Solar Sails Are Big

New render of smaller spaceship
Bigger Sails

According to this site, “The physics tells us [a solar sail is] going to be the size of Texas”

Oh my. I’m going to have to have a rethink about the design of my spaceship. How do you show such a huge solar sail. Even a spaceship the size of a cruise liner, or a city for that matter, will be nothing more than a dot in comparison to its enormous propulsion system.

The latest render now has a much bigger sail, and it fades off into the darkness nicely. I’m not sure things would really fade off into the darkness in real space, but I’ll stick with it for now.

When it’s complete, the new spaceship will be the star of the latest spaceship supplement from Starbright, like this one at RPGDriveThru.

I’ve also been looking for information on the position of the spaceship. Most real solar sails have the payload at the hub, but the spaceship from Avatar has the spaceship out on a boom. I’ve also seen a lot of artist’s impressions of solar sails with the spaceship trailing on cables.

I found this authoritative looking patent application with the spaceship in various locations. Here are some illustrations from the patent.

various positions for solar sail crew compartment
Hub or Boom?

It seems that most designs have the spaceship trailing the sail (being pulled) instead of out in front (being pushed). Who am I to argue? So now my spaceship is travelling left to right, being pulled by its sail.

Spaceship with Solar Sail

It’s time to start a new 3D spaceship, and, this time, it is going to have a solar sail. Unfortunately, I know next to nothing about solar sails. So, it’s off to Wikipedia to learn about them. The picture below is from the Wikipedia solar sail page.

wikipedia image of solar sail
The Japanese IKAROS spaceprobe in flight (artist’s depiction) by Andrzej Mirecki

Apparently, the highest thrust-to-mass designs for deployable structures are square sails with the masts and guy lines on the dark side of the sail. Usually there are four masts that spread the corners of the sail, and a mast in the center to hold guy-wires. One of the largest advantages is that there are no hot spots in the rigging from wrinkling or bagging, and the sail protects the structure from the Sun. This form can therefore go close to the Sun for maximum thrust. Most designs steer with small moving sails on the ends of the spars. Like this other picture from the Wikipedia page.

Sketch of soalr sail
Best solar sail design.

This image is in the public domain because it was solely created by NASA. NASA copyright policy states that ‘NASA material is not protected by copyright unless noted.’

I was surprised to read this. Based on my experience of sails here on Earth, I had expected a solar sail to be a kind of bag with strings pulling the spaceship along, but it is actually a flat sheet on a pole, pushing the spaceship along.

another solar sail
Another Good Design

Ring sails are another option. They’re panels attached to the edge of a rotating spacecraft. The panels would have slight gaps, about one to five percent of the total area. Lines would connect the edge of one sail to the other. This might be an attractive sail design for large manned structures. The inner ring, in particular, might be made to have artificial gravity roughly equal to the gravity on the surface of Mars.

These are just some basic ideas on using solar sails to get from start to star. This blog goes into a lot more, and fascinating, detail as it describers the spaceship from Avatar. I’ve decided to have a circular sail, and have dual command modules on rotating spars, making this a very ‘hard science’ type of spaceship. Here’s the first render. The first of many.

Blender render of spaceship mesh with solarsail
First render of the ‘Solar Driter’





Spaceship Deck Plans with GIMP

Today I’m working on deck plans for the Silver Dart. When it’s complete, the new spaceship will be the star of the latest spaceship supplement from Starbright, like this one at RPGDriveThru.

spaceship deck plan created with GIMP
Spaceship, with a grid

I wanted to add a scale to the image, and that meant drawing a grid of lines on the background.This can be done directly in Blender, but I decided to put it on the render afterwards, using GIMP.

I couldn’t find a grid command in GIMP, however, so I had to go a-Googling. It didn’t take long to find the answer to my, ‘where’s the grid command?’ blues. I found this simple info page, which pointed me in the right direction.

The answer is: Click “Filters | Render | Pattern | Grid.”

As I work on the deck plan for the new spaceship, I try as much as possible to be influenced by the plans of real modern yachts. I also want to allow the spaceship to be big, to enable it to contain all the interior areas.

The great thing about working with Blender is that the deck plans can be created there, with the spaceship mesh to work from as reference, and with human figures for scale.

It’s a way of working that results in very credible deck plans, rather than the ‘castle in space’ kind you often see that wouldn’t even fit within the outline of the spaceship, never mind being to scale. Though this is a common an hounourable problem, that even effects the Millennium Falcon. This from Wookieepedia.

Like many science fiction spacecraft, the Falcon’s interior sets cannot actually physically fit within the exterior sets. Subsequent Expanded Universe plans are consequently a compromise attempt at squeezing the interiors in (often with detriment to headroom). These compromise plans often also result in the Falcon having rather small engines for a ship considered notable for its speed.

