If you write science fiction or fantasy, you end up doing a lot of world building.
If your world is part of a fantasy it may have some or all of magic, strange creatures, different plant-life, and so on. If your world is part of a science fiction then it may have some or all of new or amazing technology, strange creatures, different plant-life and space.
If you have space, then you probably have spaceships too.
If you know exactly how your space ships work and can describe the physics and technology behind them, then you are most likely writing hard science fiction. As for the rest of us, we have some idea of how our ships work but we couldn’t tell you much about the technology behind it.
But just because we don’t know every technical detail, it doesn’t mean we can forget about basic laws of physics.
Following are some of the things Sherylyn and I considered/discussed when designing our ships for Linesman.
Our ships never land on planets
They have shuttles to do that. Therefore, there are no strict aerodynamic limitations. Thus shape is not an issue.
Shuttles, however, will need aerodynamics of some sort. And they’ll need to be able to take the stresses of continual entry and re-entry to an atmosphere.
Ships will also need to be large enough to fit at least one shuttle, probably in a shuttle bay.
Our ships have artificial gravity
Given that many of our characters live on spaceships and move easily between ship, space stations (the size of cities) and planets, then our people have to physically be able to do this.
That means they can’t spend most of their time in zero gravity and only hit real gravity when they land on a planet. It would be too dangerous. Not to mention it would make our books a farce, because many of our characters are military people. They kick butt. Imagine a soldier coming onto station from months in zero gravity and taking on, and defeating, the soldiers on station.
Our ships can travel faster than light
In fact, they have a form of hyperspace. They jump through the ‘void’ from one point in space to another without having to physically move to get there. These jumps are virtually instantaneous.
This means that the ship speeds required are mostly for moving from the exit point of the jump to their destination. They don’t jump right to the edge of a planet, say. That’s too dangerous. They jump some way out and then use engines and inertia to bring them in close enough to use the shuttle.
Even so, our ships are plenty fast, and can take the stresses involved in truly fast speeds. We’re talking hours from Earth to the moon here, days from Earth to Mars.
In our universe we assume that our ships are powered with some form of nuclear fission device, which by then is inexpensive and relatively safe (if you could ever call nuclear fission safe).
We also use hydrogen as a secondary fuel, although we never specify how it is used, or how it is stored.
Most of the fuel will be used in bursts. One initial burst to start the ship in a direction, smaller bursts to change direction or slow down.
Our ships are large
We think of our spaceships more as modern-day ships rather than like aircraft. A cargo ship has the capacity of a container ship, and works much the same, with a cabin area for the crew and the rest of the ship given over to big spaces for cargo. A passenger ship will be more like a modern-day cruise ship with bars and entertainment like a cruise ship has. Troop carriers will be like modern-day aircraft carriers.
So all up, our ships are designed for what they are meant to do—carry cargo, carry people—rather than for aerodynamics. Think a modern office block, a cargo ship or a hotel rather than an aircraft. Their limitations are function and the ability to provide artificial gravity.
Have you read Akin’s Laws of Spacecraft Design? I think you could use the same rules for any project of size.