In the book Dune there are suspensor fields, and I believe (but am not sure) that some kinds of vehicle use them for flying, whereas there are also other flying vehicles (the ornithopters) that do not. The trailer for the upcoming Denis Villeneuve movie depicts both ornithopters and flying craft that appear to be using suspensors or some other kind of anti-gravity technology.

There are presumably spacecraft ("frigates") that are used to leave the surface of a planet and transport people and goods to orbit. Do these spacecraft use suspensor fields (or similar technology) to reach orbit, or are they rockets, or something else?

  • It's not really necessary to reference another question unless it's closely related. It doesn't seem likely that 'thopters are capable of reaching space.
    – Valorum
    Sep 13, 2020 at 9:35
  • In one of the books by Herbert's son, we see that Guild heighliners are able to reach space from the ground merely by transitioning (through solid rock) into orbit.
    – Valorum
    Sep 13, 2020 at 9:37
  • @Valorum: Does this involve the powers of a Guild Navigator?
    – releseabe
    Sep 13, 2020 at 10:12
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    @releseabe : Navigators do not bend space. Holtzman engines bend space. You either need a computer or a navigator to guarantee the result of the fold to not leave you in a star or some other nonlivable scenario. Since the Butlerian Jihad, you aren't using a computer to do this. Sep 13, 2020 at 19:49
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    Thing is Herbert didn't really care about such details. It may be not mentioned in any of his books. And wellll... Encyclopedia and later stuff aren't exactly the same thing.
    – Mithoron
    Sep 13, 2020 at 23:13

1 Answer 1


The Dune Encyclopedia offers an insight into the various methods that Frigates use to reach orbit. In short it boils down to one of three methods; "Steamships" (that use heated water (or ammonia) as a rocket), "Torches" (which use heated plasma to generate thrust) and "Brats" which use Project-Orion style fission explosions.

One of the more popular frigate designs was the "steamship," in which a fusion plant heated a reaction mass, usually water but sometimes ammonia or some other light compound. Various heat exchange techniques utilizing plasma fluxes and electromagnetic fields made the system reasonably efficient, and it was cheap to maintain. The same sort of energy fields around the launching pad absorbed much of the initial blast so that the major environmental problem was noise as the ship rose above the port.

A second widely used design was the "brat," which exploded small fission bombs under an ablative plate at its base. It was faster, more efficient, and lifted more pay- load than the steamship, but it was also much more expensive and left much short- term radioactivity in its wake.

Most efficient of all was the "torch," whose exhaust was plasma, but ruling Houses were often reluctant to allow what amounted to giant heat cannons to come and go overhead. Because of the Guild monopoly, no frigate was capable of trans-light operation. In inter-stellar transit, frigates were mere cargo. In the confines of a planetary system, however, the frigate was dominant. No other class of ship was so flexible, with so favorable a combination of size, speed, and surface accessibility.

Obviously no single frigate could be wholly representative, but one that is broadly illustrative was Antiock, the personal spaceship of the Padishah Emperor Corrin XVIII (r. 6874-6892). Surely one of the largest frigates ever built, Antiock massed well over nine hundred thousand tonnes and was four hundred and eleven meters in length. Its torch engine gave it a maximum launch acceleration of approximately seven standard g's

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    Note that Frank Herbert himself declared the Dune encyclopedia non-canon in its introduction, so this answer should be taken with a pinch of salt Sep 13, 2020 at 19:57
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    @TomJNowell - Well, yes and no. It was originally published as a "Complete and Approved" guide to the Dune universe. Subsequent editions became less canonical as time wore on, firstly by the introduction of a foreword by Herbert where he called the scholarly sources "questionable" and that he "[held his] own counsel on some of the issues still to be explored as the Chronicles unfold". Later editions were entirely de-canonised by Herbert's son because it conflicted with his 'continuing saga'.
    – Valorum
    Sep 13, 2020 at 20:03
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    I see. It's difficult to reconcile Brat design engines with the general abhorence of atomics int he dune universe Sep 13, 2020 at 20:48
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    @TomJNowell - Offensive use of atomics is grounds for planetary annihilation. Their use otherwise is evidently tolerated since this is the loophole that Paul jumps through at the end of Dune.
    – Valorum
    Sep 13, 2020 at 20:50

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