Space vehicles, to scale

Digging this drawing by astronomy blogger Invader Xan, showing spaceships of the past, present, and (possible?) future lined up side-by-side for size comparison. I, for one, just learn that the Space Shuttle Orbiter was larger than I thought in comparison to the International Space Station.

Also cool: Skylon—a rather terrifying name for a spaceplane that's currently in the early stages of development by a private company. Interestingly (or, perhaps, even more terrifyingly—seriously, this thing is going to need a new name, like woah), Skylon would not have a human pilot but would be capable of hauling humans into space, carrying up to 24 in a special box loaded into the payload bay.

Check out Invader Xan's blog, Supernova Condensate, for more information, including a version of this graphic that includes the Starship Enterprise.

Via Ananyo Bhattacharya


  1. Well, if the “Skylon” could lose that tail out the back we could call it “Fireball XL-5”.

  2. something tells me Soyuz will still be in service long after Skylon is retired after several design flaws are revealed following several tragic incidents.

  3. It’s a British company, so I assume that is the inspiration for the name. 

        1. Ah yes, thank you, I was looking for Mir.

          Now where’s the Death Star and The Culture Orbitals, dammit! ;-)

    1. The artist does address this in the comments thread: “this graphic is intended to showcase spacecraft capable of orbital and suborbital manned flights. Space stations don’t really belong here as they were assembled in orbit, and wouldn’t survive atmospheric reentry. The two space stations shown are purely for scale.”

      1.  “spacecraft capable of orbital and suborbital manned flights”

        Hmmmph,  no love for the X-15 I guess.

        1. If you click through to the article you’ll see the artist apologizes for missing the X-15, promises to update the graphic, and also links to a “cool remix” that does include both the X-15 and Skylab, Mir et al.

      1.  You are of course now referring to the NCC-1701-D. Mercury would probably fit in a large Jeffries tube. シ

      2. Enterprise is here:

        It doesn’t say which NCC-1701 variant it is, but by the looks of it the Shuttle wouldn’t even fit in the shuttle bay. Awkward, that.

  4. “Skylon would not have a human pilot but would be capable of hauling humans into space, carrying up to 24 in a special box loaded into the payload bay.”

    Then one day the autonomous Skylon realized that it could use its special box for fuel, the earth changed that day.

  5. That “Skylon” vehicle is almost a direct copy of the royal Naboo space crusiser (Queen Amidala) from Star Wars. This project smells “scammy”.

  6. Skylon is actually based on the older HOTOL research.  They recently successfully tested some key enabling technologies for the engine cooling system, which is where much of Skylon’s planned SSTO magic lies.

    Terrifying as the name is, I think the technology’s worth pursuing, and I’d love to see something designed in Britain make it into space. It does kinda remind me of the massive plane from Thunderbirds, though.

    1.  Skylon – terrifying? Not when we already have SKYNET (British military SATCOM constellation)…

    2.  Is it even possible to enter orbit by flying at an angle? I always thought you tried to go “straight up” because that would be the most fuel efficient way to fight gravity.

      1. I honestly do not know. It IS rocket science, after all :) But they’re trying, and I dig their single-engine approach.

        And besides, it’s plain old exciting :)

      2. All orbital vehicles enter space at an angle.  The space shuttle, for instance, used to take off the pad vertically and then roll over and fly to orbit at an increasingly  shallow angle as altitude is gained.  There are many reasons for this, but the main one is that when something is orbiting the Earth it is actually constantly falling AROUND the Earth. 
         Imagine you could throw a ball so hard that it landed in the next State over.  It goes up in a curve… and comes down in a curve.  Now throw it even harder and Faster and it will make it to the next Continent, well over the horizon, in a even bigger arc.  Throwing it fast enough and high enough to enter orbit means that  when the ball starts falling back to the Earth, the earth “falls away” in the same arc.  IE, the curvature of the earth is the same ‘curve’ that the falling ball has.  So the ball just goes round and round.  It hasn’t escaped gravity at all, it’s just going so fast that it is falling around the earth instead of coming back down to the surface.
        So…. If rockets just flew straight up away from the Earth, they would fall straight back down to the surface as soon as they run out of fuel.  Even if they are in space.  Instead, orbital vehicles fly up in that big ballistic curve, and when they reach the top of the curve (the apogee) they are hauling ass and are moving “horizontally” compared to the earth’s surface.  And since they are beyond our atmosphere, there is nothing to slow them down, so they just keep going and going.  Good example of the pitch-over of the spaceshuttle.  Look at  that curve!

      3. The Apollo lunar module ascent stage flies an almost horizontal trajectory from a few seconds after liftoff. Launches from Earth go a lot higher initially to get above some of the atmosphere.

  7. Whose idea was it to render the ISS in white-on-white?  I thought it was a graphics glitch at first.

  8. Am I the only one to remember the Skylons from the old Land of the Lost TV show?  When I was six years old, my favorite football team was the Pittsburgh Steelers for the sole reason that their logo slightly resembled the Skylons that controlled the weather in one particular episode of that show.

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