Two space-fighter games recently came out in quick succession. Both are free, downloadable fan-made takes on popular franchises, and both show very high production values. The first is Wing Commander: Saga, based on the 1990s-era Wing Commander space simulator games.* The second is Diaspora: Shattered Armistice which lets you hop in the cockpit of your favorite fighter from Battlestar Galactica, accelerate out a launch tube, shoot up some Cylon raiders while flying sideways, and then burn in for a combat landing.** There’s also a recent article on the Foreign Policy web site about carriers in space. So now I’m thinking about that favorite military sci-fi trope: the space carrier!
Whether it makes sense, from a military, technical, or economic point of view, to build a carrier vessel to launch smaller fighting craft is a complex argument. (The FP article discusses more of this than I will here.) The major reasons to do so would be the same reasons why we build naval aircraft carriers now: the ship provides a base of operations for the aircraft, and allows them to participate missions that they could not perform on their own. That’s the sort of argument that even a far-flung space military would go for – if backed up with plenty of supporting evidence – but whether their space carriers launch single-seat fighters, small-crew attack ships, or robotic drones is up for grabs. I think that we can’t completelyanswer that question without knowing more about the reasons for this space military’s existence and the socioeconomic conditions during the Space War!
Let’s just suppose that it makes sense to have some kind of mother ship carrying some kind of smaller craft in a space military. I’m going to take a couple examples of carriers from military science fiction and grade them on what they do well and what they don’t. My examples are going to illustrate some common types of space carriers in media: space carriers from Star Wars, space carriers from the 2004-2010 TV series Battlestar Galactica, and space carriers from from the “Wing Commander” games.