A spaceport is a way to increase the volume of interplanetary or interstellar transport. They can be locate inside space stations but the focus here is on planetary ground stations.

Note that if the booster vehicles are pathetic and weak (like current NASA chemical rockets), the spaceports will have to be located at specific lattitudes.

Often you will find both, with a planetary "LowPort" associated with an orbital space station "HighPort". The HighPort is for passengers/cargo (P&C) for which the planet is just a way-station, not the destination. No sense shipping P&C down then up an expensive gravity well for no reason. One cargo ship drop off P&C at the HighPort, P&C intended for the planet travels to the LowPort in shuttles, P&C in transit wait at the HighPort for their connecting flight to show up.

If the station services starships instead of interplanetary ships, it is often called a "starport".

Like any other living system, the internal operations of a spaceport can be analyzed with Living Systems Theory, to discover sources of interesting plot complications.

Their primary function is to do whatever is necessary to make it easier for spacecraft to bring cargo and/or passengers. They may be located at an economically worthless site which happens to be at a strategic location (cross-roads or junction). Or the site itself could be of economic interest. Please note that increasing the volume of transport does not necessarily mean all transport. A spaceport created by a large corporation might facilitate transport spacecraft belonging to that corporation, but charge large fees and otherwise put roadblocks in the way of ships belonging to rival corporations or to independent ships.

Note that the concept of a "junction" really only works with some kind of handwaving faster-than-light starship. Junctions make no sense in a star system where the various planets orbit at different rates. The arrangement of planets is constantly changing.

As with spacecraft and space stations, in a science fiction story a spaceport can become a character all by themselves. The obvious example is the great hive of scum and villainy which is Mos Eisley spaceport.

A good sourcebook for science fictional spaceports is the worldbook GURPS Traveller: Starports

Spaceports are also likely to have extensive medical facilities with special equipment for treating burn victims (survivors of crashed chemically fueled rockets) or radiation exposure victims (survivors of crashed nuclear fueled rockets), or both. If the spaceport services starships from alien ecosystems, there will be quarantine facilities as well.


If the spaceport is located inside a sovereign nation, the grounds of the port might be legally still territorially part of the nation. But parts of the port could be designated as customs areas and surrounded by a customs border.

In addition, the grounds of the port might be considered "extraterritorial": legally it is not territorially part of the nation. Much like the grounds of a foreign embassy. This is usually seen when the planetary government is part of a larger interstellar Federation or Union. The planetary government might still be self-governing, but the spaceport grounds are legally the territory of the all-powerful Federation. So respect their borders or the planetary government might suddenly find it is no longer self-governing.

If a cargo spacecraft is carrying items that are contraband inside the customs area (not just contraband outside the custom area), the ship will have to use its internal embargo locker. The contraband is placed inside the locker and it is sealed by the spaceport custom authorities (not the planetary custom authorities) for the duration of the ship's stay at the port.


      Two days out of Dunsany Roads the captain passed the word about customs inspection. Because Dunsany was a Confederation system and not corporately owned, we had to go through an inspection exercise with the local authorities before we could leave the ship. A section in the back of the Handbook explained customs declarations and the kind of goods we were prohibited from taking into Confederation ports.
     Pip and I sat on the mess deck after lunch and I asked, “What do you do if you have something that’s prohibited? It’s kinda late at this point to get rid of it.”
     “There’s an embargo locker down in main cargo. We put anything we don’t want to be considered in the inspection in there before we dock. The customs people put a tell-tale on the locker so that they know if it’s opened while we’re docked. Anything in there stays put and that’s all they care about. Cargo manifests are easy to check and track and they just lock the prohibited cargo canisters to the ship. We can’t leave without them.”
     “Will they search the ship?”
     Pip chuckled. “I doubt it. It would take forever. Commercial carriers generally operate on the honor system. They make it easy for us to comply with their rules and regs and so we do it. Occasionally you hear of some small indie captain trying to smuggle stuff into a Confederation port, but it’s really not worth it.”
     “Ishmael?” He looked at me, a frown wrinkling his brow. “We’ve just traveled through five other systems where anything you wanted to sell was legal. Why take the risk on smuggling when you can sell it legitimately in the next system over?”
     “Oh,” I said.

From HALF SHARE by Nathan Lowell (2010)

(ed note: This is about the role playing game Traveller, but most of the unfamiliar terms can be figured out from the context)

      Traveller cannon does have several good publications about how Starports work, particularly John Ford's GT Starports. However, I am more interested in what the actual crossing is going to be like, how to relate the Starport to the local society, and my views on rules and regulations that exist in Starports. From the various sector books, I see three major kinds of Starports. On major worlds where the Imperium is a considered a benevolent presence, you have what I call a 'Ramstein' type port, where the locals and the Imperium mostly in harmony. Where the Starport is seen as a 'necessary evil', the Starport resembles 'Cold War Hong Kong'. Also, small Starports may be established to set up a claim to a territory, not unlike colonial St. Augustine, FL.

     What I'm calling a 'Ramstein' port is not unlike the US Ramstein Air Base in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany. It is a locality under control of a separate sovereignty, but a close relationship between the two is maintained. Frictional issues between the two are routine, and rarely end up shutting down the port. This is a gross oversimplification, as there will be issues between authorities. Roads and construction standards in the port conform to those in the surrounding area, and local symbols are displayed alongside those of the Imperium. The largest difference would be a mandatory use of Anglic on all signage. Otherwise, with languages, the Starport will use Anglic, and there is a high possibility the locals will have some understanding of Anglic, if it isn't the primary language While checks do exist crossing the line, they are more around ensuring authorized personnel come in and out, customs regulations would be applied inside the starport's lines for the most part, rather than at the line. Concessions in the port will do most of their business in Imperial Credits, but the local currency maybe used by some, particularly 'temporary' concessionaires, like the burger truck that stops by the tramp pad. Local currency, if used, can be bought and sold at fairly reasonable rates. This is the ideal for many worlds.

     A 'Cold War Hong Kong' port is one where the Imperium has an uneasy relationship with the world government for a multitude of reasons, such as local isolationism. One example is a large urban area is present inside the extraterritorial line, and the line is a heavy duty border. In some cases, the local authorities find the idea of a 'open commercial zone' useful in obtaining information and hard currency from off-world, and others, it is 'minimize cultural contamination" from offworld. Either result is similar, with a large scale startown, a hard line, and people wanting to cross it for a variety of reasons. Building and road standards maybe radically different, resulting in electrical goods from the Startown requiring extensive modifications to operate properly across the line. Linguistically, Anglic will be used for business and law in the enclave, but the local language may have be used as well, especially if there is a 'thaw' in relations. Currency will almost always be different across the line, and exchange rates will be rigged to reduce offworld purchasing power, unless you hit the black market...

     A 'colonial St. Augustine' port is an outpost of the Imperium. Small, mostly a garrison, and the presence is there to claim a location. The locals and the port community rarely acknowledge each other, and there may be turf wars if a sophont is a 'local' or an 'Imperial'. Money may not be that common, and if it's there, the preferred tender would be Imperial Credits, or whatever the garrison is paid in. Also, anything for a trader would be very difficult to find, as distant outposts rarely have trade goods worthwhile. There maybe other settlements, many of them a long distance away, or others hidden on the world. Remember, a planet is a very large place, and it would be possible to hide a society for a long period of time.

     In role-playing games, it seems players have an expectation of being able to take weapons wherever they please, and extraterritoriality often means Starports are assumed to have a low law-level. However, this wouldn't be much of the case. Generally, unless carried concealed, locked for transit, or authorized by the management, carrying of weapons is prohibited. This is mostly a safety measure, as a Starport with excessive violence is bad for business. An example of authorized carry would be a Mercenary officer assigned to work with the security force while his unit is on liberty. The mere act of transportation, such as a hunter on a safari expedition, is guaranteed through Imperial Commerce Regulations. Also, most Starports from Class C up do have at least one 'Outdoor Equipment' concession, that offers a wide variety of weapons, as well as more pedestrian survival equipment, that delivers inside the line, with containers sealed and ready for transport. The Starport Authority has an extensive corpus of laws and regulations built up over millennia, with commentaries available when needed. Generally, there is a procedure available for any situation, up to, and including doomsday incidents. As for goods import, ships and containers 'under seal' and transiting can carry almost anything. However, the Imperium does frown upon importing things that threaten life on world, generally, if it would cause death and destruction on world, the Starport may even ban a craft from landing. Remember the first rule: does it make sense at the gaming table?

     These are just some connected ideas I have had on Starports. There are some that are part of but separate from the worlds they are on, some that are barely tolerated, and some that are staking a claim. I also gave a few thoughts on how I see Starports run, particularly with respect to weapons laws. These gateways to adventure are places to run adventures out of, as much as the class fantasy gaming tavern.


Sometimes, in a effort to encourage economic development, a spaceport can be a free trade zone.

Of course if the planet has an oppressive government and is full of people eager to flee, the spaceport is likely to be surrounded by the futuristic equivalent of the Berlin Wall, complete with barbed-wire, machine gun nests, spotlights, and ferocious guard dogs. The guns will be pointed outward away from the port, instead of pointed inward towards the port.

Spaceports located near an impending war zone could start to resemble Casablanca. Spaceports that are Pirate Haven might resemble the fictitious depictions of the pirate stronghold of Tortuga or Port Royal. The difference is that Tortuga was pro-pirate while Port Royal was officially anti-pirate but unofficially it would look the other way and ask no embarrassing questions in exchange for a cut of the ill-gotten gains.


(ed note: Jason and Kerk are on the planet Cassylia, and have just won millions of credits at the state-owned casino. The government of Cassylia has sent soldiers to arrest them on trumped-up charges so as to recover the loot. But Kerk had planned for this. It seems that a starship registered at another planet is considered to be sovereign territory, much like a diplomatic embassy. And the planet Darkban has a major grudge against the planet Cassylia)

      “Climb over the buckled wire and make a run for the ship,” he (Kerk) shouted.
     If there was any doubt what he meant, he set Jason an example of fine roadwork. It was inconceivable that someone of his bulk could run so fast, yet he did. He moved more like a charging tank than a man. Jason shook the fog from his head and worked up some speed himself. Nevertheless, he was barely halfway to the ship when Kerk hit the gangway. It was already unhooked from the ship, but the shocked attendants stopped rolling it away as the big man bounded up the steps.
     At the top he turned and fired at the soldiers who were charging in through the open gate. They dropped, crawled, and returned his fire. Very few shot at Jason’s running form.
     The scene in front of Jason cranked over in slow motion. Kerk standing at the top of the ramp, coolly returning the fire that splashed all about. He could have found safety in an instant through the open port behind him. The only reason he stayed there was to cover Jason.
     “Thanks,” Jason managed to gasp as he made the last few steps up the gangway, jumped the gap and collapsed inside the ship.
     “You’re perfectly welcome,” Kerk said as he joined him, waving his gun to cool it off.

     A grim-jawed ship’s officer stood back out of range of fire from the ground and looked them both up and down. “And just what the hell is going on here,” he growled.
     Kerk tested the barrel with a wet thumb, then let the gun slide back into its holster. ‘We are law-abiding citizens of a different system who have committed no criminal acts. The savages of Cassylia are too barbarous for civilized company. Therefore we are going to Darkban — here are our tickets — in whose sovereign territory I believe we are at this moment” This last was added for the benefit of the Cassylian officer who had just stumbled to the top of the gangway and was raising his gun.
     The soldier couldn’t be blamed. He saw these badly wanted criminals getting away. Aboard a Darkban ship as well. Anger got the best of him and he brought his gun up.
     “Come out of there, you scum! You’re not escaping that easily. Come out slow with your hands up or I’ll blast you…”

     It was a frozen moment of time that stretched and stretched without breaking. The pistol covered Kerk and Jason. Neither of them attempted to reach for their own guns.
     The gun twitched a bit as the ship’s officer moved, then steadied back on the two men. The Darkhan spaceman hadn’t gone far, just a pace across the lock. This was enough to bring him next to a red box set flush with the wall. With a single, swift gesture, he flipped up the cover and poised his thumb over the button inside. When he smiled, his lips peeled back to show all of his teeth. He had made up his mind, and it was the arrogance of the Cassylian officer that had been the deciding factor.
     “Fire a single shot into Darkhan territory and I press this button,” he shouted. “And you know what this button does—every one of your ships has them as well. Commit a hostile act against this ship and someone will press a button. Every control rod will be blown out of the ship’s pile at that instant and half your filthy city will go up in the explosion.” His smile was chiseled on his face and there was no doubt he would do what he said. “Go ahead, fire. I think I would enjoy pressing this.”

     The takeoff siren was hooting now, the close lock light blinking an angry message from the bridge. Like four actors in a grim drama, they faced each other an instant more.
     Then the Cassylian officer, growling with unvoicable, frustrated anger, turned and leaped back to the steps.

From DEATHWORLD by Harry Harrison (1960)

Also keep in mind that if a planet is invaded, the spaceports are prime targets. If the port can be captured (without being damaged), it will can be used to land large numbers of invading ground troops. It also might be the only way to get the invading troops off the planet. So the invaders will be very careful not to damage the spaceport, otherwise they might be stranded.

The planet knows this as well. If it is worried about invasion the spaceports will also be built up like a minor or major planetary fortresses. Actually, if the spaceport has spacecraft laser launchers or cargo mass drivers, it already is a planetary fortress. A launch laser or mass driver powerful enough to boost huge masses into orbit can smash a combat starship like a sledge-hammer hitting a cockaroach.

If there is a planetary disaster, spaceports will suddenly be thrust into the role of operational center. After all, it will be the source of all off-planet support.

If the planetary spaceport is located on a habitable planet, the port does not have to worry about the Three Generation Rule like space stations do. If the technological civilization falls, people can still breath. Otherwise the planetary spaceport is in the same boat as a space habitat.

Some spaceports are oriented more towards handling cargo, others more for passenger service. In older science fiction Terra's largest starport is always located in New York City, even though it makes more sense to locate a port on the equator for delta V reasons.

When a ship is landed, and still manned, the central control is generally shifted from the control or flight deck to another part of the ship, called a quarterdeck. In a merchant spacecraft, this will probably be somewhere in the cargo hold. The watch officer and their staff will be found in the quarterdeck. It will have repeaters for the critical system monitors, for use by the watch officer.

In "wet navy" ships, the quarterdeck is merely the area just inboard of the crew hatch, where visitors are received aboard.


They had taken Moses Callahan's ship and turned it into paper.

A man lived on his ship. He breathed her air, ate and drank from her stores. Her bulkheads solid around him kept the uncaring vacuum outside where it belonged and her driving engines bent the very curvature of space to take him wherever he wanted to go.

But then he had to land. . . .

Suddenly all that breathing and eating became a life-support replenishment invoice. Those protecting bulkheads hid structural support members that had to be inspected and recertified by a licensed and commensurately expensive naval surveyor. Engines became fuel costs and a ten-thousand-hour service charge. Then there were berth fees, entry fees, value-added tax on cargo transactions, customs "courtesy" fees, outright bribes to the longshoremen's union—and Moses Callahan wound up sitting in the deepest corner of the Hybreasil inport bar complex, wondering whether to have another beer or have his good uniform cleaned and pressed before heading outport to try to unearth a cargo Celtic Crescent or Western Galactic might have overlooked.

From THE SHATTERED STARS by Richard McEnroe, 1983

Today’s question for Dr. Science is, “What are starports for? Lots of starships call at my hab, and we don’t have one.”

Starports and starships have surprisingly little to do with one another.

If there were only starships and drifts, and perhaps the odd rock, we’d have no need of starports. The starships could simply pull up alongside their destinations and shift their cargo about with longshorebots and lighter OTVs and a few stout lads working out of docks and locks. Running a few insulated lines would take care of fueling, and in this scenario, no doubt the passengers — spacers all — would be happy enough to take a walk over. And outside local space, no-one cares where you heave to.

No, starports exist because the galaxy is full of planets, and because large numbers of people are perverse enough to want to live on them. (See my earlier column, Yes, They Store Their Air On The Outside (And Why We Can’t).)

They do have lots of facilities for starships associated with them — cageworks, chandlers, refueling depots, orbital warehouses, freight transshipment nodes, and suchlike — because it’s often convenient to keep them together in a central location, and because it helps pay the bills. But what starports are actually for is solving the interface problem.

One of the less believable realities of space travel is that — on most highly populated worlds, other than a few moons — the depth of the gravity well and the thickness of the atmosphere is such that it takes every bit as much delta-v to climb from the surface into orbit and as it does to make transit between a system’s worlds. The depth of the well and the passage through the atmosphere impose even more constraints on the structural strength and hull forms of starships, in ways that handicap them for operation in the space environment; most starships that are in operation today could neither support their own weight at the bottom of a planetary well, nor withstand the rigors of atmosphere entry. The need to transport freight and passengers between these two disparate environments is the essence of the aforementioned interface problem.

And so starports straddle this line, possessing both a dirtside half (the Down, or downport) and an orbital half (the Orbital, or highport), each composed of a variety of specialized facilities in close formation. The Orbital houses many starship service facilities, but the majority of its business is transferring freight and passengers to and from its counterpart. Except for relatively new colonies and those worlds with the wealth and traffic volume to support a space elevator (or more than one; Seranth has six elevators supporting its ring-city), this falls into a familiar pattern.

Freight is simple enough. Some worlds opt for pure mass-driver launch facilities, and some prefer laser-launchers, but wherever it can, the Imperial Starport Authority prefers to opt for the maximal efficiency of a hybrid system. Should you visit the freight terminal of any major downport, you’ll find it rather unimpressive in itself, despite the sheer size of the building, because it is merely the front end of an enormous mass driver — miles in length! — or array of mass drivers, ending at the peak of a mountain high enough to get the muzzle of the drivers above the thickest part of the planetary atmosphere — and if no mountain is conveniently located for the starport architects, an artificial one will be constructed for the purpose. Around the muzzle of the mass driver, a complex of gigawatt-range phased-array pulse lasers provides additional power and control.

Every few seconds, a freight container is taken from the outgoing queue, and locked into place within a reusable aeroshell, which provides both the streamlining necessary to penetrate the atmosphere, and ablative remass for the latter part of its flight. This aeroshell is then loaded into the mass driver and accelerated up to orbital velocities, with the mountaintop array selectively lasing the ablative remass (pulsed plasma propulsion) to provide guidance and additional delta-v as needed. (The degree to which it is needed varies by cargo: heavy hardbulk can withstand high accelerations, and as such most of the acceleration can be provided by the efficient mass driver, whereas more delicate cargoes require gentler acceleration for longer, and thus proportionately more of the total delta-v is provided by the lasers.) Upon its arrival in orbit, the aeroshell is caught by the muzzle of another, rather smaller, mass driver, this time operating in reverse, and converting the aeroshell’s residual kinetic energy back into electrical energy. Once it has been braked into the receiving station, the aeroshell is stripped off and sent for reconditioning and refueling, while the container is dispatched to the incoming queue, and thence to the appropriate orbital warehouse.

Ground-bound freight follows the reverse process, being accelerated by the small orbital mass driver onto a re-entry trajectory targeted upon the muzzle of its groundside partner; on its way down through the atmosphere (it is designed to be stable stern-down for reentry), the laser array and ablative remass are again called upon to provide guidance and, if necessary, additional deceleration. Plunging into the barrel of the mass driver, the reverse process is again used to brake it to a stop at the freight terminal, where the aeroshell is again stripped off and reconditioned, and the container routed onward to its final destination.

These systems are often operated in pairs, enabling the efficiency of using the captured gravitational potential energy of freight moving downwell — captured by the mass driver to the greatest extent that engineering and thermodynamics permits — to partially power the ascent of upwell freight. As you can imagine, a pair of these systems sending and receiving containers every few seconds, every hour of the day, every day of the week, can move an awful lot of freight!

Passengers, though, are more fragile than most freight. (And rather less comfortable stepping into the breech of Heaven’s Own Sluggun, whatever the numbers might say.) They prefer to travel on shuttles, vehicles specifically designed to cope with the interface problem — with all that atmosphere in the way, you can’t just hop in a commutersphere or ride a candle!

