What is The Outpost?
The Outpost and habitats like it will be humanity’s home as we expand into space. As we leave our home world behind, it is vital that we retain as much of our terrestrial environment as possible for both our health and our sanity.
You can’t just put a few plants in pots and say that it reminds you of home. You must have a viable ecosystem, and that takes room — a lot of room.
When you and your family are far from Earth, you’ll need hospitals, schools, factories, cultural centers, labs, government, and a thousand other necessities. This also means great size. How big? The High Frontier Outpost will be 20 miles long and 5 miles in diameter. The shell would be composed of many modules. Each module will be a tapered hexagonal prism 300 feet across and 500 feet long. Each of them will be self-contained with life support supplies, power generation, and the steerable Ion Thruster engine.
To give an idea of the scale of a single module, imagine a city block (average 250 feet square) covered with one building 50 stories high.
Building the Outpost will be the largest single project ever, on a scale so vast that the pyramids would seem like only a child’s toy.
With 50 stories in each module plus the entire landscaped interior surface, the Outpost would have a total interior area about the size of the state of Virginia over 21,000 square miles. This is not as surprising as it may seem. For example, the land area of New York City is 302.6 square miles. However, when you consider the floor space of all the multi-story buildings in the city, the final figure would be many times that number. Now consider what that number would be if the entire city consisted of a single 50-story building. It would be 15,130 square miles of floor space.
The population of the Outpost will ultimately be millions of people who need all the support systems they require here on Earth. Beyond that, they require a breathable atmosphere for an internal volume of over 1600 cubic miles, radiation shielding, lighting, and even weather systems for the interior. Supplies would have to maintain the habitat in any emergency without outside support. Assistance from the home world could be months away.
The habitat has to rotate in order to simulate the effect of gravity on the inside. The Outpost will rotate a little less than two minutes per Revolution to give the equivalent of 1 gravity on the interior of the shell.
There would be government, a legal system, schools, hospitals, theaters, museums, every aspect of society.
This vast project could not be built on Earth. The material must come from space, from asteroids, and perhaps from the Moon. Fleets of artificial intelligence-controlled ships will collect asteroidal material and bring it to the construction area for processing. More AI-controlled robots will assemble the Outpost using 3D printing.
The vast open space inside the shell will be landscaped: a 300 square mile cylindrical park with forests and fields, lakes, and streams.
The Outpost would take years to build, and of course the interior could not be landscaped until the shell is completed. That does not mean that it could not be used until that time. Because each module is self-contained, people could live there from the moment that the first module is finished. As additional modules are added, its functionality would increase. Factory modules could ramp up production of components and accelerate the construction process.
Unlike conventional space habitats that are constructed in their final location, the Outpost can move. Each module would have a steerable Ion Thruster. Initially, this would be used to move the module into its permanent fixed location in the habitat. However, the completed Outpost would have thousands of these thrusters creating a distributed engine of immense power, capable of moving it anywhere in the solar system.
The scale of the Outpost might make it seem like an impossible project. Using conventional construction techniques, it would be. However, with robots building robots, robots gathering raw material, processing them and assembling them, it becomes possible.
When we want honey, we don’t collect pollen from flowers. The bees do our work for us. Robots will be our bees in space.
The concept of The Outpost is evolved from the O’Neill cylinder developed by Dr. Gerard O’Neill for NASA in the 1970s. It differs from the original design in many ways.
The original concept was actually two counter-rotating cylinders linked together at one end, a mechanically challenging project. The Outpost consists of a single cylinder. The reason for the counter rotating cylinders was to keep them aimed at the sun to position the three giant solar panels on each one that provided power. The Outpost will be powered primarily by nuclear power with solar only as a minor backup. If the Outpost is used in the outer solar system, solar power will not be sufficiently available to provide the necessary energy for its operation.
The distributed engine will control stability. Lighting will be artificial with full solar spectrum LEDs. These changes eliminate the second cylinder and its mechanical connection, the large fragile solar panels, and the three huge and structurally questionable windows on each cylinder.
The original design would have had a relatively thin shell landscaped on the interior. Because of the windows, only one half of the circumference of the cylinder was usable. Because the interior was open to vacuum until the shell was completed, the habitat was unusable until it was ultimately finished.
With the elimination of the windows, the usable space immediately doubles. The use of self-contained modules means that the structure will be usable during its construction even though the interior will not be landscaped until the completion of the shell. The modules will increase the usable floor space by a factor of almost 50. Because of the size of the modules, the shell is essentially 500 ft. thick, contributing to a major increase in structural strength.
The Outpost will be self-contained and able to generate its own food, air, and energy, enabling it to support its population for years at a time.
