Deckplan Design

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so you want to design a StarWars starship?

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This page was conceived and built by Robert Brown.

INTRODUCTION

The internet abounds with rather poor fan-based StarWars ship deckplans. The ‘official’ materials published by WEG and others are scarcely any better. Yet there are thousands of StarWars fans, RPG fans and modellers who are screaming for good deckplans.

The new SWRPG license holders, Wizards of the Coast (WoTC), in their new “StarWars Gamer” magazine present an article on designing starships. They set forth a five-point system. So far their system deals mostly with the narrative aspects of a starship; its name, its origins etc. Now this is vitally important to roleplaying, since good gaming is essentially freeform narrative creation, but many gamers want more. Many GM’s (and players) wish they could actually see the interior layouts of their ships. (Especially if you want to play out a running gun battle with boarding pirates or stormtroopers!) Those plans offered in the past by WEG were poor to the point of blatant incompetence.
It is one thing for deckplans in an RPG to be a little brief or even substandard, after all its the game story that maters isn’t it? *BUT* since ‘official’ RPG source materials carry so much weight in influencing the interpretation of StarWars technology in other products (PC games, toys etc), WEG’s poor workmanship did more damage than the lazy designers ever thought possible. We are all looking forward to WoTC doing it right!

This page attempts to set forth some simple (and to my mind, OBVIOUS) principles to follow so that your deckplans will ‘work’.

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INDEX

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Common Deckplan Syndromes

The flaws in most available deckplans are as many as varied as you may care to imagine, but some errors are so common and pervasive that they can virtually be considered syndromes. Please avoid these syndromes like the plague they are.

  • Deckplan Syndrome #1: “implausibly tiny engines”
  • Deckplan Syndrome #2: “inadequate headroom” (3rd dimension?)
  • Deckplan Syndrome #3: “tacking on extra weapons anywhere that looks cool”
  • Deckplan Syndrome #4: “more corridors than rooms”
  • Deckplan Syndrome #5: “space for fighter/shuttle hangars”
  • Deckplan Syndrome #6: “when in doubt use magic-tech or crystals”

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Form Follows Function – or does it? … external issues

Your first issue is the EXTERNAL shape of the ship. Sometimes this is decided for you, because you may be trying to ‘populate’ the interior of someone else’s exterior design. Often however, you may wish to build your own ship from the keel up.

The most common criteria used by fans to design the external shape of a fan-based StarWars ship is “koolness”. Certainly this is important to maintain a StarWars look’n’feel and to maintain interest – but it doesn’t hurt to inject just a little of the practical into your ship’s design.

In biology there is an old saying, “form follows function” … this means essentially that things LOOK like they can do what they do. Crabs need to grab things to catch, subdue & kill their prey, so (surprise surprise) they have big claws! Sounds stupidly simple doesn’t it? But you’d be surprised how often “fan-ships” (and I include WEG ships and many ‘official’ EU vessels in this category) feature “kool-looking” features that serve little or no function.
In essence a starship is just a flying box. It is an enclosed space with a drive, life-support, carrying capacity and probably weapons. But as a box is rather dull to look at (gotta feel sorry for the Borg huh?) you’ll doubtless want to be a bit more creative.

At this point, this page will NOT get bogged down into hard numbers and rules about external shapes … but here’s some ideas to consider:

[1] try for some degree of SYMMETRY (not a firm rule)
StarWars ships DO ‘tend’ to be symmetrical more often than not – so symmetry is the style. Further however, a symmetrical ship will be easier to balance on its drive units … ie: the thrust from the drive units drives the ship forwards, not in a circle. (go build the ST:TOS USS-Enterprise as a rocket-model and see what happens when you light the blue touch paper *grin*)

[2] what is the FUNCTION of the ship
Freighters need to have large empty spaces for freight .. together with mechanisms to allow the quick and easy loading and unloading of same. The so-called “Rebel Transport” Gallofree Freighter is an excellent example of this. The YT2400 “Outrider” is an appallingly bad example of a freighter, with minimal storage space and virtually no loading capability.

Warships do not have vast and luxurious accommodation … they are guns with engines that squeeze people in and around the machinery. The CORE idea is to deliver fire-power quickly where it will do the most good. They try to keep mass down – every extra component needs more engine but every bit more power needs more mass to generate it! There is a vicious cycle here.

Carriers are slightly different – they are more like ‘military freighters’ where the entire ‘freight’ area is devoted to the storage, retrieval and maintenance of fighters etc. WEG in particular was guilty of grossly underestimating just ho much space is need for each and every fighter you carry. Ask yourself why aircraft carriers are so big! Each fighter needs a heck of a lot more space than just the minimum it takes to “pack ’em in” … as a rule of thumb, allow about three times the actual space of each fighter for the main hangar, and as much again (at least) elsewhere in the ship for fuel, pilots accommodation, maintenance crew, spare parts etc etc etc

Fighters suffer from “fan syndromes” more than any other ship class. You should remember that a fighter is a support ship. It protects its fleet – it extends the eyes of the fleet and it extends the strike capacity of the fleet. It is NOT a “one man fleet”. Please try not to glue as many weapons as you can imagine onto a box and call it a “guaranteed capital ship killer” – there has never been such a thing, and never will be.