But atmospheres aren’t all bad news. Given the depth of a planet’s well, you might expect that the shuttles would have to be huge lumbering ships to carry all the remass they needed to climb up to orbit; but since they spend so much time in atmosphere, they can use the atmosphere itself as remass, and only carry the little they need for the very end of their journey. Most shuttles have trimodal nuclear engines. They start out as simple tilt-turbine ducted fans when they leave the ground, until they can achieve the speed and altitude necessary to start using their reactors to heat the air directly, becoming nuclear-thermal scramjets, and this mode carries them up through hypersonic speeds to the very edge of space. At this point, before the air becomes too thin for them to function, they switch over to using their internal supply of remass, becoming true nuclear-thermal rockets until they dock with the highport and deliver their passengers. Refueling there, they land again using the same engine modes in the reverse order, and the cycle repeats.

It’s ironic, then, that the features most commonly associated with starports in the public mind — the enormous graphite-and-cerametal pads with their massive hidden cradles, the blast-deflecting berms, the “hot” shafts with their billowing wash-down sprays, and so forth — are those dating back to an earlier age of space, when planets truly were the center of civilization and mighty ships rose heavenwards on pillars of atomic fire, now sadly reduced to a minority of any starport’s business, handling a few special loads, private yachts, and those small tramp traders which service early colonies and outposts that cannot yet afford full starports of their own. But even they share this one commonality: a need to get to and from the planetary surface.

In the end, they’re all about the planets.

Dr. Science

- from Children’s Science Corner magazine


“Expecting guests with nowhere for them to park? Embarrassing when you’re a host. Expensive when you’re a business. Excruciating when you’re a planet.

“Fortunately, as long as you’ve got a scrap of bare rock to set a shuttle down upon, we have the answer. Hire one of our Portal-class mobile highports today, offering luxurious docking, interface, transshipment, space-traffic control and chandlery services, and see your problem solved… instantly1!

“1. Transit time constraints notwithstanding. Extra fees may apply for emerging markets or regions currently engaged in conflict or piracy.”

– from an Ellore Modular Industries, ICC, interactive advertisement

The Portal-class mobile highport is exactly what its name implies: a complete orbital starport, custom-designed to operate efficiently in conjunction with only very limited downport facilities (or even nothing but airports available), designed to be movable between planets and systems as demand requires.

The Portal is built on a conventional frame: a cylindrical hull with rounded ends, sporting a pair of counter-rotating gravity wheels near its midsection. As can be expected from an Ellore product, it is largely modular: its permanent features are limited to the gravity wheels (containing parks, hydroponics, and living quarters), an axial utility core containing engineering and command elements, a large toroidal fuel tank assembly wrapped around the core, and small craft docking facilities at each end of the cylinder, one dedicated to interface vehicles and the other to orbital traffic. Working squadrons of Nelyn-class cutters, Lowari-class shuttles and Maw-class fuel skimmers accompany the highport.

The remainder of its volume is devoted to the modular segments, six of which connect in each section, terminating at the transpod shafts running along the outside of the fuel tank assembly. Various different combinations of modules, along with appropriate operating crew, can be installed as part of the lease to meet individual customer requirements: cageworks, cargo storage space, chandleries, internal berthing volume, large-vessel docking arms, passenger services – including concessions, hotels, lounges, and other amenities – and even defensive systems.

The Portal itself has no integral drive systems; it relies on an accompanying Hane-class superlifter (whose docking clamps surround the interface vehicle bay) for propulsion.

Ellore maintains a small fleet of Portals for lease, chiefly by worlds expecting a short-term increase in traffic (whether one-off, or regular, but insufficient to justify maintaining a largely idle permanent port) due to social events, harvest times or other seasonal traffic bursts, new discoveries susceptible to exploitation, disaster relief (for which the Imperial Emergency Management Authority and a number of eleemosynary organizations keep Portals on retainer), nth-wave colonization, and so forth. A few are also kept under contract to the Imperial Exploratory Service, which may be offered on long-term lease to particularly promising newly contacted worlds likely to generate substantial interstellar traffic over relatively short periods of time.


(ed note: This was written for the Traveller role playing game. So any unfamiliar terms are game terms, but should be easy to figure out from the context.)

      There is a sizable group of SF roleplayers who simplify their maps to the point of having two areas: starport and everywhere else. I'll admit that a lot of stuff starts and ends at starports. But this mentality also leads many people to think that systems put all their space traffic infra-structure in one location.

     Nonsense in most cases.

     I already made a case for outposts at nearby gas giants (for ships that want to gas and go but have other pressing needs.) Now I'm looking at the mainworld, the one that gets mentioned in the Atlas of the Imperium.

     High Guard (game rules) tells us that planetary navies may construct ships on their planet regardless of the existence of a shipyard using local resources which I could only take to mean that while a world might not have construction facilities for civilians it has other military facilities for building ships and projecting power. Note High Guard said 'ships' not craft (ship = FTL starship, craft = STL solar system boat) so the military could build starships for itself even if the economy doesn't exist for civilian construction. At the very least we have separate civilian and military facilities.

     A planet with Navy and Scout bases may have hundred or thousands of miles between them and the civilian port for security reasons. They don't have to be separated by a mere chainlink fence.

     But getting back to the civilian facilities, time in money in business. That doesn't end merely when you touch down. That crate of err … mining equipment (yeah mining equipment!) still needs to get from a port warehouse to your fortress … errr mining fortress, mining camp! In a widely settled planet several hub cities might have their own starports to service local business at savings in time and money.

     Megacorporations may also have their own ports (exclusively for their own ships thank you). When you blow a jump drive and the local port is only Type B and the Combine Shipping port is Type A that might be the time you're glad you got Forgery skill or Admin (We're here to hot ship a quark frakkalator to our Crystal Springs operation now! You were just stationed there and don't recognize us? See fellows I told you that misjump sent us back in time. Well at least we'll get there in record time, eh? Unhand me!! I am from the future!!) Your own port is also a great way to get a piece of almost everything being shipped locally.

     Some starports might also have higher law levels than zero and be subject to local laws. A military operated starport would probably be a bad place to lug a PGMP (military grade plasma weapon, civilian ownership is frowned upon) around. Likewise landing at a military port due to misfortune might result in your ship being impounded for security reasons and you being subjected to questioning or worse. Landing at a megacorporation's field might be the same or worse, just done more quietly. What's one less free trader?

     If a planet has orbital ports then the same considerations extend to them. It is possible different elements are specialized for greater efficiency or that the orbitals and the ground installations are under different management due to a power struggle or other politics. Land at one and the others won't accommodate you.

     So you might have a non-industrial planet, a tidally locked one. On the sunlit face gems are mined and brought to the local port for sale. Meanwhile there's a  trade in furs is going on at the arctic night side that's pretty brisk (see what I did there?) Another port is set up on the twilight terminator for tourism, government and military use. You can have three different ports with very different characters on the same planet (or spaceports YMMV). Military presence and customs is fairly loose at Nightport. Hunters need guns after all. Dayport has extensive repair facilities for mining equipment and might take a stab at repairing a ship's hull or structure thought the drives will likely require more sophisticated facilities. It also has the most stringent customs: jewels are easy to hide. Finally Grey Port has the most repair facilities and the largest commercial district.

     A port might be 'full' when your intrepid merchant gets there. this will require you to land at another port or spend time chilling in orbit. The other port is not where your contract specifies delivery so an overland and over night trip is needed or you pay late fees. Oh and that customs official, the one you dated, is stationed at the full up port. So good luck getting that laser pistol through customs. Not to mention your cargo.

     A size 8 plus world (surface gravity higher than 1 gee) might have only one port with launch assistance for ships making less than 2 gees acceleration. Or each port might have their own methods. Sure Port Delta has the lowest berthing fees and launch fees but your ship has to ride the rocket sled. Port Alpha has the space tugs that gently lift you to orbit. It's way easier on the high passengers.

     Some ports might have repulsor beams to lift ships or whole cargos into orbit. While repulsor beams in High Guard are fairly high tech level launch systems don't have to be. A repulsor defense system has to be able to hit a tiny missile at thousands of kilometers in the midst of a storm of ECM. A launch system has to lift a ship a few hundred kilometers and odds are the ship isn't dodging.

     A couple of starports is also a great way to introduce people to the many cultures of a single planet. A balkanized world might have several starports with different capabilities each in the hands of different powers. This can lead to any number of dilemmas. Say you have a cargo of 'pharmaceuticals' that is highly illegal in the nation that controls the starport with the landing pits that your tail lander needs to ground safely. Similarly some planets may have safety concerns and require ships with certain drives to land at remote starports well away from cities or suburbs. Heading to town could be a couple of hours by air/raft.

     The very diversity of starports in a subsector might be a spur for adventurer jobs. The TAS (Traveller's Aide Society) or a related organization might want to hire characters to rate them in a futuristic version of Yelp. Easy money till you try the little remote field with the incredible stores, entertainment and bistros…

     …that services the local pirate fleet.

From I MEANT THE OTHER STARPORT by Rob Garitta (2016)

Spaceport Management

Spaceport policies are set by the port owner, who could be a variety of people. The port might be a lonely trading post owned by a merchant or merchant corporation. It could be a transport nexus owned by a huge corporation. It could be owned by the government of the planet or nation the spaceport is located in. It could be owned by an interstellar federation that the spaceport planet and planetary government are a part of. There are lots of possibilites.

As previously mentioned, the point of a spaceport is to make it easier for spacecraft to travel to the site. But that does not mean all spacecraft.

If the port is owned by PlanetGobbler Incorporated, the port will be a free trade zone to PlanGobInc company ships and those ships will be given all due assistance. By the same token, any ships belonging to World Exploiters Ltd. or StarTruckCo will find their lives made into a living hell by the spaceport's excessive fees, obstructionism, unfree trade zone status, punitive tariffs, endless safety inspections, and general nastiness. This would also apply to a neutral ship which is carrying a rival corporation's products as cargo.

And may the Great Bird of the Galaxy have mercy on your soul if you are the owner of an independent ship, you might even be denied permission to land! Corporations hate independent free traders.

If the port is owned by the local government, and said government wants to put pressure on Planet Z, magically any ships from or heading to Planet Z will suddenly be plagued by zillions of unofficial obstructions. Being moved to the end of the line, cargo inspections that "accidentally" damage the cargo, crew harassment, that sort of thing.

Spaceports are funded by several revenue streams. Most ports operate at a deficit, rarely making a profit.

Most of the money is a subsidy from the port owner, be it government or corporation.

Spaceports charge berthing fees to spacecraft for the privilege of landing. They also charge rental fees for the landing pad on a daily or monthly basis. Sometimes if a spacecraft owner cannot afford the berthing fee, the spaceport's cargo broker will accept spacecraft's cargo in payment.

Spaceports obtain revenue from any spaceport-owned port services used by visiting spacecraft.

Finally spaceports also obtain revenue by renting spaceport land to "concessions" (private companies offering port services used by visiting spacecraft). The rent can be a flat monthly fee, or a flat fee plus a percentage of the concession's gross income.

If the concession discovers that business is not as good as expected, they will complain to the spaceport that the rent should be lowered. If ship traffic increases, with a corresponding increase in concession income, the greedy spaceport might want to either raise the rent or convert a flat rent into "rent plus percentage.

Naturally any spaceports will become very angry with concessions on "rent plus percentage" contract who cheat by deliberately under-report income. Such concessions might be kicked out on the spot. And spaceports have to worry about concessions who mistreat customers, this will also adversely affect the spaceport's reputation. Concessions can be evicted if it can be shown that they are in violation of their contract.

Spacecraft crashes

A spacecraft "augering in" is a disaster ranging from the merely disastrous to the utterly catastrophic.

There are many factors.

Did the ship just bend a landing leg, did it topple over, did it land on its belly but didn't snap its spine, did it hit hard enough to become debris strewn over a wide area, did it hit hard enough to make a smoking crater?

Is the propulsion system or power plant (in rough order of increasing calamity) flammable chemicals, flammable toxic chemicals, flammable toxic chemicals that can melt human flesh, metastable helium, solid core nuclear, liquid core nuclear, gas core nuclear closed-cycle, gas core nuclear open-cycle, nuclear salt water rocket, or pure antimatter?

Did it hit any already grounded spacecraft, perhaps causing a chain reaction? Did it hit the spaceport landing pad, or did it hit a city?

And if the spacecraft is constructed out of titanium or magnesium and it catches on fire, whatever you do don't try to put it out with water!

Some of these hazards can be dealt with. Spaceports will probably be located at a distance from any populated area, with the distance proportional to the energy contained in a given spacecraft (the bigger the boom the farther the distance). Propulsion systems that are too powerful probably will not be allowed to land at all. Instead they will be put into parking orbits and cargo/passengers brought to the spaceport in winged space shuttles and ferries. Landed spacecraft will be separated at distances to minimize chain reactions. Weather patterns will be plotted so that the footprint of any plume of toxic gas or radioactive fallout will only go through barren and uninhabited areas. Spacecraft berths will be surrounded by blast protection berms or bunds, which are blast walls that try to channel the force of the explosion upwards (where there is nothing) instead of allowing it to travel sideways (where it will hit other ships or buildings).

For safety reasons, the landing field might only share its location with the emergency spacecraft services and maybe limited refueling. The other functions would be located at a distance hopefully outside the blast radius.

If the distance between the spaceport and the nearest metropolitan area is large, there will probably be some kind of mass-transit service connecting the two. The Star-town would probably be in between the spaceport and the city (Star-town wants to be far away from the explosion, the city wants the nasty Star-Town red-light district far away from it, the balance point between these two forces is the in between point).


The good thing about starship disasters is that they so rarely turn into catastrophes.

Which is to say, sure, you can kill yourself, and you get your crew and your passengers killed, and if you try hard enough, you can go hurtling out of the system into the deep black at ludicrous speed, even while glowing with enough hard rads that no salvor’ll want to touch your hull for the next hundred thousand years. But space is big, its contents are small, and dramatic screw-ups that manage to take out other people by the mucker-ton therefore require sufficiently extraordinary talent that the Fourth Directorate will be crawling all over the site even before the wrecker gets there.

That is unfortunately not the case with interface vehicles, where the gravity well and the atmosphere bend physics all out of shape.

And you are flying, let me remind you, a real starship. Not some dinky aluminum-balloon sounding rocket that will obligingly shred itself into confetti and fireballs if the launch goes wrong; you’re flying maybe 3,000 tons of titanium composite and cerametals – not to mention the hot soup – that will come down hard, and will not come down happy.

This is a problem.

It’s not a problem for long. Well, if you’re flying the vehicle in question, it’s a problem for even less long, but you know what I mean.

Most dramatic engine failures happen very quickly indeed – on the pad, or within the first seconds of flight – at which point the starport disaster team will be on hand to clean up both you and your mess. And if you can keep things running long enough to get to orbital altitude – even on a suborbital trajectory – the odds are good in any kind of developed system that someone has a tug or a powerful OTV that can meet you and drag you the rest of the way upstairs while you get on the horn and have an unpleasant discussion with your insurance carrier.

That leaves the couple of minutes in the middle. Too high and fast for the starport to assist you; too low and slow for help from on high.

So what do you do, in that situation, if your main drive is failing and the auxiliary isn’t kicking in and you’ve got a sad board on all your backups?

Make sure you have the other kind of backup.

See, they don’t leave handling that sort of situation up to the Flight Commander. They know the sort of people who become Flight Commanders, and that they’ll try to save their ship right up until the very last second after it becomes a major incident. As is right and proper, but does not lead to the optimal outcome in this sort of case.

And they don’t leave handling it up to space traffic control, either, as they come from the same kind of dedicated stock that will try to save their traffic up to the very last second, too.

It’s in the hands of one man, titled Downrange Safety, who sits in a bunker at the starport. He has a live feed of all the traffic control instrumentation, everything he needs to see when a launch or landing trajectory has gone grossly off-track and out of safety limits. He has priority “flammifer exigent” access to the orbital defense grid, and to the starport’s launching lasers, and to anything else that might be useful.

He has a fully-automated system with executive authority to blast any incipient disasters right out of the sky, and he has a button which holds that system’s fire.

For three seconds at a time.

And that’s why I don’t fly interface vehicles.

– Svínif Kalyn-ith-Kalyn,
Sailing Master,
former Downrange Safety at Anniax Interplanetary, 6022-6167

From TWO MINUTES by Alistair Young (2015)

Kin Demes was a quiet backwater world. Mostly ocean, settlement concentrated on a chain of fertile islands. The latest settlers had no hstory of warfare. Barring some police actions against raids by the Ingoko indigenes (in other words people settled there long enough to forget they settled) it was a peaceful planet. In recent years even the Ingoko united into a loose commonwealth with the settlers providing cheap labor and trade in pearl-gems and seafood. It recently upgraded its bare dirt landing field to a Class C starport after several decades of labor took a deep breath and entered the interstellar community.

The planet was invaded almost immediately.

It was not ready. It had defenses around the starport and capital. It had a defense boat in orbit. It had a small respectable militia designed to deter invasion. They were of no use. The invaders were tenacious, merciless, and hungry! Kin-Demes defeat was made more galling by the fact the invaders had never mastered fire.

A bare 1.2 parsecs from Kin-Deme is Yu, a harsh unforgiving world with high gravity, windy deserts and brackish seas. Most humans there belong to nomadic tribes that can only be described as savage. They raid each other nearly as much as the starport and trade various rare minerals for guns and more guns. They'd roll over Kin-Demes in a minute if they were organized and united. But they weren't. They couldn't and they didn't. Forget them.

In the brackish waters lives the bloat fish. Bloat fish lived there a long time evolving and thwarted by high gravity and a low oxygen count. Eventually their fins evolved into tentacle like feelers and they were able to scramble on land in search of food until they found it or got their fishy brains blown out by an irate native who woke up to find their pet's leash trailing from a daddy bloat fish's mouth.

Then a captain landed his free trader on Yu, was too cheap to buy fuel at the starport, took on water from the brackish sea, and lifted ship.

Starships have a great many fuel tanks. Some are to hold water for trim (even reactionless drive ships worry about their center of mass as they boost). Into these tanks went the bloat eggs and fry and they survived to go where no bloat fish had gone before: Kin-Demes.

Cheapskate repeated his offshore fueling on Kin-Demes. He later misjumped and wound up 4 parsecs from the nearest star. His crew spaced him and climbed into their low berths and left the distress beacon on. But before that, while refueling bloat fish eggs and fry were released when a trim tank was blown to right the ship in some waves.

The bloat fish had a ball. They thrived in the less salty and benign ocean. In the lighter gravity they made leaps and bounds (sometimes literally) in practicing walking on shore and they ate anything that swam or walked near the beach. The Ingoko told their new allies something was up with the fishing. Then it collapsed. Then a boat hauled up a school of bloat fish who were the size of tuna and not amused. They tore through the fishing nets and the crew.

By the time the celebrations about the new starport ended and hangover therapy began working the bloat fish were established and on the move. Rivers, streams, even lakes a short walk apart were getting infested. Crops were being devoured. There was always the fishing industry to fall back on ... no wait.

Kin-Demes had a few weeks between ships calling. When the next merchant ship came calling famine and riot had taken over. Soldiers were barely holding the capital and port people were screaming for passage offworld. They'd pay anything. Unfortunately the leaders of the military and government would do anything to get offworld and tried to take the ship. The captain lifted ship and got ready to leave, but he hadn't time to refuel.

He took on water in the ocean.

There's a reason starports charge you so much for fuel. Yes, a good deal of that is price gouging (100 cr. per ton hydrogen? It's the most common element in the Universe!). Part of it is the cost of honest labor to clean your ship's tanks out and ensure no clever little beasties make their way into an open ecosystem. Your ship is essentially a closed system until it does something like refueling, or letting off passengers and cargo. Customs deals with that but some people forget that so many little cryptids and refugees from a monstrous tome of beasts will find their way into landing gear, airlocks, and other nooks and crannies where they could survive or at least lay durable eggs or spores.

This does not begin to consider the smugglers, poachers, pirates and ne'er do wells who perform ocean refueling and never think about it again. Invasive species are a problem here on Earth — a single planet. Commerce between worlds really opens up a can of worms (note these worm eat metal and spit hydrochloric acid at you).

Most space opera assumes that earth-like worlds have similar biologies: in other words you or I can get something to eat that won't kill you. They don't address invasive species. The thing is invasive species thrive when the environmental factors limiting them are removed. Go read Chamax Plague/Horde if you doubt me. A planet hop can leave an animal's predators behind but it might still perish due to other environmental factors (of course baby Kal-El did okay.)

