Category Archives: Lego Space

Galactic Fleet Voyaging

LL206 Diomedes and her squadron

Apparently Neoclassic creations are like buses: you wait all day and then two come along at once.

I built the big one of these first, aiming for a vessel that would be of substantial size even if not actually the biggest I could build.

At a mere 50 studs in length, this is no Seriously Huge Investment in Pieces, but it represents my largest Neoclassic microship to date, and I think my largest microscale creation of any kind. Which is pretty pitiful beside some of the monster vessels which grace the Internet, but I hold this truth in reserve: I could actually build something bigger, and in Classic Space livery colours, too.

It’s helped in its size achievement by being mostly conventionally-built (SNOT construction is brick-intensive), but for all its largely old-fashioned technique it looks pretty good. At least from the top.

“Goose-necked” ships like this have a long pedigree in LEGO, going back all the way to the Starfleet Voyager of 1980 and rising up through the Galaxy Commander, FT Laser Craft and so on. I guess it’s a cost-effective way to make a ship that looks suitably large and impressive.

The overall configuration of this is vaguely reminiscent of the old Starfleet Voyager (though the twin-pronged bow section is more like the Galaxy Commander). It wasn’t built as a deliberate echo or homage, but apparently there are only so many basic ship configurations out there.

Still, the name of the Starfleet Voyager might provide something like a decent derivation for a class name.

The smaller escorting vessel was built afterwards, as I looked at the pile of blue, grey and trans yellow leftovers and thought “I could have built bigger after all”.

I’ve maintained a similar design ethos so that the two ships feel like they’re part of a unified fleet with common basic features, and it was rather fun to build a “similar but different” vessel like this. And then I went smaller again for the corvettes.

As far as scale goes, I’m thinking this is a decent-sized vessel. I’m using a rough scale of one plate thickness per storey, so with a 3.5m storey height including between-decks space for power conduits and ducts and so on, that makes each stud length 8.75m long. This gives a total vessel length of 437.5m, or 1435ft.

~

The Voyager-class star cruiser LL206 Diomedes is a member of the third flight of that class, named after heroes of the Trojan War, following on from the first of the fifth-flight ships, LL198 Odysseus. It is a medium-large vessel, one of the smallest to receive the designation of “capital ship”, though in truth it only fulfils this function in the outer colonies, where fleets are composed of smaller and more versatile vessels. In the full Federation wedge-of-battle, ships like the Diomedes are more like heavy screening elements beside behemoths like the Sovereign of Space-class dreadnought.

The third flight Voyagers replace the ventral pulse cannon turret with a twin-mounted penetrator cannon turret, adding to the two forward-firing penetrator cannons already mounted on the sides of the forward hull. The so-called “penetrator cannon” is an energy-intensive meson-decay weapon able to fire through an opponent’s shields. The rest of the primary armament remains unchanged from the second flight: three twin-mounted pulse cannon turrets and six capital missile tubes in broadsides of three apiece.

Diomedes and her sisters fire the XT-13 Werewolf capital missile, whose centrally-augmented fire control allows off-beam targeting to the extent that all six missile tubes may be fired at a single opponent even in front of or behind the ship.

For secondary weapons, the Voyager-class is well equipped, as befits the class’ colonial role where individual ships must often act alone and unsupported. The Diomedes‘ secondary antimissile lasers are invisible at this scale, but provide a good all-around defensive capability against fighters and missiles.

Like all Federation starships, the Diomedes maintains both interstellar hyperspace drives and sublight impellers. The physics of hyperspace field generation requires the Ilion field generators to be located at the ship’s broadest point perpendicular to the main axis, where they generate the ring-shaped gateway field which forms the entry-point into Ilion hyperspace.

Situated at the stern of the ship are the vessel’s sublight impellers. Though in form reminiscent of the ancient reaction thrusters by which Humanity made their first forays into space, the impeller drive is a reactionless pseudogravity-magnetic drive system requiring little actual fuel beyond that used for the ship’s main power reactors.