[3] Engines
A huge chunk of your ship (about 25%-30% of its total mass/volume) will be engine space / power generation (this will be discussed below). Try to place your engines on or near the centre-line-of-mass of the vessel and allow that there will NOT be a lot of internal space available near the engine outlets! If your engines are largely external (like Queen Amidala’s Nubian Cruiser in SW:TPM) then assume that there will be a fair bit of structural and mechanical ‘stuff’ inside the main hull where the engine nacelles attach … if you just put exhaust vents on the outer edge of the vessel (like a StarDestroyer or the Millennium Falcon) then assume that a HUGE chunk of the interior space (~30%!!!) will be filled with the engines and associated mechanisms.

[4] Structural elements
The hull of most StarWars vessels is exoskeletal like an insect. That is, the outer hull is a hard shell and the internals are relatively lightweight “filler” but this is not the end of the story. Allow for the fact that large components such as engines, launch systems, landing gear and weapons require bracing – they have to be attached to something solid … not just stuck to the outside of the hull with model-glue !!!

[5] Docking and landing
Is your ship able to land on a planetary surface or dock inside a larger vessel/base? Are your docking points so buried amongst “kool fins” that no other ship could ever dock with you?

If you have “bits that fold up” (a StarWars fave) then remember that such gross-motor systems require a LOT of mass, heavy structural members and power systems – leave room for them!

[6] Weapons
Seems obvious, but ensure that your weapons have fire-arc on their intended targets! Remember that weapons do not just “sit on the outside” … they are like icebergs… most of the weapons’ systems are inside! (more on this below)

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Drive Systems and Power

Deckplan Syndrome #1: “implausibly tiny engines”
This is a simple notion. StarWars ship drive systems occupy about 30% of the available mass/volume of the entire vessel – end of story.

There is not a single exception to this. Even the humble TIE fighter is “an engine with a seat” when you consider the bulky “connections” between the spherical capsule and the radiator fins. Some ships place a chunk of their drive systems “outside” the habitable shell, such as the Corvette, the Nubian Cruiser and most fighters – but many others have their drive systems contained within their habitable shell, such as the YT1300 (Millennium Falcon), Slave1, Star Destroyer, Calimarian Cruisers and the Galofree transport.

There are usually no less than three, and more often, four separate drive systems in a starship:

  • (1) Hyperdrive – only works outside of gravity wells
  • (2) Sublight engines (often an ion-drive) – for STL use outside of gravity wells
  • (3) Repulsor anti-grav systems – only work within gravity wells
  • (4) Station keeping, attitude jets – for fine movements in landing and docking

add to this:

  • (5) Power Core Reactor – the ‘generator’ that powers ship systems and weapons

Your main power core reactor should be more or less in the centre of the ship. These things are BIG and HEAVY! Very large vessels will have secondary and tertiary redundant power systems to keep core systems (life-support, gravity, weapons, comms) going in the event of damage or break-down. (According to the SW:RoTJ novelisation, the evacuation of the DSII was sparked by failures of these back-up systems, which resulted from the crash of the Executor into the DSII hull)

WEG, and most other lazy thinkers, choose to conveniently forget just how big the engines and power systems of a starship truly are. Time and again we see childish floorplans that portray the engines as being little more than a thin strip of machinery just inboard of the visible engine outlets. Some deckplans even go so far as to place crew accommodations in hull space that should be occupied by hard-radiation engine systems!

Heat dissipation in space vessels is a severe problem, especially when power systems become very compact. The TIE fighter is the best example of this, its incredibly tiny power system requires vast heat radiation panels to balance things out. If you keep engine size down, you’ll have to provide your ship with radiator systems! (even then the drive systems will occupy a big chunk of ship mass/volume)

Keep in mind however, that it is possible to distribute SOME of the drive/power systems … they may be located in spaces around the habitable space, BUT for a believable and realistic deckplan, always assume that at least half of bulk of the engines will lie DIRECTLY BEHIND their outlets (ie: at least about 15% of the total available space) … and yes, that will “poke into” the main shell of the hull. the rest will be clustered in ‘blisters’ or similar usually above or below the habitable areas. Sorry if that eats into your plans for “hundreds of fighters” or “heaps of guns” … but these are the sorts of constraints that divide DESIGN from PLAY.

If the drive systems take up so much space that you cannot hold all the freight / passengers / fighters or weapons you wanted – then you are simply going to need a BIGGER ship with, (surprise surprise) BIGGER ENGINES! … perhaps you now begin to see why StarWars ships can tend to be so large!