An invasion of this sort could spur a new business for characters: pest control! This falls squarely under business plans for non merchant ships. Take a lab ship (or hunting ship) fit it with bio labs and head into the danger zone. You can have field missions to get specimens, hunting trips to get bigger specimens, military missions for the reeeeeeeeally big specimens, all the while dealing with displaced,  desperate or chewed on survivors. Meanwhile the scientist types can whip up a toxin or virus or pest catching robot as the situation demands.

The crisis can take a darker turn when lab tests of an invader reveal it is genetically modified to survive on the afflicted world. Enter the mad scientist: a truly underused enemy of SF RPGS. Ecological sabotage can be a cheap alternative to war in virtually any setting and very hard to get caught at. In fact local scientists making that discovery before the characters might start pointing fingers. Maybe they introduced the bloat fish to drum up business?

And wait 'til the flying monkeys attack!

From INVASION by Rob Garitta (2016)

Spaceport Functions

This is more or less a subset of space station functions. Many are from Star Hero by James Cambias, others are from GURPS Traveller: Starports, the rest I made up myself or discovered in Wikipedia.

Note that some services are owned by the spaceport authority itself, but similar services can be offered by private companies who rent space on the spaceport grounds. The latter are called "concessions".

Forward base to support spacecraft. Sometimes called "staging base" if military. Generally located in a "remote" location, remote being defined as "a long distance from the home base of the supported spacecraft." (e.g., a military base can be "remote" even if it is near a huge metropolitan planet belonging to a hostile nation).
Brokerage Offices
Cargo brokers are in the business of connecting cargo buyers with cargo sellers. Ship brokers are in the business of connecting owners of cargo transport spacecraft and charterers who have cargo which needs transporting. The brokers collect a commission on the sale. Technically the smugglers and black marketeers in Star-town are brokers as well, just not with offices and charging high commissions in return for not asking any embarrassing questions.
A "gold" strike in an asteroid belt or the establishment of a military base in a remote location may create a "boomtown", as entrepreneurs appear to sell the asteroid miners or enlisted people whiskey, prostitutes, and gambling. But remember that boomtowns can become ghost towns quite rapidly, if mineral strike dries up or the military base is closed.
Bonded Warehouses
A bonded warehouse is a building or other secured area in which dutiable goods may be stored, manipulated, or undergo manufacturing operations without payment of duty. Always located inside the customs border section of the spaceport.
A chandlery sells ship stores and provisions. Life-support recharges, power plant fuel, spare parts, crew gear, custom embroidered uniform patches with your ship's name and logo, space suits, slugthrowers, energy weapons, hydroponic seeds, spices to enhance the meals prepared in the ship's mess, medical supplies, carniculture starters, ship's cats, items for the slop chest, emergency gear, and anything else a spacecraft needs for a mission.
Customs/Immigration Authorities
If the spaceport is in a sovereign nation, chances are it will have customs and immigration agents controlling the flow of goods and people into and out of the nation, specifically entering or leaving the customs border section of the spaceport. If the nation's custom laws are strict, the customs border will probably be surrounded by heavy fences and armed guards. Some goods are subject to duties, tariffs, and taxes, other goods are restricted or prohibited.
Emergency Spacecraft Services
Emergency crews and equipment to deal with spacecraft that crash, topple over, have reactor criticality accidents, radiation leaks, and other disasters.
This means that if the spaceport is located inside the bounds of a sovereign nation, legally the grounds of the spaceport are not part of the nation. Sort of like the grounds of a foreign embassy. The edge of the spaceport is the Extraterritorial Line or "x-t line". This generally only happens if the spaceport is controlled by a huge and powerful Federation or Union which the planet is a member of. I say only occurs if the planet is part of a "federation or union". If the planet is part of a coalition or confederation, it will not allow extraterritoriality. If the planet is part of a federation or union, it would do well to respect the extraterritoriality of the port or it might suddenly find itself to be a part of a suzerainty. If the planet is part of a suzerainty or empire, it is a slave not a sovereign nation, so it has no say in the matter. As a side note, if the planetary nation is oppressing its citizens, it will probably have a futuristic version of the Berlin Wall immediately outside the x-t line to prevent citizens from escaping into the freedom of the spaceport. Any planetary local crossing the x-t line and seeking asylum will present a delicate problem to the port authority.
Free Trade Zone
A free trade zone is a geographic area where goods may be landed, handled, manufactured or reconfigured, and reexported without the intervention of the customs authorities. The custom duties are only imposed once the goods cross the customs border. This means that the sovereign nation (if any) that the spaceport is located inside cannot interfere at all with any goods that are transshipped through the port (i.e., just passing through). Spaceports owned by large corporations might be free trade zones for corporate ships, but nasty unfree trade zones for the corporation's competitors or anybody else.
Hazardous Cargo Handling
Specialized equipment to safely handle hazardous cargo. Generally only seen on a military spaceport in order to handle weapons and ammunition (sometimes nuclear). But it can be found in a commercial spaceport that regularly handles toxic, unstable, pathological, explosive, or radioactive cargo. "Hot stuff". The equipment also includes specialized hazmat warehouses for safe storage.
Hiring Hall
Employment services where spacecraft captains can hire crew members. This can range from an internet bulletin board to a large complex including interview offices and inexpensive (or free) hostels for crew members down on their luck.
Can be general hospitals or hospitals specializing in treating victims of spacecraft disasters. This includes treating shock-trauma, burns, and radiation poisoning. In small outpost spaceports, this might consist of a first aid box. A large hospital will also have some kind of ambulance. Hospitals must be vigilant to detect signs of pandemic diseases in incoming passengers or crew, such patients must be immediately quarantined.
Short or long term living quarters for people, with quality varying from four-star hotels down to spartan capsule hostels. Generally includes restaurants of various quality.
Landing field
Large stabilized field strong enough for spacecraft to land and blast off from. The sine qua non of a spaceport. Landing pads are for tail-sitters, runways are for belly landers.
Longshoremen are people and/or robots for hire to load or unload spacecraft cargo.
Maintenance and Repair
Spacecraft service shops handling scheduled maintenance, and repair yards repairing damaged ships. May include mobile cranes to deal with spacecraft that have toppled over. The facilities may be of varying levels of ability, analogous to the difference between a mom & pop automobile gasoline station in a sleepy backwoods town and a huge full-service automobile service shop in the big city.
Stores that sell uniforms, specialized clothing and gear to spacecraft crews.
Pirate Haven
Space pirates need infrastructure (fences for pirated loot, fuel and reaction mass, ship repairs, R&R for the crew). A hidden planetary spaceport can act as a Pirate Haven and cater to these needs.
Planetary Defense
Armed military station defending its planet from outside attack, planetary fortress. If the planet is a conquered one, or the government is oppressing the inhabitants, the station will try to maintain government control and deal with revolts. Also note that if the spaceport is non-military but it is a laser-launch site it is functionally equivalent to a planetary fortress. It can hurl projectiles and use laser beams directly at any invading spacecraft.
Power Services
For a fee, landed spacecraft can plug into the spaceport's power grid in order to avoid using fuel for the ship's internal power supply. There might be port anti-idling laws requiring the use of shorepower if the ship's internal power source gives off air pollution, radiation, or whatever.
Quarantine Check
If there is a problem of interstellar plague, all ships landing will have to pass a quarantine check before anybody can debark. If things are really bad, prospective passengers might have to pass a quarantine check before they board a departing ship.
Refueling and Re-propellanting
Fuel and propellant depot. Refining and storage facility
Scientific research. Generally to investigate something interesting about the planet the spaceport is on.
Sanitary Services
For a fee, they will empty the spacecraft's septic tank, and connect the ship's sewage system to the starport's. Not really needed if the spacecraft has a closed ecological life support system.
Security Force
The Port Cops. They handle most criminal activity, SWAT-like special forces will deal with emergencies like terrorists and hijacking. The special forces will be trained to try and limit casualties and collateral damage. The local military forces will be called in for anything more major. They will also deploy to cover a spacecraft landing with a distress call, just in case this turns out to be another attempt at the old "Trojan Spacecraft" routine. They also know all about the old "fake medical emergency" gag, port cops will be stationed in the port hospital. The port cops will have their work cut out for them if the nation the port is sited on has been corrupted by the local criminal underworld. The criminal element in Star-Town will be trying to infiltrate the port, and the local police will not be interested in arresting or prosecuting them.
Ship Docks
Short or long term storage of spacecraft. They will often have heavy equipment designed to drag spacecraft from one location to another. No sense for a ship in long term storage to block a landing pad.
Shipyards are industrial sites that construct new ships. They have blueprints in hand for standard spacecraft, or custom spacecraft can be created for an additional fee.
Space Traffic Controllers
Outer space equivalent of terrestrial air traffic controllers. Monitors and controls the flight plans of local spacecraft. Assigns landing pads and lift-off windows. As with terrestrial air traffic controllers, a pilot ignoring traffic control is a very serious offence.
Star-Town is a thick border around the spaceport composed of bars, tourist traps, casinos and bordellos preying upon naive tourists and spacecraft crew members with flight pay burning a hole in their pockets. Usually forms just outside the spaceport's Extraterritorial Line, if any, but is sometimes inside the line if the port authority wants a piece of the action.
Surface to Orbit services
Services for hire to boost payload into low orbit. There are a variety of options, including Laser Launchers, Bifrost Bridges, Lofstrom loop, and Space Elevators. Remember that laser launchers and mass drivers can make the spaceport into an impromptu planetary defense fortress.
Trading Post
A trading post or "factory" is where a merchant (or the merchant's factor) carries on the merchant's business on a foreign planet. The trading post exchanges imported trade items for valuable local goods. In some cases a trading post and a couple of warehouses can grow into an actual colony. The trading post merchant or factor is responsible for the local goods logistics (proper storage and shipping), assessing and packaging for spacecraft transport. The factor is the representative for the merchant in all matters, reporting everything to the merchant headquarters. The longer the communication time delay between trading post and headquarters, the more trustworthy the factor has to be. Factors may work with native contract suppliers, called a comprador.
Transport Nexus
A Transport Nexus is a crossroad spaceport for passengers, a port of entry, an orbital warehouses where valuable minerals from asteroid mines are stored and trade goods transshipped, or a "trade-town". Will include related services, such as bonded warehouses, trading posts, hotels and longshoremen.
Used Spacecraft Yard
Honest Duquesne's lightly used spacecraft! This little vehicle was used by a little old astronaut who only took it out on lunar hops. Twenty percent down and the rest in easy installments.
Unlike bonded warehouses, these are not located inside the customs border section of the spaceport. Always guarded on general principle because there is expensive stuff stored inside. It may include connections to the local power grid for cargo that requires refrigeration.

Naturally a given spaceport could have several functions. And I'm sure you can think of other functions I've missed. Just think about passenger airports and ocean cargo ports for some ideas.


(ed note: this is for the Traveller RPG, which has faster-than-light starships)

Across the Third Imperium, in every starport of Class C or better (and in half of all Class D 'ports) there exists a place called the Moot Room. This room is neither part of the native world, nor is it part of the Imperium; it is a useful legal fiction that creates a completely neutral zone.

Interestingly enough, it isn't named after the Imperial Moot, although that is the common assumption. Instead, it is named because while inside the room, all laws, regulations and treaties are considered null; hence, everything is up for debate (the proper definition of moot) and nothing, not even laws, have any meaning (the improper definition).

To have a Moot Room, a starport needs the following:
  1. A room or a building straddling the Extrality Line. It typically ranges in size from that of a small shed, only capable of holding a few people (Class D) to a large, comfortable, and fully-stocked conference room that would not be out of place within an embassy (Class A). 
  2. A minimum of two entrances, one on either side of the line. Particularly nice Rooms will have a third entrance that leads to a private airlock, berth or landing pad; if so, the docking facilities are also considered Moot. 
  3. NO communication devices within the room, and as much privacy-granting shielding as the tech level will support. The higher the class of starport, the better the privacy. 
  4. Highly disciplined Starport Authority security personnel,  trained in law and ethics. These are stationed outside both doors, unless the participants request their presence inside. While these SPA personnel are not proper lawyers, they do serve as paralegals, official witnesses, notaries, and the like. 
The purpose of the Moot Room is to give individuals a place to discuss anything without fear of legal repercussion. It is a room of absolute freedom of expression, where nothing is taboo and everything is permitted. Yes, even murder; but if you can murder someone in that room, they can murder you as well, so parties meeting in the Moot Room usually request a weapons scans by the SPA before entering.*

The original purpose of the Moot Room was to allow people who might be considered criminals on a world — pirates, refugees, political dissidents — to interact with agents from that world without putting themselves in jeopardy of arrest or extradition. Similarly, it allows agents of a world to interact with enemies of the state without making themselves liable for dereliction of duty.**

Since then, the Moot Room has been used for a variety of things, many of them shady. If a corporate spy wishes to sell trade secrets without being arrested by undercover agents, he uses that room; but so too does a corporate whistleblower who wishes to speak to the press without worrying about a lawsuit from his company for breach of contract. Nobles have made treaties, planned assassinations, and yes, even plotted treason in Moot Rooms; and if the SPA overhears them, they are legally required not to report it and not act upon it.

There are very, very few extenuating circumstances in which the SPA may legally intervene, and these ethical questions have been puzzled over for centuries like Rabbis dissecting the Talmud. Broadly speaking (because there are always exceptions), these circumstances are:
  1. If someone has been brought into the room against their will.
  2. If there is a clear and immediate threat to the starport and/or the planet (an invasion does not count, but the potential release of a bioweapon does).
  3. If a party who entered via one door exits another door without conscious consent. 
If these conditions are not met, then whatever happens behind those doors is covered under the political version of the Seal of Confession.***

This has led to some rather interesting uses of the room for matters of honor. Several impromptu duels have been held inside a Moot Room, and in at least one case, a bit of expeditious justice involving a slaver being tricked inside only to be beaten to death by a family member of the enslaved.

On the whole, it helps more than it hurts. It facilitates communication and trade, which is the backbone of the Imperium. In addition, the starport makes a tidy profit from running a Moot Room; rates start as low as 50 Cr/hour for a shed and up to 1000 Cr/hour for the truly fancy accommodations
Sidebar: Smuggling

Of course someone is going to try to use the Moot Room's "absolute freedom" to smuggle something in past customs. That's to be expected. And yes, while inside the room the SPA can't do anything about it.

However, once the intrepid smuggler exits the room, he crosses the XT line. That means he can be searched for contraband outside of the protection of the Moot Room, and be prosecuted for smuggling if such is found.

This also makes Moot Rooms handy ways for people to surrender illegal items (like Ancient artifacts or military-grade weapons) without fear of arrest. Simply rent the room, carry your item inside, and leave it behind for either the SPA or whomever you met with to deal with. You're allowed to have it inside the room, and if you don't have it when you leave... why then, you're free to go, citizen. 
Legal Footnotes

*  The SPA will happily scan anyone going into the room for weapons, or recording devices, or whatever else the parties demand. They are facilitators and gatekeepers for the Moot Room, and don't care what anyone takes in so long as both parties agree — but see Smuggling, above, for what people are allowed to take out.

** Some restrictive governments won't allow their citizens to use the Moot Room, of course, and so they place legal (or literal) barricades to entry, but as long as that occurs on the home planet's side of the XT line, the SPA doesn't care.

*** Which is the big reason why SPA scans for recording devices when asked; there are volumes of legal treatises involving "I recorded this guy without his consent, and he confessed to an Imperial Crime within the Moot Room, and then I made it public to ruin his image/ blackmail him/ get the authorities after him."  The short version is that most Moot Rooms have distinctive visual cues and the better ones are able to embed "This is the [System Name] Starport Moot Room" into the background hiss of the sound suppression system and likely microdotted into the walls, meaning that it's very easy to determine if the conversation is admissible in court. If it's not admissible, then the party responsible for releasing the recording can be prosecuted under Imperial Law for violating the privacy of the room.

How is that possible?  Again, anything inside the Moot Room is legal, but you need to leave sometime. And when you do, you enter either Imperial Space or the local system — both of which are beholden to Imperial Law. If you break the seal of the Moot Room without exceptionally good reason, you're in trouble.

If you are getting the impression that the Imperium really values privacy, you are correct. It's almost as if it's based upon secrets and lies...

From THE MOOT ROOM by Erin Palette (2015)

Landing Field

Obviously an area where spacecraft land and blast off from is the sine qua non of a spaceport. Otherwise it isn't a spaceport at all. It doesn't matter if it is a one-ship landing pad that is a bulldozed square of dirt or a titanic paved area the size of Rhode Island spotted with huge soot chrysanthemum shapes, you gotta have a place to land.

Now it is true that I've ranted about how real rockets are tail-sitters, which land on landing pads. But the two big exceptions are Orbit to Surface ferries which land like an aircraft (e.g., the old NASA Space Shuttle) and cargo spacecraft that do not want to raise or lower their cargo twenty stories. Aircraft-like ferries will need something like an airplane runway to land on. Some belly landing cargo spacecraft will need runways as well (the others have sideways rockets like the Eagle Transporters from Space: 1999).

The landing area must be of ground stabilized enough to remove the danger of shifting ground toppling spacecraft. Not to mention being durable enough to withstand the blowtorch from hell that is the ship's exhaust.

If the spacecraft are strictly orbit-to-orbit craft that never land on a planet the spaceport will only handle surface-to-orbit ferry ships.

One of the major constraints on spaceport design is the danger level of the spacecraft propulsion systems. It isn't so bad if the spacecraft is actually parked in orbit with the cargo being ferried down in winged space shuttles. It becomes more of a concern if the spacecraft are chemically powered tail-landers. And things get very dangerous if the spacecraft are nuclear powered. If the spacecraft is antimatter powered it probably is not going to be allowed anywhere near a planet, much less land on it.

The danger level of the spacecraft using the port will also influence how far away from cities and major populated areas the spaceport is located. Nuclear powered spacecraft will mandate that the potential footprint of the fallout plume goes through only barren and uninhabited areas. An Orion-drive ship can lift-off with little or no fallout if the launch pad is armor plate with a coating of graphite dust. If the spaceport is on a planet with an atmosphere, do not land under Orion-drive power. The nuclear pulse units in an atmosphere will generate horrible nuclear fireballs that the landing ship will fly into, instantly voiding its warranty.

The energy of the ship's exhaust is:

Fp = (F * Ve) / 2


  • Fp = thrust power (watts)
  • F = thrust (newtons)
  • Ve = exhaust velocity (m/s)

[1] Exhaust power. Say we have a gas core rocket with an exhaust velocity of 50,000 m/s and 1,000,000 newtons of thrust. We've got 25,000,000,000 watts on our hands (25 gigawatts). Say that the exhaust is concentrated mainly in a 10 meter diameter circle on the final descent. The area is about 80 square meters, for a heat flux of roughly 300 megawatts per square meter. Which will vaporize the surface layer of about anything. The question becomes: how deep?

[2] Heat radiation. We're talking about very high temperatures here, so maybe the surface might radiate heat away faster than the exhaust deposits it? If nothing else, it will give a rough upper limit to the temperatures involved. The 300 MW/m2 flux correspond roughly to black-body radiation at 8500 K. So the temperatures may well be of that order of magnitude.

[3] Heat Conduction. Let's say the surface gets really hot. How fast is the heat conducted below the surface? Many rocks seem to have conductivities on the order of 2 W/m-K or so. At that rate, the temperature gradient would have to be incredibly high to balance the influx; 150 MK/m. I suspect that indicates that the surface would probably ablate to vapour and escape, with only the thinnest layer liquid at any given time. Maybe a micrometre or so on average.

[4] Quantity vaporized. As a rough guideline, many rocks at normal temperatures have heat capacities of about 1 kJ/kg-K. Extrapolating wildly, I could assume that they don't vary by too much at higher temperatures. If their temperature is raised on the order of 7000 K, then they will carry off something like 7 MJ/kg. Now, we can probably assume a density of about 3000 kg/m3, so that's 21 GJ/m3. If the final part of the landing takes about 20 seconds, that's up to about 23 m3 of rock. Dividing by the assumed area, we get a very shallow crater about 30 cm deep (about a foot).

So, based on the above figures I'd guess that a plume of exhaust like that would erode the surface, breaking it down into vapour or even decomposing it, with the resulting gases dissipating rapidly. With heat conduction so low compared to the incoming energy, there simply won't be enough time for a pool of lava to form. Any liquid would be blasted outward by superhot gases, vaporizing and then recondensing along the way.

