Visions of the Future

There are quite a few insanely talented artist out there who are creating images of spacecraft designed with some scientific accuracy. This section is a showcase of their work. Click on the images for a larger version.

Varus Argo / DataPacRat

Varus Argo is an illustrator of some renown.

DataPacRat (Daniel Eliot Boese) commissioned Varus to illustrate his vision of a superfreighter. As you can see from the link, DataPacRat has done his homework. Which should come as no surprise coming from the man dubbed the 'Star Lord' by the developers of Master of Orion 3. Please note how the heat radiators are cut at an angle so they stay within the cone of protection cast by the anti-radiation shadow shield on the drive.

Love-class Superfreighter

From left to right in image: Non-aerodynamic lander; containerized cargo; small heat radiators for hab section; main comm antenna; a pair of counter-rotating sections, each with three inflatable habitat modules, housing 8 crew; the main boom and radiators, with tanks for water-propellant inside the boom; and the main drive.

Seeking to escape the dangerous political and economic situation near Earth, the Bayesian Nakama have started a colonization project in the Vestoid asteroids; they designed and built these craft to serve as their workhorse vessels. Several other vehicles are part of the same system: a non-aerodynamic lander, an aerodynamic lander and atmospheric scooper, and some low-efficiency nuclear and solar steam rockets to slowly ferry water where needed.

The inital model used for the first trips, the SF-0 "Zip", had a somewhat different drive configuration than became standard. Once it was rebuilt with the new manufacturing processes available on the V-type asteroids, it was redesignated the SF-1 "Love". The next ships sharing the design were the SF-2 "Unity", SF-3 "Imagination", SF-4 "Napier", SF-5 "Ludolph", and SF-6 "Euler". Almost entirely to annoy bureaucrats, the builders give the landers absurd serial numbers - 279641170620168673833 and 350247984153525417450, Skewes' number (eee79), Alef-theta, Moser, Graham's number, a Busy Beaver number, the Avogadro, etc.

The main vessel's mass is 135 tonnes; the maximum rated cargo mass is 440 tonnes; and a typical fuel mass is 240 tonnes. The main thruster is an antiproton-catalyzed microfission design; in its high-thrust mode, it can be active 5% of the time, or 450 hours per year. Its thrust in this mode is 25.6 kiloNewtons, generating 180 km/sec of delta-vee per year, using 244 tonnes of water as propellant to do so.

The standard propellant tank is an inflatable 40-tonne bag of water with a diameter of 4.25 meters when full.

The main thruster reacts anti-ice with lead or depleted uranium, used to create pions to induce sub-critial masses of Lithium-6 to spontaneously microfission. The heat is pumped away by a magnetocaloric refrigerator, which is powered by a Farnsworth-Bussard fusor.

The crew is protected from cosmic radiation by a charged plasma with a high electrical potential (10 GeV), a storm shelter for periods of high radiation, and water propellant tanks are used to shield them from the drive's emissions.

The standard Love-class ship contains two mining tools, which can be repurposed for military use when necessary: a He-Ar laser powered by curium microfission bombs, and a wakefield e-beam — this latter can also serve as a backup thruster, heating any available mass similarly to an arcjet, with a thrust of 4.6 kiloNewtons and an Isp of 2,000 seconds.

The aerodynamic lander contains an atmospheric scoop, which allows it to collect propellant by skimming through at atmosphere, compressing and storing 720 kg/hr. Both landers contain a Kuck mosquito for mining water from icy comets or D-type asteroids, and use an H-B fusion reciprocating plasmoid thruster. This thruster can also be used to push the entire superfreighter; while its Isp is only 460 seconds, its thrust is 3.2 megaNewtons, allowing the lander to push 200 tonnes of fuel at 1.36 gravities.

The final vessels in this vehicle series are steam rockets; the "Water Nymphs" are nuclear-heated, and the "Water Slides" are solar-powered. Both use engines of astonishingly low efficiency — Isp of 198 seconds — but due to the simplicity and low mass, turn out to be the most economical for the task, assuming reasonably unlimited water.

Mike Billard

Mike Billard is an engineer who is learning the art of 3D CGI graphics. The YF-19A Saber is a hypothetical outgrowth of the 1960's Dyna Soar project. Of course, the engineering detail are meticulous. He can be found on the SciFi Meshes forum under the handle Mikey-B.

