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A starship or interstellar spacecraft is a theoretical spacecraft designed for traveling between stars, as opposed to a vehicle designed for orbital spaceflight or interplanetary travel.

The term is mostly found in science fiction, because such craft have never been constructed. Whilst the Voyager and Pioneer probes have traveled into local interstellar space, they are not starships because they have not traveled to other stars, they are unmanned and their purpose was specifically interplanetary. Exploratory engineering has been undertaken on several preliminary designs and feasibility studies have been done for starships that could be built with modern technology or technology thought likely to be available in the near future.


  • Research 1
  • Theoretical types 2
  • Fictional elements 3
    • Slower-than-light 3.1
    • Faster-than-light 3.2
    • Exceptions 3.3
  • Fictional examples 4
    • Individual ships 4.1
    • Groups of ships 4.2
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


Artist's conception of British Interplanetary Society's Project Daedalus (1978), a fusion powered interstellar probe

To travel between stars in a reasonable time using rocket-like technology requires very high effective exhaust velocity exhaust jet, and enormous energy to power this, such as might be provided by fusion power or antimatter.

There are very few scientific studies that investigate the issues in building a starship. Some examples of this include:

The Bussard ramjet is an idea to use nuclear fusion of interstellar gas to provide propulsion.

Examined in an October 1973 issue of Analog, the Enzmann Starship proposed using a 12,000 ton ball of frozen deuterium to power thermonuclear powered pulse propulsion units.[1] Twice as long as the Empire State Building and assembled in-orbit, the proposed spacecraft would be part of a larger project preceded by interstellar probes and telescopic observation of target star systems.[1][2]

The NASA Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Program (1996–2002), was a professional scientific study examining advanced spacecraft propulsion systems.

Theoretical types

A common literary device is to posit a faster-than-light propulsion system (such as warp drive) or travel through hyperspace, although some starships may be outfitted for centuries-long journeys of slower-than-light travel. Other designs posit a way to boost the ship to near-lightspeed, allowing relatively "quick" travel (i.e. decades, not centuries) to nearer stars. This results in a general categorization of the kinds of starships:

  • Sleeper, which put their passengers into stasis during a long trip. This includes Cryonics-based systems that freeze passengers for the duration of the journey.
  • Generation, where the destination will be reached by descendants of the original passengers.
  • Relativistic, taking advantage of time dilation at close-to-light-speeds, so long trips will seem much shorter (but still take the same amount of time for outside observers).
  • Faster-than-light, which can move between places very quickly (transcending current understanding of physics or using interdimensional 'shortcuts' or wormholes).

Fictional elements

Certain common elements are found in most fiction that discusses starships.


Fiction that discusses slower-than-light starships is relatively rare, since the time scales are so long. Instead of describing the interaction with the outside world, those fictions tend to focus on setting the whole story within the world of the (often very large) starship during its long travels. Sometimes the starship is a world, in perception or reality.


Travel at velocities greater than the speed of light is impossible according to the known laws of physics, although apparent FTL is not excluded by general relativity. An example of a faster-than-light ship is the Enterprise from Star Trek: The Original Series.


  • Exceedingly large spacegoing craft (for example the Death Star of the Star Wars universe) are typically not referred to as 'starships' (but see 'slower-than-light ships' above). Terms like (artificial) planetoid may be considered to be more accurate.
  • Space stations and other structures intended to orbit a celestial body or serve as a point of contact/maintenance/docking station for other ships are not usually called starships, even if they can move under their own power.

Fictional examples

The following is a listing of some of the most widely known vessels in various science fiction franchises:

Individual ships

This list is not exhaustive.

Groups of ships

See also


  1. ^ a b Enzmann Starship
  2. ^ Centari Dreams: A Note on the Enzmann Starship by Paul Gilster on April 1, 2007

External links

  • CineSpaceships (database of spaceships in movies)
  • [1] (Plans to facilitate the construction of starships)
  • Starship Dimensions (to-scale size comparisons)
    • Starship Size Comparison Chart 1 (Dan Carlson, 13 July 2003)
    • Starship Size Comparison Chart 2 (Dan Carlson, 30 October 2003)
  • Starship Names (a Sci-Fi wiki article, outside WorldHeritage)
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