My guess is that you'd get a broad but shallow crater, surrounded for quite some distance by ash condensed from the escaping gases and of course any debris that might have been carried along for the ride.

Timothy Little

(ed note: This has implications for a spaceport on an airless moon. TL;DR: The spacecraft's landing rocket exhaust will blow away about one metric ton of lunar surface dust and sandblast the heck out of anything nearby. Some of the dust will exceed escape velocity )

In 2010, I needed more information about something Alan had seen when he was on the Moon. I was researching how rocket exhaust blows soil and dust during lunar landings. The best information on this topic was from Apollo 12, when Pete Conrad and Alan Bean landed their Lunar Module 160 m away from the old Surveyor 3 ("S3") spacecraft. S3 had sat on the Moon deactivated for about 2 and a half years exposed to the lunar environment. The Apollo 12 mission was planned to land near S3 to (1) demonstrate precision landing and (2) to cut pieces off S3 and bring them back to Earth to see how the lunar environment degrades various types of materials and spacecraft parts.

They planned to land the Apollo 12 Lunar Module ("LM") about 500 ft away from S3 to minimize the amount of sandblasting that would occur to the S3 as the LM's big descent engine blew the lunar soil and dust. It turns out 500 ft wasn't nearly enough!

Apollo 12 was also unique among the Apollo mission for how close they landed near the Moon's terminator line, which is the line that separates day and night on the surface. They landed where the sun was only 5 degrees above the horizon, so the local time was barely after sunrise. It turns out this had a huge effect on the landing operations. At least, that is my own theory about what happened. You see, Apollo 12 blew more dust with its descent engine than the other 5 lunar landings. (Or, maybe it just it looked that way.) It was so bad that that they couldn't see the ground under all that dust. Pete Conrad later said he couldn't tell if there was a boulder or a crater in a bad spot, so he just took the risk and landed in the blind. There was a real risk of death, but they didn't come so close just to abort. You can find the Apollo 12 landing video online (YouTube?) and you can hear Alan Bean's distinctive voice encouraging Pete to just go ahead and put it down in the final seconds. Remember Pete's words about landing blind as you listen to Alan encouraging him.

It was never explained why Apollo 12 blew so much dust compared to the other missions, but I hypothesized that it didn't really. Instead the dust just _looked_ more opaque because the sun was so close to the horizon its light traveled thru twice the dust to illuminate the surface. In any case, a LOT of dust was blown. My team later estimated after many year's research that well over a ton of soil was blown by each landing. It was blown at 400 m/s up to 3 km/s. Larger particles went slower. Fine dust flew faster & farther in the lunar vacuum. Moon junkies might recognize the significance of that last number: 3 km/s is higher than lunar escape velocity! That means a dust ring may have been blown completely off the Moon into solar orbit with each Moon landing. More importantly, there is no safe distance on the Moon. What I mean is that for every distance away from an LM landing site, there were dust particles that blew to that distance. At very long distances the amount of impacting dust became extremely tiny, but even on the back side of the Moon you might get hit by some ejected dust.

Alan Bean's mission gave us an absolutely unique chance to really measure this blowing dust. After landing, Pete and Alan walked over to the S3 spacecraft and cut off pieces that had been subjected to the intense sandblasting of their LM landing just 160 m away. As Alan rounded the large "Surveyor Crater" and approached the S3 spacecraft he said to mission control via radio, "I thought you said this spacecraft is supposed to be white." (Not exact quote — I'm going from memory here.) Mission Control asked "Why? What color is it?" Alan said "It's brown!" This set off a lot of discussion back here on Earth. What did the lunar environment do to that spacecraft to change it from white to brown??? The leading theory was that radiation changed the chemistry of the paint. That theory held for 40 years.

Around 2008 I traveled to Houston and officially checked out all the white painted pieces that had been cut off the S3 spacecraft and returned to Earth by Apollo 12. I had to keep them in a special safe with lots of security since they are truly priceless national treasures. We analyzed those pieces using many modern methods that were not available 40 years earlier, right after the Apollo program, when earlier researchers had tried to study them. We used Scanning Electron Microscopes, laser scanners, X-ray photoionization spectroscopy, and electron dispersive spectroscopy. We discovered the paint's surface was penetrated by sand-sized (100 micron) lunar soil particles travelling about 400 m/s. Each one made a pinhole in the paint, and we could see the soil particle lying in the bottom of each tiny hole.

Give me a moment to see if I can download the picture of this. Aha! I found it and just now did some contrast enhancing. (Modern technology is amazing.) This was cut off off Surveyor 3 by Alan Bean and Pete Conrad. It is aluminum with white paint. You can see a bolt hole where a washer covered & protected the paint so it is still white.

Now there are some SUPER interesting things we discovered in this, and it drove is to call Alan Bean by phone 40 years after his mission to discuss what it all means. For one, consider that semi-circular shadow next to the bolt hole. That is the shadow of the head of the bolt that used to be in that hole. The funny thing is that the bolt is now gone but its shadow is still there. Is it a ghost shadow? No. It is a sandblasted shadow formed by the intense spray of dust when Alan and Pete landed 160 m away. Everwhere that got sandblasted got turned lighter in color. Everywhere that was protected by shadowing stayed darker. That's the brown color Alan reported seeing on the Moon. Earlier researchers triangulated these shadows and proved that they point back to the Apollo LM.

What my team did in 2010 is prove that the brown color was not really the result of radiation as prior researchers believed. Instead, we proved the shadows are actually MADE out of lunar dust. All the brown color is lunar dust that was already on S3 before the Apollo 12 arrived. The sandblasting spray of lunar dust from the Apollo landing actually removed more dust from S3 than it put onto S3. That discovery was shocking. We analyzed the chemistry of that dust and we discovered it had different minerals on the east versus west sides of the Surveyor.

We were amazed by all the mysteries of the dust on the Surveyor, and we even wrote a paper in 2010 where we called it a mystery.

Further Analysis on the Mystery of the Surveyor III Dust Deposits

Protecting the Lunar Heritage Sites from the Effects of Visiting Spacecraft

by Dr. Philip Metzger of the Florida Space Institute (2018)

A far light in the sky, a faint rumble like distant thunder… soon drowned out as the klaxons screamed again over the hard-packed clay of Isahan Interplanetary.

Oddly Specific Impulse, nuclear heavy-lifter out of Vevery, grounding! All personnel, clear pad eight! I repeat: Oddly Specific Impulse, nuclear heavy-lifter out of Vevery, grounding! All personnel, clear pad eight!”

A series of thuds and locking clanks betokened the closing and sealing of the access ramps. For a minute more, the landing pad was silent, a dark-gray disk of layered graphite, sapphiroid and cerametal slabs nearly a mile wide within the ring of its earthen berm. From that far back only the most discerning eye could make out the lines between the slabs, so carefully were they cut and fitted together — even, or perhaps especially, those concealing the accesses and other pad facilities.

Much easier to make out were the rail-less “hot” shaft at the center of the pad, ringed with black and yellow caution markings, and the giant, blocky digit-eights and inward-pointing arrows at each cardinal point, inlaid in white metal. That did not require a discerning eye, merely an incautious one; the prompt radiation dose you’d receive from a vantage point atop the berm wouldn’t kill you, but the vomiting and blue-blotch syndrome was unlikely to be pleasant. Nor was the rest of what an octet of nuclear lightbulbs at full thrust would do to your senses.

The light dropped lower. With suddenness it flared bright, and thunder bloomed across the plains. It had come close enough to the ground that our hypothetical watcher — or the screens at port control — could make out the polished metal of Impulse’s forward hull, a curved silver bullet, but her aft hull remained hidden. In space, the superheated hydrogen gushing from her roaring drives would be invisible, but down in the atmosphere it ignited as soon as it mixed with the air; Impulse descended on a column of flame, which washed back up around her as she descended, wrapping her aft hull in a fiery cloak through which only the edges of her tailfins showed.

Lower and lower she dropped, almost imperceptibly slowing, as if she would dash herself to pieces on the ground. Her pilot was of no mind to waste reaction mass, and had saved all his deceleration for the last seconds of flight. Her flame touched the pad, gushed sideways, kinked as a last-minute side-slip properly aligned her drive plume with the “hot” shaft which swallowed it whole, leaving only a few curls of fire to wash out over the width of the pad. Above, aligned on the lee edge of the berm, the tall radiator fins which carried away drive heat from pad and shaft alike burst into carmine life.

Down further she sank, crossing these last few hundred feet as slowly as the thousands before them had been swift. The roar of the engines eased a little. Down, and down some more. Contact. Impulse thudded onto the pad, resting on the reinforced trailing edge of her tailfins, and her pilot expertly killed the drives, thunder disappearing into echoing silence. Without sound, it seemed, Impulse dropped her drive shroud into position, a cylinder of lead-composite to confine drive radiation to the shaft where it belonged, and from the edges of the pad the sprinklers rose and fired, drenching heated pad and searing hull alike with water that turned almost instantly to steam.

From far away the announcer spoke again.

Oddly Specific Impulse, nuclear heavy-lifter out of Vevery Station, has now grounded at pad eight. Service team stand by. Rad-check team, commence sweep. Disembarkation may commence in twenty minutes.”

From GROUNDING by by Alistair Young (2015)

A robot has built a prototype launch-and-landing pad in Hawaii, potentially helping pave the way for automated construction projects on the moon and Mars.

The robotic rover, named Helelani, assembled the pad on Hawaii's Big Island late last year, putting together 100 pavers made of locally available material in an effort to prove out technology that could do similar work in space.

"The construction project is really unique. Instead of concrete for the landing pad, we're using lunar and Mars material, which is exactly like the material we have here on the Big Island — basalt," Rob Kelso, executive director of the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration (PISCES) in Hawaii, told Hawaiian news outlet Big Island Now. PISCES partnered with NASA on the project, which is part of a larger program called Additive Construction with Mobile Emplacement, or ACME for short.

"And secondly, instead of a human workforce building construction for the landing pad, we're using robotics," Kelso added.

The overall goal of the ACME program is to enable the design and construction of infrastructure on the moon and Mars using local materials. Doing so would be much cheaper and more efficient than hauling everything from Earth, advocates say, since it currently costs about $10,000 to launch every kilogram (2.2 lbs.) of payload from our planet's surface to orbit.

One way robots could do this is by building dual-purpose vertical takeoff, vertical landing pads. Such VTVL pads will be important for future missions, advocates say; they will eliminate or mitigate the dust storms that would otherwise result (and possibly damage space equipment and/or neighboring structures) during launch and landing operations.

Furthermore, moon dust is incredibly fine, and it sticks to everything. So keeping it out of astronauts' way, and off their equipment, will be a priority for the planners of future lunar efforts.

Hence Helelani, and its Hawaiian VTVL pad. The rover first worked to clear and grade a 100-square-foot (9.3 square meters) area. Using its robotic arm, the rover then laid out 100 interlocking basalt pavers, which were joined like puzzle pieces to help reinforce the pad.

Helelani was controlled remotely from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Time delays were added to the communications to help simulate a lunar or Mars mission, project team members said. The next step will be to test the pad's durability by blasting it with a simulated rocket engine plume, they added.

Launch Facilities

From a bare-bones no-frills standpoint, a landing field is pretty much identical to a launch facility. The bare minimum is a stablized patch of ground, as long as it is paved with something durable enough to withstand the launching spacecraft's exhaust. The huge white clouds you see at a NASA rocket launch are not actually the rocket's exhaust. They are created from massive amounts of water poured on the launch pad during launch, to keep the concrete floor from being roasted to ash. Remember that the old Space Shuttle expended power at a rate of 20 gigawatts during the eight minutes of launch thrust.

But the point is if you are launching from a rudimentary spaceport, the spacecraft is responsible for providing the lift-off thrust.

Fancier spaceports can provide some additional launch thrust to the spacecraft. For a fee, of course.

Spaceports could sell strap-on booster rockets suitable for your spacecraft. These may or may not be reusable, but that is the spaceport's problem, not the ship owner. Reusable boosters would be cheaper for the ship owner compared to discardable boosters, but from the spaceport's view the reusable require a bigger up-front cost. This is balanced by the fact that the cost of the reusable can be amortized over many launches. In other words it is yet another example of Commander Vime's "Boots theory of socio-economic unfairness".

There are even more sophisticated (and more expensive) launch-assist installations that a spaceport can use to help launching spacecraft get into orbit and also extract more money from the ship owner.

  • Mass Driver: Basically a huge coilgun capable of electromagnetically accelerating payloads or spacecraft.
  • * Laser Launcher: large array of lasers capable of energizing a laser thermal booster on the spacecraft
  • * MagLifter: type of rocket sled like a magnetic levitation train carrying a spacecraft
  • * Bifrost Bridge: a combination of MagLifter and Laser Launcher.
  • Lofstrom loop: Like a MagLifter, except the midpoint of the rail is 80 freaking kilometers off the surface
  • * Landing Grids: This is unobtainium at best and handwaving at worse. The grid taps into the electrical potential difference between the ground and the ionisphere to access terawatts of power. This powers something like a mass driver
  • Space Fountain: This is a clever way to make a tall tower. Tall as in "out to geostationary orbit" tall (about 35,786 km on Terra). This would probably be used to drag payloads to spacecraft in GEO, rather than draging the entire spacecraft into GEO.
  • Space Elevator: This is a clever way to make a tal elevator. Further than GEO. Probably will only be used to drag payloads, much like the Space Fountain.

* these systems can be used to make the spaceport into instant impromptu planetary fortress

On heavily populated planets each launch may be overseen by the Launch Guard range safety officer. Who have their finger hovering over button that will vaporize any spacecraft suffering a catastrophic engine failure which is in danger of falling on a city.

The Launch Guard is also in charge of switching laser launchers and such from "launching spacecraft" mode into "impromptu planetary fortress" mode.


      Her full name was Slower Than Infinity. She had been built into a General Products No. 2 hull, a three-hundred-foot spindle with a wasp-waist constriction near the tail. I was relieved. I had been afraid Elephant might own a flashy, vulnerable dude's yacht. The two-man control room looked pretty small for a lifesystem until I noticed the bubble extension folded into the nose. The rest of the hull held a one-gee fusion drive and fuel tank, a hyperspace motor, a gravity drag, and belly-landing gear, all clearly visible through the hull, which had been left transparent.

     She held fuel, food, and air. She must have been ready for days. We took off twenty minutes after arriving.

     Using the fusion drive in Earth's atmosphere would have gotten us into the organ banks, in pieces (death penalty, with your body renderd down into spare parts for organ transplants). Flatlander laws are strict about air pollution. A robot rocket with huge wings lifted us to orbit, using air compressed nearly to degenerate matter as a propellant. We took off from there.

     Now there was plenty of time for sleep. It took us a week at one gee just to get far enough out of the solar system's gravity well to use the hyperdrive.

From FLATLANDER by Larry Niven (1967)

      "Hello, Cutter. What's new?"
     "Hello, Lit. That's why I'm calling," said the duty man at Ceres. Cutter's voice was colorless as always. So was his appearance. Cutter would have looked appropriate dispensing tickets or stamps from behind a barred window. "Lars Stiller just called. One of the honeymoon specials to Titan just took off without calling us. Any comments?"
     "Comments? Those stupid, bubbleheaded—" The traffic problem in space was far more than a matter of colliding spacecraft. No two spacecraft had ever collided, but men had died when their ships went through the exhaust of a fusion motor. Telescopic traffic checks, radio transmissions, rescue missions, star and asteroid observations could all be thrown out of whack by a jaywalker.
     "That's what I said, Lit. What'll we do, turn 'em back?"
     "Oh, Cutter, why don't you go to Earth and start your own government?" Lit rubbed his temples hard with both hands, rubbing away the tension. "Sorry. I shouldn't have said that. Marda's having trouble, and it's bugging me. But how can we turn back thirty honeymooning flatlanders, each a multimillionaire? Things are tense enough now. Want to start the Last War?"

     "Yes?" he barked. "Cutter, what's wrong now—"
     "Two things. Brace yourself."
     "Go ahead."
     "One. The honeymooner is not going to Titan. It seems to be headed in the direction of Neptune."
     "But— Better give me the rest of it."
     "A military ship just took off from Topeka Base. It's chasing the honeymooner, and they didn't call us this time either!"
     "That's more than peculiar. How long is the honeymooner on its way?"
     "An hour and a half. No turnover yet, but of course it could be headed for any number of asteroids."
     "Oh, that's just great." Lit closed his eyes for a moment. "It almost sounds like something's wrong with the honeymooner, and the other ship's trying a rescue mission. Could something have blown in the lifesupport system?"
     "I'd guess not, not in the Golden Circle. Honeymooners have fail-safe on their fail-safe. But you'd better hear the punch line."
     "The military ship took off from the field on its fusion drive."
     "Then—" There was only one conceivable answer. Lit began to laugh. "Somebody stole it!"
     Cutter smiled thinly. "Exactly. Once again, shall we turn either of them back?"
     "Certainly not. For one thing, if we threaten to shoot we may have to do it. For another, Earth is very touchy about what rights they have in space. For a third, this is their problem, and their ships. For a fourth, I want to see what happens. Don't you get it yet, Cutter?"
     "My guess is that both ships have been stolen." Cutter was still smiling.
     "No, no. Too improbable. The military ship was stolen, but the honeymooner must have been sabotaged. We're about to witness the first case of space piracy!"
     "O-o-oh. Fifteen couples, and all their jewels, plus, uh, ransom you know, I believe you're right!" And Lit Shaeffer was the first man in years to hear Cutter laugh in public.

     Outside the doors he fumbled in the ashtray on the left arm of his (motorized wheel)chair. The motor's purr rose to a howl, and suddenly it wasn't a ground-effect motor any more.
     If Masney could see him now! Six years ago Masney had profanely ordered him to get rid of the illegal power booster or be run in for using a manually operated flying vehicle. Anything for a friend, Luke had reasoned, and bad hidden the control in the ashtray.
     The ground dwindled. The edge of the building shot downward past him: sixty stories of it. Now he could see the scars left by Greenberg and Masney. The wavering fusion flame had splashed molten concrete in all directions, had left large craters and intricate earthworm-track runnels, had crossed the entrance to a passenger tunnel and left molten metal pouring down the stairs. Men and machines were at work cleaning up the mess.

     The shadow was a humped shadow, like a paper dart with a big lizard clinging to its back. The paper glider was a ramjet-rocketplane, hydrogen fueled in the ramjet and using the cold liquid hydrogen to make its own liquid oxygen in flight. The slim cylinder clinging to its upper surface was a fusion drive cruiser with some attachments for rescue work. It carried two men.
     Using its fusion motor in Earth's atmosphere would have been a capital offense. In taking off from ground eighteen hours earlier, Masney and Kzanol/Greenberg had broken twelve separate local laws, five supranational regulations and a treaty with the Belt.

From WORLD OF PTAVVS by Larry Niven (1966)

Ship Docks

Ship docks are for short or long term storage of spacecraft.

If spacecraft have to land on specially constructed landing pads, a spaceport might only have a limited number of them. If the ship is going to be on the planet for a while, the spaceport will want the ship moved off the pad and dragged to a dock for more permanent storage. The docks may each be surrounded by a blast protection berm, so one spacecraft blowing up doesn't start a chain reaction with their neighbors.

If spacecraft can land on a reasonably flat piece of ground or concrete (instead of a specially constructed pad), the spaceport will have virtually unlimited amounts of landing pads. In that case, the spaceport doesn't mind if a ship stays on its landing site for months and months, as long as the captain pays the pad rent.

At a spaceport, moving a tail-landed ship to another site is tricky. The spacecraft's lateral jacks are extended so the tail of the ship is lifted off the landing apron. A crawler is then backed under the spacecraft, and the ship is lowered onto it. The "bottom handler" runs the crawler. The "top handler" rides in the control room of the spacecraft. Under each fin of the spacecraft is a hydraulic mercury capsule. The top handler keeps an unblinking eye on a bubble level gauge, and uses a joystick to control the mercury capsules. If the spacecraft starts to tip, the appropriate mercury capsules are pressurized to counteract the tip.

Belly landed ships are easy to move, just use a tractor to tow the ship on its wheeled landing gear.

The spacecraft area might be arranged into Parkbays. These have a launch/landing pad in the center, surrounded by a series of spacecraft berths. The berths are separated from each other by blast protection berms. When a spacecraft lands on the pad, it is then moved into one of the berths. If the spacecraft explodes, the berms will channel the blast upwards where it does no damage, instead of allowing it to damage the spacecraft in the neighboring berths or the rest of the spaceport.

