I know it may be a bit of a silly question and not really something of great importance to a story, but how would you secure a spaceship when you leave?

For example; when the Millennium Falcon lands on a planet (not in a hangar bay or anywhere secure but just "in the middle of a forest/desert/wherever") and Han and Chewie exit to explore the planet (leaving the ship unmanned), how would they lock the Falcon to ensure no one could steal it?

The nature of a "best answer" would have to fall into the following constraints:

  • The ship would be parked somewhere in the open without security/guards/fences - so couldn't be left unlocked/open and would therefore need to be secured completely.

  • The ship is old, so before a sophisticated AI system would be installed (although the ship is old, it does have an onboard computer system for navigation etc., but much more in the style of the Millennium Falcon - so you can't physically talk to it/doesn't respond to voice commands).

  • Would need to be fool-proof enough so that the crew using the ship could gain access (if all the crew had exited the ship and "locked" it) - this would eliminate keys/remotes because if half of the group are captured/lost and have the key/remote, the other half will be effectively locked out of the ship. Also during battle a key/remote could be lost or damaged. It also wouldn't be practical to hand out 10 keys/remotes to all crew members.

  • It would need to be something that could be accessed by anyone in the crew but not necessarily by a stranger (so not just a big red button that locks/unlocks from the outside)

  • If a control panel on the exterior (or something similar) - what type of power source would it need in order to open/close a ship that is basically turned off/powered down/unmanned? As mentioned above AI wouldn't be able to assist, would there be auxiliary power to lock/unlock the door (would that be mechanically possible?).

  • Could facial/retina/voice recognition or biometrics work in a Millennium Falcon-type ship for locking/unlocking or is that too sophisticated considering the absence of a "talking AI" and only a primitive onboard computer?

Sorry, I'm new here, so apologies if I'm asking the "wrong type of question" if so any help on where I can ask this question would be greatly appreciated :)

  • 6
    $\begingroup$ Why can't they have remote buttons like cars or actual keys? $\endgroup$ – Trevor D Jan 18 at 19:11
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Why can't they have a remote for it? Do any of the spaceships in the universe you're building have any constraints about it? 'Cause if they don't, this question will probably be flagged as opinion based. $\endgroup$ – Magus Jan 18 at 19:13
  • $\begingroup$ Just install a Magnavolt system on your ship. Problem solved! $\endgroup$ – kikirex Jan 18 at 19:15
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Voice control: "Open the pod bay door, Hal!" $\endgroup$ – user535733 Jan 18 at 20:33
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ To avoid closure as primarily opinion-based, please explain the nature of a "best answer" and the criteria you're using to judge the best answer. You need to provide constraints, otherwise you're looking for a "infinite list of things," which is off-topic. (E.G., "You can't use a physical key..." type stuff. What are you looking for?) $\endgroup$ – JBH Jan 18 at 20:42

Get a lockbox.

enter image description here

These things are sturdy and not something you could break open with a hammer. You have better tech than modern-day Earth though, so you can use even stronger materials. Something that a circular saw couldn't cut.

While this box only has about 1000 possible combinations, you could easily make one with more. You can also make it any size you need.

This way, no one can lose the key. They just have to remember the combination (and not leak it to anyone else). I'd put up several boxes so, if someone uses it to get in the ship and forgets to put the key back in the box, you're good.

These things are 100% mechanical too. No electronics to break down or run out of power.

Or get a door lock that takes codes directly.

enter image description here

This requires adding in some electronics. This one has different codes for up to 100 users. Why? So you can delete individual codes that have been leaked, or for people who have died or deserted.

With some systems, it will tell you which code was used to enter at a certain time. So if there is a break in, you can pinpoint which person is responsible (either because they gave away the code or because it was an inside job).

Your power source on the electronic locks is a battery. No reason in the world they wouldn't last a good 10 years, like the battery on my smoke detector or a quality watch. Or make it a rechargeable battery. The act of pushing keys or turning the doorknob could recharge it. Or a solar panel. It wouldn't need very much since it's a tiny bit of power and it's not used all that often. I think we can assume that batteries and chargers would be more sophisticated in a time that had spaceships like these.

Have locks on more than one level.

Put a lock on the outside door. Then one for the cockpit. Then another for the ignition. You might have a break-in now and again, but they won't be able to steal the ship.


AI controlled face, body and voice authentication.

It can't be fooled because you need all 3. If you show up after a night out weighing 10kg more, the ship is going to ask you to explain where you have been.

But what if a shapeshifter wants in?

The ship AI can detect your behavior, facial expressions, etc. And can ask you personal questions from your personal logs to verify that it is you. If you talk about your mothers maiden name often, it knows what to ask.

What what if you are held hostage? No problem, the AI can see you clearly held hostage, and can decide if allowing itself to be stolen would save you.

Have a whole crew? No problem, the ship can remember you all.

Sending a guest back to the ship to grab some drinks? No problem, scan your guest and email it to the ship. The AI will grant 1 time access to the ship.

Warning: Do not make HAL the ship angry.