The distributed engine will allow The Outpost to be constructed where the resources are found, probably the asteroid belt, and then moved where needed. It could be moved to support a colony on Mars, study the Frozen Seas of Europa, the Kuiper belt and perhaps, in time, Beyond.
by Anyi Wen
In our previous issue, we discussed 3-D printing as a process that would be useful for constructing parts of a space habitat. The purpose of that is mainly to dramatically reduce the amount of items that would have to be transported from Earth. If we could 3-D print the structures we need for building the space habitat, that would free up more space for other resources needed for creating new homes and communities in space. But what materials would we use for 3-D printing and construction in space?
The planets in our solar system have different compositions. The four closest to the Sun, including the Earth, are solid and made out of a variety of minerals. The outer planets are gaseous, composed mostly of water and elements such as hydrogen and helium (Northwestern).
Asteroids are large objects in space that orbit the sun and are made of some of the same rocky materials the inner planets of our solar system are. They are sometimes called minor planets because they share a history from back when our solar system was being formed. If they had grown bigger and taken different paths, asteroids might have achieved planetary status. An astounding 958,318 asteroids have been recorded as of last year, ranging in size from smaller than 33 feet (10 meters) across to 329 miles (530 kilometers) long (NASA Science)!
Scientists believe asteroids contain a wealth of minerals that are key to our economy. Our knowledge of what makes up asteroids is based on observations of meteorites and analysis of samples brought back from space. Asteroids may contain clay, “gold, platinum, cobalt, zinc, tin, lead, indium, silver, copper, iron, and various rare-Earth metals” (Williams). Some may even contain frozen freshwater. We have been mining and using up these resources on Earth for so long that some of these have become scarce, or hard to find. Thus, some people have recommended asteroid mining as a solution to that. To combat the shortages of precious resources on Earth, why not import them from outer space, where there seem to be plenty of what we want and need more of?
How it Would Work
Space probes, robotic spacecrafts used for space exploration, can be sent to investigate and sometimes collect samples from asteroids that may be good candidates for mining materials from. Once the samples are analyzed back on Earth, more robots can be sent to mine from the more promising asteroids. Astronomers have already identified some noteworthy ones, such as Bennu, a Near-Earth Asteroid which “may contain an estimated $700 million USD worth of iron, hydrogen, ammonia, and nitrogen” and Psyche with its “$700 quintillion (that’s $700 trillion trillion!) worth of precious heavy metals, possibly including vast quantities of gold and platinum” (Williams). Mining robots would be equipped with different tools to collect materials, based on the terrains of the asteroids they visit. Organizations such as Planetary Resources outline such plans for making asteroid mining possible in the future.
Application to High Frontier Outpost
There is a lot of discussion about using asteroid mining to bring resources back home to Earth, but what about using these resources to build space habitats? Many of the technology and methods proposed for asteroid mining would be applicable to this goal, without some of the challenges anticipated for bringing materials back to Earth. For example, transportation and energy costs for these missions would be lower if the mined materials stay in space for manufacturing and use. There would also be less debate over whether certain materials are worth collecting; even clays and common minerals like iron and nickel would be useful for crafting parts of a space habitat using 3-D printing, from the radiation shielding down to the furniture. Using water found on local asteroids would also be more convenient and cheaper than relying on deliveries from Earth.
Asteroid mining is becoming closer every day to becoming a reality, through the teamwork between many different fields. What do you think about this topic? Email us your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org, as well as suggestions for topics you’d like to read about in future issues!
P.S. We now have a section in our newsletter for displaying the creativity of our readers! If you have written or drawn anything space-related, we’d love to publish it in a future issue. Send your work to email@example.com, with your first name and state you are from. If you are under 18 years old, please ask your parents or guardian for permission first.
For More Information
Harris, S. (2013, April 8). Your questions answered: asteroid mining.
It’s Okay to Be Smart. (2017, November 7). Asteroid Mining Will Revolutionize Our Future Economy. [Video]
Jamasmie, C. (2019, September 30). Water from near-earth asteroids could fuel space mining
NASA Science. (2019, December 19). Asteroids: In-Depth
National Space Society. (2018). NSS Roadmap to Space Settlement (3rd Edition 2018): Part Five: Asteroid Mining and Orbital Space Settlements
Northwestern University. (n.d.). What are planets made of?
Planetary Resources. (2013, November 21). Planetary Resources – The Market Problem and Radical Solution. [Youtube]
Reiner-Roth, S. (2020, March 3). Home 3D printed from locally sourced clay takes shape in Italy
Williams, M.S. (2019, August 1). Asteroid Mining: What Will It Involve and Is This the Future of Wealth?
