Ship Shape - Round or Square?

I have another fiction verses reality question for the experts. Rockets are round and aerodynamic, and I understand why, but would a ship designed and constructed IN space be better served by a square / rectangular hull?

Two things come to mind when I think of this. First, constructing anything using flat sheets of metal (assuming ship is made of metal) will be easier than working with rounded, formed metal. That doesn't mean a ship need look like a Borg cube, as we can come up with some interesting shapes using flat panels, like Elite's FGS or iconic Cobra, or RL tanks or even Elon's "truck". But from my own limited construction experience (which is carpentry and amateur hobby-level metalwork), flat is easier than round.

The second benefit of square vs round is internal efficiency. It's easier to live in a square house than a round house, for example. It's also easier to load a square cargo container with boxes than a round fuselage. Thus it would be easier to lay out the interior of a square / rectangular ship like the Type-7 than a skinny wedge like the Cobra or a round fuselage like the Cutter. Server racks in IT are rectangular, not cylinder, and when Apple tried to go with a cylinder computer, putting form over function, they failed miserably.

Now for the potential negatives of a "square" hull over a round fuselage. Again too things come to mind. Round is stronger than square, in that you don't have stress points like corners to be concerned with. Submarines are "round" for hydrodynamic efficiency, but also for the ability to withstand the great pressures of the deep. From a practical standpoint, is the 14.7 psi of a pressurized hull enough to warrant a round shape over rectangular for a spaceship? I'm thinking of a futuristic military craft with welded steel / titanium plates, not these paper-thin things we fly to space today.

The second negative is attack surface area, again thinking of a future military spaceship. A projectile hitting a flat surface will have better penetration than hitting a round surface, mostly based on the angle that the projectile hits. But then again, I'm not sure a realistic space battle will be two ships exchanging gunfire at point-blank range.

Anyway, I'm very curious your thoughts, especially those of you with backgrounds in construction, aerospace, military design, etc. For all the hate the Type-7 gets, might it not be the most realistic and efficiently designed ship in ED? Again, I'm thinking strictly space-based ships, no atmospheres. I'm also thinking more in terms of real science and technologies within our grasp today (say in the next 50-100 years) rather than the pure fiction of ED's game world.

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Anyway, I'm very curious your thoughts, especially those of you with backgrounds in construction, aerospace, military design, etc. For all the hate the Type-7 gets, might it not be the most realistic and efficiently designed ship in ED? Again, I'm thinking strictly space-based ships, no atmospheres.

I have a background in very fine tastes :D , and from my valuable experience in the field I can positively affirm that any realistic and efficiently designed ship will have to be cylinders. Count how many non-cylindrical spacecraft we currently have orbiting this cradle of humanity.

Structural integrity and easy to obtain center of mass and center of thrust trumps internal spaces optimization anytime.
That said, if one has to think very far ahead, care for aesthetics usually kicks in once a technology has been properly mastered. In 1890 we could barely build a self-moving personal vehicle, so no wonder they were little more than horse carts with an engine bolted on. A few decades later cars were common technology, and look at a E-Type, a 250 GTO, or a Corvette Stingray. Same for boats, planes....and at one point, if spaceship technologies really do become common, I can't expect anything different from them too.
 
I should clarify that I'm thinking more in lines with technology we'll have 100 years from now (give or take) rather than pure science-fiction 3306. ED is a good springboard for this conversation, however, since it gives us a variety of different ship designs to experience.

I found this video quite interesting, though it doesn't fully answer my specific questions.

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4ddnrBT6hE
 
Realistically, spaceships would...

  • have their control room / cockpit / habitat arranged relative to the main thrust axis, i.e. so that the direction of thrust is "down". Or the seat would swivel dynamically. They would NOT be laid out like airplanes, with the pilot's "down" perpendicular to the thrust axis. This is what every. single. ship. in ED gets wrong.
  • they would not have huge glass canopies, but have their cockpit nestled deep inside the ship near the centre of gravity, protected by lots of armour/structure all around, and the pilot would "look out" via cameras. The existence of shields mitigates this somewhat, but again, cracked canopies are a thing that could be easily avoided.
Apart from those two points, the Alliance Chieftain is an excellent design, because it puts the thrusters exactly where they belong: far out for maximum torque and so that they don't blast into each other. Now, it would be awesome if we saw them swivelling more.
 
Realistically, spaceships would...

  • have their control room / cockpit / habitat arranged relative to the main thrust axis, i.e. so that the direction of thrust is "down". Or the seat would swivel dynamically. They would NOT be laid out like airplanes, with the pilot's "down" perpendicular to the thrust axis. This is what every. single. ship. in ED gets wrong.
  • they would not have huge glass canopies, but have their cockpit nestled deep inside the ship near the centre of gravity, protected by lots of armour/structure all around, and the pilot would "look out" via cameras. The existence of shields mitigates this somewhat, but again, cracked canopies are a thing that could be easily avoided.

You know you've just described every The Expanse spaceship, do you? :LOL:

The Razorback is the perfect epitome of the philosophy: extremely symmetrical, all oriented along the axis of thrust, no canopies or windows, 3 degrees of freedom swiveling seats as close as possible to the center of gravity. Just beautiful.
 
You know you've just described every The Expanse spaceship, do you? :LOL:

The Razorback is the perfect epitome of the philosophy: extremely symmetrical, all oriented along the axis of thrust, no canopies or windows, 3 degrees of freedom swiveling seats as close as possible to the center of gravity. Just beautiful.
Which BTW are much more "boxy" than cylindrical, the Nauvoo notwithstanding.
 