In the last four images below, the black X-20 mesh was created by an artist named Burncycle for the space simulation Orbiter.

Mr. Billard is currently working on images for his fictional "Wild Blue Industries" rocket company. He says "Think Space X meets Bigelow Aerospace." He has done a bit of research into rocket science to define the performance parameters of the Appaloosa with Charger engines.

William Black

Artist's Statement

These are space craft and missions that might have been: For every manned mission that has flown there are hundreds of conceptual designs and mission plans that never reached the hardware stage. I wanted to capture and depict in as realistic a manner as possible how these systems would have looked, and, where possible, I have included for comparison NASA artist conceptual drawings and diagrams.

Artist's Bio

William Black is a native of the Midwest, born January 15, 1964. Now retired after a professional career in the printing industry, currently William Black is working with coauthor Darrell Wollert in the production of a three volume science fiction future history. The Orion's Arm stories tell the tale of human kind's expansion through this arm of the galaxy and are centered on a solar system wide civilization based on spacecraft propulsion technology with its origins in Orion style pulsed plasma atomic rockets.

His Patreon campaign can be found here. His Deviantart page can be found here. More information on the Orion's Arm future history project can be found here.


All images created using Bryce 6 and Poser 7, post-production work in Photoshop.

Today 5apr2011 Artist Black gifted me with a new selection of his artwork. As you can see he has only gotten better with time.

Adam Burch

stunning images can be found on SciFi Meshes. He has studied this website while designing his ship.

The Cerberus Class Frigate was designed as an Air Force operated, armed multi- purpose deep space vehicle. Ships operate as part of the Deep Space Command network and carry out scientific, military, law-enforcement, transport and errand-of-mercy missions throughout the solar system.

The ship consists of a forward sensor module, crew module, a variable number of fuel modules and a reactor and propulsion module.

The name "Cerberus" denotes both the multi-mission capability of the spacecraft, as well as the physical resemblance of the mythical three headed dog formed by the forward radome, railgun and forward operations module protruding forward from the crew section.

The forward sensor module consists of a suite of extremely powerful digitally scanned array radar apertures housed in a ballistic-protective aeroshell, as well as housing various multi-spectrum optical trackers. While radar capabilities and ranges remain classified, it is widely accepted that the radar arrays can isolate millimeter sized objects at several tens of kilometers away. Forward radar capabilities are augmented by secondary arrays that project aft and perpendicular.

The crew section consists of one half of a pair of tetrahedral "blades" mounted to the central axis of the ship. The ship's CIC, Crew Hab, Airlock, Operations Deck and Gravity Module are mounted between 0 and 45 meters from the ship's central axis between a sandwich of kinetic and radiation shielding. When the ship is spun on it's axis, 1g can be maintained in the extreme interior surface of the upper gravity module at only 6 rpm, more than adequate for a military trained crew.

The opposite blade houses a magazine of kinetic projectiles and missiles that can be launched from a pair of forward/aft facing railguns. Interception ranges vary with target capabilities and maneuverability, but the guns have enough power to provide hyperbolic orbits given the right launch circumstances. The autoloader, magazine and guns comprise the bulk of the "Tactical Blade". Projectiles range from unguided tungsten rounds to multi stage guided-chemical rockets. Nuclear weapons are only carried with the direct authorization of the President of the United States as a political consideration, but are generally unnecessary given the destructive capabilities of the kinetic and energy weapons mounted aboard the ship.

Blade modules also house water and oxygen tanks, with loads pumped between blades to maintain center of gravity as crew move between upper (zero g) and lower (gravity) modules during spin. Each Cerberus "head" is assembled on Luna and launched into low lunar orbit via industrial magrail.

The fuel modules actually consist of four tanks centered around a multi-line structural spine housed within a hexagonal ballistic shell. External hard points on the fuel modules frequently house radiator modules or Autonomous Kill or Re-entry Vehicles too large to fit inside the missile magazine. Modules can be jettisoned and re-docked utilizing either the ship's RCS thrusters or robotic arm. Six or more modules provide enough propellant to reach Mars in an average of just under two months (during windows of close approach), the average local Jupiter mission will mount eight or more for added security.

