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Spheroid Dropship

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Note the Humongous Mecha and the large turrets.

"All hands to the Escape Testicle!"
Starship Hooters 3: Undresser

A Science Fiction 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?

  • 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 aren't so different from us.


  1. 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.
  2. Vertical takeoff and landing. The vehicle is essentially incapable of landing like a traditional airplane. Once airborne, it can change course.
  3. 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. note .


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Dragon Ball Z:
    • The "Saiyan Pods" used by Frieza's forces are of the sufficiently advanced variety. They're person-sized and have no visible engines, but they can make year-long interstellar trips with no issue while the passenger is in suspended animation.
    • Doctor Briefs reverse-engineers this technology and builds a much larger one for Goku, which more resembles the page picture. In addition to being much roomier, it includes a training gym with multiple gravity settings, allowing Goku to grow more than ten times stronger during his journey.
  • Hetalia: Axis Powers: The Movie deals with an Alien Invasion that uses this sort of space ship.
  • The Zeon HLV (Heavy-lift Launch Vehicle) isn't quite spherical but it is a massive, rounded ship that carries entire squads of Humongous Mecha to and from Earth's surface.
  • A Wind Named Amnesia features an especially huge one.

    Films — Animated 
  • In the "So Beautiful and So Dangerous" sequence of Heavy Metal, the ship is a sphere with a stylized face: the front lower hemisphere looks like an open mouth, and huge viewports look like eyes and ears. The ship never actually lands (just hovers in place), but clearly demonstrates the second and third requirements above.
  • The second Katy Caterpillar film, 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.
  • In the Disney/Pixar movie Lightyear (based off the franchise-within-a-franchise Buzz Lightyear universe inside the Toy Story universe), "The Turnip", as Buzz nicknamed it, is an intergalactic starship full of colonists in hypersleep. Its Power Crystal is damaged in a disastrous attempt at a hurried takeoff, stranding the colonists on a Death World that they eventually adapt to.

    Films — Live-Action 

  • In The Black Fleet Crisis, the Yevetha's thrustships are spherical, based on the surface area argument quoted above.
  • The original paperback cover of Chapterhouse: Dune shows the no-ship as one of these.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • Out of the Silent Planet: Weston's spaceship is a sphere by necessity, since he can't create Artificial Gravity and so he needed to have a core that would pull the rest of the spaceship into the center. Weston refuses to explain to Ransom (and the reader through him) how exactly he created a center of gravity so small, but the result is that the floors of one room seem to be the walls as soon as you walk out and look into it. It also means that entering a planet's orbit involves making "down" down again, which proves a harrowing experience.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Sphere: Technically not a drop ship, but still an alien "spacecraft".
  • 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Sontaran landing craft in Doctor Who. Almost all Sontaran spaceships are spherical, not just their drop ships.
  • 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.

  • In The Adventure Zone: Balance, the Bureau of Balance uses glass spheres with seats inside to travel from their base on the moon back to the surface of the planet below; they are shot out of the bottom of the moon via cannon and return by deploying a large balloon to float back up to the moon. What's remarkable about this is that Balance takes place in what is otherwise a standard fantasy universe, not Sci-Fi.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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.
  • Warhammer 40,000: The Kroot are known to have space-capable "warspheres". Not only are they large even by the standards of a series that considers a Mile-Long Ship "small", but they are in fact capable of landing on a planetary surface and taking off again, something that might surprise others considering the Kroot's Low Culture, High Tech image. Naturally, they leave the area they land on a blasted wasteland in the wake of their thrust exhaust.

    Video Games 
  • 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.
  • Halo: The Didact's "combat" Cryptum in Halo 4. It's not his main ship, though.
  • These are present in the MechWarrior, MechAssault, and MechCommander game series and the 2018 BattleTech game by Harebrained Schemes, all of which are set in the BattleTech universe. 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.
  • The Access Ark from Kirby: Planet Robobot is the Planet Spaceship-sized version of this trope, with five massive, spider-like legs that the central sphere uses to attach itself to other planets. It belongs to the Haltmann Works Company, the invading force of Planet Looters that Kirby must defeat. This massive ship doesn't just serve as the Haltmann Works Company's headquarters. It's also the reactivated body of a Galactic Nova, and it fuses together with Star Dream to become the Final Boss.
  • 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.

    Real Life 
  • The first crewed spaceship to reach space, the Soviet Vostok used a sphere-shaped capsule for reentry, because the capsule could not be steered while reentering and had to be protected from all sides. Subverted, as the capsule didn't actually land safely, the cosmonaut bailed out using an Ejector Seat and then parachuted down to earth.
    • The later iteration of the spacecraft, the two-man Voskhod played this trope more straight, with the crew staying in the capsule all the time. (Except spacewalks, that is.)