Introduction

A space station is basically a spacecraft with no propulsion. Which boils down to just the habitat module and the payload.

Like any other living system, the internal operations of a space station can be analyzed with Living Systems Theory, to discover sources of interesting plot complications.

Much like spacecraft, in a science fiction story a space station can become a character all by themselves. Examples include Babylon 5, Deep Space 9, Waystar from Andre Norton's Uncharted Stars, Supra-New York from Heinlein's Farmer in the Sky The Green Hills of Earth and Rocket Jockey, Nowhere Near from Jack Williamson's short story with the same name, Venus Equilateral from the series by George O. Smith, Thunderbird 5 from the Thunderbird TV show, Elysium from the movie of the same name. For an exhaustive list, look up Islands in the Sky: The Space Station Theme in Science Fiction Literature and The Other Side of the Sky: An Annotated Bibliography of Space Stations in Science Fiction, both by Gary Westfahl. The latter has 975 examples.

There are some science fiction stories about star systems that have no colonists living on the surface of planets. All colonists live in swarms of space station habitats. Examples include Downbelow Station by C. J. Cherryl, The Outcasts of Heaven's Belt by Joan Vinge, and the system of Glisten from the Traveller role playing game.


Oh, Werner von Braun had it all figured out in 1952. In six issues of Collier's magazine he laid out a plan to send men to Luna and Mars. First you build a space ferry as a surface to orbit cargo transport (which was the great-grandfather of the Space Shuttle). Then you use it to make a space station.

And it was going to be a beauty of a space station, too. Three decks, 250 feet in diameter, and a crew of fifty. Makes the ISS look like a tin can. This outpost in space was where the Lunar expedition fleet would be constructed.

It would pay for itself as well. Meteorologists could plot the path of storms and predict the weather with unprecedented accuracy. Radio and TV signals could be transmitted all over the globe. Not to mention observing the military activities of hostile nations.

In other words, it would be MacGuffinite.

Why was this marvel never constructed? Because some clown invented the printed circuit. Freed from the tyranny of fragile and short-lived vacuum tubes, technologists could make unmanned satellites for Meteorologists, radio and TV signals, and watching hostile militaries. Such satellites could be assembled and launched at a fraction the cost of a manned station. They also did not require constant resupply missions to keep the crew alive.

If we had followed von Braun's plan, we would have ended up with a fleet of space ferries, a titanic manned space station, a large lunar base, and men on Mars. Instead, we have four overly complicated space shuttles near the end of their operational life that have been retired, a four man space station due to be de-orbited and destroyed in 2016, and a few bits of space trash on the Lunar surface. And we haven't been back to Luna since 1972. So it goes.

It just occured to me...why didn't we have large scale commercialization of space already? And I had a strange answer:

The microchip and the fiber optic cable.

One of the few killer apps for space satellites was the communications satellite. But the microchip allowed multiplexing many voice streams onto a single high bandwidth signal, and the fiber optic cable made cheap long range high bandwidth communications possible.

What might have happened if the microchip and fiber optic cable weren't developed for another few decades? We might actually have needed hordes of communications satellites to keep up with global demand. That means a solid customer base for launchers, and that means mass produced launchers and/or big dumb boosters.

Without the microchip, these communications satellites suck up all sorts of juice. Thus, there's a huge incentive to develop efficient solar cells. With advanced space rated solar cells and cheaper launch technology, space based power may even be practical.

The result? Large scale industrialization of space, and sufficient economies of scale that launch costs are relatively cheap.


(A couple of years later Mr. Kuo said:) I think that even without the transistor, vacuum tubes could have been sufficiently robust to work well without human maintenance on board. FWIW, my idle speculation quoted above assumed the transistor was still involved.

Isaac Kuo

Why doesn't a space station fall down? A station is in "orbit," which is a clever way to constantly fall but never hit the ground. The ground curves away just enough so that the station never strikes it.

Actually, the International Space Station is in a low enough orbit that atmospheric drag decays its orbit. Periodically, Russian resupply rockets have to boost it higher. Otherwise it would de-orbit and burn up in re-entry. Many readers of this website are too young to remember when NASA's Skylab unexpectedly fell.

Many station designs are wheel shaped, and large wheels at that. They are wheel shaped so you can spin them for artificial gravity. They are large wheels so the rotation rate can be kept low enough so the crew does not experience nausea. This is conservatively 3 RPM, though studies suggest some can acclimate themselves to tolerate up to 10 RPM. The Collier space wheel is 250 feet in diameter and spins at 3 RPM, providing about one-third gee of artificial gravity at the rim.


Orbits

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Space Station Problems

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Air Is Not Free

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Lurkers

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Three Generation Rule

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Station Functions

In his incredibly useful sourcebook for designing science fiction universes Star Hero, James Cambias lists some common uses for space stations:

Agriculture
Food-producing station
Base
Forward base to support spacecraft. Sometimes called "staging base" if military. Generally located in a "remote" location, remote being defined as "a long distance from the home base of the supported spacecraft." (e.g., a military base can be "remote" even if it is near a huge metropolitan planet belonging to a hostile nation).
Construction
Orbital Shipyard. Closely related is Spacedock, an outer space version of drydock where spacecraft are repaired or refitted.
Space Superiority Platform
Armed military station keeping an eye on the planet it is orbiting. If a planet is balkanized, the station will watch military ground units belonging to hostile nations. If the planet is a conquered one, or the government is oppressing the inhabitants, the station will try to maintain government control and deal with revolts.
Planetary Defense
Armed military station defending its planet from outside attack, orbital fortress. Note that an orbital fortress will be more heavily armed than a warship of the same mass since the fortress design can allocate the mass budget for propulsion in favor of more weapons. These will be in a close orbit to the planet they are defending.
Fuel
Orbital propellant depot. Fuel refining and storage facility
Habitat
Residential colony
Industrial
Orbital factory or smelting plant. They can be near asteroid clusters with rich mineral deposits, or be for industries that would otherwise pollute an inhabitable planet.
Meteorology
Weather-monitoring station
Observation
Station monitoring the planet below. News media, military spy satellite, tracking global ocean and air traffic, remote listening post, etc.
Powersat
Large solar power satellite, beaming energy to clients via microwaves
Quarantine
Medical isolation station, research into technologies too dangerous to experiment with on an inhabited planet (medical disease research, nanotechnology, biowarfare agents, etc.), customs quarantine stations for infected incoming passengers.
Research
Scientific research. This can be for research that requires microgravity, or the station can be located near an interesting planet or astronomical phenomenon.
Spaceport
Orbital spaceport. There are more details about spaceports here

To which I would add:

Aldrin Cyclers
Cyclers are special stations in Hohmann orbits between pairs of planets. They are used as very cheap but very slow methods of interplanetary transport.
Boomtowns
A "gold" strike in an asteroid belt or the establishment of a military base in a remote location may create a "boomtown", as entrepreneurs appear to sell the asteroid miners or enlisted people whiskey, prostitutes, and gambling. But remember that boomtowns can become ghost towns quite rapidly, if mineral strike dries up or the military base is closed.
Hospitals
Can be general hospitals, hospitals specializing in treating victims of spacecraft disasters, and geriatric hospitals using microgravity to prolong the lives of the elderly. They will also have medical officers examining the crew and passengers of incoming spacecraft. If any are infected with dangerous diseases, they must be quarantined.
Ghost Town
A ghost town is the abandoned skeletal remains of a space station that was formerly a boomtown.
Hotel
Short or long term living quarters for people. Generally includes restaurants of various quality.
Interdiction
A sort of combination of Space Superiority Platform and Planetary Defense. The idea is that the station is to prevent anything from entering or leaving the planet it is orbiting. A planet might be invested, meaning that the planet is under siege from whoever owns the space station. The station does not want planetary inhabitants escaping, nor does it want blockade runners entering. A planet might be interdicted because they contain something very dangerous (Xenomorphs, thionite, the City on the Edge of Forever, replicators, or 100% lethal plagues). Or the planet might be interdicted because it has something very valuable and the station owner does not want poachers sneaking in and stealing any.
Macrolife
Macrolife is sort of a cross between a huge habitat and a generation star ship. These are traditionally hollowed-out asteroids.
Pirate Haven
Space pirates need infrastructure (fences for pirated loot, fuel and reaction mass, ship repairs, R&R for the crew). A hidden space station can act as a Pirate Haven and cater to these needs.
Ship Docks
Short or long term storage of spacecraft.
Sky Watch
Monitors the entire sky from their location, keeping track of trajectories of known spacecraft and spotting the appearance of unauthorized spacecraft. And other important events, such as unexpected nuclear explosions. Space traffic controllers want to know trajectories of spacecraft. Spaceguard wants to know about alterations in asteroid orbit both authorized and unauthorized. Military wants to know about enemy battle fleets. Merchant princes want to know about hostile privateers and space pirates. There will be several such stations located in widely separated parts of the solar system, for determining distance by triangulation and to make it harder for spacecraft to hide behind objects.
Space Traffic Controllers
Outer space equivalent of terrestrial air traffic controllers. Monitors and controls the flight plans of local spacecraft. Generally only needed in "crowded" areas,such as the orbital space around inhabited planets.
Space Tug Services
Groups of space tugs for hire, to move spacecraft, cargo, or other massive objects.
Spacecraft Certification

As the traffic around a given planet or space station grows and as the energy contained in spacecraft fuel becomes more dangerous, at some point the authorities are not going to allow the presence of broken-down junker spaceships with sub-standard antimatter containment tanks. Not around our planet you ain't, Captain Han Solo.

The Spacecraft Inspectors will give all spacecraft a periodic once-over, to keep the spacecraft's certification current.

Tax Haven / Data Haven
These are tax shelters used by the wealthy and by corporations. They typically orbit a the planet a corporation is based on, just beyond territorial limits. More details here.
Crew Hiring
Employment services where spacecraft captains can hire crewmembers.
Transport Nexus
A Transport Nexus is a crossroad spaceport for passengers, a port of entry, an orbital warehouses where valuable minerals from asteroid mines are stored and trade goods transshipped, or a "trade-town". Will include related services, such as hotels and stevedore/longshoremen.

Naturally a given space station could have several functions.


Mr. Cambias goes on to note that stations can occupy a variety of orbits. Low planetary orbit just above the planet's atmosphere. High planetary orbit at thousands of kilometers. Geosynchronous / Geostationary planetary orbit at an altitude where the orbital period equals one planetary day (useful for communication, observation, powersat, and meteorology). Stellar orbit where the station orbits the local star instead of orbiting a planet. And Trojan orbits where the station occupies a Lagrange point (beloved of L5 colonies)

The size of a station has many terms, none of which are defined. In arbitrary order of size the terms include Beacon (like an interstellar lighthouse), Outpost, Station, Base, and Colony.

CIRCUM-TERRA

Circum-Terra was a great confused mass in the sky. It had been built, rebuilt, added to, and modified over the course of years for a dozen different purposes—weather observation station, astronomical observatory, meteor count station, television relay, guided missile control station, high-vacuum strain-free physics laboratory, strain-free germ-free biological experiment station, and many other uses.

But most importantly it was a freight and passenger transfer station in space, the place where short-range winged rockets from Earth met the space liners that plied between the planets. For this purpose it had fueling tanks, machine shops, repair cages that could receive the largest liners and the smallest rockets, and a spinning, pressurized drum—"Goddard Hotel"—which provided artificial gravity and Earth atmosphere for passengers and for the permanent staff of Circum-Terra.

Goddard Hotel stuck out from the side of Circum-Terra like a cartwheel from a pile of junk. The hub on which it turned ran through its center and protruded out into space. It was to this hub that a ship would couple its passenger tube when discharging or loading humans. That done, the ship would then be warped over to a cargo port in the non-spinning major body of the station. When the Glory Road made contact, there were three other ships in at Circum-Terra, the Valkyrie in which Don Harvey had passage for Mars, the Nautilus, just in from Venus and in which Sir Isaac expected to return home, and the Spring Tide, the Luna shuttle which alternated with its sister the Neap Tide.

The two liners and the moon ship were already tied up to the main body of the station; the Glory Road warped in at the hub of the hotel and immediately began to discharge passengers. Don waited his turn and then pulled himself along by handholds, dragging his bags behind him, and soon found himself inside the hotel, but still in weightless free fall in the cylindrical hub of the Goddard.

From BETWEEN PLANETS by Robert Heinlein (1951)
THE SANDS OF MARS

The Inner Station, “Space Station One” as it was usually called, was just over two thousand kilometres from Earth, circling the planet every two hours. It had been Man’s first stepping-stone to the stars, and though it was no longer technically necessary for spaceflight, its presence had a profound effect on the economics of interplanetary travel. All journeys to the Moon or the planets started from here; the unwieldy atomic ships floated alongside this outpost of Earth while the cargoes from the parent world were loaded into their holds.

A ferry service of chemically fuelled rockets linked the station to the planet beneath, for by law no atomic drive unit was allowed to operate within a thousand kilometres of the Earth’s surface. Even this safety margin was felt by many to be inadequate, for the radioactive blast of a nuclear propulsion unit could cover that distance in less than a minute.

(ed note: this implies an exhaust velocity of about 16,000 meters per second. This could be done by a liquid or gas core nuclear thermal rocket with molecular hydrogen propellant, or a solid-core nuclear thermal rocket using atomic hydrogen as propellant.)

Space Station One had grown with the passing years, by a process of accretion, until its original designers would never have recognised it. Around the central spherical core had accumulated observatories, communications labs with fantastic aerial systems, and mazes of scientific equipment which only a specialist could identify. But despite all these additions, the main function of the artificial moon was still that of refuelling the little ships with which Man was challenging the immense loneliness of the Solar System.

From THE SANDS OF MARS by Sir Arthur C. Clarke (1951)
HIVE OF SCUM AND VILLAINY

Approach space stations from the bottom up, however, in a Firefly or cyberpunk manner, and you'll get a very different view of them — shady orbital stations where you can get just about anything you want... for a price. It's the perfect nexus for organized crime, given a station's importance to inter-planetary commerce and transport. Plus, in a setting with a Balkanized earth, there will likely be no serious push to police the space station in the first place unless it's run by one country alone, and in that case, I wouldn't be surprised if that country extorts anyone else who uses their spaceport.

If you want to expand on the Western analogies that are found so often in SF, then the station would be a railhead like the sort cattle-drivers used to send their cows to, with the associated markets of extortion and dens of ill-repute that go hand-in-hand with such a locale.

Ferrard Carson in a comment
HIVE OF SCUM AND VILLAINY 2

The tunnel outside was white where it wasn't grimy. Ten meters wide, and gently sloping up in both directions. The white LED lights didn't pretend to mimic sunlight. About half a kilometer down, someone had rammed into the wall so hard the native rock showed through, and it still hadn't been repaired. Maybe it wouldn't be. This was the deep dig, way up near the center of spin. Tourists never came here.

Havelock led the way to their cart, bouncing too high with every step. He didn't come up to the low gravity levels very often, and it made him awkward. Miller had lived on Ceres his whole life, and truth to tell, the Coriolis effect up this high could make him a little unsteady sometimes too.


Ceres, the port city of the Belt and the outer planets, boasted two hundred fifty kilometers in diameter, tens of thousands of kilometers of tunnels in layer on layer on layer. Spinning it up to 0.3 g had taken the best minds at Tycho Manufacturing half a generation, and they were still pretty smug about it. Now Ceres had more than six million permanent residents, and as many as a thousand ships docking in any given day meant upping the population to as high as seven million.

Platinum, iron, and titanium from the Belt. Water from Saturn, vegetables and beef from the big mirror-fed greenhouses on Ganymede and Europa, organics from Earth and Mars. Power cells from lo, Helium-3 from the refineries on Rhea and lapetus. A river of wealth and power unrivaled in human history came through Ceres. Where there was commerce on that level, there was also crime. Where there was crime, there were security forces to keep it in check.


Eros supported a population of one and a half million, a little more than Ceres had in visitors at any given time. Roughly the shape of a potato, it had been much more difficult to spin up, and its surface velocity was considerably higher than Ceres' for the same internal g. The old shipyards protruded from the asteroid, great spiderwebs of steel and carbon mesh studded with warning lights and sensor arrays to wave off any ships that might come in too tight. The internal caverns of Eros had been the birthplace of the Belt. From raw ore to smelting furnace to annealing platform and then into the spines of water haulers and gas harvesters and prospecting ships. Eros had been a port of call in the first generation of humanity's expansion. From there, the sun itself was only a bright star among billions.
The economics of the Belt had moved on. Ceres Station had spun up with newer docks, more industrial backing, more people. The commerce of shipping moved to Ceres, while Eros remained a center of ship manufacture and repair. The results were as predictable as physics. On Ceres, a longer time in dock meant lost money, and the berth fee structure reflected that. On Eros, a ship might wait for weeks or months without impeding the flow of traffic. If a crew wanted a place to relax, to stretch, to get away from one another for a while, Eros was the port of call. And with the lower docking fees, Eros Station found other ways to soak money from its visitors: Casinos. Brothels. Shooting galleries. Vice in all its commercial forms found a home in Eros, its local economy blooming like a fungus fed by the desires of Belters.


