City in orbit

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City in orbit
City in orbit

Will the orbiting city become a refuge for people in the event of a global catastrophe? Will he be able to act as a platform for space flights? Is there even a hypothetical possibility to create it? Let's look for the answer together.

Orbital city

Problems and prospects

The difference between a space settlement and a familiar orbital station is in size. The diameter of the space towns can reach more than 8 km, and the length - more than 30 km. Such a settlement will be able to accommodate from 10 to 140 thousand inhabitants. Psychologists have calculated that for normal life, the pressurized space of the station should be 670 thousand m2.

Of course, it will be incredibly difficult to implement something like this in practice, but such projects have objective prerequisites. Let's start with the resource of our planet. How much longer will the Earth withstand such "spinning gnaws" as we are? Predictions of an ecological disaster sound more and more convincing. Moreover, the realities are such that it is impossible to find a solution to these problems. Suppose Western countries reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to a minimum. But will China or India take this path to the detriment of their economy?..

There are not so many options for salvation for a person. The moon is relatively close, but it is very difficult to live there. On the "sunny" side of the companion there is heat, on the "shadow" side - fierce cold. There is no atmosphere, no reliable protection from radiation. Mars is also not hospitable: frost, very thin atmosphere, low gravity.


An orbital city will avoid some of these problems. The main advantage is gravity. The space city can rotate around its axis (the so-called "donut city"), and due to this, engineers plan to achieve artificial gravity. For convenience, living quarters can be placed where gravity would be strongest. Another important point is the efficiency of flights. Indeed, getting to a space station in Earth orbit is much cheaper than flying to Mars or the Moon.

Bagel city

Paradoxically, orbital cities are more likely something from the past, not the future. Engineers of the mid-20th century could easily imagine how at the end of the century people would live aboard a giant spacecraft. Now it is very difficult to imagine something like this (even in the distant future). Humanity has come to the conclusion that saving resources is much more important than implementing the next “construction of the century”.

The idea of ​​space settlements was popularized by science fiction writer Larry Niven (Laurence van Cott Niven) - his series of four novels "The World-Ring" won worldwide fame. The first book was published in 1970. The work has won many awards and prizes, although experts have emphasized that such a ring is unstable.

For the first time, the idea of ​​an orbital city was voiced by the great Russian scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. It was he who proposed to create cities that would rotate on their axis and resemble rings or donuts in shape. In 1952, the German and (later) American scientist Wernher Magnus Maximilian Freiherr von Braun published his article, where he convincingly argued the need to create such settlements. In the same material, the reader could for the first time see the notorious donut city, which was nicknamed the toroidal settlement (or "tor"). In the 1960s, the idea was picked up and developed by experts from the American Society of Astronautics.

Stanford torus

In the mid-1970s, a detailed project of space settlements appeared. Rather, not one, but three - all of them were created by specialists collaborating with NASA at Stanford University. One of the projects was called the Stanford Torus.It was truly a giant space station, shaped like a ring. The diameter of the settlement was 1.8 km, and its territory could accommodate from 10 to 140 thousand people. The central part of the structure remained motionless, and the revolution of the ring around it took one minute.

The theme of space settlements is developed in the film "Elysium: Heaven is not on Earth". According to the plot, the Earth of the future has become an environmentally polluted and simply dangerous place. The entire earthly elite began to live aboard a giant space station. Elysium is somewhat reminiscent of the "Stanford Thor", albeit somewhat modified.


The object was a closed ecosystem. From the inside, the “donut” ring was seen by its creators as a huge natural valley where plants and animals could be raised. The axis of the station had mirrors that were supposed to reflect light onto the inner side of the torus ring. In this original way, the city received sunlight.


In the center of the structure was a hub, which was connected to the ring by six corridors. It was possible to move along them on foot or with the help of transport. Due to the least gravity, the center section was best suited for the role of a docking station. Ships from Earth would fly to the Stanford Tor and go back to Earth.

The orbital city could weigh nearly 10 million tons. Obviously, it was impossible to assemble such a colossus in a short time, and the creation of the torus could take decades. Station materials are another sore point. According to the plans, most of them were to be delivered from the moon - for this it was supposed to use an electromagnetic catapult.

Bernal's Sphere

The Bernal Sphere, named after its mastermind John Desmond Bernal, is a slightly different take on space settlements. Back in 1929, this English physicist, sociologist and public figure proposed to build an entire city in orbit. Already in those distant years, the scientist foresaw the problems of modern civilization and proposed to solve them in such an original way for his time.


According to the initial plans, the population of the orbital city could be up to 30 thousand people, and the diameter of the sphere would reach 1.6 km.

In the mid-1970s, researchers at Stanford University proposed a simplified version of the Bernal Sphere. According to the idea of ​​the American physicist Gerard O'Neill (Gerard Kitchen O'Neill), the diameter of the sphere could reach not 1, 6 km, but only 500 m. Accordingly, the population of such a station could be, at most, a thousand people. The object was named "Island I". Some time later, a much more ambitious project appeared - "Island II". Now "Bernal's Sphere" has become similar to its distant prototype, transforming from a large space station into a huge settlement in orbit.


The diameter of "Island II" was 1.8 km, and up to 140 thousand people could be accommodated on its territory. Dimensions aside, all of the other Bernal Spheres were similar. They were gigantic space stations suitable for permanent life. The living quarters were located inside a rotating structure - due to this, artificial gravity was created.