Landing Pad for Spaceship Illustration

spaceship on landing pad
Spaceship on Landing Pad

With this render, the inspiration behind my latest spaceship is probably becoming painfully obvious. Yes it is very ‘Falconesque’, but hopefully different enough to forestall any copyright entanglements. There is, in my defence, a long tradition of being inspired by the Falcon within Sci-fi. See the Scorpio from Blakes 7, to take just one example.  The Falcon itself, of course, has many inspirations. It is basically a marriage between a B-29, as explained on Blastr, and a flying saucer. It’s saucer origins are more obvious in shots of the spaceship while only half complete. In this semi-complete state it looks like the saucer from The Day the Earth Stood Still.

When it’s complete, the new spaceship will be the star of the latest spaceship supplement from Starbright, like this one at RPGDriveThru.

When the new versions of Star Wars with improved special effects were being released, one of the more essential expansions was when the Millennium Falcon first arrives at Cloud City. ILM inserted several new shots, including the Falcon as it soars through a corridor of buildings towards the horizon. Then, as the freighter disappears behind a building, there is a cut to a new shot of the Falcon heading around the building towards camera and settling over the landing pad. During that 10-second scene, almost a quarter of Cloud City comes into view.

It’s a wonderful sequence, and the Falcon looks good on a landing pad with landing gear down. So I thought it would be nice to have a shot of the new spaceship I’m working on, on a landing pad.

The landing pad is also very directly inspired by the pads at Cloud City, which were in turn inspired by any number of landing pads that had gone before.  Like this one from 1955 that I found at Fantastic Plastic.

detail of 50s plastic mode landing pad
50s Landing Pad


New Site for Space Backgrounds

I’ve found a new site for the spacescapes I use as backgrounds for my spaceship models. It’s called Astropix. on their FAQ page, they say -

Most of the images are available for general use, but the details vary institution by institution. We ask that you read the “Rights” section on each image.

So, as long as I check the release on each image I should be OK to use them. This nebula, for example, comes from the Hubble, with a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license. So let’s quickly credit them;

Creator: ESA/Hubble, Garching bei München, Germany

Now we can use the image.

Hubble galaxy image
Trifid Galaxy, with black boxes

Three huge intersecting dark lanes of interstellar dust make the Trifid Nebula one of the most recognizable and striking star birth regions in the night sky. The dust, silhouetted against glowing gas and illuminated by starlight, cradles the bright stars at the heart of the Trifid. It lies within our own Milky Way Galaxy about 9,000 light-years from Earth, in the constellation Sagittarius. This image is a close-up view of the centre of the Trifid Nebula, near the intersection of the dust bands, where a group of recently formed, massive, bright stars is easily visible.

Because of the black squares, I had to chop it up a bit for use as the background to a spaceship render. I used GIMP for this. Although I also have access to Photoshop, I rarely find myself bothering with it. So now our galaxy picture looks like this.

cropped image of the trifid galaxy
Cropped Galaxy Picture

Now all I have to do is use it as the background to my spaceship render. I found a nice blog post explaining how to use a photo as a Blender background. It’s changed since version 2.5, which most of the stuff Google finds refers to. Google seems to like old websites, I guess because it thinks it can more likely trust them. This isn’t so great for often updated stuff like Blender, where there have been a lot of changes recently.

spaceship with spacescape background
A Sea of Stars

Now the spaceship lighting looks way too bright, and there still aren’t anywhere near enough greebles. The work goes ever onwards.

When it’s complete, the new spaceship will be the star of the latest spaceship supplement from Starbright, like this one at RPGDriveThru.


The Silver Dart Gets More Greebles

picture of spaceship with greebles
During the greebling process

Here is the latest render of the spaceship I’m working on, seen here in the Blender  viewport. It’s called the Silver Dart at the moment, but they tend to change names over and over again as they develop. It has a lot more greebles on its hull surface now. A greeble is just a non-specific, technological looking ‘thing’ sticking out from the surface of a spaceship or robot to make it look cool. They tend to be pipes, vents, blast doors, and other assorted cool looking systems.

I love greebles.  Star Wars has been criticized for its greeble use but, as a child of the 70s, they are just part of my visual language for sci-fi and spaceships.

It seems to be the way technology is heading in our age, as it becomes more complex. Look at a 50s bus vs a modern design.

A stremlined bus
Smooth and primitive

The older bus design looks primitive because it has only a few complex systems integrated within it. It has a few lights, a sign, steering and an engine and that’s about it. With few complex systems poking out, the bus is mostly just smooth metal and glass.

Modern bus with complex systems creating surface greebles
Bus with greebles – yay!

A modern bus with air conditioning, multiple doors, parking cameras, and alternate engines bulging out everywhere is more bumpy.  Look at all the greebles on the back of this one.