The architecture of Eros had changed since its birth. Where once it had been like Ceres—webworked tunnels leading along the path of widest connection—Eros had learned from the flow of money: All paths led to the casino level. If you wanted to go anywhere, you passed through the wide whale belly of lights and displays. Poker, blackjack, roulette, tall fish tanks filled with prize trout to be caught and gutted, mechanical slots, electronic slots, cricket races, craps, rigged tests of skill. Flashing lights, dancing neon clowns, and video screen advertisements blasted the eyes. Loud artificial laughter and merry whistles and bells assured you that you were having the time of your life. All while the smell of thousands of people packed into too small a space competed with the scent of heavily spiced vat-grown meat being hawked from carts rolling down the corridor. Greed and casino design had turned Eros into an architectural cattle run.

From LEVIATHAN WAKES by "James S.A. Corey" (Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) 2011. First novel of The Expanse
STATION CULTURES

Various sorts of space stations can exist, with different parameters leading to different societies.

High throughput ports (like the ones at the ends of Skyhook orbital elevators) will have lots of facilities for the "sailors" and "longshoremen" (they may be facilities for semi-automated or teleoperated systems), as well as maintained crews and port officials. Lots of money and valuable change hands, so corruption and crime may be rampant.

A naval support base built on a NEO will be a totally different environment; the crew and contractors will be operating under a code of service discipline, but dealing with boredom and an irregular work load.

Most asteroids will probably have very limited transportation facilities (a cycler might be by once a decade or so), unless they strike it rich, in which case they might end up like Dubai, with lots of money to import luxury goods. Otherwise, the transport is one way outbound as ices and minerals flow down the mass driver.

Given the low population density and the difficulty of surviving in hostile alien environments, most places will be like an apartment block, with everyone and everything sealed inside for protection and shelter. Expansion will probably be by driving tunnels to resource or energy nexus points and building another apartment block there, so most story settings will be quite urbanized, at least until large open Island 3 type colonies can be economically built.


Top down= navy bases and scientific research facilities. These are built for a specific purpose, and generally have little economic rational behind them, although military bases may develop garrison towns and eventually grow into larger settlements (especially when the military rational passes). If the military reason for the base fades away without any compelling economic rational to replace it, it is usually abandoned (think of Hadrian's Wall, the Maginot line or old ICBM silos).

Bottom up= trading ports, crossroads, tollgates and locks, marketplaces. They start small but their economic usefulness attracts more people and more activity, in a positive feedback loop leading to towns and cities.

There is also devolution, the port cities of the Hanse are no longer economic powerhouses, and I can see Luna going the way of Detroit after it becomes more economical to harvest 3He from the atmosphere of gas giants (the Pearson elevator to L1 is a minor tourist attraction, and L2 is a brownfield of abandoned mass catchers in parking orbits. Only criminal gangs and Libertarian squatters make their homes in and around Luna).

Of course lots of compound scenarios can exist as well; an occupying power builds a fort overlooking a captured port, or the squatters become the nexus for urban renewal because they (insert "x" here)...

Thucydides in a comment
STATION LAYOUT

Orbitals are arranged like a layer cake with the dock levels near the middle. Everything above the dock is generally designated office, retail, restaurant, and residential. Everything below the dock is industrial. That’s where all the cargo canisters are processed and stored, among other things. Docks were the designated main deck and everything above that was numbered in increasing order while everything below was prefixed with a zero and numbered in increasing order. So level five was the fifth level above the docks, and level oh-two was the second level below the docks. We had the same set up on the Lois with the main deck being the spine level and the main lock, the gym was technically the oh-one deck and berthing was the first deck.

The place we were heading to was in the commercial zone, below the docks on the oh-two deck. A lot of the rowdier spots were below the docks to put a buffer between the residential quiet zones and the louder entertainments available. Put another way, everything above the docks was nice and everything below the docks was not nice. Tonight, we were going to not nice and this was terra incognita to me.

From HALF SHARE by Nathan Lowell (2010)
STATION LAYOUT 2

The message icon on my tablet acknowledged the receipt of my note to Diurnia Salvage and Transport, but didn’t offer to ship me out any earlier, so I headed for the Oh-two Deck. I was ready for some lunch, a beer, and maybe I could find out something about my new employer.

The main deck of any station is the dock. Decks above the docks have increasing numbers—One Deck, Two Deck, Three Deck, and so on. My hotel was on the Seven Deck. By convention decks below the main deck are prefixed with a zero. Where Deck One is the level above the dock, the Zero-one Deck—or Oh-one Deck—is one deck below. Above the dock are all the retail, administration, and residential areas. Below the dock are all the industrial facilities. Ship chandlers, cargo brokers, and other ship services facilities are on the Oh-one Deck, but below that is the entertainment area. The Oh-two Deck is where ships’ crews got together to engage in activities that are not talked about in polite company. Bars, brothels, tattoo parlors, and a variety of entertainments are available for those who have the interest and the credits necessary. One thing I’d found on every Oh-two Deck was a quiet pub where the brew was generally local and good, the food was plentiful and tasty, and neither would leave gaping wounds in my credit balance.

From DOUBLE SHARE by Nathan Lowell (2012)

Orbital Drydock

Spacecraft will need maintenance, and some will occasionally need major repairs due to damage (or gunfire). Obviously repairs will be eaiser if the engineers can perform them while wearing shirt-sleeve clothing instead of encumbering space suits. Most spacesuits raise the energy expenditure to do a task by about 400%.

Surrounding a spacecraft with an atmosphere can be easily done if:

  • the spacecraft is near a planet with a ground repair dock
  • the planet with the dock also has a breathable atmosphere
  • the spacecraft is designed to land on a planet with an atmosphere, that is, the ship is not an orbit-to-orbit type or can only land on airless planets
  • the damage to the spacecraft is mild enough that it is capable of landing

If any of these are not true, the ship will need an orbital drydock.

This is a space structure big enough to hold the spacecraft, capable of pressurizing the interior to shirt-sleeve conditions, and full of repair-crew and their tools. Probably inside or near a space station.

Locations too impoverished to afford such structures will just have to make do with space suited crews or remote drones with waldoes. Such facilities are called orbital wetdocks.

SPACE DRYDOCKS 1

Space Drydocks

One of the most unique applications of inflatables is being proposed by General Electric: emergency drydocks for and maintenance of orbiting vehicles and spacecraft, some of which by necessity will always be rigid metallic types.

“The drydocks”, reports E. J. Merrick, project engineer in GE's MSVD, “could be as simple as a plastic sausage-skin drawn over and around the entire craft and then inflated.” Once pumped full of breathable air, space repairmen would not need to wear spacesuits as they scrambled over the metallic vehicle to be fixed.

Their job done, the sealed drydock “sausage” is again deflated, folded and packed away in a ferry rocket for use and again. Safety and comfort for the spacemen, Merrick adds, plus reliability and efficiency of the inflatable technique, will make such convenient once shelters ideal for space drydock missions.

For lesser maintenance and jobs that do not require an immense drydock area around the entire vehicle, GE has designed the smaller “space hog.” Based on the earthly sand-hog technique of providing caissons for men to work in, GE's concept is a pressure-tight, non-rigid tube or cylinder with stiffening rings down its length. In different sizes for one spaceman or several, these “space hog” units could easily be inflated outside of a spacecraft, providing a safe temporary environment for specific at any desired spot.

From VICTORY IN SPACE by Otto Binder (1962)
SPACE DRYDOCKS 2

      Engineer-Captain Mikhail Borisovich Andreev sat strapped behind his oversize desk and worked to peel off a few more items from his overflowing day list before his VIP visitor showed up.  Extending beyond his office in every direction were the slate gray bulkheads and oversize machinery of Orbital Shipyard Delta Seven, recently departed from orbit around Halcyon IV, and now in orbit about Eulysta II, known to its former owners as Corlis.  That, at least, was the human transliteration of the unpronounceable Ryall phonemes that made up the true name of the planet.

     At its most basic, an orbital dockyard performed the same functions as its groundside counterparts.  It just did so in micro gravity.  Delta VII had the ability to build anything up to a light cruiser from scratch, and with some monkeying of the cradles with which it enveloped its wounded patients, could perform major surgery even on one of the big blastships.
     At the moment, the big dock’s restorative hangars were empty, and its first customer was to be a mere light cruiser, which didn’t seem to justify the epic journey through the nebula that Andreev and his men had just completed.
     A space dock is not quantitatively different in function from any other spaceship.  To be effective, it had to have compartments conditioned to shirtsleeve environments in which its crew lived.  Unlike a planet-based dock, one of the big spherical dockyards had to be mobile so that it could be moved to where it would be most useful, which meant it required power reactors and both normal space and jump engines.
     In a war that extended across dozens of star systems and hundreds of light-years, it was unreasonable to expect a wounded ship to return to the place of its birth.  It was more efficient for them to jump one or at most two systems back from the front lines and be repaired close to the scene of battle, the better to return as quickly as possible to the fray.

     Philip explained the damage that his ship had taken in a few carefully composed sentences.  The repair officer listened, then nodded slowly.
     “Standard Illustrious-class light cruiser, isn’t she?”
     “Yes, sir.  Built last year at Sandar from Terrestrial Space Navy specifications.”
     “Good, then you use all standard modules.  That means that we will be able to work quick and dirty.  Rip out everything that doesn’t work, weld on a new bow section, and then stuff the hull with new equipment still in the packing boxes from the factory.  We won’t even try to repair your old equipment, just ship what seems salvageable back to human space for a depot to handle.  When we get through with Queen Julia, she’ll be better than new.”
     “How long?” Philip asked.
     “A month, six weeks at the max.  That assumes that something with higher priority doesn’t materialize in the foldpoint and have you kicked out of the bay before we have time to finish the job.”
     “Can my crew help?”
     “Sure.  We can always use some trained hands and that way, they will be up to speed on the new stuff when we send you back to space with a shiny new coat of paint inside and out.”
     “Thank you, Captain.  You don’t know how frustrating it has been to turn our backs on the action and limp here when our mates are getting the hell kicked out of them.”
     “Captain Walkirk,” Andreev replied with a wistful tone, “I have been a repair officer for sixteen years and seen ships and men head out into the deep black to fight the enemy, never to return.  I know precisely how frustrating it is...”

     Despite Philip’s impatience, repairs on Queen Julia had progressed with surprising speed after the tugs maneuvered the crippled cruiser into the all-encompassing embrace of the big space dock.  As Captain Andreev, the dock commander, had pointed out, repairs were greatly facilitated by the cruiser’s design, which was based on the Terrestrial Space Navy’s Illustrious III class of warships.  Like her Illustrious sisters, Queen Julia used standard modules throughout her hull.

     The damage to Julia was sufficiently extensive that had the cruiser been one of the older ships of the Royal Sandarian Navy, or of the Altan Space Navy for that matter, she would probably have been scrapped.  Repairing those 150-year-old designs would have taken too much time and too many scarce resources.  For modern ships, with their interchangeable parts, repairs were the equivalent of a child’s game of building sticks.
     The space dock technicians had begun the repair by slicing away the cruiser’s smashed-in bow with a laser as powerful as any carried by a blastship.  It had been disconcerting to look at his ship and see it in cross-section, with compartments, passageways, and utility conduits all open to space.  It had been even more disconcerting to watch the minor surgery that had followed the amputation of the bow.  For more than a week, dockyard technicians had swarmed over the ship, cutting out partially melted sections of hull and interior structure, stripping away kilometers of optical cabling that had been clouded by radiation exposure, and emptying equipment racks of components that triggered fault messages when queried by diagnostic routines.  At first, Philip and his crew acted as unskilled helpers in this systematic vandalism, taking direction from the dock’s skilled cadre of ship wreckers.
     As 16- and 20-hour days began to blur together, however, the cruiser’s crew began to take on more of the repair tasks themselves.  Not only were they becoming more skilled, but also the dock’s personnel were increasingly diverted to service other cripples.

     Altogether, Queen Julia spent 22 days surrounded by space dock scaffolding and movable work centers.  At the end of that time, when the ship was once again vacuum tight, Captain Andreev ordered his dock cleared so that he could begin repairs on another victim of the continuing contest over who would control Spica.  Philip had watched from an inter-orbit scooter as the dock’s massive clamshell doors opened and his ship was again exposed to Eulysta’s warming yellow rays.
     Interior work on the ship proceeded apace even while tugs gently shifted the recuperating cruiser to a parking orbit aft of the repair dock.  Repairs continued for four more weeks as Julia’s crew slowly put their ship back together.  The list of things needing fixing seemed endless.  There were networks to synchronize, interface nodes to reconnect, missile launchers to align.  Most of these tasks required the attention of skilled technicians, all were time consuming, and Philip never seemed to have enough labor of the right sort to satisfy even half of the demands for immediately attention.

     Yet, despite workdays that were much too long and infrequent sleep periods, looking back on it, he could not remember a time when he had been happier.

SPACE DRYDOCKS 3

(ed note: the planet Canaan has an asteroid-moon named TerVeen. The latter has been converted into a shirt-sleeve repair dock. "Climbers" are small cloaked starships delivered to their patrol routes by motherships.)

      Westhause continues to explain. “What they did was drill the tunnels parallel to TerVeen’s long axis. They were cutting the third one when the war started. They were supposed to mine outward from the middle when that was finished. The living quarters were tapped in back then, too. For the miners. It was all big news when I was a kid. Eventually they would’ve mined the thing hollow and put some spin on for gravity. They didn’t make it. This tunnel became a wetdock. A Climber returns from patrol, they bring her inside for inspections and repairs. They build the new ones in the other tunnel. Some regular ships too. It has a bigger diameter.”
     In Navy parlance a wetdock is any place where a ship can be taken out of vacuum and surrounded by atmosphere so repair people don’t have to work in suits. A wetdock allows faster, more efficient, and more reliable repairwork. (so this author has Docks and Wetdocks, instead of Wetdocks and Drydocks)
     “Takes a month to run a Climber through the inspections and preventive maintenance. These guys do a right job.”

     The bus surges forward. I try to watch the work going on out in the big tunnel. So many ships! Most of them are not Climbers at all. Half the defense force seems to be in for repairs. A hundred workers on tethers float around every vessel. No lie-in-the-comer refugees up here. Everybody works. And the Pits keep firing away, sending up the supplies.
     Sparks fly in mayfly swarms as people cut and weld and rivet. Machines pound out a thunderous industrial symphony. Several vessels are so far dismantled that they scarcely resemble ships. One has its belly laid open and half its skin gone. A carcass about ready for the retail butcher. What sort of creature feeds on roasts off the flanks of attack destroyers?
     Gnatlike clouds of little gas-jet tugs nudge machinery and hull sections here and there. How the devil do they keep track of what they’re doing? Why don’t they get mixed up and start shoving destroyer parts into Climbers?

     Our mother ship is one of several floating in a vast bay. The others have only a few Climbers suckered on. Each is kept stationary by a spiderweb of common rope. The ropes are the only access to the vessel. “They don’t waste much on fancy hardware.” Tractors and pressors would stabilize a vessel in wetdock anywhere else in the Fleet. Vast mechanical brows would provide access.
     “Don’t have the resources,” Westhause says. “‘Task-effective technological focus,’” he says, and I can hear the quotes. “They’d put oars on these damned hulks if they could figure out how to make them work. Make the scows more fuel-effective.”

     I want to hang back and look at the mother, to work out a nice inventory of poetic images. I’ve seen holoportrayals, but there’s never anything like the real thing. I want to catch the flavors of watching hundreds of upright apes hand-over-handing it along with their duffel bags neatly tucked between their legs, as if they were riding very small, limp, limbless ponies. I want to capture the lack of color. Spacers in black uniform. Ships anodized black. The surface of the tunnel itself mostly a dark black-brown, with streaks of rust. The ropes are a sandy tan. Against all mat darkness, in the low-level lighting, without gravity, those lines take on a flat two-dimensionality, so all of them seem equally near or far away.

     The bearing and tilt on the camera tell me nothing. Forward. It should be staring at the wall of the wetdock. Instead, the screen shows me an arc of darkness and only a small amount of wall. The lighting seems brilliant by contrast with the darkness.
     High on the wall, at the edge of the black arc, a tiny figure in EVA gear is semaphoring its arms. I wonder what the hell he or she is up to. I’ll probably never know. One of the mysteries of TerVeen.
     Damn! How imperceptive can one man be? We’re moving out. We’re under way already. Must have been for quite a while. That creeping arc of darkness is naked space. The mother is crawling out of TerVeen’s backassward alimentary canal.

     I close my eyes and try to imagine our departure as it would appear to an observer stationed on the wall of the great tunnel. The Climber people come hustling in, hours after the mothercrew has begun its preparations. They swarm. Soon the mother reports all Climbers manned and all hatches sealed and tested. Her people scamper over her body, releasing the holding stays, being careful not to snap them. Winches on the tunnel walls reel them in.
     Small space tugs drift out from pockets in the walls and grapple magnetically to pushing spars extending beyond the mother’s clinging children.
     Behind them, way behind them, a massive set of doors grinds closed. From the observer’s viewpoint they’re coming together like teeth in Brobdingnagian jaws. They meet with a subaudible thud that shakes the asteroid.

