The Tech Side #2: Imperial Starships – The Bridge Complex

In this series of articles – The Tech Side – I continue expanding on various bits of assorted tech, what gave me the ideas for them, and a little about what I did with them in various stories.

This time, I’ll be taking a look at the “bridge complex” onboard starships of the Terran Space Fleet!

Most fans of science fiction understand that starships need a command center – referred to in the usual traditional nautical sense as a “bridge” rather than a “flight deck” as we see in airforce or airline environments.

[Incidentally, in order to see the rest of these articles in this series, click on the category name The Tech Side.]

We should be familiar by now with the sort of bridge shown down through the ages in series like “Star Trek” and its many spin-offs, “BSG”, “Buck Rogers”, “The Orville”, the “Aliens” franchise, and the like – there’ve been a great variety of different layouts, ideas, improvements – and sometimes not so much – and as I mentioned in the first installment of this series of articles, “It’s all been done before!” …it pretty much has.

Knowing this of course places a huge amount of pressure on a writer to come up with something original – and even then, it successful – while patting yourself on the back – someone might casually point out that actually, what you came up with on your own is similar to something done in another book or movie you’ve probably never seen or heard of!

Of course, this is just another reason why I focus more on the characters and the story in my storytelling than on the tech itself – but at the same time, it doesn’t hurt to have well thought-out props or layouts! It might surprise you to know that I’ve always put a lot of thought and effort into these factors while writing sci-fi stories. It’s of course vital – while writing stories containing technology that hasn’t been invented yet, to maintain an atmosphere of believability and credance. You don’t want to fly in the face of established scientific principle either, because then you’ll probably have a horde of critics driving nails into your flesh about the implausibility of your work – and even more hatemail than I get just for writing plausible LGBT characters into my stories!

Now, back to the bridge!

A Little Background

The Imperial Space Fleet is the military strength and security of the peaceful Terran Empire – the space empire which grew up with Earth at its center over a number of centuries after World War 3. By the time of Galaxii , the Empire spans hundreds of colonies in different starsystems spread across deep space. Naturally, the Fleet would need starships capable of traveling faster than the speed of light to effectively patrol such a vast territory, and they have these in good supply. However, as with most new things, earlier vessels differed from each other greatly – different ships used different drive systems and layouts – and what the Fleet needed was standardization.

As with many things, so the story goes, there was a call to standardize various different aspects of the ships the Fleet used; from conventional aspects involving where the bridge should be in relation to the rest of the ship, to conventions around the layout of corridors and placement of different important places such as sickbay, maintenance, the mess hall, and so on. After all, it’s no use if new crewmembers arrive on a ship that’s so different to the previous one they were on, that they get lost looking for their duty station!

To circumvent just such problems from arising, the people in charge of the Space Fleet laid out a requirement for all future ship designs to be laid out internally in such a way as to be similar – and familiar to their crews. Part of this approach to standardized layout, is the standardized bridge complex. Now before I continue, I should explain exactly what the bridge complex is. The bridge naturally is the control center of a ship – everything critical to the control and direction of the ship is located there, but there are also other critical systems that the Fleet’s chiefs wanted located in the same immediate vicinity of the bridge itself to both connect it to the rest of the ship, as well as to facilitate the enhanced functioning of the bridge.

This is the basic definition of a “bridge complex”.

What am I talking about? Well, let’s say a helmsman is on duty, spending her shift on the bridge. Naturally she might need to visit a restroom or toilet during that time – and it’s probably best that she doesn’t wander off for long, isn’t it? For that reason, I thought it a good idea to add a washroom for duty personnel adjacent to the bridge to speed this up. Obviously, while she’s taking her toilet break, another crewman would need to fill in, or the ship’s computer would play auto-pilot. Another good idea, I thought, was to place a conference or briefing room close to the bridge for the same reasons – why have it three decks below the bridge when all your critical personnel are likely to be the ones attending a meeting or briefing on their latest mission? What would happen if a hostile ship chose that moment to attack?