Diomedes‘ primary weakness is its limited integral small craft capacity. The main hangar ports are located ventrally on the after hull and mostly support the class’ various landing shuttles and pinnaces, but the ship does carry a half-squadron (six ships) of small one-man fightercraft, usually older designs like the Viper and Corsair.

Escorting the Diomedes here is LL3242 Scamander, a River-class light cruiser named after the principal of the seven rivers of Troy.

Doctrinally, the River-class are intended as fleet escorts, designed to screen larger capital vessels from attack by small fighters or missiles. Accordingly, while they bristle with light-calibre antimissile and antifighter lasers invisible at this scale, their sole primary armament is a pair of twin-mounted ion cannon turrets and a heavy laser cluster cannon located dorsally amidships.

With their designated role as fleet escorts, the River-class’ fire control system and sensor net are designed to be tied into that of the fleet, allowing them to provide coordinated missile defence to several capital ships.

Also flying in LL206 Diomedes‘ ad hoc squadron are two small Dagger-class corvettes, Falx and Shuriken, each armed with a single laser cluster turret. Corvettes are the smallest Federation vessels to bear an Ilion hyperdrive unit; their primary role is as light scouts or couriers.

Eat My Moondust

It seems like a while since I built a space rover, and apparently my son saying he was going to build the Bat-Dune Buggy from the LEGO Batman Movie struck a responsive chord with me.

This doesn’t look especially like the classic dune buggy lines, but the underlying chassis with the wheels on the ends of Technic-built struts seems very dune buggy-esque.

So with its partial dune-buggy ancestry, Moondust seems like an appropriate name for this rover.

~

The Moondust-class space rover is one of the smallest Federation rover classes to feature an enclosed cockpit. Built along old-style dune buggy lines, the cockpit canopy helps to prevent the dust kicked up by the wheels from caking onto the outside of the driver’s spacesuit.

The rover is a basically unarmed command and exploration rover with space for a single crewmember. The large engineering section houses an extended-range power plant, high-powered communications gear and life support equipment useful for both exploration and command-and-control.

Large wheels provide traction on rugged planetary and lunar surfaces, and the independent active suspension gives a smooth ride in almost all terrain regimes.

Making Strides Forward

For all that I love the Blacktron, Classic Space is still what first drew me to LEGO and really made me love it. I’d have enjoyed LEGO if the Space theme hadn’t existed (I’d have been a Castle fan instead) but the fact that it was spaceships and travel to other planets sealed the deal for me.

So naturally, coming back to LEGO as an adult, my first impulse is still to Build A Spaceship. Benny from the LEGO Movie strikes a chord with me; like him, I find that the answer to a lot of problems could well be “build a spaceship”. Need to get somewhere really fast? Build a really fast spaceship! Need to protect yourself? Build a really shooty armoured spaceship! Relationship trouble? Build a spaceship together! Building a spaceship makes you happy, and working together on something will help solve or alleviate the issue.

For all that, though, I still face limitations in my building. I’m not going to be building any Seriously Huge Investments in Pieces any time soon, unfortunately; though I might be able to technically pull something off it would be a really crappy looking Rainbow Warrior, and just no.

The problem is that while our household has a reasonable array of colours with which to build, the amount of bricks in any one colour is not huge, especially by AFOL standards. I’m nearer the low end of the economic ladder than the top, and I don’t feel I can reasonably justify laying out $200+ for any of the huge sets with the really large elements and numerous minifigures that are so useful for that sort of large-scale building. When I buy LEGO bricks, it’s not in the huge job lots I would need for vast SNOTwork landscapes or 100-stud-plus-long starships.

So this smallish space fighter represents my largest Neoclassic creation to date. Even at microscale it hasn’t really got any bigger than this yet.

The thing is, SNOT-type shipbuilding is more piece-intensive than conventional building, and while my collection of blue is growing, it’s in no way to be considered large. The decision to build this with all-SNOT construction was the right one artistically, but it did stretch my piece inventory (surprisingly, in the smallest bricks like 1×1 blue plates).