Bus in the rain
Bus with greebles

This bus has spars and boxes and vents on top for its cable system, but it also looks like it has a couple or radio aerials. More complex systems means more greebles, sort of.

This process works both ways of course, with a modern bus perhaps hiding greebles behind panels to give it a streamlined look, while the very first buses with steam engines and primitive combustion engines were virtually all greebles, but to my mind, as a child who saw primitive Flash Gordon spaceships replaced by advanced Star Wars spaceships – greebles are cool.

When it’s complete, the new spaceship will be the star of the latest spaceship supplement from Starbright, like this one at RPGDriveThru.

Creating a loading ramp for the spaceship

I’m building another spaceship, at least not in reality, in the virtual world of Blender.  (I just noticed Blender is now at version 2.7, must resist the urge to upgrade and loose hours playing with new features) Every day I encounter a problem that I have solved before, but which I can’t remember the exact way it got solved. Today it was separating off part of the mesh.  The bit I wanted to separate off was the loading ramp, so that I could include it as open or closed in a render, depending on whether the spaceship is in flight or on the ground.

Blender screen shot with p key operation
The orange line round the ramp indicates that it is now separate

It is the easiest thing in the world to do, but I had to look it up, as I have several times before. Google took me to this page, and its Google link was purple, indicating that it was not the first time I had visited to refresh my memory.

With Google so easy, does anyone even bother with help files these days anyway?

All you have to do, by the way, to chip off a chunk of mesh is highlight it and hit the ‘P’ key, simple as that.

When it’s complete, the new spaceship will be the star of the latest spaceship supplement from Starbright, like this one at RPGDriveThru.

Latest spaceship starts construction

new spaceship mesh
Early days in the construction of the Silver Dart

I’ve started constructing a new spaceship, and it’s been a while since the last one. You can see one of my previous spaceships here, at RPGDriveThru. It’s been so long that I have updated my copy of Ubuntu and this means that Blender and Ubuntu need to learn to play nice together again. One big problem that always rears its head is selecting loops. A loop is a bunch of lines touching end to end. Blender is clever enough to select them with one click, if you tell it to by holding down ‘alt’.

Unfortunately Ubuntu tries to be helpful and intercepts the alt + mouse click combination, instantly serving up a menu that you can use to re-size the window that Blender is in.  To stop it offering this helpful intercept you have to change a few settings.

blender screen grab with loop
Loop selected in Blender

Unfortunately, I can never, for the life of me, remember how, so to sort out my loop selection problem, I always end up visiting this page.

long loop in Blender
Big long loop

Cthulhu in Space

Cthulhu in Space cover
He’s behind you!

The latest product from the labs here at Starbright is now slithering towards the light of day. It is a cool mashup of Cthulhu and sci-fi tropes, all powered by the Fate Core role-playing game rules. Cthulhu in Space is available here.

This all comes in one PDF file with no need to get any other rules books or supplements. You can blast off into space straight away to confront cosmic horror on a grand scale.

I was toying with the idea of combining Cthulhu with my Extreme Future setting, which is already well developed and has a version optimized for Fate Core, but the setting seemed to up-beat and space-opera style  to really gel with the darkness of the Cthulhu Mythos.

an image of a future yithian
Yithian Beetle Person

Instead I stuck to the timeline, already worked out in Present Day Cthulhu, which represents the predictions about the future mad by the Yithians. And they should know, they have travelled to the future and come back to tell the tale. Based on this timeline, I created a universe where Earth has already been consumed in a terrible rampage perpetrated by one of the most powerful of the Old Ones and humanity is scattered among the stars.

I’ve also included a creature, still in its early incarnation, that will eventually evolve to become one of the Beetle Folk that the Yithians transfer their psyches into, after the fall of humanity. I’m an insectile alien fan, and so I’ve always liked the extreme-future incarnation of the Yithians much more than the prehistoric version. Even if some imaginings of the Beetle Folk are less frightening than others.

It’s a darker universe for a darker Mythos. Take a look at RPGDriveThru.

More Space Cowboys

a digital painting of a space cowboy
Cowboy chased by gunships

I’m carrying on with the space cowboy works based on old classic images painted by Wyeth. In this image I’ve made the cowboy’s chaps into bulky spacesuit legs and replaced the chasing bandits with gunships, but it is still very close to the original illustration. The most obvious difference is that the normal Earth horse has been replaced with some kind of equine lizard creature.

cowboy painting
Original by Wyeth

I’ll create stats for the lizard mount, gunships and all the other stuff shown in the images, ready for inclusion in the game, when it eventually comes out. The latest game available from Starbright is Present Day Cthulhu, which just got a five star rating at RPGDriveThru.