Look on the bright side – paradoxically the MORE constraints you have, the EASIER the design process is ! If you plan for the compulsory components first, your final product will be so much more believable. If you start from a blank-slate and just doodle away (like WEG did) then you’ll end up with rubbish (like WEG did).

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Maintenance Access

Starships breakdown. They are vastly complex systems with a need for constant maintenance. Whilst the advanced technology of the StarWars galaxy certainly would give rise to a degree of self-diagnosis and perhaps even a degree of self-repair, there will always be a need for intervention.

Whilst significant repair such as the entire replacement of a ship’s engine is certainly a “drydock” affair, smaller running maintenance tasks should be carried out by crew & ship’s droids. To facilitate this, always allow some degree of accessways to core equipment areas. They do not need to be particularly big, or comfortable, but they should be there. Preferably you should allow for most repairs to be conducted internally, especially for large and military vessels. External activities are dangerous and time consuming, even with droids.

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Artificial Gravity and Other Fields

StarWars vessels are blessed with cheap and effective artificial gravity. These usually direct gravity in a consistent orientation so that the crew experience a planetary style “down”. Starships are not limited in this however, and localised variations in gravity orientation are entirely possible. Remember the Millennium Falcon gunpits? I suspect that there must be some sort of grav-field system under the decks (or above the ceilings – pushing down?) of starships. keep this in mind when deciding how far apart your decks can be, and how thick the floors are.
StarWars starships can undergo astonishing accelerations. The crew simply must be shielded from these accelerations or they’d be squashed flat against the bulkheads! We know the Millennium Falcon is equipped with ‘alluvial dampers’ which may the the units responsible for this shielding. Leave room for this system, and remember that it must reach its effect throughout the ship.

Starships are also fitted with antigrav ‘repulsor’ drive systems (one of the four main drive systems). These probably are located at or near the centre of mass of the overall vessel.

Starships are often equipped with tractor beams, for capturing smaller vessels, landing fighters, docking and cargo handling etc. These are stand alone units which can even be mounted on gimbaled or turreted abutments. Expect to find them near hangars and cargo hatches. Remember though that these systems transfer the mass of the ‘target’ to the hull of your ship via the mounting of your tractor-beam projector … so allow for the mount to be at a very structurally sound point – well braced.

Any open areas (such as hangar bay portals) are shielded with atmosphere shields (a specific form of particle shielding I believe). Remember to allow for the machinery and power requirements of your atmosphere shielding!
Of course all starships MUST have particle shields to keep micro-meteorites from punching through the hull as the vessel travels in real-space at near relativistic speeds. Most also have ray shielding for defense from energy weapons. WEG and other poorly though-out ‘designers’ (and I use the word loosely) have tended to make the defense shielding units EXTERNAL to the hull shell. They also propose that these units protect everything BUT the projector itself! (what rubbish!) Now we saw in Episode#1 SW:TPM that the shielding can be global (droideka) or form-fitting (N-1 fighter) – so both options exist. A global shield is probably generated from a unit at the centre-of-mass of the vessel whereas a ‘form-fitting’ shield may well be emitted (but not generated) from several external points. Think carefully about these objects – do not build in a stupid weakness by making your shield generators vulnerable!
[An interesting story/RPG idea suggested by Mr Mike Horne (former WEG sourcebook author) is that grav systems could be deliberately disabled or wildly varied to disorient unwelcome boarders]

Deckplan Syndrome #6: “when in doubt use magic-tech or crystals”

StarTrek introduced the concept of a “structural integrity field” (SIF) which has been deployed in some SW fan plans. Now I hope that the Trekkish SIF itself is *not* a magic-tech that mystically “holds the ship together” – and certainly there is no canonical mention of such a thing in the StarWars universe. However, we must realize that metallic structures in the absolute cold of space, which have the direct lights of suns upon them, undergo massive deformations as parts heat and other parts cool. Further, the acceleration stresses upon a ship that is hundreds or thousands of metres long are incredible … through inertia, the bow of the ship doesn’t start to move forward until the aft is underway and the whole vessel undergoes incredible compression stresses. As I mentioned earlier, most large StarWars vessels are rather ‘exoskeletal’ in design which is doubtless a method of minimising these stresses, but that alone cannot be the entire answer. Whilst StarWars thankfully lacks Trek’s ‘magic’ SIFs, they almost certainly would deploy their various inertial-damping, ray-shield, gravity and tractor fields in such a manner as to minimise the load upon the physical shell. It’s probably safe to say that if you found a large powerless vessel, strapped on some booster drives and tried to fly it away without getting its various fields up and balanced, you’d probably crack it in half! If you wanted to destroy a large capital ship by stealth, I’d go for the fields if I couldn’t find the main reactor! (now there’s a plot hook for all you RPGers!)