Interesting question Duck. I am not an Engineer, just been unlucky enough to have to work side by side with them for my entire military and post military career. I can't give a definitive answer based on any quantifiable data but can offer my thoughts. If you look at modern aircraft, not only is it function for it's intended purpose but they are also (mostly) quite aesthetically pleasing to look at. For example, look at the F-22 and the FY-23, or the losing aircraft in the JSF race. I remember a fight pilot commenting that the reason why that aircraft lost was simply it was too ugly - no self respecting fight pilot will fly an ugly ship lol Before anyone say the A-10 is ugly, well it isn't a fighter, and it does have a certain beauty about it, especially if you are on the ground an it is giving you air support :D

Concerning space borne ships, the distinction needs to be made if these ships are purely space ships or will the be designed to fly in an atmosphere? If it is the latter, then some form of aerodynamics should come into play. Yes everyone will say with big enough thrusters, it doesn't matter but why build bad then have to over engine a ship? Combat spaceships I would imagine would be minimalistic, the smaller the cross section or sensor footprint the better. Cargo ships could be bulky and big, but if they are designed to land on an atmospheric surface then I would expect lifting body type of design.

Anyway that's my 2 Arxs worth :D
 
Right, I did mean to mention The Expanse, but then it slipped my mind again. That franchise (books/show) really gets a lot more things right than pretty much all other SF ones. It does also mess up at some very crucial, lowlevel points, but I guess the stories just wouldn't work if they also got those points right. So they opted to just handwave drive power, heat management, propellant constraints... but I have learned to live with that.
 
Which BTW are much more "boxy" than cylindrical, the Nauvoo notwithstanding.

And that's what I meant with "once a technology has been properly mastered" ;)

The Expanse ships are from no less than 2-300 years in the future and built directly in space, with no costraints to shot premade modules through 60 km of thick gas at supersonic speeds. At that point in technology, they probably can afford the additional engineering required to build efficient boxy shapes...and there are still round ships around, like Epstein's craft or the Arboghast.

Also, Razorback ❤
Source: https://youtu.be/m-BMNn_Ur_U

(As a long time Buckyballer, it strikes a powerful cord with me :D)
 
they would not have huge glass canopies, but have their cockpit nestled deep inside the ship near the centre of gravity, protected by lots of armour/structure all around, and the pilot would "look out" via cameras. The existence of shields mitigates this somewhat, but again, cracked canopies are a thing that could be easily avoided.
remind me at those Perry Rhodan Ships from the 70s, real space balls ;)
 
If we are talking about pure "space" ships, then you can have any shape you want, as long as you get the mass distributed symmetrically around the thrust axes (yes, doing it otherwise would be possible, but incur a huge effort, which really would need to be compensated for by a practical benefit). Building round or flat sides really isn't a problem any more once you introduce CNC cutting of the panels. Stacking of cargo containers might be a different isue - although there may be no reason why those containers should be stacked on what would naively be called the "inside" of the ship, or why (at least the cargo bay) should even distinguish between "inside" and "outside" (yes, the Expanse got that right, too).

But...

ED ships aren't exclusive space ships. They are also, apparently, intended to be operated in an atmosphere at non-trivial speeds. For that, you also want a small cross-section and a low drag coefficient - and keep the drag symmetrically distributed along the ship's main axis of motion. So you'll end up with something symmetrical, long-ish, possibly flat-ish with the main thrusters pretty much centered (or at least symmetrically distributed) on one end and as few bits sticking out as you can get away with.

In ED, the Saud-Kruger ships are pretty close to that. The various flat snakes might also qualify, while the federal shoeboxes (and the freighters) will have to compensate for that with sheer stubbornness.
 
Cobras, Kraits, Haulers etc. stick more or less to the concept of "flying wing", Saud Kruger ships stick actual wings and winglets to their streamlined hulls, Gutamayas are just glorified Boeings, and the Federal triad of door wedges apparently just stick to intimidate atmosphere itself: "You'll either provide enough lift to keep me up, or else!"

T-6 and Keelbacks?

kiwi-bird.jpg


They're sooo cute! Aren't they?
 
A sphere is the most economical shape for a spacecraft since a sphere can hold the greatest amount of air (or almost anything else) of any shape with the same X/Y/Z dimensions.

Ninjaed. Bang on. It should also be added that a spherical craft with its occupants at the 'core' offers tremendous protection from stellar radiation and particle strikes.
 
OP's got most of the main points covered.

Only other thing I'd add is that aircraft (and, by extension, spaceships) tend to have strange flight characteristics when they're not, erm, "aeroplane-shaped".

For example, if you build an aircraft with engines far apart (such as mounted on the wings) then they'll resist turning if the engine thrust remains constant.
Basically, you're adjusting the aerodynamic surfaces to make the plane turn but the engines are generating the same thrust so they want to keep going in a straight line.

Equally, if you've got lift-engines far apart (such as on the V-22 Osprey, which is well-known for being savagely difficult to fly well), it's fine as long as you're flying with the wings level but as soon as you bank you'll find that one engine is producing more lift than the other and it becomes really easy to lose control.

Obviously, with the availability of fly-by-wire control, it's possible to mitigate these issues but it's always good practice to design things in a fundamentally good way rather than designing things badly and then relying on technology to fix the problems.

To put that in terms of ED, in a ship like the T9, you'd probably need to have a fly-by-wire system throttling back on one engine whenever you applied any rudder.
Equally, when you're flying on the surface of any planet, in any ship, there'd need to be a lot of fly-by-wire stuff going on to ensure that our momentary thrusters worked properly to maintain the altitude and attitude of the ship.


Again, this is all stuff you can play with on KSP.
Half the time I spend playing KSP is building kerbalised versions of modern aircraft and seeing if I can get them to perform realistically.
Try building something like a Harrier jump-jet in KSP and it provides a real eye-opener as to what Hawker achieved with 1960's technology.
 
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