  • $\begingroup$ And remember not to switch to the computer's backup personality without checking what it's like if you can't stand the primary personality's penchant for singing awfully... $\endgroup$ – GerardFalla Jan 18 at 19:30

Cars boats and airplanes all use ignition keys. I do not see why any private vehicle would not use one. On top of simply providing security, the ignition key prevents accidental activation. A spaceship similar to a plane must be a death machine behind the engines, and using an ignition key is a must with the key only being inserted after the craft is clear.

Now we have the outside door. I am going to stick to something like the Millennium Falcon in size. Here the doors would probably lock in a similar way that doors lock in your setting. There may be NFC voice recognition or the like. I am guessing that there is nothing like internet based locks as you may not get good reception on a random planet. But most likely there is also a manual key as well. This key would operate the door even if there is a complete power failure and open a backup mechanical lock. This may not be the main bay door for loading cargo, but it must be there somewhere.

The main cargo door if it requires power to operate may need to be open from the inside once the system is online, or may again use a remote or voice recognition.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ While small planes generally use keys (both for doors and the ignition) I don't think commercial jets or military aircraft do - probably because it's assumed that there will always be people around for security. As for voice recognition, ever watch "2001: A Space Odyssey"? $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jan 18 at 19:29
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I'm sorry James, I can't comment on that... $\endgroup$ – GerardFalla Jan 18 at 19:31
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf I am assuring based on the Millennial Falcon, a private craft that can self start without ground's assistance, and thus has a battery cutoff $\endgroup$ – Andrey Jan 18 at 21:08
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander ignition, fixed, ty $\endgroup$ – Andrey Jan 18 at 22:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Andrey: If I'm not mistaken, the Millenium Falcon is fiction, and absurdly inaccurate fiction at that. (For instance, the parsec is a unit of distance.) $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jan 19 at 5:02

Just a DNA key. You have a personal space ship, having a rapid DNA check shouldnt be too hard with that kind of tech laying around.

You can have the ship simply allow access through biometrics and a personal tracker (voice, smell, the way you normally move, build of body, pictures of your retina from a distance etc). This way you can enter and exit at will without having to authenticate every time you enter. Should the ship afterwards notice the biometrics have been fooled when it tests your DNA from the cells and particles you release every moment (or get suspicious because suddenly you dont) it can always lock you inside and alert the authorities or nearesr friendly group of thugs in case you are an outlaw.

Just for clarity: we arent talking AI here, but something like we have in our phones that can recognize your face and unlock itself, only with more biometrics applied. Should later more accurate tests come back negative a whole backup system of checks and balances tries to verify who you are and in any event there is no satisfying answer the ship will lock you up or worst-case try to boot you out.

  • $\begingroup$ As I mentioned in my answer, all these systems assume your ship has power. There must be, perhaps a less convenient, way to enter the craft using a purely mechanical system. Here is a Toyota Prius key. The car has key-less entry but there is a small backup key. i5.walmartimages.com/asr/… $\endgroup$ – Andrey Jan 18 at 21:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Andrey question is when a space ship runs out of power? The moment it does the ship is likely never going to fly again. I suppose a quantum key with the entangled opposites could be used for a specific emergency hatch that only unlocks from the outside when power runs out could be possible. Ofcourse if the ship recognizes you it also unlocks but otherwise anyone who steals the key has access regardless. $\endgroup$ – Demigan Jan 18 at 21:54
  • $\begingroup$ when it sits in dock for a year because no one needs to go to space. Or when it runs into a solar flare and has to be towed home after a massive power failure. "I need to go find a mechanic, but I can't leave my ship parked because if i close the door we will need to cut into the hull to get it open again. And if i leave it open someone will steal all my stuff" $\endgroup$ – Andrey Jan 18 at 21:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Andrey Just like fancy cars, you have to boost them. If you park in a dock and run out of power, you have to plug the ship in. If you "land" (crash landings are a landing after all) with a dead battery, you would probably have a portable booster pack. And failing all that, then yes, you are cutting into the hull to break into your own ship. $\endgroup$ – Trevor D Jan 18 at 22:06

This is not a silly question at all. My players (I'm a Traveller referee) have asked the question at various times, although it's never become a serious issue. In other words, the game hasn't required them to break into and/or secure a starship.

So, we postulated a kind of identity-recognition system in the ship's computer, which uses a combination of biological factors (your DNA, retinae, respiration, metrics) and psychological factors (your walk, gestures, voice, and manner of responses to simulated computer intelligence), and that while not foolproof, it is secure.

There are two reasons for this. First and most important, the players own a ship, and they need a place where they can reasonably feel secure or "at home". The other reason is to prevent them from becoming pathological grand theft starship criminals.


The old locking spaceship conundrum. Here we go.

  • It would be easy and cheap to hand out keyfobs, keycards, RFID microchip implants, etc. to each member of the crew. The shipboard access control system could easily have an independent power supply lasting years, like a small nuclear reactor (about 20 lbs) providing power only to access systems.

