Spaceplane approaching Neptune orbital Sphere

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This is my new oil-on-canvas piece, depicting a spherical space habitat in low orbit around Neptune, providing a natural living space with artificial gravity for a small community of human pioneers. The habitat currently has a great view of one of Neptune’s famous storms, from orbit appearing as a great dark spot. Neptune might have the strongest winds of any planet in the solar system but from orbit the deep blue giant looks calm and serene.

Today the colony has a visitor, an advanced interplanetary spacecraft carrying a small group of passengers. The incoming spaceship’s current trajectory misses the spherical habitat by a few miles, but after a long voyage the pilot wants to give the passengers a view of the colony from all the angles, and let them experience the gorgeous vista of the habitat over the serene blue face of Neptune before turning back toward the sphere to dock.

The spaceship itself is made up of two modules; the first is a single-stage-to-orbit spaceplane similar to the Skylon but larger and powered by a nuclear fission reactor, enabling heavier payloads to be launched. The habitable sections of the spacecraft, where the crew and passengers live and work during their voyage, are all located within the spaceplane.

The second module is a docking ring containing additional working fluid, usually and in this case hydrogen but it can be any gas or liquid, and small shaped-charge hydrogen bombs (known in this context as pulse units) for the on-board nuclear pulse propulsion system. A cross-shaped structure, hidden by the cross-shaped spaceplane in front of it in this view, contains at its center a launch system for the pulse units and the pusher plate for absorbing the blast energy.

The nuclear pulse propulsion system is designed to accelerate and decelerate at 1g over extended periods of time, providing artificial gravity without need for rotation. The spaceplane is pointed with the roof forward when accelerating and the roof backward when decelerating so that the g-force pushes the passengers and cargo toward the floor. Halfway through the voyage artificial gravity disappears as the ship rotates to change its orientation, one of the highlights of any trip in these craft. A voyage from Earth to Neptune, as this craft may have made, would take 15 days with velocity peaking mid-voyage at 2.19% of light speed.

This one was a fun piece to paint; I really enjoyed getting to play around with the deep blues and the whites, cool colors rather than the warm colors of my previous painting. It was also nice to paint on black and fill in the night sky with star after star. This is also the first appearance in a painting of one of the spaceplane-with-docking-ring design that features prominently in the science-fiction world I’ve been building; you’ll be seeing a lot more of it in the future. I found painting the vortex-like dark storm from orbit most enjoyable; I think that came out looking particularly beautiful.

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