To give an example of the location of the Bridge Complex on an actual Terran ship, here is an illustration of the sort of ship featured in several of my stories, the Benatar class cruiser (I.S.S. Antares and I.S.S. Mordrake).

The Captain’s Flat

Being Captain of a starship isn’t about luxury, but command does have several privileges – not the least of which is having the largest apartment on the ship! I also moved the Captain’s apartment close to the bridge for the same reason, and if you look at the layout in the accompanying diagrams, you’ll see how it connects both to the bridge and conference room via the Captain’s office – where he or she would also handle various administrative duties while not actually on the bridge. Everything that I thought might be considered vital to the operations of the bridge was put together in what I call the Bridge Complex, as you can see in the diagrams below:

Not shown in these diagrams, is the detail that the EXO and several other senior officers apartments are also located on the same deck, though not part of the Bridge Complex, they are connected via an adjoining corridor. The ship’s doctors and medical personnel are similarly located close to the Sickbay.

The Captain’s Flat or apartment is generally private, and off-limits to other crew members, unless by specific invitation. When the Captain isn’t on the bridge, he or she might be inspecting parts of the ship, or catching up on reports or admin in the office – where the Captain is also usually expected to see crew members on official matters, such as relating to discipline or regarding their careers!

The Captain’s Office is reachable via the Alcove adjoining the Foyer outside the bridge, and privately from inside the Captain’s apartment. The Captain’s apartment also has a “front door” through the lounge, which opens into a private portion of the corridor leading to the rest of the deck. The reason for this privacy is to allow the Captain to not be bothered during down-time by busy crew! (This interesting feature of the Captain’s Flat played a role in “Demonspawn“, and the Captain’s Office is a setting for many discussions and events across various titles in Galaxii and Panic! Horror In Space., such as “Blachart“, “Demonspawn“, “Dead Beckoning” and “Life Signs“)

The Alcove

The Alcove serves as a waiting area, for those waiting to see the Captain in their office, or to be called into a briefing or meeting in the adjoining Conference Room. It’s purpose is to enhance privacy in terms of both uses, also to ensure that the bridge crew remain undisturbed in their efforts to run the ship.

The Conference Room

This is pretty standard fare for a conference room – containing a table long enough to seat the Captain, Exo and all the ship’s heads of department and a few extra seats. There are all the multimedia features one would expect, including holographic projectors, and few tasteful decor items arranged in shelves along the sides. In the event of courts martial, the room can be rearranged accordingly. Conference rooms feature prominently in the following stories: “Blachart” and “Dead Beckoning“.

The Foyer

The Foyer has several entrances, the largest of which is the main archway (sometimes closed off with a transparent partition or doorway for increased security or privacy), followed by the entrance to the Alcove, an entrance to the adjoining bathroom opposite that for bridge crew on duty, and beside that, a corridor leading to the rest of the deck, and in the center opposite the archway leading into the bridge, two elevators leading to lower decks on the ship. A pair of security marines is usually on duty in the Alcove, standing at ease and awaiting instructions or for an incident to occur that requires their involvement. Between the two elevator entrances, there is usually a display panel used to display miscellaneous information, like a digital notice board.

The Bathroom

I’ve often found it strange that sci-fi shows never seem to consider the worth of a well-placed bathroom. I mean, imagine for a moment that some poor sap on the bridge develops a stomach ailment while on duty and has to run down half a mile of corridors to find a loo? Could get messy!

Although pretty straightforward, this feature enables crew on duty to quickly refresh and be back at their stations in a matter of minutes. Aside from several unisex stalls, this room also has a few luxuries such as mirrors, basins and driers and so on. The bathroom is also the location of an emergency first aid station. Just like the old saying about guns – I’d rather have one handy and not need it, than need one and not have it!

The Elevators

These travel the height of the ship, from the topmost deck, right to the very bottom. Although these aren’t the only two , or sometimes more elevators onboard – depending on the size and class of ship of course – they are the two primary ones.

Now we come to the most interesting part of the bridge complex:

The Bridge

The bridge is the control center of the ship; the bridge is normally situated somewhere in front or on top of a Terran starship. Everything on the ship can normally be controlled from the systems and control consoles on the bridge. Below is a diagramatic layout of a standard Terran starship bridge.

