In previous posts the rationale for space settlement was discussed, as well as how the next generation of space stations can attract people in order to be successful. This post will discuss the characteristics the next generation of space stations must have in order to advance the causes of space settlement and developing a human-centric LEO economy.
The next generation of space stations must:
- Be truly permanent
- Rotate to provide artificial gravity
- Support a larger population
- Be flexible
Let’s take these one by one:
1. Be truly permanent – the next generation of space stations, or next gen, must be designed to be repaired and upgraded in space. Components should be modular and subsystems should be able to be swapped out and upgraded as needs require. Structural members should be composed of materials that can be repaired using in-space resources. In short, the next gen should be thought of less as a vessel with a finite life but more like a settlement or a building that can be repaired, upgraded and changed over time.
2. Rotate to provide artificial gravity – the next gen of space stations must have gravity in order to provide a comfortable quality of life and thus persuade the average person to live in space. While artificial gravity has been a mainstay of science fiction for decades, and is assumed to be possible using centripedal acceleration via rotating structures in space, it has never been attempted in real life. The next gen must incorporate some level of artificial gravity in order to prove the concept so it can be refined for later, full-scale space settlements like Kalpana One.
3. Support a larger population – in keeping with the idea that the next gen of space stations are settlements, and not vessels, we ought to call the people living, visiting and working there a ‘population’ as opposed to a ‘crew.’ Furthermore, the next gen must be able to support a larger population in order to prove that a large number of people can live and thrive in space. The challenges and opportunities of having dozens of people in space are far greater than having less than ten people in ISS. Thus, the next generation of space stations should be designed to support a population of at least 100 people.
The next generation space station will support a
crewpopulation of at least 100 people.
4. Produce – the next gen of space stations must demonstrate, on a commercial-scale, the ability to extract useful products from raw materials obtained in space, refine those products into salable goods or services and then assemble them into other, more complex items. For instance, extracting water from captured comets (perhaps delivered to the station by Planetary Resources) and manufacturing liquid oxygen to refuel a government mission to Mars. Or, later on, extracting silicon from lunar regolith (perhaps delivered by Liftport via a lunar space elevator) to produce solar panels to install into a satellite that is docked with the station. Whatever the method, it will be necessary to show that space manufacturing is feasible to advance the cause of space settlement. It will be necessary to use local materials to construct full-scale space settlements because the tonnage required is too high to boost everything up from Earth. The nextgen must prove that local materials can be refined into usable goods, and it must do so at a profit in order to be sustainable.
5. Be flexible – finally, the next gen of space stations must be able to accommodate a variety of different users and uses within the same facility (as much as is feasible). Again, in keeping with the idea that this is settlement, and not a single-use vessel, it must be able to accommodate recreation, manufacturing, military, R&D, etc. And, it must be flexible enough to be rearranged internally to accommodate as-yet-unforeseen users and needs.