To reiterate, my motive for creating this website is to help authors, game designers, and programmers get the science correct in their creations (thus increasing the amount of the kind of science fiction I enjoy). The most striking examples are those novels whose authors I directly assisted. But there are a few creations I've run across that did get the science correct without any help from me. I would like to recognize such creations by awarding them my (totally superfluous) Atomic Rockets Seal of Approvaltm.
Award winners can print out the seal on their ink-jet printers and stick it on their refrigerators, next to their children's kindergarten paintings. But readers are advised to take a look at these creations, as they are something special
In no particular order, the awards are:
Man Conquers Space is David Sander's project to make a pseudo-documentary movie about the history of space flight, if things had happened as predicted by Colliers. Absolutely brilliant, the trailer will take your breath away. And if you dreamed about those ferry rockets when you were a child in the mid 1960's, the trailer may bring a wistful tear to your eye. It did to me.
Deep Cold is Dan Roam's hyper-realistic alternate history: the secrets of the Cold War in space: 1959-1969. A fascinating "what-if" future of space exploration with professional quality computer graphics.
The man who goes by the name Grimjier of Hobby FuZion is working on a tabletop game played with little plastic spaceships called "Legend of Sol: Torch War". This is set in an alternate history where the North American Space Command and the Supreme Soviet Cosmo forces battle in space in the far flung future year 1960. The early American ships are based on the Boeing X-20 DynaSoar and Project Gemini. The battleships are nuclear pulse Orion drive.
I talk more about Torch War here.
Rob Davidoff has a degree in Mechanical Engineering with a concentration in Aerospace. In other words, he is a rocket scientist. Ian Mitchell is a physics Ph.D. student at the University of Houston studying experimental particle physics. Together they are currently working on a fascinating alternate history of the NASA space flight program called Eyes Turned Skyward. It diverges from our history at the point where the Apollo program comes to an end, and in our time line NASA decides to go with developing a space station, instead of the Space Shuttle. The consequences of not having a reusable launch vehicle in the 1970's are interesting, to say the least.
There is a forum thread about making Eyes Turned Skyward mods for the game Kerbal Space Program.
David Portree is the manager of the Regional Planetary Information Facility, Astrogeology Science Center, US Geological Survey. His blog DSFP's Spaceflight History Blog is full of great articles on the history of spaceflight. But recently he has been applying his encyclopedic knowledge to crafting an alternate history that he calls "Imagining Another Apollo". Last I checked it was up to part 5, it is interesting reading.
Artist Zach Hajj (a.k.a. Zerraspace) has designed a combat spacecraft that impresses the heck out of me. Mr. Hajj said he studied this Atomic Rocket website in the process of designing this craft, and it shows. Frankly I cannot see any design problems at all with it, everything is covered. For this reason, I have a section for this in both the Art Gallery and the Realistic Design pages.
Please note that this page is for novels that have the Atomic Rocket seal of approval, but the authors created the novels with no help from this website. Other novels where the author acknowledged being helped by this site can be found here.
Amazingly enough, Mr. Cambias has managed a way to make the vintage old SciFi troupe of Space Pirate actually work in the real world. All it requires is:
[a] a reliance upon unmanned semi-autonomous cargo spacecraft
[b] computer hackers
[c] the Terra-Luna Lagrange One point as pirate infested waters, right on the direct low-energy path where all the valuable cargo will pass by
Now why didn't I think of that?
You may have noticed I've used quite a few quotes from him in various parts of this website. It is really hard to find a person more qualified to write a novel with a "Atomic Rocket" levels of science-hardness than a person who is one of the experts used as a source for the Atomic Rocket website.
Full disclosure: I did receive an unsolicited autographed copy of the hardback from Mr. Cambias along with some praise that made me blush. But the fact that I have been quoting him on this website for the better part of a decade demonstrates that my high opinion of his work predates this novel.
The Galactic Marines series was written by SF master William H. Keith, Jr. (writing under the pseudonyms Ian Douglas). The series traces the history of the United States Marine Corps over about two hundred years, starting around 2039. Naturally the novels are rather pro-Marine, but what did you expect from the series title? The military details seem reasonably accurate to me, not surprisingly since Mr. Keith served during the Vietnam War in the United States Navy as a hospital corpsman.
Mr. Keith has done his homework.
The science is impeccably accurate (except for the alien technology, but even that is more fringe science than it is utter technobabble). Dumbo style nuclear thermal rockets, Aldrin Cyclers, Lunar polar ice for in-situ resource utilization, using Vandenberg Air Force Base to launch into polar orbits, the need for an Spaceguard, most of it would not look out of place on NASA's drawing boards.
Then there is smart thinking on the implications of the technology. For free-fall combat, space suits have an attachment point for rifles so that the recoil goes through the marines center of gravity. Otherwise each shot would spin them like a top. And aiming the rifle is through a heads-up-display inside the space helmet, since it is almost impossible to look through a rifle's target scope while wearing a fish-bowl on ones head.
What is even better is how the level of technology progresses over the span of the series, with the logical changes in tactics as new technologies become available. This is hard work for a writer, but Mr. Keith did an excellent job.
He even invented first-rate MacGuffinite.
As you recall, MacGuffinite is some incredibly valuable commodity that provides an economic motive for an extensive Manned presence in space (needed because currently there does not appear to be any such thing). Since SF authors are allowed one scientifically implausible item in their stories, Mr. Keith chose paleotechnology from alien ancient astronauts. Once in place, Mr. Keith proceed to make it do double-duty, to get all the mileage out of it he could.
- Since the alien technology was several hundred years in advance of Earth's technology, it was more than valuable enough to provide motive for dozens of space stations and fleets of ships.
- Since any nation on Earth will take a very dim view of another nation obtaining a monopoly on such tech, this will be the spark that ignites the sort of global and spatial combat tailor made as the background for novels featuring marines.
- There are implications to the fact that this is ancient alien technology. Specifically, if the aliens were in the solar system so long ago, why isn't humanity currently the slaves of said aliens? What happened to the aliens? The main implication is that having high tech did not render the aliens immune from being doomed by one of the nastier solutions to the Fermi paradox (the Great Filter strikes again). This is tailor made to make a worthy long-term background for a series of novels about marines.
Having postulated paleotechnology, Mr. Keith proceeds to try and make things plausible. He did research on tons of crackpot "ancient astronaut" garbage, and picked out bits he could work with. All the while simultaneously having the characters in his novel making it quite clear that there was a difference between real pieces of alien tech and utter fantasy stories about von Daniken "Chariots of the Gods" and related dreck. Mr. Keith chose the real-world Transient lunar phenomenon and the infamous "Face on Mars". The action in the first novel is meticulously set around the various geological features trumpeted by various crackpots. Mr. Keith turns it into sterling examples of Sufficiently Advanced Bamboo Technology.
In other words, Mr. Keith even researches his technobabble.
I should not have been surprised. Back in 1997 I wrote a review of another of William Keith's novels where again I noted the careful research he had done. It's his hallmark.
The Galactic Marines series is in three trilogies. All the novels are written under the pseudonyms "Ian Douglas".
- Semper Mars (1998) ISBN 978-0-380-78828-6
- Luna Marine (1999) ISBN 978-0-380-78829-3
- Europa Strike (2000) ISBN 978-0-380-78830-9
- Star Corps (2003) ISBN 978-0-380-81824-2
- Battlespace (2006) ISBN 978-0-380-81825-9
- Star Marines (2007) ISBN 978-0-380-81826-6
- Star Strike (2008) ISBN 978-0-06-123858-1
- Galactic Corps (2008) ISBN 978-0-06-123862-8
- Semper Human (2009) ISBN 978-0-06-123864-2
Read the link for the details. But briefly:
 To write science fiction novels about lots of people living in space, it would be helpful if there was a sound economic motive to justify an extensive manned presence in space. This is called MacGuffinite.
 The problem is that in the real world, there does not seem to be any. Anything that could be mined or harvested could be done more cheaply with robots or remote controlled drones.
 Manned space stations would have been perfect MacGuffinite. Unfortunately the invention of the microchip made it cheaper to replace manned space stations with unmanned satellites (for communication, GPS, weather, surveillance, and other financially lucrative functions).
This brilliant piece of background is the crowning glory on top of a compelling novel with space science that is NASA-level accurate. Recommended.