     Now another set of doors closes over the first. They snuggle right up tight against the others, but they’re coming in from left and right. Very little tunnel atmosphere will leak past them. Redundancy in all things is an axiom of military technology.
     There are several vessels caught in the bay with the departing mother. They have to cease outside work and button up. Their crews are cursing the departing ship for interrupting their routine. In a few days others will be cursing them.

     Now the great chamber fills with groans and whines. Huge vacuum pumps are sucking the atmosphere from the tunnel. A lot will be lost anyway, but every tonne saved is a tonne that won’t have to be lifted from Canaan.
     The noise of the compressors changes and dwindles as the gas pressure falls. Out in the middle of the tunnel, the tugs slow the evacuation process by using little puffs of compressed gas to move the mother up to final departure position.
     Now a pair of big doors in front of the mother begins sliding away into the rock of the asteroid. These are the inner doors, the redundant doors, and they are much thicker that those that have closed behind her. Great titanium slabs, they’re fifty meters thick. The doors they back up are even thicker. They’re supposed to withstand the worst that can be thrown against them during a surprise attack. If they were breached, the air pressure in the 280 klicks of tunnel would blow ships and people out like pellets out of a scattergun.
     The inner doors are open. The outer jaws follow. The observer can peer down a kilometer of tunnel at a round black disk in which diamonds sparkle. Some seem to be winking and moving around, like fireflies. The tugs puff in earnest. The mother’s motion becomes perceptible.

     A great long beast with donuts stuck to her flanks, moving slowly, slowly, while “Outward Bound” rings in the observer’s ears. Great stuff. Dramatic stuff. The opening shots for a holo-show about the deathless heroes of Climber Fleet One. The mother’s norm-thrusters begin to glow. Just warming up. She won’t light off till there’s no chance her nasty wake will blast back at her tunnelmates.
     The tugs are puffing furiously now. If the observer were to step aboard one, he would hear a constant roar, feel the rumble coming right up through the deckplates into his body. Mother ship’s velocity is up to thirty centimeters per second.
     Thirty cps? Why, that’s hardly a kilometer per hour. This ship can race from star to star in a few hundred thousand blinks of an eye.

     The tugs stop thrusting except when the mother’s main astrogational computers signal that she’s drifting off the cen-terline of the tunnel. A little puff here, a little one there, and she keeps sliding along, very, very slowly. They’ll play “Outward Bound” a dozen times before her nose breaks the final ragged circle and peeps cautiously into her native element. Groundhog coming up for a look around.
     The tugs let go. They have thrusters on both ends. They simply throw it into reverse and scamper back up the tunnel like a pack of fugitive mice. The big doors begin to close.
     The mother slides on into the night, like an infant entering the world. She hasn’t actually put weigh on but has taken it off. She’s coming out the rear end of TerVeen, relative to the asteroid’s orbit around Canaan. The difference in orbital velocities is small, but soon she’ll drift off the line of TerVeen’s orbit.
     Before she does, word will come from Control telling her the great doors are sealed. Her thrusters will come to life, burning against the night, blazing off the dull, knobby surface of TerVeen. She’ll gain velocity. And up along her flanks will gather the lean black shapes of her friends, the attack destroyers.

From PASSAGE AT ARMS by Glen Cook (1985)

Spacecraft Certification

This section has been move here

Space Superiority Platform

Many early SF stories fret about the military advantage an armed space station confer upon the owning nation. Heinlein says trying to fight a space station (or orbiting spacecraft) from the ground is akin to a man at the bottom of a well conducting a rock-throwing fight with somebody at the top. One power-crazed dictator with a nuclear bomb armed station could rule the world! Space faring nations would need space scouts for defense.

But most experts nowadays say that turns out not to be the case. A nation can threaten another with nuclear annihilation far more cheaply with a few ICBMs, no station is required. And while ground launching sites can hide in rugged terrain, a space station can hide nowhere. Pretty much the entire facing hemisphere can attack the station with missiles, laser weapons, and propaganda.

Phil Shanton points out that you don't need a huge missile to destroy an orbiting space station, either. In 1979, the U.S. Air Force awarded a contract to the Vought company to develop an anti-satellite missile. It was not a huge missile from a large launch site. It was a relatively small missile launched by an F-15 Eagle interceptor in a zoom-climb. Vought developed the ASM-135 Anti-Satellite Missile (ASAT), and on 13 September 1985 it successfully destroyed the solar observatory satellite "P78-1". This means that an evil-dictator world-dominator nuke-station not only has to worry about every ground launch site, but also every single fighter aircraft.

It has also been modeled that the U.S. Navy could take out a satellite with a Standard Missile 3.

Things are different, of course if the situation is an extraplanetary fleet that remotely bombs the planet to destroy all the infrastructure. The fleet can construct a space superiority platform while the planet is struggling to rebuild its industrial base. Then the platform can bomb any planetary site that is getting too advanced in rebuilding. This is known as "not letting the weeds grow too tall.

Space Outpost

By "Space Outpost" I mean a space station whose purpose is more like as a remote base for military, corporation, exploration or scientifc observation purposes; and less as a space colony or infrastructure for an inhabited planet. A base located far away from the civilized parts of the solar system or galaxy, in other words.

In the remarkably terrible and totally unplayable game Battle for Andromeda there were three kinds of bases:

  1. Beacons: These are so tiny that they are sometimes uncrewed. They are for functions such as navigational beacons (like lighthouses), communcation relays, isolabs, and border observation posts. Due to their functions they are commonly located in lonely remote areas, and the crews feel really isolated. In science fiction, traditionaly the first warning of an incursion by an invasion fleet, attack of a cosmic monster, isolab experiment going horribly wrong, evil plot by a super-villain, or something like that is when a beacon unexpectedly goes silent.

  2. Outposts: These space stations are tiny military forts. They are established in strategic locations for such functions as to secure key lines of communication or infrastructure and to deal with space pirates/insurgents/whatever. They are somewhat larger than beacons and commonly sited in areas closer to civilization.

  3. Barrier Bastions: These can be military bases armed only with defensive weapons or armed-to-the-teeth orbital fortresses. Non-military versions can be orbital spaceports and space colonies. They are larger than outposts and are commonly sited at major civilization centers. They are certainly not "outposts" but are included for completeness.

IMPERIAL STATION CLASSES

Like the spaceship classification system, the Terran Empire’s station classification system uses three letters, the first describing how the station orbits, the second its purpose, and the third its size.

IMPERIAL STATION CLASSES
First Letter:
LetterTypeNotes
GGeosynchronousStation orbits with a period of 1 day
HHigh orbitStation orbits thousands of miles up
IInterstellarStation is in intersellar space far from any gravity source
LLow orbitStation orbits just above the atmosphere
PPlanetary orbitStation orbits a star
TTrojan orbitStation occupies a Lagrange point
Second Letter:
LetterTypeNotes
AAgricultureFood-producing station
BBaseForward base to support spaceships
CConstructionOrbital shipyard
D DefenseArmed military station
EEndangermentScientific research isolab for Apocalypse level ≥ Class 1
FFuelFuel refining and storage facility
GGeneralMultipurpose station
HHabitatResidential colony
IIndustrialOrbital factory or smelting plant
MMeteorologyWeather-monitoring station
NNavigationalNavigational aid, interstellar lighthouse at cosmic hazard, etc.
OObservationStation monitoring planet below
PPowersatLarge solar power satellite
QQuarantineMedical isolation station
RResearchScientific station
SSpaceportOrbiting spaceport
Third Letter:
LetterTypeHabitable Size
DDepot0-999 cubic meters, 0-9 crew
OOutpost1,000 cubic meters, up to 10 crew
SStation1,001-50,000 cubic meters, 11-100 crew
BBase50,001 cubic meters or more (typically at least 1 million),
101 crew or more
CColony50 million+ cubic meters, 10,000+ colonists

Thus, a small manned military platform in high orbit would be an HDO, while a commercial port in low orbit would be an LSS. An O’Neill colony at L-5 would be a THC. Like spaceships, stations get individual numbers, grouped together by class.

(ed note: Items in yellow were added by me)

From STAR HERO by James Cambias and Steven S. Long (2002)
INTERSTELLAR LIGHTHOUSE

      Nowhere Near was the name of a point in space. Five black light-years from our Legion base at the closest star, sixty more from old Earth, it was marked by the laser beacon and little else. A relief ship came once a year—when it could get through the anomaly.
     The last Legion ship had not got through, and half our personnel were overdue for rotation. Odd types, they had volunteered because they had expected to enjoy loneliness and mystery and danger. Most of them had found long ago that they did not.
     We had troubles enough already. Nowhere Near had an ugly name in the Legion, for good cause. Duty there was both dull and dangerous.
     A third of our thirty-man crew was normally rotated each year, but the last relief complement had been aboard that lost ship. An unwise search had cost us twelve more lives. The station commander, cracking under the strain, had committed a strange suicide by steering a rescue rocket into the heart of the space called Nowhere.
     His death had left me the acting commander, although my actual promotion had only now arrived in Captain Scabbard's green-sealed pouch. I was still very young, very conscious of my peculiar duty. With only sixteen men and two free companions, I was standing guard against a danger that none of us understood.
     Old enough to be cynical, most of the men under me had a bitter feeling that Nowhere Near was a forgotten stepchild of the Legion.

     "Nowhere Near has several missions." Now more annoyed than puzzled, I spoke stiffly. "Our first mission is simply to warn shipping away from a dangerous and mysterious anomaly in space. Our second is to observe and report every fact we can discover about the nature and the cause of that anomaly. We have no facilities to entertain civilian guests."
     The old soldier moved toward me across the lock. His rolling, cautious gait, in the low G-force here near the axis of the spinning station, convinced me that he was at least a veteran spaceman. His pale eyes measured the shining steel valves, caressed the red-painted pumps, read the winking lights of the lock monitor.

     Captain Scabbard looked ugly when I told him that he had to keep his passengers, but he didn't wait to argue long. Our instruments showed a violent new disturbance raging out in the anomaly. If he feared the old soldier and the girl, he was more afraid of Nowhere.
     With regret, I refused leave to the three men who had asked to go with her. Their Legion enlistments had another year to run, and I had no replacements for them. Along with half a dozen other silent, bitter men, they attended Gay Kawai to the valves. Their morale, I saw, was going to be a problem.
     At first I was almost grateful for that new activity out in the anomaly, because it gave Gay Kawai's unhappy friends something else to think about. By the end of the next shift, however, we had too much to think about. The magnetometers were running wild. The drift meters showed erratic but intense gravitic fields. The stars beyond Nowhere were visibly reddened and dimmed.

(ed note: the old soldier Habibula and nurse Lilith Adams had left Captain Scabbard's tramp freighter in an escape capsule, and are heading back to the station)

     We tried to signal, with radio and ultrawave and laserphone, but no answer came back through the roaring forces of the anomaly. The station was armed—as we had need to be, against such men as Captain Scabbard. We manned the proton guns and fired a warning bolt.
     The reply was a flickering, reddened laser beam (laserphone communicator).
     "Calling Nowhere Near." The words wailed faintly through interference and distortion. "Corporal Habib … Nurse Lilith Adams … sweet life's sake, don't fire on us! … in escape capsule … from Scabbard's mortal Erewhon … Now you'll have to take us in!"
     We held our fire and signalled the escape capsule to the north docks. When it was sealed station-side, the lock sergeant made it fast, talked through an open hatch, and reported by intercom to me.
     I gave them quarters out in the full-G ring, programmed the station computer to issue their rations and supplies, and asked the lock sergeant to look after their cargo. By that time Ketzler, the watch officer, was buzzing me.
     The anomaly was still spreading around us, he reported. The disturbance at its heart had never been more violent. The intense magnetic flux had wrecked our best magnetometer. Reports of increasing gravitic drift were disturbing the men.
     I spent the rest of the watch checking instrument readings and doing what I could to bolster morale. After all, I told Ketzler, there wasn't much the men could gain by mutiny. The Erewhon was gone. Our emergency craft, though mutineers might seize them, were none of them fit for the long voyage out to any inhabited planet. Even though the station was drifting toward Nowhere, we were all safer inside than out.
     Haunted by old Habibula's tale about that call from Commander Star, I had the duty crew probe the region north of Nowhere with every available instrument. They picked up nothing, yet I knew the search was inconclusive. The raging interference was violent enough to drown any possible laser or radio signal.

     On the way to meet them, I stopped at the control center. The desperate tension there almost cracked my image of sure authority. Ketzler was still on duty with the new watch, though he should have been in bed.
     The center was a big, drum-shaped room, buried at the heart of the ice asteroid. It spun slowly on its own axis, so that the rim of the drum was an endless floor. One round end was a projection screen for our electronic telescopes; the other held the electronic chart where the computer integrated all the instrument readings to make a visible map of Nowhere.
     I found Ketzler sitting rigid at the computer console, staring up at the shifting glow of the chart. It showed an ugly black-bellied creature, crouching at the center of a great web of shining lines that reached up and down all the way to the curving floor.
     The black belly of the creature was the heart of the anomaly, the region where all our instruments failed. Its spreading purple legs were the charted zones of anomalous gravitic force. The bright lines of the web were lines of magnetic force—already spread far beyond the tiny, bright green circle that marked the position of Nowhere Near.
     Ketzler jumped when I touched his shoulder.
     "How's it going?" I ignored his nervous response. "Think it's peaking out?"
     "Not yet, sir." His glasses were pushed crooked on his haggard face, and they magnified his bloodshot eyes. "It's the worst it has ever been—and still getting wilder. The gravitic drift has got me worried, sir."
     He pushed a button that lit a curving row of bright yellow dots on the chart. The dots were numbered. Each one showed a charted past position of Nowhere Near. They marked the trail the drifting station had followed, always closer to that creature's belly.
     "It's sucking us right in." He looked at me cross-eyed through the sweat-smeared glasses. "Even with our position-rockets going full thrust. We can't control the drift, sir."
     In spite of such disquieting developments, I tried to carry an air of hearty confidence. Of course the anomaly was dangerous, I reminded Ketzler. Its dangers were our business at Nowhere Near, and we were attending to them.
     However tired or frightened or resentful, the duty crews were still at work. Our undamaged instruments were still following what went on. The computer was still plotting. The position rockets were fighting at full thrust to keep us out of Nowhere.
     We could do no more.

     The station was a lean doughnut of inflated plastic and steel, just thick enough for rooms on both sides of a two-level corridor. It ringed a thousand-foot hall of interstellar ice—frozen water and methane and ammonia—that would have been a comet if it had ever drifted close enough to a star.
     That spinning doughnut made the rim of a half-mile wheel. The spokes were plastic tubes that held power lines and supply ducts and elevator shafts. The hubs were thick cylinders that projected from the poles of the ice asteroid. An inner slice of each cylinder, spinning slower than the spokes, was pierced for the valves that let ships enter the air docks. The outside end of each hub, driven with a counterspin that kept it at null-G, held its telescopes and laser dome motionless with respect to the stars.
     Old Habibula appeared to enjoy the tour. His affection for machines seemed genuine. He lingered fondly about the atomic power plant shielded deep in the ice. He wanted to see the biosynthetic batteries that recycled our water and restored our air and produced the most of our food. He admired our intricate research gear. Somewhat to my surprise, he even seemed to understand it.
     "One question, Captain," he wheezed at me. "You're showing us a lot of lovely machines, modern as tomorrow. What I can't quite see is the prehistoric design of the station itself. Why this spinning ring with its clumsy imitation of gravity, when you could have used gravitic inductors?"
     "Because of the anomaly," I told him. "Space is different here—nobody knows precisely how or why. Gravitic and electric and optical devices don't work well—you know what happened to the space-drive on Scabbard's ship."
     His earth-colored eyes blinked apprehensively. "What is this mortal anomaly?"
     "A spot in space where the common laws of nature don't quite fit," I said. "If you want the history of it—"
     "Let that wait till dinner, Giles," Lilith put in gently. "I'd like to see the station first."

     We were just entering the observation dome at the north hub of the station, where the night of space came into the station itself, drowning the faint red glow of the instrument lights in icy midnight.
     We were in zero-G there, and I handed old Habibula and the girl little hand-jets. Both knew how to use them. Leaving Habibula admiring the gloomy forest of bulky instruments bolted to the inside wall, Lilith soared easily away toward the vast invisible curve of the transite dome that looked out toward Nowhere.
     We were on our way back to the ring. Leaving the hand-jets in the rack, we caught D-grips on a moving cable. It lifted us through a cavernous hollow. It swung us above the dim-lit tanks and tangled pipes of the catalytic plant that converted the frozen gases of the asteroid into fuel for nuclear rockets and drinking water for us. It carried us flying above the massive metal bulge of the control drum, toward the main elevator.

     "Captain Ulnar, you've got to do something." Her low voice was queerly, coldly calm. "We've got to help Commander Star."
     "We're doing all we can," I told her. "After all, the station is not a battleship. We can't run away. With only two obsolete proton guns, we can't put up much of a fight. With all communication out, we can't even call for aid.
     "Captain—" Her hushed voice was gravely hesitant. "Aren't we interfering with more important duty? At a time like this, shouldn't you be in direct command?"
     "Perhaps you don't realize just how desperate this crisis is," I told her carefully. "One wrong move could touch off panic. As things stand, the men are still on duty. Ketzler is a fine young officer. He needs a chance to prove himself."
     Her tawny eyes looked hard at me.