What Does A Year In Space Do To You?
by Roxanne Lee
When considering life in space, whether on terraformed planets or orbiting habitats, one has to question what life in space will do to a human body. Space is a very different environment compared to anything on Earth, because of such things as low or non-existent gravity, unusual temperatures, and exposure to radiation. How would it affect someone’s physical or mental health? To learn more, NASA conducted an experiment investigating prolonged life in space on a human body.
To study this phenomenon, NASA’s Human Research Program established the Twins Study (NASA). The study compared the health of identical twin astronauts Scott Kelly and Mark Kelly before, during, and after astronaut Scott Kelly’s prolonged stay on the International Space Station (ISS). To learn more about Scott Kelly, you can check out this Smithsonian article. Most ISS missions typically last five to six months, but Scott Kelly stayed in space for 340 days, almost a full year from 2015 to 2016. NASA would compare the health of Scott Kelly, who would be exposed to life in space, to his brother, who would stay on Earth, as well as to fellow astronaut Mikhail Kornienko. NASA used twins in the study because twins have incredibly similar genetic makeups, and their use in studies can show the importance of both environmental and genetic factors in a given experiment (Burakoff 2019).
Ten teams of researchers each investigated a different aspect of the Kellys’ health, like their immune systems and genetics. NASA collected data for months both before and after Scott Kelly returned to Earth, and generated a massive amount of data about their findings – Over 10 billion miles of DNA were involved in the study (Mars 2018)! To learn more about their findings, you can read about them here.
Most of the changes Scott Kelly went through were minor, and reversed themselves within six months back on Earth (Mars 2018). In general, the results of the experiment indicated that a year in space didn’t produce any immediate adverse effects. For example, flu vaccines given to Scott Kelly performed the same before, during, and after the mission, indicating that the mission did not have any major effects on his immune system. On the other hand, some things had altered in unexpected ways. One of them was in his chromosomes. Chromosomes are threadlike structures that carry protein and a single molecule of DNA (NIH 2020). They carry the instructions for making a specific organism, and are passed from parent to offspring.
After his time in space, researchers noticed changes in his telomeres. Telomeres are sections of DNA at the ends of chromosomes that act similarly to aglets, the plastic tip on the end of shoelaces (yourgenome.org). Telomeres protect the ends of DNA strands so they don’t stick to other chromosomes. They also protect them during cell division. If you want to learn more about telomeres, you can go here. During his time in space, Scott Kelly’s telomeres lengthened. This was a surprise to researchers, because telomeres shorten with age, and spaceflight stresses the body the way aging typically does (Witze 2019). After returning to Earth, most of Kelly’s telomeres returned to their standard size, though he has more shorter-than-average telomeres than he did before his flight. These shorter telomeres could increase risk of cardiovascular disease or cancer later in life (Witze 2019).
This information cannot be applied to every astronaut, as the study primarily concerns two people, but it does highlight the biological systems that may be most vulnerable to prolonged life in space, like chromosomes (Science, 2019). NASA plans to use their data to create future experiments, such as the one that would fly three groups of ten astronauts to space for two to three months, six months, and a year, respectively (Witze 2019). There is still a lot to learn about the effect of life in space on a human body, but thanks to the efforts of the Kelly brothers and NASA, our understanding of space as an environment has taken a small leap forward.
For More Information
Burakoff, M. (2019, April 11). NASA’s Study of Astronaut Twins Creates a Portrait of What a Year in Space Does to the Human Body.
Daley, J. (2019, April 11). Tests on Astronaut and Twin Brother Highlight Spaceflight’s Human Impact.
Lewin, S. (2019, April 11). Landmark NASA Twins Study Reveals Space Travel’s Effects on the Human Body.
Mars, K. (2018, January 31). NASA Twins Study Confirms Preliminary Findings.
Mars, K. (2019, April 11). Research and Results.
yourgenome. (2016, January 25). What is a telomere?
Genetics Home Reference – NIH. (2020, May 12). What is a chromosome?
Witze, A. (2019, April 11). Astronaut twins study spots subtle genetic changes caused by space travel.
by Barry Greene
Because of the vast size of The Outpost, it would be impossible to build it from terrestrial material. It will be built in space from material gathered and processed in space. Because of the energy necessary to lift supplies from a planetary or lunar surface, the overwhelming bulk of the Outpost’s construction materials will be gathered from asteroids.