Still, it’s turned out rather nice. As AFOL-built Neoclassic ships go I guess it’s pretty vanilla, but as a stepping-stone to hopefully greater things it’ll certainly work.

After toying with several different names (it was nearly the Oberon-class or the Andromeda-class) I’m going with Telcontar-class Space Superiority Fighter. Bonus points if you can catch the reference!

~~~

The Telcontar-class is a series of transatmospheric space superiority fighters of the Federation. On the larger side for the agile space superiority type, unlike many such vessel classes the Telcontar comes with wings and transatmospheric engines enabling operation from atmosphered planets as well as airless moons, starbases and space carriers.

Much of the “extra” mass, in fact, is concerned with such systems, particularly the extra reaction mass needed to attain escape velocity from planets with sufficient gravity to support an atmosphere.

This gives orbitally- and transorbitally-launched Telcontars an acceleration and/or range advantage over space fighters not designed to land, although most of those have a manoeuvre advantage over winged, atmosphere-capable ships.

The robust design, operational versatility and comparatively high armament ratio make the Telcontar-class a favourite with colonial space forces, and most Telcontars bear the blue and grey livery of the Federation’s Colonial Space Fleet rather than the black and blue of the centralised Space Police fleet or the predominantly white “Futuron Fleet” of the Federation Core Worlds.

The Telcontars’ primary armament of four heavy lasers and six secondary proton cannons (including two rear-facing) make it one of the few Colonial Fleet space fighters able to go toe-to-toe with Space Police Vipers; in inter-service wargame exercises, this fact has earned the “second class” Colonial Fleet a grudging respect.

Alienate This

Of all the six first-generation Blacktron sets, the Alienator has probably had the most separate update attempts.

There are reasons for this.

In 1987 when the Blacktron first made their appearance, the Alienator was my least-favourite of their hardware, even including the little Meteor Monitor that presaged the disappointing “Blacktron Future Generation” colours by including white.

The original Alienator

It was those legs that got me.

Normally I’m a fan of legged vehicles, especially in LEGO form, but even as an early-teenaged child I had enough of an inner biologist that I wanted something that bent at the hips and knees. That twist-and-slide zombie shuffle didn’t do anything for me. To my mind, the capabilities of the bricks they had back then meant that the world wasn’t ready for LEGO mechs. I didn’t like any of the various legged Classic Space vehicles.

Cut to the present and my post-Dark Age return to building as an AFOL, and we have all kinds of useful element types that didn’t exist back then. Not least of these are the various kinds of balljoint elements.

Now Alienate This!

The whole Bionicle/CCBS/”constraction” thing came in while I was away, and to this day that building style is a complete black box to me and effectively a separate community. I personally get bored with endless variations on the human figure, and lacking any background I neither know nor care whether I’m looking at the Toa of Cut-Price Furniture or the Protector of Cyborg Hippoes. Or whatever it is the real ones are supposed to be called.

But the various balljoint elements with studs add so many capabilities to my arsenal of techniques that they’ve nearly become essential to my building. I literally couldn’t build two thirds of what I build without them.

Now that we have the capability to build a more realistic jointed leg, an Alienator update is a really good idea, and just about every TFOL/AFOL Blacktron fan seems to build one at some point.

The various neo-Alienators out there seem to fall on a spectrum from stuff like this, which is very close in design to the original apart from the realistic legs, to stuff like this, which is awesome but radically divergent from the original, being much larger and flashier.

Mine’s somewhere in between. More “inspired by” the original than strictly colouring inside the lines, its long, spindly insectile legs and big round feet combine to give it a rather Wellsian War of the Worlds vibe, like a Blacktron take on the Martian Fighting Machine. It’s ended up with a lot more cockpit, proportionally speaking, than the Alienator 1.0.

I was actually initially anticipating a larger vehicle with a more extensive rear section, but realising that I was bored with the conventional daisy-chain mode of balljoint connection I decided to experiment with using the central ball that is normally used for attaching the greaves elements as a primary connection point. That pulled the whole centre of balance forward and necessitated a much abbreviated rear section.