  • Give everyone regular metal keys, and have a small compartment
    mounted on the ship by the airlock or other entry port. The lock
    would be recessed in the covered compartment to protect it from dust, blaster fire, bubblegum, bird poop, etc. Open the cover, put your
    key in the lock, turn it the super secret sequence, and you're in.

  • Another mechanical lock could be a device operable by one finger.
    The aspiring entrant puts his finger in the device, then manipulates the control surfaces in a particular combination to unlock the ship. If he fails or makes a mistake, the device severs his finger.

  • Biometrics would absolutely work. DNA scan, retina scan, fingerprint scan, yes this would serve well.

  • Each portal could have an access plate for RFID implants/cards, OR an unsuspecting hull plate nearby could conceal the RFID reader.


In the event that the ship is totally without power, such the solar flare contingency that another poster mentioned, what about this:

Bring a battery to operate the access control system.

If the electronic systems themselves were wrecked by solar flare, what about this:

An unobtrusive compartment (with a puzzle lock) near the airlock holds a large combination lock, like one on a safe. This combination lock has several pins which must be removed before it can turn. When the combination lock is opened it allows a retaining bolt to be withdrawn from a large bar which is locking the airlock mechanism. The person seeking entry would then remove the retaining bolt, draw out the large bar, and then go to the airlock and open it with its normal mechanical mechanism.


  1. Open the exterior hull compartment near the airlock.

  2. Remove the pins keeping the combination lock from turning.

  3. Open the combination lock.
  4. Remove the retaining bolt from the large bar holding the airlock mechanism in place.
  5. Remove the large bar, freeing the airlock mechanism to operate normally.
  6. Open the airlock normally with its manual mechanical controls.

The important thing here is that all of these parts can be disguised. The combination lock, its retaining pins, all of it, can be hidden or made to look like other equipment. Intruders wouldn't even know what to look for. They would try the seemingly unlocked airlock and it wouldn't open. Then they would have to know about the puzzle-locked compartment. If they force the puzzle-locked compartment, then they would have to know what to look for and what combination to use. Then they'd have to know what the combination lock is even for. You get the idea.

Or, you could just have a cool telepathic alien animal that looks like a talking cat guard the ship (I'm looking at YOU, Honor Harrington.)


Handprint (or faceprint) recognition is pretty easy to set up using an array of analog switches and one of these these. The resolution can be increased easily by adding more sensors. It's easy to imagine one of these with pretty high accuracy. And it's a pretty unique technological item for your world

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Yeah, and what happens if your hand gets cut off, or someone in that interstellar bar decides to beat on your face? $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jan 19 at 5:03
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Hope it didn't happen to every shipmate. $\endgroup$ – boxcartenant Jan 19 at 5:22

The safest way to secure a ship is to not land it on the planet. It could have several shuttles that are able to withstand atmospheric entry. Conversely, the main ship would be restricted to space - but then it could be much lighter.

The shuttles land basically anywhere, drop off the crew and leave. The ship then sends shuttles periodically to some pre-programmed remote rendezvous points that are hard to discover accidentally (like a particular spot in the middle of a desert) until a crewman is recovered. Anyone who boards the shuttle is considered a crewman, but if the shuttle's trajectory is hard to track (say, it enters the atmosphere at below-hypersonic speeds, travels by randomized paths, and has a very low radar cross-section), it shouldn't be a problem.

  • $\begingroup$ Seems like a drag to have the crew trek out to a remote spot in the desert after shore leave, buying supplies, or conducting other routine business. Another consideration is that if the crew is followed to the rendezvous point and then gunned down just the shuttle lands, the assailants then have a free shuttle automatically set to return them to the ship. $\endgroup$ – TheLeopard Jan 19 at 23:13
  • $\begingroup$ It's an entire different story. If someone can kill the crew, then the same guys can capture them and force to give instructions on entering the shuttle, bypassing any kind of security measures. The only way to protect the ship in that case is to equip the shuttles with a self-destruct system, activated when a breach attempt is detected or a specific wrong code is input into the cockpit's PIN pad. $\endgroup$ – DrunkenSailor Jan 20 at 16:31
  • $\begingroup$ I think your answer would be better just by leaving out the remote landing site part. The crew could leave the ship in orbit, land with a shuttle, have it take off and wait in orbit, then have it land wherever they are via a remote piloting device (like Bishop in Aliens). The person remotely piloting could use a sunglasses-based vr HUD to detect and blast any lurking hostiles. The shuttle could have a concealed puzzle lock to deter casual theft. If the crew loses their remote piloting device, they are screwed. They could have your preset site as a backup. But, this is about casual theft. $\endgroup$ – TheLeopard Jan 20 at 19:06
  • $\begingroup$ But the OP's question is really about deterring casual theft instead of planning for every contingency, as many of us (including me) have been doing. $\endgroup$ – TheLeopard Jan 20 at 19:07
  • $\begingroup$ We've done something like this, but then what about theft from orbit? Actually, my players landed their shuttle itself, but the problem of how to secure the shuttle then becomes the question. $\endgroup$ – rje Jan 21 at 17:42

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.