     "Good enough, I guess." She moved toward the table where Habibula sat waiting for his food. "If you're really free, tell us about the anomaly." Her face seemed oddly urgent. "Every fact you can!"
     "The first pioneers got here about thirty years ago," I said. "They found this snowball and a little swarm of stranger rocks. Iron masses two or three miles across—a harder alloy than the nickel-iron of common meteors, and richly veined with more valuable metals."
     "I've read reports about them." Leaning over the little table, golden lights playing in her reddish hair, Lilith was listening as intently as if those queer asteroids were somehow as supremely important to her as they had become to me. "How many are there?"
     "That's part of the puzzle," I told her. "Even the number is anomalous. The Legion survey ship that made the first chart found five iron asteroids and three snowballs like this one. When the miners got here, four years later, they found only two snowballs, but six iron asteroids."
     "So the survey team had made a mistake?"
     "Not likely. The miners had simply found the anomaly. They didn't stay to watch it. The iron alloys were too tough for their drills—and then something happened to a loaded ore barge."
     Giles Habibula started.
     "What's that?" His mud-colored eyes rolled toward me. "What happened to the blessed barge?"
     "That's part of the problem. It was a powerless ship, launched from one of those rocks with its load of metal and a miner's family aboard. It sent back a queer laser-phone message—something about the stars turning red. It never got to port, and no trace was found."

     "Five more years had passed before another colony of miners settled here," I said. "They found only one ice asteroid—the one we're on. But, at the time of their arrival, they charted nine iron asteroids."
     "These miners had brought improved atomic drills. They carved into those hard alloys and some of them struck rich pockets of platinum and gold. Space traders came. Even the men on this ice asteroid made fortunes selling water and rocket fuel and synthetic food. They built the original station. A roaring little metropolis—while it lasted."
     "So?" Lilith whispered quickly. "And—?"
     "They were building an industrial complex on Lodestone—as they called the largest iron asteroid. A barge terminal. A big atomic smelter. Shops for building and repairing mining machinery. A laserphone center for the whole swarm of rocks.
     "Then something happened."
     "The laser beams were broken. All communication with the asteroid was cut off. An oxygen tanker had been dropping to land at the smelter. Its crew reported that the asteroid had reddened, flickered, and disappeared,"
     "That ended the mining," I said. "Half the people and most of the wealth of the colony had been lost. The survivors scattered. Even this ice asteroid was abandoned, until the Legion came. Commander Ken Star set up the beacon—"

     "Reports of the disappearing rocks got back to the Legion," I said. "Ken Star came out with a survey ship to investigate them. A new iron asteroid popped out of Nowhere just ahead of him. He landed on it, and found the wreck of that missing ore barge."
     Old Habibula had been mopping at the spilled broth with a fiber napkin. He froze again, his small eyes watching me with the flat bright blankness of two wet pebbles.
     "In life's name!" he gasped. "Where had the blessed ore boat been?"
     "Nobody knows. Ken Star landed on the asteroid—his report is in the station files, but it doesn't solve any mysteries. He found the bodies of the missing family, emaciated and frozen hard as iron. He found a diary the miner's wife had started, but it makes no sense."
     "What did she write?"
     "Most of it is commonplace. It begins with a bit of family history—she must have had forebodings of death, and she wanted her children to know who they were. Her son had been crippled in a mining accident; she was trying to get him to a surgeon. There's a brief record of the flight —positions and velocities, tons of load, kilograms of water and food, tanks of oxygen full and used. The nonsense is in the last few entries.
     "Something had put out the stars—"
     Old Habibula gulped and neighed.
     "What mortal horror could put out the stars?"
     "The miner's wife didn't know. She was too busy trying to keep her family alive to write much more. But she writes that the barge is lost, drifting in the dark. She writes that they are searching the dark with the radar gear. She writes that they have picked up an object ahead. She writes that it's approaching them, on a collision course. They are trying to signal, but they get no reply.
     "That's the end of the diary. The barge had no rockets of its own. In his comments in the files, Ken Star concludes that the object was that iron asteroid. The collision killed the woman and her family. But Star doesn't even guess where it happened—or what had put out the stars.

     "His own geodesic space-drive failed, soon after he left the wrecked barge on that iron asteroid. His landing rockets got him back to this snowball. He named it Nowhere Near and stayed here to watch the rocks while his first officer took the damaged ship out to a point where he could signal for relief.
     "When the relief ship came, Star went outside to get equipment for the beacons and the observatory. He found it hard to interest anybody—these odd rocks were less than specks of dust in the whole universe, and people had other problems to solve.
     "He had to use his friends in the Legion, but he got his equipment. The rock with the wrecked barge on it was gone again when he came back, but two others had appeared to take its place. He nudged this ice asteroid out of the middle of the anomaly—though not far enough to make it very safe. He installed the beacons and stayed here another year to watch Nowhere, before he went on to something else.

     "We've been here since—or the station has. This is my own fourth year. We keep the beacon burning. We chart those rocks as they come and go—there are nineteen, now. We monitor the instruments.
     "That's the history of Nowhere Near."

     Giles Habibula gulped the last bite of the last yeastcake, and blinked at me uneasily.
     "What effects do your instruments show?"
     "Optical," I said. "Magnetic. Gravitic. All connected with those rocks that come and go. Observing stars at certain angles through the anomaly, we find their images blurred and spectral lines shifted toward the red. Whenever a rock appears or vanishes, our magnetometers record violent magnetic storms. The motions of the rocks themselves—and even of the station—show abnormal gravitic fields far more intense than their masses could create. The gravitic fields keep the swarm of rocks compact.
     "But I can't explain any of those effects."
     "I love nature." She looked abruptly back at us, her bronze eyes darkly grave. "I love the seas and fields of Earth. I love the cratered dust of Mars and the methane glaciers of Titan. I love the endless wild infinity of space—even as it looks from Nowhere Near.
     "I can't believe this anomaly is natural!"
     "We've considered that it might be an artifact," I agreed. "But in twenty years of watching we've never found a clue to indicate any kind of cause for it, nautral or not."
     "I think you have a clue now," she said. "You have that enemy machine!"

     With nothing more to see, we left the dome. I escorted Lilith and Habibula back to the full-G ring, and then made a careful tour of the duty posts. I found the men dangerously restive.
     The unknown light had been put out. The enemy machine had vanished from our instruments. No new message had come from Commander Star. Only the great electronic chart on the end of the control drum showed the anomaly still growing—that black-bellied creature fatter, its purple legs reaching farther, its bright magnetic web spreading around and beyond us.
     Without the chart, the anomaly was still invisible—perhaps that was the most dreadful thing about it. Only our computed drift revealed the intense gravitic forces dragging us deeper into that deadly web in spite of the thrust of our rockets.

     Old Habibula, with a generosity unusual in him, punched for four glasses and shared a bottle of his wine. It was a pale dry vintage half a century old, but nobody commented on its bouquet—or even on the remarkable fact that the sunlight which passed old Earth on its vintage year had not reached Nowhere Near.
     "Ken, does your theory mean that the anomaly is natural?"
     "At first I thought so—I desperately hoped so," he said. "Now I doubt that it is entirely natural. The theory implies that the anomaly should shrink, if it changes at all. I'm very much afraid that the expansion we are observing is an artificial effect."
     "I'm afraid that the anomaly is a kind of gate that still connects us with our mother world," Star said huskily. "I still believe that it was nautral in origin, but I'm afraid that it has been enlarged or opened by some application of intelligent technology."
     "You mean—" Old Habibula stopped to shudder, clutching at his bottle as if it had been some talisman of safety. "You mean that wicked machine—and that bubble of dreadful darkness—"
     "I'm very much afraid that the machine is an invader." Star's voice was faint and bleak. "I'm afraid that the bubble is the visible aspect of the opening interspatial gate through which it came. I'm afraid we must face a hostile technology that has been evolving four times longer than our space-time universe—"

     The mess hall door burst open. Ketzler came tottering in. His face was white beneath a long smear of blood. His right hand was clutched against his side, and blood oozed between his fingers.
     "Mutiny, sir—" His voice was a bubbling sob, and bright blood trickled down his chin. "Most of the crew— even Gina Lorth. They've got—control drum—docks. I guess—guess they just couldn't take Nowhere—not any more!"
     The attack on Ketzler in the control center had been made only to cover the flight of the mutineers. By the time I reached the ice asteroid from the full-G ring, they were gone. They had blown up our position rockets, wrecked the fire-control gear of our old proton guns, and looted the station safe. They smashed the pilot computer in one of our two emergency rockets, and took off in the other.
     The outbreak must have been set off by news of the invaders, because it showed more panic than plan. The mutineers took too many persons aboard a rocket built for only twelve. They left crates of supplies and drums of reserve fuel stacked in the dock.

     We retreated to the control drum, shielded in the core of the ice asteroid. I helped Star from the cable stage into the slowly spinning rim—and stopped with a gasp of dismay when I saw the projected electronic chart on the round south wall.
     That monstrous creature had devoured nearly all the chart. Its ragged purple legs reached down to us and up to the curve of the drum overhead. The bright green circle was deep inside its swollen belly.
     "It looks—dreadful!" Lilith's tense fingers clutched my arm. "What does it mean?"
     "The computer integrates our instrument readings into that picture of the anomaly," I told her. "The web's the magnetic field. The legs are gravitic vortices—like the one that caught us. The belly is the region where the anomalous effects are so intense we get no readings. That's where the invaders have opened their gateway—"

From NOWHERE NEAR by Jack Williamson (1967)
INTERSTELLAR WEATHER STATION

      The Earth ship came so swiftly around the planetless Gisser sun that the alarm system in the meteorite weather station had no time to react. The great machine was already visible when Watcher grew aware of it.
     Alarms must have blared in the ship, too, for it slowed noticeably and, still braking, disappeared. Now it was coming back, creeping along, obviously trying to locate the small object that had affected its energy screens.
     It loomed vast in the glare of the distant yellow-white sun, bigger even at this distance than anything ever seen by the Fifty Suns, a very hell ship out of remote space, a monster from a semi-mythical world, instantly recognizable from the descriptions in the history books as a battleship of Imperial Earth. Dire had been, the warnings in the histories of what would happen someday—and here it was.
     He knew his duty. There was a warning, the age-long dreaded warning, to send to the Fifty Suns by the nondirectional subspace radio; and he had to make sure nothing telltale remained of the station.
     There was no fire. As the overloaded atomic engines dissolved, the massive building that had been a weather substation simply fell into its component elements.
     Watcher made no attempt to escape. His brain, with its knowledge, must not be tapped. He felt a brief, blinding spasm of pain as the energy tore him to atoms.

     She (Grand Captain Laurr of the Imperial Battleship Star Cluster) didn’t bother to accompany the expedition that landed on the meteorite. But she watched with intent eyes through the astroplate.
     From the very first moment that the spy rays had shown a human figure in a weather station—a weather station out here (the Lesser Magellenic Cloud)—she had known the surpassing importance of the discovery. Her mind leaped instantly to the several possibilities.
     Weather stations meant interstellar travel. Human beings meant Earth origin. She visualized how it could have happened: an expedition long ago; it must have been long ago because now they had interstellar travel, and that meant large populations on many planets.
     His majesty, she thought, would be pleased.

     So was she. In a burst of generosity, she called the energy room.
     “Your prompt action, Captain Clone,” she said warmly, “in inclosing the entire meteorite in a sphere of protective energy is commendable, and will be rewarded.”
     The man whose image showed on the astroplate, bowed. “Thank you, noble lady.” He added: “I think we saved the electronic and atomic components of the entire station. Unfortunately, because of the interference of the atomic energy of the station itself, I understand the photographic department was not so successful in obtaining clear prints.”
     The woman smiled grimly, said: “The man will be sufficient, and that is a matrix for which we need no prints.”

(ed note: Their advanced technology can reassemble the station and the man out of the ionized atoms captured by the sphere of protective energy. Which in reality would be more impossible than turning an omelet back into an egg. They utilize the same technique employed by their teleportation transportation devices, which make those suspect as well.)

     She broke the connection, still smiling, and returned her gaze to the scene on the meteorite. As she watched the energy and matter absorbers in their glowing gluttony, she thought:
     There had been several storms on the map in that weather station. She’d seen them in the spy ray; and one of the storms had been very large. Her great ship couldn’t dare to go fast while the location of that storm was in doubt.
     First, of course, he’d have to be conditioned, drained of relevant information. Even now a mistake might make it necessary to begin a long, laborious search. Centuries could be wasted on these short distances of a few light years, where a ship couldn't get up speed, and where it dared not maintain velocity, once attained, without exact weather information.

     The senior ship meteorologist, Lieutenant Cannons, stood up from a chair as she came toward him across the vast floor of the transmission receiving room, where the Fifty Suns weather station still stood. He had graying hair, and he was very old, she remembered, very old. Walking toward him, she thought:
     There was a slow pulse of life in these men who watched the great storms of space. There must be to them a sense of futility about it all, a timelessness. Storms that took a century or more to attain their full roaring maturity, such storms and the men who catalogued them must acquire a sort of affinity of spirit.
     She started to turn away, then stopped. “What,” she asked, “about the building itself? Have you drawn any conclusions from its design?”
     He nodded. “Of the type used in the galaxy about fifteen thousand years ago.”
     “Any improvements, changes?”
     “None that I can see. One observer, who does all the work. Simple, primitive.”

     The woman felt a great wonder. “I can’t understand it,” she complained. “I have a feeling we’ve missed some vital due. Just like that we run into a weather station in a system of fifty million suns, a station in which there is a human being who, contrary to all the laws of self-preservation, immediately kills himself to prevent himself from falling into our hands.
     “The weather station itself is an old model galactic affair, which shows no improvements after fifteen thousand years; and yet the vastness of the time elapsed, the caliber of the brains involved suggest that all the obvious changes should have been made.
     “And the man’s name, Watcher, is so typical of the ancient pre-spaceship method of calling names on Earth according to the trade. It is possible that even the sun, where he is watching, is a service heritage of his family. There’s something—depressing—here somewhere that—

From CONCEALMENT by A. E. van Vogt (1943)
POWER BEAMING STATIONS

Power beaming stations might well be dual purpose, the space age equivalent of the military frontier posts of the American west.

The military purpose would be to protect Earth from infalling asteroids or whatever military threat develops in deep space, but they pay for themselves by beaming power to cooperative targets like friendly shipping or energy receivers mounted on NEOs. Unless there is a red alert, shipping takes priority and even if the beam is interrupted, the ships continue to coast on predictable orbits and can be picked up after the interruption is resolved (repairs made, asteroid vapourized etc.)

Life in Fort Heinlein revolves around maintaining the solar energy arrays and maintaining the tracking systems, and life will be pretty tedious. Daily routine includes system checks and battle drills, and screw-ups get to go out and polish the mirrors under the first sergeant's unforgiving gaze. A secondary economy of service providers (saloons and whorehouses) will grow around the "fort" to service the crew, and other business might set up shop as well, everything from contractor repair depots to futures traders monitoring ship traffic and energy consumption.

Lightweight ships tapping into this system have torch like performance, economy traffic might go by cycler (although the "taxis" might need torch like performance to match the cycler or slow down to orbital velocity after dropping off) and bulk traffic will still go by low cost transfer orbits.

BORDER OUTPOST

A border outpost, border out post, border observation post or BOP is an outpost maintained by a sovereign state on its border, usually one of a series placed at regular intervals, to watch over and safeguard its border with a neighboring state with whom it may or may not have cordial relations. Such posts are manned by border guards and are at all times connected by radio communication with ongoing border patrols in their region and the force headquarters in the interior of the country for their day-to-day functioning, passing on intelligence and for requesting supplies and any needed reinforcements in emergencies.

Depending on the length and breath of a country's borders and geography, are located in a wide variety of terrain, including the inhospitable areas that often mark political boundaries.

Layout

Border outposts, where available, are built on strategic locations which are usually elevated at the highest points in the local terrain and where possible on hilltops along the border.

Depending upon international relations with the neighboring country and local strategic needs, BOPs are sometimes built with an assortment of a few administration and residential buildings or tents, an armory, trenches, bunkers, wire obstacles and fortified machine gun positions with a watchtower.

A flagpole flying the country's national flag may be located on the premise along with a Wireless Communication Antenna and a designated clearing as a make-do helipad.

Peacetime function

Border outposts are manned in peacetime by the border guard to check smuggling, infiltration by spies of untrusted neighboring countries, insurgents bent on smuggling weapons and explosives for terrorist attacks and subversive activities, illegal immigration and human trafficking etc.. They usually have watchtowers where soldiers are posted day and night on Sentry duty looking for intruders and illegal cross-border activity of any kind. Patrols go out regularly to patrol the international border to check illegal crossings and track any footprints of those who may have crossed over illegally or attempted to. In case intrusion by foreign elements is confirmed, it is the responsibility of the Border guard based on the BOP to trace the intruders by checking the nearby settlements, villages and towns and inform the law enforcement agencies, Customs and Police authorities.

