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.


      The space station, with all its potentialities for exploration of the universe, for all kinds of scientific progress, for the preservation of peace or for the destruction of civilization, can be built. When the decision has been reached and the funds have been appropriated, the rest is only a matter of time. Many factors make the station inevitable—not the least the insatiable curiosity that has sent man across the oceans and finally into the air. Perhaps the military reasons for building such a station are in the long run the least significant, but in the existing state of the world they are the most urgent. Unless a space station is established with the aim of preserving peace, it may be created as an unparalleled agent of destruction—or there may not be time to build it at all.

     Under the impetus of their considerations, perhaps the space station will become a reality, not a generation hence, but in—say—1963.

From ACROSS THE SPACE FRONTIER by Wernher von Braun (1952)

Station Functions

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

Food-producing station
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).
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.
Orbital propellant depot. Fuel refining and storage facility
Residential colony
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.
Weather-monitoring station
Station monitoring the planet below. News media, military spy satellite, tracking global ocean and air traffic, remote listening post, etc.
Large solar power satellite, beaming energy to clients via microwaves
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.
Scientific research. This can be for research that requires microgravity, or the station can be located near an interesting planet or astronomical phenomenon.
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.
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.
Border Observation Post
Small military station monitoring the boarder or neutral zone between their empire and the adjacent one. They will sound the alarm at the first sight of an enemy invasion.
Communication Relay
Most forms of communication have a maximum range, whether real-world or some handwavium faster-than-light comm. To establish communication lines between bases or colonies beyond the maximum range, a series of communication relays will have to be established to bridge the gap. Generally these will be located in remote lonely stretches of space. The relays may be uncrewed automatic satellite, but all too often they will have a life crew. Just keep in mind, before you go blowing up relays: the owners have no sense of humor and will hunt you down like an animal.
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. The astromilitary may have station hospitals focused on healing soldiers wounded in warfare, the hospitals may be capable of being dragged close to the battlefront by space tugs.
Ghost Town
A ghost town is the abandoned skeletal remains of a space station that was formerly a boomtown.
Short or long term living quarters for people. Generally includes restaurants of various quality.
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.
This is the science-fictional version of some kind of spacecraft navigational aid. Whether an interstellar GPS, LORAN, or merely a futuristic lighthouse using a laser beacon to warn ships away from some hard-to-spot black hole.
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 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 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)

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

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

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

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)

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)

Agricultural Station

People gotta eat. So an extensive human presence in space implies space farms. Presumably something fancier than algae tanks. Maybe even fancier than hydroponics.

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.


(ed note: "Belters" are people living in space colonies located in the asteroid belt)

      The top of the Palace Hotel was a four-sided dome that showed two views of reality. For the east and West quadrants looked out on Vesta, but the north and south quadrants were holograph projections of some mountainous part of Earth. "It's a looped tape, several days long," Alice told him. "Taken from a car cruising at ground level. This looks like morning in Switzerland."
     "It does," he agreed. The vodka martini was hitting him hard. He'd skipped lunch, and now his belly was a yawning vacuum. "Tell me about Belter foods."
     "Well, the Palace is mainly french flatlander cooking."
     "I'd like to try Belter cooking. Tomorrow?"
     "Honestly, Roy, I got spoiled on Earth. I'll take you to a Belter place tomorrow, but I don't think you'll find any new taste thrills. Food's too expensive here to do much experimental cooking.
     "Too bad." He glanced at the menu on a waiter's chest, and recoiled. "Ye gods. The prices!"
     "This is as expensive as it gets. At the other end is dole yeast, which is free—"
     "—and barely worth it. If you're down and out it'll keep you fed, and it practically grows itself. Normal Belter cooking is almost vegetarian except for chicken and eggs. We grow chickens in most of the larger domes. Beef and pork we have to grow in the bubble-formed worlds, and seafood—well, we have to ship it up. Some comes freeze-dried; that's cheaper."
     They punched their orders into a waiter's keyboard. On Earth a restaurant this expensive would at least have featured human waiters. . . but Roy somehow couldn't imagine a Belter playing the role of waiter.
     The steaks Diane were too small, the vegetables varied and plentiful. Alice tore in with a gusto he admired. "I missed this," she said. "On Earth I had to take up backpacking to work off all I was eating."

From PROTECTOR by Larry Niven (1973)

(ed note: Clarke County is an L5 space colony)

Torus S-16 was sometimes known as the Bamboo Farm. Unlike the other agricultural tori in the colony, which specialized in either food crops or algae production and thus were lined with long rows of hydroponics tanks, the Bamboo Farm resembled the Okefenokee Swamp. Instead of tanks, the upward-curving floor of Torus 16 was covered with vast, shallow pools of water and Mississippi Delta mud, imported at great cost from Earth. From this artificial swamp grew tall, dense glades of Arundinaria Japonica: Japanese bamboo.

