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File:Starman sphere.jpg


A Sci Fi plot calls for a vehicle that can land on an alien planet and be somewhat Badass. A Space Plane would be cool, but you'd need a runway. So instead, you have a Drop Ship shaped roughly like a sphere that consists of a vertically mounted rocket engine surrounded by landing struts, fuel, cargo, a control room, and usually a ramp to offload personnel and cargo. The type of engine is unimportant. It can be an actual rocket or a Handwaved "antigravity generator" or "reactionless thruster".

Why a sphere?

  • From an aerospace engineering perspective, there could be several good reasons:
    • A sphere is the only shape that is aerodynamically identical in any direction, a fact that might be of interest to a Sufficiently Advanced Alien.
    • A sphere, while doing away with wings that would be useless in space, is still more aerodynamic than, say, a cube. While it might not generate much lift, it could be quite maneuverable in both space and atmosphere.
    • Spheres have been shown as an effective shape for atmospheric reentry, as demonstrated by the Soviet manned space program.
    • Of all possible spacecraft shapes with the same internal volume, a sphere has the least surface area (which also means that of all possible spacecraft shapes with the same surface area, a sphere has the most internal volume.) This might make it a good choice for both commercial and military use, as it would store the most cargo per unit of armor.
  • Spheres are also naturally an extremely strong shape (this is why many deep sea submersibles are spherical) which would help in the harsh conditions of both space and many planets with a thick atmosphere.
  • More importantly to writers, spheres are cool.

Requirements:

  1. It must look like a spheroid. Obviously there will be some variations. Antennae, landing gear, square hatches, etc., are all fine as long as they don't detract from the fact that it's still basically a spheroid. Egg shapes and squished spheres are also OK as long as its closer to being a sphere than it is to a cylinder or Flying Saucer. However, examples that are arguably less a sphere than a "fat vertical rocket", "rotund Flying Saucer", "sphere on a pole", etc. should be listed elsewhere.
  2. Vertical takeoff and landing. The vehicle is essentially incapable of landing like a traditional airplane. Once airborne, it can change course.
  3. Single-stage, surface-to-space capability. Sufficiently Advanced Aliens usually equip such vessels with interstellar capability, while more primitive variants may only be capable of going between the planet and an orbiting Mother Ship.
Examples of Spheroid Dropship include:

Anime and Manga

Film

Films - Animated

  • The second Katy Caterpillar movie, Katy, Kiki & Koko had the shapeshifting alien use such a ship. It was not capable of taking off vertically and had to reach escape velocity by bouncing on the ground.

Literature

  • The derelict space craft from Andre Norton's Time Traders series were giant spheres. In the second book, Galactic Derelict, the heroes managed to find one intact.
  • In Magnus, Dragylon the Imperial Fortress is a massive, invisible, sun-sphere and headquarters of Lucifer. Dragylon also contains the Library of Babel and Lucifer's Cool Chair.
  • In The Black Fleet Crisis, the Yevetha's thrustships are spherical, based on the surface area argument quoted above. Probably the only Star Wars example that isn't somehow related to the Death Star.
  • The sphere is a reasonably common shape for starships in Perry Rhodan. Most notably, it's been traditionally used by the dominant humanoid races of the Milky Way galaxy, the Terrans themselves included, for their capital ships (basically anything above fighter/small craft scale) for thousands of years, so there are plenty to go around.
  • E.E. Smith favoured this shape in the Skylark universe (only Skylark Three was elongated) and for the FTL capital ships in the early part of the Lensman sequence. By the time of First Lensman, however, the teardrop shape is becoming more prominent and the spheres are having trouble keeping up (literally). After the first space battle in that book, no more spheres are built and it's implied the ones which exist are phased out. By Kim Kinnison's era the ships are all teardrops.
  • Peter F. Hamilton's famous Night's Dawn trilogy features a lot of spherical spacecraft (e. g. The Lady Macbeth), due to the FTL drives creating a spherical area for the travel - anything poking out is cut off. They are mostly used by the Adamists, one of the two major factions of future humanity in that series. While they are never shown to land on planets (instead preferring to ferry freight using a Space Plane), they could presumably land on a planet vertically due to their huge fusion engines and fuel tanks.

Tabletop Games

  • The trope was named for Spheroid Dropships in BattleTech. See here for an example design. Note the Humongous Mecha on the lower right.
  • The Broadsword class mercenary cruiser in Traveller. Oddly, though its description says it can't land on planets with atmospheres, one does exactly that in Adventure 7 Broadsword.

Video Games

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