, were never deployed as operational weapons. See paragraph 9 (not counting the bulleted list) under United States Nuclear Artillery.

Gunship Crew & Crew Module  

The text of the novel is unclear on the number of crew manning the Gunships, but my opinion is no more than 2 would be required, and dialogue in the novel tends to back this up. The loading mechanism is automated, so only targeting and piloting skills are involved. Considering urgency involved in readying Michael, I doubt an entirely new capsule, man-rated for spaceflight, would be considered. Michaels designers would fall back on tried and tested designs and modify them as required. In this case a stripped down Gemini spacecraft and its Equipment Module fits the bill nicely. The life support system matches the mission requirements. Leave off the heat shield (these are one-way missions), and reaction control system—the capsule never operates separate from the Gunship rig. Mount targeting and firing controls for the gun. Probably a single hatch rather than Gemini’s double hatch, and internal flat-screen displays rather than viewports—looking on this battle with naked eyes would leave the astronaut seared, radiation burned, and blinded.

“The exhausts of the gunboats were bright and yellow: solid fuel rockets.” —from Footfall, pg. 454

Eight SRBs akin to the GEM-40 allow options: they could be fired in pairs, allowing four separate burns, or two burns of 4, or a single burn of all eight – needs depending. The SRBs are strapped around a ten foot diameter 40 foot long core containing ample tank stowage for hypergolic reaction control propellants, pressurization gas, and nitrogen for clearing the breech and gun barrel. The reaction control system is used to aim the gun; propellant expenditure would be prodigious.

1UCRL - University of California Radiation Laboratory

From Gunship by William Black (2015)

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