Darth Maul’s Infiltrator craft from SW:TPM is credited with the ability to become invisible (although this has only been seen in comic books so far) and in SW:TESB there is a mention of stealth technology – “no ship that size has a cloaking device!”. Dr David West-Reynold, formerly of LFL, author of the first few DK cutaway books, proposed that Maul’s ship gained its incredible abilities (for a ship that size) from an array of ‘magic volcanic crystals’. It is fairly clear from the text that these crystals were invoked by Dr Reynolds in an effort to try and explain just how this particular ship could side-step the size-restriction on cloaking devices, but it remains unrealistic, since surely StarWars era chemists could synthesize these crystals and build cloaks into small ships any time!

May I just say right now, and please just take this on faith, that it is a very weak solution to appeal to magic crystals. Just don’t do it. Ever. Please.

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Life Support

Our ‘box in space’ would be no good if the crew couldn’t live in it. Whatever you do, do not forget to allow plenty of space for life-support.

Consider that your crew needs:

  • (1) atmosphere
    • the right mix of gases
    • scrubbing of gasses exhaled by the crew
    • filtering of air-borne particles
    • maintenance of correct atmospheric pressure
    • atmosphere containment shields (at hangar portals etc)
  • (2) temperature & humidity control
  • (3) protection from radiation sources, internal & external
  • (4) correctly adjusted gravity
  • (5) light
  • (6) waste-management: recycling and expulsion
  • (7) water
    • every carbon-based lifeform needs clean water
    • humans need several litres per day, other species may need even more
    • water is heavy, 1 litre is 1 kilogram, so try not to store a few hundred tonnes of water off-centre!
    • consider the need for water recycling systems

These are not trivial matters. To keep dozens (let alone tens of thousands) of sentients functioning in an enclosed space for long periods requires a LOT of life-support. Vast reserves of atmospheric gasses, giant scrubbing filters and a ventillation system that runs through the entire vessel and can operate separately in independent zones. Huge tanks of water and extensive plumbing systems throughout the vessel. Recycling systems capable of extending the life of water & atmosphere supplies.

Certain functions are probably only possible in real-space, remember that StarDestroyers usually dump their garbage before jumping to hyperspace.

[distasteful as the subject is, do not forget that living beings generate a LOT of waste … provide toilets and washrooms as well as garbage disposal systems]

Remember, starships operate in space. You cannot just pop the hatch and let in some fresh air! You can’t pause at a mountain stream and collect some water!

The air and water circulation systems will spread through the entire ship, like blood vessels. Consider these when you decide how thick your walls and floors are!

Just as an aside, you may (or may not) wish to make sure your ventillation shafts are large enough (or not) for spies, alien monsters and rebels to hide in!

You cannot FILL a fishtank with fish or they’ll die of oxygen starvation. The rule of thumb is “one inch of fish per square inch of surface area” (or something like that) and your starship should be similar. Each sentient inhabitant needs FAR more ‘space’ than just their bunk! Large StarWars structures (ships, bases, cities etc) are punctuated with HUGE ventillation shafts. These void spaces are not just for looks … they are vitally necessary for air circulation, temperature & humidity control and also can serve as bulkheads for dividing ship sections, and providing accessways for intraship travel systems (lift-tubes) and infrastructure (water etc).

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Decks – the 3rd Dimension

Deckplan Syndrome #2: “inadequate headroom” (what third dimension?)
Probably the single biggest flaw in the worst of the WEG-type deckplans is to ignore the 3rd dimension.

WEG artists had a disturbing habit of looking at the top-down sillouhette of the entire ship and simply drawing in lots of ‘stuff’ without even pausing to see if there was actually any habitable space there AT ALL. In one notable example, one WEG plan placed rooms in an area of radiator fins! (an area barely 1m thick!)

Please remember that ships have more than two dimensions! Don’t “do a WEG” and place rooms in places so shallow that even a Jawa couldn’t stand up (as they did with the Millennium Falcon!). But this can work FOR you as well as against you – remember that you can store quite a bit of the ships infrastructure (ventillation etc) in ‘bulges’ and ‘boxes’ above and below the habitable decks (again. look at the Millennium Falcon)

How many decks can you cram into a ship? Well that’s a good question! In a 20th Century earth naval vessel you’d be lucky to find decks much more than 2m high at best (often much less, especially in lower decks). In StarWars vessels however, the decks seem to be quite generously high. There is a psychological basis for not making your crew feel too claustrophobic over long voyages! However, just by trimming deck height by 10%-15%, you may fit an extra deck or two into the ship, which will allow for more equipment, storage, accommodation etc.

The Millennium Falcon ring corridor is a tube 2.5m in diameter. After you fill in a section for the flat deck flooring, you are left with doorways just on 1.8m (6′) high and a maximum height of 2.15m at the apex of the tube. The headroom is quite a bit more in the forward hold, whose floor is sunk slightly, and whose ceiling resides under the ‘upper jaw’ of the ships mandible systems.

mftunnel

In a single deck ship, be sure to locate the deck more-or-less in the middle of the ship (vertically that is) to maximise habitable space. This is a real problem for analysts of the Millennium Falcon as its cockpit is vertically “off centre”.