The spine formed by the fuel modules also houses a track for the Remote Manipulator Arm, providing manipulator access to 100% of the exterior surface of the ship.

The nuclear propulsion and thrust module houses a 4 Triton-Class Oxygen Afterburning Nuclear Propulsion Units and two Hermes Liquid Oxygen/Hydrogen Chemical rockets for high-response tactical maneuvering. A single Hermes unit is also mounted on the tactical blade for emergency maneuvering. 4 large folding, gimbaled radiators can be deployed perpendicular to the ship's axis for additional heat dissipation. An RCS and gyro array provide rapid maneuvering capability.

In addition to the ship's offensive armament, Cerberus Class Frigates also mount an array of laser turrets for meteor and KEW point defense. Coupled with the ship's radar and battle management computers, Cerberus Frigates can be flown by just one crew member, though normal crew compliment can range between 6 and 14. The first ship was launched in 2123, and are projected upgrades and life extension programs will allow the crew modules to remain in the inventory until at least 2250.

Ships are named for various USAF, USN and USCG Rescue and Pararescue Members, emphasizing their space-rescue capabilities. On December 18, 2130, the USS Rowland Rainey suffered a direct collision when a glitch in the ship's battle management array failed to detect and allowed a 4m ferrous-iron asteroid fired from an unregulated Chinese space mining operation to collide with the ship. The ship suffered little damage and no casualties, a testament to the Frigates' survivability.

Rob Caswell

Artist's Statement

Born shortly before Alan Shepard became America’s first man in space, Rob Caswell grew up saturated in enticing visions of the “coming space age”. His imagination was fueled not only by the real world astronautic happenings, but also by the art and fiction of the time, with shows like Space Angel, Fireball XL-5, Thunderbirds, and later, Star Trek. He was inclined towards pursuing art, but the educational establishment of the time devalued that in favor of science and engineering careers. This led him to a degree in physics and astronomy, though once he had paper in hand the art world called him back. So his SF art has always been guided by real world engineering concerns.

His professional art career began in the RPG field, most notably doing illustrations for Traveller. He was also on the editorial staff at Digest Group Publications, creator of licensed Traveller products. He worked on many other games in the 80’s and early 90’s including West End’s “Star Wars” and FASA’s “Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual”.

Currently he works as a digital printing professional and periodically creates interior tech illustrations for SF novels, most notably in works by Allen Steele and Rob Sawyer. In 2006 he fell into the digital medium and has created a vast catalog of imagery based primarily on pre-existing model designs. He has contributed a number of podcasts to 3D Art Direct.

Visit Rob Caswell's website here.


Winchell Chung

I'm not just a rocket science geek wanna-be, you know. In college I earned a degree in fine arts, so I'm actually also a species of artist. My on-line portfolio is here, more images are here, but below are my more technologically accurate images.

Pat Flannery

Pat Flannery's works his magic with plastic models instead of computer graphics. The results are exceptional, and quite scientifically accurate. This is the NASA/ESA DISCOVERY, which was featured on the Starship Modeling website.

Take two MPC "Pilgrim Observer" kits,add four Revell "Space Operations Center"kits,two plastic "snowball" paperweights,some Micromachines,four bicycle reflectors, one model railway bridge,a Monogram "Orient Express",some Christmas tree ornaments, PVC pipe and a large iron rod.Pour in about 1/4 cup super glue and 1 cup assorted paints...shake well! Presto! One six foot three inch long model of a ion / fission drive space craft for the exploration of Saturn; in 1/144 scale, complete with manned landers for Titan riding on aeroshells,loads of atmospheric probes,manned landers for the smaller moons, a space tug, two EVA pods, and a transatmospheric vehicle. Also a real headache to move and clean. (you get a soft brush,lather the model up with thinned down dish soap, and take it into the shower!) Ship is the NASA/ESA DISCOVERY , 900 feet long and carrying a crew of 25 on a six year mission. Someday I'll build the nuclear pulse stage to boost it out of Earth orbit.