Actually this is very similar to the way they construct firework factories: thick strong walls and thin flimsy roof. Roofs are relatively inexpensive to replace, so the strong walls will funnel the blast so it eliminates it. If instead you make a strong roof and flimsy walls, you'll end up with roof and the factory walls blown into dust.


(ed note: the ships here are equipped with magic diamagnetic fields that allow them to hover and move slowly into their berths)

The "hangar" on Kalgan is an institution peculiar unto itself, born of the need for the disposition of the vast number of ships brought in by the visitors from abroad, and the simultaneous and consequent vast need for living accommodations for the same. The original bright one who had thought of the obvious solution had quickly become a millionaire. His heirs — by birth or finance — were easily among the richest on Kalgan.

The "hangar" spreads fatly over square miles of territory, and "hangar" does not describe it at all sufficiently. It is essentially a hotel — for ships. The traveler pays in advance and his ship is awarded a berth from which it can take off into space at any desired moment. The visitor then lives in his ship as always. The ordinary hotel services such as the replacement of food and medical supplies at special rates, simple servicing of the ship itself, special intra-Kalgan transportation for a nominal sum are to be had, of course.

As a result, the visitor combines hangar space and hotel bill into one, at a saving. The owners sell temporary use of ground space at ample profits. The government collects huge taxes. Everyone has fun. Nobody loses. Simple!

The man who made his way down the shadow-borders of the wide corridors that connected the multitudinous wings of the "hangar" had in the past speculated on the novelty and usefulness of the system described above, but these were reflections for idle moments — distinctly unsuitable at present.

The ships hulked in their height and breadth down the long lines of carefully aligned cells, and the man discarded line after line. He was an expert at what he was doing now and if his preliminary study of the hangar registry had failed to give specific information beyond the doubtful indication of a specific wing — one containing hundreds of ships — his specialized knowledge could winnow those hundreds into one.

There was the ghost of a sigh in the silence, as the man stopped and faded down one of the lines; a crawling insect beneath the notice of the arrogant metal monsters that rested there.

Here and there the sparkling of light from a porthole would indicate the presence of an early returner from the organized pleasures to simpler — or more private — pleasures of his own.

From FOUNDATION AND EMPIRE by Isaac Asimov, 1952

The Meteoris

A stunning scratch-built plastic model of an atomic rocket by master model-maker Michael 'Woozle' McGuire. This model was one of the winners in the "Space Racer" contest at Starship Modeler. It was inspired by Lester del Rey's short story "Habit".


However, there will spring up a "star-town", i.e., a thick border around the starport composed of ethnic restaurants, bars, tourist traps, casinos and bordellos all meant to rapidly separate newly-arrived starship crew members from their flight pay. Though the bordellos are not called that, they have signs blandly informing you that the establishment is a massage parlor, bar, strip club, body rub parlour, or a studio. Wink-wink, nudge-nudge.

Star-Town will also have a few pawn shops where crew members who have blown all their flight pay can get extra cash by hocking their equipment, personal items, and/or alien curios they acquired during their travels. Which means that purchasing something odd-looking from the pawn shop could lead to the unwitting buyer inadvertently obtaining a plot-MacGuffin along with the attention of the villain and their minions.

For those down on their luck, Star-Town will also have "flop-houses", which are cheaper than the capsule hotels but much more disgusting. There are charity soup-kitchens as well.

Star-Town is also rife with smugglers and black marketeers, who are covertly buying and selling contraband goods. Not to mention illegal transport services. Smuggling also applies to fugitives attempting to escape off-world. Look, over in the corner, is that Obi-Wan Kenobi negotiating with Han Solo? Star-town

The darker sections of star-town are dangerous, much like any benighted urban area. Tourists and other innocents will enter at their own peril. There are predators who will rob you at gun-point, pick-pockets, con artists, slavers, organleggers, and related criminals. Travel only in large armed groups and don't let your guard down.

In his article Happy Landings! Starport Design in Traveller (White Dwarf #43) Thomas M. Price makes a strong case for locating Star-town inside the extrality fence, instead of outside as in the Traveller game. He notes that sale of fuel, repair fees, warehousing fees, and a percentage of cargo sales is not going to be bring in enough money to keep the starport solvent. Putting Star-town inside the extrality fence will not only give the starport license to get a cut of the money, but will also make Star-town much more lucrative.

Inside the fence the local planet's laws do not apply, so Star-town can offer all sorts of (money-making) vices that are immoral and illegal (and in high demand) on the planet. And all tax-free as well, just like an airport Duty-free shop. Since the starport managers are not fools, there will be an inner fence separating Star-town from the starport proper. The managers want their cut of Star-town money, but they won't allow unruly inhabitants or the criminal element to interfere with the operation of the port.

I'm sure the planetary police department will have a checkpoint at Star-town's exit, to make sure people don't try to bring any illegal souvenirs home (e.g., a suitcase full of contraband drugs). Remember that anything purchased at the duty-free shop is supposed to leave the planet on the next flight out, not cross the extrality fence.

Michael Andre-Driussi points out that the location of Star-town will depend upon how often spacecraft crash and how radioactive their exhaust is. Maybe Star-town will be at some distance from the actual landing site. Or it might be milder: with Star-town encircling the landing site, but with the low-rent district downwind in the footprint of the fallout zone. He also points out that the same factors will determine how far the spaceport itself is from any cities or other populated areas. Lots of crashes or landing pads that glow in the dark mean a spaceport in the middle of the desert or other barren wasteland. In that case, Star-town will be located approximately halfway between the starport and the nearest city, with regular mass-transit service to the port.

Radioactive fallout is typically in a long skinny plume pointing in the wind direction. So, for instance, if the wind generally blows to the south-east, the prime Star-Town locations would be north-west of the launch site, the upscale locations would be north and west, the average locations would be north-east and south-west, the ghetto would be at east and south, and the real bad part of town would be south-east.


      Star Gate Boulevard circles Port Prime, its character varying with the local activity of the port and neighborhood. I'm only familiar with the wide canyon between the brooding hangars and workshops of the Smallcraft Port and the glittering, neon-lit escarpment of Port Prime's spaceers' row.

     This is the Star Gate Boulevard of dark bars and dim taverns, vile drug dens, dives and joints, loud spaceer clubs and crowded lounges, hundreds of quiet cha houses, cafes, bustling bistros, diners, eateries, specialty restaurants and snack stalls, cinemas and immersive vids, arcades, game rooms and gambling dens, vice clubs and pleasure palaces, cheap boarding houses, rundown hotels and rendezvous flats, interspersed with narrow, dark shops, crowded, dusty stores, and bright, vast emporiums, all offering the guaranteed lowest prices on the largest selection in the galaxy of everything you want, need, or can imagine, plus a million other things as well, used and new, second and twenty-seventh hand, all guaranteed and warranted authentic, and for those at the end of their tether, pawn shops, Guild hostels, sheltered corners and benches. And perhaps, a friend, or a shipmate.

     In short, everything the spaceer, the tourist, and the curious can spend a credit on.

     When the weather is nice, this teeming life bursts out of the neon escarpment to flood the Boulevard with tables and chairs under awnings and lights, racks and piles of merchandise, booths and carts, spaceers, companions, tourists and the curious milling, drinking, eating or fighting under the arch of trees and banners. But on this early spring afternoon, Star Gate was dirty, white, grey and desolate. The canyon walls of colorful signs faded to brighter greys within a block in either direction, posing no challenge to the brooding dark hangars along the port side of the boulevard. The only spot of color in the Boulevard was a line of brightly dressed companions perched on a bench half buried in a sooty bank of old snow and a small pack of uniformed and shivering flier pilots keeping them company.

From THE BRIGHT BLACK SEA by C. Litka (2015)

      Ashby wasn’t a judgmental man, but anyone who didn’t like Port Coriol lost a few points in his book. GC (Galactic Commons) space had plenty of neutral markets that welcomed spacers of all species, but the Port was something special. Even if you didn’t need to stock up, the spectacle of it was well worth the trip. Sprawling streets stuffed with open-air shopfronts, overflowing with clothes and kitsch and sundries. Grounded ships, gutted and transformed into warehouses and eateries. Towering junk heaps lorded over by odd tinkerers who could always find exactly the part you were looking for, so long as you had the patience to listen to them talk about their latest engine mod. Cold underground bunkers full of bots and chips, swarming at all hours with giddy techs and modders sporting every implant imaginable. Food stalls offering everything from greasy street snacks to curious delicacies, some with rambling menus of daily specials, others with offerings so specific that the only acceptable thing to say at the counter was “One, please.” A menagerie of sapients speaking in a dizzying array of languages, shaking hands and clasping paws and brushing tendrils.

     How could you not love a place like that?

     On some level, Ashby could understand how Port Coriol might be a little jarring to someone accustomed to the glossy prefab trade centers you could find throughout the GC, each as sterile and uniform as the other. The markets of the Port were anything but corporate, and the colony’s independent, anything-goes attitude was exactly what made it so beloved—or, to some, rather unsavory. Ashby conceded that the Port was a little dirty, a little scuffed around the edges. But dangerous? Hardly. Crime, for the most part, was limited to low-stakes scams aimed at tunnel-hopping students or gullible tourists. So long as you had two brain cells to rub together, Port Coriol was as safe as anywhere else. Trade was well regulated, too—that is, as regulated as you wanted it to be. Merchants who risked the ire of the port authority didn’t last long, and even those dealing in shadier merchandise had plenty of honest permits and legitimate goods on hand to keep watchful eyes happy. Port Coriol’s black market was no secret, but it was carefully managed. Not that Ashby ever tried his luck with such things. Losing his license would ruin him, and possibly his crew as well. Despite Kizzy’s regular pleas to let her buy something that would give the engines “a li’l more kick,” it was smarter to keep things aboveboard.

     The Port’s soft orange sun warmed Ashby’s skin as he led his crew through the crowded shuttle dock. Accustomed as he was to living behind sealed walls and thick plex, being outside was refreshing. As usual, though, he had forgotten about the smell—a heady mix of fuel, dust, spices, fire, perfume, kitchen grease, solder and the natural odors of a dozen or more sapient species. there. The shuttle docks were lined with booths selling masks to newcomers who had not been forewarned of the Port’s signature scent.

From THE LONG WAY TO A SMALL, ANGRY PLANET by Becky Chambers (2015)

(ed note: "Cr" is the symbol for "credit", the unit of currency in the Traveller RPG.)


This is the area of a starport city located just outside the port's extraterritorial boundary fence. Like the waterfronts of old, startowns cater to the needs and desires of starship crew members, port workers, and petty criminals.

Startown is sleazy and rundown; it's considered to be the worst district of the spaceport city. Cheap taverns, brothels, hotels, and gambling halls abound, wedged in among warehouses, the local ship's crew hiring hall, cargo brokers' offices, ship suppliers, passenger agent's offices, and the central cargo exchange. The city police usually maintain a large station in startown. Military units (regular and mercenary) and navel units garrisoned nearby also have police and shore patrols constantly roaming the area. Nonetheless, law enforcement authorities are overworked an startown, and overlook all but the most serious of infractions. They are also underpaid and susceptible to bribes.


The central city is the retail and business district common to most starport cities. Located at some distance from the starport, it is reachable by public transportation such as a monorail system, air or ground taxis, or other such systems, depending on local tech level and geographical conditions. Here are located the best hotels, restaurants, and stores as well as bars and night clubs. Trade related businesses such as shipping lines and import/export firms maintain offices here too. Local laws are more rigidly enforced in the central city and a higher standard of conduct and and manners is expected here than in other areas.

Accordingly, starship crews do not regularly venture into the central business district. However, ship captains. senior merchants, naval and military officers, and ship owners may enter the central city on business or seeking better lodgings, food, and entertainment than can be found elsewhere in the city. Usually, food and accommodations that would fall in the "high living" category citizens who are acquainted with or who do business with starship captains, such as cargo brokers and exporters, frequently entertain their clients at the private gaming and dining clubs located here.

Ship's crewmembers, soldiers on liberty, and adventurers will generally seek the same things when looking for rest and recreation on virtually any world. These include a place to sleep. some good meals, relaxing refreshments. and companionship generally of the opposite sex. A good gambling game is often sought, also.


After a week of ship's food that ranges from fairly good to nearly inedible in quality, the average crewmember on liberty is hungry for a good meal. So is a mercenary who has been living on field rations, not to mention the adventurer fresh in from the bush.

As noted in book 3, ordinary meals can be purchased for Cr10, excellent meals for from Cr20 to 50.

Ordinary meals are easily found in the cafes of startown and in the cafeterias and snack shops in the central city.

For better food, characters must take the trouble to go to the central city. Here they will find the best restaurants, however, they might not get in. Most restaurants in this part of town follow a strict code of dress and decorum with most maitres'd frowning on starship jumpsuits or camouflage battle fatigues in their establishments. Even the garish clothes sold by startown tailors won't fool the keepers of the velvet rope. Characters with a social standing of 7 or less will generally not be admitted, and in any case, tables must be reserved in advance in the best places

Cities adjacent to star ports are where the best and most diverse restaurants on a planet will usually be found. This is because these restaurants have the easiest access to imported foodstuffs, and the constant traffic of off-worlders through the starport creates a demand for many varied and exotic styles of cooking.

Agricultural worlds will have the most abundant, least expensive, and highest quality food. Industrial worlds and poor worlds are likely to feature protein concentrates grown in yeast vats as the daily staple. Natural foods are likely to be imported, and will always be very expensive, with a natural food meal costing Cr50 or more. Natural foods here means any food; derived from plants or animals as opposed to synthetic foods grown in vats from yeast, petroleum or similar substances.


Alcoholic beverages are easily available and legal on most worlds except for worlds or regions ruled by theocratic dictatorships. Drunk and disorderly characters are subject to arrest according to the planet's law level. Local police on high law level worlds are more likely to make tavern checks as well.

The cost of alcoholic beverages varies widely depending on type and quality. For instance, a shot and a beer can be had in a startown bar for Cr0.75 to Cr1, A beer alone would run from Cr0.5 to Cr1.5 depending on quality and location of purchase. A good bottle of wine could range from Cr5 to Cr20 for local vintage; while the rare Terran wines cost ten times as much or more per bottle, if available. A rare Terran varietal or appellation d'origine contrôlée wine would cost thousands of credits per case. (A single bottle of vintage 1022 Hospice du Beune sold for Cr7000 in an old wine auction on Capital recently, and a bottle of Tokaj escenzia was sold on the black market for Cr12,000,000.)

Alcoholic beverages are cheapest on agricultural worlds where in many cases they are produced from surplus crops. They are most expensive on industrial worlds, especially sub-Terran and non-Terran worlds where they must be imported. Generally, governments find alcohol a lucrative revenue source and tax it heavily. Illegal distillation and sale of alcohol is a common occupation on many worlds, High quality beverages are likewise favorite commodities for smuggling. Import duties of 10 to 20 percent are not uncommon far alcohol unloaded at starports throughout the Imperium.


Star town is a rough neighborhood where many a liberty has been ruined by crimes committed against crewmembers and other adventurers. Mugging by thugs is a fairly common occurrence which often shows up on the random encounter table of book 3. Also, visiting spacehands are the favorite targets of many thieves.

Characters may have their belongings stolen from dirtside hotel rooms, from have their pockets picked, or be "rolled" while engaged with a professional companion.

Shanghaiing is the ultimate danger starship crewmembers and other adventurers face in and around the bars and joyhouses of startown. if 12 exactly is rolled on the 2D crime roll, a non-player will invite an adventurer to drink with him. The drink will be drugged, rendering the adventurer unconscious. The adventurer will awaken 24 hours later, trussed up aboard a starship (8+ for it to be a pirate vessel) bound for parts unknown,

If 9+ is rolled on the crime roll, the adventurer is robbed of all his cash plus other valuables on his person. The circumstances of the theft and the objects stolen should be determined by the referee according to circumstances, but they should be a logical part of the character's activities. For example, a character on a drinking spree could be robbed while unconscious in an alley near the tavern. If he or she is on a crowded street downtown, his or her pocket may be picked. If engaged with a professional companion, his or her wallet might be lifted while he the player is otherwise distracted.

The referee should roll for theft only once during the week the character's ship is in port unless the character is unusually stupid (intelligence 5 or less). Then roll twice to simulate lack of care and foresight.

From R & R by Terry McInnes in The Journal of the Travellers' Aid Society No. 7 (1981)

(ed note: Natalya and Zoya have become employed by Ravaine Communications, a division of the High Tortuga government. They are Starship Couriers doing data runs to inhabited solar systems, delivering and receiving interstellar email and other correspondance because in this universe there are FTL starships but no ansibles. It is boring tedious work.

At the company hub, a giant company-owned space station called ComSta Bowie, the huge number of starship courier employees are offered lots of fabulous perks. Free docking, free luxurious appartments, etc. But despite this employee turnover is a major problem.

Natalya and Zoya's immediate boss Dorion shows them a proposed design for a new data courier starship)

      Zoya turned away from the display and started to speak to speak but apparently thought better of it.
     “You don’t like it,” Natalya said.
Dorion tilted his head to one side. “I beg your pardon?”
     “This ship. This design. You don’t like it,” she said.
     Dorion tapped the desk with his hands in a rapid pattering of fingertips. “Correct. I need your help to get this travesty pulled." He offered them a faint smile. “Tell me what's wrong in terms I can take to the board.”
     “It’s too small,” Zoya said.
     “It’s big enough for a single pilot,” Dorion said. “From a cost perspective, one pilot is cheaper than a crew of two.” He paused and gave a shrug. “No offense meant. That’s the board’s driver on this project. Keeping the costs down.”
     Natalya looked back at the screen but she wasn’t really seeing the schematic. “Did anybody work up a two-seater model of this?”
     “No,” he said. “The design parameters specified a single pilot crew from the start.”
     “We haven’t been out yet,” Natalya said. She looked at Dorion. “We finished our training cycle two days ago.”
     Dorion nodded. “Yeah. I’ve been dragging my feet because I wanted you to see this. I got permission to show you last night.”
     Natalya nodded. "It’s a good design.”
     “It it,” Zoya said. “But it’ll kill pilots.”

     “Literally?” Dorion asked.
     “Probably,” Natalya said. “You’re already having turnover problems, right?”
     His face blanked for a moment. "Why do you say that?”
     "We talked about it before. I didn’t realize the scope of the issue,” Natalya said.
     Zoya nodded. "Now it begins to make sense.”
     "What does?” Dorion asked.
     "The palatial apartment. The docking fee waivers. The paychecks. All of it,” Zoya said.
     "How many systems do you serve?” Natalya asked.
     "Twelve thousand and change.”
     Natalya felt her eyebrows rise at the number. "How many ships to cover that?”
     "Something over five hundred. Depends on the day and who’s quit lately.”
     "What’s your turnover rate?” Zoya asked.
     Dorion shook his head. "I’m not at liberty to say.”
     "It’s a lot,” Natalya said. "Most pilots won’t dock here even with the free docking, will they?”
     "I’m not at liberty to say,” Dorion said.
     "They have fewer than fifty docking rings that can take an Unwin Eight,” Zoya said. She glanced at Natalya. "Yeah. I counted the other day while you were getting the new navigation system installed.”
     "Nobody but us lives in our wing. Right?” Natalya said.
     "I’m not at liberty to say,” Dorion said but after a moment he nodded his head.

     Natalya turned back to the schematic. "This isn’t an engineering problem.
     "How so?” Dorion asked.
     "It’s a management problem,” she said. "Why won’t they dock here? The Unwins?”
     "They claim it’s too far away from their cargo points. They jump in, dump their data, and jump out.”
     "You don’t believe them?” Zoya asked.
     Dorion shrugged. "Oh, I’m sure that’s part of it. They'll come in for routine maintenance. Sometimes one of them will dock with almost empty tanks and get a free refill.”
     "What about the yachts?” Zoya asked. "You said some of the pilots kept their yachts here.”
     "A handful. It’s more like a cheap place to store them than anything they use regularly. Jump-capable yachts aren’t that easy to park without incurring big fees. They get used infrequently and need station ties for maintenance.”
     "Yeah. Management problem,” Natalya said again. "The freighters, you know how they keep crews happy?”
     "Pay them?” Dorion asked.
     "Well, that’s part of it. You’ve got the pieces here. You’ve given us a great place to live. The food’s great. I never worry about fuel or gases for the ship. All the extrinsic rewards are spectacularly high but nobody wants to live here. Do you know why?” Natalya asked.
     “Do you?” His voice carried a bit of a snap.