MFdecks

In larger ships, you need to calculate how many decks there are before you can generate separate deck-outlines for each.

  • (1) Decide how thick your outer hull is, and how close the pressurized habitable shell is to that outer hull.
  • (2) Decide how high your headroom will be on each deck (I’d say 2m-2.25m is a good figure for large vessels)
    • not all decks have to be the same height. Non-living areas (maintenance etc) need not have full headroom. Certain ‘recreational’ areas may have considerably MORE headroom.
    • There is no rule against ‘californian split-level’ ships … do not be afraid to make your crew go up a small ramp or a couple of steps if necessary, although good design of the ship should minimise this need.
  • (3) Figure out how ‘thick’ the deck floors must be.
    Consider:

    • needs of structural rigidity
    • conduits for communications, lighting, ventillation, plumbing etc
    • accessways for maintenance of these ‘tweendeck’ systems.
    • (judging by external lights, Star Destroyer decks are about 3m apart … probably 2.5m headroom and 0.5m of “floor”)
    • interdeck spacing in StarDestroyer command towers is between two and five metres, but in some areas the lights are more closely spaced, suggesting multi-level compartments or perhaps vertical travel spaces.
      Remember also to allow for certain areas that may be more than one deck high, such as hangars, engine space, cargo holds etc.

Also remember to plan for vertical movement. How many lift-tubes will the ship have … are they in useful locations? Are there ladders and/or stairwell or ramps (for wheeled droids and heavy goods etc) in case of power failure to the lift-tube systems?

In truly massive vessels you may wish to use travel tubes that can go vertically AND horizontally. These will be moving through canyon like gaps between decks and walls (bulkheads). These systems can take advantage of the VOID SPACES you will have to provide (for ventillation) in very large ships (like StarDestroyers and the DeathStar). [think of the travel tubes inside the ship Excalibur from the Babylon5 spin-off series, CRUSADE]

In a humorous aside: in the marvel StarWars comics there was an incident where the Imperial Admiral Giel punished a crew member (for not wearing his cap, or something equally trivial) by making him run five laps of the ship … somewhere around one hundred kilometres in that case!!

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Corridors vs. Rooms

Deckplan Syndrome #4: “more corridors than rooms”
Once you have derived your outlines for each deck, and deducted space for engines/power, life support etc you can start the creative task of “populating” the interior.

REMEMBER: the purpose of the habitable space is to have rooms for people, cargo, machinery etc. Do not waste valuable interior space (and by now you must realize it is hard to come by!) filling your ship with endless corridors that go no-where useful!

Science Fiction series and movies tend to show more corridors than rooms because it is CHEAP to built a few sections of “generic corridor” than to fabricate dozens of individual rooms. Further, on screen, corridors have LOTS of bends and corners because that means the set-builders only need to make a stretch a few metres long! YOU however, are designing a “real” ship, not a TV show about one, so do not fall for these traps!

Corridors serve one main function ONLY: to allow access to otherwise ‘closed’ spaces.

Whilst they can ALSO serve as part of the ventilation system (and other circulatory infrastructures such as plumbing) etc, you should be trying to MINIMISE the amount of corridors in your ship at all costs! Countless fan-plans have fallen into this trap. Perhaps the worst would be the old ‘Selyanna” class Millennium Falcon plans.

Not all corridors are the same size. Crawlways into the engine bay will be probably smaller than the main ‘central avenue’ through heavily populated areas, or the oversized “cargo loading” corridors near the hold.

It’s a bit like a geometric “Minimum surface area” problem, or the old “five-colour” problem with maps. Astronomer Dr Curtis Saxton, a highly regarded StarWars commentator, offered this summary of the problem:

“A ship is divided into functional space and access space. We try to maximise the ratio of functional space to access space. However there are constraints: repairmen, service droids etc must be able to fit through the access space. Corridors need to be straight and have [at most] gentle curves to maximise the directness of access, and to ensure that big pieces of hardware/cargo/whatever aren’t jammed in corners. All functional spaces must be directly or indirectly connected to access space.”

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Who Goes Where?

It may seem obvious, but it needs to be said:
Not every person on board a ship needs (or is allowed) access to ALL parts of the vessel. Passengers on liners rarely see into the engines, or the bridge! In large military vessels, crew can spend their entire service careers and never see more than their own assigned ‘section’ of the ship. (A gentleman of my acquaintance who served in the Royal Australian Navy was amazed when I took him on a tour of the HMAS Vampire (a destroyer berthed permanently at the Australian National Maritime Museum where I once worked) … even though he had served for years onboard her ill-fated sister ship HMAS Voyager he had NEVER been into the upper decks of what he termed “officer country“. Crewmen assigned to the forward sections of a submarine may never see the aft areas, as they are not permitted to pass through the command section amidships unless with good reason.