The reason for bamboo cultivation in Clarke County were simple and practical. it was necessary to maintain an inexpensive, renewable supply of building material for structures within the colony; new walls were always being built, new homes and offices were always being planned. Yet it was prohibitively expensive to import huge amounts of wood from Earth, and even genetically tailored species of timber took much too long to grow in the colony, although a relative handful of decorative trees had been transplanted and grown in the biosphere and habitation tori. While lunar concrete was cheap and available resource—most of the larger structures, like the LaGrange Hotel, Bird Stadium, and the campus buildings of the International Space University were built with mooncrete—something less utilitarian than mooncrete was desired for houses, shops, and other small buildings.

The New Ark came up with bamboo as the perfect substitute. On Earth, the American strain of Japanese bamboo grew to heights of ten feet; in the lesser gravity of the space colony the reeds often topped twenty feet. Bamboo grows much faster than trees, and as a cultivated crop, requires less management. Since buildings in Clarke County were not subject to strong winds or extremes of temperature and only occasional rainfall, lightweight bamboo walls were more than adequate. It gave the homes in Big Sky and in the habitat tori a definite gone-native look., but the houses were sturdy and easily built.

As a bonus, surplus stalks were milled and refined as paper—one more item that did not have to be imported from Earth. Also, Clarke County paper was used extensively on the Moon and Mars, which provided an additional boost to the colony's economy.

From CLARKE COUNTY, SPACE by Allen Steele (1990)

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.


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.

First Letter:
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:
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)

      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)

      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 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.


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.


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

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)


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.


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.

Orbital Drydock

This section has been moved here

Spacecraft Certification

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Space Superiority Platform

This section has been moved here


Alpha LEOstation

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:

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.

Phase One:

  • 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.

Phase Two:

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.

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
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
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
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.

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.


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", "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 built 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.


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.

Lockheed Modular Station

General Data
Overall length: ~2,270'
Inner Ring168
Middle Ring168
Outer Ring4
Deck Areaea: 8,680 sq. ft
Transit tubes, inner: 2
Deck Areaea: 84,320 sq. ft
Transit tubes, outer: 2
Deck Areaea: 87,880 sq. ft
Spokes: 4
Decksea: ~90
Deck Areaea: 854 sq. ft
Floor Area, total: 3,603,060 sq. ft

USSP-O5-O4: Lockheed Modular Rotating Space Station

     This Lockheed design is known only from a pair of paintings and a few lean publicity blurbs. Even the date of the design is approximate at best, first appearing publicly around 1970. The name given here is speculative.

     The concept seems more like a product of the highly optimistic mid 1960s than the more melancholy late 1960s. It is a space station on a truly vast scale. Perhaps inspired by the elegant Space Station V from "2001: A Space Odyssey,” this monster space base also featured a giant rotating wheel. But here the wheel was not a single pressurized torus but a collection of individual cylindrical modules linked together. A closeup of the modules, cut away to show three interior decks with crew and visitors, provides an estimate for scale. Based on the size of the human figures, the individual cylinders seem to be about ten meters (32.81 feet) in diameter. This might indicate that the idea was to launch the cylinders atop the ten-meter diameter Saturn V or a future derivative, possibly in a wet-lab configuration. This would require an astounding number of Saturn Vs, if true: the "wheel" was composed of an inner and outer rim, each with 168 individual cylinder modules. With the addition of four sizable toroidal "subway tunnels” connected to both fore and aft of the two rings of modules, four large spokes and a long central hub, the space transportation logistics alone would have been monumental.

     The "wheel" was connected to a central hub or axle with four sizable spokes and several hundred radial cables. At one far end of the axle were two rectangular "paddles," clearly radiators for a nuclear reactor that would presumably be located at the end of the axle. The axle would not rotate; the wheel would connect to the axle via a collar containing mechanical or, perhaps, electromagnetic bearings and some form of personnel transfer mechanism. Attached to the shorter end of the axle was a docking array, six arms splayed out to form a conical basket. At the end of each arm was a conical docking adapter that a spacecraft would carefully drift into for capture.

     No hard data has been found on this design. All of the data below comes from analysis of the two renderings and could well be inaccurate. However, assuming the analysis is even close to correct, this was a monumental concept. Each of the radiators was larger in area than the entire International Space Station; each module contained more volume than the ISS. It cannot be guessed what the gravity level was meant to be in the outermost habitat modules. The artwork depicts one additional module suspended outboard from the outermost ring of 168 modules; the space station is shown under construction, and it can be guessed that at least one more such outboard module was to be added to counterbalance the first. The CAD model made to illustrate this article included four such modules. The artwork depicts all of the modules in the two rings having no windows, but the outboard module having a number of very large windows, as well as what appears to be a dining area. These modules were clearly meant to be recreational, for the use of either off duty crew or paying customers. It doesn't seem like it would be sensible to have one full gravity in the wheel; instead it seems more likely that a fractional level of gravity would be intended… Mars gravity, Lunar gravity, something along those lines. After all, if someone wants to experience one G, Earth provides it in abundance.

