|Figure 1: AEMOS Model|
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Sunday, May 13, 2012
Moving Into Space: A Different Approach to Space Exploration – Parts 1:12
Part 6: Sustaining a Settlement
Part 7: Powering the Settlement
Part 8: Feeding the Settlement
Part 9: Planning for the Hazards
Part 10: Good Asteroid Plating Makes for Good Neighbors
Part 11: Harvesting Space
Part 12: The Holistic Event, the Big Picture and the Future of Humankind
Moving Into Space: A Different Approach to Space Exploration – Part 6 of 12
Part 6: Sustaining a Settlement
By Scott Conover
The means, the methods and the resources available to a potential explorer all have a powerful impact on one’s capacity to engage in long-term activities in space. Whether one is considering the short-term implications of remaining in space longer than a few missions, or if one is determined to settle into space for an extended period of time, a question arises: “How does one do so at a sustainable cost?” The answer lies in considering how one will acquire resources for further exploration, harvesting and even settlement. In order for any settlement to achieve a modicum of success, it is necessary for the settlement to possess the means, methods and resources to be not only self-sustaining, but also capable of future growth beyond itself.
The initial settlement point selected should possess two primary attributes: first, it should possess numerous raw materials for processing and usage in more advanced processes, such as for manufacturing, construction and infrastructure. Second, the initial settlement point should also possess the means to act as a nexus to receive the initial resources necessary to begin any extraction of raw materials, exploration activity and the initialization of a settlement.
As mentioned earlier, an asteroid makes an excellent initial point of settlement and activity. Asteroids, if selected carefully, possess numerous natural resources in the form of metals, which can be extracted for processing and in use in manufacturing, infrastructure development and even for sale to Earth-based organizations. Asteroids also act as physical barriers to many hazards, from passing matter to radiation from the Sun. If a Near-Earth Object (NEO) is selected, there can also be some very limited benefit from the Earth's magnetic field, as well as better access to incoming materials from Earth.
One possible model for considering how to make use of an asteroid for extraction and settlement purposes is AEMOS: Asteroid Exploration, Mining and Operations Settlement. The purpose of AEMOS is to provide a point of entry to space exploration for would-be space entrepreneurs, space explorers and space-based researchers. By making such a point of entry self-sustaining, multi-purpose and with permanent residency available, it is possible to fully make use of Near-Earth resources and initialize settlement of NEOs.
The AEMOS model centers around a primary purpose - selected by the would-be human space dwellers - and at least six general settlement attributes. While many agencies may view the primary purpose of space-based activity as scientific in nature, it is possible for entrepreneurial, industrial and extraction-based activities to be the focus as well. In fact, while the focus on scientific endeavor will provide many useful applications and concepts in the form of applied and basic research, respectively, it is likely that industry and settlement will provide the impetus for a mass movement into space.
The six general settlement attributes are likely to be shared among the vast majority of asteroid settlements. As per Figure 1: AEMOS Model, they are as follows: Shared Asteroid Characteristics (Asteroid), a Hollow Center, Ion Thrusters for Spin and Mobility, Solar Panels on the asteroid surface, a Back-up Reactor, and Living Space set between the surface of the asteroid and its hollow core.
Shared Asteroid Characteristics
In general, a properly selected asteroid will contain many metals for extraction, processing and use in settlement growth and expansion. This is especially important for commercial applications, but the fact is that any scientific endeavor will require metals for various activities and exploration missions, such as in the form of space-based manufacturing.
Moreover, the asteroid should be general rounded, in the sense that as the settlement becomes operational, there should be work invested ensuring that the asteroid is roughly oval. Better yet, a roughly oval asteroid should be selected as a settlement point. This may ease the requirements and/or computational algorithms for moving the asteroid or creating a spin on the asteroid.
Also, in order to maintain close contact with Earth and to better manage the supply chain, it is also suggested that the selected asteroid is a NEO, so as to minimize the technical and business freight requirements to and from the asteroid.
A Hollow Center
The selected asteroid should be hollow in the core and through the other side. There are several reasons to use a hollow center. First, it becomes possible to deliver to any point of the asteroid's interior, as the network is made from the core region of the asteroid. Second, it is possible to move into the asteroid from at least two sides, which eases traffic and entry into the asteroid. Third, the use of a hollow core provides the human explorers with the capacity to dock with the asteroid without compromising the surface of the asteroid, which improves the use of the outer layer as a hull and protective layer against various space hazards.
Fourth and lastly, if a stable spin is placed on the asteroid using ion thrusters to generate artificial gravity, the center of the asteroid may be used as a "null point", where transport vessels can easily dock and unload cargo to the asteroid.
To provide the asteroid with the capacity to set artificial gravity vis a vis centrifugal force, ion thrusters should be placed onto the surface of the asteroid. While the ion thrusters would provide small amounts of thrust at a time, sufficient acceleration will provide quasi-Earth gravity levels for the living space in the asteroid. A series of computers or a highly advanced computer should be used to calculate, simulate and engage an algorithm which controls the direction and force of the ion drives, in order to optimize energy usage and maximally approximate earth-normal conditions for the living space.
The ion thrusters should operate using solar energy, such as photovoltaic technology or thermal-based technology, with a thorium reactor acting as a back-up and leveling power supply. The ion thrusters could also used in conjunction with the thorium reactor for moving the asteroid to different locations in proximity to the Earth. This could be useful for continuing resource extraction, exploration and endeavors of scientific and/or other significance.
The use of solar energy technology provides human explorers with a relatively constant source of energy. While such technology may provide inadequate for major applications, such as moving the asteroid, it could prove very useful in daily operations. Such operations could include general manufacturing operations, powering of the ion thrusters and extraction efforts.
A back-up reactor is essential for any asteroid installation. Should solar technology provide inadequate during key events or during high power consumption processes, a back-up reactor would provide the necessary power to deal with emergencies or deal with serious operations. While many options exist for back-up reactors in the form of nuclear power, a promising technology for space exploration is based on Thorium, which is relatively safe given its potential for energy. As Thorium reactors may prove to be highly scalable, such technology may also be applied to small-scale transport and exploration vessels.
A key part of any space-based installation is the development of living space. Such a living space should be set optimally between the asteroid surface and the hollow core, both in terms of protection against space-based hazards, and in terms of maintaining near-earth conditions. In essence, the living space of the asteroid should be set in a loop around the hollow core and set in relation to the relative spin of the asteroid. In this way, the living space may be set at near-earth conditions the majority of the time. Such living spaces may also be used for growing food, raising lifestock and a variety of recycling functions as well.
While there are many ways in which human explorers, entrepreneurs and industrialists may initialize a settlement, using a (somewhat) round asteroid containing large quantities of useful metals is an excellent base. For long-term exploration, scientific endeavor and extraction efforts, it is imperative to make the asteroid as liveable as possible. At the same time, it is also essential to avoid undermining either the structural integrity of the asteroid or the functionality of the asteroid as a base.
In short, the AEMOS model provides a conceptualization as to how one can sustain a settlement in space. By utilizing the native resources of the asteroid, one can not only use the asteroid as self-sustaining base of operations, one can also provide the foundation for future growth to the entire near-Earth, and perhaps that of the entire Solar System.
One does not need to dream to consider settling in space. One needs to plan, to be aware of needed resources, and to model an approach to acquiring, processing and using those resources. AEMOS is such a model - to use an asteroid as a base, to make it livable, and to make it mobile - so that space is not simply a mystery, but a glorious black sky to explore to the edges of our understanding - and beyond.
Copyright 2012 Scott Conover