     “Hey, we’re just the new kids on the block,” Zoya said. “I’m betting we’re almost the only kids on the block and that’s the problem.”
     “Crews tend to stay together, sailing for weeks, even months at a time between docking. The ship docks for a few days. Everybody plays hard. Works hard. Then they do it all again,” Natalya said.
     “And?” Dorion asked.
     “Everybody's different, but when you’re part of a crew, you’re in it together. You’re part of something larger than yourself and your bunk and your paycheck. You’re a crew.” Natalya pointed at the model. “That’s a good design. It will work well. But you’re taking away the one thing that makes it all work.”
     “Making them single pilots?” Dorion asked.
     Natalya glanced at Zoya before looking at Dorion again. “By not giving them a chance to be part of something bigger.”
     “How can we do that?” he asked. “There’s only room for one on the ship.”
     “She’s not talking about the ship,” Zoya said.
     “Your crews don’t dock here because your crews don’t dock here,” Natalya said.

     “What a crew wants when they dock is companionship. Somebody to look at and talk to that’s not the people they’ve been looking at for two months,” Zoya said. “You know there’s a decent pub here?”
     “Sure. Everybody knows it,” Dorion said.
     “Do you know it’s the only entertainment venue?” Natalya asked.
     “Well, of course I know.”
     “That doesn’t strike you as problematic?” Natalya crossed her arms to keep from slapping him.
     “Why would it be?”
     “What if I don’t want to go to a pub?”
     “Then don’t go,” Dorion said.
     Natalya stared at him.
     “What if she wants to go to a movie? Or go dancing? Or just have a quiet meal with friends in a place that doesn’t serve pub food?” Zoya asked.
     “Where do you eat, Brian?”
     “At home.”
     “Always?” Natalya asked.
     “Of course not. Sometimes we go to Frosty.”
     “We who?” Zoya asked.
     “My wife and I. Who else?”
     “What does she do? She works here on the station?”
     “Yes. HR.”
     “How many people work in HR?”
     “Ten, I think. They only handle the communication station staff. Not like there are a lot of them. The station is largely automated.”
     Natalya glanced at Zoya. “Tell me. Did that department handle our contracts?”
     “Of course.”
     “Does that make us commsta staff?” Zoya asked.
     “No, you ’re private contractors.”
     “Contractors you would like, ideally, to live on-station?” Zoya tilted her head to one side.
     “The company would prefer it, yes.”
     “In theory you could have five hundred crews using this station as base. Do you have room for all of them?” Natalya asked.
     “I don’t see what this has to do with the ship.” Dorion’s face had taken on a ruddy glow about the cheeks.
     “Your problem is not the ship. It’s the station,” Natalya said. “Crews won’t dock here because there's nothing to attract a crew to stay here. Theyre going somewhere else. Anywhere else. Probably everywhere else. You were so proud of not being penny wise and pound foolish and you’ve overlooked the one thing that might—conceivably—cut your turnover in half.”

     Dorion’s jaw tightened and his lips flattened into thin lines. "What might that be?”
     “You’re boring them to death.”
     Dorion’s face went slack. “What?”
     “How many permanent party here on this station?” Natalya asked.
     “I don’t know,” he said. “I think it’s around a hundred if you count all the techs, maintenance people, and support staff like the concierges.”
     "Where do you live?” Natalya asked.
     “We have a wing on the other side of the station.”
     "What do you do for entertainment?” Zoya asked.
     “The usual things. Dinner parties. I’m a member of a book club. My wife has her gaming friends. There’s an active group of network gamers here. VR simulations. I play a little but I’m not very good. She’s amazing. Top ten on the station. We’ll take a vacation over to High Tortuga for the system finals in a few months.” Dorion smiled. “I’m very proud of her.”
     “Right,” Natalya said. "What will you do on High Tortuga?”
     He shrugged. “Well, she’ll have to play during her matches. In between we'll probably do a little shopping. Maybe see a show. It'll be nice to get a meal…” His voice petered out and his eyes grew wide.

     “Some of your pilots dock over at High Tortuga?” Zoya asked.
     “A few,” he said. “It’s not encouraged.”
     “So, here’s the deal, Brian,” Natalya said. “This place is a ghost town. That’s a problem if you're going to try to cut a few pennies off by building these specialized ships and sending them out for weeks at a time only to have the pilots come back here and stare at the bulkheads until they go out again.”
     “So you’re saying the ships are all right but we need to build what? A bowling alley?” His voice carried a hint of sarcasm that Natalya ignored.
     “Bowling alley. Dance hall. Couple of different restaurants. A hotel.” She shrugged. “Give the pilots who live here one week out of the month something to look forward to docking for.”
     "Free fuel isn’t enough?”
     Zoya sighed. “If it were enough, the passageways would be packed and the docks would be full.”
     “You want me to tell the board that they can save money by opening restaurants?”
     “Just tell the board you need to diversify your revenues by leasing franchises to outside operators,” Natalya said.
     Zoya said, “Ideally, they'd be profit centers. The only expense the station would need to incur is getting enough spaces to accommodate the people who want to set up shop here.”

     “We can’t just let anybody in here,” he said. “This is a secure facility.”
     “So, vet them. Make it part of their contracts. Make them sign the nondisclosures,” Zoya said. “You’ve got five hundred crews working for you now. They're flying all over the Western Annex. Docking who knows where. Talking to who knows whom. How secure do you think that is?”
     Dorion’s mouth opened and closed.
     “How much less secure will it be to bring in fifty or a hundred service workers to make this place a station instead of a shell?” Zoya asked.
     He took a deep breath and settled back in his chair. He looked at Zoya for several long moments before turning his gaze on Natalya. He glanced at the schematic on the display, then nodded as if to himself. “Of course. We’ll need another wing for permanent party staff. I think we already have empty bays in the central station. We can isolate the actual secure communications gear in the tower easily enough.” He looked up at Natalya and Zoya as if seeing them for the first time.
     Dorion stood and held out a hand. “Thank you. Both of you. You’ve given me a lot to think about.”
     Natalya shook his hand. “Sorry we didn’t tell you what you wanted to hear.”
     He shook his head. “You told me what I needed to know.” He held out his hand to Zoya. “Both of you.”

     Zoya shook it. “I wish you luck with the board.”
     He grinned. “They can be a bit stubborn when they get an idea.”
     Natalya crossed to the door and stopped. “So make it seem like it’s their idea.”
     “Suggestions?” he asked.
     “You have a chief of operations?” Natalya asked.
     “We do.”
     “Catch him in the passageway and tell him you’ve thought about his idea of setting up some service franchises on the station to attract the pilots you’ll need for the new ships," Zoya said. “Tell him you like the idea and that you’re impressed with the creative way he’s approaching the problem. Then walk away.”
     Natalya laughed.
     “But that’s your idea, not his.”
     “He doesn’t need to know that. By the time he gets back to his office, he’ll think it’s his idea and will claim it when he presents it to the board,” Zoya said.

From SUICIDE RUN by Nathan Lowell (2018)

Teralu Startown: The single-system Teralu polity, in the Magen Exodus, once signed a contract with the Empire to maintain a starport on the populated world of their system, Teralu Actual, making the usual concessions with regard to starport extrality and to freedom of passage. Later, after the coup of 5942, the new Teralu government – now on unfriendly terms with its large neighbor – no longer wished for the arrangement to continue, but were unable to repudiate the contract (good for several millennia); the Empire, as ever, holds what it has.

Hard times, though, were thought to be incoming for Teralu Starport, and for the downport, that turned out to be the case: the new regime had much less use for interstellar commerce and those who engaged in it, and Teralu Down remains today a stripped shell of its former self.

The same, however, cannot be said of Teralu Orbital. Positioned as the Teralu system is along the Mercantile Corridor, and at an intersection of local stargate routes, the ciseflish entrepreneur Rilman min Kinethill rented – at a remarkably low rate – many of the now-unused vast transshipment warehouses of Teralu Orbital, filling them with used freight containers eminently suitable to be cut and refashioned into prefabs, and provided them with independent utilities at his own expense, before offering these volumes for rent at low rates.

Thus, Teralu Orbital now plays host to one of the most flourishing startowns in the inner Worlds, offering in addition to standard starport services everything in the lines of taverns, caravanserais, hotels, flophouses, gambling, trading both speculative and slash, hiring, brawling, negotiable affection, hedonics, junk dealing, street food, scratch medicine, and other such services that a jaded crewsoph’s heart might desire. This is no Nepscian red-market, though: personal security and contract enforcement are vigorously provided by min Kinethill’s chartered mercenary company, the Gray-in-Gray Cloaks. Min Kinethill himself retired from hands-on management some years ago, but maintains ownership of the operation and continues to keep an eye on local affairs from his personal aerostat on Cerise (Banners).

It’s well worth a visit, both to take in the thriving – and often sweltering – atmosphere, and to see the unique architecture created by the local residents. Don’t bother with the planet below, though: the locals are unfriendly, and the local color dull, at best.

– Leyness’s Worlds: Guide to the Ecumene


Torwald's timer woke him at 0700. For a few minutes he enjoyed the luxury of staring at the ceiling, then rolled out of bed. It was ship-out day. As he shaved, the mirror reflected the Spartan simplicity of his surroundings: bunk, table, chair, a small bathroom, all encompassed by walls painted a pleasing neutral color. The room was identical to millions of others in transients' hotels scattered throughout the ports of the inhabited worlds. A spacer seldom needs anything more luxurious.

His bag was already packed at the foot of the bed, and as Torwald hoisted it to his shoulder, he made the ritual last-minute check for overlooked items, then walked down the hallway to the drop and stepped inside. His stomach jumped as the circular platform swiftly descended ninety-five floors. At ground level, he entered a lobby decorated with murals of alien landscapes, an inevitable motif in hotels catering to spacers.

The ports were all alike, at least on the more developed worlds, and Earthport was no exception: a great, overcrowded anthill towering into the sky.

The rest of Earthport was just waking up, but the spaceport and environs worked round the clock. Torwald was looking for a place that served good meals. He always held back enough pay for one final feast before moving out. On most ships, especially the small ones, ship fare became monotonous very quickly.

Torwald dug in. All was delicious and all authentic, even though the lamb probably had been cloned in a laboratory and the grain for the pita bread was from an orbiting agristation. These days little land remained on Earth for farming or grazing.

At the gate of the spaceport the familiar chemical odor hit him. He inhaled deeply; it was reassuring, the smell of his trade. To the uninitiated it was an ungodly stench: solvent, vehicle fumes, fuel for the boosters and the short-haul chemical burners. After several minutes the loop shuttle—a robot tractor pulling a string of cars lined with benches—glided up to the gate and the few home-bound late-shift workers descended. Torwald climbed aboard. He was the only passenger.

The port area covered four square kilometers of perfectly level surface, much of it occupied by hangars, repair docks, and underground machine shops, which Torwald passed through in the shuttle on his way to the terminal. Far out on the launching fields he could make out the lordly shapes of three towering Transgalactics. They were ships of the big lines that had cornered 97 percent of all intersystem trade and transport. Beyond the Transgalactics stood the humbler, lower silhouettes of the tramps. Those were his ships. In the glamour buckets, all was regimented and impersonal; the only way to gain rank was to bootlick all the way up the ladder. It was a system Torwald couldn't stomach—a flaw of personality that had kept him a ranker or probationary officer all the time he was in the Navy.

The shuttle finally stopped at a gigantic dome, the largest spaceport building in all human space, though those of several of the colonies were catching up fast. Torwald entered the terminal and found himself in an immense circular cavern, acres in area. Around its periphery were ticket booths, waiting rooms, gift shops, snack bars, lading offices, Customs and Immigration, hiring offices, and hundreds of others.

When the hiring light on the big board lit up, Torwald sauntered toward the office. The man behind the desk was typical of those who worked for the port authorities or spacing companies but never got into space themselves: neat uniform, bored face. Torwald unclipped the gold spacer's bracelet from his wrist and handed it to the officer, who fed it into his computer console. The bracelet carried his naval and merchant service records—at least the official parts of both. His eyebrows rose fractionally as he read the printout. "There are two Class Ones of the Satsuma Line out there," he said, "and the Four Planet Line Starvoyager. With your qualifications, I could line you up with a berth in any of them."

"Not interested. What about the tramps?"

"Oh, sorry," the young officer said affably. "You have a psych problem?"

"Yeah, I hate stuffed uniforms."

The tramps, shuttles, and small-line ships were another matter. They were cramped, carrying crews of no more than a couple dozen at most. Scarred and battered, they were usually obsolete castoffs, sold at auction when one of the lines laid in a new fleet of up-to-date ships. To Torwald, they were more beautiful than the finest new craft. They were the ships he had chosen to spend his life in.

Last in the line stood the Space Angel. Her position told Torwald something about her recent prosperity. This far from the main buildings, the docking fees were cheaper. She was a real antique, her once glossy sides now dulled after years of collision with drifting space dust.

"Permission to come aboard," Torwald stated formally.

"Granted," the little man replied. Spacers were creatures of ritual.

Inside, she was so homey that Torwald felt like kicking off his boots. The deck, bulkheads, and overhead were covered with scars from the magnetic plates that spacers had worn on their bootsoles in the days before the invention of the gravity field. He knocked on the captain's hatch and heard a growled "Stand inside."

Within a block of the spaceport dozens of surplus stores catered to spacers. The end of the War had dumped millions of tons of surplus gear on the market, and the shops had sprung up overnight. Ideal places for a spacer to outfit himself cheaply.

From SPACE ANGEL by John Maddox Roberts (1979)

      “Spaceman's Row," Loring directed, “and make it quick!”
     The driver stepped on the accelerator and the red teardrop-shaped vehicle shot away from the curb into the crowd of cars racing along Premier Highway Number One. In the back seat of the jet cab, Loring turned to his spacemate and slapped him on the back.
     “Soon's we get into the Row, you go and pack our gear, see! Then meet me at the Café Cosmos in half an hour. ”
     “Pack our gear?” asked Mason with alarm. “Are we going some place?”
     Loring shot a glance at the driver. “Just do as I tell you!” he growled. “In a few hours we’ll be on our way to Tara, and then—” He dropped his voice to a whisper. Mason listened and smiled.

     The jet cab slid along the arrow-straight highway toward the heart of the city of Venusport. Soon it reached the outskirts. On both sides of the highway rose low, flat-roofed dwellings, built on a revolving wheel to follow the precious sun, and constructed of pure Titan crystal. Farther ahead and looming magnificent in the late afternoon sun was the first and largest of Venusian cities, Venusport. Like a fantastically large diamond, the startling towers of the young city shot upward into the misty atmosphere, catching the light and reflecting it in every color of the spectrum
.     Loring and Mason did not appreciate the beauty of the city as they rode swiftly through the busy streets. Loring, in particular, thought as he had never thought before. He was busily putting a plot together in his mind—a plot as dangerous as it was criminal.

     The jet cab slammed to a stop at a busy intersection of the city. This was Spaceman's Row, and it dated back to Venusport's first rough and tough pioneering days.
     For two blocks on either side of the street, in building after building, cafés, pawnshops, cheap restaurants above and below the street level, supplied the needs of countless shadowy figures who came and went as silently as ghosts. Spaceman’s Row was where suspended spacemen and space rats, prospectors of the asteroids for uranium and pitchblende, gathered and found short-lived and rowdy fun. Here, skippers of rocket ships, bound for destinations in deep space, could find hands willing to sign on their dirty freighters despite low pay and poor working conditions. No questions were asked here. Along Spaceman's Row, hard men played a grim game of survival.

     Loring and Mason paid the driver, got out, and walked down the busy street. Here and there, nuaniuam signs began to flick on, their garish blues, reds, and whites bathing the street in a glow of synthetic light. It was early evening, but already Spaceman's Row was getting ready for the coming night.
     Presently, Mason left Loring, climbing up a long narrow flight of stairs leading to a dingy back hall bedroom to pack their few remaining bits of gear.

     Loring walked on amid the noise and laughter that echoed from cheap restaurants and saloons. Stopping before Café Cosmos, he surveyed the street quickly before entering the wide doors. Many years before, the Cosmos had been a sedate dining spot, a place where respectable family parties came to enjoy good food and the gentle breezes of a near-by lake. Now, with the lake polluted by industry and with the gradual influx of shiftless spacemen, the Cosmos had been given over to the most basic, simple need of its new patrons—rocket juice!
     The large room that Loring entered still retained some of the features of its more genteel beginnings, but the huge blaring teleceiver screen was filled with the pouting face of a popular singer. He advanced to the bar that occupied one entire wall.
     “Rocket juice!” he said, slamming down his fist on the wooden bar. “Double!” He was served a glass of the harsh bluish liquid, paid his credits, and downed the drink.

From DANGER IN DEEP SPACE by Carey Rockwell (1953)

     Star Street was not so much a place as a name. It was the name that starmen invariably gave to whatever street near a spaceport afforded fun and comfort. The Star Street of Vhol was not too much different from many others that Dilullo had walked.
     It had lights and music and drink and food and women. It was a gusty, crowded place but it was not sinful, for most of these people ... did not know they were sinning at all. Dilullo did not have an easy time keeping his men with him as he looked for an inn.

     A buxom woman with pale green skin and flashing eyes hailed him from the open front of her establishment, where girls of different hues and at least three different shapes preened themselves.
     "The ninety-nine joys dwell here, oh Earthmen! Enter!"
     Dilullo shook his head. "Not I, mother. I crave the hundredth joy."
     "And what is the hundredth joy?"
     Dilullo answered sourly. "The joy of sitting down quietly and reading a good book."

     Rutledge broke up laughing, beside him, and the woman started to screech curses in galacto.
     "Old!" she cried. "Old withered husk of an Earthman! Totter on your way, ancient one!"

     Dilullo shrugged as her maledictions followed them down the noisy street. "I don't know but what she's right. I'm feeling fairly old, and not very bright."
     He found an inn that looked clean enough and bargained for rooms. The big common room was shadowy and empty, the inn's patrons having apparently gone forth to sample the happiness Dilullo had rejected. He sat down with the others and called for a Vhollan brandy, and then turned to Rutledge.

From THE WEAPON FROM BEYOND by Edmond Hamilton (1965)

They went to the address the driver had given them, in Old Town under the original bubble. I gathered that it was the sort of jungle every port has had since the Phoenicians sailed through the shoulder of Africa, a place of released transportees, prostitutes, monkey-pushers (drug dealers), rangees, and other dregs – a neighborhood where policemen travel only in pairs.

From DOUBLE STAR by Robert Heinlein, 1956

The sailor at the Norbert IV’s boarding hatch pointed to a row of low prefab buildings 300 meters in from where the vessel had landed. The freighter’s leave party—the whole crew except for a two-man anchor watch—had already stumped most of the distance over the blasted ground. The crewmen carried only AWOL bags, while the disembarking passengers had much more substantial luggage.

“There’s the terminal,” the sailor said. “The left one’s Marvelan entry requirements. If there’s nobody home, go to passenger operations beside it. Pilar’ll be there, no fear.”

Cantilucca’s starport was a square kilometer bulldozed from the forest and roughly leveled. The earth had been compressed and stabilized.

There hadn’t been a great deal of maintenance in the century or so since the port was cleared. Slabs of surface had tilted in a number of places, exposing untreated soil on which vegetation could sprout. The jets of starships landing and taking off limited the size of the shrubbery, at least in the portion nearer the terminal buildings.

“Is the city far?” Johann Vierziger asked. His voice was calm and melodious, but his eyes never rested more than a second in one place. Watching him was like following a tiny, ravenous insectivore as it snuffled through the leaf mold.

“Two kilometers is all,” Pilar said. “The usual separation in case of a landing accident".

The town had no streetlights, but the ground floors and occasionally one or two of the higher stories were dazzles of direct and reflected enticement. Instead of having common walls, the buildings were set separately, sometimes behind a walled courtyard. Barkers doubling as armed guards stood outside business entrances, shouting to the traffic through bullhorns.

Pilar slowed the van to a crawl. The theoretical right-of-way was fifteen meters wide, but hawkers and shills narrowed the street, grabbing at pedestrians. Coke saw a trio of crewmen from the Norbert IV. The sailors stayed together as they crossed from one set of premises to the next. Though the men wore pistols openly, they looked more apprehensive than dangerous.