     This is an intriguing concept, but almost certainly not one given serious consideration at Lockheed as anything other than a source of publicity. It it does indeed date trom 1969-70, then it dates from after the Saturn V production line had been shut down forever with virtually no chance of ever being resurrected. And a project requiring at least 400 Saturn Vs seems likely to have never had much of a chance. Still, the fact that Lockheed could propose such a vast construction with a straight face speaks to a grandeur of vision. This sort of thing faded quickly in the late 1960’s as governmental indifference and outright hostility to the space program killed the dream, and would not appear again until later in the 1970's and the appearance of solar power satellite and space colony concepts. The total floor area, which seems to have been around 3.6 million square feet, is equivalent to a square about 1,900 feet (578 meters) on a side. Compared to the likes of Skylab, Mir, ISS and any space labs currently under consideration, this would be considered "kinda big.”

From US SPACECRAFT PROJECTS NUMBER 05 by Scott Lowther (2018)

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

C. Electromagnetic Effects

     The final possible application discussed here involves the use of a tether as an electrical device. In addition to moving through space, bodies in LEO are also moving through a plasma in a magnetic field. As a result of these effects, there is a net potential difference between the bodies on either end on the order of 200 volts/km. If the tether is made of a conducting material and properly connected, a substantial current could be drawn for onboard power. A proposed design for power has been made that will deliver between 5 — 65 kilowatts continuously (13, 56, 84).

     As with any other application, there is a tradeoff with this form of electrical power generation. It induces additional drag on the station by interaction with the magnetic field during power generation. This means that the momentum of a tethered station becomes an electrical energy storage device. As electrical power is generated, the station's orbit decays. Any method of supplying additional mass to be released below the station thereby becomes a method of supplying future electrical requirements. Calculations of a station that will lower and then release a visiting orbiter 150 km below the station will generate over 9,000 kilowatt hours (kwh) of electricity without orbital decay (56).

     There is a reverse application to this power generation scheme. The Alfven Engine has been proposed by Drell et al. as a method of orbit maintenance, plane changing, orbit raising, manuvering, and excess energy conversion (13, 56, 84). If excess electrical power exists, a current flow could be forced against the potential work against the magnetic field. Theoretical efficiencies of 50% have been suggested. If this proves feasable, there exists an orbital engine with a better power to thrust efficiency than present ion engines. Another technique would be to store excess photovoltaic energy by raising altitude through the Alfven Engine during daylight periods of the orbit and use the excess to power the station during periods of darkness in the orbit.

     13. Carroll, J. A., Guidebook for Analysis of Teather Application, Final Report on Contract RH4-394049 with Martin Marietta, San Diego, Calif, March 1985

     56. Report on the Utilization of the External Tanks of the Space Transportation System, MAS8-35037, California Space Institute, University of California at San Diego, Workshop held Aug 1982, April 1983

     84. Tethers in Space — Birth and Growth of a New Avenue to Space Utilization, by G. von Tiesenhausen, NASA TM-82571, NASA/MSFC, NASA, Feb 1984

C. Space Station Architecture

     In a paper by Dr. Giuseppe Colombo et al., the use of multiple tethers and platfonns made of connected tanks is suggested as a way to fly a space station (56). The suggestion is to construct massive platfonms so as to minimize the cross sectional area into the ‘wind’. The tasks performed on the different platforms can be designed to take advantage of the separation of the two units. For example, the top platform can fuel and service OTVs, launch satellites to higher orbits, conduct scientific observations higher above the atmosphere than the lower platform. The lower platform can conduct operations that tend to contaminate the environment around the station such as materials processing, tank stripping, disassembly, cutting, and melting.

     Because it is lower in altitude and inside more of the upper atmosphere, emissions at this level will not pollute the upper level and will reenter the atmosphere sooner (l5). A lower level would also be the location of a orbiter retrieval and payload reentry operation. The space equivalent of an elevator would operate between the two levels. There would be low gravity at both levels, so any applications that require zero gravity would need to be conducted at a separate station or at the center of mass of the station. A typical schematic is detailed below.

     An additional space station architectural application would be to use a rotating station to induce artificial gravity for the station crew (14, 89). This would be advantageous in the preparing the crew for the gravities on the moon, Mars, or elsewhere. Additionally, the spinning ET based station is easy to construct, structurally sound, and capable of stopping the deterioration of the human body under weightlessness if the gravity level induced is high enough.

     14. Carroll, J.A., Personal Communications, Jul - Oct 1985

     15. Carroll, J.A., Potential On-Orbit Uses of Aluminum From the External Tank, AIAA GNOS 83-066, New Orleans, LA., Sept 1983

     56. Report on the Utilization of the External Tanks of the Space Transportation System, MAS8-35037, California Space Institute, University of California at San Diego, Workshop held Aug 1982, April 1983

     89. Vajk, J.P., Engel, J.H., Shettler, J.A., Habitat and Logistic Support Requirements for the Initiation of a Space Manufacturing Enterprise, NASA SP-429, Space Resources and Space Settlements, NASA 1979

Olympus Station

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.