You’ll of course have noticed the out-of-place dark red curved element. Even with the partial element sorting I’ve managed since this post, I can’t find the other black one that I know I’ve got, so I had to use a different colour. The same goes for the dark grey Bionicle limb rod at the back.

I’m claiming battle damage. Some Space Police disruptor weapon changing the chemical composition of the hull-metal.

The Martian War Machine-esque Bauplan got me thinking that it needed a wrecked spaceship to loom menacingly over, so the scene-setting accessories are a row of rocks and a partial Space Police-coloured wreck. Take that, nasty Space Police!

Of course, now I want to build a full on Blacktron-liveried war tripod à la War of the Worlds.

Maybe later; I’m going off on holiday in less than a week. And I’ll probably have forgotten all about Blacktron Martians by the time I get back.

Blue

I mostly built this little mech to showcase my newly-acquired blue Classic astronaut.

It also includes several other new-acquisition elements, such as the windscreen and the blue Bionicle-style arm/leg shells, but basically it’s a stage on which the blue astronaut can strut his stuff.

Now, some Neoclassic builders eschew the use of any astronauts except the original red- and white-suited ones. I guess this follows the general pattern set by Peter Reid and Tim Goddard, but even they employ yellow-suited minifigures in LEGO Space: Building the Future, so I see no reason at all to have to follow that arbitrary rule for it to be an “official”, “allowed” Neoclassic creation.

Besides, the Classic Space theme included them, didn’t it?

And anyway, I still don’t have a red or a white astronaut to use.

The question of what the different suit colours represent is one of the most endlessly-revisited questions of the whole theme. With no official story for the theme and no official explanation at the time, it was left up to the individual to do their own interpreting.

Since then, various classification schemes have been floated, one coming from the LEGO Ideas page which is operated by LEGO Group staff, and a different one on the Brickset forum which purports to be from Classic Space theme designer Jens Knudsen.

The fact that both of these have good grounds for being “official”, yet are different, kind of tells us there isn’t an official version and even the LEGO Group of the time didn’t have anything in particular in mind.

To my mind, both schemes have some nonsensical features. “Black astronauts are spies” is my particular “bang your head on your desk” initiator: Spies have their own uniform so you can tell who they are? I ‘ve always thought that black is a very Security colour myself.

The Reid/Goddard scheme has the advantage of simplicity: red astronauts are pilots, white astronauts are ground crew. You can make a reasonable case for this division from the earliest sets, if you’re prepared to classify a lot of the open spacecraft as suborbital “skimmers”, but again, that’s an arbitrary “make it work” fix that is called into question by the names of some sets, like “442 Space Shuttle”.

“Red astronauts are pilots” is borrowed a lot, though, because almost all of the really spaceshipy early Classic Space models included at least one. That makes the engineers the white-suited ones, however, and white just seems a really lousy colour of suit for the grease monkeys. I usually reverse that classification, with the white astronauts being the pilots and the red astronauts being soldiers or engineers.

The yellow astronauts are often assumed to be scientists, again following Goddard and Reid. My first yellow astronauts as a kid came from the 6930 Space Supply Station set; what are scientists doing running the lunar equivalent of a warehouse and pump station? It seems like a waste of talent. ¬†Also, “pilot” red-suits in a ground station?

The yellow astronauts should be something not very cool, because as a kid the yellow-suits-on-yellow-skin made them look too much like they were weirdly naked. With their introduction in the Supply Station, maybe these are the quartermasters’ corps. But it makes little sense for a quartermaster to be piloting the nifty, zippy little Xenon X Craft, either.

However you do it, you’re going to run into nonsense that’s difficult to justify of explain, because I suspect suit colours were really assigned on the basis of “this would be a good set to have this colour astronaut in”.