Here Be Dragons is Craig Alan's first novel, but you'd think it was his 100th. Polished, gripping, engrossing, it is all that. But the scientific accuracy measures up to my vanadium steel yardstick. As well it should, the acknowledgements thanks this website by name (along with rec.arts.sf.science and SFConSim-l). He mentioned to me that he spent a lot of time with Atomic Rockets site open in one browser window while writing. As I mentioned above, that was this website's primary purpose.
Several decades before the novel opens, some one or some thing suddenly appears and claims the outer solar system. The nations of Earth cannot find out anything about these "outsiders", except that any spacecraft that ventures past the asteroid belt is hunted down and converted into metallic swiss cheese by kinetic energy weapons. Finally Captain Elena Gonzales and the crew of the Gabriel are given orders to penetrate the line in the sand in a desperate bid to discover the nature of the invaders.
Craig Alan has a believable warships design, plausible weapons, details about shipboard life, military protocol, a future history, the complete package. And the ship has heat radiators!
And at the end of the novel is a nail-biting spaceship to spaceship duel that will have you on the edge of your seat. That battle is just begging to be made into a game scenario.
The current novels in John Lumpkin's The Human Reach series are Through Struggle, the Stars and The Desert of Stars. The science is of top quality hardness, the geopolitical situation is deep and well thought out, the military intelligence details are terrifyingly real. The writing style is clear and flowing, it reminds me of early Heinlein, and of the Niven/Pournelle collaborations. Mr. Lumpkin cites as influences Heinlein, Pournelle, Niven, Forester, O'Brien, early Clancy, and Daniel Keys Moran.
And yes, the novel has plenty of space battle scenes just begging to be made into game scenarios.
Mr. Lumpkin is a Senior Fellow and contributor to GlobalSecurity.org since June 2006. He runs the site's Terrorism Profiles Project. Previously, he was a reporter with The Associated Press in Washington, D.C., where he covered military affairs, homeland security and intelligence matters, breaking several key stories during the Sept. 11 investigation. His professional travels include Iraq, Afghanistan and China. Prior to joining AP, he covered military affairs for the Albuquerque Journal.
This is why the counter-terrorism details in his novel are dead accurate. The geopolitical aspects of his novel are uncommonly realistic as well, for the same reason.
The current novels in James Corey's Expanse series are Leviathan Wakes, Caliban's War, Abaddon's Gate, Cibola Burn and Nemesis Games. The author states that he focuses more on telling a compelling story than he is getting all the science correct (which is as it should be). But outside of a rather powerful fusion propulsion system and alien nanotechnology, his science is gratifyingly hard. Certainly better than 99% of the other novels out there.
His depictions of colonies living inside the asteroids Ceres and Eros are fascinating, with descriptions of a Mos Eisley Spaceport / Blade Runner / tunnel civilization alternating with descriptions of the changes in Coriolis Force as you get closer to the asteroid's axis of rotation.
And the backdrop of the series is interesting as well. Mr. Corey noted that while there were many science fiction novels about near future space exploration, and novels about interstellar exploration, there are practically none about the transitional period between the two eras.
These novels are especially fine examples of "Rocketpunk".
Recently, the novels have been made into a killer TV series on the SyFy channel.
Andy Weir's novel The Martian has science so hard you can walk on it. This is not surprising. Many hard-science SF novels start with scientifically accurate elements which are gradually fudged and tweaked in order to accommodate the plot. But in Mr. Weir's novel, he found that the scientific calculations actually suggested new directions for the plot to expand into. In other words, the scientific accuracy actually helped rather than hinder the writing process. Mr. Weir describes the process here.
The novel itself is a harrowing account of the third manned expedition to Mars. On the eve of departure, a disaster forces the expedition to depart prematurely, leaving astronaut Mark Watney for dead. Unfortunately Watney is not dead. But now he is faced with the daunting task of surviving almost a year on Mars using only the expedition's discarded materials. And mission control does not even know he is there.
Seveneves is the new blockbuster hard-science novel by master writer Neal Stephenson. The novel combines science so hard that it makes 2001 A Space Odyssey look like The Jetsons, the nail-biting cliff-hanger drama of the movie Gravity, the apocalyptic nature of When Worlds Collide and the mythic scope of Frank Herbert's Dune. There was also a character that vaguely reminded me of Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, and another that may have been modeled on either Jeff Bezos of Blue Origin or Elon Musk of SpaceX (or both).
The science is rock solid, and you may see some insightful quotes appear in this website to illustrate certain aerospace concepts. Mr. Stephenson acknowledged the help he obtained from various people working at Blue Origin, Planetary Resources, The Long Now Foundation, Tethers Unlimited, and various scientists (all listed in the Acknowledgments section in the back of the book).
A Sword Into Darkness is Thomas Mays' debut novel, and it is a blockbuster! Kept me on the edge of my seat up til the end. And unlike so many other novels, when it promised a revelation of a dread secret at the end, it actually delivered. Puzzling occurrences make perfect logical sense as the reader learns more. And the ships have heat radiators!
The action starts when astronomers notice something odd in-line with the star Delta Pavonis. Hilarity rapidly ensues.
The cherry on the top is a couple of spacecraft combat scenes crying out to be made into game scenarios.
In hindsight, one could have predicted that the background of the novel would be well thought out and solid enough to walk on. Yes, Mr. Mays does acknowledge he was helped somewhat by the Atomic Rockets website. But more importantly, he has not one, but two degrees in physics. And to top it off, he is an 18-years-and-counting veteran of the US Navy, working as an officer in the surface fleet aboard destroyers and amphibious ships, as well as assisting with research into ballistic missile defense.
There is only one piece of hand-waving magic-tech in the novel (the propulsion system), but its limitations and implications are carefully charted. Science fiction authors are allowed one bit of hand-waving in each novel, I think that's a rule I read somewhere. Otherwise the scientific accuracy is spot on. Well, there also is the mumbly-mumble field used by the mumbly-mumble, but that is actually not totally outside the laws of physics. You'll know it when you read it.
The book will soon be published by either Baen Books or a small imprint called Stealth Books. I'll give a heads up when it comes out.
The story follows the trials and tribulations of the good ship "Fives Full" (named after a poker hand). The captain is just trying to make money to pay off the ship mortgage, but it is very hard to do in a universe full of kidnappers of wealthy heiresses, powerful but touchy Terraformers, and interstellar spies.
The story flows trippingly off the tongue, is very engrossing, but more to the point the science is quite hard. Which is to be expected from an author who went to MIT and works for Lockheed Martin.
But in my mind I gave the book a big gold star before I even got to chapter one. Right before is a cut-away view of the spacecraft Fives Full, with the decks arranged properly like a skyscraper normal to the thrust axis, not stupidly parallel to the thrust axis like the Starship Enterprise.
I gave it a platinum star with diamond clusters when I discovered he had figured out a plausible way to force a starship navigator to use slide rules.
The prose flows smoothly, but cleverly drops in enough information so you rapidly get up to speed understanding the Torchship universe. There are also delicious little bits scattered here and there proving that Mr. Gallagher is a very knowledgeable man. For instance, the units of currency are called "keys" or "keyneses" indicating that the interstellar money supply is based on Keynesian economics. This is not explained in the novel, but is obvious to a reader who is well read (or who has access to Google).
I look forwards to more offerings from Mr. Gallagher.
The Eldraeverse is a strange and futuristic place, haunted by weakly godlike entities, civilizations that have undergone a Vingian Technological Singularity, and civilizations that are just centimeters away from achieving it. Such a topic in the hands of a lesser author could degenerate into a tiresome confusing mass of disjointed images. But Alistair's encyclopedic knowledge of math, science, Post Singularity tropes, standard science fiction hypertechnology, and writing skill makes his work a joy to read. They have a lilting satirical tone but are build on a rock-solid foundation of scientific understanding. Sort of like a cross between Greg Egan, Douglas Hofstadter, Douglas Adams, and Terry Pratchett.
If you like his work, you might consider becoming one of Alistair's Patreon patrons.
Late breaking news: the sequel is now available, The Core War and Other Stories.
Richard Penn is writing diamond-hard near-future solar-system-colonization novels. His thesis is that no new science and technology is needed to get people into space, just determination and proper engineering.
The Steps to Space Series is in the close future, where small groups and even individuals start taking over the job of space colonization & industrialization from nation-based government space programs and megacorporations.
