Spaceship Handbook
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The neatest rocket designs that ever were, never were - Peter Alway

With those nine words, Peter neatly summed up the purpose of this book; something Iím going to spend the next thousand or so expanding on.

This book follows the format established by Peterís Rockets of the World (Saturn Press, Third Edition, 1999) ,but with one important difference: none of these rockets are real. All of the subjects in this book are ships of the imagination; the imaginations of scientists and engineers, the imaginations of authors and artists, and the imaginations of movie and TV producers. They are not, however, just free flying fantasy of the type found in science fiction cover art and comic books; all of the subjects have to have documented characteristics. Sometimes finding this documentation was easy, such as the works of Oberth and von Braun, legendary engineers who left behind copious detailed notes that just had to be translated into the standard format used here. Sometimes itís more tenuous and may have been nothing more than a model sheet used by an animator for a cartoon.

Just as important as what you'll find here is what you won't find here. You'll notice that the movie spacecraft end in 1968 with 2001: A Space Odyssey, a point that the current generation considers only the very beginning of the "Golden Age" of movie hardware. Therefore you won't find ships from the Star Wars, Star Trek or Alien series, etc. This was a conscious decision based on some deliberate criteria. First off, most of them have already been done to death in other publications and in far more detail than I could supply. One such book is Famous Spaceships of Fact and Fantasy (Kalmbach Books, Second Edition, 1996) which, despite the similarity of its title to mine, deals almost exclusively with Star Wars and Star Trek with an Apollo section thrown in to cover the "fact" part. The overriding reason I excluded them, though, was in deference to part of the intended audience for this book. In addition to the space flight enthusiasts and science fiction fans, this book is also for scale modelers who wish to build flying versions of their favorite craft. After 2001, producers of Sci Fi movies began a period of exhibitionism with enormously complicated and elaborate designs which, to be fair, depicted deep space ships that were never intended for atmospheric flight. After all, would you want to try to make a flying version of the Nostromo from the original Alien?

There are some other exceedingly important and famous craft not represented, such as Jules Verneís Columbiad cannon projectile from his seminal From the Earth to the Moon. Again, this was a deliberate decision, albeit a difficult one. Originally, this book was to be oriented much more towards the visual media (i.e. movies and television) with the subjects ranging from Die Frau im Mond to 2001. After starting, however, there was a period of "creeping spec" where I realized that I couldnít talk about Frau without also reviewing Hermann Oberth, and if I included Oberth, then Iíd better do Tsiolkovsky as well, etc. The subject list was rapidly getting out of hand so I invoked the "centennial fever" dictum and made this a book on 20th Century designs only. For those readers interested in a much broader treatment of the subject, I can heartily recommend The Dream Machines by Ron Miller (Krieger publishing, 1993).

The other reason that Verne is not included is that as important as From the Earth to the Moon was, it is not especially challenging or interesting to model something that can be made by taking a commercial nose cone and trimming it to length. This is also why all of the other "cannon projectile" vehicles are missing; a genre that includes Alexander Kordaís Things to Come (1939) and lasted well into the 1960s.

How to Use This Book

Each entry in this book follows a similar pattern. First, an introductory section gives some background material to put the design in historical context: who did it, why they did it and what else was going on while they did it that might have influenced them. Then there is a section describing the vehicle itself. Any personal opinions or other peripheral information I may have on a subject Iíve placed at the end of the section in an "Epilog." This avalanche of information is included not only to inform and (hopefully) entertain, but to help satisfy the "Background Information" requirement for those modelers entering their designs in sanctioned NAR Scale events. I do, however, encourage such modelers to dig further into a rocketís background since space limitations made some entries necessarily short. At the end of each vehicleís description there is a data drawing presenting the dimensional and color data necessary to build an accurate model. Note that this is the data on the "real" vehicle, not any sort of model design. Turning this data into a real, flyable model is completely up to you.

click on picture for full size model drawing of Orbit Ferry by Jon Rogers

Click on picture for a full sized model drawing of Von Braun's 3 stage Orbital Ferry Rocket as detailed by Jon Rogers.

However, this is not a book just for modelers. The much larger audience of science fiction fans and space flight enthusiasts that couldnít care less about building models. I didnít want to bog down those good people with the extraneous tips, suggestions and histories of model makers, so after the vehicle description text Iíve inserted a

Modelersí Note:

Itís here that I place any information that might helpful in pointing the way to turn the spacecraft just described into an actual model. Usually these are general tips, suggestions on what would make a more interesting and challenging model, etc. Occasionally, there will be a thumbnail sketch of some modeler whoís already built one. In any case, folks who have no interest in building models can just skip the gray shaded boxes and not miss a thing. Again, donít expect to find detailed plans or calculations here. Doing that is really the fun part of building the models anyway, once you get into it!

Along with the Modelersí Note, Iíve included something for both groups of readers called a "Quickspec" like this one for the von Braun Ferry Rocket from the Collierís series:

Von Braun 3 stage Orbital Ferry Rocket
Click on Picture for enlarged view of Rocket
Quickspec: Orbital Ferry Rocket

Vehicle Morphology............Standard
Year .........................................1952
Medium........Book/Magazine Articles
Designer.............Wernher von Braun
Height............................265 ft (81 m)
Max. Diameter................65 ft (20 m)

This boils the design down to itís briefest possible summary. This little synopsis also helped resolve a dilemma I had when first organizing the subjects. While placing the entries chronologically certainly makes sense, there were some other, equally valid ways of organizing them such as by body shape (Morphology) or the medium they appeared in (books/magazines, film, etc.).

There are several Morphologies used:

  • Standard - What most people think of when you say "rocket," a body, some fins and a nose cone.
  • Saucer - Round/flat symmetrical designs.
  • Wheel - Space stations
  • Open Frame - Deep space designs with no skins.
  • Glider - Just what it says (mostly von Braun designs from the Ď50s).
  • Other - any design that doesnít fit into the above categories.


    As you can imagine with my "real" job being a mechanical design engineer, consistency and clarity of technical information is a major big deal with me. I have, therefore, tried to be as clear and consistent as possible when presenting all of the facts and figures. All dates are given in the unambiguous day-month-year format (with the month spelled out) preferred by the military and most European nations, even though it looks a bit jarring to U.S. civilians. All measurements are specified in English units first with the metric equivalents following in parentheses. In the Data Drawings, the dimensions are given in the units of the original design (English or metric).

    Suggested Reading

    After this meager presentation of spacecraft has whetted your appetite, you might want to expand your knowledge with the following fine works:

    For prototype information and scaling data

    The Dream Machines by Ron Miller (Krieger, 1993).

    Rockets of the World by Peter Alway (Saturn Press, 1993, revised 1995 and 1999)

    Retro Rockets by Peter Alway (Saturn Press, 1996)

    For modeling tips and techniques

    Handbook of Model Rocketry by G. Harry Stine, 6th Edition (John Wiley & Sons, 1994)

    Basics of Model Rocketry by Douglas Pratt, 2nd Edition (Kalmbach Books, 1994)

    The Art of Scale Model Rocketry by Peter Alway (Saturn Press, 1994)

    Advanced Model Rocketry by Michael Banks, 2nd Edition (Kalmbach Books, 1995)

    Model Rocket Design and Construction by Tim Van Milligan (Kalmbach Books, 1995)

    Famous Spaceships of Fact and Fantasy (Kalmbach Books, 1996)

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    Handbook Introduction  |  Solar Guard Library
    Preface  | Part 1  | Part 2  | Part 3  | Contents  |

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