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.
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.
To which I would add:
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.
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.
Meat is going to be more difficult to produce. In order of increasing difficulty it goes something like yeast, insects, carniculture, aquaponics, synthetics, and livestock. Yeast can be grown in a flask. You ain't gonna have beef or pork unless your agro station is really huge, like an L5 colony or bubble asteroid.
In Larry Niven's Known Space novels, the Belters have no food animals larger than a chicken. And those are rare, most Belter food is vegetarian.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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: Letter Type Notes G Geosynchronous Station orbits with a period of 1 day H High orbit Station orbits thousands of miles up I Interstellar Station is in intersellar space far from any gravity source L Low orbit Station orbits just above the atmosphere P Planetary orbit Station orbits a star T Trojan orbit Station occupies a Lagrange point Second Letter: Letter Type Notes A Agriculture Food-producing station B Base Forward base to support spaceships C Construction Orbital shipyard D Defense Armed military station E Endangerment Scientific research isolab for Apocalypse level ≥ Class 1 F Fuel Fuel refining and storage facility G General Multipurpose station H Habitat Residential colony I Industrial Orbital factory or smelting plant M Meteorology Weather-monitoring station N Navigational Navigational aid, interstellar lighthouse at cosmic hazard, etc. O Observation Station monitoring planet below P Powersat Large solar power satellite Q Quarantine Medical isolation station R Research Scientific station S Spaceport Orbiting spaceport Third Letter: Letter Type Habitable Size D Depot 0-999 cubic meters, 0-9 crew O Outpost 1,000 cubic meters, up to 10 crew S Station 1,001-50,000 cubic meters, 11-100 crew B Base 50,001 cubic meters or more (typically at least 1 million),
101 crew or more
C Colony 50 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)
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.
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.
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.
This is from First Low Earth Orbit Station as base for Asteroid Mining (2008)
The paper notes that asteroid mining ain't gonna get off the ground without a staging base in Low Earth Orbit. That 7.6 kilometers per second of delta-V needed to boost anything into LEO is just too blasted expensive.
The paper's analysis finds that a logistical base in LEO will be needed to:
- spacecraft assembly
- orbital propellant depot
- asteroid ore refinery
- using asteroid ore to manufacture fuel and orbital construction materials to be sold in orbit
- refining platinum group metal bullion to be sold on Terra
The space station design in the report features a large pressurizable free-fall garage ("dry dock") for spacecraft servicing and assembly. Adjacent is the anti-radiation storm cellar. These are housed in a stationary cylinder called a "stator."
Attached to the stator is a centrifuge for artifical gravity. The centrifuge has a radius of 100 meters and spins at 3 rpms, resulting in 1 gee of artificial gravity at the centrifuge rim. The rim has one habitat module, with a counterweight on the other side of the rim. The centrifuge is attached to the stator by magnetic bearings. To counter rotational instability and precession, the station has a long boom attached to the stator and tidally locked to Terra (it is always pointing "down"). In addition the rotational plane of the centrifuge will be parallel to the plane of the orbit to further avoid precession problems.
The station will orbit at an altitude of 500 to 800 kilometers.
Tranfer of crew from the stator to the centrifuge is by a "synchromesh airlock". This is a pressurized capsule with docking hatches on both ends, riding on a rail. It starts docked to the stator. Crew opens the stator and synch airlock hatches, moves from stator into synch airlock, then closes both hatches. Synch airlock moves along rail towards the centrifuge hatch, while simultaneously spinning up to match spin with centrifuge. By the time the synch airlock reaches the centrifuge hub it has the same spin, so easily docks with the hub. The hatches then open to allow crew to enter the centrifuge.
Economically speaking the station and asteroid mining operations represent a catch-22 situation. Meaning that an asteroid mining industry cannot be created until the station is in place, but at the same time the station cannot earn its keep until there is an asteroid mining industry to use it. The solution is for the station to service and refuel Terra local satellites and spacecraft for its income.
- Accept and store materials coming up from Terra, ie. construction materials, fuels, etc.
- Accept densely packed and crated parts coming up from Terra for assembly in orbit.
- Assemble equipment in zero gee for deployment in orbit.
- Assemble and fuel deep-space probes exploring beyond Terra orbit.
- Service equipment and structures in orbit.
- Provide secure working conditions for humans, ie. robust life support, living and working at 1 gee as much as possible, with protection from radiation.
- Provide sustained partial gee facilities for conducting partial gee research.
all of phase one, plus:
- Accept and store semiprocessed materials coming from asteroids.
- Produce and tank fuel processed from volatiles coming from asteroids.
- Produce construction materials from semiprocessed raw material coming from asteroids and deploy them for constructions in LEO.
- Produce bars of bullion of PGMs and drop them from orbit to Terra.
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.
|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|
|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
|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.
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.
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 False Steps blog explained why the concept sank without a trace.
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.
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.
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", "Dudnik", "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.
- An Atlas is boosted into a 640 kilometers high orbit, arriving with empty tanks. It will become the hull of the station.
- 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.
- Using the gliders, the alpha crew moves the equipment from the cargo vehicle to the empty Atlas.
- The alpha crew installs in the Atlas emergency power (batteries), water, and oxgen supply systems.
- 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.
- The alpha crew returns to Terra via their two gliders.
- 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.
- 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.
- The beta crew returns to Terra via their two gliders.
- 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.
- The station is now operational.
- Crews are rotated once a month.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is a fictional station from the science fiction novel Orbital Decay by Allen Steele. Olympus Station is in geostationary orbit. Among other functions it houses the workers for the nearby Vulcan station which is busy building a solar power station.
I attempted to recreate the layout of the station using descriptions from the novel. Sadly not all of the modules were identified by name, so for a few I was forced to make an educated guess.
The novel does state that there are two Reclamation modules, each at opposite ends of the wheel. As it turns out, after all the known modules are placed there is only one place where there are to empty spots at opposite ends.
It states the Western Terminus (connection to west spoke) is at location 29, due to balance issues I assume the Eastern terminus would be on the direct opposite side of the wheel.
It doesn't state where the second Skycorp Office module is, but I guessed that the two would be adjacent.
It doesn't state where the eastern Rec Room is, so I guessed it would be on the opposite side of the wheel.
I found one discrepancy. The novel states that Hydroponics is adjacent to Data Processing in a couple of spots. However, when the known modules are placed, there are three empty slots between HP and DP. As it turns out the three Life Support modules had no known location. So I made an executive decision (i.e., a retcon) that life support goes in the empty hole, and the station assumes that life support is synonymous with hydroponics.
After all this there were two empty slots and two unplaced modules: Lunar Resources Lab and Astrophysics Lab. I didn't know which went where, so I flipped a coin.
WHEEL MODULE LOCATION
Eastern Hemisphere01 Hydroponics
03 Life Support ?
04 Life Support ?
05 Life Support ?
06 data processing
07 data processing
08 Terminus ?
09 Reclamation ?
10 Lunar Resources Lab ?
21 Rec Room East ?
Western Hemisphere22 Astrophysics Lab ?
23 Skycorp Office ?
24 Skycorp Office
25 Wardroom (mess)
26 Wardroom (mess)
27 Wardroom (mess)
28 Wardroom (mess)
30 Reclamation ?
39 Rec Room West
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. His 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".
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.