      Once or twice a week, when he had a few minutes to spare at the end of his lunch break, the beamjack the others called Pop-eye would float down to Meteorology for a look at Earth. Not that it was impossible to see Earth any time he wished; he saw the planet every time he went on shift. From 22,300 miles away, it was an inescapable part of life.
     So, when he could, he would head for the weather station to borrow a few minutes on the big optical telescope. Once or twice a week, although if he could have, he would have visited Meteorology every day. But his being allowed to use the telescope at all was a personal favor extended by the bogus meteorologists and he didn’t want to risk overstaying his welcome.
     The weather station was at the south polar end of Olympus Station’s hub. To reach it from the rim, Hooker had to leave the four adjacent modules comprising the mess deck and walk down the catwalk until he reached the gangway leading down into the western terminus. On this particular day he had fifteen minutes before the beginning of his second shift, so he had to hurry. Hooker grabbed one of the two ladders in the terminus and began to climb up through the overhead hatch into the western spoke.
     As he ascended, he passed fluorescent light fixtures, fire control stations and color-coded service panels set in the cool, curving metal walls. Along the inside of the spoke were taped-up notices of one kind or another: the announcement of the Saturday movie in the rec room, reminders of deadlines for filing W-2 forms and absentee voter registration, announcements for union meetings, and ever present “Think— Safety First!” signs. The second ladder ran directly behind him; another crewman passed him, heading down to the torus, his soles clanging on the ladder rungs, echoing in the utilitarian cool.
     By the time he had climbed halfway up the spoke, most of the one-third normal gravity experienced on the rim of the station was gone, and he was not climbing the ladder so much as pulling himself forward. “Down” as a direction became meaningless; the spoke’s shaft took a horizontal rather than a vertical perspective. By the time Hooker reached the hatch leading into the hub he was clinging lightly to the ladder, experiencing zero gee. It was a sign of how long he had been on Skycan— how long, too, he had trouble recalling— that he became almost instantly acclimated, with only the slightest feeling of queasiness.
     The spoke ended at the entrance to the hub, in a central passageway running perpendicular to the rim. Another hatch opposite to the one he emerged from led to the east spoke leading back down to the other half of the torus. In one direction, the passageway led to Command/ Communications and the airlocks. In the other, toward the south pole, were Power Control and Meteorology. The soft hiss of air from the vents was drowned out by “Yesterday,” reverberating off the metal walls.
     By the time he reached the weather station at the end of the hub, passing the yellow radioactivity warning signs on the hatches leading into Power Control, the Muzak had segued into “Close To You” and Hooker was feeling closer to the edge than before. The hatch at the end of the corridor was marked “METEOROLOGY— Authorized Personnel Only.”
     The intercom crackled and he heard the voice of one of the bogus meteorologists. This one called himself Dave, but no one knew their real names. “Yeah? Whoizzit?”
     “Claude Hooker,” Popeye said. “Hey, is the telescope free now? For a few minutes?”
     The intercom was silent for a moment. Popeye imagined Dave consulting with the other two men in the crowded compartment beyond the hatch. Popeye’s out there. Wants to use the telescope. Any incoming transmissions? He hoped things were quiet in Cuba and Nicaragua today.
     The intercom crackled again. “Yeah, okay, Popeye, for a few minutes. Give us a chance to straighten up in here first, okay?”
     Hooker nodded, forgetting that Dave could not see him. The “straighten up” line was a tired old shuck. In microgravity there was no place for carelessly misplaced items; a compartment in Skycan’s hub always had to be kept shipshape. Dave and his companions were doubtless putting away long-range telephotos of Soviet silos and submarine bays and troop movements, transcripts of messages from Washington and Langley and Cheyenne Mountain.
     In a sense, the three men in the weather station did serve as meteorologists. If asked, they could confidently explain current weather patterns in the Western Hemisphere, tell a listener a high pressure system hanging over the American Midwest was causing St. Louis to feel like an anteroom of Hell or why a front coming in from the Pacific was dumping rain over northern California and Oregon.
     But everyone in Olympus Station’s hundred-person complement, except for the occasional greenhorn who happened to ask why the three meteorologists generally kept to themselves, knew that Dave and his companions Bob and John were National Security Agency analysts. They were weathermen of the world’s geopolitical climate, rather than the natural. Their meteorologist meteorologist roles were rather weak covers for their spending long hours in a compartment crammed with telescopes and radio equipment.
     The weather station was a hemispherical bulge at the end of Olympus’ hub, which was kept permanently pointed toward Earth. Half of the dome was windowed with thick Plexiglas, permitting the best view of Earth available on the space station. Arrayed around the window were various consoles and screens, the largest of which was the TV screen belonging to the telescope.
     The telescope itself was a smaller version of the big space telescope in orbit near Skycan, which was used by the astrophysics lab. It was positioned outside the dome on a yoke and was operated by a joystick on the console below the TV screen, which turned the box-shaped instrument in the direction desired. Whatever was captured in the telescope’s three-inch lens was transmitted to the TV screen inside the dome.