Availability of Resources
All the elements found on Earth exist in space. Much of our knowledge comes from the study of meteorites (a meteorite is a meteor that has survived its passage through the atmosphere and landed on Earth). From this study we know of three main types:
There are other varieties that rarely survive the trip through the atmosphere such as carbonaceous chondrites. Some are composed of water ice and volatiles such as ammonia and methane. Meteors composed of water ice would vaporize in the atmosphere before hitting the ground. It is believed that such meteors are the original source of much of Earth’s water.
Recent probes such as NASA’s Osiris-Rex, which is studying the carbonaceous asteroid Bennu, and Japan’s probe to asteroid Ryugu will give us far more information about their composition.
Robotics and Artificial Intelligence
The fields of Robotics and Artificial Intelligence are developing at an unprecedented pace. Completely autonomous robots are already being used for oceanographic research. The more advanced systems that will be available when we set out to build the Outpost will be capable of operating on their own for the long journey to an asteroid. They will be able to sample the surface and analyze it, then lock on and gently alter its orbit to start the long journey to the construction location.
A companion craft would also land on the surface to begin processing the ore, so that on arrival a large quantity of processed material would be available. There would be iron turned into steel, water to be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen for air and fuel, and silicates to be processed into concrete for the shell, metals for electronics, and other elements. The best source for building in space is space.
Economics of Asteroid Mining
Based on current prices, a Falcon 9 launch costs 57 million dollars, which breaks down to about $2,500 a pound. Barring a major undreamed-of breakthrough, the cost for getting to Earth orbit will be quite high for a long time.
There are three primary motivators throughout history that have stimulated major expenditures: religious, military and economic. Religion today is not the economic driver that it was in the past. Consider the vast expenditures required to build the pyramids, the great cathedrals of Europe, and finance the Crusades. Religion today will not be a primary driver of space development.
Military conquest and competition has been, and still is, a stimulus for major expenditures. It was the military competition between the US and the Soviet Union that culminated in the Apollo program. Economic, political and military competition with China may well be a future driver of the US Space Program.
I believe that the ultimate stimulus for our expansion into the solar system and beyond will be economic. While the goals may well be philosophical, to create a spacefaring civilization and to ensure survival of an extinction-level event, the prime mover will be economic. No investor will put money into a project if they don’t expect to get money back. The money is there. Goldman Sachs, one of the largest global Investment banking firms in the world, has predicted that the first trillionaire will make their fortune in space from asteroid mining. Why did they say that?
Just one asteroid 16 Psyche is a metallic asteroid 140 miles (225 km in) in diameter. It is primarily nickel-iron. Aside from the nickel-iron it is estimated to contain 700 quintillion (700 trillion trillion) dollars of precious heavy metals such as gold and platinum. NASA is planning to send a probe to Psyche in 2022. According to space law (yes, there is such a specialty), no nation or company can claim an extraterrestrial body. However, they can own any material recovered from it. In other words, if you mine it it’s yours. In not too many years, I believe the rush will begin.
Thoughts on Political and Legal Systems for The Outpost
Because the Outpost is a self-contained artificial environment existing in hostile conditions it is necessary to have an organizational structure in place that can react rapidly to any situation. This will entail extensive monitoring of the physical environment inside and outside of the habitat. It is necessary, for example, to know if a meteorite is coming or a fire starts in one of the compartments or dwellings. These basic requirements alone raise a number of important questions:
The question of government is inextricably tied up with the structure of a legal system. The conditions in a habitat are very different from Earth. In a closed environment a jail would be a tremendous waste of vital resources, yet there will be crime. How can it be dealt with?
In our current legal system many innocent individuals are unjustly convicted. Can this miscarriage of justice be somehow prevented?
For any government to be effective over time there must be some form of checks and balances. There must be some way of preventing ” tribalism” such as, a political party, a military or corporate entity, from taking control of the structures of government.
The will of the majority cannot be the only controlling factor. A dictatorship of the majority is a dictatorship nonetheless.
The Outpost will be the size of a small country in an unknown and dangerous environment, one where humanity has no prior experience. The great challenge is to create a society where its members are both protected and free, and each person is able to become the best that they are capable of.
We are making this discussion a permanent part of our website. We look forward to your input and thoughts on these topics. We are planning for the future. Let’s make it the best possible future for everyone on The Outpost.
Around the Cosmos
In this edition we have a short story from reader Mike Combs. “Improbable Events” is a humorous story taking place in the back drop of a space habitat. Click the book cover to read it! Thank you to Mike Combs for sharing your work.
We also have a painting from HFO member, Johan Andrade. A juxtaposition between the Milky Way and our planet.
Show us your creativity of bringing science and art together! Submit your art to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We have also started a poster challenge project. For details please visit our HITRECORD challenge page.
Are you or someone you know interested in joining our team? Use our volunteer form to notify us!