The top overall side view shows (Left to Right): bridge/command center,living quarters,atmosphere/water recycling and storage, docking and cargo area, more living quarters, avionics area, three slush hydrogen tanks, EVA crew low G acclimatization area, hanger bays for probes and landers, Titan landers, heavy fission powered lander, three aft slush hydrogen tanks, aft fuel and oxidizer tanks, nucleonic engineering area (uncrewed when nuclear motors running), radiation shield, closed cycle nuclear/electric power supply, three laminar flow fission engines and three auxiliary isotope electrical generators. The centrally mounted ion engines are used in cruise flight; the fission motors to enter and leave the orbit of Saturn, so as to minimize radiation exposure to the ship from Saturn's magnetosphere - the ship orbits Saturn in the Cassini division of the rings where the radiation is low. Four truss structures extend in a X arrangement from amidships- these support carbon fiber cables to rigidize the ships structure. The de-spun ion motor arrays also carry telescopes, communication antennae and synthetic imaging radar. The ion arrays are capable of sliding fore and aft on tracks so as to maintain a central position on the ship despite changes of position of axis due to depletion of consumables.

The view from front (Image 1) shows the bridge (foreground), four living quarter and two food/supply arms extended in ship spinup position (the whole ship rotates around center when under ion drive, for "artificial gravity"), upper de-spun ion motors, the "gangway" to the transatmospheric vehicle which folds down unto the DISCOVERY in flight, and the red (hydrazine) and green (nitrogen tetroxide) tanks for the smaller ships that are carried.

The close up of the amidships section (Image 2) shows the Titan lander staging area with the landers riding on there "surfboard" heat shields, and to the right the heavy fission powered lander with its surface rovers for landings on the smaller moons. Orange objects are micrometeorite protective covers to shield the windows in transit to Saturn.

The next shot (Image 3) is a close up of nuclear space tug on opposite side of ship from picture 4-space tug and heavy lander are same design modified to perform different missions;space tug is on loan from USAF,who know a doozy of a photo op when they see it. (Air Force space tug silhouetted against Saturn-"THE SKY IS NO LIMIT..."). Hydrogen tanks are mounted 1top,1bottom,1port on forepart of ship and 1top,1bottom,1starboard on the aft part of ship.

The bottom picture (Image 4) shows two astronauts EVA'ing to help dock the supply shuttle to the gangway ( the shuttle is not carried to Saturn) This is for scale comparison.

Zach Hajj

Artist's Statement

This is part of my attempt to develop a basis for an interstellar civilization, its massive economy and similarly vast scale of war. Above all, I hope this serves as a statement that it is possible to combine the flashy and the scientific, that hard science-fiction can be fantastic and not necessarily bland."

Artist Zach Hajj (a.k.a. Zerraspace) is another one of the precious few artists who also have vast scientific knowledge. I am happy that this website helped give him the raw data he needed for his work. For the technical details about this spacecraft, see its entry in the Realistic Designs section.

Juho Kesala

Artist Juho Kesälä is a long time fan of this website, and uses it ensure the reality of the artwork.

Artist Statement:

My scifi setting originated and still serves as a vehicle for storytelling, art and gaming, but I've also found worldbuilding in on itself an enjoyable pursuit. One of the things I like to do is design spacecraft with some level of realism. I strive to keep things at least physically plausible with the fairly significant exception of faster-than-light travel. Call it hard scifi space opera, if that's not too much of an oxymoron. Much of my inspiration for these designs comes from setting myself design constraints and then coming up with ideas to satisfy them.

In terms of artistic influence I'd have to mention Homeworld.

Currently all this stuff exists mostly in my head, a few story and gaming related projects, and a folder on my computer. Though the worldbuilding isn't collected anywhere online I do have a Tumblr and a DeviantArt account where I'll post my artwork.

Geir Lanesskog

Geir Lanesskog is the second person to win both the Illustrators of the Future and Writers of the Future contests, and the first to win them in that order. He uses his art to help inspire his writing. Most of his creative efforts are targeted at a future history that he's been continually revising for the past thirty years.

You can find Mr. Lanesskog gallery here. He does his work using Bryce 6.3, importing human figures from Poser or DAZ Studio, and using Paint Shop Pro for post-production.

The Leonov project

Artists Rob Caswell (Arcas-Art) and Tom Peters (Drell-7) are big fans of Sir Arthur C. Clarke's novel 2010: Odyssey Two. However they have long be dissatisfied with the depiction of the spacecraft Leonov in the movie version. One fine day they decided to do something about it.