     I DON’T KNOW WHY We didn’t call Olympus Station “the Wheel.” In one of those grand, corny old science fiction movies of the 1950s, The Conquest of Space, there was a torus-shaped space station, and its crew called it the Wheel, but that’s not what we called ours.
     We called our wheel in space “Skycan,” which aptly summed up the living conditions. The Federation starship Enterprise it wasn’t. In fact, I can’t imagine a more boring place to live, except maybe for the Moon.
     As the name implies, it was cramped. A new extreme in coziness, you might say. Each bunkhouse module was about twenty-four feet long by six feet wide (7.3 × 1.8m), with eight bunks per module, four on each side. The bunks had accordion screens across the open sides; each bunk had its own locker, intercom, viewscreen, and computer terminal. And, except for the modules occupied by Doc Felapolous, Wallace, and Hank Luton, the construction foreman, that was the maximum amount of privacy one could get in the station. Not even the showers and johns were that private.
     Speaking of the showers: Because we had to be water-conservative, we often went days— and sometimes weeks— without bathing. You got used to it. After a while.
     From the outside, Skycan looked like a huge stylized top hanging in geosynchronous orbit. As one got closer, as during an approach from Earth or from one of the other stations, smaller spacecraft could be seen continuously moving around it: orbital-transfer vehicles (OTV) up from low Earth orbit, ferries transporting men to and from Vulcan Station, on occasion a Big Dummy or a Jarvis bringing up supplies from the Cape.
     The station consisted of forty-two modules linked together by interlocking connectors and rail-like rims running above and below the modules. On the inside of the wheel was an inner torus, an inflated passageway which connected the modules, called the “catwalk.” At the center of the wheel was the hub, a converted external tank from a Columbia-class shuttle that had been brought into high orbit by OTV tugs and transformed into the station’s operation center. It was connected to the rim modules by two spokes, which ended at terminus modules at opposite ends of the rim.
     All the modules were the same size, and had been brought up, three at a time, by Big Dummy HLV cargo ships. The modules, built at Skycorp’s Cocoa Beach facility, each had certain specialized functions. Besides the sixteen bunkhouses, there were four modules for the wardroom, or mess decks; two for Data Processing, where the computers were maintained; two for Sickbay/ Bio Research; two for the rec room; five for Hydroponics, where the algae and vegetables were grown; three for Life Support, where water and air quality and circulation was controlled; two each at opposite ends of the station for Reclamation, which purified and recycled the water and solid wastes from the bunk-houses; one for the Lunar Resources lab; one for the Astrophysics lab; and two for Skycorp’s offices, which doubled as comparatively spacious living quarters for Wallace and Luton.
     The hub was about one hundred and fifty-five feet long and twenty-eight feet wide (47.2 × 7.6m). Through the center ran a central shaft that connected the levels; the spokes ran into it at the center of the hub. At the bottom was Meteorology; above that was Power Control, which housed the RTG nuclear cells that powered the station. Above the spoke intercepts was the Command deck, the largest compartment on Skycan except for Power Control, containing the work stations for the crewmen operating Traffic Control, Communications, and other functions. Above Command was Astronaut Prep— better known as the “whiteroom” from the old NASA days— where crewmen went to prepare for EVA or for boarding spacecraft. The last level was the Multiple Target Docking Adapter, better known as the airlock or the Docks, where up to five spacecraft could dock with Skycan.
     Olympus spun, clockwise in reference to Earth, at 2.8 rpm (under the spin nausea limit), which produced at the rim an artificial gravity of one-third Earth normal. There was only microgravity, or zero gee, at the hub. When a ship prepared to link with the Docks, operators at Traffic Control activated motors that turned the module counterclockwise at 2.8 rpm. This produced the illusion that the MTDA was standing still while the rest of Skycan continued to turn, making it possible for the craft to connect without wrecking itself or the Docks.

(ed note: spin rate of 2.8 rpm and 1/3rd g implies a center-to-rim radius of 38 meters)

     Living up there produced a funny kind of orientation. At the rim, in one of the modules, “up” was in the direction of the spokes and the hub. At the hub, “down” was the modules. We had also divided the station’s rim into two hemispheres, for purposes of designation in an environment where, when one walked down the catwalk, one eventually came back to the place from which he or she had started. So Modules 1 through 21 were in the “eastern” hemisphere, with the spoke leading from that half of the station being the east spoke. Modules 22 through 42 were in the “western” hemisphere, with the spoke in that half of the station being the west spoke.
     The modules were designated by numbers, but for easy identification along the catwalk small colored panels had been affixed to the walls beside the access hatches in the floor. The modules were thus color-coded: The bunkhouses were dark blue, Hydroponics was brown, the Wardroom was yellow, Life Support and Data Processing were both gray, Sickbay was white, the rec modules were green, Reclamation was amber, the terminus modules were light blue, and the science modules were scarlet. Fortunately we didn’t have problems with colorblind personnel, since Skycorp weeded those people out in its selection process.
     The color-coding of the modules was the only bit of color one could find on Skycan. Everything was painted a flat, utilitarian gray. It added a great deal to the monotony. There were no windows except in the hub; TV screens near the ceilings next to CRT displays gave the only views of what was going on outside. Most of the furniture was bolted to the floor, and little of it seemed to have been designed with the human body in mind. Pipes and conduits ran across the ceilings and most of the walls. The lighting was white and harsh, from fluorescent tubes in the ceilings. Since the hatches were heavy and hard to shut, they were left open most of the time, except in Hydroponics and Data Processing, where certain temperatures had to be maintained, and in Reclamation, which reeked like an outhouse.
     No vacations for the guys on one-year tours of duty. One vacation to Earth for the guys on two-year contracts. It cost a thousand bucks per pound to get something up to the Clarke Orbit, so if it cost nearly $ 200,000 to send an average-sized person to Olympus Station, including the cost in job training and life support, you can bet Skycorp wouldn’t bring ’em back to Earth for a week just because he or she was getting a little bored. As stated in the fine print on the job contract, only a death in the family or a severe medical problem could get you sent temporarily back to Earth. Some of the guys with two-year contracts didn’t even bother to take their vacations; it just wasn’t worth having to go through readjusting to low-gravity life, with the usual recurrence of spacesickness that went along with it.
     So there were one hundred and thirty of us aboard that wheel in the sky: building the powersats, putting up with the boredom and cramped quarters, making money the hard way to support families or start small businesses like restaurants or game parlors when we got back home. Working, eating, sleeping, working. Getting bored.

