The layout of the Eighty-Footer


This spaceship is the mainstay of the Confederate space fleet.

Paul has created a very good picture of it for the cover of Run from the Stars, which really shows you what standing next to it on a spaceport apron would be like.

This post is about one of the sketches I drew when I was writing the books to fix exactly where all the parts where and how it all joins up. I’m not a proper artist, I’m just an engineering draughtsman, so this doesn’t look nearly as good, but it does how you how the ship works.

If you click on the picture at the top you’ll see one page from the engineering drawing set which shows the arrangement of the major parts.

Important things to note are the way that the undercarriage maingears have to fold flat to fit into the very thin wings, and the enormous track width, almost thirty feet. The width of the track means that it is very forgiving of both bad landings and rough ground handling.

You’ll also see Dr. Mcallister’s signature in the “checked” box. You’ll meet her near the beginning of Turn to the Stars.

This is a list of the numbered parts:


1. Reaction Motors
2. Elevons
3. Waste Heat Radiators
4. Fusion Reactor
5. Orthodynamic Drive
6. Hydrogen Fuel for Fusion Reactor
7. Undercarriage Maingears
8. Plasma Turbines
9. Fin and Rudder
10. Gas Separator (under deck)
11. Emergency Escape Panel
12. Bed cabin
13. Personal effects stowage
14. Weapons Pod
15. Shower and WC
16. Electrical Equipment Room (gearspace)
17. Store room
18. Galley
19. Day Cabin
20. Fixed Teleportal
21. Pressure Suit Stowage
22. Airlock
23. Flight Deck
24. Undercarriage Nosegear
25. External Lights and Sensors Dome
26. Slot Antenna
27. Belly Motors
28. Lock-on Port
29. Docking Probe
30. External Services Connector
31. Fire Extinguishers and Smoke Masks
32. Reaction Mass Water Tank (under deck)
33. Accumulators (under deck)


Our story leads to places on many different planets, and all of them take different times to go around the stars that they use as suns. This means they all have different lengths of year, which isn’t too much of a problem. It’s quite easy to make up a calendar to fit the numbers. For example Jane’s home planet, Mercia, has a year which is just over 581 days. The calendar they use divides this into 83 weeks of seven days, and 21 months of which 20 have 28 days and one has 21 days, or 22 in the occasional leap year.

The real problem is telling someone the date of an event, or working out how old somebody is, when the calendar they are using looks absolutely nothing like yours.

Jane sat back in the seat, calculating in her head. Mercia, her home planet, had circled the F-type star that it used for a sun a little over thirteen times in Jane’s lifetime. But converting her date of birth to the atomic time scale used between the stars, then allowing for tidal drag, and the effect on the Earth’s rotation of eight centuries of intermittent nuclear bombardments, today was Tuesday the 21st of May 2830 – Jane’s twenty-first birthday. And, if God was still on speaking terms with her, she’d like to ask for just one present – some way of stopping Arthur before anyone else had to die.

So how do we make that calculation?

The trick is to have a clock and an almost-Gregorian calendar that gives the time and date on a “pretend Earth”. Seconds, minutes and hours have the lengths we know and love, but there are no leap seconds, and the pattern of leap years we use now is kept without any attempt to correct it. This operates in parallel with the planetary calendars. Every day on a planetary calendar has the date according to the “pretend Earth”, or Galactic Co-ordinated Time to give it its proper name, printed next to it. Of course because of the difference in the lengths of days sometimes a GCT date is printed on two adjoining planetary days, or two GCT dates are printed on a planetary day. For legal purposes, or fun things like knowing when birthdays are, you use the GCT date. For things that depend on the seasons, such as farming and summer holidays, the local planetary date works.


Where does the power come from?

The Confederate eighty-footer, mainstay of Space Fleet, needs to be able to get far enough from the gravity well of a planet to be able to engage the Orthodynamic (faster than light) drive. That means it needs some serious engine power.

Chemical propellants won’t do the necessary. The Space Shuttle needed solid rocket boosters and a huge external fuel tank. There’s no time to fiddle about with that sort of stuff when you need to rush to the rescue or chase after the bad guys.

What Jane needs is something that will fire up pretty quickly when she turns on the master switches, and that will keep everything contained within the hull.

There’s only one process in nature that will do the business, and that’s nuclear fusion.

I do mean fusion. Conventional nuclear power uses fission. The great advantage to fission is that it’s very easy to start. If you get a critical mass of any fissile material in one place, the chain reaction just lights up of its own accord. The problem is stopping it before you have a melted reactor and at best a puddle of horribly radioactive gunk, at worst a mushroom cloud.

Fusion is much more house-trained. The quantities of fuel involved are far smaller, and the radioactive waste decays away in a couple of days. More importantly the reaction is, from the engineering point of view, exceedingly difficult to get to run at all. If anything breaks the flame just goes out.

Or as Jane explains it, “There are some things I shouldn’t tell you and some things that would take too long to explain. If I say that wherever I go I leave a little more helium and a fraction less hydrogen behind-“

So that’s how it works. Of course there are a few problems involved in getting a notoriously slow reaction to run fast enough, and in containing the fusion plasma at about ten million degrees Kelvin.

That’s just engineering-

Welcome to the world of my Science Fiction


I have been writing about the early twenty-ninth century and its fascinating inhabitants for almost forty years. Thanks to the wonders of electronic publication I am now sharing some of the stories online.

The novels, Run from the Stars and Turn to the Stars, are now available on Amazon Kindle and in a print edition on Createspace.

On this website I will be blogging about the books, the background to the stories, how they came to be written and how some of the future technology works. But please don’t expect me to tell you how to make a faster than light drive. That’s a major secret.

There’s a great and wonderful galaxy out there. Lieutenant Jane Gould of the Arcturian Confederate Space Fleet (in the picture) is ready to take you on the ride of your life. So sit well back in your seat, fasten the harness and try to relax for those engines can kick.