The Tech Side #14: Imperial Starships – Shuttles & Shuttle Bays

Shuttles are often a feature in sci-fi, and the Galaxii universe is no exception. Shuttles are generally smaller space craft used to carry crew or cargo between space ships or between a space ship and a planet. Sometimes they’re used as lifeboats.

The notion of a ship carrying smaller craft dates from the days of sailing ships, when it was found necessary for a ship to carry a longboat for the purposes of traveling ashore at a nearby port of call without endangering the ship by getting too close to land. The danger of holing the ships’ hull on rocks or beaching was significant. Lifeboats too need no introduction.

In this article for The Tech Side, I’ll be looking at Space Fleet shuttles and shuttle bays.

While there is a mind-boggling array of different types, sizes and models of shuttle, only a smaller number of them have ever been used by the Terran Space Fleet. Of course just as we see in our time, some types have been used by the military as well as by civilian entities, with perhaps a different model number or engine specification or some other minor difference between them.

Throughout different periods of Terran history post Gimp-war, a vast array of different types of shuttle have featured aboard Terran ships. There are various types and models of smaller craft used by the Terran Space Fleet, with some being carried aboard starships too. When it comes to Space Fleet shuttles, the main distinction between types is determined by the purpose and sometimes also by the means of propulsion.

Shuttles Of The Terran Space Fleet:

Shuttles are generally short-range craft intended for brief journeys, such as between ships or, from a ship to the surface of a planet and back.

There are cargo shuttles and there are passenger shuttles and multipurpose shuttles. There are short-range shuttles which only travel at sublight speeds, and then there are the crème-de-la-crème of shuttles – the starshuttle which is propelled by a stardrive and is in effect a very small starship.

Among the varied uses aboard a starship for a shuttle is its use as a lifeboat or evacuation mechanism should the need arise. 

Short Range Shuttles:

Short range shuttles are the smaller more frequently seen shuttles. Starships generally carry this type of shuttle because they’re smaller and easier to fit into their shuttle bays than the larger starshuttle. Let’s briefly examine an example of a standard sublight type of shuttle:

The Arado AR-800

The Arado AR-800 shuttle is one of the current mainstays of the shuttle fleet. It is generally carried on larger starships such as destroyers and cruisers and the like. With this model, Arado pioneered the feature that won it numerous lucrative contracts, such as supplying the Space Fleet with this model, which has now been in production – with minor upgrades – for over 50 years.

What made the Arado unique from its predecessors and early contemporaries was its adaptive interior. Rather than splitting its manufacturing and marketing output between passenger and cargo versions, Arado created a combined ship that could be used for either application as the owner saw fit, with essentially the press of a button.

In Passenger/Personnel Carrier Mode:

The Arado AR-800-B (Space Fleet designation – the civil version is designated ‘A’) has a normal passenger seating capacity of 64. The A is frequently used by small-scale local operators to transport passengers between destinations on many colony worlds, as well as inside the same solar system. The B is the type most frequently assigned to larger starships such as cruisers and has a plain plasti-steel deck, while the A has the more luxurious cut-pile carpet and over all prettier interior fittings.

This model has rows of seats on either side of an aisle wide enough for personnel to walk down. When not in use, or when cargo needs to be carried instead of passengers, the seats – some or all of them – can be folded, retracted and stored in the space below the deck of the main cabin on command.

The row of windows on either side are not made of fragile glass, but consist of the same material that makes up the ships’ hull, electro-chemically treated on the molecular level to be transparent. This is much stronger and safer, and when so desired, the effect can be turned off, so the windows become opaque.

In Carrying Cargo Carrier Mode:

In cargo-carrying mode, the reverse applies – panels in the deck which mark the positions of the seat rows, fold open and rows of seats erupt, unfold and are secured in place. The compact side doors of the shuttle in effect consist of a smaller passenger door within a larger door panel for loading cargo. These doors can be operated independently of each other with mode selection.

The cargo door – which forms a boarding ramp when opened and lowered – also has an antigravity lift incorporated on the inner/walking surface. Antigravity pads built into the deck plating lessen the burden of moving heavy cargo crates around before take-off. The windows are not glass, but like the windows or view ports on starships, are a transparent version of the same material as the hull plating. This ensures increased safety.

Use As A Lifeboat:

In addition to the Arado AR-800’s normal passenger seating capacity of 64, it can hold an extra 50 people standing or sitting on the floor in emergencies, not including extra floor space in the machinery compartment – meaning that a starship carrying say, 250 crew, could safely leave a ship in trouble on its two shuttles simultaneously, or be evacuated by one shuttle in two trips. 

