The God Thing wrote:
Except for the increased mass penalty, which would be an issue if the impulse engines function as Newtonian rockets
There's no mass penalty, since it's the same mass spread out over a larger volume. If the space between inhabited sections is in vacuum, there's no extra mass of atmosphere. And the surrounding hull would be fairly thin and a minor contribution to the overall mass. If, indeed, there is a surrounding hull. An opened-up design like this might dispense with one, and look something like the ancient alien ship from TAS: "Beyond the Farthest Star," say.
A minimized exterior surface area would also provide statistical protection from natural hazards as well as presenting a smaller target to the enemy during combat.
Not if the interior is mostly empty space. As I said, in that case, the odds of a meteroid or projectile/missile striking an inhabited portion of the ship are lowered, and if the space is in vacuum, the damage isn't transmitted beyond the immediate points of impact. Such a projectile (or rather the expanding cloud of plasma resulting after it strikes the hull and vaporizes) would simply travel through the ship in a straight line and out the other side, and if there were no populated/pressurized sections in its path, it would only damage the hull and maybe a few support bulkheads.
This was a basic part of the combat protocols they used on Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda
, according to the online discussions of the show's producers and the JPL propulsion engineer who was their scientific adviser, although it didn't come out well in the show itself. Since GRA was (originally) a hard-SF universe in which fields of force couldn't magically function like armor, there was simply no reliable way to deflect kinetic warheads incoming at relativistic speeds, not if they had thrusters that could correct against a repulsive force. Anything that hit the ship would pass straight through and out the other side. So the only defense was statistical: distribute the crew throughout the enormous volume of the ship, dump the atmosphere from every unoccupied section into space, and hope that most of the crew survived.