     Mike Webb had been right. Hamilton’s trip up a shaft ladder to the hub wasn’t so bad the second time… but it was, after all, the second time in a day he had gone from a gravity field to a state of weightlessness, or near-weightlessness, so his stomach did lurch around some. But he didn’t get sick. That was a small blessing.
     But if a return to microgravitational conditions wasn’t enough to bugger his senses, then the command center was. After Jack Hamilton slid open the hatch and entered, he snatched a handhold and paused just inside the center, trying to give himself a moment to orient himself, for the deck was unlike anything he had so far seen on Olympus.
     It was by far the largest compartment in the space station, about twenty-five feet wide and thirty feet high (7.6 × 9.1m), arranged in a circular fashion around the access shaft at the center of the modified Shuttle Mark I external tank from which the hub had been built. The deck was divided into half-levels, like tiered balconies built onto the bulkhead walls opposite each other. Vertical poles— vertical, that is, in that they ran in the direction of the station’s polar axis; they could just as easily be horizontal, depending on one’s perspective in zero g— ran through the length of the compartment near each tier, and Hamilton noticed rungs welded onto the poles, indicating that they functioned as “fireman’s poles” allowing one to easily climb from one level to another. The floors of each level were open metal grids. Looking up, he could see through the floor above him two crewmen seated in front of a console. Fortunately the chairs were all bolted in the tiers in the same direction— there had to be some consistency here, he supposed, even within these strange gravitational conditions— but he was still a little disturbed to see a woman making her way, hand over hand on the rungs, headfirst down one of the poles, and another crewman floating calmly in a horizontal position next to a seated colleague. All in all, Command looked as if it had been designed by the late M.C. Escher.
     After a moment, though, he realized how logically the command deck had been designed. If there’s little or no gravity to deal with, why bother with old-fashioned notions like floors and ceilings? Each tier was apparently a work station with its own separate function. The center was dimly lighted by red fluorescent bulbs, with the bluish glow from CRT’s at the work stations giving the faces of the men and women sitting in front of them a ghostly look. At least a dozen people were working at various stations on the tiers, but the noise level was surprisingly low. Each wore a headset mike, so they could speak to others at different stations on different tiers without having to shout across the compartment. There was a weird, efficient, and somewhat sterile beauty to the place that entranced Hamilton. This was what he had imagined the inside of a space station to be like.
     Hamilton nodded, and carefully followed the crewman as they pulled themselves up— or down, according to one’s own personal perspective— a pole’s rungs to a tier that was two half-levels up and a third of the way across the deck. Hamilton found himself at the largest tier, fifteen feet long (4.6m), with a long console wrapped concave inside a bulkhead wall. There were three chairs fixed to the floor in front of the console, facing a set of computer and television screens, and in the middle one was seated Henry George Wallace, the project supervisor for Olympus Station and the Franklin Project.

(Sloane is in Module 6 {data processing 1} located between Module 5 {life support/hydroponics} and Module 7 {data processing 2}. "Connecting" or "Lateral" hatches allow you to walk from one module into an adjacent one. You climb up to the overhead hatch to enter the catwalk, which allows one to rapidly walk around inner rim of the wheel without having to open connecting hatches)     Not until he had swiveled around in his chair and seen the connecting hatch to Module 5 swinging open, did he realize that this was an interruption of the welcome variety. Jack Hamilton didn’t drop by very often, although his Hydroponics modules were adjacent to the Data Processing bay; when he did, it was usually an amiable visit.
     Hamilton stepped through the hatch and carefully closed it behind him. Walking into the compartment, he stopped and quickly looked around. “Are you alone?” he asked in a soft voice, looking over Sam’s shoulder at the open hatch leading into Module 7, the other half of the computer deck.
     Sloane nodded. Hamilton quickly stepped over to the ladder and peered up at the overhead hatch leading to the catwalk. As usual, that hatch was closed. Like Hydroponics, the computer bay’s hatches were usually kept sealed due to necessary environmental considerations. Just as Hamilton’s plants had to be kept under hothouse conditions, the mainframes of Skycan’s computer systems had to be kept in a lower-than-normal temperature. In fact, Sloane’s working section was one of the few compartments on the space station in which privacy could be assured. The overhead hatches could be locked, and could be unlocked only with a coded key-card. Data Processing was the nerve center of Olympus, and Skycorp had not taken any chances with possible sabotage when it had worked out the fine details of Skycan’s design.