Banners, lighted signs, and occasionally nude women ... were displayed in second- and third-floor windows. There was always a screen of heavy wire mesh to prevent objects from being thrown in—or perhaps out. Music pumped from street-level doorways, different in style at every one; always distorted, always shatteringly loud.

Every major starport had a district like Potosi. The difference here was that Potosi appeared to have nothing else.

From THE SHARP END by David Drake, 1993

He had taken one of the cubicle steel rooms in the great steel lodging-houses the Martian government offers for a very nominal rent to transients. The original purpose was to house those motley hordes of spaceman that swarm every port city of the civilized planets, offering them accommodations cheap and satisfactory enough so that they will not seek the black byways of the town and there fall in with the denizens of the Martian underworld whose lawlessness is a byword among space sailors.

The great steel building that housed Smith and countless others was not entirely free from the influences of Martian byways, and if the police had actually searched the place with any degree of thoroughness a large percentage of its dwellers might have been transferred to the Emperor’s prisons—Smith almost certainly among them, for his activities were rarely within the law and though he could not recall at the moment any particularly flagrant sins committed in Lalkdarol, a charge could certainly have been found against him by the most half-hearted searcher. However, the likelihood of a police raid was very remote, and Smith, as he went in under the steel portals of the great door, rubbed shoulders with smugglers and pirates and fugitives and sinners of all the sins that keep the spaceways thronged.

In his little cubicle he switched on the light and saw a dozen blurred replicas of himself, reflected dimly in the steel walls, spring into being with the sudden glow.

From THE SCARLET DREAM by C. L. Moore, 1934

The Starfall was a long way down scale from the pleasure houses of the upper town. Here strange vices were also merchandise, but not such exotics as Wass provided. This was strictly for crewmen of the star freighters who could be speedily and expertly separated from a voyage's pay in an evening. The tantalizing scents of Wass' terraces were reduced here to simply smells, the majority of which were not fragrant.

There had already been two fatal duels that evening. A tubeman from a rim ship had challenged a space miner to settle a difference with those vicious whips made from the tail casings of Flangoid flying lizards, an encounter which left both men in ribbons, one dead, one dying. And a scarred, ex-space marine had blaster-flamed one of the Star-and-Comet dealers into charred human ash.

The young man who had been ordered to help clear away the second loser retired to the stinking alley outside to lose the meal which was part of his meager day's pay. Now he crawled back inside, his face greenish, one hand pressed to his middle section.

He was thin, the fine bones of his face tight under the pallid skin, his ribs showing even through the sleazy fabric of the threadbare tunic with its house seal. When he leaned his head back against the grime encrusted wall, raising his face to the light, his hair had the glint of bright chestnut, a gold which was also red. And for his swamper's labor he was almost fastidiously clean.


He shivered as if an icy wind had found him and opened his eyes. They seemed disproportionately large in his skin and bone face and were of an odd shade, neither green nor blue, but somewhere between.

"Get going, you! Ain't paying out good credits for you to sit there like you was buying on your own!" The Salarkian who loomed above him spoke accentless, idiomatic Basic Space which came strangely from between his yellow lips. A furred hand thrust the handle of a mop-up stick at the young man, a taloned thumb jerked the direction in which to use that evil-smelling object. Vye Lansor levered himself up the wall, took the mop, setting his teeth grimly.

Someone had spilled a mug of Kardo and the deep purple liquid was already patterning the con-stone floor past any hope of cleaning. But he set to work slapping the fringe of the noisome mop back and forth to sop up what he could. The smell of the Kardo uniting with the general effluvia of the room and its inhabitants heightened his queasiness.

Working blindly in a half stupor, he was not aware of the man sitting alone in the booth until his mop spattered the ankle of one of the drinking girls. She struck him sharply across the face with a sputtering curse in the tongue of Altar-Ishtar.

The blow sent him back against the open lattice of the booth. As he tried to steady himself another hand reached up, fingers tightened about his wrist. He flinched, tried to jerk away from that hold, only to discover that he was the other's prisoner.

And looking down at his captor in apprehension, he was aware even then of the different quality of this man. The patron wore the tunic of a crewman, lighter patches where the ship's badges should have been to show that he was not engaged. But, though his tunic was shabby, dirty, his magnetic boots scuffed and badly worn, he was not like the others now enjoying the pleasures of the Starfall.

The other slapped his hand down on an air-car call button, stood waiting until one of the city flitters landed on beam before them.

From the seat of the air-car Vye noted they were heading into the respectability of the upper city, away from the stews ringing the launch port. He tried to guess their destination or purpose, not that either mattered much. Then the car descended on a landing stage.

From STAR HUNTER by Andre Norton, 1961

It was true. Even in the bars that catered to inner planet types, the mix was rarely better than one Earther or Martian in ten (Belters). Squinting out at the crowd, Miller saw that the short, stocky men and women were nearer a third.

"Ship come in?" he asked.


"EMCN?" he asked. The Earth-Mars Coalition Navy often passed through Ceres on its way to Saturn, Jupiter, and the stations of the Belt, but Miller hadn't been paying enough attention to the relative position of the planets to know where the orbits all stood.

The décor was pure Belt—old-style ships' folding tables and chairs set into the wall and ceiling as if the gravity might shut off at any moment. Snake plant and devil's ivy—staples of first-generation air recycling—decorated the wall and freestanding columns. The music was soft enough to talk over, loud enough to keep private conversations private.

Ships were small. Space was always at a premium, and even on a monster like the Donnager. the corridors and compartments were cramped and uncomfortable. On the Rocinante, the only rooms where Holden could spread out his arms without touching two walls were the galley and the cargo bay. No one who flew for a living was claustrophobic, but even the most hardened Belt prospector could recognize the rising tension of being ship-bound. It was the ancient stress response of the trapped animal, the subconscious knowledge that there was literally nowhere to go that you couldn't see from where you were already standing. Getting off the ship at port was a sudden and sometimes giddying release of tension.

It often took the form of a drinking game.

Like all professional sailors, Holden had sometimes ended long flights by drinking himself into a stupor.

From LEVIATHAN WAKES by "James S.A. Corey" (Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) 2011
First novel of The Expanse

Spaceport Bar

As soon as the spacecraft lands at the spaceport, after a long journey, what are all the enlisted men going to do? Duh, head for the nearest bar and drink alcohol until they pass out. And maybe sing a drinking song or two in the process.


There might also be wildcat Phobians setting up shop with their own ice processing gear in smaller internal bubble-caves. Old spacecraft too broken down to make the run back to Terra might be retired to serve as surface facilities. Break off the propellant tanks to melt'em down for metal, bury the habitat modules in regolith for protection, take the reactor and use it as a power generator. Use a Mylar bubble mirror with the dilute Martian sunshine to slowly crack water into hydrogen and oxygen, subsist on a diet of algae. And you'd have a habitat shack for an eccentric outer space mountain man. The Old Rocket Bar might actually be an old rocket.


(ed note: "Cr" is the symbol for "credit", the unit of currency in the Traveller RPG.)


Alcoholic beverages are easily available and legal on most worlds except for worlds or regions ruled by theocratic dictatorships. Drunk and disorderly characters are subject to arrest according to the planet's law level. Local police on high law level worlds are more likely to make tavern checks as well.

The cost of alcoholic beverages varies widely depending on type and quality. For instance, a shot and a beer can be had in a startown bar for Cr0.75 to Cr1, A beer alone would run from Cr0.5 to Cr1.5 depending on quality and location of purchase. A good bottle of wine could range from Cr5 to Cr20 for local vintage; while the rare Terran wines cost ten times as much or more per bottle, if available. A rare Terran varietal or appellation d'origine contrôlée wine would cost thousands of credits per case. (A single bottle of vintage 1022 Hospice du Beune sold for Cr7000 in an old wine auction on Capital recently, and a bottle of Tokaj escenzia was sold on the black market for Cr12,000,000.)

Alcoholic beverages are cheapest on agricultural worlds where in many cases they are produced from surplus crops. They are most expensive on industrial worlds, especially sub-Terran and non-Terran worlds where they must be imported. Generally, governments find alcohol a lucrative revenue source and tax it heavily. Illegal distillation and sale of alcohol is a common occupation on many worlds, High quality beverages are likewise favorite commodities for smuggling. Import duties of 10 to 20 percent are not uncommon far alcohol unloaded at starports throughout the Imperium.

From R & R by Terry McInnes in The Journal of the Travellers' Aid Society No. 7 (1981)

     The jet cab slammed to a stop at a busy intersection of the city. This was Spaceman's Row, and it dated back to Venusport's first rough and tough pioneering days.
     Loring walked on amid the noise and laughter that echoed from cheap restaurants and saloons. Stopping before Café Cosmos, he surveyed the street quickly before entering the wide doors. Many years before, the Cosmos had been a sedate dining spot, a place where respectable family parties came to enjoy good food and the gentle breezes of a near-by lake. Now, with the lake polluted by industry and with the gradual influx of shiftless spacemen, the Cosmos had been given over to the most basic, simple need of its new patrons—rocket juice!
     The large room that Loring entered still retained some of the features of its more genteel beginnings, but the huge blaring teleceiver screen was filled with the pouting face of a popular singer. He advanced to the bar that occupied one entire wall.
     “Rocket juice!” he said, slamming down his fist on the wooden bar. “Double!” He was served a glass of the harsh bluish liquid, paid his credits, and downed the drink.

From DANGER IN DEEP SPACE by Carey Rockwell (1953)

(ed note: In the novel, the Empire wants to negotiate a mining treaty with the Martians. Who have tentacles, by the way. The problem is that the key Martian ambassador is partial to a cocktail called a "Three Planets". Only a Martian bartender can make a proper Three Planets, something to do with using tentacles. Our Heroes are contracted to make a robot bartender capable of mixing a proper Three Planets. This is a problem, since if you add three drops of vuzd liquor to the drink it is incipid, but if you add four drops it tastes nasty.

Our Heroes enlist the aid of a Martian Bartender named Guzub.)

"I got one of those new electronic cameras — you know, one thousand exposures per second… So we took pictures of Guzub making a Three Planets, and I could construct this one to do it exactly right down to the thousandth of a second. The proper proportion of vuzd, in case you're interested, works out to three-point-six-five-four-seven-eight-two-three drops. It's done with a flip of the third joint of the tentacle on the down beat.

"It didn't seem right to use Guzub to make a robot that would compete with him and probably drive him out of business, so we've promised him a generous pension from the royalties on usuform barkeeps."

I took one sip and said, "Where's Guzub?... this Three Planets, it's perfect..."

Quinby opened a door. There sat the first original Quinby usuform — no remake of a Robinc model, but a brand-new creation. Quinby said, "Three Planets," and he went into action. He had tentacles, and the motions were exactly like Guzub's except that he himself was the shaker. He poured the liquids into his maw, joggled about, and then poured them out of a hollow hoselike tentacle.

(ed note: Usuform" means a robot that is designed along functional lines, instead of stupidly forcing the design to look like a mental man)

From Q.U.R. by Anthony Boucher (1943)

      It was at this moment that the soft-gliding motion of the mobile cabinet attracted their attention. It came to a halt within easy hand reach.
     Ennius gestured toward it and said to the other, “What would you prefer?”
     “I’m not particular. A lime twist, perhaps.”
     “That can be handled. The cabinet will have the ingredients…With or without Chensey?”
     “Just about a tang of it,” said Arvardan, and held up his forefinger and thumb, nearly touching.
     “You’ll have it in a minute.”

     Somewhere in the bowels of the cabinet (perhaps the most universally popular mechanical offspring of human ingenuity) a bartender went into action—a non-human bartender whose electronic soul mixed things not by jiggers but by atom counts, whose ratios were perfect every time, and who could not be matched by all the inspired artistry of anyone merely human.

     The tall glasses appeared from nowhere, it seemed, as they waited in the appropriate recesses.
     Arvardan took the green one and, for a moment, felt the chill of it against his cheek.
     Then he placed the rim to his lips and tasted. “Just right,” he said.

From PEBBLE IN THE SKY by Isaac Asimov (1950)

      A dozen men clustered around the bartending robot—his cousin and family lawyer, Nikkolay Trask; Lothar Ffayle, the banker; Alex Gorram, the shipbuilder, and his son Basil; Baron Rathmore; more of the Wardshaven nobles whom he knew only distantly. And Otto Harkaman.

     Prince Bentrik's ten-year-old son, Count Steven of Ravary, wore the uniform of an ensign of the Royal Navy; he was accompanied by his tutor, an elderly Navy captain. They both stopped in the doorway of Trask's suite, and the boy saluted smartly.
     "Permission to come aboard, sir?" he asked.
     "Welcome aboard, count; captain. Belay the ceremony and find seats; you're just in time for second breakfast."

     As they sat down, he aimed his ultraviolet light-pencil at a serving robot. Unlike Mardukan robots, which looked like surrealist conceptions of Pre-Atomic armored knights, it was a smooth ovoid floating a few inches from the floor on its own contragravity; as it approached, its top opened like a bursting beetle shell and hinged trays of food swung out. The boy looked at it in fascination.
     "Is that a Sword-World robot, sir, or did you capture it somewhere?"
     "It's one of our own." He was pardonably proud; it had been built on Tanith a year before. "Has an ultrasonic dishwasher underneath, and it does some cooking on top, at the back."

     The elderly captain was, if anything, even more impressed than his young charge. He knew what went into it, and he had some conception of the society that would develop things like that.
     "I take it you don't use many human servants, with robots like that," he said.
     "Not many. We're all low-population planets, and nobody wants to be a servant."

     The landing stages of the palace were crowded when he and Prince Bentrik landed, and, at a discreet distance, swarms of air-vehicles circled, creating a control problem for the police. Parting from Bentrik, he was escorted to the suite prepared for him; it was luxurious in the extreme but scarcely above Sword-World standards. There were a surprising number of human servants, groveling and fawning and getting underfoot and doing work robots could have been doing better. What robots there were were inefficient, and much work and ingenuity had been lavished on efforts to copy human form to the detriment of function.
     He found that there was no bartending robot; he had to have a human servant bring drinks. He made up his mind to have a few of the Nemesis robots sent down to him.

From SPACE VIKING by H. Beam Piper (1962)

Pawn Shop

So you're a starship crew on leave and prowling the port's Star-town, and you've already blown your flight pay on the bars, brothels, and gambling halls. Need some quick cash? Head for the nearest Pawn Shop and see if you can hock some of your junk to fund more liquor and iniquity.

Pawning your official issued equipment can get you into trouble (especially your sidearm) but a clever crewperson will pick up unusual gems or other exotic trinkets on one planet hoping they can be hocked as expensive off-world curios on another planet.

This can include small alien animals if they can pass the ship doctor's decontamination and quarantine. Good luck getting such live goods onto another planet, most governments are incredibly paranoid about allowing the import of a possibly invasive species. This happens far too often by accident.

Pawnbrokers know that often thieves will approach them with stolen goods, hoping the broker will unwittingly (or wittingly) act as a fence. Pawnbrokers also know that this is common knowledge among the local police, so always have plausible deniability.


A pawnbroker is an individual or business (pawnshop or pawn shop) that offers secured loans to people, with items of personal property used as collateral. The items having been pawned to the broker are themselves called pledges or pawns, or simply the collateral. While many items can be pawned, pawnshops typically accept jewelry, musical instruments, home audio equipment, computers, video game systems, televisions, cameras, power tools, firearms, and other relatively valuable items as collateral.

If an item is pawned for a loan (colloquially, "hocked"), within a certain contractual period of time the pawner may redeem it for the amount of the loan plus some agreed-upon amount for interest. The amount of time, and rate of interest, is governed by law or by the pawnbroker's policies. If the loan is not paid (or extended, if applicable) within the time period, the pawned item will be offered for sale to other customers by the pawnbroker. Unlike other lenders, the pawnbroker does not report the defaulted loan on the customer's credit report, since the pawnbroker has physical possession of the item and may recoup the loan value through outright sale of the item. The pawnbroker also sells items that have been sold outright to them by customers. Some pawnshops are willing to trade items in their shop for items brought to them by customers.

Business model

Assessment of items

The pawning process begins when a customer brings an item into a pawn shop. Common items pawned (or, in some instances, sold outright) by customers include jewelry, electronics, collectibles, musical instruments, tools, and (depending on local regulations) firearms. Gold, silver, and platinum are popular items—which are often purchased, even if in the form of broken jewelry of little value. Metal can still be sold in bulk to a bullion dealer or smelter for the value by weight of the component metals. Similarly, jewelry that contains genuine gemstones, even if broken or missing pieces, have value.

The pawnbroker assumes the risk that an item might have been stolen. However, laws in many jurisdictions protect both the community and broker from unknowingly handling stolen goods (also known as fencing). These laws often require that the pawnbroker establish positive identification of the seller through photo identification (such as a driver's license or government-issued identity document), as well as a holding period placed on an item purchased by a pawnbroker (to allow time for local law enforcement authorities to track stolen items). In some jurisdictions, pawnshops must give a list of all newly pawned items and any associated serial number to police, so the police can determine if any of the items have been reported stolen. Many police departments advise burglary or robbery victims to visit local pawnshops to see if they can locate stolen items. Some pawnshops set up their own screening criteria to avoid buying stolen property.

The pawnbroker assesses an item for its condition and marketability by testing the item and examining it for flaws, scratches or other damage. Another aspect that affects marketability is the supply and demand for the item in the community or region. In some markets, the used goods market is so flooded with used stereos and car stereos, for example, that pawnshops will only accept the higher-quality brand names. Alternatively, a customer may offer to pawn an item that is difficult to sell, such as a surfboard in an inland region, or a pair of snowshoes in warm-winter regions. The pawnshop owner either turns down hard-to-sell items, or offers a low price. While some items never get outdated, such as hammers and hand saws, electronics and computer items quickly become obsolete and unsaleable. Pawnshop owners must learn about different makes and models of computers, software, and other electronic equipment, so they can value objects accurately.

To assess value of different items, pawnbrokers use guidebooks ("blue books"), catalogs, Internet search engines, and their own experience. Some pawnbrokers have trained in identification of gems, or employ a specialist to assess jewelry. One of the risks of accepting secondhand goods is that the item may be counterfeit. If the item is counterfeit, such as a fake Rolex watch, it may have only a fraction of the value of the genuine item. Once the pawnbroker determines the item is genuine and not likely stolen, and that it is marketable, the pawnbroker offers the customer an amount for it. The customer can either sell the item outright if (as in most cases) the pawnbroker is also a licensed secondhand dealer, or offer the item as collateral on a loan. Most pawnshops are willing to negotiate the amount of the loan with the client.

Determining amount of loan

To determine the amount of the loan, the pawnshop owner needs to take into account several factors. A key factor is the predicted resale value of the item. This is often thought of in terms of a range, with the low point being the wholesale value of the used good, in the case that the pawnshop is unable to sell it to pawnshop customers, and they decide to sell it to a wholesale merchant of used goods. The higher point in the range is the retail sale price in the pawnshop. For example, a five-year-old laptop may have been bought by the customer for $1000. However, as a used item in a pawnshop, it might only fetch $250 as a purchase price in the pawnshop, because the customers will be wary that it might be a "lemon" that the seller is getting rid of because it has some hard-to-detect problem, and because pawnshops do not typically offer a warranty with goods sold. Used electronics wholesalers will buy the laptop from the pawnshop owner for $100 to $150. The wholesaler pays a lower price than the retail value because they have the added cost of hiring electronics technicians who overhaul and repair the items so that they can be sold in used electronics stores.

The pawnshop owner also takes into account their knowledge of supply and demand for the item in question to determine if they think that they will end up selling the laptop for $100 to a wholesaler or $250 to a pawnshop customer. If the pawnshop owner believes that the local market for used laptops is saturated (overloaded with used laptops), they may fear that they will only get $100 for the laptop if they have to unload it to a wholesaler. With that figure in mind as the expected revenue, the pawnshop owner has to factor in the overhead costs of the store (rent, heat, electricity, phone connection, yellow pages advertisement, website costs, staff costs, insurance, alarm system, items lost when they are confiscated by police, etc.), and a profit for the business. As such, the customer who comes in with this laptop that they paid $1000 for when it was new may be offered as little as $50 by the pawnshop owner, who is taking into account all of the risk and cost factors.