The visual appearance of the Jupiter-bound Leonov from Arthur C. Clarke’s 2010 has become almost carved in stone by the Syd Mead designed craft that appeared in the 1984 film by Peter Hyams. However for us hardcore Clarke fans, the picture of the Leonov was painted over two years earlier when we first read Clarke’s novel. While the book and film’s plots are very similar in the broad strokes, there are a number of differences between the two and the design of the Leonov is one of them.

Clarke’s notes on the Leonov are relatively sparse, but clear enough to define a vision that is not what we saw in the movie. The novel’s craft is smaller in size (“Apart from the four huge propellant tanks that would be dropped off as soon as transfer orbit was achieved. From heat shield to drive units was less that fifty meters.”), it has a heat shield instead of an inflatable ballute, there’s no spin-gravity centrifuge, and it does not support its own EVA pods. It was built for speed to beat Discovery II to the goal and as such was designed with an economy of mass to maximize propulsion.

So from the start of the project, or goal in creating the book’s version of the Leonov was to design a craft that [A] fits Clarke’s written details, [B] looks Russian in aerospace design (while Mead’s craft was a cool cinematic creation, it didn’t look very Russian in shape and coloration), [C] fits in with both the technology of what we saw in Kurbrick’s 2001 while still being something that looks like it could have been flying in 2010, [D] was designed on relatively proven science and technology.

The greatest piece of technical fiction in Clarke’s design was probably the Leonov’s Sakarov drive. The key to the Leonov’s ability to get to Jupiter so quickly, the drive is not described in much detail. It is an invention ascribed to the brilliant physicist Andrei Sakarov, capable of sustaining 1/10th of a gravity of thrust for a prolonged period.

The sparse description of the drive’s working led us to believe it was some sort of plasma drive, along the same lines as the VASIMR drive being developed by Franklin Chang Díaz currently. The drive is described as very compact, and its power source as having very low radioactivity. We assumed a magnetohydrodynamic system to generate the electrical power for the drive and the Leonov’s other systems. At the distances involved in a mission to Jupiter, solar panels would be either too large and unwieldy, or too inefficient in their power collection to be viable as an energy source.

With our design criteria established we decided to begin by having both of us do some design roughs without sharing our thoughts in advance. Oddly enough (or not) when we compared results we found we both were taking the design in the same general direction, so this was both confirming that we were on a good path and it smoothed the process of refining the design.

Tom did all the actual modeling in Lightwave, but the design process was fully cooperative. Every day of so we’d review the current status together and refine the design. This led to a number of features that we hadn’t planned from the outset but grew out of the necessities emerging from the growing design. This included thing like the retractable radiators for the drive section and the pivoting communications/sensor booms, allowing them all to be folded in behind the shadow of the heat shield for aerobraking.

The whole project took about 6-8 weeks and the resulting design is one that is quite mission-specific. The illustration sequence we’ve done so far shows how the ship changes its configuration as the mission proceeds, with the most notable events being the jettisoning of the huge fuel tanks used in the initial boost and the ejection of the heat shield after the Jovian aerobraking. As with real space missions like Apollo, what returns to Earth is considerable less massive than what left."

Rob and Tom (2013)

Michael 'Woozle' McGuire

Michael McGuire is a master model-maker. For Starship Modeler's 2002 contest "Space Racer", Mr. McGuire was inspired by Lester del Rey's short story "Habit" (1939), about a rocket race from Mars to close Jupiter fly-by and back. Needless to say Mr. McGuire won the modeling contest.

I love how he caught that rocketpunk aesthetic. The spacecraft looks like a cross between Star Wars and a World War 2 bomber. The hatches revealing the engine were a nice touch, and the cockpit is a work of art.

Daniel McIlvaney

Daniel McIlvaney's impressive artwork can be found on SciFi Meshes, where he goes by the handle "TheUnlogicalOne". The first set of images are of a patrol ship, and second is of a destroyer. Mr. McIlvaney hastens to add that these are all works-in-progress, not finished works.

