"All hands to the Escape Testicle!"A Sci-Fi plot calls for a vehicle that can land on an alien planet and be somewhat badass. A Space Plane would be cool, but you'd need a runway. So instead, you have a Drop Ship shaped roughly like a sphere that consists of a vertically mounted rocket engine surrounded by landing struts, fuel, cargo, a control room, and usually a ramp to offload personnel and cargo. The type of engine is unimportant. It can be an actual rocket or a Hand Waved "antigravity generator" or "reactionless thruster". Why a sphere?
— Starship Hooters 3: Undresser
- From an aerospace engineering perspective, there could be several good reasons:
- A sphere is the only shape that is aerodynamically identical in any direction, a fact that might be of interest to a Sufficiently Advanced Alien.
- A sphere, while doing away with wings that would be useless in space, is still more aerodynamic than, say, a cube. While it might not generate much lift, it could be quite maneuverable in both space and atmosphere.
- Spheres have been shown as an effective shape for atmospheric reentry, as demonstrated by the Soviet manned space program.
- Of all possible spacecraft shapes with the same internal volume, a sphere has the least surface area (which also means that of all possible spacecraft shapes with the same surface area, a sphere has the most internal volume.) This might make it a good choice for both commercial and military use, as it would store the most cargo per unit of armor.
- Spheres are also naturally an extremely strong shape (this is why many deep sea submersibles' pressurized crew compartments are spherical) which would help in the harsh conditions of both space and many planets with a thick atmosphere.
- More importantly to writers, spheres are cool.
- Spheres are "cute". consider this commercial.
- Spheres are sleek, but not as stereotypical as a Flying Saucer or Retro Rocket.
- Spheres are badass. Nothing says "we mean business" like a Mother Ship that looks like a wrecking ball with guns.
- Perhaps most importantly of all, spheres are alien, but not too alien. We instantly recognize a sphere as a familiar shape, but not one we're used to seeing in the sky. They've got Sinister Geometry, but still clearly leave open the possibility we could find that their crews are Not So Different from us.
- It must look like a spheroid. Obviously there will be some variations. Antennae, landing gear, square hatches, etc., are all fine as long as they don't detract from the fact that it's still basically a spheroid. Egg shapes and squished spheres are also OK as long as its closer to being a sphere than it is to a cylinder or Flying Saucer. However, examples that are arguably less a sphere than a "fat vertical rocket", "rotund Flying Saucer", "sphere on a pole", etc. should be listed elsewhere.
- Vertical takeoff and landing. The vehicle is essentially incapable of landing like a traditional airplane. Once airborne, it can change course.
- Single-stage, surface-to-space capability. Sufficiently Advanced Aliens usually equip such vessels with interstellar capability, while more primitive variants may only be capable of going between the planet and an orbiting Mother Ship.
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Anime and Manga
Films — Animated
- The second Katy Caterpillar movie, Katy, Kiki & Koko had the shapeshifting alien use such a ship. It was not capable of taking off vertically and had to reach escape velocity by bouncing on the ground.
Films — Live-Action
- Sphere. Technically not a drop ship, but still an alien "spacecraft".
- The alien spaceship◊ in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
- The classic Aries trans-orbital shuttle that takes Heywood Floyd from Station V to the Moon in 2001: A Space Odyssey fits this to a T.
- Starman may be the Trope Codifier.
- The alien "Gods" in Puma Man is also a round sphere.
- The Lucrehulk-class Core Ship in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones are dual purpose ships. They're the central "command" core of the Trade Federation ships (with large crescent sections surrounding them as seen in Episode I), but as those cannot enter the atmosphere in their entirety, they may also detach to be used as landing craft, or fly independently.
- The Borg Sphere in Star Trek: First Contact hovers somewhere in the gray area between trope played straight and subversion.
- It's definitely a spheroid, and the only reason it's not a dropship is because Enterprise destroyed it first.
- The Remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008) has a spheroid energy vessel of some sort, instead of the classic Flying Saucer that landed on the Mall in the original.
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie has
a balltons of fun with this trope.
- The spaceship in Attack of the 50-Foot Woman, except the characters call it a satellite because the screenwriter goofed. (It was made when Sputnik had just made 'satellite' the latest buzzword.) The 1993 remake uses a straight-up Flying Saucer.
- The lifepod in Starship Troopers 3: Marauder.
- The derelict space craft from Andre Norton's The Time Traders series were giant spheres. In the second book, Galactic Derelict, the heroes managed to find one intact.
- In Magnus, Dragylon the Imperial Fortress is a massive, invisible, sun-sphere and headquarters of Lucifer. Dragylon also contains the Great Big Library of Everything and Lucifer's Cool Chair.
