The Space Habitat
Research and design work on the habitat started over 30 years ago. Two friends, Louis and Stuart, started a science project in high school and it mushroomed from there. The original plan was a space city that would house a thousand people. It was soon realized that this limit presented problems.
We chose a design based on the standard torus space wheel. However, early in the design stages we found limitations to the standard wheel concept. We modified the design to a hexagonal wheel to overcome the issues we discovered.
One of the issues with a small population is that one would have to "sell" a home on the habitat at a price that only the elite few of the world could afford. There are fundamental costs that must be met regardless of a habitat that houses 1000 or 1,000,000 people. Our current design will accommodate a population in excess of 2Million inhabitants. By spreading the fundamental costs over a larger population, the cost of a home on the habitat becomes more reasonable.
We looked at the financial requirements of a project of this scale and realized early in our research that this project needed many associated projects in order to achieve the goal. We simply could not justify the cost of lifting any of the construction material. This left questions for both structural as well as finishing construction material source. These issues have since been resolved.
Another significant issue became apparent early in our research; the protection of the inhabitants from radiation. After doing some research we realized that our design offered all the protection needed and that no modification was required to satisfy this issue.This is a lucky coincidence of our design.
Power for the habitat was another issue we struggled with early in development. Solar was the obvious default option but this became an unachievable solution as the size of the habitat grew. Our solution is a cluster of three nuclear power plants with any one being adequate for full habitat power. The redundancy offers security as well as the ability to keep the power plants better maintained. We have not completely abandoned solar and it is a secondary power solution.
From day one through to life aboard the habitat, we are a cooperative. We are a true democracy where every, non time critical decision can be voted on by the membership/inhabitants. A command crew and executive are elected and serve for a specific term. Local representation to the board and command structure is provided for each tube.
Once the members and family are aboard the habitat, all their requirements are free with the exception of the 10 hours labor they must provide each month (everyone of working age). This labor pool ensures that all necessary services are available. Everyone is encouraged to participate further to the betterment of the society in whatever talent they may possess.
The health and mental strength of all inhabitants is a priority and proper nutrition and exercise are essential. An emphasis on preventative medicine instead of pharmaceutical treatment of symptoms will govern our health care system.
The culture stresses participation in any activity that can further the development of man kind and our existence. We want everyone to invent, create and participate. Anyone, regardless of education, will have equal access to any facility and the right to have their ideas and opinions reviewed for merit.
The habitat is so large that if you took the structural and skin material only and compressed it into a cube, it would be a block over 2.5 football fields (250meters) per side or about 15million cubic meters . If the structural material were iron it would mass 120Million metric tonnes.
The structure is that of a typical space wheel with some modifications. There are actually 4 wheels on a common axle. The 'wheels' are comprised of 6 tubes end to end with a 'wedge' between them to form a hexagonal torus structure. Each of the six tubes in a ring is 2500m long and 500m in diameter. That makes each ring about 15km in circumference. The wheels turn at a rate of about .58RPM to produce a pseudo gravity (centrifugal force).
Each tube has 5 high ceiling floors which we call the Geo-spheres, about 50m. These floors are made to simulate different Earth biological and geological regions. For example, one may be like the Amazon rain forest and another the Canadian shield. These floors occupy the upper half of each tube. The floors slice the tubes into rectangular floors 2500m long by varying widths as wide as 500m. Because the tubes are so long and not curved, there will be a gravitational differential from the ends to the middle which means that there will be a feeling of going up hill as you move from end to center. The bottom third (about150m) of the tubes are for water storage and processing. Above that is all the industrial and agricultural floors. This is followed by recreational and entertainment floors and finally the residential floors just below center.
Each tube has about 15,000 homes and is completely self-sustaining in that it can provide for all of the inhabitants' needs even if it were isolated from the rest of the habitat. This is important in the event that an emergency requires that it be isolated. Travel between tubes is provided by a tunnel in the 'wedge' section between the tubes. There is a lift and transport system on the spokes and axle to provide transport between rings.
The habitat is powered by 3 nuclear power plants situated on the axle between rings 2 and 3, the middle of the axle (redesign has moved the power plants to the end of the axle past ring 4). Any one power plant is sufficient to provide all the power for the habitat. A double redundancy is therefore in place. The plants are used on a rotating basis to ensure they are all properly maintained.
The tubes are actually a double tube design with water between them. This provides a skin of at least 17cm of iron/steel and as much as 9m of water as radiation shielding. This also provides protection against micro meteoroid impacts.
The reality of building a structure of this magnitude in outer space can only be realized through space mining. That is, the materials for the structure must come from space. At the current $10,000/kg lift cost to space, our structure would cost $1,200,000,000,000,000 just to lift plus the cost of the material as well. Instead, we lift 50,000kg of mining and fabrication plant to space and mine an asteroid for the materials. Our cost is now $500million or 1/2,400,000th the cost.
Many issues arise if you bring people to space to do the work. The most obvious issue is the danger to human life. Then there is the added burden of providing some kind of accommodation. These workers need to be lifted to space along with their gear and food etc. This is again at a cost of $10k/kg. The solution is robotics. They work 24/365, no holidays, no union/labor issues, no coffee breaks, just 100% production. Also, robots can be built from composite materials which makes them lightweight. Their power can be provided through a tether which means no battery mass. Robots are easily reprogrammed for new tasks whereas a human's retraining can take years. Robots require maintenance ... which can be performed by ... robots.
So, if robots are so good why don't we use them here on Earth? Human labor on Earth is cheap. Robotic and mechanical systems are adversely affected by Earth conditions such as atmosphere. Also re-engineering an industry as enormous as mining would be very expensive to convert it to robotics. This change is coming but it is forging ahead cautiously. We have no standard or experience in space mining so there is no reason not to start with complete automation.
"It always seems impossible, until it's done."