There is a problem with space exploration. Despite the fact that lots of new rockets are being built, almost no one is thinking about the next generation of space stations. Where will all those rockets go once the International Space Station (ISS) is decommissioned in 2028? Considering that the ISS took at least thirteen years to design before the first components were built (1985 to 1998), we should be laying the groundwork for it’s successor now.
Many people assume that Bigelow Aerospace will replace the ISS with a commercial space station. That might be true, but what if it doesn’t happen? What if funding dries up or the owner of the company changes his mind? It’s imprudent to put all of our space station eggs in one basket.
Of further concern is the fact that any conceivable follow-on station to the ISS (including Bigelow stations) will not be very different from today’s space station. They won’t incorporate major leaps in technology. Specifically, they will not rotate to provide artificial gravity, they will not use asteroidal or lunar resources as raw material to produce a portion of their expendable supplies (e.g. oxygen, water or radiation shielding) and they won’t be much bigger than existing stations. In short, they won’t provide a stepping stone to true ‘towns in space.’
The current lack of planning and innovation in space station design will greatly impede the shared goal of the space community: a permanent, self-sustaining, self-replicable human presence in outer space.
We need to start planning now for the next generation of space stations.
So what do we do? We need to start planning now! Specifically, a group of like-minded technically savvy individuals should get together to create a space station architecture that:
- Can accomodate an order of magnitude increase in the size of crews over current designs. In other words, dozens or hundreds of people can stay there instead of just a handful of elite astronauts.
- Is modular, flexible, upgrade-able and interchangeable to keep costs down and interoperability high.
- Is ‘spinnable’ i.e. has components that can be manipulated to generate varying levels of artificial gravity.
- Has components small enough and light enough to fit on the cheapest of launchers, especially the Space X rocket family.
- Generates way more electricity than current space station infrastructure.
- Incorporates in-situ resource utilization i.e. derives some of its supplies from asteroids or lunar raw materials.
- Is cheap enough to get started without government assistance using not for profit or incremental revenue sources.
Over the next few months This Orbital Life will attempt to start this project. Anyone interested in joining us should send us an email or post a comment! Ad astra!