The Asteroid Police Series is set in a period when small asteroid colonies have actually been established. It follows the misadventures of young Lisa Johansen, who is suddenly thrust into the role of being the local police when a seemingly small anomaly is the thread that leads to the unraveling of a large conspiracy.
However, relevant to our interests is Penn's VESSELS AND STATIONS OF EARTHSPACE AND THE BELT which details the spacecraft and scenarios behind the novels in delicious detail.
Freefall by Mark Stanley is a deceptively simple webcomic. On the surface it appears to be a run-of-the-mill webcomic about a funny blue alien and an anthropomorphic furry wolf. But the science is exceedingly hard, and the plot line covers insightful issues about the future of artificial intelligence (both genetically engineered creature and computer AI) and other deep topics. You may have noticed that at various places on this website I use scenes from the webcomic to illustrate scientific principles.
On a more off-beat topic, there is a theory about the different strategies between male and female shopping patterns in a mall in comics 696 to 700.
Schlock Mercenary is another deceptive webcomic. On the surface it appears to be comedy about future soldiers. However, the science is hard. But more importantly, where ultra-tech like teleportation or nanotechnology is introduced, the author has carefully thought out all the consequences and ramifications. In fact he does a better job than most science fiction novelists. It also has very dry and pithy humor, plus many high-IQ jokes that zip by like one liners in "The West Wing".
Unicorn Jelly is yet another deceptively simple webcomic. At the start one is fooled into believing it is just another chibi style manga. Then after it lulls you into lowering your guard it stuns your brain with deep philosophical questions while simultaneously punching you in the gut. It is billed as a "unique retro-pixel philosophical multi-generational scinece fiction epic", and take it from me it is not lying.
Why does it have the seal of approval? In a word: World Building. This is not just a story set on another planet, it is set in another freaking universe where the very laws of physics are different. In the between-chapter segments the author shows you the physics, the implications, the way it affects cosmology, astronomy, planetography and biology, the alternate periodic table of the elements, the culture of the various alien creatures, their language and forms of writing, games, everything. Absolutely breath-taking.
Albedo Anthropomorphics is a regrettably short-lived comic book anthology by Steve Gallacci. The gem were the stories about Erma Felna of the EDF, who was a genetically engineered anthropomorphic cat. There was also a short-lived paper-and-pencil role playing game called Albedo. The science is hard, the military tech well realized, and there were hard-hitting political and philosophical issues raised.
Again, the implications were well thought out by the author.
Example: the various planets are populated by various species of Terran animals genetically engineered to intelligence. Now with most Terran mammals, the female is only sexually attractive to the male when they go into estrus (aka "in heat"). Consequence: there are no nudity taboos, and mixed-gender washing and toilet facilities are the norm. But when estrus occurs the females must go into seclusion and/or use powerful deodorants.
Example: many of the planets were colonized by slower-than-light starships. The planetary cultures that were founded as a consequence have a "shipboard discipline mentality." Consider, on a spacecraft, if a civilian saw something like an air leak in the hull, and didn't report it to anybody, they would be endangering the lives of everybody on the colony ship. So that is a crime.
In the United States on the other hand, if a person sees somebody lying injured on the side of the road, and they try to help the injured one, more often than not they wind up being sued by the injured person. Hands off, do not get involved, it is not your problem.
In the Albedo universe, with the shipboard discipline mentality, it is a crime not to try and help somebody who is injured, and there are "Good Samaritan" laws to protect the helpers.
Example: most of the anthropomorphic have four-fingered hands. As a consequence, their mathematical system is base 8, not base 10 like us humans with five-fingered hands.
GunBuster is a six episode anime series about giant mecha. But there is an attention to scientific accuracy that is gratifying. Laser cannon resemble titanic camera lenses set into the side of the warships, laser volleys are launched at hostile warships too far away to see, the mecha use weapons with californium-252 fission warheads with the 252Cf being created immediately before battle due to its short half-life.
And this is the only anime I've seen that does relativistic time-dilation properly.
But the tour de force is the science lessons that occur between episodes. They start off explaining using real and accurate science, then seamlessly blend into the science fictional rubber science of faster-than-light star drives and related matters. Well worth watching.
Knights of Sidonia is a manga series adapted as an anime. In many ways it is a deconstruction of space operas like Gundam and Macross, characters act like scifi characters but since this is reality the consequences are usually lethal. The mecha pilots have to worry about fuel, the jury-rigged habitat (and jury-rigged society) can barely produce enough food, valiant young poorly-trained fighter pilots die with depressing regularity, people in the city wear safety belts clipped to rails so they don't fall to their death if the habitat has to do emergency acceleration.
Jay Dugger compared it to William Hope Hodgson's A Night Land set on a generation starship.
The science is reasonably hard, with a few gaffs like magic artificial gravity and spacecraft making a "whoosh" noise in airless space. There is no FTL, if the habitat accelerates beyond the artificial gravity's ability to cope the transverse forces will cause the inhabitats to fall sideways to their doom, the consequences of the invented technology is considered, and it respects scale.
Planetes is a hard-science managa (official website, in Japanese) which was adapted into a television anime. It follows the downtrodden crew of the spacecraft "Toy Box" of the Space Debris section of the Technora Corporation. Their job is to sweep Earth and Lunar orbits of tiny but dangerous satellite bits and pieces, hopefully preventing the dreaded Kessler Syndrome. The scientific accuracy is top-notch, the Japanese space agency JAXA served as a technical consultant.
2001 Nights is another hard-science managa. All the stories are set in a common time-line spanning several hundred years, but the first few stories are in the near future. There are a few stories where the science fiction is more fictional than scientific, but for the most part the science is pretty hard.
The Ministry of Space is a graphic novel written by the legendary Warren Ellis and illustrated by Chris Weston, published in 2001. It is an interesting alternate history where at the end of World War II the British instead of the Americans got their hands on Germany's rocket scientists. This results in a new British empire in Space. But it is all very scientifically accurate, abet very Collier's flavored.
Chris Weston's amazing British-Colliers-von Braun rockets are a real treat for the eye. Warren Ellis story is believable, plausible, but mordant and containing cutting social commentary. And there are some who wonder if Britain can create a real Ministry of Space.
This should be required reading for all hard-science science-fiction writers. Ken gives the straight dope about how thermodynamics affects combat spacecraft detection signatures and detection parameters, dealing with waste heat from power reactors and propulsion systems, the three broad categories of rocket propulsion and their constraints, influences on your science fiction novel's background universe, delta V and piracy, space combat weapons, ranges, and locations. All very relevant to our interests.
Late breaking news: Ken has issued his latest essay: Objects in Motion. It has pretty much everything a science-fiction writer needs to know about orbital mechanics and spacecraft trajectories. It is available in a bundle from Ad Astra Games.
Future War Stories does in-depth analysis on various military topics. For each subject, first is given a penetrating over view of how the subject works in the real world. Then is given a survey of various media science fiction that includes the subject, along with a critique of how close each instance comes to getting it correct.
In other words, what this website is to rocketry, Future War Stories is to military science fiction.
Luke Campbell is a real-live laser scientist, it's what he does for a living. If you want the last word in accuracy in designing futuristic laser sidearms, go to How to Build a Laser Death Ray. It has theory, practice, online calculators for various items, and artists conceptions.
Rick Robinson's Rocketpunk Manifesto blog is pure gold. His insightful analysis of what this website is all about is well worth reading. I certainly think so, you may have noticed quite a few quotes from it on this website. The comments are worth reading as well. And don't miss his The Tough Guide to the Known Galaxy.
Founder Christopher Weuve says the SFConsim-l forum is one of the things he is most proud of (his exact words were: "I want my tombstone to read Founder, SFConsim-L."). The topic is science fiction conflict simulations (i.e., games) in general, and spacecraft conflict in specific. Add the fact that a few real live scientists and military analysts regularly participate, and you have one valuable forum. I certainly think so, you may have noticed quite a few quotes from it on this website.
Actually, SFConsim-l was the spark that led to the creation of this website. I was a regular on the forum. One fine day in 1999, a gentleman had a question about calculating rocket performance and I answered him. About a year later another gentlemen had some related questions and I answered them as well. Three years after that (in 2003)), after years of constantly providing links to those original posts, it occurred to me to put the information on a solitary web page for convenience. I added more and more information until it made sense to split it into two pages, then four. Last time I checked there were about seventy pages. My, how it has grown.