Emergency rations and supplies are kept in storage bins aboard, as well as medical first aid kits. Like all Space Fleet craft, shuttles are fitted with ID beacons to make locating them easier.

The Somnia Palensis

One of the smaller shuttles in both civil and military service, is the Palensis which is manufactured by Somnia Corp on Gorda. This type is more frequently used by civilian operators, but also appears on smaller Space Fleet ships, like battlespringers.

Unlike the Arado range, the Palensis comes in several varieties of personnel and cargo, to say nothing of what customizations private owners perform on their shuttles!

The example in the images below belonged to the Red Star Line – a commercial travel corporation which operates space liners. Palensis shuttles were often used as lifeboats, though seldom used for the routine transportation of passengers on account of their small size and cramped accommodations. Loderunners often have a version of this shuttle onboard as they’re more affordable and cheaper to operate and maintain.

Long Range Starshuttles:

Starshuttles are equipped with a scaled-down stardrive, and because of the extra equipment they carry, are considerably larger than the ordinary sublight shuttles. These are often used solely as high-speed couriers, and in the private sector even for interstellar racing. I will discuss this type later in another article.

Storage Aboard Ship:

When carried aboard a starship, shuttles are stored in a shuttle bay. Aboard larger ships or space stations which have room to accommodate multiple shuttles, the term used is hangar deck.

A shuttle bay is in essence a very roomy airlock with enough room inside to park one or two shuttles, along with room to embark or debark passengers or cargo. There is usually enough extra space to land a visiting shuttle, for example from another ship, inside the shuttle bay in addition to the ship’s full compliment of shuttles.

Some earlier ships (including battlespringers) who have small shuttlebays are only issued with one shuttle, but most larger ships like destroyers and cruisers, typically have two.

The Shuttle Bay:

Most typical starship shuttle bays are sealed with solid external doors which can be opened or closed when the shuttle bay is in use. The bay does not depressurize while the door is open due to a force-field which seals the opening and keeps the air in and maintains air pressure. The force-field is self-sealing, meaning that an object such as a shuttle entering or leaving the ship passes through it seamlessly without allowing air to escape. The force-field also acts as a bio-filter by sanitizing the outer surface of the hull of a craft passing through it.

Since there’s always the chance that the force-field might fail while the shuttle bay is in use, the shuttle bay is regarded as a functional airlock. Regulations specify that loose items such as cargo be secured to anchors on the deck grid in case of failure in the door, or the force-field. Shuttles are also secured to the deck when parked for the same reason – they’re far too valuable to risk losing them!

Crew entrances to the shuttle bay are through entrances secured with safety airlocks, which act like regular single doors while air pressure is nominal – but which start acting like airlocks as soon as the air pressure in the shuttle bay drops, is lost or endangered by systems failures or damage sustained in battle.

The height of the shuttle bay is about twice that of a shuttle, allowing room to climb and descend in the process of landing or launching, and there is sufficient space for each shuttle to turn 360 degrees on arrival or departure should the need arise.

There’s no flight control center in a starship shuttlebay – incoming and outgoing flights are regulated directly by communication with the bridge. The shuttle deck itself is however monitored by the ship’s security section – aka. “security marines” aka “purple shirts” on account of their uniform color.

The shuttle bay is also often located beside the ships’ cargo hold (or at least one of them) with a direct connection between them to facilitate the movement of materials between the cargo area and the shuttle bay when needed.

Additional Uses:

Among the non-flight uses for the shuttle bay is as an assembly area for the crew. Starships do not as a rule come equipped with auditoria, and so the shuttle bay – as the largest open chamber aboard becomes the venue of choice for the commander to address the crew on select occasions. This is often handled as an old-fashioned military parade formation.

One of the other less visible uses for the shuttle bay is as a venue for informal crew dances and parties.

Further reading:

In Closing

That about covers it! I hope I’ve explained everything in a way that’s easily understood! I really enjoyed translating my original hand-drawn sketches into digital blueprint diagrams for this article, and I think they look pretty neat that way!

Feel free to email or message me via Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn if you have any comments or questions!

Until next time,

Cheers! 🙂

Digital Autograph Christina Engela

TIP: If you want to know what Christina Engela writes, or who her focus group or target market is, please read here.

If you’d like to send Christina Engela a question about her life as a writer or transactivist, please send an email to or use the Contact form.

Show your appreciation for Christina’s work!

All material copyright © Christina Engela, 2020.

Spread the love