From Orbital Decay by Allen Steele (1989)

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.

Terminusx2Light Blue
Bunkhousex16Dark Blue
Wardroom (mess)x4Yellow
Data processingx2Gray
Sickbay/bio researchx2White
Rec roomx2Green
Life Supportx3Gray
Skycorp Officex2??


Eastern Hemisphere

01 Hydroponics
02 Hydroponics
03 Life Support ?
04 Life Support ?
05 Life Support ?
06 data processing
07 data processing
08 Terminus ?
09 Reclamation ?
10 Lunar Resources Lab ?
11 Bunkhouse
12 Bunkhouse
13 Bunkhouse
14 Bunkhouse
15 Bunkhouse
16 Bunkhouse
17 Bunkhouse
18 Bunkhouse
19 Sickbay
20 Sickbay
21 Rec Room East ?

Western Hemisphere

22 Astrophysics Lab ?
23 Skycorp Office ?
24 Skycorp Office
25 Wardroom (mess)
26 Wardroom (mess)
27 Wardroom (mess)
28 Wardroom (mess)
29 Terminus
30 Reclamation ?
31 Bunkhouse
32 Bunkhouse
33 Bunkhouse
34 Bunkhouse
35 Bunkhouse
36 Bunkhouse
37 Bunkhouse
38 Bunkhouse
39 Rec Room West
40 Hydroponics
41 Hydroponics
42 Hydroponics

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. 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".

Fortress on a Skyhook


The U.S. is working on plans for a satellite base, Defense Secretary Forrestal reveals. Take a long look at this man-made moon—and learn how it may rule the world.

     EVEN Jules Verne would be amazed at the latest activities of the U. S. Department of Defense. Secretary James Forrestal disclosed recently that his department is working on a “satellite base” to revolve around the world like a miniature moon, as a military outpost in space.
     “The earth-satellite vehicle program, which is being carried out independently by each military service, was assigned to the committee on guided missiles for coordination,” he revealed in his first annual report on the national military establishment. To provide an integrated program with resultant elimination of duplication, the committee recommended that current efforts in this field be limited to studies and component designs. Well defined areas of research have been allocated to each of the three military departments.”
     There is considerable speculation as to just how far this program is meant to go. An earth satellite may be almost anything. It can range from a tiny bit of matter, projected into space for astronomical observation, to a permanent fortress on a skyhook.
     We have already tried to hurl metal slugs into space. Last year (1948) at White Sands Proving Grounds, New Mexico, a V-2 rocket began firing these little man-made meteorites at 10-second intervals after reaching an altitude of 120,000 feet. The rocket zoomed up 111 miles above the earth and technical experts hoped that some of the slugs would escape the earth’s gravity so that they could be studied as tiny satellites. From all reports, this space experiment was a failure.

     No one but the scientists and the top brass know the exact nature of the next effort. It may be a preliminary, unmanned rocket, equipped with automatic instruments and a radio telemetering device for sending their data back to earth.
     On the other hand, rocket development may have advanced far enough for us actually to build a small space ship. Such a rocket could carry several scientists on a limited observation flight around the globe, then return to base before exhausting its air supply.
     Finally, with experience gained from this trial flight into space, we could plan a bigger ship that would transport the first prefabricated units for assembling a base in the sky.

     During World War II, the Nazis toyed with the idea of setting up a mirror platform in space to beam the concentrated rays of the sun in a deadly “sun-gun.” The first official hint that the U. S. was considering plans for its own secret weapon in space came to light in April, 1946. General Curtis E. LeMay had a cryptic item buried in an announcement then of his research program. A brief passage in this report called for development of “flight and survival equipment for use above the atmosphere, including space vehicles, space bases and devices for use therein.”

     With the rapid progress of scientific research in the past few years, we have seen the birth of atomic power and the phenomenal growth of aviation engines from wind-milling motors to mighty rockets streaking a plane like the Bell X-l at a supersonic speed of 1700 mph. Unmanned rockets, like the Navy’s new Neptune, are nearly ready to outstrip the Nazis’ sensational V-2 and nudge the 250-mile mark. That will put today’s rockets already well out of the earth’s atmosphere and almost half way to space-station altitude.
     The atomic power plant is about to solve many of the problems of space travel. The virtually unlimited power of the atom engine will enable the rocket to pick up speed gradually. Atomic energy’s almost infinite duration contrasts with the prodigious fuel load a chemical rocket would need merely to escape the earth’s gravity. Such a rocket would require a fuel tank as big as an ocean-liner to flash it out of the world at the minimum theoretical speed of 5 miles a second. In short, the atomic engine’s virtues make it almost ideal for a space ship.
     Almost, for there are some disadvantages too—such as radiation shielding and the dissipation of the enormous excess heat generated by the reactor. That heat hits the incredible figure of 600 billion degrees!
     These problems are being tackled one by one. Atom experts are developing light, composite shields, which reflect neutrons with one material and absorb the deadly gamma rays with another. With some of the best brains in the country on the job, even that terrific heat and the bugs common to all new mechanisms and processes soon will be conquered.
     Of course, in the coming space ship the atomic reactor will merely replace chemical fuel in providing heat for gas expansion. At super-atmospheric altitudes, where air is absent, some other working gas must be expanded and ejected through the jet nozzle to produce thrust. This gas will have to be carried in tanks.
     At the moment, the odds favor an open-jet engine, with hydrogen as a working fluid.