The legendary Scott Manley is an Astronomer, a Scotsman, a Hacker, a Gamer, and a DJ. Relevant to our interests is the fact that he has a keen knowledge of rocketry and spaceflight, and knows how to explain things in an engaging but crystal clear way. I first ran across him in the Kerbal Space Program community, but he does so much more.
You may have noticed a few of his videos around this website.
He has a YouTube channel, but of particular interest is the playlist devoted to Science Videos. There you will learn such useful information as why do ion thrusters use xenon propellant, is metallic hydrogen the most powerful rocket fuel yet, and the rocket science of the Expanse.
Moran's SF Worldbuilding blog is well worth reading (and I am not just saying that because he sometimes has links to this website). From effects of kinetic weapons to unintended consequences of force-field technology to the effect of a laser lightsail interstellar project on the economy of the solar system, his posts are in-depth and relevant to our interests.
Myn.phenos of Slovakia is a genius.
In spacecraft design tasks like calculating the volume of irregular components, calculating centers of gravity, and optimal placement of heat radiators is almost impossible to do without computer software tools. But as a general rule, such software costs tens of thousands of dollars, and usually cannot be found outside of, say, NASA.
My.phenos figured out how to do this with the 3D computer graphics software Blender. Which is open source, and is totally free. Genius, sheer genius.
The Spaceship Handbook by Jack Hagerty and Jon C. Rogers. The first part has an entertaining survey of spacecraft from the fictional Tom Corbett TV series to actual early NASA designs, along with incredibly precise blue-prints. But the technical appendix on Atomic Powered spacecraft is worth the price of the book all by itself. The appendix gives the essential propulsion equations, and does a survey of propulsion systems available and on the drawing boards, with hard figures. The end of the appendix contains an extensive table of deltaV requirements for all mission types for the planets and major moons of the solar system. Textbook quality book. And don't miss the companion volume The Saucer Fleet
Matter Beam has set a very difficult task for himself in his blog Tough SF. He is trying to help science fiction authors cope with the biggest problem inherent in the Atomic Rocket website, the dreaded You Can't Do That syndrome.
He has become a major public benefactor for the creative scientific community. And a life-line for me. You wouldn't believe the hate email I get about how my Atomic Rocket website is the biggest buzz-kill in the history of science fiction.
Opening the High Frontier by Eagle Sarmont focuses on the primary problem of space exploration, industrialization, and colonization: chemical rockets just can't cut the mustard when it comes to boosting payload into orbit. Which is a major problem since about half of a spacecraft's mission delta-V budget is spent just traveling the first couple of hundred kilometers. The other half is enough send the ship all the way to Saturn.
Chemical rocket boosters are just too inefficient and too expensive, they are a savage bottleneck to space expansion. In the book, retired aerospace engineer Eagle Sarmont says it is high time to think outside of the box, since the inside the box solution is getting us nowhere fast.
The first few chapters starts off with a little history, including a timeline of various events in terrestrial exploration, engineering advances in general, and rocketry in specific. Then it gives the reader an in-depth but easy to understand definition of the problem.
Basically a worth-while space launch system needs:
- Reusabilty (because throwing away a booster after a single use gets expensive real fast)
- High Payload Fraction (because the more of the ship that is useful cargo, the better)
- Low Propellant Fraction (because the more propellant, the less cargo the ship transports)
Chemical boosters violate at least two of these needs, and most violate all three.
Having gotten the reader up to speed on the issues, Mr. Sarmont then presents an exploration of various ways to think outside of the box. All sorts of different methods are presented. Then the possibilities are winnowed down to the most promising candidates.
The remainder of the book goes in-depth into the prime candidates, with one chapter for each. Candidates like rocket sleds, air-breathing boosters, and skyhooks. The final chapters cover a few of the marvelous things we could do given cheap surface-to-orbit boost systems: Mars missions, orbital colonies, that sort of thing.
The technical details are presented with a minimum of math but maximum of hard data with clear explanations for the layman.
The Rocket Company by Patrick Stiennon and David Hoerr is a novel about a company trying to develop and market a surface-to-orbit solution at a bargain price. But the authors know what they are talking about. They have actually patented the design of their spacecraft. They are also aware of the realities of such an undertaking. In the novel, the executives spend lots of time cultivating relations with various congressmen and FAA execs. Their pragmatic business model is to sell rockets at an attractive price instead of the more risky option of selling cargo boost services. This book will repay careful reading. There are some sample chapters here
Emily Dresner-Thornber is a computer programmer in her day job. But in her spare time she takes her encyclopedic knowledge of economics and applies it to Dungeons and Dragons fantasy role playing game scenarios. These can be found in her Dungeonomics blog.
What makes this relevant to Atomic Rockets is the fact that her intricate well-researched scenarios can be applied to a Rocketpunk science fictional universe with only minor changes. The scenarios are well crafted, full of unexpected ramifications, and evolvable.
Rob Garitta has been involved with science fiction role playing games for a very long time. In his blog Twilight of the GM he writes about games and scenarios for SF RPGs in general, and the Traveller RPG in specific.
His observations are insightful, pithy, amusing, and right on the money. You can find numerous quotes from this blog within this website.
And do check out Surreal Estate Games, with all of Mr. Garitta's with and wisdom packaged in RPG format.
Chris Wolfe's Bootstrapping Space blog is self-described as "digital workspace for me to collect my thoughts about humanity becoming self-sufficient in space". As you can see by reading his blog posts, when he does research, he digs deep.
You can find various technical quotes from his blog within this website.
Astrosynthesis is a brilliant computer program (for Windows only, alas) that assists in the creation of three dimensional star maps.
But it is so much more. The software was intended for the game master of a Role Playing Game to design the background universe, keep track of the various solar systems, map specific planets, draw trade routes, calculate interstellar empire spheres of influence, store notes about specific systems and planets, and generate video files depicting "fly throughs" of the map.
Over the years I had attempted to create my own 3D mapping software, but AstroSynthesis blows my pathetic efforts right out of the water. It is well worth the price.
- Zoom in, out, rotate, and pan around your star map
- The built-in star system generator creates detailed information about stars, their planets, moons, planetoids, and other objects taking into consideration matters of astronomy, physics, atmospheric chemistry, and planetary sciences during the generation process
- The animated display of planet orbits around stars move according to Keplerian rules of planetary motion
- Automatically generate editable surface maps of any terrestrial planet, or import your own maps
- Ships, Fleets, Space Stations, and other bodies are displayed as 3D models, use the supplied models or import your own
- Assign images for uses as blazon images on the 3D map to identify political affiliations
- Display stellar routes between systems, labeled with distances. Assign routes manually or let the program generate hundreds or thousands of star routes automatically based on your criteria
- Track detailed system information for hundreds of thousands of stars, can handle star sector data files up to 4 gigabytes in size.
- Enhance the functionality with 3rd party plug-ins. Many are available, or write your own in Visual Basic.
- Includes real-world maps of stars withing 1000 light-years of Sol, or generate random maps for your own
- And many more features, read about them here
The Evil Dr. Ganymede (aka Constantine Thomas) has a web site on the topic of mapping stars to a three dimensional star map. He covers converting coordinates, discusses various datasets, and map making.
The movie and novel 2001: A Space Odyssey are classics of science fiction. But for our purposes, both contain one of the most scientifically accurate depictions of future space exploration, ever. The novel does help explain what the heck is happening in the last part of the movie, but that is besides the point. Other novels by Sir Arthur C. Clarke with great space exploration details include Earthlight, Islands in the Sky, and The Other Side of the Sky.
Apollo 13 is a historical documentary that somehow is also a terrifying thriller. It tells the real story of the accident that almost claimed the lives of NASA's Apollo 13 astronauts, and the heroic efforts taken to save their lives. The buzz on the street was "the best science fiction movie of 1995 was not science fiction".
Destination Moon is a movie that is an oldie but goody. Based on a story by the legendary Robert A. Heinlein, it is exceedingly scientifically accurate. It does give one a feel for how a real atomic rocketship would operate.
Conquest of Space is another movie that is an oldie but goody (if you ignore all that "things man was not meant to do nonsense"). It has a real live honest-to-Collier's wheel space station, space taxis, and a Mars mission right from von Braun (except with a single ship instead of a fleet). It also includes a couple of reminders about the direction of "down" on a rocketship.