Patrol Ship


Tero Niemi

Tero Niemi is a freelance Graphic Designer, 3D-Technician, Artist, Writer, Computer Programmer, Zero-G Pilot (Licensed), and Webmaster from Finland.

General Notes

1) Most of the ships mass is centered on the reactor/fuel section. This section is jointed (gimballed?), so the ship can control it's attitude very quickly without any thrusters.

2) Radiators fold in when the ship gets "scared". (Impact eminent.) During this period the heat control can be done by venting some of the coolant directly into vacuum. (Vented gas could be used as IR decoy?)

3) The camouflage shield is a bit controversial. I imagined it to be made from a very thin and reflective substance that can be cooled to a very low temperature. The idea was that ship could be near "invisible" into one direction. That is enough because of the limited speed of light. No point to hide, except for near targets that can hurt.

No idea about weapons. This is probably a missile platform. Pellet cannon perhaps, or even a laser. A bag of (preheated?) nails to throw at incoming rockets?


1) The reaction control system (thrusters) are poorly positioned (or angled) if the bomb part weights nearly as much as the engine part.

There are basically two ways to fix this. First would be to use Apollo style thrusters on sides. Those things point forward/aft and they work fine near center of the mass, no problem. Second way would be moving the whole thruster section to the nose of the ship. Sideways pointing thrusters work there fine and I think that would be more efficient.

I modelled the missile this way because I wanted to keep the shape clean. Nozzle bell -- lot of junk -- and a bomb. Poor excuse, I know :) but it is low poly model so I think it is Ok to cheat a bit for clarity...

2) Sensors are quite limited. The poor thing is practically blind! Angle of view should probably be something like 340 degrees instead of current 120. That would mean installing some sort of larger sensor pack in the front, but again, clean shape -- and I'm going to render these from rear angle, so any sensor details are actually wasted.

Number 6

Number 6's awesome artwork can be found on SciFi Meshes, where he goes by the handle, well, "Number 6". The first set of images are of a Short Ranged Ship Concept, inspired by Werner von Braun's Moonship. The second is a recreation of the Discovery II.

Short Ranged Ship Concept

Discovery II

Tom Peters

Artist's Statement

A good visual science fiction story can be both engaging and firmly rooted in realism and realistic extrapolation about the technology and visual style of future hardware. You don't have to choose between the two.

Visit Tom Peters' website here.


Charles Oines

Charles Oines is an emergency stunt artist who has been producing game-related digital artwork since 1990 for a variety of high-profile game companies. Do go check out his portfolio. The artwork displayed below was created for the game Attack Vector: Tactical.

The spherical mesh is a species of fusion drive, the spikes are propulsion system heat radiators. The rectangular vanes are the power reactor and weapon system heat radiators. The forward part of the propulsion system is a lead and concrete radiation shadow shield.

Recently, Mr. Oines has mastered the art of creating 3D meshes suitable for rapid prototyping. He now offers a selection of starship miniatures suitable for starship wargames from his print-on-demand ship.

He also has a paper-and-cardboard starship wargame that offers valuable lessons in maneuvering spacecraft under Newtonian physics.

B. P. Taylor

B. P. Taylor is an expert model scratchbuilder. His Luna Corporation Cargo Shuttle won the Gold Award at Wonderfest 2004 for best Vehicle/Mecha.

Rhys Taylor

Rhys Taylor is a scientist who is also a master of the 3D modeling package Blender. His animation of a launching Orion drive spacecraft is quite famous, and has been seen by most people who type "Orion" into Google. His more recent project is a battle between US and Russian Orion drive ships out around Jupiter, and a rendition of the proposed Orion Discovery from preproduction of 2001 A Space Odyssey.

Jort van Welbergen

Jort van Welbergen is a freelance concept artist and illustrator.

As his graduation project he design and provided concepts for a hypothetical virtual reality game. The player is put in charge of a huge logistic ship delivering payload to a Jupiter space station. The ship and related designs were researched by Mr. van Welbergen using NASA technical documents.

Atomic Rockets notices

This week's featured addition is High Specific Impulse Gas Core Reactors

This week's featured addition is the Calculating the Future with John Barne's Model

This week's featured addition is 10-meter Orion Mars Mission

Atomic Rockets

Support Atomic Rockets

Support Atomic Rockets on Patreon