     A space ship designed around such a power plant is shown in the illustration for this article. Intended for exploratory cruises in space, and later, for use as a supply tender to a large, permanent satellite base, the craft is equipped with the heavy-duty landing-gear necessary in frequent shuttle trips. The three landing legs incorporate long travel shock-absorbers, are self-leveling for touch-down on rough terrain and are fully retractable in flight. The wells that contain these legs have ladders leading to the various decks. When unfolded, the inner surfaces of the lower elements form runways to the ground for emergency access. The space-ship tender is 200 feet long and 33 feet in diameter with its landing-gear retracted.
     Pressurization, oxygen supply and air conditioning for the tender would be old stories to designers of modern transports. Instruments, communications radio and navigational radar may be readily adapted from exiting apparatus. Compact, powerful, liquid-fuel rocket motors are available for takeoff and landing. The Air Force already has designed flying suits that would need only slight modification for use in space. The only real lack, then, is a suitable power plant. And that’s on the way!
     Given an atomic rocket ship, capable of limited flights into outer space, the practical problems of setting up a man-made moon as an armed base become immediately pressing.
     For a temporary, experimental outpost, a 600-mile altitude would appear the more practical, since in this pioneer stage the shorter distance would make communications and access to the outpost easier (the ISS is at 248 miles or 400 kilometers. 600 miles would put it inside the deadly Van Allen radiation belt).
     Later a 22,300-mile range would probably make a better orbit for the permanent base. Then it could be “hooked” almost anywhere in the sky in an apparently fixed position over some particular target over the earth (geostationary orbit). Also, because of the greater distance, a base 22,300 miles outward bound from our globe would make a better platform for studying cosmic rays and for scientific observations of heavenly bodies.

     A fleet of eight space ships would be required to complete the job of assembling our space base. One would be a basic-unit ship, a little longer than the base’s diameter. Five would be material ships and two, space tenders. The extra tender provides a necessary safety factor, to maintain supply service in case of damage or crackup.
     The base, however, is almost self-sufficient. By using pumpkin plants growing in soilless gardens, as a source of oxygen, the fortress makes its own atmosphere on the principle of the balanced aquarium. The commander of the base can produce heat or cold in any desired degree by means of reflective or absorptive surfaces. To keep the men from floating about like balloons in the air inside the fortress, magnetized floors and clothing will act as artificial gravity and thus help maintain normal living conditions. From the sun’s direct rays, the fortress can draw unlimited power by utilizing their heat in a steam generating plant. Reflected from a shallow, dish-shaped, sodium mirror, the rays are focused on boiler tubes encased in a black, absorptive surface. The superheated steam thus produced is piped down through the boiler-supporting stalk into a turbine-generator room below the mirror.

     The advantages offered by the fortress in the sky are tremendous. Astronomers not only could make their observations 24 hours a day but also, because of the absence of atmosphere, would find these observations infinitely sharper and more detailed than any possible on earth. Scientists could map the moon as from a low-flying plane. They could survey the more distant planets with similar ease, study their special conditions and their atmospheres and analyze their physical properties by spectrograph.

     From the military point of view, the power that mans this fortress on a skyhook can control the world. From an altitude of more than 22,000 miles, the whole earth would lie in the base’s bombsight. The fortress could launch its missiles almost with a push of the hand, to coast down on the wings of gravity. Unimpeded radar could track such a missile to the very moment of impact, then evaluate the deadly results. Search radars also would give ample warning against any counterattack by enemy rockets.
     Luckily, the nation that is actually speeding plans for this all-powerful base in space is none other than America. Because as a nation we still hate war, we may offer our projected space weapon to the United Nations to assure international order, after adequate provisions for safeguarding our own security have been guaranteed (the naive optimism expressed in that sentence would be laughable, if it was not so tragic).
     In the hands of the UN this permanent fortress on a skyhook might hang like a big “quiet” sign over our ever-brawling little world—and make that peace pretty permanent, too.

From FORTRESS ON A SKYHOOK Mechanix Illustrated April, 1949
by Frank Kinsley (1949)


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.

Space Logistics Base

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Spin-Grav Hall of Shame

Now it is really very simple. With a wheel-type space station spinning for artificial gravity, "up" is towards the wheel's center, and "down" is toward the wheel's rim.

Sadly, this is too complicated for early scifi artists to comprehend. They have this mistaken idea that "down" is towards the bottom of the picture, so the astronauts walk on the station like it was a plate. Very very wrong.

I started collection images of incorrect spin gravity space stations, and was annoyed with how many there were.

Incorrect Spin-Grav Orientation


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Space Station Problems

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Air Is Not Free

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Three Generation Rule

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