This is the most scientifically accurate TV show I've ever seen. Bar none.
It also is incredibly close to the novels, which is rare.
First off, they actually have their spacecraft laid out like a skyscraper, the way God and Heinlein intended. Not stupidly like an airplane, like Buster Crabbe's silly rocket ship from Just Imagine. Skyscraper spaceships are even more rare than media science fiction displaying no sound in airless space. The Expanse gets a big gold star in RocketCat's list for getting spacecraft orientation right. The ships are gorgeous as well.
Secondly, they correctly make the point that in space the most valuable commodity is water. And the political situation hinges on it. True this was from the novels, but the TV show made a point of stating this in cold text printed on the TV screen during the introduction.
There is a tense situation in free fall where the crew is trying to get to an escape ship while under fire. They manage to avoid a disaster by the clever use of Newton's Third Law.
A spacecraft is on a high-delta V course from Saturn's rings to Ceres. They have to do an emergency rendezvous with a ship in distress. We are treated to the scientifically accurate spectacle of a "flip-and-burn", where the spacecraft flips to point its engines opposite its vector before thrusting. While the crew is injected with medication to help survive the high g load. It was glorious.
And there were lots of little nice touches.
The economic forces which lead to the colonization of Eros and Ceres has been well thought out.
Ceres has been spun up to provide artificial gravity in the interior tunnels. The production managers for the TV show were scientifically savvy enough to realize this means the airlocks to the surface of Ceres will be in the floor, not the wall. And if you pour whisky, the stream will curve due to the Coriolis effect.
In the low centrifugal gravity of Ceres, a bird can fly, fold its wings, and hover for a few seconds as it gently drifts downward. People in non-thrusting spacecraft float in microgravity, unless they are using magnetic boots (with glowing red indicator lights on the heels).
Belters are tall, skinny, and weak due to growing up in low gravity. On Earth, a belter terrorist is captured. Security tortures him for information, by simply putting supports under his armpits and forcing him to stand under 1 g for prolonged periods.
There is a plausible reason for enemy soldiers to attempt boarding of your spacecraft.
The protagonist lives in the flying ghetto of Ceres. He has a smartphone/pocket computer that is transparent, like the one Tony Stark had. This shows the setting is futuristic. But because Ceres is a slum, his smartphone has a big crack across the screen and he cannot afford a new one.
The accents spoken by the people living in Ceres is delightfully different. To my untrained ear it did not sound like stock Chinese or middle European, it sounded like a realistic mix of several nations. Which makes sense for Ceres. The Belter creole was spot-on perfect. As was the ASL-like hand gestures for certain words, this grew out of communicating when one or both of the people are in a space suit with no working radio. You see this in the first episode when Miller has the slum-lord in the airlock.
And the flood-walls on Ellis Island was the perfect touch.
The only questionable bits I personally noticed were minor. One ship has stealth technology, which will require incredibly advanced heat-sink technology. The space suits have large illuminated face plates, but you have to have that in a TV show or you cannot see the actor's faces. In the show's favor they do something brilliantly innovative that I've never seen before. They had some close up shots of the actor's faces taken from inside the helmets! And the spacecraft interiors were a bit luxuriously spacious, but again you have to have that in a TV show for filming purposes.
I'm focusing on the scientific accuracy because that what this website is all about. I will say that the writing is top-notch, the acting is bang-on, and the story is riveting. The opening title sequence reminds me of a futuristic "Game of Thrones".
All in all, this series has gotten me more excited than any other media science fiction I've seen in a long time.
Gravity is a nail-biting edge-of-your-seat movie that somehow manages to simultaneously be quite scientifically accurate. Yes, there are a few things that are not quite right, but they were conscious decisions made by the producers for story purposes. Even with that, the movie is still more scientifically accurate than 99% of all other media SF. This movie is also bests viewed in a 3D movie screen. Not because it has things being poked into your eyes, but because it has things drifting far far away into the abyss of space.
If you are a fan of this website, you must see this movie.
The movie has been described as "a love letter to Science". The theme is how a man can survive and escape an impossible situation by keeping their head, dividing the problem into step-by-step sections, and using clever engineering to defeat each section. Unlike the slew of recent dystopian movies, this one is empowering and inspiring.
For me, the theme of the movie is summed up in one line by the mission commander when Johanssen starts to freak out. She cooly tells Johanssen "Keep it together, work the problem"
From a spacecraft standpoint, the Hermes and the Mars Ascent Vehicle will repay careful study. I have some notes on the Hermes here.
When director Ridley Scott started work on the movie, he made a cold call to NASA asking for some technical information. NASA's PR department basically exploded. They told Mr. Scott he could have anything he wanted, the PR department cleared their schedules, and went to work 24-7 assisting. They knew this would be a ratings bonanza for NASA, and would be a killer promo for NASA's real Mars initiative. Most of the hardware seen in the movie is based on real NASA designs. A fact that NASA stresses in their promotion blitz.
Needless to say, NASA heavily promoted the movie on the official NASA website.
When NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter discovered evidence of flowing liquid water on Mars, they kept the story secret, releasing it only four days before the premier of the movie. The New York Times noted this as proof positive that NASA had the whole cross-promotion thing down.
Diaspora is a science-fiction tabletop role-playing game by VSCA that was a 2009 Indie RPG Award nominee (review, review). It is set in a gritty future where the players fly fusion drive spacecraft, exploring lost worlds with thousands of years of history.
But for me the interesting part is that along with the rules for role-playing in this universe, there are also a set of mini-games used to determine the outcome of major events. And one of these is a space combat module.
One of the authors mentioned that the Atomic Rockets website was quote "a hugely important resource for use while developing Diaspora" unquote, and it shows. The space combat is streamlined (since this is a role playing game, not a full blown simulation) but the scientific accuracy is all there. The ships even have heat radiators!
As an RPG, it has some very shrewd game mechanisms and innovative designs that I personally was very impressed by. This game will appeal to players who want to participate in telling the story instead of being passive consumers of the game master's story line. In other words, this is a game for frustrated story tellers.
An important part is the pre-game segment where the players participate in creating the game universe (do NOT skip this part in favor of some pre-made universe, it is a vital part of the game). The creation has three marvelous side effects:  the players become incredibly invested in the game universe since they helped created it  you wind up with a universe far more interesting and nuanced than any single person could manage on their own, and  the game master is given critical clues as to the sort of campaign the players desire, by the creation process. Several reviewers noted that even if they did not want to actually continue playing the review game, they definitely wanted to re-use the generated game universe in other games. SF authors take note.
Shock:Human Contact is a science-fiction tabletop role-playing game by game designer Joshua A.C. Newman. The science is admirably hard. In the game, quite a few planets have been colonized by slower-than-light generational ships over a period of a thousand years. However, things on Earth got a little ... disjointed .. after a global war. Earth is reborn with the help of The Academy, a meritocratic democracy of scientists who seek to improve the lives of all in reach.
Now the Academy wishes to help the lost human colonies. But over the millennium, they have drifted quite a bit culturally. So each contact is much like first contact with an alien species. The academics in the team must be very careful, choosing between arriving openly or first sending in black ops anthropologists to prepare the way.
The game book is worth reading even if you never intend to play the game, just for the concepts included. There are details about the starship, guidelines to creating the colonial societies, notes on making alien alphabets and writing systems, nanotechnology tools, all sorts of goodies. It is like a fascinating mix of J. D. Bernal's immortal The World, the Flesh and the Devil, Freeman Dyson, Greg Egan, The Medium Is the Massage, Future Shock, and Edward Tufte
Attack Vector: Tactical (store) (review) is a paper-and-cardboard tabletop wargame of spacecraft combat by Ken Burnside (yes, kiddies, back at the dawn of creation, games were not on computers). You might have noticed the many quotes from Mr. Burnside gracing this website. It is by far the most scientifically accurate spacecraft combat game of all time, but it is also remarkably playable. If you really want to get an intuitive feel for battling rocketships, you would do well to play this game.
If one wants a paper-and-cardboard wargame where you can adjust the "hardness" of the science a bit in order to simulate your favorite media SF show (or to model you own custom SF universe for your novel), try Mr. Burnside's Squadron Strike (store). The game includes a ship construction system that can be used to recreate your favorite media SF ships. And I mean create them in detail. His system is more versatile than Hero System's Champions RPG, it can easily handle the fine nuances between the science fiction weapon systems of any SF TV show or movie franchise.