Wartime function

During wartime however the Border guard, the special forces tasked with patrolling the border in peacetime, withdraw from the Border outposts and provide assistance in a limited capacity to the country's regular Army which then comes and mans all the border outposts at the international border facing the enemy neighboring country. Wartime assistance of the Border guard to the Army is essential as they are familiar with the local terrain having patrolled it on a daily basis during peacetime. During wars these BOPs are reworked into well fortified dug-in positions from where regular Army units can operate to defend the territorial integrity of the country.

See also

From the Wikipedia entry for BORDER OUTPOST
OUTPOST (MILITARY)

A military outpost is detachment of troops stationed at a distance from the main force or formation, usually at a station in a remote or sparsely populated location, positioned to stand guard against unauthorized intrusions and surprise attacks; and the station occupied by such troops, usually a small military base or settlement in an outlying frontier, limit, political boundary or in another country. Outposts can also be called miniature military bases based on size and number of troops it houses.

Recent military use

Military outposts, most recently referred to as combat outposts (COPs), served as a cornerstone of counterinsurgency doctrine in Iraq and Afghanistan. These permanent or semi-permanent structures, often located in or near populated areas, enabled military forces to secure key lines of communication or infrastructure, secure and co-opt the populace, assist the government in restoring essential services, and force insurgents to operate elsewhere. Combat Outposts were almost unanimously described in positive terms by defense analysts and military officers as a means through which to carry out its counterinsurgency efforts.

See also

From the Wikipedia entry for OUTPOST (MILITARY)

Organization

If a base or space station has 12 crew or less they can manage to get their tasks done without any need for people to oversee activities and and providing for smooth operations and the well-being of everybody. But above that population oversight rapidly becomes vital. If this is more a space colony than a base, the limit is closer to 150 (Dunbar's number)


NASA technical memorandum TM X-53989 Fifty-man space base population organization has some suggestions. This is a 1970 study about how to organize a scientific research space station around Terra with a crew of fifty.

GROUP PHENOMENA

In general, people behave differently as members of a group than they do as individuals. Members of a group relate to each other in many ways — friendly, indifferent, or hostile. If a group is unstructured, that is, without a leader, these different attitudes can build up and ultimately either make the group ineffective or destroy it. If a group is or becomes structured, then it can become a closely formed organism by resolving negative attitudes and reinforcing positive ones, thus becoming an effective team.

Group Size

Experience in numerous organizations and with a great variety of teams has shown that group coherence requires a certain optimum group size. Large groups, such as 50 people, are generally unable to function as a closed entity because communication problems between members are too great. As a result, subgrouping occurs. A small group, such as three to five people, also suffers under insufficient bases for communication; as a result pairing occurs. The optimum size of an effective group lies between 7 and 12 individuals.

Group Relations

A structured group of people in confinement (prison, submarine, exploration team, Space Base) can quickly develop the following important characteristics of a good team, as long as the number of people is within the optimum size range:

1. Unquestioning acceptance of themselves and others.
2. Natural behavior.
3. Problem centering; feeling of responsibility, duty, or obligation.
4. Aloofness and calm; independent judgement.
5. Autonomy — Independence of the physical and social environment.
6. Interpersonal Relations — Tendency to be patient with everyone of suitable character, regardless of class , education, political belief , race, or color.
7. Creativeness, originality, inventiveness.

It is concluded that a 50-man Space Base population needs to be structured into subgroups of nearly optimum size, and that an overall social., structure should be established in order to provide for the well-being and efficient performance of the Space Base population.

To their surprise, the study authors found that with the space outpost organization there were no similiarities with either strictly military-discipline-oriented crew operations or with civilian science-administration-oriented institutions. So they had to make a mix of military-type discipline and a free scientifically oriented organization.

They divided the crew into three groups:


Base Command and Management

The Base Commander has full authority on all matters concerning the Base, its operations and the scientific planning. The two Deputy Commanders have full authority within their respective areas of operations and science; they are in full command if representing the Commander. The four Directors have full authority and responsibility in their areas — logistics, communication, maintenance, and personnel.


Base Operations Group

Communications, Navigation, and Data Handling personnel report to the Director Communications. Power, Computer, Environmental Control / Life Support (EC/LS), and Maintenance personnel report to the DirectorMaintenance, Flight Controllers and the Medical Staff report to the Director Logistics.


Science Faculty Group

The Scientific Faculty is under the administration of the Deputy Commander Science.


Shift Operations

The Base Command and Management Group and the Base Operations Group work three shifts, continuously rotating responsibilities within these two groups.

I. First Shift — This is the main "day" shift. The Commander and his four Directors are on duty. One each of the Base Operations Group will be on duty. One each (but two earth resources) of the Scientific Faculty will be on duty. A total of 21 persons are on "day" shift.

2. Second Shift — The Deputy distribution. Commander Operations is in command. The number two men from Base Operations will be on duty. (The computer man does duty on power. ) The number two men from Scientific Faculty will be on duty (but numbers three and four of earth resources ). Seventeen persons form Shift Two.

3. Third Shift — The Deputy Commander Science is in command. The Base Operations Group is represented by four specialized maintenance personnel as follows: one — communication; one — navigation; one — data and power; and one — EC/LS. The Science Faculty is represented by their number three men (numbers five and six of earth resources), with no biomedical and physics. There are 12 persons on the third shift.

This provides the necessary safety and functional readiness of the Base. The Scientific Faculty's tour of duty will depend on its specific program, earth or sky visibilities , observation times, etc.

In general, there should be one common day of rest for all, with only critical systems being monitored, but without specific internal operations or any external flight operations. The day of rest has the following personnel and their alternates on duty for a three-shift tour of duty: commander; one — communication; one — power; one — EC/LS; and one — navigation.

Designs

Space Station for the Year 2025

This is from Analysis of a rotating advanced-technology space station for the year 2025 (1988).

This is more or less a real-world NASA version of Space Station V from the movie 2001 A Space Odyssey. Huge wheel independent centrifuge and all. The basic station configuration was created in a prior study, but this study is trying to clarify the vague areas. Little things like the boosting and assembly sequence, rotational dynamics, effects on the crew, and such.

I'm sure the year 2025 sounded comfortably far away back in 1988, but as of this writing that date is just around the corner.


Station Function and Locations
FUNCTIONLOCATION
HABITATION AND MEDICAL
CREW LIFE SUPPORT Torus: General living, atmosphere revitalization
Observation Tube: Short term llving, safe haven for emergencies
VARIABLE GRAVITY ADAPTATIONS Spokes: Habitat and laboratory
Torus: Life and technical support
TRANSIENTS ACCOMMODATION (TOURISTS) Torus: General llving
MEDICAL CARE FOR CREWS AND TRANSIENTS Torus: Treatment and physical conditioning
OPERATION SUPPORT
SPACECRAFT SERVICE AND REPAIR Berthing Area: Spacecraft support
Central Tube: Repair and assembly
Torus: Parts fabrication, fuel generation, remote handling controls
TRANSPORTATION NODE, RETRIEVE-FUEL-DEPLOY Berthing Area: Retrieve, fuel, deploy
Observation Tubes: Tracking antennas for berthing and deploying
Torus: Fuel generation, controls for berthing, handling and deployment
COMMUNICATION CENTER AND RELAY POINT Torus: Control center for acquisition recording and relay transmission
Observation Tube: Antennas and laser telescopes for r.f. and optical llnks
CONTROL CENTER FOR OTHER SPACECRAFT Torus: Controls and mission planning support
Observation Tube: Relay antennas for r.f. link, laser telescope for optical link
ENERGY COLLECTION AND RELAY Torus: Controls for fuel transfer and reflector operation, O2-H2 fuel generation
Observation Tube: Deployable reflector for laser light beams
STORAGE AND SUPPLY CENTER Central Tube: Ready storage
Berthing Area: External storage
Torus: Fabrication stock, technical supplies, food supplies, medical supplies
MANUFACTURING
COWPONENT MANUFACTURE SPACECRAFT ASSEMBLY Torus: Parts fabrication and assembly operations
Central Tube: Spacecraft assembly
Berthing Area: Spacecraft final assembly
Torus: Remote manipulator operation
COMMERCIAL MICROGRAVITY PROCESSING Central Tube: Microgravlty facility
Torus: System operation
SCIENCE AND RESEARCH
OBSERVATORY FOR EARTH, SPACE, SOLAR Central Tube: Solar observatory instruments
Observation Tube: Earth and space viewing instruments
Torus: Central data processing
ORBITAL SCIENCE RESEARCH LAB Platform: Experiment mountings
Observation Tube: Experiment mountings
Central Tube: Experiment mountings
Torus: Central data processing
VARIABLE GRAVITY RESEARCH FACILITY Spokes: Platform location and service elevators
Torus: Support, control, planning and data processing
HORTICULTURE RESEARCH FACILITY Platform: Solar facing domes, microgravity environment
Spokes: Variable gravity under artificial light
Torus: Control, planning, data processing
TECHNOLOGY DEMONSTRATION FACILITY Platform: Exterior mounted items
Central Tube: Microgravlty items
Spokes: Variable gravity Items
Torus: Control, planning, data reduction, parts and equipment fabrication

The non-rotating central tube is the core to which all other space station elements are attached. It is the primary access path to the various components. It also contains the microgravity manufacturing facility, and a solar observatory in the end aimed at Sol. The spin axis of the wheel is the same as the long axis of the central tube, when the wheel is balanced.


The spin axis is aimed at Sol since the station is solar powered, using six old-school solar thermal generators. Four are mounted on the stationary platform, two are on the rotating wheel centrifuge. Each generator provides 425 kWe, for a total of 2.55 MWe. The four platform generators supply power to the solar observatory, microgravity processing, experiments, communication, spacecraft servicing and assembly. Any excess is used to crack water into oxygen-hydrogen fuel. The wheel generators supply power to life support, cracking water, controls systems, data systems, and on-board fabrication. Solar thermal was used instead of solar photovoltaic because of greater efficiency and because they create less aerodynamic drag. The huge photovoltaic arrays on the International Space Station create a problem by doing their darnedest to drag the station down to a crash landing. The ISS has to be periodically re-boosted upward by the cargo supply ships.


The anti-Solward side of the axis has a large docking and erection bay used to assemble, fuel, and deploy spacecraft.


Just forwards of the bay is a stationary arm housing two celestial observatory tubes, one on each arm tip. The arm is oriented to be perpendicular to the ecliptic so both can observe Terra at all times.


The station has a huge wheel centrifuge for artificial gravity (referred to as "the torus"), with a non-rotating central tube on the spin axis. The wheel has an outer radius of 114.3 meters, so it can provide one lunar g (1/6th Terra gravity) with a modest spin of 1.14 RPM, and a full Terra gravity with only 2.8 RPM. This is low enough that spin nausea should not be a problem. The wheel has three floors: inner deck, main deck, and outer deck; in order of increasing distance from the hub.

The wheel has counterrotating circular water tanks to neutralize inertial stabilization. This is because the station has to precess 360° in one year to keep the spin axis aimed at Sol, and controlled precession is real hard when the centrifuge is gyrostablizing the entire blasted station. The water tanks contain 1.30 × 106 kilograms.

Space Logistics Base

James Snead has written a few paper about space infrastructure. Most interesting is Architecting Rapid Growth in Space Logistics Capabilities. On page 23 he gives an example of an orbiting space logistics base, including a space dock. Refer to that document for larger versions of the images below.

...the space logistics base’s functions are: (1) housing for travelers and operating crews; (2) emergency care; (3) in-space assembly, maintenance, and repair; and (4) materiel handling and storage.

The example space logistics base consists of four elements. At the top in Fig. 10 is the mission module providing the primary base control facility, emergency medical support, and crew and visitor quarters. The personnel quarters are located inside core propellant tanks that are retained from the SHS used to launch the mission module. The overall length of the mission module and propellant tanks is approximately 76 m (250 ft). Solar arrays and waste heat radiators (shown cut-away in Fig. 10) are mounted on a framework surrounding the mission module to provide additional radiation and micrometeoroid protection.

The second element consists of twin space hangars. These serve as airlocks for receiving spaceplanes and provide a pressurized work bay for conducting on-orbit maintenance of satellites and space platforms.

As shown in Fig. 11, the space hangar consists of a structural cylindrical shell 10 m (33 ft) in diameter, a forward pressure bulkhead containing the primary pressure doors, and an aft spherical work bay. These elements, which define the primary structure, would be manufactured as a single unit and launched as the payload of an SHS. The large, nonpressurized, space debris protection doors would be temporarily mounted inside the hangar for launch and then demounted and installed during the final assembly of the hangar at the LEO construction site. All of the other hangar components would be sized for transport to orbit in the cargo module of the RLVs and then taken through the hangar’s primary pressure doors for installation.

Future logistics supportability is a key feature of this hangar design. The size, weight, location, and access of the internal hangar components enables them to be inspected, repaired, and replaced without affecting the primary structural / pressure integrity of the hangar. With the exception of the space debris protection doors, this would be done inside the hangar when it is pressurized. The ISS-type airlock and space debris protection doors, although mounted externally, would be demounted and brought into the hangar for inspection, maintenance, and repair. For the repair of the primary pressure doors, they would be demounted and taken into the spherical work bay or the other hangar for servicing.

The hangar’s design enables both pressurized and unpressurized hangar operations to be undertaken simultaneously. When the main hangar deck is depressurized to receive cargo or spaceplanes, for example, pressurized maintenance operations would continue inside the 9.8 m (32 ft) diameter spherical work bay and the 2.8 m (9 ft ) diameter x 4.3 m (14 ft ) work compartments arranged along the top of the hangar.

Hangar operations in support of the passenger spaceplanes, as shown in Fig. 12, highlight the improvement in on-orbit logistics support enabled by the large hangars. After entry into and repressurization of the hangar, the passengers would disembark from the spaceplane. Support technicians, working in the hangar’s shirtsleeve environment, would inspect the spaceplane and, in particular, the thermal protection system for any damage to ensure that it is ready for its return to the Earth. While at the space base, the spaceplane would remain in the hangar to protect it from micrometeoroid or space debris damage. Minor repairs to the spaceplane could also be undertaken to ensure flight safety.

The third element is the air storage system. The prominent parts of this system are the large air storage tanks that are the reused core propellant tanks from the two SHS used to launch the twin space hangars. Besides storing air from the hangars, this system also: manages the oxygen, carbon dioxide, and moisture levels; removes toxic gases, vapors, and particulates; and, controls the temperature and circulation of the air within the hangar and its compartments.

The fourth and final element is the space dock. It would be constructed from structural truss segments assembled within the space hangars using components transported to orbit in the RLVs. The space dock would provide the ability to assembly and support large space logistics facilities, such as the space hotels and large manned spacecraft described in the following. It could also used to store materiel and as a mount for additional solar arrays.

The space hangars and space dock would enable traditional logistics operations of maintenance, assembly, and resupply to be routinely conducted in Earth orbit. This is an enabling capability necessary to become spacefaring and achieve mastery of operations in space.

The space logistics base would have approximately 20 personnel assigned. The tour of duty would be 90 days with half of the crew rotating every 45 days. Crew rotation and base resupply would require approximately 32 RLV missions per year per base with 8 spaceplane missions and 24 cargo missions. This would provide approximately 12,000 kg (26,000 lb) of expendables and spares per person per year. At $37M per mission, a ROM estimate of the annual transportation support cost per base would be approximately $1.2B.

While the LEO space logistics base would have sufficient housing capacity to support the 20 assigned personnel and a modest number of transient visitors, it would not be a primary housing facility. Since people cannot simply pitch a tent and “camp out” in space, establishing early permanent housing facilities is an important and enabling element of opening the space frontier to expanded human operations. The architecture of the Shuttle-derived heavy spacelifter and the LEO space logistics base was selected so that the first large space housing complexes, referred to as space hotels, could be constructed using the same space logistics base modules.

A composite illustration of the design, assembly, and deployment of the example space hotel is shown in Fig. 13. This hotel design is configured as a hub and spoke design with a long central hub and opposing sets of spokes attached to the central hub module. This configuration makes it possible to use variants of the space base’s mission modules and space hangars as the primary elements of the space hotel’s design.

Element 1, in Fig. 13, shows the start of the hotel assembly sequence. The central hub module, shown with the SHS’s core propellant tanks still attached, is being positioned at the space logistics base’s space dock. The central hub module would be a version of the mission module used in the space logistics base. Its design would include 12 docking ports around its circumference for attaching the spokes.

Element 2 shows the completed hub and one attached spoke. Two space hangars are located at the ends of the hub and the first spoke is shown attached to the central hub module. In assembling the hub, the core propellant tanks from the two SHS missions used to launch the hangars would be incorporated into the hub to provide additional pressurized volume. This approach would be also used for the spokes. Each spoke would consist of a generalpurpose mission module with the SHS’s core propellant tanks reused for additional pressurized volume. As with the mission module on the space logistics base, the spokes would be surrounded by solar arrays and waste heat radiators. This is what provides their “boxy” appearance.

Element 3 shows the completed 100-person space hotel with two pairs of spokes on opposing sides of the hub. This is the baseline space hotel configuration. Seven SHS missions would be required to launch the hub and spoke modules for the baseline hotel. One additional SHS cargo mission would be used for the solar arrays and waste heat radiators.

This design enables the hotel to be expanded to 6, 8, 10, or 12 spokes. Each spoke would require one additional SHS mission. The 12-spoke configuration would accommodate up to approximately 300 people. Each additional spoke would be tailored to provide a specific capability, such as research and development facilities, tourist quarters, office space, retail space, etc.