Crew onboard a monstrous vessel, such as a StarDestroyer (let alone a DeathStar) probably couldn’t live long enough to visit all parts of the ship!

Each ‘section’ (however you decide to break it up) should have somewhat independent infrastructure – its own stores, food, bunks, entertainment, comms, escape systems etc.

“Watertight Compartments”

Ocean going vessels usually have their lower decks divided into individually sealable sections, each constituting a “watertight compartment”. (Those of you who suffered through the soppy romance film Titanic may recall that the compartments on that ship were not fully sealed, but were like a series of open topped “buckets”. Once the ship had a certain number flooded, she tilted so far that the water spilled-over from one to the other – and that is why she sank).

In a military vessel (such as HMAS Vampire) the lower decks are so securely divided that there is no access whatsoever between them. Once below the ‘weather deck’ you must climb through a small submarine-like hatch in the floor to the lower decks. You are now in a small section of hull (perhaps only one sixth or eighth of the overall length) that is several decks deep. To move to the next section along, one is obliged to climb all the way back up to the weather deck, travel forward or aft to the next hatchway, and then back down! To stand way down on the keel plates of a warship is a sobering experience .. when you realize just how much metal you must crawl through to escape if the ship were to start sinking!

Now of course unlike ocean-going ships, starships do not (usually) float in water, but they ARE in danger of losing their atmospheres just the same. You should consider (especially for large military vessels) dividing the outer areas (those near to the outer hull) into sealable sections, each with its own infrastructure and escape systems. (Not just the “bottom” but the entire ‘outer layer’ of habitable space … like the skin of an orange) The only “broadway” corridors running the length of the ship should be either BETWEEN these sections or in the centre of the ship, well away from the outer hull.

These voids are also necessary for moving large-scale components through the ship. Remember that in SW:TESB the StarDestroyer Avenger dumped “garbage” than consisted of units often larger than the Millennium Falcon. These units were moved INTERNALLY from their place of origin, to the waste-port located at the base of the command tower. You don’t want to have to rip a ship apart in order to be able to replace or install a large component.
This sectioning can be instituted as part of a “modularity” in ship design – which can be an aid to both construction, and habitation. You may feel it is wasteful to duplicate so many systems throughout a ship, but that is exactly what happens in biology, and with good reason! Redundancy equals survivability!

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Symmetry

It is something of a matter of individual taste I am sure, but I tend to believe that the internal layout of a ship should be more-or-less symmetrical. It appeals to my sense of order I suppose, but it also serves several useful functions:

  • (1) it makes the interior of the ship easier to navigate, especially in emergency circumstances. You may be trapped outside your usual section, but you can still ‘guess’ where the exit should be etc.
  • (2) it assists in balancing mass – you don’t want all your water storage tanks etc on one side – places unreasonable strain on the hull and drive systems and artificial grav systems!

You see, the interior layout of an artificial environment is a form of Human-Machine-Interface, in a way, no different to the dialogue boxes of your software!
Just as they are designed (or supposed to be) with an eye to good design principles, so should a ships internal layout.

The interior should be LEARNABLE, PREDICTABLE, FLEXIBLE, ROBUST and CONSISTENT.

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Bridge – command & control

Probably the first thing everyone draws into their plans is the bridge. After all, its the part of the ship that one always gets to see on TV isn’t it?

But what many people do not know is that military vessels, and medium-to-large vessels of almost any sort have more than one bridge!

A 20th Century earth naval battleship has a navigation bridge, the ‘classic’ bridge with the windows and the ships’ wheel. But in times of battle the ship is actually run not from there, but from an armoured control room called the “conning tower” (OK – hands up everyone who thought that only submarines have conning towers?). You will also find small ‘bridge-like’ rooms for gunnery directing, for lookouts etc etc. There will be secondary and even tertiary steering rooms (often buried in the armoured parts of the ship) in case the main ones are damaged. If all else fails, the ship can be steered from right aft, at the rudder itself! remember also that special functions of the vessel require extra levels of control, aircraft carriers must also have air-traffic control bridges and cargo vessels may have sub-bridges for the loading and unloading of cargo. Even the (dare I say?) ‘humble’ freighter Millennium Falcon had secondary control systems available from the navigation/tech station in its forward hold.