Late breaking news!. Mr. Burnside has set up a Patreon Campaign so you can help fund him to start creating massive amounts of starships designed for Squadron Strike.
Voidstriker by Irrational Designs is very similar to Squadron Strike. It is a tabletop starship combat game that can be played with cardboard counters on a hex map or with starship miniatures on the table. Charles Oines does offer Voidstriker ship miniatures at his Shapeways store, but you can use whatever miniatures you have.
The difference is that Voidstriker reduces the level of detail somewhat in order to make the game quicker to play and to handle larger numbers of ships. It is still very scientifically accurate. It includes a ship construction system sufficiently elastic to accommodate most media SF combat starships, or to create your own unique ships. The rulebooks, playing maps, and plastic starships are all available as separate units,
so the player can only purchase just what they need.
For fun, designer Charles Oines made the good ship Rocinante from The Expanse into Voidstriker terms:
Tachi Class Gunship ("Rocinante") Off: 224, Def: 212, Msc: 226, CV: 221 Hull Data 12 Hulls (8 UDST, 2 Fuel, 1 Misc, 1 Magazine). Target Size 0. Armor: 16 (6/6/4). Structure: 12 (6/6). CRRMA A UAAAA A Frame: 3 Fuel: 112 pts., 28 burns. Troops: 2 Squads. Cargo: 30, Supply: 9, Endurance: 3 months. Gadgets 6 Weapon Concealment (PD guns) 2 Chaff Pods (def) Performance 6 Actions. High Powered Std Reaction Thrusters. Thrust Ratio: 2/1. No Jump Engine Weapons 6 Single Point Defense Guns, concealed (D)(2All, 2FPA, 2FSA) 2 Torpedo Tubes (20 Light long-range torpedoes)?
Charles Oines also had some thoughts about implementing heat radiators in the game:
Voidstriker Heat, the totally untested basics:
Doing things (actions, in other words) adds to your onboard heat, radiators disperse it. At a base level, actions produce 0, 1 or 2 points of heat based on how energetic those actions are. Radiators disperse heat during the record keeping phase. Ideally, most ships will run hot when doing fun stuff and cool down when doing boring stuff. If your heat after dispersal is over your actions, you lose the difference in actions until your heat is down again. Thus, if a ship with 4 actions is stuck with 6 heat at the end of the turn, it'll only have 2 actions next turn.
Radiators fit into medium, heavy and main hardpoints and disperse 1, 2, and 4 heat respectively.
Nods to realism: reactionless drives generate more heat than reaction drives do. Dumping remass could reduce heat. Having an action specifically to disperse heat should probably be there too — maybe it burns out a radiator but gets rid of 2x the radiator's usual heat dispersal. Overheated ships easier to get target lock on?
Nods to superscience: Shields up affects cooling? Impellers can flush the heat toilet into hyperspace?
High Frontier (Buy) (review) (review) is a paper-and-cardboard tabletop wargame where the players are corporations competing to industrialize space. It also gives science fiction writers and other interested persons a way to plot orbital transfers between various locations in the solar system, without requiring calculus. The basic game gives you command of the inner solar system, the expansion pack gives you the rest. Mr. Eklund is a real live scientist, the game is breathtakingly scientifically accurate. And a lot fun to boot!
Having said that, be warned that this is a game about rocket science, it ain't checkers in space. There is a learning curve. On the plus side, the rocket science is handled by the game components. Players will be OK as long as they know how to add and subtract.
And just because this game is only about prospecting and industry does NOT mean it is boring. Quite the opposite, there will be plenty of white-knuckle moments. Read the game session reports below if you don't believe me.
Any science fiction author writing on the topic of exploring and industrializing the solar system can readily create a historical background with impressive scientific accuracy by merely playing a few games and taking notes. The explanations of the various technologies in the game are in the appendix, and are almost worth the price of the game.
You may be interested in these lurid and cinematic game session reports:
- Cubes of DOOM (warning NSFW language)
- 21 years on Mars, a tragedy in three parts
- "My God, it's full of stars!" and Other Things Screamed Out the Bunghole (warning NSFW language)
Mr. Eklund had given his permission for a VASSAL module of High Frontier 1st Edition. VASSAL is a computerized game engine for building and playing online adaptations of board games and card games. It allows users to play in real time over a live Internet connection (in addition to playing by email). It runs on all platforms (at least the ones that support Java), and is free for personal use. You can download it here. You will, however, need a copy of the rules from the boardgame in order to play. In his online store, Mr. Eklund says the rules are available for free in the files section of the High Frontiers Yahoo Group.
There are some useful third-party game aids, tutorials, lists of the various rocket propulsion systems, lists of good places for prospecting in the solar system, and game variants available for download at BoardGameGeek. In particular I recommend the Instructions and Variants document. The game rulebook is confusing and unclear, with the information needed to perform the various game tasks fragmented and scattered. The Instructions and Variants is much more lucid, with all the information for each task gathered in a single location. Plus it includes several amusing scenarios. My personal favorite is the 2001 scenario, recreating the events and hardware in the novels 2001 A Space Odyssey and 2010 Odyssey Two.
In 2013 Mr. Eklund came out with the High Frontier Colonization Expansion (2nd edition) for High Frontier. It takes up where the first one left off. The solar system map is expanded out to Pluto, each player is based on a Bernal sphere in various strategic locations, and a host of new technologies (all based on reality and scientifically accurate) have been introduced.
In 2017 Mr. Eklund came out with High Frontier 3rd Edition. This includes the first edition combined with the Colonization expansion plus the Interstellar expansion.
Ray McVay of Blue Max Studios is the creator of the incredible Black Desert role-playing game. As his bio states he is a game designer specializing in hard science fiction spacecraft and world building. Take it from me, he is doing it right, his science is good and hard (I should know). You may have noticed that I included his brilliant expansion of the "Mission Control" model here on this website.
Ray McVay says "Will Draw Spacecraft for Food...", meaning that he is open for spacecraft art commissions.
In December of 2016 Blue Max studio released their first issue of LAUNCH WINDOW. The publication features hard-science stories along with the additional information allowing it to be used with Role Playing Games. It was specifically designed to be used with the Cepheus Engine (a refinement of the classic Traveller RPG) but can be adapated to any of the huge family of OpenD6 RPGs.
Since this is Blue Max studios we are talking about here, the science in the stories is hard. Diamond hard.
LET FREEDOM RING: This is a tight near-future story about the adventures of the Repo ship Annabelle Li and her intrepid crew. Literally "her" crew, because the ship is the physical body of the artifical intelligence Annabelleli.ind. The ship receives a seemingly straightforward repo job on the ship Lady Libby of Antioch, but of course "seemingly" is the operative word.
Hard-science goodies include the economy of laser launch installations, armature drones controlled by Annabelle Li with power/data sockets instead of feet, and genetically engineered gorillas.
Game goodies include Cepheus Engine game stats for the major characters, including Annabelle Li.
STAR MORPHS are a set of geomorphic starship deck plan hex maps for use with RPGs. Included are several encounter tables to surprise the game players.
GONE! AT 7 KM/S is an article about interplanetary repo companies in general and Recoveries Ltd. in particular. This is the repo company the Annebelle Li works for. Included is the company's history, business model, and Cepheus Engine game stats for the major characters. Including Kenny Winchell.
STARGOSY is a far-future story set in an interstellar empire with an Egyptian flare to it. While it has the obligatory non-science FTL starships, it otherwise is quite scientific.
Of special notice is the ramifications of "forking" technology, where individuals can be duplicated. Such people have numbers in front of their names to indicate which copy they are: e.g., 2Newman, 3Newman, 4Newman.
As with the other story, game goodies include game stats for the major characters and ship diagrams.
NIBUUS CLUSTER CLASS-3 PINNACE is an article about a small combat shuttle common in the Stargosy universe. Ship details, full Cepheus Engine game stats, and ship diagrams are included.
HICHIKARS SPECIES is a tongue-in-cheek article about an alien species based on the novel Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. With full game stats of course.