Element 4 shows the completed space hotel after being released from the space dock. It also shows how the hotel would rotate about the long axis of the hub to produce modest levels of artificial gravity in the spokes. At about two revolutions per minute, a Mars gravity level is achieved at the ends of the spokes. This use of artificial gravity enables the spokes to be organized into floors (Element 5 in Fig. 13). Each spoke would contain 18 floors with 14 of these available for general use and the remaining 4 floors used for storage and equipment. The spokes would be 8.4 m (27.5 ft) in diameter. This would provide a useful floor area of approximately 42 m2 (450 ft2) per floor. The total available floor area in the baseline configuration would be 2,340 m2 (25,200 ft2). The 12-spoke configuration, having 192 floors total, would have 3 times this floor area—7,026 m2 (75,600 ft2) or about 23 m2 (250 ft2) per person.

An estimate can be made of the number of guests visiting the hotel each year. Assuming a 3:1 ratio of guests to staff, approximately 76 guests would be staying each night in the baseline configuration and 228 guests in the full configuration. With one third of the useful floors configured as guest cabins, two cabins to a floor, each cabin would have a useful area of approximately 21 m2 (225 ft2).* With an average stay of one week, approximately 4,000 guests and 12,000 guests would visit the 4- and 12-spoke hotels each year, respectively.

If each passenger spaceplane carries 10 guests, approximately 400 and 1,200 RLV flights would be required each year. With an additional 25% required for staff transport and resupply, the 4-spoke hotel would require about 10 flights per week and the 12-spoke hotel would require about 30 flights per week. If the RLVs could achieve a one-week turnaround time, and allowing for one in five RLVs being in depot for maintenance, 12 RLVs would be required to support the 4-spoke hotel and 36 RLVs for the 12-spoke hotel.†

At the $37M per flight cost discussed previously for first generation RLVs, the per passenger transportation cost would be approximately $3.7M. With this transportation cost structure, a sustainable space tourism or space business market may not be possible. However, if a second generation RLV could reduce this cost by a factor of 10 to $0.37M per passenger, as an example, then an initial market demand for the baseline hotel may develop and be sustainable. In such case, the annual transportation revenue for the baseline hotel would be $3.7M x 500 = $1.9B and the 12-spoke hotel would be $5.6B.‡ This improvement in transportation costs would also yield a savings of 90%—approximately $1B per year—in the transportation costs to support the LEO space logistics bases. Human space exploration missions would also realize a significant cost reduction.

While developing a conceptual design of a space hotel would appear premature at this early stage of considering the architecture of an initial space logistics infrastructure, several important conclusions emerge that indicate otherwise:

1) Careful selection of the initial space logistics architecture can also establish the industrial capability to build the first space hotels necessary to enable the expansion of human enterprises in space.

2) A commercially successful space hotel will require second generation RLVs to lower further the cost of transportation to orbit.

3) In order for these second generation RLVs to be ready when the first space hotel is completed, the technology research investment would need to begin concurrently with the start of the detailed design of the initial space logistics systems. Conversely, for private investment to seriously consider building the first hotels, significant science and technology progress in developing the second generation RLVs must be demonstrated by the time the initial hotel construction contracts are made.

4) The benefits of reduced space transportation costs will also substantially lower the cost of operation of the initial elements of the space logistics infrastructure, leading to a likely increase in demand for more in-space logistics services.

5) Space hotels and second-generation RLVs may become an important new aerospace product for the American aerospace industry, establishing American leadership in this new and growing field of human astronautical technologies.

6) It is not unrealistic to expect, with the building of an integrated space logistics infrastructure, that hundreds of people could be living and working in space by 2020, growing to thousands of people by 2040 with many of these living in the first permanent orbiting space settlements.


* A standard cabin on the new Queen Mary 2 cruise ship has an area of 18 m2 (194 ft2). A premium cabin has an area of 23 m2 (248 ft2).

† Launch sites for these RLVs would be distributed around the world. This would allow operations at the space hotel to run 24 hours per day since there is no day and night in LEO.

‡ This further reduction could come about through the introduction of a spiral version of the first-generation RLVs where improvements to the high maintenance cost subsystems, e.g., engines, could substantially reduce the recurring costs. Another approach would be development of entirely new RLV configurations—perhaps a single-stage configuration—that would also result in a substantial reduction in recurring costs per passenger through subsystem design improvements and the ability to carry more passengers per trip. A key issue in both approaches is the amortization of the development and production costs. High flight rates, probably dependent on space tourism, would be required to yield an overall transportation cost sufficiently low to enable profitable commercial operations.

Rocketpunk Manifesto Patrol Base

The comment thread on my previous post about space patrols raised the issue of base stations for more prolonged missions, extending to years.

This has application far beyond military or quasi-military patrols. In fact it is fairly fundamental to any extensive, long term human presence in deep space. Whether or not we put permanent bases on the surface of Mars, Europa, or wherever, we will surely place permanent or semi-permanent stations in orbit around them. Particularly because the stations can be built in Earth space, where the industry is (at least initially), and flown out to where they will serve.

Hab structures intended for prolonged habitation should be fairly large, if only because if you are going to live for years in a can it should be at least be a roomy one. And they must be thoroughly shielded against radiation, much more than ships that you only spend a few months aboard every few years.

So let us play with some numbers. Make our spin hab a drum, 200 meters in diameter and 100 meters thick. Volume is thus about 3.14 million cubic meters. The ISS has about 1200 m3 of pressurized volume and a mass of some 300 tons, for an average density near 0.25, but the mass includes exterior structures such as keel and wings. Let average interior density be about 0.16, for a mass of 500,000 tons.

If we allow 100 cubic meters per person the onboard population (whether 'crew' or simply residents, or a mix) can be up to 30,000 people. This is about twice the density of a middle class American urban apartment complex. Given that much of the usable volume must be working areas, public spaces, and so forth, the actual crew or population might be more on the order of 10,000 people, equivalent to a decent sized small town or a fairly large university or military base. Thus the hab has 10 times the volume of an aircraft carrier and twice as many people.

Spin the hab at 3 rpm and you get almost exactly 1 g at the rim.

By my standard general rule the cost of this hab is on order of $500 billion. That is a steep price tag, but on the other hand it is only five times the cost of the ISS, and you need very few of these unless you are engaged in outright colonization.

Now, shielding. The standard for indefinite habitation is about 5 tons per square meter of cross section. (Earth's atmosphere provides about 10 tons/m2.) Portions of the hab where people do not spend much time, and exterior to where they do spend time, can be counted toward the shielding allowance. So let us say that the outer 10 meters of the interior (about 35 percent of the volume) are used for storage, equipment rooms, and the like. This provides about 2 tons per square meter of shielding, 40 percent of the requirement.

The remaining 3 tons per square meter of exterior shielding must cover about 125,000 square meters of surface, so shielding mass is about 375,000 tons, adding 75 percent to the mass of the hab, now 875,000 tons. This shielding need not be 'armor.' As I recall, water provides pretty good shielding against GCRs, your biggest radiation problem, and water is so useful that having 375,000 tons of it on hand in a reservoir will never be amiss.

Moreover, to move the hab you can vent off the water (or pump it out) and not need to lug the mass, assuming you can replace it wherever you are going. The deep interior of the hab, more than 25 meters from the surface (about 28 percent of the volume) is still shielded by the rest of the hab structure, so the hab can carry a reduced population during the transfer.

You are still moving a half million ton payload, so don't expect to rush it unless you have a really badass drive bus handy. Habs being repositioned across the Solar System probably travel on Hohmann orbits, and have drive accelerations of a few dozen microgees, good for about 1 km/s per month of steady acceleration.

For a smaller hab structure, scale down the linear dimensions by half, to 100 meters diameter and 50 meters thick. Structural mass, volume, and capacity are all reduced by a factor of 8, to 400,000 cubic meters, 60,000 tons, and a crew / resident population of about 1500-4000. Our 'mini' hab is now broadly comparable in volume, mass, and crew to an aircraft carrier.

Surface area is only reduced, however, by a factor of four, to about 30,000 square meters. Moreover, the smaller hab provides less interior self-shielding. If we keep the same proportions our internal reserved zone is just 5 meters deep and provides only 20 percent of the needed protection, not 40 percent.

We now need about 120,000 tons of shielding — twice the unshielded mass of the hab. If we move the hab fully shielded our payload mass is 180,000 tons. Remove the shielding and payload mass is just 60,000 tons, but no part of the smaller interior is fully self-shielded, so any crew on board during a 'light' transfer must be relieved every few months. On the bright side, if you have a 100 gigawatt drive bus floating around, or about $100 billion to buy one, you can take a fast orbit and get there in a few months.

The image shows a drum-hab station ship with a spin hab of the full sized type described above, 200 meters in diameter by 100 meters thick, fitted with a heaviest class drive bus for transfer. I am delicately ignoring details of the connection between the spin drum and the hub structures.

The shuttles approximate the NASA Shuttle, as a visual size reference. The deep space ships docking up to it are large fast transports, 300 meters long, ten times heavier than the patrol ship discussed last post. The station ship itself is about 675 meters long by 450 meters across the outrigger docking bays.

In my image the station ship is no aesthetic triumph. Allowing for my limitations as an graphic artist (compare to commenter Elukka, from the last comment thread), the transport class ships don't look too bad, but the station ship merely looks tubby instead of grand. Some modest architectural improvements might yield a more impressive appearance with little change in overall configuration.

Of course the interior will matter immeasurably more to the people on board. Mostly, presumably, it will resemble the interior of a very large oceangoing ship, corridors and compartments, probably including some fairly imposing public spaces, comparable to the grand saloon of a 20th century ocean liner or even larger. It can be as elegant or as sterile as you like (or both, depending on deck and sector). The third popular choice, rundown industrial gothic, is constrained by how far you can go in that direction before the algae dies or the air starts leaking out.

From HOME AWAY FROM HOME by Rick Robinson (2010)

NASA Space Station: Key to the Future

This is from a 1970 brochure from NASA called Space Station: Key to the Future, as documented by David Portree. The station is cylindrical with a diameter of ten meters, and houses a crew of 12. The station is somewhat extravagant, down to the wood panelling on the crew quarters.

North American Rockwell OLS

This is North American Rockwell's 1971 study for an Orbital Lunar Station. The data is from a report Orbiting Lunar Station (OLS) Phase A Feasibility and Definition Study, Vol. V.

The OLS was an eight man space station in Lunar polar orbit. The various componets would be boosted into orbit on Saturn INT-21 boosters and moved into Lunar orbit with resusable nuclear shuttles.

The False Steps blog explained why the concept sank without a trace.

FALSE STEPS

What happened to make it fail: Like the rest of the Integrated Program Plan (IPP) with which it was associated (with the partial exception of the Space Shuttle) the OLS ran into the avalanche that was the early 1970s. As well as major budget cuts and indifference on the part of the government and the American public toward space ventures, it had the additional problem of no high-level advocate. NASA administrator Tom Paine in particular was critical of the “stations everywhere” approach and preferred Wernher von Braun‘s more audacious Mars mission. There it would be only a minor part, if it existed at all.


The core module had six decks, but only decks 1 through 4 were pressurized. Pressurized decks were connected by openings at deck centers (on the core module's long axis). Openings have a diameter of 0.9 meters. Opening between deck 2 and 3 can be closed by a pressure hatch.


Among other things the OLS would serve as a staging area for space tugs equipped with Lunar Landing kits.

Deck two contains the anti-radiation storm cellar. It is designed to protect the crew for up to three days in the event of a solar proton storm. The goal is to keep the crew radiation dosage below 0.4 Sieverts. Given a solar proton storm with a probability of 2 sigmas, the shielding will have to be 16.6 gm/cm2. Since the basic station structure gives a "free" 2.0 gm/cm2, the storm cellar proper will require 14.6 gm/cm2. This can be provided by 14.7 centimeters of water. The shielding will be about 7260 kilograms of water and 900 kg of food.

If station mass is really tight, it is possible to get by with less. The storm cellar shielding will be reduced to only 6.5 gm/cm2, the crew will wear anti-radiation eye shields, and after the mission the crew will permanently grounded (career limit of radiation reached).

As with all storm cellars, it will contain the (backup) control panels, food (backup gallery), and toilet facilities.

During a storm, two crew will be on duty, the rest will spend the time in sleeping bags.

North American Rockwell Phase B

In 1969, NASA awarded Phase B Space Station study contracts to McDonnell Douglas Aerospace Company and North American Rockwell. This is the from the NA Rockwell study, described in detail in David Portree's blog.

The station was to have a crew of 12, launched into a 500 kilometer high orbit by a two-stage Saturn V, with a lifespan of 10 years (the ISS is in an altitude that varies between 330 and 435 km). The orbit is inclined at 55° to the equator, approximately the same as the ISS.

The station is 10 meters in diameter and 15 meters tall (not including the power boom).

The station was designed to serve as a modular building block for larger projects. Several modules could be joined to make a huge 100 crew space base. A half module could be used as an outpost space station or as the habitat module for a Mars mission spacecraft.

The design was solar powered, to enhance modularity. RTGs could power a 12 man station, but not a 100 crew base. A nuclear reactor suitable for a 100 crew base cannot be economically scaled down to a 12 man station. Solar power is easily scaleable.

The solar power boom carries four collapsible steerable solar arrays. Total area of solar array is about 900 square meters, power output is 25 kilowatts. Power boom is attached to conical airlock in upper equipment bay.

Decks 1+2 and decks 3+4 are independent living volumes, for crew safely. They are joined by an inter-volume airlock adjacent to the repair shop on deck 3. So if, for instance, a fire broke out on deck 4, the crew in decks 3 and 4 would evacuate through the inter-volume airlock into decks 1+2. They would then seal the airlock and call NASA for help.

Krafft Ehrickes Atlas Space Station

Back in late 1957, the United States was feeling very smug. They were the most powerful nation on Earth, had the biggest and the best of everything, and above all were the most technologically advanced. Their biggest rivals were the Soviet Union. But Soviet technologists were a bunch of stupid farm boys who wouldn't recognize a scientific innovation if it flew straight up their behind. Life was good for the U.S.A.

The US was even ready to meet the challenge of the International Geophysical Year. The IGY officials had adopted a resolution for something straight out of science fiction: create something called an "artificial satellite" and launch it into something called an "orbit" in order to map Earth's surface duntDah DUUUHHHH! from Spaaaaaaace!. The US had been working with the Martin Company since 1955 on the Naval Research Laboratory's Vangard satellite. The US was looking forwards to yet again demonstrating the unstoppable advantage of good old US know-how.

Then one fine day the Soviets quietly told a few people to watch the skies that night. Oh, and tune your radio to 20 megacycles while you are at it.


On 4 October 1957 at 19:28:34 UTC, the Soviets launched the world's first artificial satellite into orbit, called Sputnik 1. No propaganda lie was this, you could see the blasted thing orbiting with a low powered telescope, and there was that accurséd BEEP-BEEP-BEEP coming clearly at 20 megacycles. The Space Age had started.


The United States freaked out.

The reaction was a mix of stunned incredulity, incandescent rage, and hysterical panic. Incredulity that the "backwards" Soviets could beat the US at its own game. Rage at being demoted to "also ran" status in the race. And panic because it would be just a matter of time before those evil Soviets put nuclear warheads on their satellites. Yes, Sputnik was a miserable half meter sized ball that couldn't do more than make beep-beep noises. But the US couldn't even do that much.

Sputnik directly caused the US to create NASA. And ARPA (which later became DARPA). ARPA's mission statement was "See that Soviet Sputnik? DON'T LET THAT HAPPEN AGAIN, EVER!" (although the actual command was worded something like "help the US regain its technological lead"). The National Science Foundation also got a $100 million dollar budget increase and was told to start cranking out as many new engineers as it could possibly make. Right Now.

Sputnik is the reason that schoolchildren in the US have homework.


Things got worse when the US tried to launch its answer to Sputnik. On December 6, 1957, Vanguard TV3 was launched from Cape Canaveral. The event was carried live on US TV, which in hindsight was a rather poor decision. Viewers across the nation witnessed Vanguard's engines igniting, the rocket's rise to an altitude of almost 1.2 meters, the fall back to the launch pad, and the spectacular fiery explosion.

The smoking remains of the Vanguard satellite rolled across the ground, pathetically still sending its radio beacon signal. In the radio shack, the crew was unaware of the explosion, and were troubled that they could no longer receive the signal. Somebody picked up the charred remains of Vanguard and walked into the shack. As he entered, the radio operators excitedly announced that they were suddenly picking up the signal loud and clear!

Meanwhile on Wall Street, they had to temporarily suspend trading in Martin Company stock as it plummeted in value. The news media was not kind, calling Vanguard uncharitable names such as "Flopnik", "Kaputnik", "Oopsnik", and "Stayputnik". To say this was an international humiliation was putting it mildly. A few days after the incident, a Soviet delegate to the United Nations inquired solicitously whether the United States was interested in receiving aid earmarked for "undeveloped countries”. Ouch.