Due to the spherical shape, the scientists wanted to avoid problems with radiation: the area of ​​the outer surface of the "Bernal Sphere" is optimal from the point of view of radiation protection. The internal volumes are sufficient to create a closed ecosystem. The size of the object and the number of its inhabitants (if we talk specifically about the "Island II" project) were not taken from the ceiling - according to scientists, only such a volume of the sphere will make it possible to create a city capable of self-sufficiency. For a normal life, "Bernal's Sphere" had to have its own industry and agriculture. As in the case of the Stanford Torus, the sun's light had to come to the station thanks to a special system of mirrors.

O'Neill Cylinders

The third known space settlement project is the O'Neill Cylinders (another name is Island III, although the concept has significant differences compared to the Bernal Spheres). "Island III" consists of two cylinders rotating in opposite directions. Each is 8 km in diameter and nearly 32 km long. Each cylinder has an outer ring with a diameter of up to 16 km. The rotation of the cylinders should create artificial gravity - for this they need to make about forty turns per hour. The atmospheric pressure inside the station was supposed to be half that of the earth.

The most incredible space structure can be considered the "Dyson Sphere". It was named after its creator, the American theoretical physicist Freeman John Dyson. The astroengineering structure is a spherical shell with a star inside. Such an object can use the energy of the star to the maximum, but its implementation remains the lot of the very distant future. One of the fundamental problems of the "Dyson Sphere" is the impossibility of balancing the gravitational force of the central luminary. Thus, the threat of self-destruction is high.

Each of the two modules is divided into six equal spaces - three of them were intended for housing. Giant transparent windows had to let light through, heavy-duty frames divided the windows into small parts so that damage to one area could not lead to a disaster.


All these projects (Stanford Torus, Bernal Sphere, O'Neill Cylinders) took off in the mid-1970s and were refined by enthusiasts in the following decades. On their basis, other designers also developed their ideas. And although these concepts have attracted attention more than once, no one has undertaken to name the exact timing of implementation. As for the financial side of the issue, the price of such a project could be $ 190 billion (and this is - by the standards of the mid-1970s!).

Kalpana one

In our time, when, it would seem, the romance of space flights is a thing of the past, the ideas of space settlements still continue to develop. Of course, the scale of ideas is much more modest, and this topic has become the lot of amateurs, not professionals.


One of the most famous ideas for space settlements was the Mars One project (read about it in the last issue of the magazine). As part of the project, a group of people will have to survive in the harsh Martian conditions. It is led by the Dutchman Bas Lansdorp. The first group of humans will be four people and are scheduled to land on Mars today in 2025. People's lives will be broadcast live - this will help to recoup the project. However, many experts consider the project a gamble.

NASA hosts a Space Settlement Contest every year, where young talents from around the world showcase ideas for orbital settlements. Well-known Canadian artist Bryan Versteeg recently showed something similar. Its concept was named Kalpana One.

At one time, the Biosphere-2 project, which was created in the United States by billionaire Edward Basse and Space Biosphere Ventures, could answer some questions related to the creation of space settlements. The main task of the project was to find out whether a person can live in an autonomous ecosystem. The area of ​​the sealed buildings occupied 1.5 hectares. For two years (from 1991 to 1993) eight people lived on its territory. In principle, the experiment can be considered unsuccessful, since after the introduction, conflicts began to flare up between people, and one of the participants in the experiment lost a finger at all.


It presents a more realistic vision of the grand ideas of the 1970s. The radius of the cylindrical space station is 250 m, and its length is 325 m. Up to 3 thousand people can be on board. The creators of the space settlement claim that the latest advances in science and technology were taken into account in its development. So, the choice of an oblong shape for a cosmograd is due to new data from scientific experiments.It is also pointed out that some of the past developments were utopian because they had low stability.


But now, according to the engineers, all these problems have been solved. In one minute, Kalpana One makes two complete revolutions around its axis. On board the station, a person feels at home, since gravity is practically the same as on Earth. Comfortable housing, parks, sports grounds - all this is on board Kalpana One. But playing tennis, for example, will be difficult here, since the physics of the flight of the ball will seem unusual.

The main challenges

Scientist at the Ames Research Center (NASA) Dr. Albert Globus, claims that the creation of the first space settlement will be possible by 2100. The construction of such colonies will significantly accelerate space exploration, because spaceships will be able to launch from an orbital platform. This will make their operation more cost-effective due to weightlessness. As you know, overcoming the first 150 km by a rocket during a ground launch is the most costly stage of the flight.


It would seem that the benefits of creating an orbital settlement are obvious, but this task is associated with very real risks. Space settlements are truly huge, and how to avoid collisions with meteorites is unclear. Meeting even one of them can lead to disaster. Another problem is terrorist attacks. In our time, the threat of terrorism is more relevant than ever (in the future, this threat will not disappear anywhere): will it be possible to protect the station from such dangers? There is no answer to this question yet. Radiation has become an important issue. American specialists considered, for example, the option of creating passive protection, which would reach 4.5 tons per m2 of outer walls. The total weight of the passive protection could reach 9, 9 million tons. Naturally, the task of delivering such a load to orbit was daunting.

There is no point in talking about fuel or food in this particular case. And so it is clear that these issues have not been fully resolved, and the idea of ​​taking raw materials from the Moon looks too fantastic. Perhaps a space elevator can come to the rescue, but now its prospects are also very vague.

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