They said: "The story of a lone crew’s struggle against the omnipresent dangers of space as society collapses around them. In a beautiful way, this game turned a lot of common tabletop paradigms on their head, resulting in a science-fiction game that makes the player feel like are truly part of the universe. It’s character and setting creation really blew us away, to say nothing of its other well designed mechanics. If you are at all a fan of science fiction, this game is worth a long look." Kind of like a depressing version of The Martian.
I too think it is extraordinary, and not just because the author included a kind word for my website.
Just look at the gorgeous spacecraft illustration they did. It has all the right stuff! A ship's spine with hab module at one end and the nuclear engine at the other. Up and down oriented along the thrust axis! Heat radiators! Heat radiators trimmed to stay inside the shadow shield! Propellant tanks trimmed to stay inside the shadow shield!
That's scientific accuracy!
Children of a Dead Earth is a breathtakingly scientifically accurate space combat computer game by Zane Mankowski, available on Steam for Windows and Macintosh.
Reading the scientific details on the developers log will quickly show you that Mr. Mankowski's attention to detail is astonishing (actually you should read the developer's log even if you have no interest in the game). Of course what immediately got my attention was the presence of heat radiators, which is all too often overlooked. But there is so much more!
Other games cut corners by calculating orbital trajectories using the inaccurate Patched Conic Approximation, this game goes full NASA and uses an N-Body Simulator. This means (unlike other games) it handles hyperbolic orbits and Lagrange points.
During combat, the mass balance of the ships are recalculated as the propellant tanks are emptied, since this alters how the ship will tumble when torqued. A railgun accelerates its armature based on numerical integration of force equations. Spacecraft design section allows user to tweak everything from the stoichiometric mixture ratio of the bipropellant rockets to the armature and rail dimensions of railguns. When your arclamp pumps your solid state laser, the pumping bands are going to have to match up with the actual emission spectra of your excitation gas. When the photon absorption of a material is needed, it is derived from actual refractive index spectra data.
This game has not been released yet, but is currently live on Kickstarter. Check it out! I am most impressed, and not just because the developers study this website closely. They also monitor the Tough SF site and enjoyed Children of a Dead Earth.
However, they are hereby awarded the Atomic Rocket seal of approval for their focus on hard science. And not just physics, they use military science as well. The user interface designer stresses that his designs have to be run past not only scientific experts, but military ones as well.
There are no silly skiffy tropes like technobabble force shields, only things that have survived online debates by the scientific community. They actually hired an engineer to check the math. The game designers are proud that they got into the true nitty-gritty details of how a combat spacecraft is put together.
This means they had to do a deep analysis of strategy, since almost none of the other spacecraft combat games strategies could be used.
I am looking forward to this one.
Kerbal Space Program (wiki) is a jaw-droppingly amazing educational computer program (Windows, Macintosh, Linux; requires a 2.0 GHz dual core cpu to run well) that teaches astronautics and space exploration. Do not be fooled by the cute little green men, this game will painlessly teach you some serious spacecraft and mission design. Not to mention piloting. Science fiction authors please take note.
The scientific details are just as hard as in Orbiter (see below), but presented in a far more entertaining fashion. Plus the graphics are astonishing, even with the dorky green men. Don't take my word for it, watch the trailer below.
The demo game is free, and the full game is a bargain.
And just like Orbiter, there are clever people making "mods" (new spaceship parts) and "add-ons" (plug-in calculators to make the pilot's life easier). if you are clever, you can make some as well. Unlike Orbiter, some of the mods are weapons.
Currently the game is only a "sandbox". That is, there is no goal, there is no "boss battle", you are just playing for your own amusement. (Late breaking news, while sandbox mode is still available, they have added a "career mode") Paradoxically this makes the game incredibly addictive. There is always the temptation to try "just one more" new twist on an old rocket design. Players invent personal challenges, like creating elaborate space station designs then trying to figure out how to boost all the components into orbit. There are a few game scenarios, which are like elaborate puzzles. Check out the Rendezvous With Roche scenario, and
Sir Jodelstein's attempted solution. And the KSP devs promise that eventually there will be a "career mode" for the game.
What amazes me is how this addictive little game teaches the players how to think about astronautics intuitively. You may not know the equations, but you'll soon learn to know at a gut level what will work, what will not, and what is sort of risky.
This is very important for science fiction writers who want their astronautics to be accurate. Trying to cram space flight facts into your head probably will not work very well. If one instead just plays KSP for a while, you will instinctively know what will and will not work. That is, you'll know it fast enough so it will not interfere with you creating the plot or otherwise derailing your creative process. You will also learn such useful facts as the bare minimum of spacecraft pilot controls consists of only a throttle, rotation/translation controls, a NavBall, and a solar system map. If you perform some orbit to orbit maneuvers, you will learn why astrogators are so obsessive about the accuracy of their chronometers. Mistiming your transfer burns can have serious consequences.
A player named GreatBeast666 wrote how after playing the game for a while and creating more and more complicated rockets, he suddenly came to notice the need for a fuel-station in space. Now here on my website, I have mentioned the need for orbital propellant depots. However, trying to teach somebody a concept by talking at them will often result in their eyes glazing over and the concept will just ricochet off their brain. Discovering the concept on their own results in knowledge they will never forget. The need for orbital depots is nowhere mentioned in the game, it is an emergent behaviour that results from accurately simulating the real-life problems faced by real-life rocket designers.
In orbital mechanics, it is a standard fact that "change of plane" maneuvers take a very large amount of delta v to perform, and most mission planners try to avoid them whenever possible to conserve fuel. Most students immediately forget that fact because it is boring. However, I read the lamentations of a KSP player. He had managed to get a Kerbal in a rocket into a polar orbit, then ran out of propellant. When it came to mounting a rescue mission, he suddenly found out the hard way that it was very very difficult designing a rocket capable of rescuing the Kerbal. Rockets launch into equitorial orbits, you need a change-of-plane to move into a polar orbit. The student has forgotten about the expense of change-of-plane maneuvers, because they never need that fact. But for the KSP player, having one's Kerbal trapped in orbit as one struggles trying to make a rescue rocket with enough delta V will sear the facts into your memory forever.
Kerbal mod-makers are also either inspired by NASA solutions or independently invent the same solutions because KSP presents them with identical problems. I have written about the advantages of in-situ resource utilization, a mod-maker named Majiir created the Kethane mod, which brings such resources to the game. NASA worked on the concept of a Wet workshop, which is the idea of using a spent rocket stage as a makeshift space station. KSP developer NovaSilisko is working on a mod to bring this useful idea into the game.
A father named Nikolai had been inspired by this Atomic Rocket website to try to make basics of rocket science understandable to kids (modest cough, he was impressed by this website's conversational and engaging writing style). He had tried teaching classes but they were less than successful due to lack of proper tools. And then he discovered KSP. It worked beyond his wildest dreams.
His daughter is eight years old. Think about that. This freaking computer game is so educational that a little girl taught herself rocket science just by playing. Granted her father had some input, but still. He could have placed her at this Atomic Rocket website and she would probably look at the pictures for twenty seconds, get bored, and then go somewhere else.
Mission To Mun A group of avid Kerbal Space Program fans wondered if you could launch a pilot to the Mun and back using maths rather than the in-flight orbital planning. The pilot flies upstairs, locked in cabin-view (IVA) while mission control directs him via skype downstairs. Hijinks ensue.
After playing with Kerbal Space Program for a while, and having more fun than a human being should be allowed to have, I noticed a lack. In the game, you construct your rocket out of components. There was a nice selection of solid fuel rockets, liquid fuel rockets, an ion drive, and even a NERVA like solid core nuclear thermal rocket.
But the Orion nuclear pulse rocket was conspicuous by its absence.
I searched the mods made by other players, but there was no Orion. That was odd, there were mods for almost everything else. I searched the forums. There I found that there had been quite a few attempts, but none of them made it to a workable form. Which showed that players wanted one, but it was too difficult to make. Orion propulsion does not operate like other rockets, the Kerbal engine is not set up to handle it. One would have to write from scratch an Orion engine handler.
In the same spirit that led me to create this Atomic Rocket website, I got that stubborn "well FINE!" look in my eye, and decided to write my own. Once again there was something I really wanted, the experts on the topic were not interested in creating it, so I was forced to do it myself.
It did not matter that I barely knew how to play the game, and knew nothing about making mods or programming in the C# language. I knew enough of the game, was already skilled at making mesh models with Blender 3D, and C# had a similar syntax to C++ and other languages I did know. What I didn't know how to do I would simply just have to learn.