In determining the amount of the loan, the pawnshop owner also assesses the likelihood that the customer will pay the interest for several weeks or months and then return to repay the loan and reclaim the item. Since the key to the pawnshop business model is making interest off the loaned money, pawnshop owners want to accept items that the customer is likely to want to recover, after having paid interest for a period on the loan. If, in an extreme case, a pawnshop only accepted items that customers had no interest in ever reclaiming, it would not make any money from interest, and the store would in effect become a second hand dealer. Determining if the customer is likely to return to reclaim an item is a subjective decision, and the pawnshop owner may take many factors into account. For example, if a young able-bodied man comes into the pawnshop to pawn an electric wheelchair (perhaps claiming it to be the possession of his late grandparent), the pawnshop owner may doubt that the item will be redeemed. On the other hand, if a middle aged man pawns a top quality set of golf clubs, the pawnshop owner may assess it as more credible that he will return for the items. Some customers may attempt to persuade the pawnshop owner that the item in question is important to them ("that necklace belonged to my grandmother, so I will certainly return for it") as a means of obtaining a loan. Other customers return to the same store, repeatedly pawn the same item(s) as a way of borrowing money, and return to pay the interest and recover the item(s) before the end of the loan period; thus, the pawnbroker knows that redemption is likely and will therefore make the loan.

The saleability of the item and the amount that the customer wants for it are also factored into the pawnbroker's assessment; if a customer offers a very salable item at a low price, the pawnbroker may accept it even if it is unlikely that the customer will return, because the pawnshop can turn around a quick profit on the item. However, if a customer offers an extremely low price the pawnbroker may turn down the offer, because this suggests that the item may either be counterfeit or stolen.

In some countries e.g. Sweden there is legislation to prevent the pawn broker from making unfair profits (usury due to financial distress or ignorance of the customer) at the expense of the customer by low evaluation on their collaterals. It is stated that the pawn broker may not keep the collateral but must sell them at public auction. Any excess after paying the loan, the interest and auction costs must be paid to the customer. If the item does not fetch a price that will cover these expenses the pawn broker may keep the item and sell it through other channels. Despite this protection, the cost for the customer to borrow money this way will be high, and if he cannot redeem the collateral it would in many cases be better to sell the goods directly.

Inventory management

Pawnshops have to be careful to manage how many new items they accept as pawns: either too little inventory or too much is bad. A pawnshop might have too little inventory if, for example, it mostly buys jewels and gold that it resells or smelts—or perhaps the pawnshop owner quickly sells most items through specialty shops (e.g., musical instruments to music stores, stereos to used hi-fi audio stores, etc.). In this case, the pawnshop is less interesting to customers, because it is mostly empty.

On the other extreme, a pawnshop with a huge inventory has several disadvantages. If the store is crammed with used athletic gear, old stereos, and old tools, the store owner must spend time and money shelving and sorting items, displaying them on different stands or in glass cases, and monitoring customers to prevent shoplifting. If there are too many low-value, poor quality items, such as old toasters, scratched-up 20-year-old TVs, and worn-out sports gear piled into cardboard boxes, the store may begin to look more like a rummage sale or flea market. Small, high-value items such as iPod players or cell phones must be in locked glass display cases, which means the owner may need additional staff to unlock the cabinets for items customers want to examine. As a store fills with items, an owner must protect inventory theft by hiring staff to supervise the different areas or install security cameras and alarms. Too much unsold inventory means that the store has not been able to realize value from these items to provide cash to lend.

The better option lies in the middle: a store with a moderate amount of good quality, brand-name items arranged neatly in the display windows attracts passersby, who are more likely to enter and shop. If items are attractively laid out in display cases and shelves, the pawnshop looks more professional and reputable. Once passersby start shopping in the store, they may be more inclined to pawn or sell their own items to the pawnshop. Some pawnshop owners prevent cluttered look by storing overstocked items, or less attractive items such as snow tires, in a back room or basement. Some pawnshop companies operate a chain of stores in a state or province. This way, they can balance inventory between stores. For example, they can move some of a rural store's surfeit of fishing gear to an urban store.

Some stores also slim down inventory by selling items to specialty retailers. A pawnshop in a low-income neighborhood that pays a customer $300 for a power amplifier with a used value of $2000 may find the unit hard to sell alongside much less expensive merchandise. They may sell the amplifier to a used audio equipment store whose customers expect higher end equipment. Some pawnshops sell specialty items online, on eBay or other websites. A specialty item such as a high-end model railroad set may not sell in the store for its "blue book" value. On an online auction, it stands a good chance of bringing a good price.

Another growing trend in the industry is vehicle pawn or auto pawning. This form of Pawnbroking works like a traditional pawn loan, however these stores only accept vehicles as security. Many stores are also accepting "Title Loans", where you can pawn the ownership or "Title" documents of your vehicle. This essentially means that the pawnbroker owns your car while you drive it, and you regain ownership once you pay back your loan. There are many examples of how these Vehicle Pawn Businesses work, however they all tend to operate in the same manner. Whilst the storage space required for vehicles would be large, this is offset by the fact that vehicles generally have a much higher value than smaller goods such as TV's

Auxiliary operations

While the main business activities of a pawnshop are lending money for interest based on valuable items that customers bring in, some pawnshops also undertake other business activities, such as selling brand-new retail items that are in demand in the neighborhood of the store. Depending on where a pawnshop is located, these other retail items may range from musical instruments to firearms. Some pawnbrokers also sell brand-new self-defense items such as pepper spray or stun guns.

Many pawnshops will also trade used items, as long as the transaction turns a profit for pawn shop. In cases where the pawnshop buys items outright, the money is not a loan; it is a straight payment for the item. On sales, the pawnshop may offer layaway plans, subject to conditions (down payment, regular payments, and forfeiture of previously paid amounts if the item is not paid off).

Some pawnshops may keep a few unusual, high value items on display to capture the interests of passersby, such as a vintage Harley Davidson motorcycle; the owner is not typically expecting to sell these items. Other activities carried out by pawnshops are financial services including fee-based check cashing, payday loans, vehicle title or house title loans, and currency exchange services.

Upscale pawnshops

Upscale pawnshops began to appear in the early 20th century, often referred to as "loan offices", since the term “pawn shop” had a very negative historical reputation at this point. Some of these so-called loan offices are even located in the upper floors of office buildings. The modern euphemism for the upscale pawn shop is the "high-end collateral lender", lending to upper-class often white-collar individuals, including doctors, lawyers and bankers, as well as more colorful individuals like high-rolling gamblers. They are also interchangeably called "upscale pawnshops" and "high-end pawnshops" due to their acceptance of higher value merchandise in exchange for short-term loans. These objects can include wine collections, jewelry, large diamonds, fine art, cars, and unique memorabilia. Examples of upscale pawnshops include Beverly Loan Company, New York Loan Company, Borro,, Boomerang Lending, and Assetline. Loans are often sought to deal with business revenue shortfalls and other expensive fiscal issues. Upscale pawnshops have also been featured in reality television. The Discovery Channel television show Final Offer has been cohosted by upscale pawnshop owner Jordan Tabach-Bank of Beverly Loan Company since 2012. The economic downturn of 2008 saw the advent of the online pawnbrokers.

From the Wikipedia entry for PAWNBROKER

      Until he was close to fifty planet years old, he was prime assessor to the Veep Estampha, a sector boss of the Thieves' Guild. My father never tried to hide this association; in fact it was a matter of pride to him. Since he seemed to have an inborn talent, which he fostered by constant study, for the valuing of unusual loot, he was a valuable man, ranking well above the general core of that illegal combine. However, he appeared to have lacked ambition to climb higher, or else he simply had an astute desire to remain alive and not a target of the ambition of others.
     Then Estampha met a rootless Borer plant, which someone with ambition secreted in his private collection of exotic blooms, and came to an abrupt finish. My father withdrew prudently and at once from the resulting scramble for power. Instead he bought out of the Guild and migrated to Angkor.
     For a while, I believe, he lived very quietly. But during that period he was studying both the planet and the openings for a lucrative business. It was a sparsely settled world on the pioneer level, not one which at that time attracted the attention of those with wealth, nor of the Guild. But perhaps my father had already heard rumors of what was to come.
     Within a space of time he paid court to a native woman whose father operated a small hock-lock for pawning, as well as a trading post, near the only space port. Shortly after his marriage the father-in-law died of an off-world fever, a plague ship having made a crash landing before it could be warned off. The fever also decimated most of the port authorities. But Hywel Jern and his wife proved immune and carried on some of the official duties at this time, which entrenched them firmly when the plague had run its course and the government was restored.
     Then, some five years later, the Vultorian star cluster was brought into cross-stellar trade by the Fortuna Combine, and Angkor suddenly came to life as a shipping port of exchange. My father's business prospered, though he did not expand the original hock-lock.
     With his many off-world contacts, both legal and illegal, he did well, but to outward appearances, only in a modest way. All spacers sooner or later lay hands on portable treasures or curiosities. To have a buyer who asked no questions and paid promptly was all they wanted at any port where the gaming tables and other planetside amusements separated them too fast from flight pay.
     This quiet prosperity lasted for years, and appeared to be all my father wanted.

From THE ZERO STONE by Andre Norton (1968)

      The three cadets left the spaceport in a jet cab and rode happily into the city of Venusport. As they slid along the superhighway toward the first and largest of the Venusian cities, Astro pointed out the sights. Like slim fingers of glass, the towering Titan crystal buildings of the city arose before them, reaching above the misty atmosphere to catch the sunlight.
     "Where do we get our safari gear, Astro?" asked Roger.
     "In the secondhand shops along Spaceman's Row," replied the big Venusian. "We can get good equipment down there at half the price."

     The cab turned abruptly off the main highway and began twisting through a section of the city shunned by the average Venusian citizen. Spaceman's Row had a long and unsavory history. For ten square blocks it was the hide-out and refuge of the underworld of space. The grimy stores and shadowy buildings supplied the needs of the countless shadowy figures who lived beyond the law and moved as silently as ghosts.
     Leaving the jet cab, the three cadets walked along the streets, past the cheaply decorated store fronts and dingy hallways, until they finally came to a corner shop showing the universal symbol of the pawnshop: three golden balls. Tom and Roger looked at Astro who nodded, and they stepped inside.
     The interior of the shop was filthy. Rusted and worn space gear was piled in heaps along the walls and on dusty counters. An old-fashioned multiple neon light fixture cast an eerie blue glow over everything. Roger grimaced as he looked around. "Are you sure we're in the right place, Astro?"
     Tom winked. Roger had a reputation for being fastidious.
     "This is it," nodded Astro. "I know the old geezer that runs this place. Nice guy. Name's Spike." He turned to the back of the shop and bawled, "Hey, Spike! Customers!"

     Out of the gloomy darkness a figure emerged slowly. "Yeah?" The man stepped out into the pale light. He dragged one foot as he walked. "Whaddaya want?"
     Astro looked puzzled. "Where's Spike?" he asked. "Doesn't Spike Freyer own this place?"
     "He died a couple months ago. I bought him out just before." The crippled man eyed the three cadets warily. "Wanna buy something?"
     Astro looked shocked. "Spike, dead? What happened?"
     "How should I know," snarled the little man. "I bought him out and he died a few weeks later. Now, you wanna buy something or not?"
     "We're looking for jungle gear," said Tom, puzzled by the man's strange belligerence.
     "Jungle gear?" the man's eyes widened. "Going hunting?"
     "Yeah," supplied Roger. "We need complete outfits for three. But you don't look like you have them. Let's go, fellas." He turned toward the door, anxious to get out into the open air.

     "Just a minute! Just a minute, Cadet," said the proprietor eagerly. "I've got some fine hunting gear here! A little used, but you won't mind that! Save you at least half on anything you'd buy up in the city." He started toward the back of the store and then paused. "Where you going hunting?"
     "Why?" asked Tom.
     "So I'll know what kind of gear you need. Light—heavy—kind of guns—"
     "Jungle belt in the Eastern Hemisphere," supplied Astro.
     "Big game?" asked the man.
     "Yeah. Tyrannosaurus."
     "Tyranno, eh?" nodded the little man. "Well, now, you'll need heavy stuff for that. I'd say at least three heavy-duty paralo-ray pistols for side arms, and three shock rifles. Then you'll need camping equipment, synthetics, and all the rest." He counted the items off on grubby little fingers.
     "Let's take a look at the blasters," said Tom.
     "Right this way," said the man. He turned and limped to the rear of the shop, followed by the three cadets. Opening a large cabinet, he pulled out a heavy rifle, a shock gun that could knock out any living thing at a range of a thousand yards, and stun the largest animal at twice the distance.
     "This blaster will knock the scales off any tyranno that you hit," he said, handing the weapon over to Tom who expertly broke it down and examined it.

     As Tom checked the gun, the proprietor turned to the other cadets casually.
     "Why would three cadets want to go into that section of the jungle belt?"
     "We just told you," said Roger. "We're hunting tyranno."
     "Uh, yes, of course." He turned away and pulled three heavy-duty paralo-ray pistols out of the cabinet. "Now these ray guns are the finest money can buy. Standard Solar Guard equipment…"
     "Where did you get them?" demanded Roger sharply.
     "Well, you know how it is, Cadet." The man laughed. "One way or another, we get a lot of gear. A man is discharged from the Solar Guard and he can keep his equipment, then he gets hard up for a few credits and so he comes to me."
     Tom closed the shock rifle and turned to Astro. "This gun is clean enough. Think it can stop a tyranno, Astro?"
     "Sure," said the big cadet confidently. "Easy."
     "O.K.," announced Tom, turning back to the proprietor. "Give us the rest of the stuff."
     "And watch your addition when you make out the bill," said Roger blandly. "We can add, too."

From THE REVOLT ON VENUS by Carey Rockwell (1954)

(ed note: protagonist Troy Horan was living in the slums of the Dipple, surrounding the luxury starport of Tikil. He is lucky enough to get a job of animal cage cleaner at Kygers, who sells exotic pets to the ultra-rich for inflated prices.)

Within a matter of three days the pattern of Kyger's had become a routine into which Troy fitted easily. He had been successful in caring for a delicate and rare fussel hawk, which Kyger himself had been unable to handle, and had begun to hope that perhaps his week's contract might indeed be renewed. He also discovered that Kyger's not only sold—but bought.

There was a second entrance to the shop through the courtyard, an inconspicuous covered way through which men, mostly wearing spacer uniform, found their way, with either carrying cages or other wild-life containers. All of these, he had his orders, were to be shown directly to Kyger's private office. And should the merchant be busied with customers, a certain signal of gong notes was to be sounded.

At the conclusion of one of these visits Troy, or a yardman, would be summoned to take away a purchase. But the majority of these were sheltered in the yard, not among the rarities of the inner shop. And it appeared to Troy that the number of such sellers did not match the number of visitors—as if some of those unobtrusive men might have visited the ex-spacer for another reason. But that too might have an easy explanation; shipmates from old runs could well drop in while in port. Or there might be still a third reason—one that fitted the attack made upon Zul himself with the interest Varms had shown.

Tikil was a luxury port. And the luxuries were not always within the bands of legal imports. Troy could name four forbidden drugs, a banned liquor, and several other items that would never arrive openly on the planet but would promise high returns for the men or man reckless enough to run them through port scanners. If Kyger had activities outside the port laws, however, that was none of his cage cleaner's concern.

From CATSEYE by Andre Norton (1961)

Used Spacecraft Yard

This section has been moved here.


This section has been moved here.

Falling Rocket Debris

While spacecraft can violate the old "what goes up must come down" principle, they do not always. If the spacecraft launches from a planet's surface by using multi-staging, the lower stages typically plumet randomly into the drop zone (though SpaceX is changing all that with their reusable stages that fly back home). And if the spacecraft explodes during launch, all bets are off.

This is why ground based spaceports try to have their launch corridor passes over uninhabited areas. For energy saving reasons the corridor usually points in the direction of the planet's spin (eastward on Terra), also as parallel as possible to the equator, and at a latitude as close as possible to the equator. That is for equatorial orbits used for most crewed missions. There are different restrictions on polar orbits, but those are generally only used by spy satellites or other items that need to pass over all parts of the planet.

The operative word is "try." Russia got short-changed in the launch site department, and had to make do with a bad set of options.

The ESA and CNES have the marvelous Centre Spatial Guyanais located barely 5° from the equator. NASA has Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39 which is 28.5° from the equator. Not perfect but not too bad.

Russia looks into its trick-or-treat bag like Charlie Brown on Halloween and says "I got a rock…" The best launch site they could find within their national boarders was Baikonur Cosmodrome which is an abysmal 45.6° from the equator.

It gets worse. If they launch from Baikonur at 45.6° the launch corridor goes straight across Mainland China. Who would take a very dim view of spent Russian rocket stages and flaming rocket aborts raining death from the skies onto their territory. A bit of a casus belli, that is (of course China does the exact same thing to their own citizens, but since when is political hypocrisy anything new?). To avoid all that unpleasantness the Russians launch at an even more miserable angle of 51.6°. Which is why the International Space Station is at that inclination, otherwise Russian rockets could not reach it. The ISS inclination is a good thing since due to NASA mismanagement the Russians currently have the only rocket capable of sending a crew to the space station. But I digress.

The unfortunate part is the first desiderata of a launch corridor: that it passes over uninhabited areas. Guyanais and Kennedy are well positioned with their corridors right across the uninhabited Atlantic Ocean. Baikonur Cosmodrome is not so lucky. Its corridor does not go over heavily populated areas but it certainly isn't uninhabited. The Russian Federal Space Agency designates a narrow strip of land as the supposed launch corridor. Residents within this zone are given 24 hours' notice of a launch. They can only claim compensation for damages for flaming rocket debris that hit something outside the zone. Which happens regularly since the rocket parts do a poor job of staying inside the zone. And that is when the launch goes perfectly, if the rocket explodes in midair debris goes everywhere.

China seems to be almost as bad for reasons opaque to me. Their Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site is at a reasonable location, only 19° from the equator and with the launch corridor over the uninhabited Pacific Ocean. But the other three launch sites are at random locations within the mainland, and all the little villages located in the launch corridors just have to take their chances.

Over and above the danger of a rocket stage falling on your house or starting a grass fire engulfing your crops the Russian stages have even more terror. Many of the rockets use unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine ("heptyl") for fuel. Troy Campbell describes this stuff as "explosive cancer". Blows up if you give it a stern look and classified as carcinogens.

The toxic heptyl has contaminated the soil of the area. It regularly kills cattle and horses, and is linked to a rise in birth defects and crop failures.

Finally I am getting to the point. To the desperately poor villagers living in the launch corridor, these falling rocket bits are composed of valuable metal that they can sell to scrap metal dealers for actual money. Aluminum, titanium, and copper fetch top dollar… er, ah, ruble. So the villagers have become amateur shipbreakers. Despite the danger from fire, explosions, and cancer. The rocket debris is often still burning when the shipbreakers arrive, giving off toxic smoke.

Science fiction authors always take heart in the aphorism: "Everything Old Is New Again". So just like Mos Eisley spaceport is a futuristic wretched hive of scum and villainy modeled on the myriad historical port cities that were wretched hives of scum and villainy, it is a safe bet that future spaceport administrators will tend not to give a rat's heinie about the poverty-stricken people inhabiting the low-rent district of the launch corridor.

Port Facilities

The spaceport will also offer the services of a "weightmaster". Each fin of the spacecraft rests on a scale (while the exhaust bell points at a splash baffle or thrust diverter). The weightmaster reads the scales, totals the weight, and advises the captain. If the mass is too much over or below the mass the calculations are based on, mass will have to be removed or added.

Shortly after blast-off from a spaceport, the spacecraft can call the tower to request range, bearing and separation rate, and flight plan deviations. This is not only to check if the spacecraft is on track, but also to used to double check the performance of the spacecraft's own instruments against the land based ones. This is usually the co-pilot's job.

Landing sites in the spaceport will probably be labeled with large numbers and letters, much like real-world airport landing strips are. Airports use a special font with no name called "runway designators". The font has no confusing curves so it has good visibility to help the pilot land his vessel, and so that groundskeepers with poor mathematical skills can lay out the designators and keep them in good repair.

William Hostman made this into a truetype font, you can download it here. He used 0-9 and the C, L & R letters from the picture, the rest he had to derive. He used a vertical 60% small caps ratio. If you have feedback about the letters he derived, you can contact him by email hostman.william at

Miscellaneous Images

From Space Angel (1962). The spaceport launch pads are deep tubes, presumably to keep the radioactive engine away from the ground crew.

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