Then in April 25, 1958, in the middle of all this gloom and doom, Dr. Krafft Ehricke goes to Washington. He was one of the genius scientists from Nazi Germany who was scooped up by Operation Paperclip. In 1958 he was working for Convair.

Part of Dr. Ehricke's genius was his practicality. He knew if you had to get something developed quickly, the design time had to be minimized. Indeed, you could cut the time drastically if you can find a way to modify some off-the-shelf technology instead of starting from scratch. As it happened, Convair had created the SM-65 Atlas rocket which was the US's first ICBM and the largest rocket it had at the time. Dr. Ehricke noticed that the Atlas could boost a small payload into orbit. In fact, it could boost itself into orbit.

What if you stop looking at the Atlas' giant fuel tanks as fuel tanks and instead saw them as a ready-made space station hull? Why, you would have the Soviets sputtering in rage as the unmanned Sputnik 1 and the dog-manned Sputnik 2 were savagely upstaged by the Man-manned US space station!

Dr. Ehricke's design was a four-man nuclear powered space station that could be built using existing Atlas rockets. As the cherry on top of the sundae, it could be spun for artificial gravity. It could be bulit in five years at a cost of about half a billion 1958 dollars.

The station was never built, which was a pity because it would have worked! Years later in 1973 Dr. Ehricke's concept was used for NASA's Skylab. It too was a space station build out of a spent upper stage. Technically Ehricke's design was a wet workshop while Skylab was a dry workshop, but the basic idea is there.

The Hawk plastic model company wasted no time making a model kit of Ehricke's space station. It was first issued in 1960, and later re-issued in 1968 (which was when I got my copy of the kit).


The Station is 32 meters long with a mass of 6.8 metric tons. It can house a four man crew. It orbits at an altitude of 640 kilometers. Power is from a SNAP-2 nuclear reactor with an output of 55 kilowatts. Each glider carries two men. The vernier rockets will spin up the station around the entry port spin axis at a rate of 2.5 times per minute, to provide artificial gravity of 0.1 to 0.15g. Pretty darn impressive for 1958. Actually it would be quite impressive today, the International Space Station has no artificial gravity nor nuclear power.

The nose end of the station is for the habitat module. Outside of the sanitary room on the tip of the nose is a condenser cooler for the water regeneration system and a waste disposal outlet (yes, when you flush the toilet you are spraying sewage into a wide arc like a water-sprinkler. Take that, Khrushchev!). Oxygen is from a tank in the rear end, but the habitat module has a small emergency oxygen tank.

Naturally there are some drawbacks to using an Atlas. One of them is the dimensions. While the Atlas is 22.8 meters long, it is only 3 meters in diameter. So the living spaces are going to be a bit cramped. Especially since the pointed nose section grows even narrower than 3 meters.

The rear end is to store heavy equipment. It would hold oxygen tanks, water supply, emergency power supply (batteries), vernier rocket propellant tanks (to start and stop the artificial gravity spin), tools, reserve equipment, and instrumentation.

The entrance is located near the midpoint, at the spin axis. It is surrounded by a basket-funnel to aid astronauts to enter and exit. It leads to the unpressurized interior. The habitat module in the nose has an airlock above the control room.


Construction of the station will take about one week. Once operational, the station will initially rotate crews back to Terra after every two weeks, later once a month. A cargo ship will deliver 3,600 kilograms of supplies once a year. A total of 13 to 20 launches a year would be required to maintain the station.

The station can be expanded with the upper stage tanks of cargo and passenger vessels. Small satellites can be added to the system — with or without rotation — for housing telescope and other instruments.


Space station functions:

  • As a test bed for long-term evaluation of development of equipment and living conditions in advanced manned satellites, lunar and interplanetary spacecraft.
  • To teach crews to live in space and to prepare for flights to other planets.
  • To serve as a base for launching improved interplanetary research probes to Venus, Mars, and the outer solar system.
  • As a base for weather observation (the transistor had just been invented) and to monitor terrestrial activities (i.e, spy on enemies of the US, like those vile Sputnik-launching Soviets)
  • As a base for geophysical and astrophysical research.
  • As a maintainance base for satellites in suitable orbits.
  • As a base for assembly, testing, and launching of lunar reconnaissance vehicles.

Construction of the station should take about one week.

  1. An Atlas is boosted into a 640 kilometers high orbit, arriving with empty tanks. It will become the hull of the station.
  2. One personnel vehicle (carrying four man alpha crew and two gliders) and one cargo vehicle (carrying equipment for rear of station) are launched, and rendezvous with the empty Atlas.
  3. Using the gliders, the alpha crew moves the equipment from the cargo vehicle to the empty Atlas.
  4. The alpha crew installs in the Atlas emergency power (batteries), water, and oxgen supply systems.
  5. One personnel vehicle (carrying a four man beta crew and two gliders) and one cargo vehicle (carrying equipment for nose of station) are launched, and rendezvous with the Atlas.
  6. The alpha crew returns to Terra via their two gliders.
  7. Beta crew places rubber nylon balloon inside nose of station, and inflates it to create pressurized habitat module. The four decks are installed, with all the insulation, furnishings and equipment. Water recycling system installed in sanitary room. Food is stored and the water & air cycles are tested using emergency battery power.
  8. One personnel vehicle (carrying a four man gamma crew and two gliders) and one cargo vehicle (carrying SNAP-2 nuclear reactor, shadow shield, and heat radiator) are launched, and rendezvous with the Atlas.
  9. The beta crew returns to Terra via their two gliders.
  10. The gamma crew installs the nuclear reactor. Water and air cycles would be started using reactor power. Vernier rockets are fired to spin the station for artificial gravity.
  11. The station is now operational.
  12. Crews are rotated once a month.

Krafft Ehrickes Astropolis

This is another interesting design from Dr. Krafft Ehricke.

Astropolis was to be an orbital hotel and space resort, that is, yet another desperate attempt to monetize space/discover some MacGuffinite. The details can be found in Space Tourism by Krafft Ehricke (1967), collected in Commercial Utilization of Space, Volume 23 Advances in the Astronautical Sciences. It is available to patrons of the Aerospace Projects Review Patreon campaign.

The entire idea is based on the exceedingly optimistic assumption that boosting payload and passengers into LEO could be brought down to $10 US per pound ($22 per kilogram) in 1967 dollars (about $150/kg in 2015 dollars). By way of comparison NASA's space shuttle never got below $10,416/kg, and the Russian Proton-M is lucky to only cost $4,302/kg. So we still have some work to do in that department.


The primary attraction seems to be the variable gravity.

The station has a (residential) radius of about 122 meters, which means it can have one full gravity at the rim with a safe spin of only 2.7 revolutions per minute. Above 3 RPM the customers will start suffering from Coriolis nausea and Astropolis' Yelp score will fall off a cliff.

At the core, the yellow Zero-G Dynarium offers free-fall fun, with 3-D tennis, artificial flying wings, three-dimensional swimming pool and everything. The yellow Asteroid Room contains a simulated asteroid the customers can observe through windows or suit up and explore first hand. Both are about 61 meters in diameter.

The Mars Room, Mercury Room, Moon Room, and Titan Room are all set at distances from the spin axis such that their ground levels are under the same gravity as their namesake. Each is a flat plate covered in a hemispherical dome, with support equipment hidden under the plate. They contain carefully created simulations of the various planets with duplicated atmospheres and all the details. The domes are animated with projectors to create the illusion of the sky. Again customers can observe the rooms through windows, or don space suits for some real-life exploration.

The 0.35 g Dynarium and the Orbital Ballet Theater allows experiencing the fun to be had under one-third of a g. I'm sure the ballet will be amazing, with truly heroic leaps.

There are extensive space boat docks for touring the exterior of the station in little putt-putt spaceships. And for the stick-in-the-muds guests, there is a theater, beauty salon/barber shop, restaurant/ball-room, and a casino all at a conventional 1 g. And no doubt a tourist trap gift shop selling cheap crap at inflated prices.

Don't forget the incredible ever-changing view of Terra, the various photos taken from the International Space Station show the view is sufficiently awesome that it is probably worth the price of the trip all by itself. For maximum global sight-seeing, the hotel will probably be in a polar "ball-of-twine" orbit (the one used by military spy satellites) so every centimeter will be covered. These might be viewed by TV cameras instead of by direct vision windows, to compensate for the fact the station is spinning.


The guest quarters modules ("hotels") are cylinders with 9 meter inner diameter and about 48 meters tall. There are 13 floors, each floor a cylinder with a 9 meter diameter and 3.7 meters tall. 11 floors have four beds, 2 floors (uppermost and lowermost) have only two beds, for a total of 50 beds. Complete floors are rented as four-bed suites, other floors are divided in half to create a pair of two-bed hotel rooms. One floor has a area of about 64 square meters, and four-bed suite has a volume of about 235 cubic meters.

Naturally each floor has a lower gravity than the floor below it. The bottom floor will have 1 g, the top floor will have the same 0.35 g as the orbital ballet theater.

There are six hotel modules side-by-side in a "wing", and Astropolis has four wings. This is a total of 24 hotel modules, for a total of 1,200 beds. Reserving 100 beds for the station service personnel leaves 1,100 beds for guests.

The hotel could hold 1,100 guest at a time, for about 400,000 guest-days per year. Dr. Ehricke estimated a rent of $80 per guest-day with a profit of $5 (in 1967 dollars) or $5,500 profit per day when fully booked (about $39,000 per day in 2015 dollars). See the original report for a detailed break-down of the business expenses.


Nowadays such a resort would be a liability-lawsuit nightmare. It contains far to many ways that a clumsy or stupid guest could accidentally kill themselves. Space suits can malfunction, and the little space boats might accidentally ram the station or pass to close to the radioactive nuclear reactors. Guests will have to sign iron-clad release forms, and even then Astropolis will have trouble obtaining liability insurance.


This design was copied for the regrettably abysmal TV movie Earth II in 1971.

Self-Deploying Space Station

This clever design solves the problem of how to quickly assemble a wheel space station, with one tiny little drawback. You see, there is a reason that wheel space stations are shaped like, well, wheels and not like hexagons.

The amount of centrifugal gravity experienced is determined by the distance from the axis of rotation (the greater the distance, the stronger the gravity). So if you want the amount of gravity to be the same, the station has to be a circle.

Now, look at the image below. The segment labeled "SPACE STATION RIGID MODULE" is one of the hexagonal sides. The green lines lead to the axis of rotation (i.e., that is the direction of "up". Note the little dark men figures, they feel like they are standing upright). And the red lines are lines of equal gravity. You will note that they do not align with the module.

In the module, centrifugal gravity will be weakest at the center of the module, and strongest at the ends where it joins with the neighbor modules. Even though the module is straight, the gravity will feel like it is a hill. If you place a marble on the deck in the center, it will roll "downhill" to one of the edges.

As you see, the designers tried to compensate for this by angling the decks, but it really doesn't work very well. They also put in secondary floors where the angle got too steep. The metric was to try and keep the variation in gravity across one module to within 0.02-g.


The problem this design was intended to solve was that of a lack of experience in free-fall construction. In the 1960's Langley Research Center concluded that assembling a space station out of component parts in orbit would not be practical until after 1975 or so. You need to gain expertise in the orbital rendezvous of many seperatly launched sections, gain skills in making mechanical, fluid, and electrical connections in free fall, and other problems. This space station was to do an end-run around the problems. No need to rendezvous or making connections if the thing is launched as one part. The only problem is figuring out how to fold the station up so it will fit in the rocket, and how it transforms into the full station.

Historically, NASA figured out how to make mechanical, fluid, and electrical connections in free fall by 1998 at the latest. The International Space Station was indeed assembled in orbit out of component parts launched separately.


The station was 150 feet across the hexagonal corners, central hub 12.8 feet in diameter and 29 feet high. When folded for launch it was 33 feet in diameter and 103 feet high (not counting the Apollo spacecraft on top. Total mass (including the Apollo) was 170,300 pounds. The rim modules were cylinders 10 feet in diameter and 75 feet long. They are hinged where they connect. When operational, the station would rotate at 3 rpm to generate 0.2g artificial gravity at the midpoint of a side, and 0.23g at the corners. The spokes were 5 feet in diameter and 48 feet long. It would hold 21 crew members.

Lockheed

Somewhat more elaborate in conception is the 94 ft wheel-shaped satellite prepared by two design engineers of the Lockheed Missile Division. This celestial laboratory for a crew of 10 weighs 400 tons, and is intended to orbit at a height of 500 miles. Each pre-fabricated section is 10 ft in diameter and 20 ft long, fitted with airlocks, and weighs 10 tons delivered into orbit. Powerful 3-man "astro-tugs" would round up the orbiting packages and couple them up. The entire operation should not take more than a month. The whole design has been investigated in exceptional detail, and is complete with nuclear power reactor and propulsion unit for changing orbit, astronomical telescopes, computer room, space-medical laboratory, airlocks for access, etc. All gravitational worries would be relieved by rotating the vehicle about its hub, which would remain stationary for observational purposes.

The Lockheed space station made an apperance on the 1959 TV show Men into Space. I have not seen this show, but from what I've read it was astonishingly scientifically accurate. Certainly more accurate than most anything from TV or movies in the last couple of decades. Thanks to Drake Grey for bringing this to my attention.

McDonnell Douglas Phase B

In 1969, NASA awarded Phase B Space Station study contracts to McDonnell Douglas Aerospace Company and North American Rockwell. This is the from the McDonnell Douglas study, described in detail in David Portree's blog.

The design goal was a 12-person space station that could be lofted into orbit atop a two-stage Saturn V rocket, have a 10 year operational life span, and serve as a building block for a future 100 person Terran Orbital Space Base.

Because it was to be lofted by a Saturn V, the station had a maximum diameter of 9.2 meters. In launch mode, the station is 34 meters long. It would be placed in a 456 kilometer high circular orbit inclined 55° relative to the equator.

The station is remotely monitored for 24 hours to check the vital systems. If it passes, the crew will be delivered. A space shuttle carrying a Crew/Cargo Module (CCM) containing the 12 crew will arrive at the station. The CCM will deploy and dock with the station. All the docking ports are standarized at 1.5 meters in diameter.

The shuttle will hang around for about 25 hours (after deploying CCM) while the crew manually checks out all the station systems. That way the shuttle can evacuate the crew if the station turns out to have a major malfunction. If everything checks out, the shuttle will return to Terra.

The shuttle will deliver a logistics load eveyr 90 days: 13,000 kilograms of supplies and a new crew. While the new CCM is docking on a station side docking port, the old CCM will load up with the old crew and travel to the shuttle's cargo bay. Then the shuttle will transport the old CCM and crew back to Terra.

Each crew would contain eight scientist-engineers and four Station flight-crew. The crew work round the clock, with six people on duty and six off at all times. Two flight-crew and four scientist-engineers will work during each 12-hour shift.

One scientist-engineer would serve as principal scientist. They would work closely with the flight-crew commander, who would have responsibility for the safety of the entire crew, to ensure that science interests were taken into account during Station operations.

Two scientist-engineers would serve as principal investigator representatives. They would use the Station's considerable communications capabilities to work directly with scientists on Earth.

Station's orbital altitude is maintained by low-thrust resistojets utilizing hydrogen for propellant. Hydrogen is obtained by electrolyzing waste water. It was calculated that the water delivered in the food supplies was sufficient to maintain the station's altitude.

Meteor Space Station

This is Manned Earth-Satellite Terminal Evolving from Earth-to-Orbit Ferry Rockets (METEOR), an ambitious space city designed by Darrell C. Romick. The concept came out about the same time as Collier's famous Man Will Conquer Space Soon!, but it make von Braun's plan look like a child's toy. von Braun's space wheel space station had a diameter of 76 meters and a crew of 80. Romick's gargantuan space station had a 914 meter long zero-g section but the gravity section was a 450 meter diameter monster with a population of 20,000. von Braun's wheel spun at 3 RPM but only provided 1/3rd g of artificial gravity. Romick's station only spun at 2 RPM but provided a full one gee. That extra 187 meters radius is a big help.

Face it, von Braun had a tiny outpost in orbit. Romick had a space colony with a population the size of a large town.

Alas, von Braun's plan had much better publicity, so poor Romick's plan went into the dust-bin of history.

Both von Braun and Romick designed three-stage ferry rockets to transport space station components into orbit. The difference was that all three stages of Romick's ferries were reusable. And by reusable I don't mean parachute landed into the corrosive ocean requiring a major overhaul before the next launch. All of Romick's three stages were piloted, and the first two stages flew back to the launch site like an Elon Musk rocket. Give it an inspection and a refuelling and it is good to go.

While the third stage could unload payload and return to Terra, they were also specially designed to connect together forming the spine of the space station. Romick figures that the initial framework could be constructed in four months at two ferry launches a day. It will take three years to expand the wheel to its full size.

The artificial gravity wheel has a diameter of 450 meters and a circumference of 1,400 meters (0.9 mile). It has 82 levels, with one gee at the rim.

Like von Braun's station it runs on solar thermal power. The difference is that Romick's station has twelve acres of solar panels.