But the point was that the author of the Atomic Rockets website was going to have his Atomic Rocket mod, come hell or high water.
It has taken me about a month, but the mod is close to being finished. So, there.
You can follow some of my trials and tribulations in this forum thread.
The big break-through came from a gentleman who goes by the handle NovaSilisko. He was such a good mod-maker that the Kerbal team hired him. He had been working on his own Orion plug-in before he was hired, and he gifted me with the source code. It still sits at the core of my plug-in, though heavily modified and with other functionality added.
Programming the plug in was a matter of trial and error. Mostly error.
One of the trials resulted in a most amusing error. The idea was that one of the ways the Orion is different from a conventional rocket is how it shocks the entire spacecraft, instead of giving a steady pressure. So I programmed the plug-in to instantaneously transmit the shock of each nuclear explosive to all the other parts of the spacecraft. Therefore a spacecraft with inadequate bracing would get shaken to pieces.
This worked well enough with the 1 kiloton bombs, but was giving some problem with the 5 and 15 kiloton. On the launch pad I tried a 15 kt bomb, the jolt made the control cabin shoot off the engine like an atomic powered champagne cork. It made an altitude of about five thousand meters before plummeting to its doom. Meanwhile the engine, bereft of a cockpit, made an altitude of about two meters before it crashed. I tried again after tying down the control cabin with numerous struts to no avail. Well, that was not acceptable.
In an attempt to fix this, I changed the programming from ForceMode.Force to Forcemode.Impulse. That was the trial, boy was it an error.
On the launch pad I tried a 15 kiloton bomb. The jolt kicked the rear of the cockpit.
The cockpit detached and made the jump to lightspeed! Blasted thing was moving so howling fast it developed a plasma sheath. It was burning up in atmospheric reentry in reverse. The apogee was 92,000 freaking meters!
So I went back to the drawing board and found another way to fix the problem. Of course I fully expect some other evil KSP modder to take this phenomenon and weaponize it.
I threw in some fun effects as well. There are several types of bomb so one can customize the load-out to fit the delta-V requirements of a given mission. Each bomb burst illuminates the surroundings like a camera strobe. Other ships that are close to the blast are given a savage shove (an aircraft parked within 300 meters of the launch pad was blown clear over the horizon). Other ships that are too close are merely destroyed. This can come in handy when clearing orbital debris (I had to tone it down when a tester inadvertently blew up an asteroid). But you had better equip your Orion spacecraft with an auxiliary propulsion system if you want to dock to another spacecraft or space station. You do NOT want to dock to a station using a propulsion system that utilizes nuclear explosives. Not if you care about the station.
Most importantly, I made the plug-in "data-driven". This means that users can make their own Orion parts without having to do any computer programming. Non-programmers can customize their new ship parts by simply editing the text configuration file, instead of having to actually reprogram my plug-in. All the important customizable bits are controlled by the data in the text file, not hard-coded in the software. However as per the Kerbal rules, the source code of my plug-in is supplied with the mod, for security purposes. So any programmer who does wants to play with the code can do so.
I did find some valuable insights into Orion spacecraft by actually playing with the mod in the game. The bomb magazines are exceedingly dense, you need lots of attitude control jets in order to turn this monster. And even then it maneuvers like a pregnant hippo. But when you use the engine, it has shocking amounts of thrust and delta-V. Extended space missions that strain the limits of chemical rockets are trivially easy with the Orion. This is true in the real world as well, it is just that in the game the Kerbals did not sign a nuclear test ban treaty in 1963. The Kerbals are also immune to the dire effects of radiation as well. Immune to g forces as well, it is disturbing to see the g meter jolt from zero to 20g and back every second.
The response I've gotten to the creation of my mod is generally along the lines of "OMG! I'VE WANTED AN ORION MOD EVER SINCE I GOT THE GAME!" Although there are a smattering of players who complain that the texturing I've applied to the Orion does not match the other stock parts. For them, I've supplied information with the mod to allow them to alter the texture to their heart's content.
Warning: computer programming geek speak to follow. if you are not interested in the details, skip to the pictures below.
Modeling the engine in Blender was relatively easy. Doing the pusher-plate animation was not too hard. Learning to program in C# was not a challenge. Writing the plug-in was a nightmare because the programmers of Kerbal have not gotten around to writing full documentation for the Kerbal API (they are concentrating their efforts on finishing programming the game, as is right and proper). The only way to figure out how to do anything is by sifting through the on line forums, examining other mod's code, and asking lots of questions. And by doing lots of trial and error.
To keep my sanity, I had to set up a SVN source control system, a Bugzilla bug tracker, and a crude homebrew build manager made of Python scripts. This let me revert to prior working versions when the latest trial resulted in error, keep track of testers bug reports, and automate the complicated process of assembling all the little pieces into a working mod. But I was going to have my Orion. Blast it.
I rent my SVN and Bugzilla space from SVN Repository dot com.
And thanks to the many playtesters, including but not limited to Canopus (first test pilot for Project Orion), SufficientAnonymity, Markarian421, s20dan, Vaccer, Mecha Pants, Rune, lyndonguitar, zirgon, mushroomman, khyron42, Fyrem, czokletmuss, Leonov, and hoojiwana.
Like I said: there are a couple of odd bugs, but the bottom line is that I have my Orion mod.
He made a Kerbal scale Orion mod (based on my original mod) and improved it.
Well, this impressed the heck out of me.
This website you are reading is meant to help people to create cool stuff. I do the hard work to assemble the scientific details on various topics in the pious hope that somebody creative will use it to make something maginficent. Among these this is the infamous "Nuclear Lightbulb" rocket engine, and the LANTR solid core NTR with two "gears".
Both mods are beautiful pieces of work, scientifically accurate and artistically done as well. I am impressed!
The Orbiter Space Flight Simulator is a stunning computer program (for Windows only, alas) that allows the user to fly various spacecraft around the solar system. And there is a thriving community of cunning programmers making new spacecraft plug-ins for you to use (everything from the International Space Station to the Serenity from the TV show "Firefly"). If you too are cunning, you can create your own add-ons. And did I mention that the program was free?
I was amused that Steven Ouellette has created an add-on that duplicates the Rolling Stone from the Heinlein novel of the same name.
Independence War (store) is an amazing computer game (for Windows only, alas) that puts the player in command of a spacecraft that obeys hard-core Newtonian physics instead of silly Star Wars nonsense. You will quickly find that a combat spacecraft does not behave like a fighter jet. It is more like an over-loaded 18-wheeler at high speed on a freeway covered in black ice. The controls are interesting, and the linked scenarios are fascinating. At one point I was in a task force escaping from deep in enemy territory when my FTL drive was destroyed by a hit by enemy particle beam cannon. I thought I was dead, until I noticed a friendly repair ship with an invitingly large hangar bay. In desperation I swooped in, and was treated to a video cut-scene of my ship barely entering into the bay, scraping its belly in a shower of sparks.
I did find that it is much easier to play if you have one of those fancy joysticks with lots of triggers and hat switches. I was in a dog-fight when out of the corner of my eye I noticed a flicker behind my ship. I suddenly realized it was an enemy missile doing its best to fly up my tailpipe and vaporize me. If I had to search the keyboard for the "launch decoy flares" button I would have been doomed. Instead an instinctive flick upward on the left hatch switch fired off the decoy and saved my posterior.
The game is out of print but it is available for download from Good Old Games for about six dollars.
Mass Effect 2 is an award winning video game from Bioware. It was one of the titles in the book 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die. It appears that one of the developers was a fan of Ken Burnside's Attack Vector: Tactical and my Atomic Rocket website.
In the following video clip, "Serviceman Burnside" is apparently Ken Burnside, and "Serviceman Chung" is apparently me. A very nice Easter Egg, done with respect and admiration.
Developer John Gillespie is not fooling around. He wants this game to have plenty of scientific accuracy and is doing his homework. Including doing research by reading this website, which always gives me a warm glow inside. His combat spacecraft are not powered by prissy little ion drives, no they have brutal gas-core nuclear thermal rockets. And they are armed to the teeth. He draws his inspiration from novels like Ender's Game, Time for The Stars, and CJ Cherryh's Downbelow Station.
This looks like it is going to be good!