The green suits from the LEGO Ideas Exo-Suit set are usually assumed to represent mech pilots, but this doesn’t sit well with me. Firstly, “mech pilots” seems wrong when everything else that goes on land has a “driver”. Truck driver. Car driver. Golf cart driver. Train driver. Therefore, “mech driver“, surely?

Secondly, it’s a weird distinction to give the operators of legged land vehicles their own colour suit and is contraindicated by Classic sets like the Astro Grappler from back when green elements came in baseplates and plant parts and that was it.

From the little story fragment in with the Exo-Suit set, I first assumed the green suit indicated that Pete and Yve (the minifigures) were rookies. It was only on connecting with the LEGO community and talking to those who I thought actually knew that I felt constrained to bend to majority opinion.

Having a special colour for rookies makes sense. In the construction industry, we typically mark new hires with some kind of particular mark. In my company it’s a yellow hard-hat rather than a white one. This is because a construction jobsite is a dangerous place and a new hire may or may not have a lot of experience in recognising and avoiding the inherent dangers. It’s a quiet way of saying “let’s keep a protective eye on these guys so that they’ll be around to go home at the end of the day”.

Deep space is at least as inherently dangerous as the worst example of a construction site; it would make sense to mark out the rookies, for everyone’s safety.

But what are the blue astronauts?

Blue astronauts should be something cool, because as a kid I always identified with my blue astronaut minifigure. “Commanders” or “Soldiers” are the semiofficial options, and I’ve already got the black suits as Security forces. The camo effect of black makes better sense than a bright colour like blue, though if that’s the case then they need to make grey suits to be the soldiers.

I like the idea of blue suits being commanders.

You can make a reasonable case for it from inferences from the Classic sets: as far as I can recall no Classic Space set ever contained more than one blue astronaut, and small vehicles like the Astro Dasher would make a pretty good commander’s runabout. The LEGO Group also have a history of commanders or central figures being included in small pocket-money sets: witness the Ice Planet Celestial Sled with Commander Bear.

Besides that, it makes sense for commanders to have their own suit colour. Space is a hostile, dangerous environment; the sort of place where it is vitally important to be able to tell at a glance who is in charge.

Anyway, now I have a blue astronaut again. I’ve actually taken the unprecedented step of placing this minifigure off-limits to my kids. Most of the time I have no problem with the general pooling of the household brick collection, but even with the thicker chinstrap, those original helmet elements are fairly fragile. Not as fragile as the first thin chinstraps, though. Those things had a half-life of about 12 days under real-world conditions.

And I really don’t want my first real Classic Spaceman minifigure acquired as a post-Dark Age AFOL getting lost or stepped on and broken. Those things aren’t all that cheap.

I think the mech would look better with a modern helmet and something other than a classic smiley as a face, but I wanted to show off my new minifigure. And that windscreen element; I do find mechs with properly-enclosed cockpits to look that much more finished, somehow.

I’m looking forward to using that windscreen in plenty more Classic Space-type creations. It’s a nice shape with a lot of possibility.

Right now I’m contemplating a neo-Blacktron Battrax update, for instance. Stay posted…

Once and Future Car

As the saying goes: “Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads!”

Microscale non-Neoclassic Space futurism. It’s been a while.

Casting around for inspiration after “The Ninja and the Dragon”, I thumbed through “The Art of LEGO Design”, one of those handy inspiration-and-reference manuals for AFOLs. What should I build? Minifigures? Nope. A building? Well, my element inventory is more geared to vehicles. What do I want to build? Spaceship? Nah, done it too recently. Rover? Mech? I don’t think so. I’ve built a lot of mechs lately. Build a real car or a ship? Well, the ones here are so well-put-together and I really know very little about the real-world automotive sphere and approximately the same about ships. Ah, here we go! “…since hovercars are a retro concept, try making them look retro…”

So I did. Pulling in some ideas gleaned from the various car model photos, I set about building this little hovercar roadster and ended up with something looking a lot like a refugee from a ZZ Top album sleeve.