Many associated systems are located near the “bridge” … communications, navigation, chart rooms etc. The Senior officers quarters are usually not too far from their respective stations. As battleships evolved, this collection became a ‘command-tower’, not just a single ‘bridge room’. This whole structure was the “nerve centre” of the entire vessel with communications and control linkages to all sections. The sensors and comms arrays were also often clustered near this command tower for obvious reasons. The Corellian Corvette collects its command and control systems into an entire sub-hull, the infamous “hammer head”. The YT-1300 and variants have their control systems complex off-set to allow for central cargo loading facilities, you could seal off the cockpit from the rest of the vessel altogether. Gallofree transports have elevated “observation” bridges as well as internal bridges and probably cargo-loading bridges on the underside near the ramps. (think of the small dedicated “away-team” bridge used by the Science Officer of the Commercial Towing Vehicle Nostromo to co-ordinate surface outings in the film Alien)

StarDestroyers have a command tower so immense and complex that it is the size of a 20th Century aircraft carrier and sits above the main hull of the ship! But they also have any number of tiny ‘control points’ throughout the vessel … there is an air-traffic control bridge inside the hangar bay, there are small ‘gunnery bridges’ near each of the major batteries (as seen in SW:ANH “look there goes another one!” “hold your fire…“). I am sure that the entire ship could be run from emergency control systems located deep inside the main hull, in case the bridge tower should suffer a cataclysmic accident (such as running into a large asteroid!).

By the way:
There is no law requiring the Captain to have a chair in the centre of the bridge !!!

So, do not put all your eggs in one basket when you build your bridge! Its not just a “kool room” where your hero characters sit – its just part of an entire complex! Your own brain (I hope) is not just your eyes, they’re just the visible part of a much larger system.

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Weapons

Deckplan Syndrome #3: “tacking on extra weapons anywhere that looks cool”
The biggest misunderstanding of all has to be the subject of weapons. Fans (and WEG) tend to just bolt-on as many weapons as they can – declare the ship to be “kool” and “awesome” and walk away satisfied.

“Hey dewd, I just designed the kewlest most awesome fighter in the galaxy!
… the [randomn letter]-wing, with way more weapons than ANYTHING else!”

*sheesh* … if it was that easy, don’t you think we’d see things like that flying around now? NO – weapons systems are BIG. Think iceberg. The gun turret is just the tip. Behind the scenes are layers and layers of infrastructure.

  • Weapons needs MASSIVE power feeds (and “ammo” – whatever that consists of in the Star Wars galaxy)
  • they need solid and rigid bracing as their recoil and just the stress of their rapid movements place immense strain on the hull
  • they need targeting systems, control systems, cooling systems

Consider this:
a WW2 battleship displaced about 20,000 tonnes. It was the size of a football stadium and needed 1000 crew … all just to get about 9~12 largish cannons from place to place. Every other system on the ship is subordinate to that. A battleship is a gun-platform first and foremost. If it was possible to move that kind of firepower around more cheaply and easily, don’t you think they’d have done it? A battleship turret is a massive structure six storeys high! We are *not* just talking about whipping out the model glue and sticking some more guns on every flat spot of hull!

Earlier i suggested starting with drive systems when you design. In a battleship however, they started with the guns, their structure, power systems, command and comms, ammunition etc. Then the figured how much mass that was, what sort of hull was needed to carry it – then power systems, armour etc etc etc A battleship is a balancing act between firepower, armour and speed (just like a battlefield tank!) and you cannot max-out any one of those without costing elsewhere.

Deckplan Syndrome #5: “space for fighter/shuttle hangars”
If you’re designing a carrier, the rule is similar. Figure the space needed for ALL functions of carrying ships (fuel, training, maintenance, spare-parts, etc etc) then add engines etc around it. Go look up the cross-section of any aircraft carrier and see just HOW MUCH of those huge ships is just for the fighters. You simply CANNOT stack a few fighters in a spare bit of hull and call a ship a carrier – the EU has been particularly bad in this regard!

It should be recognised however that a key feature of terrestrial aircraft carriers is the need for long flight-decks for take-offs by heavily armed warplanes. Aircraft carriers using V/STOL or helo aircraft are able to be built considerably smaller. Most Star Wars fighters have just such V/STOL capacity as we have seen onscreen. However this does not mean you can just “rack ’em up” … regardless of flightdeck length, aircraft carriers require approximately 1000 tons of ship per fighter! (this reduces to about 700 tons per aircraft for helicopters).

Looking at earth, small multirole carriers such as the Soviet Kiev or the British Invincible provide excellent ‘bang for buck’ compared to massive US nuclear carriers, however the big carriers are faster and can deploy a more significant strike capacity once on station. All carriers however require significant escort screens, they represent an enormous target!

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Supplies / Fuel

Big ship = big crew = big appetite. You will need to carry massive amounts of food and drink. Multiple galleys (kitchens) and mess halls (dining rooms) with massive crews of chefs and stewards. This all adds to the mass of the ship too! Add to that medical supplies, uniforms, bedding, tools, raw materials etc etc etc. A ship has to be a self-sufficient city for the duration of its voyage.

Now, no-one has quite solved the riddle “what do Star Wars ships run on” – but they must run on something and you need a LOT of space to store it. Think about the risk of explosion and/or battle damage, also ease of refuelling and the risk of leakage into habitable areas of the ship.