  • STEP ONE: construct backbone out of rocket bodies jointed end-to-end. Propulsion sections are swung out of the way except for the rockets at either end of the backbone, for orbital adjustments. Each rocket (without propulsion section) is 62.5 feet long and 9 feet in diameter. Initial backbone is 10 rockets long (625 ft.) Backbone is pressurized with breathable air. (days)
  • STEP TWO: First Expansion Phase. Backbone is lengthened to 16 rockets long (1,000 ft.) Backbone surrounded by 75 ft diameter cylindrical sections, three of them in a row. Cylindrical sections are pressurized with breathable air. 500 ft diameter wheel constructed on one end, using projected end of backbone as a mounting hub. (weeks)
  • STEP THREE: Final Enlargement Phase. Backbone is lengthened to 49 rockets long (3,000 ft.) Six more 75 ft dia cylindrical sections added to cover lengthened backbone. Huge cylindrical shell (1,000 ft diameter, 3,000 ft length) constructed around 75 ft cylindrical section. Shell is not pressurized, it is a vacuum chamber. Wheel enlarged to 1,500 ft diameter. (months to years)

Marshall Orbital Launch Facility

This is a concept drawing of an orbit and launch facility.

It was to use a nuclear SNAP-II nuclear power supply on the end of the long telescoping boom. Nuclear reactors were considered dangerous, which is why in this concept drawing it was located so far away from the habitat part of the station (actually it is to use distance as radiation shielding).

Creators envisioned the structure being built in orbit to allow assembly of the station in orbit which could be then larger than anything that could be launched from Earth. The two main modules were to be 33 feet (10 meters) in diameter and 40 feet (12 meters) in length. When combined the modules would create a four deck facility, 2 decks to be used for laboratory space and 2 decks for operations and living quarters.

The facility also allowed for servicing and launch of a space vehicle. Though the station was designed to operate in micro-gravity, it would also have an artificial gravity capability.

Designed in April of 1962, this NASA-Marshall Future Projects Branch design for a space station was to serve as both a scientific research facility and as an orbital launch facility (OLF). The research station concept is straightforward enough, but the OLF is more interesting.

At the time, it was just accepted that by the end of the decade Apollo would have proven successful… and was to have been merely the first step in the conquest of space. Lunar bases and missions to Mars would have followed soon on the heels of the Apollo program. To support these expected missions, the OLF would have served as a construction facility in space. Unlike many later orbital construction facilities, this OLF would have a telescoping hangar, providing a long cylindrical shield to protect the spacecraft and those working on it from excessive sunlight and micrometeoroids. Additionally it would provide a controlled lighting environment.

The facility would be launched in two components, each on a Saturn C-5 and both initially unmanned. The scientific research base would have a 30 kilowatt nuclear powerplant, and would be made from a Saturn S-IC liquid oxygen tank. The OLF would similarly use an S-IC LOX tank as a basis, and would dock to the scientific base once on orbit.

A 10-man crew would be needed for orbital launch operations, and a further 15 for the scientific base.

Herman Potocnik Design

This is from those innocent days before the discovery of nuclear power. The station uses solar power in the form of mercury boilers, since these were also the days before the discovery of the photoelectric effect.

Smith and Ross Design

Station desgined by R.A.Smith and H.E.Ross (circa 1940). Again, the station is powered by mercury boilers. The telescope uses a coelostat to counteract the spin of the station. The antenna support arm is de-spun to allow a spacecraft to dock, then is spun up to allow the air-lock module to mate with the station habitat module.

Space Shuttle External Tanks

RocketCat sez

NASA had a fleet of Space Shuttles. Because the sob sisters were screaming too loud NASA was not allowed to make them nuclear powered like they should have been. Forced they were to make them use chemical fuel, which makes about as much sense as powering an earth-moving caterpillar tractor with a huge wind-up spring.

The The Tyranny of the Rocket Equation demanded big fuel tanks. Really really big. As in "bigger than the Shuttle Orbiter" big. Forty-six point nine freaking meters long big.

And what did the shuttle do when it had dragged this 26 metric ton eleven-story tall external tank through Terra's gravity well to the edge of LEO?

It ditched the tank into the ocean, that's what. Along with the priceless one metric ton of liquid hydrogen and the priceless six metric tons of liquid oxygen left over. Per tank.

Have you any idea what sort of huge space city we could have built up there with 133 empty Shuttle tanks? One that has the habitable volume equal to 297 International Space Stations, that's how huge. At 17 cubic meters per person living space that's enough for a population of 16,000.

Now was this the most idiotic waste of materiel that ever boggled the mind or was it justified. I suspect the former, but NASA does make some good points in its defense (abet a bit stridently). You decide.

The space shuttle external tank (ET) is 46.9 meters long, 8.4 meters in diameter. It has a dry mass of 26,500 kilograms. It has two internal tanks, one for liquid hydrogen and one for liquid oxygen. The LH2 tank has an internal volume of 1497 cubic meters, the LOX tank has a volume of 553 cubic meters. Total volume of 2,050 cubic meters.

Once the shuttle was 97% of the way to LEO, it does an OMS burn in order to ditch the external tank into the Indian ocean.

NASA studied several concepts in the 1980's using the 'wet workshop' approach to the capacious External Tank carried into orbit with every shuttle flight.

Despite the incredible logic of this, NASA management never pursued it seriously — seeing it as an irresistible low-cost alternative to their own large modular space station plans.

According to NASA the main reason they never boosted shuttle external tanks into orbit was that this would decrease the payload capacity. Even when you figure the shuttle will no longer have to perform the OMS burn to ditch the tank into the ocean. More fuel will be used overall.

NASA says the secondary reason is that the tank is totally coated with foam insulation. In LEO this will fall off in huge massive chunks creating a major space debris problem. An expensive total redesign could fix this (putting the foam inside the shell), but this too would probably reduce the payload capacity. Remember that NASA stopped painting the tanks after the second shuttle mission in order to save on mass.

NASA says the third reason is nobody wanted the tanks in orbit.

What does NASA have to say about this ?

NASA operates the Shuttle, so NASA is the authority/boss. Prodded by outside inquiries, NASA eventually supported a study into retaining the tank in orbit, and the result was more positive than expected at first.

However, NASA has taken on a policy of relying on business to take the initiative in this area instead of government, which most of us will probably agree with. (NASA is not much of a leadership agency anymore.) Indeed, an external tanks space station would be a direct competitor to the NASA space station Alpha and the joint US-Russian space station effort that has gained so much political support and money for NASA.

NASA doesn't want to spend its limited budget on the infrastructure required to bring these tanks to orbit and handle them. NASA has offered to deliver the tank to orbit for free, but at the same time has pointed out a number of complications and costs involved to the Shuttle program and established understandable conditions for delivery, mainly for a third party to be waiting to collect it for at least safety reasons.

There is no system in orbit to collect these tanks, and NASA can't be expected to modify its clients' launch schedules and orbits to accommodate putting all the tanks in close orbits to each other.

Nonetheless, NASA has stated what is needed to utilize the tanks, e.g., a system to collect the tanks and control them so that they don't become a hazard, a way to pump the residual fuel out of the tanks, a way to outfit the tanks with the desired contents (by teleoperated robots or human extravehicular activity), and various infrastructure. NASA is not willing to launch the material to be moved inside the tank, but is willing only to give an empty tank which anyone can dock with later, on their own. NASA is not willing to devote much shuttle astronaut time or resources on behalf of the tank client, and any client requests to the manufacturer of the tank to redesign the tank must not entail any risk to the mission at all, i.e., probably no significant redesigns of the tank will be acceptable.

Fair enough. NASA has done its part; now it's up to business to come up with a best scheme to capitalize upon such an opportunity, without using U.S. taxpayers' dollars and without interfering too much with the Space Shuttle's agenda.

(ed note: but no business did.)

From Mark Prado (1997)
Wet Workshop

Wet workshop is the idea of using a spent rocket stage as a makeshift space station. A liquid-fuel rocket primarily consists of two large, airtight fuel tanks; it was realized that the fuel tanks could be retrofitted into the living quarters of a space station. A large rocket stage would reach a low Earth orbit and undergo later modification. This would make for a cost-effective reuse of hardware that would otherwise have no further purpose, but the in-orbit modification of the rocket stage could prove difficult and expensive.

A wet workshop is contrasted with a "dry workshop", where the empty upper stage is internally outfitted on the ground before launch with a human habitat and other equipment. Then the upper stage is launched into orbit by a sufficiently powerful rocket.


Shuttle-derived concepts

Several similar conversions of the Space Shuttle's external tank (ET) were also studied. During launch the ET accelerated to about 98% of orbital speed before being dropped and deliberately spun in order to increase its drag. A number of people proposed keeping the ET attached to the Shuttle all the way into orbit, bleeding off any remaining fuel through the Space Shuttle Main Engines, which would have been "left open". One such test had been scheduled, but was canceled after the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster dramatically changed safety rules.

The ET would have provided a huge working space, and one major problem with various wet workshop designs is what to do with all of it. The oxygen tank, the smaller of the two tanks inside the ET, was itself much larger than the entire Space Station Freedom even in its fully expanded form. Additionally, getting access to the interior was possible though "manholes" used for inspection during construction, but it was not clear if realistic amounts of building materials could have been inserted into the tank after reaching orbit. Nevertheless the problem was studied repeatedly.

A similar concept, the "Aft Cargo Carrier", was studied by Martin Marietta in 1984. This consisted of a large cylindrical cargo container bolted onto the bottom of the ET, which offered the same volume as the Space Shuttle orbiter's cargo bay, but would be able to carry wider, bulkier loads. The same basic layout was also used as the basis for a short-duration station design. Although not a wet workshop in the conventional sense, the station piggybacks on the fuel tank and is therefore related to some degree.

From Wet Workshop Wikipedia

Tank-Farm Dynamo

(ed note: the space station is composed of numerous cast-off Space Shuttle external tanks)

Imagine six very long parallel wires, hanging in space, always aimed toward the surface of the Earth 500 kilometers below.

At both ends the wires are anchored to flat rows of giant cylinders — forty in the upper layer, A Deck; and sixteen in the lower, B Deck. An elevator, consisting of two welded tanks, moves between the two ends, carrying people and supplies both ways.

I've lost count of the number of times I've explained the curious structure to visitors. I've compared it to a double-ended child's swing, or a bolo turning exactly once always high. It's been called a skyhook, and even a bean-stalk, though the idea's nowhere near as ambitious as the ground-to-geosynchronous space-elevators of science fiction fame.

The main purpose of the design is simply to keep the tanks from falling. The two massive ends of the Farm act like a dipole in the gradient of the Earth's gravitational field, so each deck winds up orbiting edge-forward, like a flat plate skimming. This reduces the drag caused by the upper fringes of the atmosphere, extending our orbital lifetime.

The scheme is simple, neat, and it works. Of course the arrangement doesn't prevent all orbital decay. It takes a little thrust from our aluminum engines, from time to time, to make up the difference.

Since our center of mass is traveling in a circular orbit, the lower deck has to move much slower than it "should" to remain at its height. The tethers keep it suspended, as it were.

The upper deck, in turn, is dragged along faster than it would normally go, at its height. It would fly away into a high ellipse if the cables ever let go.

That's why we feel a small artificial gravity at each end, directed away from the center of mass. It creates the ponds in my garden, and helps prevent the body decay of pure weightlessness.


The super-polymer tethers that held the Tank Farm together were sheathed in an aluminum skin to protect them from solar ultraviolet radiation. Unfortunately, this meant there was an electrical conducting path from B Deck to A Deck. As the Farm swept around the Earth in its unconventional orbit, the cables cut through a changing flux from the planet's magnetic field. The resulting electrical potentials had caused some rather disconcerting side effects, especially as the Tank Farm grew larger.


"Well, sir," Emily said, almost without a trace of accent, "I wasn't able to find a way to prevent the potential buildup. I'm afraid the voltage is unavoidable as the conductive tethers pass through the Earth's magnetic field.

"In fact, if the charge had anywhere to go, we could see some pretty awesome currents: One deck might act as a cathode, emitting electrons into the ionosphere, and the other could be an anode, absorbing electrons from the surrounding plasma. It all depends on whether ..."


Emily went on single-mindedly, apparently unaware of my split attention. "... so we could, if we ever really wanted to, use this potential difference the tethers generate! We could shunt it through some transformers here on A Deck, and apply as much as twenty thousand volts! I calculate we might pull more power out of the Earth's magnetic field, just by orbiting through it with these long wires, than we would ever need to run lights, heat, utilities, and communications, even if we grew to ten times our present size!"


"Emily." I turned to face the young woman. "You know there ain't no such thing as a free lunch. Your idea certainly is interesting. I'll grant you could probably draw current from the tethers, maybe even as much as you say. But we'd pay for it in ways we can't afford."

Emily stared for a moment, then she snapped her fingers. "Angular momentum! Of course! By drawing current we would couple with the Earth's magnetic field. We would slow down, and add some of our momentum to the planet's spin, microscopically. Our orbit would decay even faster than it already does!"


For an instant I saw the Earth not as a broad vague mass overhead, but as a spinning globe of rock, rushing air, and water, of molten core and invisible fields, reaching out to grapple with the tides that filled space. It was eerie. I could almost feel the Tank Farm, like a double-ended kite, coursing through those invisible fields, its tethers cutting the lines of force — like the slowly turning bushings of a dynamo.

That was what young Emily Testa had compared it to. A dynamo. We could draw power from our motion if we ever had to — buying electricity and paying for it in orbital momentum. It was a solution in search of a problem, for we already had all the power we needed.

The image wouldn't leave my mind, though. I could almost see the double-ended kite, right there in front of me ... a dynamo. We didn't need a dynamo. What we needed was the opposite. What we needed was ...


"What seems to be the problem, Colonel?"

"You know damned well what the problem is!" the man shouted. "Colombo Station is under acceleration!"

"So? I told you over dinner to have your crew check their inertial units. You knew that meant we would be maneuvering."

"But you're thrusting at two microgees! Your aluminum engines can't push five thousand tons that hard!"

I shrugged.

"And anyway, we can't find your thrust exhaust! We look for a rocket trail, and find nothing but a slight electron cloud spreading from A Deck!"

"Nu?" I shrugged again. "Colonel, you force me to conclude that we are not using our aluminum engines. It is curious, no?"

"Rutter, I don't know what you're up to, but we can see from here that your entire solar cell array has been turned sunward. You have no use for that kind of power! Are you going to tell me what's going on? Or do I come back up there and make myself insufferable until you do?"

"Oh, there won't be any need for that." I laughed. "You see, Colonel, we need all that solar power to drive our new motor."

"Motor? What motor?"

"The motor that's enabling us to raise our orbit without spending a bit of mass — no oxygen, not even a shred of aluminum. It's the motor that's going to make it possible for us to pull a profit next year, Colonel, even under the terms of the present contract."

Bahnz stared at me. "A motor?"

"The biggest motor there is, my dear fellow. It's called the Earth."


The voice faded behind me as I drifted up to the crystal port. Outside, the big, ugly tanks lay like roc eggs in a row, waiting to be hatched. I could almost envision it. They'd someday transform themselves into great birds of space. And our grandchildren would ride their offspring to the stars.

Bright silvery cables seemed to stretch all the way to the huge blue globe overhead. And I know, now, that they did indeed anchor us to the Earth ... an Earth that does not end at a surface of mountain and plain and water, nor with the ocean of air, but continues outward in strong fingers of force, caressing her children still.

Right now those tethers were carrying over a hundred amps of current from B Deck to A. There, electrons were sprayed out into space by an array of small, sharp cathodes.

We could have used the forward process to extract energy from our orbital momentum. I had told Emily Testa earlier today that that would solve nothing. Our problem was to increase our momentum.

Current in a wire, passing through a magnetic field ... You could run a dynamo that way, or a motor. With more solar power than we'll ever need, we can shove the current through the cables against the electromotive force, feeding energy to the Earth, and to our orbit.

A solar-powered motor, turning once per orbit, our Tank Farm rises without shedding an ounce of precious mass.

From TANK-FARM DYNAMO by David Brin

Douglas Collapsible Space Station

This was a space station concept dreamed up by the Douglas Aircraft Company some time in the late 1950s. It was sort of a collapsing station module which fold up like an accordion to fit into the narrow payload faring of the booster rockets. Once in orbit the station unfolds. It could be used as a module for a space station in LEO, or outfitted with landing rockets to emplace it on the lunar surface.

The concept fell out of favor, and was soon only seen as just another factory model that could be rented or loaned to different groups or events.

As you are probably aware, it was the inspiration for the K-7 space station in the ST:TOS episode The Trouble With Tribbles (1967). The legendary Matt Jefferies was tasked with designing the K7 space station. Hie previous designs included the original Starship Enterprise, the original Klingon Battlecruiser, and the Galactic Cruiser Leif Ericson. Jefferies sketched out something remarkably like the later Deep Space Nine station. Regrettably, Jeffries boss, a certain Gene Roddenberry, turned out to have connections at the Douglas Aircraft Company. He was donated one large and three smaller space station concept models. One was given to the Howard Anderson Company, and eventually became the K-7 Space station. Jefferies sold off his original preliminary design sketches for about $300 (about $2,200 in 2017 dollars) in order to raise funds for the "Motion Picture and Television Fund".

Fortress on a Skyhook

Futurama

High Crusade

Apparently the artist who did the book cover had seen this old Soviet space station design. I have not been able to discover any details about the station, except that the model is apparently hanging in some Russian museum.

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