The red colour was determined by the fact that I only have two of the elements I used for the front mudguards and they’re both red; the grey because I wanted something that would at least approximate a metal finish and I lacked the appropriate elements in flat silver. Ah well.

I think what I’m most pleased with in this model is the various juggling of widths. Different portions of the main body are two, three and five studs in width, but that’s what makes it work as a model. AFOL techniques for the win, right?

The book was right. Making a hovercar with a 1930s/1940s classic car-style body is a good idea. And it gives a respectful nod at the very least to the arcane and exacting science of real-world automotive reproduction in bricks. I love what you guys produce, but I don’t have nearly enough of the redneck “Love affair with the automotive world” gene to be able to compete.

Hovercars aren’t currently produced by Detroit, however, so I don’t need to worry about the finicky differences between a 1931 model and a 1935. It’s all good.

It’s a good thing, too, because that stuff has little to no hold on my mind. You can tell me and I’ll forget.

Anyway, here’s my hovercar.


The hovercar industry of the late 2160s was gripped by a fashion for antique “classic car” styling from the early years of the petroleum-burning groundcar age. The 2169 Stark Aeromotive “Roadster LE” is perhaps the exemplar of the period, with its flared mudguard-style repulsor unit shields and nearly cylindrical forward body containing the main power plant housing.

The bubble canopy provides excellent visibility for both pilot and passengers, and the sporty handling recalls the golden age of the original roadsters whose design it apes. The four gravitic repulsion focusing units provide both stability and lift, with dual-focus redundancy as a standard safety feature. The front and rear pairs are independently steerable and the Roadster’s onboard driver support AI manages these in a number of different programmable flight regimes ranging from the nimble “Sportster Max” mode emphasising handling and agility to the “FamilySafe” mode maximising stability and safety.

The upward-angled rear tubular housings recall the “exhaust pipes” of many custom-modified fossil-fuel-engined groundcars of yesteryear, though the Stark Roadster’s fusion plant is fully self-contained and certified by the Department of Environment and Industry’s Fusion Safety Board. The pipelike housings actually contain the transmitters for the emergency crash-protection repulsor-stasis field, which forms a short-lived protective bubble around the vehicle’s passenger compartment in the event of an accident.

At $862M US new, the Roadster LE fit squarely into the “sporty family sedan” bracket’s upper third. Not as luxurious as high-end models like the $1.12B Agustino Valiant nor as affordable as the $440M Seoyun Sportique, the Stark Roadster’s economic niche was upper-middle-class drivers wanting a more sporty and responsive ride that could also seat their family.

Building Together

All three of my kids love LEGO, but of the three of them, my son is probably the biggest fan.

One of the main ways we spend time together, in fact, is building together, though it often deteriorates into him providing the ideas and direction and me making it work the way he wants it to be. Of such collaboration have many dragons and mechs and Ninja machines been built.

This was a different kettle of sushi.

Father-and-son building time

He’s a fan of the Star Wars Microfighters game on LEGO.com, and so when he asked me to build him a TIE fighter microfighter I smiled and said “You’re a good builder. You can build it yourself”.

So he did. Then he had me build the X-Wing, which is obviously an AFOL’s creation on the Microfighter theme rather than a nearly-six-year-old’s, but allowed him two ships to have a battle with.

And really, X-Wings are hard. I remember that from my own childhood before there was a set for that.

A few days later I came home from work to discover that he’d made this lovely little charging/refueling/repair station all by himself. No help with the concept, nothing. Absolutely brilliant!

Of course, it’s a bit more rainbow than I’d have tolerated even as a six-year-old, but that’s at leas partly a legacy of my wife. A non-builder with the attention to detail that makes a really superb brickfinder, she had no patience at all with his Daddylike early insistence on everything being the right colour as well as the right shape and carefully wore down his resistance to the Rainbow Warrior concept.

I’m particularly fond of the crates of tools, but the whole thing oozes brilliance.

So I’m trying something very difficult. I’m trying to stop my itchy AFOL builder’s hands from taking over and let him build his own stuff.