Since we already have separate thread for interstellar motherships, in this thread, the discussion will be focused on smaller shuttle ships carried by the motherships.
First, we can have few concept images on any form from community members and we can select good ones by voting.
The final design of the ships can be done by community members who are talented in making 2d concept arts or/and 3dmodelling. Or with enough funding, Vladimir can hire professional artist(s) to do the job.
Still, It's our job to tell artists how the ship should look and function and this thread is for that.
All shuttles(except disposable probes) should be able to dock to the mothership and be carried by it.
Shuttles must be equipped with high thrust engines for planetary surface flight, which is near impossible with low thrust engines.
Customization on shuttle ships will not be as free as that of the mothership. But should still let players have some cosmetic customizations(skins, decals, repaints etc.)
Here are some of my thoughts on how the ships should look1. Small winged shuttle
These ships will provide small crew/cargo transport capability between mothership in high orbit and planetary surface.
Its aerodynamic design allows all kinds of atmospheric maneuvers including aerobraking, reentry, hypersonic flight.
Ships will have full VTOL capability through its hover engines that are powerful enough to lift the ship from a planet with gravity of 2G(or even higher).
It will require small retro thrusters that can slow it down on landing approach since it can be hard to slow down without it on lower air pressure environments like Mars.
It will be able to fly like conventional aircraft with flight control surfaces in high enough atmospheric pressure, but will need support of RCS thrusters in lower pressure condition.
Design inspirations:2.Large winged shuttle
Mostly same as above, but will come with much higher cargo capabilities.
Will require more gentle approach on reentry and landing due to its heaviness. Its weight will limit places it can land, which means that on planets with higher gravity, players will have to rely on smaller shuttles.
Will be able to carry large cargos as the 3D printing facility, making it the key to base building and colonization.
Design inspirations:3.BFS style atmospheric shuttle
BFS-like rocket style SSTO could also work well.
It will not require separate retro, hover engines since main engines can do that all. The ship will simply Roll-over after reentry faze to face it's main engines against the ground for safe vertical landing.
The weak point will be its limited freedom of atmospheric flight.
Design inspirations:4. Non-atmospheric shuttles
Players should still be able to fly atmospheric shuttles to where they don't really need an aerodynamic ship. There's no big problem with it and it should be the option. But by using specific ships, players can achieve their job more efficiently.Non-atmospheric ships will have lighter weight, which means more efficient fuel usage, better flight capability, more cargo capacity.Furthermore, it can have rotating engines, which is impossible for atmospheric ships due to their requirements.It allows the ship to replace main, hover, retro engines by just having a set of rotating engine.
Design inspiration:5. Gas fuel collector
These ships will fly through the gas giants upper atmosphere to collect hydrogen gases by its noticeable air intakes. The gases gained through these ships can be used as fuel for the mothership, which means gas collecting shuttles will be crucial for longlasting self-sustaining interstellar voyage without frequent resupply.
Will mostly be unmanned. Also lacking landing capabilities.
Would require aerodynamic design, but not as much as other atmospheric shuttles since it won't get very deep into the thicker part of the atmosphere.
It will fly through high and thin part of the atmosphere at sub-orbital hypersonic velocity. Once it's collection tank is full, it will accelerate to the higher orbit to reach back to the mothership.
Design inspiration:https://sboterod.artstation.com/projects/WWrJX6. Probes
Special kinds of ships. Small in size and can be mass produced from the mothership's onboard 3d printing facility. Most of them can only be used once.
Orbital probes can be deployed for communication, planet surface mapping, etc.
Surface probes will land on planets and asteroids for gaining scientific data. Some will have a deployable heat shield for landing on the planets with atmosphere.
Design inspirations: just google 'space probes'