At the front of the bridge is the viewscreen, which rather makes the bridge look something like a private cinema, with a curved big screen TV on the wall!

The viewscreen is used to show live video images of what is ahead or behind of the ship, video feeds of communications sessions, and also navigational, tactical and strategic overlays. This is not a “big window onto space”, since that would be a major structural and strategic weakpoint, but a large video display screen. This also means that a starship’s bridge could be physically located anywhere, and not necessarily so that the crew inside it can rely on looking out of windows to see where they’re going!

Bridge Stations:

There are typically six posts on the bridge for crewmen, and they are:
• Helm
• Weapons
• Sensors
• Comms
• Exo
• Captain

Closest to the viewscreen, right at the front of the bridge, there is a control desk with two control positions, called the Forward Control Desk (FCD) – this is where the Helm and Weapons controls are located.

Helm control is on the starboard side, and Weapons on the port. The Helmsman (an Astrotech) pilots the ship and charts courses via the nav-computer. The Weapons Operator (or Battletech) operates the weapons, shields or tractor beam as or when required.

Helm station (1) includes:
• navigational control,
• some engine control,
• thruster & attitude control,
• docking clamps & airlock tube controls,
• some sensor functions,
• navigational shield control.
• Weapons station (2) includes:
• weapons selection & control,
• target tracking & locking,
• some sensor functions,
• defensive shielding control,
• tractor beam control.

Immediately behind the forward control desk, the deck rises a step in order to give the personnel behind the FCD a better view over or past the crewmen at the FCD. This is the Rear Control Platform (RCP).

Along both port and starboard sides of the Bridge, there are control arrays, with one station to each side.

On the starboard side, the Sensor Operator (or Astrotech) manages the ship’s sensor array. Although this system runs automatically, it sometimes needs to be directed at something – say for example, an astor or a planet, or a derelict ship – in order to focus on scanning it for whatever the operator requests, again for example, life-signs, energy readouts, gravity, mass, heat, atmosphere, etc.

On the port side, the Comtech Operator manages the ship’s communications internally and externally. Comtech is also responsible for directing damage control or security teams, and receiving and sending routine messages.

Right at the center of the RCP (back of the bridge) is another set of stations right beside each other – these are the control positions of the Exo and Captain of the ship. The Captain occupies the starboard side seat, and the Exo the port side seat. Both officers have duplicate control consoles in front of them, from where they can monitor, access and execute duplicate functions of all the other bridge crewmen.

Captain Stuart Flane and his Exo, Commander Vic Chapman, I.S.S. Mercury (Ningan Class) from the Panic! Horror In Space series.

While the bridge complexes on all the more recent Terran Fleet ships conform to this template, there are of course differences; and these come in the form of scale, size and what class of ship or what its purpose is. The Ningan Class of battlespringers, just as an example – which are perhaps the smallest independent class of Terran starship – and while it’s untrue to say they’re so small the bridge has bucket seats fitted to it, it has become something of an insult to the proud crews who serve on them to say so! Besides, all station-seats on starships are bucket seats, since this is a feature that helps their occupants to stay in them during rough rides!

Larger ships will have larger, roomier interiors, but they still closesly follow the basic prescribed layout – just more of it.

Obviously over time, styles change – and with starships being hugely expensive items to build and replace, they have enormously long lifetimes – rather than scrapping an old ship, the Fleet refits it with updated tech, better or more efficient drive systems, computers, and other appliances – while the regular fixtures and fittings, or style of the decor and control desks etc remain unchanged. Consequently, while the layout remains fairly constant, there will always be subtle detail changes between ships of the same class, of different ages.

For more information about the sort of ships and tech – or the Space Fleet – featured in Galaxii , feel free to download the free guide shown below (click on the cover!)

In Closing

All of these items, offices and amenities form part of the feature of Terran starships known and referred to together as “the Bridge Complex”.

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! 🙂


If you’re reading this long after it was posted, click “The Tech Side” to see a list of all the articles posted in this series!

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