- In The Black Fleet Crisis, the Yevetha's thrustships are spherical, based on the surface area argument quoted above.
- The sphere is a reasonably common shape for starships in Perry Rhodan. Most notably, it's been traditionally used by the dominant humanoid races of the Milky Way galaxy, the Terrans themselves included, for their capital ships (basically anything above fighter/small craft scale) for thousands of years, so there are plenty to go around.
- E. E. “Doc” Smith favoured this shape in the Skylark universe (only Skylark Three was elongated) and for the FTL capital ships in the early part of the Lensman sequence. By the time of First Lensman, however, the teardrop shape is becoming more prominent and the spheres are having trouble keeping up (literally). After the first space battle in that book, no more spheres are built and it's implied the ones which exist are phased out. By Kim Kinnison's era the ships are all teardrops.
- Peter F. Hamilton's famous Night's Dawn trilogy features a lot of spherical spacecraft (e. g. The Lady Macbeth), due to the FTL drives creating a spherical area for the travel - anything poking out is cut off. They are mostly used by the Adamists, one of the two major factions of future humanity in that series. While they are never shown to land on planets (instead preferring to ferry freight using a Space Plane), they could presumably land on a planet vertically due to their huge fusion engines and fuel tanks.
- Mentioned in the RCN series as relatively unpopular, as they had an unfortunate tendency to roll when landed, with all the sinking that implies (all ships in the setting preferred a water landing whenever possible). Most ships in the setting are cigar-shaped, with retractable pontoons, to avoid that very problem.
- In the Known Space series by Larry Niven, the General Products Corporation makes two standard hulls for starships (the Type 1 and the Type 4) which are perfectly spherical. The Type 1 is about the size of a basketball and is typically used to make space probes. The Type 4 is a kilometer in diameter and is generally used to move entire colonies all at once.
- In the book Illegal Aliens the starship All That Glitters and the copies of it that the Unified Earth Government makes after the All That Glitters is confiscated are spherical. The All That Glitters literally drops out of a sunny day into Central Park. Also in that book the Great Golden Ones, the Galaxy's defacto police force, use multiple centehedronal battle-platforms to blockade Earth.
- While not strictly speaking spheres, in the Posleen War series by John Ringo, the centauroid Posleen utilize Command Dodecahedron (C-Dec) and Battle Dodecahedron (B-Dec) spaceships that have landing capacity as their primary invasion platforms.
Live Action TV
- M78 Space Garrison Commander Zoffy arrives in a bright red energy sphere as Ultraman lies unconscious after Zetton damaged his Color Timer in the last episode. They both leave Earth soon after. This is a Callback to the first episode, as Ultraman himself was traveling in one of those when he accidentally collided with Hayata's ship.
- Sontaran landing craft in Doctor Who. Almost all Sontaran spaceships are spherical, not just their drop ships.
- BattleTech's Sphereoid-type dropships are the Trope Namer. Sphereoids have superior cargo capacity over conventional Aerodyne dropships and do not require any runways to land or takeoff. However, they have no lift surfaces, making them totally dependent on their fusion rockets for ascent, descent, and directional control; if they fail, the ship drops like a rock, destroying anything on board and anything within several hundred meters. Not all models of dropship with this design paradigm are "spheroid" either, a more apt descriptor for some of them would be "ovoid".
- The Broadsword class mercenary cruiser in Traveller. Oddly, though its description says it can't land on planets with atmospheres, one does exactly that in Adventure 7 Broadsword.
- The Kroot of Warhammer 40,000 are known to have space-capable "warspheres".
- Bungie's new game Destiny features The Traveller, a Sphere-like being that uplifted Humanity, which got mysteriously smacked down a few decades later after exploring the Solar System. The Traveller's motives are unknown, though it seems generally helpful.
- These are present in the MechWarrior, Mech Assault, and Mech Commander game series, which are based on BattleTech. For the most part, they function as a Stationary Boss, with huge amounts of armor and high-powered weapons. In Mechwarrior Living Legends, they are present in some custom maps as a base with built-in mech hangars and defensive turret arrays. Mechassault 1 starts off with a Coming In Hot landing by a sphereoid dropship after it was damaged by anti-air fire, causing it to smash into the ground and damage or destroy most of its BattleMechs. The ships' idiot technician cannibalizes parts from heavy battlemechs to repair a Cougar scout mech, much to the annoyance of the commander.
- Halo: The Didact's "combat" Cryptum in Halo 4. It's not his main ship, though.
- Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction featured a few of these as escape pods, used both in the story for a quick getaway and in gameplay to take you to a different part of the level. They would not be featured again, however Into the Nexus would reveal that it was rather luxurious as it had a holo-screen, wet bar, games console and massaging seats. It would also explain why it disappeared: activating all the features at once would cause it to explode, forcing a recall.