In SW:ANH we see Han Solo & various Rebel Techs connecting and disconnecting hoses and tubes to ships when landed, but we are uncertain if these are fuel lines, or are pumping life-support supplies etc.

UPDATE: SW:ROTS had planned scenes of the Jedi sloshing around in fuel tanks aboard the ‘Invisible Hand’ (mercifully cut from the film). SW:SOLO introduced yet more ‘magic crystals’ to power hyperdrive systems. (Disney seem to have bought into the notion of hiding behind ‘crystals’ big time – now declaring that the DeathStar super-weapon is powered by giant lightsabre crystals – which are now apparently a fuel rather than a focusing element)

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Droids

Star Wars has one great advantage we lack here and now. Droids.

Automated crew members do not place as big a strain on life-support, they can function 24 hours a day (if they are maintained) and do not go on strike or complain about a boring lifestyle. Furthermore, as we saw in SW:TPM, they can be sent outside into vacuum rapidly to attend to external damage.

Small droids do not require as much headroom or living space as human crew. They can be packed tightly into droid holds (again, as seen in SW:TPM) and deployed as needed.

Essentially, droids are an extension of the ship itself, and constitute its prime means of ‘self-repair’. Consider having a few droid holds in strategic parts of your ship, with a compliment of appropriate droid models never too far from where they may be needed. Remember though that nothing is free – droids need constant maintenance and repair and draw a hefty amount of power from the ships systems. Allow for spare-parts and repair bays and several sentient engineers to oversee the droid crew. You will also need quite a few “human-cyborg relations” models to facilitate liaison between the sentient crew and automated inhabitants of the ship!

Some systems of the ship (even one as small as the Millennium Falcon) may well have “droid-level” intelligence of their own. Fighters, which often host an astromech droid, probably lack this capability – the droid IS the artificial intelligence of the ship.

An important issue: droids do not need to be saved in an emergency … they just drift away and power down – you can find them later if you need to! The more droids, the less ‘live’ crew you need to plan for in your escape systems.

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Escape Systems

Passenger liners are required to have lifeboat capacity for all onboard. Military vessels are not primarily designed to be escaped from and yet they do carry escape systems. Military vessels often carry far more crew than similarly sized commercial ships (dozens or even hundreds as times as many) and simply cannot provide luxurious escape pods for everyone. Most the escape systems in a warship are inflatable emergency rafts.

Escape pods for two to four crew (with limited travel capacity) of the sort seen onboard the Corellian Corvette are about five or six metres long and about two to three metres wide, they reside in launch tubes a shade wider and longer than this, with airlock entry doors and launch equipment. Inflatable short-term emergency rafts for one or two crew would probably be stored as deflated packages of just two or three cubic metres, but they must be stored near some sort of air-lock.

The same principle applies to starships. The best defence is to design a ship NOT to go down at all … but you must allow for mechanisms of escape should the worst happen (or no one would ever want to serve in your ships!). Each section of the interior should have some form of escape route planned and clearly marked.

Consider having emergency lighting and ‘pop-out’ hand-holds in walls, floor and ceiling in case the gravity systems fail.

If you find you just cannot fit enough escape pods in your ship, then perhaps you have too many crew! Rethink the function and scale of your ship!

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Deconstructing Canon Ships

Trying to figure out how “real” Star Wars ships are arranged internally is a very very difficult thing to do.
All of the ideas and rules outlined above must be kept in mind at all times.
The following steps may help:

  • (1) establish precisely the scale of the vessel
  • (2) determine how many decks it may have
  • (3) identify gross external features
    • radiator fins
    • engine outlets
    • escape pods
    • hangars
    • command areas
    • weapons pods
  • (4) establish the overall FUNCTION of the vessel and use that to ascertain the key design constraint
    • cargo capacity OR
    • major weapons systems OR
    • passenger capacity OR
    • carrier capacity
  • (5) outline the silhouettes for each deck
  • (6) place major systems (engines etc) according to clues from external features

All this can help, but you’ll still be left with problems. If the film has left you with some internal footage, you are obliged to try and make that fit within the hull in a useful manner. The problem is that (as described above) TV & movie studios tend to just invent endless corridors (watch the opening sequences of SW:ANH!!!) and it can often be almost impossible to fit these into the ship without either straying outside the external walls, or simply filling the ship with corridors and no rooms!

Use the guidelines and ideas of this webpage and a good deal of common-sense. If necessary, you may have to make some small variation in the canonical evidence to make the ship “work” … try to keep these to a minimum.

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Credits

Special Thanks goes to: (in alphabetical order)

Mr Mike Horne – for a thorough proofread and some good advice and ideas.
“SAXMAN” – for extra details of US Aircraft Carriers.
Dr Curtis Saxton – for feedback and logic checking
Mr Aden Steinke – for valuable feedback and suggestions.

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© Copyright Robert Brown 2001.
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